10 Reasons Why Motorcycle Camper Trailers Rule

Dale Coyner and Mini Mate Motorycle Camper
Dale Coyner enjoys the view from the “side porch” of a Mini Mate motorcycle camper.

by Dale Coyner

There’s a lot of truth in the cliche “less is more,” especially when it comes to small pop up campers. I’ve spoken with a number of folks over the last few years who are selling off their full-size travel trailer and going to a class of small, lightweight camper that are marketed primarily for motorcycles.

A motorcycle camper doesn’t offer quite as many conveniences as a larger camper does. There’s no kitchen or stand up shower. No cedar lined closets or flat panel TV. But small pull behind campers have advantages that make up for some of those missing conveniences. Here are ten reasons that a lightweight motorcycle tent trailer might just be the solution you’re looking for, whether you’re getting your first camper or thinking about downsizing.

Low up front cost. Of course a mini camper is less expensive, often by a lot. Pop up camper prices for a comfortable, US made, 2 person camper begins at around $3,000. How is that an advantage? For starters, that’s low enough that many folks can buy one outright, avoiding costly interest payments. If you decide to finance, check with your bank or credit union. A mini camper is a vehicle with a VIN, so many financial institutions would consider a secured loan. That means a much better interest rate. And, if you go a couple of months without using your camper, you won’t feel the nagging guilt you would every month you stroke a payment check for that big travel trailer that sits unused in your driveway.

Time Out Pop Up CamperTow with any vehicle. While mini campers are most often marketed as motorcycle campers, they can be towed by any vehicle, a tiny Smart Car, a three-wheel Spyder, or even a mid-size motorcycle. There’s no need to buy an expensive diesel-sucking dually pick-up to pull a mini camper. Two-seater sports cars like the Miata can handle one easily. That means any compact or full size car or truck can tow a small pop up camper. When towing with a four-wheel vehicle, a motorcycle pop up camper will have nearly zero impact on your gas mileage. Any model can be wired with a flat-four plug which fits most vehicles equipped with a hitch. Here’s what it looks like to tow a camper with a motorcycle. I’m towing at a responsible speed, but it ain’t slowing me down.

Easy maintenance. When you have a big camper, there are a lot of things to take care of, whether you use it or not. It’s like taking care of a boat. Mini campers require a lot less. At the beginning of the year, I set mine up and spray it with Scotchguard to improve the fabric’s rain repellency. I’ll hit the hinges with a little silicon lube. During the year, I just make sure it’s clean and dry when I pack it up. Once every couple of years I’ll check the bearings to make sure the grease is still fresh. That’s it.

Easier and less costly to store. There’s no need to rent an expensive parking spot or build a hangar-sized addition to your garage to house a mini camper. In the winter, take off the tongue and your camper would consume up a manageable 65” x 43” space in the garage.

More outdoor experience. At what point does camping with all the conveniences of home cross the line and simply become “living in a different place?” That’s what travel trailers signify to me. When I go camping, I want to be closer to the outdoors, not insulated from it. To me, that’s one of the big advantages of pop up camping. I don’t want to bring along the 24 hour news channels or the microwave popcorn. I want the four C’s of camping: a campfire, a comfy chair, good conversation, and a cigar. And a beer.

Comfortable where it counts. While you do give up a lot of built-in amenities, a pop up camper offers the most important conveniences. You get a roomy bed area comfortable for two. Some campers feature sitting areas that give two people plenty of room to relax inside a fully screened living space.. If needed, some models feature add-on rooms that allow you to create a much larger space. Air conditioning is an option. Some folks tote along a porta potty, which is a matter of personal preference. For more covered space outside, some models like the Time Out camper offer an L-shaped awning that creates a lot of covered space.

Time Out Motorcycle Camper
Put a small motorcycle camper almost anywhere, on a friend’s lawn or in a tight camping spot that a bigger camper just can’t fit into.

Access to more camping spots. Lightweight mini campers are narrower than any car or truck and much lower, which means you can park them in more remote spots than larger campers. I frequently camp at friends’ homes in the Appalachian mountains. I can park my camper on their lawn and not worry that I’ll leave ruts behind. Mini campers much easier to maneuver which means anyone can easily park one with confidence. And if you can’t get it in just the right spot, you can unhook it from the vehicle and move it by hand. Try that with a fifth wheel! You can tow them pretty much anywhere, even Alaska, as this Mini Mate customer will tell you.

Ready to go, so you camp more. When I come home from a camping trip, I take about ten minutes to vacuum out the inside with a battery-operated hand vac, wipe down the roof, and organize my gear. When I close up the camper, it’s immediately ready to go. Now I know you can do this with a travel trailer as well, but the task is a lot larger. It’s like cleaning a house. The fact is that having the mini camper ready to go, with less fuss, means you’ll do more camping. Just pull it out, hook it up, and drive away. Camping really doesn’t get any easier than that.

Fast, easy set up. In the videos I create that show how to set up a pop-up camper, it generally takes me, alone, less than ten minutes to set up camp. The Mini Mate camper sets up in two minutes. That’s less time than it takes to set up most travel trailers and way faster than setting up a tent. Likewise, striking camp is equally fast. In the morning, I can be packed and ready to go in twenty minutes. When you’re traveling point to point, that’s a big plus. You can either get an early start, or sleep in a little longer. Plus, you don’t need to go through an arm’s-length checklist to make sure you’ve stowed and strapped everything. If you’re traveling on a motorcycle, you know what that’s like. It’s a pain.

Very low depreciation. Finally, if there does come a time that you decide to sell your mini camper, you’ll be surprised at its resale value. Used tent trailers that are small enough to be pulled by a motorcycle are in high demand. It is not an exaggeration to say that a well-kept motorcycle camper can hold up to 90% of its value over the first three years, and more than 75% over five years.

I know the folks at “GoRVing” would have an issue with this, but as you think about your next camper, consider what you really want from a camping experience. If you’re looking to create a home away from home, a big fifth wheel trailer or Class A motorhome might be the right fit. But if you’re looking to enjoy more of the great outdoors, the way it was meant to be enjoyed, then a lightweight motorcycle camper might just be what you’re looking for.

Visit www.openroadoutfitters.com for more information about motorcycle campers or contact me directly at dale@openroadoutfitters.com. I wish you many happy journeys!

Motorcycle Camping – Buying a Used Motorcycle Camper (Part 3 of 3)

A used motorcycle camper advertised online. It looks pretty sweet in this picture. Will it measure up when you check it out in person?
If you’ve looked in the right places and asked the right questions, the chances are better than average that the used motorcycle camper you’re preparing to go see, and maybe purchase, is a solid deal.

This last installment covers some of the same points you asked about over the phone. But pictures an owner sends can only tell part of the story. And sometimes, the answers you get from an owner may overestimate things (like condition) and underestimate others (like that gaping hole in the tent fabric).

This list of questions may not cover every minor detail but a camper that passess all of these visual checks is likely to perform well for you.

Do they have the title in hand, and does the camper have a VIN that matches? You would have asked the owner ahead of time if they had a clear title. Before anything else is done, it’s time to see it. Locate the VIN sticker on the camper and compare the numbers. If you can’t find the VIN on the camper or the paperwork and camper VINs don’t agree, stop here. You could have trouble getting this unit registered. (Pennsylvania, for example, goes to great lengths to verify the VIN.)

Where is it stored? A camper that’s stored in a garage or other well-built structure is optimal. Not only is the exterior less exposed to the elements, it’s less exposed to critters. A camper that’s kept “under the deck out back” or outside but covered may be okay as long as it hasn’t been exposed to too much moisture. A camper sitting alone, under a tree, uncovered, is not a good sign.

How does the unit appear on the outside? You would expect a motorcycle pop-up camper to show some wear. After all, they’re built to be used. A little wear on the jack stands, external floor stands, some nicks or dings on the exterior finish would all be normal for a unit that’s a couple years old or has been used a lot. Again, a unit stored in a garage will generally show less wear, especially less dulling of painted or gel coat surfaces, because it’s had less exposure to the sun’s UV rays.

In what condition are the tires? Four-ply camper tires are usually good for about 20,000 miles and four or five years. If the camper’s old than that and has its original tires, the sidewalls will likely show some cracking from UV exposure. Rubber also cracks a bit as it dries with age. Figure on replacing those, for safety sake. Good tires aren’t expensive, about $40 each.

How well does it set up? Beyond the external cosmetics, it’s time to see how much “pop” is in your prospective pop-up. Have the owner show you how to set it up. It’s better if you do the setting up and they tell you how. You’ll get a better feel for how the camper unfolds and you’ll instantly become aware of any problems that an experienced owner might, errr, gloss over, as they set up the camper. For example, when you set up the leg supports on the roof of the Time Out, you can tell by how they extend if they’ve been bent over the years. That’s not a deal breaker, and it doesn’t need to be fixed. But it’s better to know the sum total of all the quirks in a used tent camper before you hand over your hard earned moola.

How does it smell? How does it smell, indeed. This may be the most critical test in your evaluation. The tent fabric and soft parts in motorcycle camping trailers are sensitive to dampness. And it’s not that unusual for someone to come home from a long ride with a camper that’s a little damp, dump it in the garage, and go in the house for a long soak. After which, they totally forget to open the camper and let it air out. Until they decide two years later to sell it. Oops. So, when you crack open the top and start setting up the camper, pay attention to what you smell. Mildew isn’t easy to get out. Neither is smoke. If the odor is faint, you might be able to air it out well enough.

Is it clean on the inside? Does it show excessive wear? These are subjective measures of course, but as you know, a clean camper is likely to be a well-maintained camper. One that has a funky odor and dinghy fabric, well, you’d just as well spend your money at Motel 6. You’d be getting the same thing, only with a shower and a toilet.

In what condition is the tent fabric? After smell, this is the next most critical thing to examine. I had a fellow contact me having just purchased a 1994 camper online who said, “I got it home and the zippers are missing from the windows.” Oh boy. Replacing the tent fabric is expensive, and that’s assuming it’s still available from the manufacturer. Setting up the camper will give you the chance to look at every zipper, every screen, and identify any rips or tears. If the camper canvas folds at any point, look for stress tears. Also be aware–untreated nylon tent fabric with a lot of exposure to UV rays will become faded and brittle over time.

Is all the hardware present? Does the camper have all the poles it’s supposed to have? If the tent fabric snaps around the base, are all the snaps working? You don’t want to get home and find that the owner forgot to include the poles to set it up or forgot the awning. Speaking of which, set up the awning, too. If the camper has options like a cooler or an AC stand, insure those are present and in good working order too.

Are the suspension and bearings in good shape? There isn’t much to the suspension on a motorcycle camper, but you want to look for obvious problems. The camper should be level, meaning, one side shouldn’t be measurably higher or lower than the other. You can set the camper on its jackstands to get the wheels off the ground. Tug on the top of the wheel. There should be an absence of movement in and out. Any movement other than in the direction of travel could indicate loose bearings. If you’re planning to tow the trailer home and the owner can’t verify maintenance on the bearings, it might not be a bad idea to pop off a wheel, pull the dust cap, and check the condition of the grease. Generally speaking, wheel bearing replacement isn’t expensive, so the need to replace bearings isn’t a deal breaker. You just don’t want to tow a camper a few hundred miles with dry or worn bearings.

Do all the lights work? Aside from weather exposure to the soft components, electrical issues are about the only other common issue with any lightweight tent camper. It’s not unusual for an owner to change the plug on a camper, so make sure it’s in good shape. Ask to see the camper’s lights in action. You might choose to bring a 12 volt source with you (like a used bike battery), just to test the lights in case the owner no longer has the ability to demonstrate them. Camper wiring is not complicated, but some folks can make a mess of it if they get into it and start modifying it to add auxiliary plugs or tack on extra lights.

What other modifications has the owner made? Finally ask the owner to point out any modifications they’ve made. Some may be obvious, others not as much. This will just give you some idea of the history of the camper and whether there are more things that need to be maintained than you were aware of originally.

Well that’s all that comes to mind, but when you look in the right places, ask the right questions, and do your due diligence when you check out a camper, the camper you settle on should bring you good service for many years.

Of course, if you decide you’d like to consider a new motorcycle camper like the ones I sell from Time Out and Mini Mate, I’d welcome the opportunity to speak with you as well.

Thanks for your time. Hope these tips will help make you a Happy Camper!

Didn’t see the other parts?

Buying a Used Motorcycle Camper, Part 1 – Better Places to Look
Buying a Used Motorcycle Camper, Part 2 – Questions to Ask Over the Phone

Motorcycle Camping: What does a camper feel like behind a bike?

A lot of folks ask me what it feels like to pull a motorcycle camper or trailer. I never know exactly how to answer that because when I say it doesn’t really alter my riding all that much, I figure they’ll think I’m just saying that.

So when I went out this summer, I shot a little video from the perspective of the Mini Mate motorcycle camper as I ascended US 33 between Brandywine, WV and Harrisonburg, VA. Again, I can’t tell you how you’ll feel when you tow a camper, but maybe this will give you some perspective.

As always, if you have questions about campers, motorcycle trailers, a motorcycle hitch or the trailer wiring you’ll need, feel free to contact me!