10 Mistakes To Avoid When Buying A Motorcycle Trailer

Shopping for a Motorcycle Trailer on the Internet is not an easy task. There are many choices of trailers, each claiming they are offering you the best product. After hours of searching and reading, you may become more confused than when you started your search. After reading this article you will be an expert on Motorcycle Trailers!


 

Traditional Trailers vs. Advanced Design Trailers

motorcycle trailer

 

Trailers have been around for a long time helping man haul loads that he couldn't carry on his back.  We all remember Ben Hur in his chariot racing other Romans.  If you look at this photo, you will see a technology that existed way back then, which was used on the Conestoga Wagons of our pioneers traveling west to the land of golden opportunity. 

 

Most trailers today use this same technology - a solid axle and leaf springs, a thousand year old technology.  This technology worked fine back then, but it has a huge built-in disadvantage in that it has a fixed spring rate.  

What is a fixed spring rate?  It means that the spring strength used by a trailer can’t be adjusted, no matter what the weight of the load is on the trailer.  

So if a company selects an axle with a 5,000 pound rated spring , it is always a 5,000 pound spring and if the trailer weighs 1,000 pounds and you are carrying a motorcycle weighing 700 pounds, then the total load is 1,700 pounds and the trailer is vastly over sprung.  

The result is a trailer with extremely stiff suspension for the load and the trailer goes bouncing down the road.  It is even worse when you are pulling the trailer empty; in some conditions the trailer seems to get more air than pavement going down the road behind your tow vehicle.  So you ask, who cares?  Well the answer is, your tow vehicle cares as this jogging affect is not good for its drive train or your fuel mileage and additionally it may cause considerable damage to your trailer.

Many of today’s trailers use a rubber torsion bar axle, which is similar to a leaf spring axle but the springs have been replace with a rubber suspension on each end of the axle, which softens the ride some, however it is still a fixed suspension strength, usually way over rated for the load that you will be carrying causing the same affect.

Why do most trailer manufacturers still use these out of date technologies?  There are several reasons.  The first is that these axles are mass produced and are very inexpensive.  In today’s price competitive world incorporating these into a trailer design aids in keeping their manufacturing costs down.

What do buses and semi-trailers use for their suspension systems?  They all use Air Ride Suspension Systems.  Why? Because this gives them a very smooth ride and avoids jogging down the road to protect their passengers and the cargo.  Yes these air ride systems cost substantially more than a leaf spring or rubber torsion bar axle, however they pay for themselves every mile down the road in less wear and tear on your vehicle’s drive system, increasing your fuel mileage and protecting the cargo.


 

Advanced Air Ride Suspension Design

Pulling a motorcycle trailer may involve not just pulling one bike on your trailer.  Sometimes you may be pulling it empty, other times just one bike, sometimes two bikes sometimes your golf cart or riding lawn mower.  These loads vary considerably and if you just added air ride suspension to a trailer it would be a vast improvement but to really gain the maximum benefit from an air ride system you need a system that will automatically adjust their suspension to match the load on the trailer.

For example: if your trailer that weighs 500 pounds and you are carrying a 200 pound riding lawn mower the total weight is 700 pounds, so what you only want is a system that automatically adjusts the suspension to 700 pounds, exactly matching the total weight of the trailer and its load.  If you are carrying one large touring bike that weighs 1,000 pounds your total load is 1,500 pounds, if you are carrying two large touring type bikes that weigh 1,000 each, you total weight is 2,500 pounds.  

A system that automatically adjusts the suspension to match each of these varying load conditions is ideal.  The result of such a system will make pulling a trailer behind your tow vehicle seem like it isn’t even there, not bouncing down the road behind you affecting both the reliability of your tow vehicle, reducing your fuel mileage or damaging your cargo.  

So you may ask, why doesn't every trailer utilize such a system?  The answer is cost. Providing such a system adds a considerable amount of cost to building a trailer versus simply selecting an off the shelf leaf spring or rubber torsion bar axle system and this increases their profit margins.  In addition we all want the least expensive products we can find but value should be the most important factor.


 

Trailer Chassis Design

High technology hasn't hit the trailer industry yet.  Most chassis designs used on trailers today are almost identical to the Conestoga wagons.  They use two main channels as beams running the length of the trailer deck to support cross rails, that the bed is attached to, pretty standard stuff. These are easily manufactured and minimize the amount of steel and the welding time required. Again these methods are used to minimize the manufacturing costs instead of providing the very best performance.

However, the result is trailers that are very heavy.  Analyzing today’s technology of race car design we see designs that are more of a unibody type, where they can obtain the strength needed using a much lighter overall structure.  Most cars today utilize a unibody type of design, where years ago they all had a large steel chassis to support everything.  This added a considerable amount of unnecessary weight to the cars of the past.  Having heavy cars in the past didn't matter much when gas was 25 cents per gallon but when it is hovers at $4.00 per gallon, minimizing the weight of a car become critical to fuel mileage as we are starting to see today in many cars.

So doesn't it make sense to place the same design focus on trailers we are pulling with these smaller and more fuel efficient cars?  So the answer to assist in maximizing the fuel efficiency of these smaller cars pulling a trailer is to minimize the weight of these trailers.  There are two basic methods to accomplish this.

Method 1: Switch from using steel for a trailer chassis to aluminum, which we all know is lighter. However, aluminum does not have the same strength as steel so you have to use much thicker aluminum beams to keep the same strength thus nullifying the original weight reduction.  

Aluminum is more expensive than steel and it is more expensive to weld, more susceptible to cracking next to the welds as it is not as malleable as steel although it does not rust, however it can be attacked by salt and result in corrosion   So even though there are advantages the disadvantage to using steel versus aluminum is very small at best.. 

Method 2: Stick with a steel chassis design and focus your design efforts on using today technologies of a uni-body design which allows you to build a much lighter chassis design that may even be stronger than the conventional Conestoga type of chassis design.  In a uni-body car design the outer body skin contributes a large part of the overall design strength of the car, eliminating the very heavy frame used on yesterday’s cars.

Using this same technology and incorporating a steel deck into the unibody design of a trailer chassis greatly reduces its weight while providing superior strength.  Again you may ask, why doesn’t everybody do this?  Unibody construction requires more welding and powder coating is also needed to it to protect against rust.  Unless done efficiently these steps may substantially add to the cost.

Using the unibody will minimize the overall weight of the trailer, allowing you to pull it with a much smaller tow vehicle resulting in higher fuel economy. The down side is that it costs considerably more to manufacture a trailer chassis using this method.  You will have to weigh the additional initial cost of such a trailer against the overall operating cost reduction you will gain over the years, what we will total cost of ownership, which we will discuss later in this document.


  

Trailer Aerodynamics

Another important factor that will contribute to increasing the fuel mileage of your tow is the aerodynamics of the trailer design.  Most companies don’t pay any attention to this and don’t consider the shape of a trailer to maximize your fuel mileage.  Your trailer is attached quite closely to the rear of your tow vehicle and rides in what is called the “Slip Stream” of air flow over your tow vehicle. Based upon the design of your trailer’s shape it can add to the aerodynamic drag of your tow vehicle or reduce aerodynamic drag.  

The air that is parted by your tow vehicle is trying to come together after it leaves your tow vehicle and this can create drag, which will reduce its fuel mileage.  Many race cars have an extended tail that tapers to a point to assist in smoothing out this air flow behind it minimizing its aerodynamic drag.

A proper trailer design will have a very smooth & pointed front Aero Rock Shield that will guide the air coming around your tow vehicle smoothly up and over the trailer, both to smooth out the air flow over the trailer plus deflect the road debris to protect the cargo on the trailer.  

You may not have even thought about the underside of a trailer, which also contributes to the aerodynamic drag.  Most trailers have an axle hanging down under the chassis which disturbs the air flow under the trailer.  Utilizing independent suspension not only makes the trailer ride smoother going down the road, but also eliminates this axle hanging underneath the trailer helping to reduce the aerodynamic drag.

The shape of the fenders is another contributor to aerodynamic drag as they are usually sticking out beyond the sides of your tow vehicle in the direct air flow and need to be shaped as streamlined as possible to reduce aerodynamic drag.  Most manufacturers don’t consider these factors as it is much less expensive to just add an inexpensive fender than to design an aerodynamic fender that that will pay for itself every mile down the road.


 

Combination of the above Factors

The combined effect of all of the above can result in two important factors.  Number one is that the trailer will pull much easier and if designed properly you won’t even know it is behind your tow vehicle and secondly it will be so easy to pull that you can pull it with a much smaller tow vehicle.  Most small cars today are designed to get super fuel mileage and have a tongue weight limit of 250 pounds and towing capacity limit of 2,500 pounds.

A trailer designed to take advantage of these factors and weighs less will allow the use of a smaller tow vehicle and provide you with a much lower fuel cost.  The real payback comes as you not only consider the purchase price but the total cost of ownership of the trailer you select.


 

 

Total Cost of Ownership

So if you have designed a motorcycle hauling trailer taking all of the above factors into consideration, you will end up with a trailer that is super light weight, super aerodynamic and can now be pulled by a small car getting exceptional fuel mileage.  

Compare this to a heavy trailer that did not take the weight or aerodynamics into consideration in its design, you will get the following:

Example #1: Heavy Trailer

Most heavy trailers require a pickup to pull them. A typical pickup gets about 16 mpg today, however this can drop to 8mpg when pulling a heavy trailers.  Let’s say that you are only going on two trips a year pulling your trailer and bikes on board, each 1,000 miles from home.  That’s 4,000 miles a year at 8 mpg that equates to 500 gallons of gas at $4.00 per gallon, that’s a total of $2,000 in fuel costs.

Example #2: Light & Aerodynamic Trailer

Now let’s look at a light weight, aerodynamic trailer that can be pulled by a small car which gets 35 mpg and this trailer reduce its fuel mileage by 3mpg to 32 mpg.  These same trips of 4,000 miles per year at 32 mpg equate to 125 gallons of gas at $4.00 per gallon equals a total of $500.

If you do this for just five years the fuel costs for using your pickup is $8,000 and $2,500 for using a super light trailer and your small car.  Thus, it may be a possible savings of $5500 in five years.

That’s a whopping $5,500 difference!!!

So is there any choice of which approach is the correct one for you? 


 

What Air Ride Suspension can also provide – Air Lowering

If a manufacturer utilizes the advantages that air ride suspension can bring to a trailer design, they can also provide another feature which will possibly be one of the largest benefits to you.  That is eliminating the troublesome ramps required on most trailers to load and unload your motorcycles.  

Navigating a bike up a ramp can be a scary proposition.  We are all getting older and bikes are getting heaver.  What happens with a ramp is that as soon as your front tire starts to go up the ramp your feet leave the ground, now you aren’t going fast; you have the fear of dropping your bike.  As your feet leave the ground, you go into the panic zone.

Having a trailer that magically lowers its rear to the ground with the flip of a switch eliminates this huge problem and allows you to just ride your bike onto it.  If you can ride your bike on the street you can ride it onto one of these self lowering trailers.

Another problem with some newer model bikes and trikes is that they have a very low ground clearance as they are designed to maximize their performance, which causes many of them to high center at the peak of these ramps, there is no peak to clear with a trailer that lowers its rear to the ground for loading and unloading.  The difficulty of loading a bike up a ramp is dwarfed by the perils of unloading backwards down a ramp, which is even more difficult, especially if it is just a narrow small rail. 


 

Protection & Storage

Motorcycles are not inexpensive toys.  The last thing you want to do is drop one while loading it onto a trailer.  Other potential damages can happen while pulling it right behind your tow vehicle on a trailer.  Remember your tow vehicle will be throwing all types of road debris right up onto your bike which is right behind it.  

Having a proper rock shield that is designed to not only be aerodynamic but also shaped to deflect whatever road debris comes from the tires on your tow vehicle, up and over your bike is also very important.  Having fenders that are just a metal cover over the top of the tire don’t provide any protection from the tires throwing road debris onto your bikes either.  Fenders that are totally enclosed on the inside provide protection from road debris being thrown onto your bikes.

A new paint job for a bike can cost more than the price of a trailer and having chrome re-plated is also very expensive.  These factors should also be taken into consideration when purchasing a trailer to carry your bikes.  It may not be less expensive to have a simple steel fender than a fully enclosed aerodynamic fender.


  

Business Philosophy

You should attempt to determine the business philosophy of the company manufacturing the various trailers you are considering. The following is a short list of things to look at and questions to ask each of your potential choices.  You can do this by looking at many things on each trailer or asking specific questions.

  • Do they just paint their trailer chassis or use much better powder coating which will last longer and really protect the metal from getting chipped or rusting. 
  • Do they use traction coating on the trailer deck which is an added cost but very beneficial to you.
  • Do they use a full steel deck or just rails, which don’t provide much protection for your bike and make it safer to load your bike?  
  • Do they use less expensive bolts and nuts or either zinc plated or stainless hardware, which will last?  
  • Do they use inexpensive bias ply tires or radial tires for superior performance?  
  • Is it a one size fits all, or have they taken the time and effort to make the trailer as customizable as possible for the convenience of the user? 
  • Is a tie down packages that you can just bolt in place readily available or do you have to sort this out yourself?
  • Have they allowed for many different mounting locations to accommodate the huge variety of bikes and other Powersports toys you may wish to haul in the future?
  • Can it handle unbalanced loads like a bike with a side car of a large bike and small bike, etc?
  • Ask for the tongue weight (both empty and loaded), empty weight of the trailer and total carrying capacity of the trailer, to assure it will handle what you intend to carry.
  • Does their trailer fold up for non-riding season storage next to the wall of your garage?
  • Can you store your bikes on it in your garage and just ride them on and off during the riding season.
  • All of these many little things are an indication of how thoroughly they have taken everything into consideration and really understand what a good motorcycle hauling trailer should include.

 

We suggest that you make a list and compare what you are getting from each of your potential choices to truly evaluate one compared to the others.


 

Offering the complete package

Hauling your motorcycles is your primary concern, however these is much more to it than just buying a trailer.  You want to make it easy to load but also easy to secure your bikes in place.  Many trailer manufacturers don’t consider what is involved in positioning your bike to assure that the tongue weight is set properly, they don’t even offer a capture wheel chock that is designed to hold your bike upright while you tie it down, they don’t offer a simple and easy method to tie it down and don’t offer soft tie down straps that protect your bike.  

Many of them don’t appear to be lifetime bike riders or realize that there is more to offering a complete package and providing their customers with more than a basic trailer that you have to add to for an enjoyable save riding and hauling experience.

Look for a trailer manufacturer who provides all these things from one source that are all designed to work together offering you a complete package that is designed to handle whatever you plan to carry.


  

Cool Looking

Last but not least, we all love our motorcycles and other Powersports toys, we are proud of them and want to show them off to others.  We see a $50,000 tow vehicle pulling a $40,000 motorcycle on a $200 trailer going down the road.  Want runs through our minds first is that this is a scary proposition as these trailers are not designed to carry the weight that they are carrying and secondly why is this person not protecting his bike or even proud enough to have a complete package that looks matched, that he could be proud of.  

What comes to mind is that he spent all his available money on his expensive tow vehicle and expensive bike and ran out of money to take care of a suitable trailer to haul his bike on, we laugh every time we see one of these going down the road.


  

Make a Feature List

We suggest that you make a list of all the features you want on your trailer, what are the most important features to you.  You will find that many manufacturers will offer their trailer at a low price, but when you start adding up the features they don’t include you may be disappointed.  In some cases, if you add the features you want they can become quite high priced. 

Make a chart as shown below or print this one and list each feature you want down the side then list the trailer brands you are thinking about across the top.  Then list the base cost of each trailers, then add all the features that you want and total what each brand will cost you as a relative comparison, and don’t forget shipping.

 

Last but not least, don’t forget to ask for actual customer testimonials from each manufacturer you are considering.

We hope this helps you make the correct decision and leads to the purchase of a trailer that meets your needs best, provides you with excellent service and gives you a lifetime of enjoyment.