If it’s a choice between riding our bike or trailering it, we’ll take the former any day—even if it’s to a rally in another time zone or on a troll through the local hills in the rain. Sometimes, though—like when wrangling multiple bikes to the dragstrip for this issue’s comparison test—we don’t have a choice.
You know the drill—humping 700 pounds of V-twin magic up a narrow aluminum ramp, gingerly easing ’er into the truck and strapping the whole enchilada down for a 60-mile haul. Everyone has to do it sooner or later, and we wondered if there was an unofficial bible for this thankless gig. We polled colleagues, our test-fleet manager Michael Candreia (who wrangles a half-dozen bikes on a slow day) and the experts at Steadymate (a securement-product company) for the scoop. Everyone had his own preferences, but we distilled ’em down to a few basics.
Job One, obviously, is the security of the bike; you don’t want your Precious budging after she’s strapped. The best tools for that job are a series of tie-downs attached to the bike to pull it down and forward in the tow vehicle (preferably against a chock).
Tie-down straps come in two flavors—ratchet or cam buckle-style. Cam buckles use friction created by the strap as it passes through a spring-loaded, cam-shaped buckle to hold the strap in place. Ratchet straps operate in much the same manner, but with a ratchet buckle to progressively tighten the strap. Both allow you to secure the bike yourself and bump up tension on the suspension to reduce shock loading. Shock loading occurs when the vehicle hauling your bike hits a bump in the road, causing the bike’s suspension to compress. When the suspension compresses, the straps go slack, but as it rebounds, the tie-downs snap taut again—which can eventually loosen or break them. The more you load the suspension during tie-down, the less it will compress during towing. Some folks claim that ratchet straps are more effective at maximizing compression, but Candreia says he’s comfortable with the cams because they’re easier to work with.
How you tie down your bike depends greatly on the model you own, but everyone agrees on using either the frame or a solidly mounted part on the frame as an attachment point. Two ties up front and two on either side are adequate for most street bikes, but if you’re paranoid, six ratchet tie-downs—four in front and two out back—will offer max security, even for a Boss Hoss.
The Main Event
The first order of operations is to get your trailer/truck as level as possible. Hook the tie-downs to your floor or frame loops and extend them out as far as you need to attach to your motorcycle (and where you can reach them).
If you’re using extension loop straps around the lower triple tree, have those ready too (the lower triple tree is the most secure location for this setup). Set up your ramp so it’s in line with the wheel chock in your truck bed and push or ride your bike onto the truck bed or trailer, straight into the chock. While still on the bike (and in gear), attach the rear straps’ S-hooks (if you’re using them) to a structural member on the bike, gripping the loose end and pulling tight (or ratcheting down).
If you’re not using rear straps, conventional wisdom says to snug the left front tie-down (attached high on the bike) first, just enough to get the slack out. Repeat with the right front tie-down; at this point the sidestand should be off the floor, with the bike upright.
When tie-downs are snug, check the side of the front tire and brake rotors to be sure they’re clear of the chock. Give the tie-downs a final yank to guarantee they’re even and securely tightened and the bike is vertical.
If you’re loading two dressers and their handlebars or fairings interfere, try reversing one of the bike’s positions in the trailer. It’s usually best to load the biggest bike in the forward position to properly distribute the load.
After you’ve locked down the front, it’s time to strap the rear for extra stability. Pick a high area on the chassis to attach tie-downs to for leverage. The tie-downs should pull down an inch or two forward of your attachment point—make sure the bike doesn’t rock forward, back or sideways. With cam buckle ties, it’s best to have someone compress the rear suspension while you tighten the tie-downs.
Check tie-down points for tightness; the straps should form a 45-degree angle between the bike and floor (see diagram above); your results may vary slightly.
Word On The Street
Some contributors to Honda Gold Wing and Yamaha Venture online owner forums recommend using a soft loop around the triple tree and tying off the loop with two ratchet straps—one pulling forward into the chock and the second pulling forward and out to the side. For the backs of those bikes, the same sites recommend tying a soft loop around passenger handgrips, passenger footpegs or the rear frame.
For some Harleys and other bikes with inverted forks, we’ve noticed a few sites advocating attaching tie-downs to the front of the engine where the frame meets the crashbars and repeating the four-strap tie-down method. The bottom line is you should feel free to experiment with attachment points, as your bike may have parts that interfere with the strap or cut it. And there’s also a long list of don’ts. For example:
…use rear bag guards as attachment points; they’ll be pulled off
…tie down at the handlebars. Some dealers are okay with this, but it’s not kosher with us because a few handlebars are rubber mounted and can compress, causing tie-down slippage. Regardless of the motorcycle, handlebars aren’t designed to deal with stresses generated by hitting a pothole at speed when tied down. (Note the bike in our illustrations is a sportbike; you wouldn’t attach tie-downs to cruiser bars.)
…go for the cheapest straps. The price of repairing your bike will be far greater than the cash you pocketed by buying economy straps.
Steadymate Securement Tips
We also talked to the guys at Steadymate (www.steadymate.com), a securement-product company formed by Kinedyne Canada, and they added their own tips on successful vehicle securement:
Securement points Check that the securement points on your truck are structural members of its body. Whichever you choose, the securement point must have the same capacity as the tie-down (see No. 3).
Number of straps Regardless of the application, owners should use at least two pairs of straps for vehicles in transit—one securing the front of the vehicle and a second for the rear.
Relationship of parts Each component of your system has an impact on every other component. For example, if your tie-down strap has a higher rating than your anchor point, the rating on your strap drops to that of the anchor. (A 1000-pound tie-down with a 600-pound pan fitting reduces the tie-down rating to 600 pounds.) Examine the tag on each part.
Manufacturer’s rating When purchasing tie-downs, be sure to look for the manufacturer’s certified rating and make sure the rating matches your needs. Steadymate recommends that one of the straps be rated to secure the “entire” weight of your vehicle. It’s not uncommon that one strap will be called upon to take the brunt of restraining your load during a sharp turn.
4x45° rule This method assures the complete securement of your vehicle. Four securement points are the minimum required by law. A 45-degree angle from the bike to the floor at each point creates optimum balance and tension.