Transporting Your Classic Bike

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Hitting the Road

Having the right setup for towing is essential. John H. Glimmerveen

All classic bike owners take pride in their machines. At some point, you'll probably want to show off your pride and joy at a rally or concourse event. But getting the bike to an event isn't that easy unless you ride it there, and visiting these events will often require the use of a trailer or box van. And, besides learning how to drive with a trailer, it's well worth some extra time and effort to avoid serious damage when loading.

The transportation of a motorcycle seems, on the face of it, to be a simple exercise: place the bike on a trailer, attach that to a car and go. Unfortunately, motorcycles are inherently unstable; without a rider or suitable supports, the machine will fall over.

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Loading and Tying a Bike Down for Transportation

On the left is a standard motorcycle tie-down (pull to secure type). On the right is the stronger ratchet type. John H. Glimmerveen

Adhering to some basic rules will ensure the bike is safe during transport. First, a good quality trailer is a preferred mode of motorcycle transport, while a box van is a very distant second choice. The good news is that a basic trailer can be purchased for less than a thousand dollars. However, it will require a little customization to safely carry a motorcycle.

The bargain basement, mesh floor-type trailers can be adapted quite easily. The side frames are perfectly adequate for attaching one end of a set of tie-down straps, but the bike's front wheel must be secured in the center. Check with your local motorcycle dealer for a front wheel chock; there are a number of specially manufactured units available that can be bolted to the mesh trailer's center section.

The bike must be loaded onto the trailer front-end first. This direction helps in the next phase of using the tie-down straps. For safety reasons, it is good practice to have an assistant when loading the bike. With the bike's front wheel pressed against the front tire locator, tie-down straps should be located carefully on either side of the bike, in a crisscross pattern if possible.

With the straps in place, apply tension to the tie-downs. You can accomplish this by pulling the front forks down by approximately 30% of their available travel. This compression of the suspension will help keep the tie-downs taut when the trailer goes over any deep holes. However, one shortcoming with tie-downs is their location on the bike. Inexperienced owners tend to wrap the cord and hook back on themselves. Although this method will work to a certain extent, there is a tendency for the hook to slip off the cord if the trailer goes over a large bump in the road.

The strongest dynamic forces the trailer will be exposed to will be the forces that come from hard braking of the tow vehicle. Therefore, the front end strapping of the bike is most important. However, the bike will also sway from side to side during any cornering, The rear wheel will bounce from side to side if allowance is not made for both of these likelihoods.

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Box Van Transporting of Motorcycles

This box van trailer has been modified to transport motorcycles. Around the sides, the owner added locking tracks. In the floor he has added location points for tie-downs. John H. Glimmerveen

Box van trailers or box vans have a common problem when it comes to transporting motorcycles: fastening them in. Just like the open trailer, motorcycles inside a box van must be located to withstand the dynamic forces during transportation. The bike must not move forward under braking, it must not fall over during cornering, and must not go backward under acceleration.

If the classic bike owner is intending to rent a standard box van, he must remember these vans are not designed to carry motorcycles. The insides of a standard box van have relatively thin strips of wood that were added for tying furniture. The weight of a motorcycle will easily break these! Therefore, if you intend to use a box van you must obtain the correct equipment for fixing the bike safely inside.

One other point to consider when using a box van is that the motorcycle cannot be seen which can lead to real trouble. The owner must stop periodically to inspect the straps. This is particularly important for the first 20 miles or so. With forethought and attention to the basics of trailer use, the classic bike will look as good at the end of a journey as it did when being loaded.

Further reading:

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