Whether you’re buying a new motorcycle, or able to rescue your old motorcycle yourself, knowing how to a motorcycle yourself can make a good situation great, and a bad situation less bad. It’s also a great way to help you get out there and explore a little differently. However, there are a few things you should know about how to tow a motorcycle to avoid risking damaging your motorcycle or yourself.
The key to safely towing a motorcycle is using endless loop ratchet straps. Endless loop straps allow you to secure a motorcycle without over-compressing your suspension and causing premature wear. You can leave your staps with some slack and they won’t come off like hook-ended straps do. It’s important to make sure that you’re strapping from the frame to a secure anchor point, without putting any pressure on cables, wires, or other soft components.
I’ve worked in the motorcycle industry for over a decade, and in this video and article I’ll show you how to strap down your motorcycle so that you won’t risk damaging it.
Is it bad to compress your suspension when towing a motorcycle?
You need to compress the suspension to tow a motorcycle – or do you? Traditionally, people would strap motorcycles by their handlebars using hook-ended straps. Most people would severely compress their suspension to avoid the motorcycle from bouncing around enough to lose a strap.
Towing a motorcycle with the suspension compressed probably isn’t a big deal for short tows down to your local motorcycle shop. What about if you want to tow your motorcycle to a destination that is hours away, or even across the country?
Some people say they have needed to replace fork seals after a long motorcycle towing. This could be possible because the fork seals would be exposed to elevated pressure, which over a long enough period, could cause them premature wear. This isn’t impossible, but it’s hard for us to know for sure.
However, anyone who took high school physics knows a fair bit about the springs inside their fork tubes, and how they work: A spring naturally wants to push back, this is known as spring force. In order for a spring to compress, the applied force must exceed the spring force, otherwise there will be no compression. So, by compressing our motorcycle suspension, we’re applying a whole lot of compression force to the spring.
Springs are not made to be compressed for extended periods of time. If enough force is applied, over enough time, your spring may no longer have the same correct amount of spring force the manufacturer intended. It could be weakened.
What are endless loop ratchet straps and why do you need them?
Due to the open nature of a hook, a hook strap can’t have any slack or the hook might slip off whatever it was securing if things shift around. Endless loop ratchet straps don’t have this problem as they form a closed circle.
When you secure a motorcycle with endless loop ratchet straps, you can leave slack in the straps, and the bike may sway a couple inches from side to side, but it will never topple over.
How do we tow a motorcycle without compressing suspension?
To tow a motorcycle without compressing your suspension, simply strap beneath the suspension. This means strapping around the fork mounts, rims (as long as they aren’t spoked), swing arm, and or frame.
You’ll want to look for parts of your motorcycle that are solid and made to carry significant weight or impact. The frame and subframe or swing arm are great examples of things to strap to.
Don’t use parts that are bolted on, such as rear passenger peg mounts or engine guards. You should never have your straps touching things that can either be easily cut, like wires or cables. Lastly, keep your straps from putting weight on things which are not designed to take weight, like your exhaust pipes.
Should you use a wheel chock while towing a motorcycle?
A motorcycle wheel chock will make towing a motorcycle much easier and safer. The wheel chock has two jobs. First, it can hold a motorcycle perfectly upright by leveraging the motorcycle’s own weight. This makes strapping down a motorcycle an easy one man job. Secondly, the wheel chock helps stabilize your motorcycle during transportation.
A wheel chock isn’t necessary, but it can make your life a lot easier and help you to avoid potential headaches down the road.
How many straps should I use when towing a motorcycle?
You should always use four straps when towing a motorcycle. The first two endless loop straps should hold the front end in place, one around each fork down tube on most standard (non-inverted) telescopic forks. These front two straps are responsible for both keeping the motorcycle upright as well as keeping it pulled forward while it is being towed.
The next two straps go on the rear of the motorcycle. Look for places like the swing arm, subframe, or even the rim (if it isn’t spoked) to strap to. These two rear straps also have two important jobs. Firstly, they stop the motorcycle from fishtailing on your trailer and getting damaged should you need to aggressively change lanes or swerve. Secondly, they act as backup to the front two straps. Should either of your front two straps fail, you need two straps in the back as backup. One strap alone could not handle either of those responsibilities.
What should you do with the extra strap left over?
It’s very important to tie up any lose strap left over and not let it fly in the wind. The excess strap could get caught in something, like a spinning tire, which could pull your entire motorcycle over and damage everything in its path.
Instead, form a circle with the excess strap and spin it to make a sort of donut. Reach through the center of the donut and form another circle and pull it through your donut. Now reach through your circle and pull it over your donut.
This is one of those things you should probably just watch me demonstrate in my video at the top of the article.
What should you do before towing your motorcycle for the first time?
Make sure every single strap is secured and nothing has shifted and aren’t rubbing on anything.
If your motorcycle has an alarm system, now is a good time to disable it.
Most Harley-Davidson’s on the road today have an alarm system. If you have a Harley-Davidson, flick the engine kill switch off, and on, and while the red light is still on your dash, press both turn signals. Security transportation mode is now activated. Make sure you do this with your keyfob on the motorcycle. You can deactivate security transport mode simply by firing the motorcycle up when you arrive at your destination.
What should you do while towing your motorcycle?
Keep in mind that new motorcycle straps will stretch. I recommend stopping after 10 minutes to take a look at everything if this is your first time towing a motorcycle, or your first time using new ratchet straps. Then, stop after the next twenty minutes and re-check. Then, stop after the next 40 minutes and re-check. Keep on doubling your time until you aren’t seeing any change in the straps.