So... you have decided to take your partner camping on the bike.
The packing begins: Hairdryer ... hair Product ... brush, ( and that’s just your gear!), super inflatable queen mattress (that you saw on TV at 2.30am with its own Inflator / Deflator pump, set of steak knives... and it must be strong because they rode an ATV over it!), tent, sleeping bags, cooker, utensils, tools, water, tarp... etc... etc... etc.
Let’s face it, to be a little comfortable camping or touring with two people, you need some cargo room.
Perhaps a motorcycle trailer is the answer?
Using a trailer means you can carry with you more of the things that make touring on a bike a lot more comfortable, enjoyable and secure. Lockable lids mean you can leave your rig to go sightseeing or shopping with the thought that your gear is reasonably safe. Racks atop the lid afford you extra tie-down space (but without the security) and esky options fitted to the drawbar can afford you the cold refreshments and food that keeps a while. Some riders opt for solar panels and batteries... others choose full blown camper trailers.
You don’t have to be a “Rocket Scientist” to realise that towing a trailer is going to put extra loading on various parts of the motorcycle. Aerodynamic resistance increases drag and rolling resistance. Uphill, gravity takes effect and increases the overall weight of the “combined mass”. All of this has a wearing effect on clutch, chain, sprockets and, of course, tyres and bearings to a lesser extent.
More importantly, having 100kg to 400kg of rolling mass pivoting off your rear end from a single point is going to change the way your bike handles. It is important to understand how the dynamics are altered so that every time you head out on your travels, the trip will be enjoyable and uneventful.
Some Golden Rules
- Never, ever forget that you are towing a trailer
- Always, Always leave maximum stopping clearance allowing for road conditions
- Check that you have distributed the load correctly
- Check that all equipment is tied down / shut / secured
- Check all lights are working correctly
- Never, ever forget that you are towing a trailer (See Rule No. 1)
Dynamics – What is happening as you are riding along?
Not difficult... just a few more revs and perhaps fine tuning your clutch control. Always be mindful that you are embarking with extra length and extra load. Allow for slower take-offs when calculating clearances for merging into traffic.
On the level in motion :
At steady pace, on a reasonably level road, the bike should be in equilibrium. Assuming correct loading and a trailer that is built true, there should be nothing of great concern. If you have followed the Golden Rules, rolling along the highway should be a breeze and very enjoyable.
Towing uphill and negotiating bends:
Downshift a cog or two as necessary to assist the driveline, and ensure tractability and economy. Entering a bend uphill, gravity comes into effect. The trailer begins to act as a resistance to travelling uphill (similar to the effect of a small drag chute). The rear wheel is being pulled to the inside of the curve of the road from its pivot point at the tow ball, theoretically assisting the rear wheel of the bike to maintain its line around the curve and not slide outward causing loss of control. This can be very beneficial to the bike’s handling (on a smooth road).
Towing downhill and negotiating bends:
Now the road begins to decline and the mass (weight) of the trailer begins to increase under the rules of gravity once again. Being mindful that, with most rigs, only the bike is actually braking (most trailers are not fitted with brakes), it is important to remember the golden rules above. The reason being that your braking distance has now increased, so keep a larger safety margin ahead. As you enter a bend downhill, the mass of the trailer now wants to push the rear bike wheel outward from the centreline of the rig: The harder the deceleration, the stronger the push. If the road is wet or you have a loose surface (or the tyre lacks grip), you could lose traction at the rear end and the bike could slide out of control. Similarly, if you need to brake suddenly or harder than anticipated, all of that mass will attempt to continue in a straight line while the bike is leaned over at an angle to the trailer... the result being a jack-knifed rig! Disaster! See the Golden Rules.
Coming to a stop:
So you are about to park and stop outside a cafe, or a shopping centre, or a drive through... Stopping with a trailer is fairly straight-forward but it means you need to allow for more stopping distance but also the logistics of an extra two to three metres of length at the back end. Will you fit in? Can you ride out? A bit of thought beforehand can save a lot of problems.
Always ensure that you are compliant with your State’s regulatory body. This is very important in terms of safety and being covered for insurance and CTP claims. For example, there are rules for having manufacturers’ compliance plates fitted to tow bars and rules for safety chains as well as numberplates.
This article is by no means complete. There are many other factors to consider: Choice of manufacturers, overtaking, aerodynamics, spare tyres and pressures and suspension for example, and much more. Further research is recommended to get the most out of your trailer
David Abela #37740