You’ve probably used navigation aids for a while now, things like mapping programs, GPS, app-based maps, etc. While they’re enormously useful, they do fall short when you find yourself paddle-walking a bike in bumper-to-bumper traffic with no end in sight. Sure, some devices show real-time traffic info, but it’s up to you to identify trouble spots and figure out how to avoid them.
Enter Waze. This app collects real-time data from its users cell phones, allowing the service to flag trouble spots immediately along your route AND to identify faster alternatives when the current route is really backed up.
It works, as I discovered last summer. I was headed to Florida, not realizing that my departure date coincided with the end of school. The Waze app calculated my preferred route and spit on it, offering me a series of roads I would never consider taking. At first, I thought the route was a bug. There’s no way going through Dale City, VA would get me to Fredericksburg faster than a straight shot down I-95.
Turns out, the app was right. While another riding buddy followed the Waze route, I stuck to my own. And what was normally a 45 minute trip turned into a three hour slog in painful stop and go traffic. Then, the route opened up, just as the app predicted. Meanwhile, my friend got to Fredericksburg in a sane 60 minutes, had lunch–and a nap–while I practically walked my bike the whole way.
I can tell you that whenever that app made a new route suggestion, I was all over it. I never got stuck again. And I never heard the end of it from my friend.
Waze works by constantly collecting your position data and feeding that into a cloud-based computing architecture where data can be analyzed and reported. This is especially beneficial because new traffic delays are instantly detected as Waze users begin to slow down. Users can also actively contribute by using the app to flag items like road hazards, police locations, and more, which are then communicated to other Waze users along the route.
If you don’t like having data collected about your whereabouts, this may not be the app for you. As for me, it’s worth the trade-off. And the silence.
The intersection of an expanding US highway system, growing tourism and entrepreneurial spirit created some unique landmarks on America’s roadsides in the early and mid-20th century. Take Wigwam Motels for example.
The first Wigwam Motel (which is modeled after a tipi, not a wigwam. I know…details, details) was erected in Horse Cave, Kentucky in 1933 by Frank Redford who designed his motel to complement his existing museum (er, gift shop, actually) of native American artifacts. Seven Wigwam Motel villages were constructed across the country and today, three survive.
There’s a good chance that if you’ve seen a picture of the Wigwam Motel, it’s the complex in Holbrook, Arizona. Built along a route famous for its distinctive structures, Wigwam Motel #6 captured the imagination of travelers along US Route 66, offering the unique opportunity to “Sleep in a Wigwam!”. Its owner, Chester Lewis, installed coin-operated radios in each room and the money collected was sent to Redford as a royalty payment for using his motel design.
Thanks to the care taken by the Lewis family, Wigwam Motel #6 has avoided the fate that befell most of the structures along Route 66. The motel complex was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 2002.
You’ve spotted the perfect motorcycle camper or cargo trailer and you’d like to add it to your garage. But it’s in the U.S. and you’re in the beautiful Great White North. So what do you need to do to get it across the border? And what will it cost?
Let’s break it down. To get a camper or trailer from the factory to you, you’ll pay:
Crating and shipping costs
Customs brokerage fee
A trailer import fee
Considering the vast expanse that is the Great White North, shipping expenses can vary a lot. One obvious factor is distance, but a more important factor is manufacturer volume.
Here’s a recent example. I recently shipped a Time Out camper to Edmonton, Alberta for $350 USD. That’s not a bad rate when you consider the distances involved. However, a recent quote for shipping a Mini Mate camper to the same destination came in at $776 USD, more than double.
This happens because Time Out is a larger manufacturer and ships a higher volume of units. As a result, they’re able to negotiate higher discounts on shipping rates.
Alternative: If it makes sense, you can arrange to pick up your trailer or camper at a U.S. freight terminal, assemble it and tow it home, or have it loaded on your truck/trailer. If it would cost you several hundred dollars in missed time at work and travel expenses, it might just pay to have it brought to you.
Before your trailer can be shipped, you’ll need to appoint a customs broker. You’ll create an account with the broker and sign a limited power of attorney form that will allow them to collect the applicable tax amount from you and pay it on your behalf. They’ll follow your shipment through the customs clearance process and notify me and you if there are any issues.
As part of my job, I prepare three pieces of documentation for the customs broker. One is a commercial invoice, which reflects the full and accurate sale price of the trailer. The second is a North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) certificate of origin, a document that is similar in purpose to the certificate of origin provided by the manufacturer. The NAFTA document certifies that the trailer or camper was manufactured in a NAFTA country (Mexico, the U.S. and Canada). The third document is a scanned and signed copy of the certificate of origin from the manufacturer, a document you could consider to be a camper’s birth certificate.
A customs broker will charge about $100 USD for their services. I like using Borderbee.com. They specialize in helping private citizens import vehicles (a camper or trailer is considered a vehicle). They’re helpful and reasonably priced.
Alternative: If you have your trailer shipped to a U.S. terminal or commercial address and bring it across yourself, you are the customs broker. You’ll pay the taxes, complete the paperwork, and bring the trailer across yourself. Not complicated, many people have done it. You’ll need just a regular bill of sale (or commercial invoice), and the manufacturer’s certificate of origin. You won’t need a NAFTA document.
This one’s pretty simple. You’ll pay your standard sales tax on the value of any trailer or camper that you import or bring into the country. Most provincial rates run between 10 to 15%, although Alberta checks in at a thrifty 5%. How’s that eh? That must explain why I ship a lot of units to Alberta.
Alternative: Hah. An alternative to not paying The Man? Get serious.
Trailer Import Fee
This one surprises some people because it sometimes comes a month or two after they’ve had their camper. I’ve also found this fee to be inconsistently enforced over the years. In the last few, it seems to be more uniformly applied. Probably because of upgraded computer systems that make it easier to track these things. Damn computers.
Anyway, once you’ve brought your trailer into the country, you’ll need to take it to an inspection station to make sure it’s legal to tow. All the campers and trailers I sell are legal to use in Canada. As a token of your appreciation for that rubber-stamp inspection, you’ll pay around $200 CDN.
If you have questions about the import process, exact shipping costs, or any other questions about motorcycle campers or trailers, feel free to contact me.
This was a fun thing to do. Last year, I was invited to nominate 25 of my favorite roads to be considered for a Top 10 poll at USA Today. My contributions were combined with two other riders/writers and the roads that received the most nominations between us were put on a list for readers to choose from.
A bunch of my nominations made the top 10 list including the Cabot Trail, Beartooth Pass, the Blue Ridge Parkway and Cherohala Skyway, the Twisted Sisters, the PCH and US 101.
“Adventure” in motorcycle travel can be a double-edged sword. You want to enjoy unexpected pleasures and great roads, but leave behind things like fatigue, discomfort and danger (most of it, anyway). I wrote this title in 2007 to include everything I could think of to help riders enjoy more of the good side of adventure in their travels. The title was updated in 2014 to reflect advances in motorcycles and touring technology.
And finally, after 20 years of publishing, I got my picture on the cover of a book! That’s me riding my Honda ST-1300.
This video demonstrates how to install a trailer wiring harness on a 2014 Harley Ultra. This kit is available for all 2014 and newer Harleys including all Electra Glides and Ultras, the Tri-Glide, and the Road King, Street Glide and Road Glide.
It is available in two configurations to operate the lights on trailers with combined brake lights and turn signals, and those with separate brakes and turns. Click this link to buy the 2014-15 Harley plug-and-play trailer wiring kit at the Open Road Outfitters website.
Oh boy. If water cooling weren’t enough on new Harley models, now they’ve gone and added another BMW-like feature. CAN-BUS wiring. (Can an electrically adjustable windshield and integrated caviar cooler be far behind?)
In any case, the introduction of CAN-BUS wiring to the 2014 Harley touring bike line-up has created a lot of concern and questions.
You can still wire up your Harley for a trailer. And it won’t blow up your bike, it won’t trigger fault codes, it won’t transmit data behind your back to executives in Milwaukee who have an itchy finger on the “Delete Warranty” button.
Now, there is a twist. As I’ve written about before on this blog, and probably will again, there are two basic types of wiring setups for trailers, four wire systems and five wire systems. These refer to the number of wires used for your signal circuits and nothing else. A four wire system has one set of lights that function as both brake lights and turn signals. A five wire system has brake lights that operate separately from the turns.
For decades, motorcycles have been set up as five wire systems. Your brake light is a separate circuit from your turn signals. And so, the majority of motorcycle trailers made here in the US have been five wire systems.
Here’s the twist. In 2014, Harley eliminated the separate turn signals on the rear fender of MOST (not all…more on that), of MOST of their touring bike line-up. In the process of doing that, they combined the turn signals and brakes, making most 2014-to-present Harleys a FOUR wire system.
If you’ve purchased one of those little import trailers, you’re in good shape, because most of those trailers have a “flat four” plug and are four wire systems. Install a Harley plug-and-play wiring kit and it will, by default, mimic your bike’s four-wire system and drive your trailer lights without any problem.
Now, what if you have, or are planning to purchase a trailer that has separate brake lights and turn signals? In your case, what you need is a “four to five” converter — pretty much the opposite of what every auto parts store sells. You need to split out the brake light from the turn signals.
Luckily, the wiring kits I sell have an extra CAN-BUS module option that does just this. It installs along with the other plug-and-play components and converts the Harley four wire system into a five wire system for your trailer. No muss, no fuss.
Now, I mentioned that most 2014+ Harleys have gone to this new setup. But there’s an exception. Any CVO model touring bike that has a set of separate turn signals down around the brake light are still set up as five wire systems. That means, when you want to connect to a five wire trailer, you need to do nothing other than buy the standard wiring kit. It will work, by default, with your five wire trailer. To connect to a four wire trailer, you’ll need a five to four converter, just like all the previous Harley models.
I realize that’s all a lot of information and some of it may be confusing. So don’t hesitate to ask for help to get the right kit for your bike. In the end, the thing that’s most important to know is that despite everything you may hear or read about the difficulty of adding a trailer to a CAN-BUS system, there’s really nothing to it. You just need the right kit.
Doesn’t matter where you identify yourself on the spectrum, few are happy today with the political process or our elected officials. Believe it or not though, we do have something to thank our local politicians for. Many of the roads we dream about riding–many of the most scenic, out-of-the-way slabs of beautiful, swoopy asphalt–were the result of political horse trading.
The Cherohala, for example, is a seductive ribbon of highway in the Appalachians bisecting the Cherokee and Nanthahala National Forests. It’s magical 43 miles connects Robbinsville, NC in the east to Tellico Plains, Tennessee in the west. Construction began in 1958 and was completed nearly forty years later in 1996 at a cost of about $100 million. Beautiful, but hardly essential.
There’s no particular purpose for US 212’s run between Red Lodge Montana and Yellowstone’s northeast entrance. This route which follows General Phillip Sheridan’s trail over the Beartooth Mountains requires constant maintenance and is open just a couple of months out of the year. Practical? Hardly. But this 68 mile byway offers us a stunning ride through one of the most diverse and beautiful ecosystems anywhere. The same could be said for its nearby cousin, the Going to the Sun Highway or any of a thousand other such projects.
Be glad they were built when they were. In today’s political climate, the chances any of these roads would be built is ZERO. As you stand at an overlook on the Blue Ridge Parkway this summer or enjoy a ride along some other lonely ribbon of road, offer a word of thanks to the politicians who made it possible.
A road to nowhere makes little sense to the average citizen, but we riders know just what to do with it!
I’ve read a lot of discussions about the impact of a motorcycle trailer on a bike’s gas mileage but had never tracked it for myself. On my recent run down to the Georgia Mountain Rally in Hiawassee, I decided to pay closer attention.
I thought it would be especially interesting since I was pulling a Mini Mate motorcycle camper loaded with four boxes of books. It would be the heaviest pull I’ve done in a while. The Mini Mate weighs in at 265 lbs. empty and I usually carry very little gear, so my total towing weight with the Mini Mate almost never exceeds 300 lbs. In this case, four boxes of books added 160 lbs., plus the additional stuff I needed for my booth at the rally. I figured by the time I was done, I was looking at a weight of something in the range of 420 to 450 lbs. That’s about the same weight as a Time Out Deluxe loaded with gear.
A lot of factors go into determining gas mileage. The biggest factors are speed and weight, but other elements play a role, too, like the size of the bike and its power (Honda ST-1300), riding style, terrain, and weather. Especially headwinds. More about that later.
The ride to the rally and back covered about 1200 miles of mixed roads including state primary routes, US highways and some Interstate. On the way down, I plotted a leisurely route that included a greater variety of roads than the return trip. About half way into the run to the rally, I picked up I-40 from Greensboro, NC to Asheville, NC where the pace picked up. I increased my pace to stay up with traffic.
The last segment included long pulls up steep hills on US 23 and US 64 to the turn for Hiawassee, but also corresponding long runs down those same grades. Borrowing a page from the hypermiler’s handbook, I pulled in the clutch and coasted. On one stretch down US 64 I coasted for 4 miles at or above the speed limit. That was kind of fun. It probably boosted my mileage on those long grades by 1 mpg.
Let’s just say the trip back was an entirely different story. After 3 days of unceasing high winds, toppling trees, 45 degree daytime highs and intermittent wind-driven rain, I was ready to get back. Right now. Seeing a break in the precip on my iPhone RadarScope app, I executed my escape plan.
The winds were unbelievable, and in my face for the first 100 miles from Hiawassee to Asheville. Believe it or not, having the camper attached to the back of the bike makes it feel better in strong winds, like attaching a tail to a kit. Headwinds tossed the front end around like a pup with a rag doll, but the rear end stayed planted.
Mileage, predictably, took a hit. While I wasn’t averaging very fast speeds, the headwinds added to the work the bike had to do to pull itself and the camper up those long grades, and the bike actually slowed on the downhill grades with the stiff headwinds buffeting the bike. I don’t think it would’ve mattered whether I was towing or not, the combination of hills and weather conditions caused my mileage to plummet for the first segment of the return.
At Asheville, radar revealed that a turn north would get me ahead of the weather front and out of the rain, so that was a no brainer. I-26 is an easy run over the Bald Mountains of the Appalachian range between Asheville and Johnson City, Tennessee. At this point, the path home was made clear by predictions of 3 to 5 inches of rain and the sight of animals lining up two-by-two. I would pick up I-81 and make a bombing run home.
Riding now on long straights with lower grades, my mileage ticked up just a little bit even though I was twisting the throttle at a decent rate, keeping up with or passing some traffic, what most riders would consider a normal, safe pace. I stopped for the night in Salem, VA. I’d gotten well ahead of the bad weather, but it was still chilly. Escaping the worst of it tired me out, so I decided I would make the final run home the next day.
I didn’t waste any time getting home. Let’s put it that way. It was a brilliant sunny day out, but the lack of cold weather gear made it uncomfortable. So I just put my head down and banged out the last 225 miles.
Comparing this to my usual mileage without a trailer revealed that the impact isn’t a much as I’d expected, even at the faster rates. My ST-1300 averages around 46 MPG when I’m making a long run at modest highway speeds, about 3 points higher than the best MPG I averaged pulling a loaded motorcycle camper at those same speeds. When moving at a faster pace on the Interstate or when I’m carving up some twisties, my average drops to 37 MPG or about 4 MPG better than when towing.
I would have thought the difference would be greater, especially on the return trip with higher speeds, but the numbers don’t lie. Over the course of a 1200 mile trip, towing the camper cost me about one extra tank full of gas, or about $21.
Considering the difference in comfort between camping in a puddle (complete with wind-driven whitecaps) and camping off the ground, high and dry, I’ll gladly pay for the extra tank of gas and bring the camper along for the ride, every time.
P.S. Incidentally, I should add the camper handled great behind the bike, even with that much weight. I inflated the tires to 50 lbs. PSI (max is 60), and made sure the bike’s tires were at their max as well. I loaded the books evenly across the bottom of the camper to keep the weight low and evenly distributed. I used engine braking when slowing for traffic lights so I didn’t add too much strain to my brakes. Even descending the mountains of western North Carolina in driving winds and rain, I never felt like the camper was pushing the bike. It was still a fun ride!
Inspiration, ideas and how-to's for motorcycle travelers.