Perhaps you have bought a track bike that isn’t road legal or a new off-road dirt bike? Maybe you are moving house or camping and want the bike for when you get there.
Whatever the reason you need to tow your motorcycle, the idea can be pretty daunting. The good news, however, is that towing a bike doesn’t need to be particularly stressful, complicated, or dangerous.
You just need to know the ins and outs of how to do things safely and logically. We have put this comprehensive guide together to ensure you understand what you are doing.
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How much weight can you and your car tow?
Firstly you need to figure out what you, as the driver, are legally allowed to tow in terms of weight.
According to the UK Government website, if you passed your driving test before 1st January 1997, then you can legally drive a vehicle and trailer to drive a vehicle and trailer combination up to 8,250kg maximum authorised mass (MAM).
You can view your driving licence information here to check this.
However, if you passed your driving test after the 1st of January 1997, then the rules are different.
As of 16th December 2021, the rules changed, so if you passed your licence after 1st January 1997, you can now tow trailers up to 3,500kg MAM.
If you need more clarification, check out the towing rules page on Gov.uk.
The next thing you need to do is check what your car is capable of towing.
The best start is to check your vehicle’s handbook. This will tell you its gross train weight (GTW). This is the total allowable weight of the car, plus trailer and load.
To establish the maximum weight your vehicle can tow, you need to subtract the gross vehicle weight from the gross train weight. That figure will give you the total weight your car can tow from the trailer and load.
This quick check will ensure you meet the legal restrictions depending on your licence and the vehicle’s load capacity, so you don’t damage your vehicle.
There is one other calculation that will save you a lot of trouble when towing a trailer. That is to understand what ‘nose weight’ is.
The nose weight of your vehicle will be in your manual. Nose weight is the static downforce generated at the hitching point by a towed or affixed load to the tow bar. As a general rule of thumb, the heavier the load, the heavier the nose weight needs to be.
Most trailers for motorcycle towing don’t have a braking system, so they should not exceed more than 750kg in total weight or exceed 50% of your towing vehicle’s weight. Check your vehicle’s maximum weight on this, as some smaller cars will have an even lower limit.
If you don’t get the nose weight right, then you can find the rear wheels of the vehicle losing traction as the trailer bounces and starts lifting off the road surface; even if it does this momentarily, it can lead to disastrous consequences with the trailer snaking and the car ending up flipping.
Selecting the right trailer
You have figured out the maths and the restrictions on your towing vehicle; now it is time to look for a trailer if you don’t already have one.
Here are the things to think about looking for a trailer:
- Correct weight – consider load capacity vs. trailer weight, etc.
- Appropriate size – width, length, etc
- Can you get a motorcycle on the trailer easily enough and off again? Think about features like a ramp.
- Most trailers suitable for towing a motorcycle will not have a braking system, but if you go for a larger one, it might have assisted braking. Check your vehicle’s owner’s manual for limitations on that point.
- Make sure the hitch on the car matches the one on the trailer so they are compatible.
- Does the trailer allow you to secure your bike via ratchet straps, anchor points, or other means?
- Make sure the trailer meets legal requirements of a number plate, rear lights, brake lights, and indicators fitted.
The UK Gov website states that for a trailer with no braking system:
The loaded trailer:
- must not weigh over 750kg
- should not weigh more than 50% of your car’s weight
For a trailer with braking system
The car and loaded trailer must not exceed the second weight shown on the car manufacturer’s plates.
Safety checks before you begin towing
So, you have selected your trailer, calculated everything correctly, and are ready to go. All you need to do is run through the safety checks, and then you can be on your way.
Remember, you can be fined up to £2,500, be banned from driving, and get 3 penalty points for using a vehicle in a dangerous condition. So your vehicle and trailer need to be secure, safe, and legal.
The legal ramifications are far less worrisome than the potential consequences if you are in an accident when towing your trailer.
- Follow the manufacturer’s advice when connecting the trailer to the tow ball or pin to ensure the connection is solid
- Make sure the coupling height is correct for your vehicle and trailer
- Check the core cable and plug for damage before use and that it is in safe working order
- Fit a breakaway cable – this will stop the trailer if it becomes detached from the vehicle
- Ensure the breakaway cable is in good working order, and there is enough slack so the brakes don’t deploy. Equally, check it is not too slack so it could drag on the ground
- Check both your vehicles and trailer tyres. Check they are correctly inflated and that there is enough tread on both sets
- Make sure the wheel nuts and bolts are tight to the correct torque and that mudguards are securely fitted to the trailer
- The lights on the back of the trailer need to all be in working order
- Make sure your motorcycle is loaded securely, the weight is not over the limit for your vehicle, and the weight is distributed evenly
- Get quality straps to secure your bike to the trailer. Check them more than once, so you are confident the bike won’t move anywhere as you drive along. It is worth stopping after 10 miles or so just to make sure everything is okay, then checking again at 50 miles or so
- Padded straps that go over the bike are a good idea to protect your paintwork. But don’t be too fussy, you need the straps to be tight, don’t loosen them off to protect the paint; the consequences will be far worse if your bike topples off the trailer on the motorway!
What to think about when you are on the road
When you are set up and off on your journey, drive more carefully than you would when not towing a trailer. Be conscious of sticking to speed limits or slower where appropriate, for example, on twisty country lanes.
If the trailer starts to swerve slowly, reduce your speed, do not slam on the brakes. This can be a sign the trailer isn’t secured, or you are going too fast.
On the motorway, you can only use the first two lanes; you are not permitted to use the third lane when towing a trailer.
If you are unsure about anything, the NTTA does free safety checks for a trailer up to 3,500kg.
The National Trailer and Towing Association also have a detailed guide covering attaching a trailer, driving with one, and maintaining one.
Check them out here.
Gov.uk provides a comprehensive guide on towing a trailer covering the legalities and the safety checks. Check that guidance out here.
Great gear options for towing a motorcycle
If your trailer doesn’t have a built-in ramp, this foldable one might be the perfect option to help you load your motorcycle onto the trailer. As it folds down, it won’t take up too much room and can be tied down in the trailer to store it out of the way until you need it to unload.