Whether you want to get a cargo trailer, to increase storage for a long-distance ride, or take a teardrop trailer out, for a trip away from the city, it’s important to know how much you can pull behind your motorcycle. Many manufacturers don’t provide towing capacity for bikes, but knowing where to look and running some quick numbers can determine how much weight a motorcycle can safely and legally tow. To save you valuable time, we've already done the research.
The towing capacity of motorcycles varies, but it is typically about half the curb weight of the bike. Your manufacturer may provide the carrying load of your motorcycle in the owner's manual. Otherwise, the carrying load of a motorcycle can be found by subtracting the curb weight of the bike from the Gross Vehicle Weight Rating (GVWR). After accounting for other weight, such as the rider and gear, the remaining number is what your bike can tow.
That may sound a little complicated, but keep reading, and we'll explain how you can calculate the tow weight of your bike. We'll also help you find a trailer to suit your needs, and take a closer look at legal obligations in case you are asking additional questions like, "Do motorcycle trailers need plates?"
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How To Find Your Motorcycle’s Tow Capacity
The first place you should look to find how much extra weight your bike can handle is the owner’s manual. Some manufacturers, such as Honda, include a load capacity that will tell you the extra weight your bike can carry. Many manufacturers do not include this number, but you can figure it out yourself with some simple math.
To calculate the towing capacity, you must first find the Gross Vehicle Weight Rating (GVWR). If you still have your service or owner’s manual, it should list the GVWR there. If not, have no fear. The GVWR will also be listed on the information plate found on your bike, most often on the steering column.
Once you know the GVWR, subtract the curb weight of your bike. The leftover weight will be your carrying weight. Take heed, though. You will need to figure in your weight as well as your gear, fuel, and a passenger if you have one joining you. These numbers can add up fast, but must be considered in your calculations.
Let’s say you want to take a road trip in your BMW R 1250 RT. The GVWR is 1,114-lbs, and the weight of the bike (fully fueled) is 615-lbs. That leaves you just shy of 500-lbs for you, your gear, and the trailer you’d like to pull. The average man weighs 200-lbs, and 170-for women, leaving you between 300 and 330-lbs for gear, supplies, and whatever else you’re towing.
If you’re riding a 2018 Indian Scout, with a GVWR of 998-lbs and a wet weight of 558-lbs, you’ll have just 240 to 270-lbs left for towing.
Both bikes follow the general rule of thumb that towing weight is half the weight of the bike, but it’s still best to crunch the numbers for your particular bike before investing in a trailer.
Riders In The UK
For those riding in the UK, the math has been simplified. You won’t need to find the GVWR, but only the weight of your bike. The towing allowance is two-thirds the weight of the bike, or 150-kg, whichever is lighter.
Pulling more than this weight will strain your bike’s engine, transmission, and brakes, among other things you’d rather have working well for a long time down the road. It may not seem like a lot of weight, but it still leaves enough room to pull a decent trailer if you know what to look for.
Can You Tow A Trailer With A Motorcycle?
Cargo trailers are designed with motorcycles in mind, and are your best bet if you’re in the market for a trailer. They come in a variety of styles and sizes.
The Blackhawk trailer looks stylish and also comes in at an empty weight of 215-lbs, with a load capacity of 350-lbs, so it works for most bikes’ towing capacities.
Teardrop trailers have become a popular option among those seeking comfort in the outdoors. Towing a teardrop camper away from the city with a motorcycle for some peace and quiet sounds like a dream come true. But, on average, teardrops weigh around 1,000-lbs and even light teardrop trailers weigh more than 500-lbs, putting them above what most motorcycles can safely pull.
A promising lead on teardrop trailers is the Earth Traveler, which is planning to come in at under 300-lbs., but is not on the market as of the time of publication.
Other Style Camper Trailers
While teardrop trailers are still largely outside the weight limit of most motorcycles, there are some innovative camper trailers that have been designed with motorcycles in mind. One such camper is the Mini Mate Camper by Kompact Kamp. It looks like a cargo trailer, but opens up into a canvas tent with 15-cubic-feet of space. Weighing in at 260-lbs, it can be towed by most motorcycles on the road.
Lees-ure Lite also makes similar pop-up campers that stay at a weight that most motorcycles can handle.
Although the open road feels like home, it can get lonely too. If you are hoping to bring your four-legged friend along with you on a long ride, there are also trailers specifically designed for just that, such as the Tow-Tow trailer by Bushtec.
Other pet trailers can be found through Wags Trailers. These trailers are designed with better ventilation and suspension than most cargo trailers to help keep your pets as comfortable as possible. Just remember to factor in the weight of your furry friend when running the numbers.
Hooking Up Your Trailer
If you want to pull a trailer, you’re going to need a trailer hitch specifically for your motorcycle. Most manufacturers do not produce their own hitches, but there are many companies that produce hitches for motorcycles. Hitchdoc, for example, has hitches for many of the most popular bike makers and models. Hitchdoc produces both standard and vertical receiver hitches for motorcycles.
Pictured below, a mounted hitch with 1-7/8" ball for Harley-Davidson (Touring 2009-13 models).
Keeping It Safe And Legal
Always check your local laws for the most up-to-date information on restrictions. Also bear in mind that if you’re riding on a road trip across state lines, laws are subject to change. While laws vary from state to state, two measures are required by all states:
- Taillights: Your trailer must have operable tail lights.
- License Plate: You must have a visible plate with lights.
Some other equipment that is advised for safety and also required in most states includes:
- Brake lights: Having these greatly reduces your odds of being rear-ended, only to find yourself picking up pieces of a broken, new trailer.
- Safety chains: Part of your hitch set-up, these chains keep the trailer from taking its own trip should the hitch connection fail.
- Turn signals: These are especially important if you’re pulling a trailer that obscures your bike’s lights.
- Reflectors: Help increase the visibility of your trailer.
You’ll want to double-check that all the lights are working before you take off with your trailer, or find yourself spending less time riding and more time paying hefty fines.
Also keep in mind that some states have a lower speed limit for vehicles towing trailers, so it’s best to research before going on your trip.
Other Factors To Keep In Mind When Towing With A Motorcycle
You’ve figured out your tow weight and found a trailer that stays below that weight while fully loaded. You’ve hitched it up securely, and studied the local laws. Now, you’re feeling ready to hit the road, but there are some other things you should still consider:
- Your bike will handle differently with the added weight. The more weight you add, the more your acceleration, braking, and handling turns will be affected. It is best to get as much practice as possible riding with the added weight, especially for braking, before you take off on a long haul.
- Fuel consumption: If one of the reasons you like riding your bike is because it saves you at the pump, prepare to see those savings diminish with every pound you add to your ride.
- Wear and tear: Even if you keep the weight below the bike's total pulling capacity, added weight will wear down your bike more than lighter riding. Having a camper trailer, your pet, or extra cargo space, is likely worth it. But, keep wear and tear in mind.
Enjoy Riding Your Way
Motorcycles might not get to the point where they can pull like a semi-truck any time soon, but that shouldn’t stop you from finding a trailer to suit the way you want to ride. Once you know how much you can pull and where to find the right kind of trailers, you realize you have plenty of options to change the way you ride. Just be sure to prepare, practice, and enjoy your ride!
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