How to Tow a Motorcycle – All You Need to Know
When you’re out on the road, there’s always the possibility that something unexpected might happen, so your motorcycle needs a little help to get wherever you’re going. Mechanical problems, fuel, and damage can all bring a quick and disappointing end to your afternoon ride.
While nobody ever sets out on their bike planning to have it break down, such a situation doesn’t have to leave you stranded and without options. Just like with a car, there are several methods to get your bike where it’s going and hopefully, back on the road again.
Today we’ll be exploring the very best and safest methods for towing a motorcycle so that you will know exactly what to do if the unexpected occurs the next time you’re out on the road.
How to Tow a Motorcycle
As you might imagine, towing a motorcycle is very different from towing a car. First and foremost, motorcycles don’t have the same kind of stability that cars do because of the way they sit on the ground. This might seem a little obvious, but it’s worth remembering when you’re thinking about how to pull your motorcycle to its next destination.
The safest and most reliable way to tow a motorcycle is to use a trailer. Motorcycle trailers allow you to secure the bike so that it stays upright and doesn’t run the risk of falling over before reaching your destination.
A motorcycle dolly offers a similar level of security in a smaller package, and smaller bikes can also use motorcycle carriers.
All of these methods will require the use of a fairly strong vehicle that can support the added weight of the bike and whatever equipment you are using to pull it. A motorcycle may add little weight to the load of a car, but a small economy car may still need help to handle the task effectively.
Being aware of all of your equipment, the car doing the towing included is critical to ensuring that everything goes smoothly.
If you are in a truly desperate situation, it is possible to pull a motorcycle without the use of a trailer, dolly, or carrier. This method is one that requires a great amount of experience and, even when done correctly, poses a risk to the rider and the bike.
For this reason, towing a bike without proper equipment should only ever be considered as an absolute last resort. If you lack the equipment to tow the bike properly and the experience to safely tow the bike without it, calling in a tow service is the best option.
The Different Methods of Towing a Motorcycle
In this section, we’ll go into more detail about the different methods for towing your motorcycle. Across all of these methods, preparation is key. Even though no one ever plans on having to tow their bike, it’s still good practice to make sure that you have all of the necessary equipment ready to go just in case.
Method 1: A Trailer
Let’s start with the safest and most reliable method for towing a motorcycle: the trailer. Whether the trailer you choose to use is specifically designed to carry motorcycles or you are using a general-purpose flat trailer, the safety and security of this method are unmatched.
Trailers keep both wheels off the ground, provide plenty of space for the bike, and will often be equipped with lights and signals of their own to further ensure maximum visibility on the road. You are likely to see trailers being used to pull motorcycles on long journeys where riding the whole way would not be practical, as well as in situations where the bike needs to be taken into the shop.
This method is not without its drawbacks, though. Trailers are large pieces of equipment that take up a lot of space when not in use. They also require a lot of setup. To use a trailer you will need a vehicle with a hitch that fits it, and connecting any lights and signals may require the installation of extra connections on your car or truck before they will work.
When setting up your trailer, remember to double-check that it is securely connected to the tow hitch of your vehicle and check that all of the lights, especially brake lights and turn signals, are connected and functioning properly before taking off.
After your motorcycle is on board, you will want to tie it down to the trailer with ratchet straps. Most trailers will have loops to hook the straps to at the front and back. Use those hooks and pass the straps over the front and rear suspension, tightening the straps so that the bike cannot move or shift when shaken.
You can check out this article on how to tighten a motorcycle chain by Bikers Rights if you are suffering from the same issue.
Remember to hook the straps to the trailer, not the bike itself! Securing the hooks of your straps to parts of the motorcycle, such as handlebars, runs the risk of them coming loose during transport. Additionally, the straps should go over the top of the bike, typically the handlebars in the front and the seat just above the suspension in the back.
Once you’ve tied the bike down and tightened your straps, give the bike a good shake to make sure that it is secure, and tighten the straps as needed before taking off.
Method 2: The Front Wheel Cradle
For those of use without the space to store a trailer, motorcycle towing cradles, or dollies, offer a safe alternative that doesn’t require the kind of space commitment that a full trailer does. These devices connect to the hitch of your truck or SUV and hold the front tire of the motorcycle to keep it upright during transport.
Just like with a trailer, the bike is secured with ratchet straps, but with a motorcycle dolly, there is no need to connect additional components like lights and signals to the vehicle that is doing the towing. This method is a lightweight, simple alternative to bulky trailers, and most dollies can support all but the absolute heaviest bikes.
Preparing to tow a motorcycle with a dolly is a matter of a few small but important steps. Firstly, once the front tire is securely in the cradle, you will want to use ratchet straps to finish securing the bike. Just like with a trailer, you want to make sure the straps are connected to the dolly and not the bike itself, and that they stretch over the top.
In this case, though, you will also want to connect several straps to the front wheel as well to minimize any movement.
Make sure the motorcycle is in neutral before you get moving. Remember: this method leaves the rear wheel on the road. Because the rear wheel is connected to the driveline or chain, if the bike is still in gear when it is moving there can be serious damage done to the transmission.
Energy is meant to be transferred from the transmission to the wheel, not the other way around.
Method 3: Motorcycle Carriers
This option is simple, straightforward, and particularly suited for transporting dirt bikes. Motorcycle carriers are platforms that hold your motorcycle off the road behind a truck or SUV. Just like trailers and dollies, they connect to the tow hitch of the vehicle.
A motorcycle carrier is a simple platform that the motorcycle rolls up onto. The carrier sits close to the vehicle, adding very little to its profile on the road. Because the carrier sits so close to the back of the car without adding a lot of extra length, it is an easy method for transporting a motorcycle that doesn’t require as much adjustment as a trailer or dolly.
However, motorcycle carriers are limited in how much they can carry, making them poorly suited for transporting larger bikes like cruisers which may exceed the weight or length limits.
Just like the previous two methods, you will once again be using ratchet straps secured to the carrier and passed over the motorcycle to ensure that it is secure. In this case, the only major consideration is that the bike can pass your “shake test” before taking off, as there are no signals or lights, and no part of the bike will be in contact with the road.
Alternative Method: Towing Without Equipment
In true emergency situations where the proper equipment is unavailable, it is possible for an experienced rider to tow a motorcycle without a trailer.
With this method, both the leading vehicle (the one doing the pulling) and the trailing vehicle (the one being pulled) should be handled by experienced operators with excellent communication.
The bike should be connected by a component that is as close to in line with the lead vehicle’s connecting point as possible with a “Y” formation to avoid torque to the bike that might pull it to the ground. It is also important to make sure that the straps are connected to solid components of the bike that offer stability, such as crash bars, in order to avoid damage.
There should be no slack allowed in the line, as the trailing bike could run over a loose line and become tangled, resulting in a fall.
This method should not be used at higher speeds or in heavy traffic, as the chances of a crash are substantially higher than pulling the bike with a trailer or dolly. A good policy is that if you are not certain of your ability to tow a bike in this way and you do not have access to the proper equipment, simply call a tow truck. The first priority should always be your personal safety.
Frequently Asked Questions
How do you tow a motorcycle without a trailer?
As detailed above, towing a motorcycle without a trailer is possible, but requires experience and caution. If you are comfortable with this method, you will connect your bike to another vehicle using straps as low on both vehicles as possible. (Often, this will be highway crash bars connected to a tow hitch).
Less experienced riders should refrain from attempting this method, however. A tow truck is typically cheaper than the damage to the bike or rider in the event of a crash.
Can you tow a motorcycle in neutral?
Not only can you tow a motorcycle in neutral, but this is also the only way you should tow a motorcycle if the rear tire is in contact with the road. The bike’s transmission is meant to take energy in from the engine and then transfer that energy through a chain, belt, or shaft to the rear wheel.
It is not designed to handle the process of running the other way, and if the bike is in gear when it is being towed, the transmission may be damaged.
How can I tow my motorcycle with my car?
Trailers, dollies, and carriers are designed specifically to be connected to your car. They all connect to a tow hitch, which is a standard piece of most trucks and SUVs, and can be installed on a good number of cars. Check your vehicle’s specifications to see if it can handle towing the weight of a motorcycle and whatever method you are using to tow it.
In this article, we’ve gone over the safest and most reliable methods for towing a motorcycle. From trailers to dollies to carriers, there are plenty of options that will ensure that your motorcycle can still get to its next stop, whether that happens to be the nearest gas station or a shop.
One piece of equipment that is common across every method we’ve discussed, ratchet straps, are a staple of any well-equipped garage. One excellent set is available from Amazon at this link.
Having to tow a motorcycle is never something we as riders look forward to, but with the right amount of preparation, we can make sure that this situation isn’t a complete disaster when and if it happens.