Tips: Transporting a Motorcycle

Transporting a motorcycle
Loading a motorcycle into a truck is a delicate dance best performed with two people. Start by getting the bed/tailgate as low as possible—here the back of the truck is facing an incline and we’ve positioned the back wheels in a drainage culvert. Photos by Mark Tuttle.

The best way to get a motorcycle from here to there is to ride it, but that’s not always possible. Breakdowns, flat tires or cross-country moves mean hauling the bike in a truck or on a trailer to get it where it needs to be. But while that might seem the safest way for a motorcycle to go anywhere, danger lurks—in sloppy tie-downs, poorly secured anchors and the ever-popular loading ramp endo. Here, then, are some tips for loading, hauling or shipping your motorcycle and having it show up at its destination still in one large, shiny piece.

Transporting a motorcycle
Make sure the ramp is secured to the truck somehow (e.g., use a tie-down) and position a sturdy step of the right height (the Haulmaster work stand shown is from Harbor Freight) where the loader can easily step up into the bed as the bike moves up the ramp.

Pickups, vans and trailers should first be positioned to make loading as easy as possible. Back up to the curb, drop a pickup’s tailgate past horizontal or maneuver the rear of the trailer so the angle from the driveway on up is as shallow as possible; the goal is to arrange the various elements so you can roll the bike along a nearly flat ramp rather than pushing it up a sharply inclined one. Not only does this require less effort, it makes it easier to load sportbikes with hanging bodywork and cruisers with boxcar-class wheelbases.

Transporting a motorcycle
Depending upon the weight of the bike you may need to use engine power, the clutch and front brake to do the work.

Whatever you do, don’t ride the bike up the ramp unless you want the videos your buddies are taking to go viral (“Chump Drops Bike Off Ramp! LOL!!”). Secure the ramp to the truck or trailer with a tie-down so that it won’t fall off, and have the tie-downs for the bike already attached to anchor points. The actual loading is best performed by two people who share pushing duties while one of them steers. Don’t stop halfway up the ramp, and make sure your footing is secure so you don’t slip on the way up. Once the bike is in, drop the sidestand right away, or hook up the front set of tie-downs—anything to keep the bike from falling over when you let go. 

Transporting a motorcycle
To unload, use the front brake and the spotter to slow the bike if the ramp is steep. The spotter also makes sure the unloader finds the step with his or her foot.

If you need to transport your bike by truck often, get a wheel chock for the truck bed from Baxley, Condor or Harbor Freight. You can also use it in the garage. Choose anchor points in the bed and tie-down points on the bike so the straps are at roughly a 45-degree angle when tightened. Use at least two in the front, and two more in the back if you have them, to prevent fore-and-aft and side-to-side motion. Don’t use mufflers, mirrors or turn signals as bike anchor points; stick with the handlebars, lower triple clamp and frame.

Transporting a motorcycle
A good alternative to the single ramp method is to use three or an ultra-wide model. You still need a spotter for safety, but this way the loader can straddle the bike and use engine power to walk it up. Make sure all three ramps are secured to the truck.

Lean the bike to one side and pull all the slack out of that side’s tie-down, then do the same on the other side. Repeat until the bike is stable. Do the same for the rear straps, but compress the suspension to take out the slack. Remember, anything you loop a strap over is subject to abrasion or tearing during the trip, because even if the bike feels solidly strapped in it’ll move a little if you hit a bump in the road. As an added safety measure loop a bungee around the front brake lever to prevent front-to-back movement.

Transporting a motorcycle
Avoid using tie-down hooks directly on handlebars or forks; these Ancra tie-downs have soft-ties built in. Front tie-downs should be at a 45-degree angle to the sides and pull the bike forward and down against the front of the bed. It’s best to use a wheel chock for security—they’re available from Baxley, Condor and Harbor Freight.

Unloading is pretty much the reverse of loading, except you need to be ready for the bike to lunge to one side when you release the tie-down on the opposite side. When you’re backing the bike down it’s harder to see where you’re stepping, and you can’t easily stop and go back up if something’s wrong. A spotter to help guide you down and hold the bike steady while you modulate the front brake really helps. 

Motorcycle transport companies take most of the hassle out of shipping your bike, but not all. Before pick-up, most will require you to drain the gas and take out the battery. It’s also a good idea to photograph the bike from several angles, then take off the mirrors, luggage and electronics, turn off any alarms and take the keys with you. The drop-off location might be far from your actual destination so the truck has room to maneuver, so remember to bring gas, the battery and the keys when you take delivery. Check for damage to the bike before you ride off, and file any claims right away, in the presence of the driver if possible. Take pictures to back up your claims. 

1 COMMENT

  1. I liked it when you suggested draining the motorcycle of its gas before loading it on the trailer as well as taking photos of it from different angles. I guess this is probably to prove that there is nothing wrong with it before it was surrendered to the company. This is actually the reason why I want to rent an enclosed trailer for my motorbike. At least, due to its size, I am sure my vehicle won’t be damaged.

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