“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 interview features Bob Lennon, an Open Road customer from Calgary, Alberta. He shares his experiences with the Time Out camper he purchased from us. Bob also talks about the import process of bringing a motorcycle camper into Canada. Thanks Bob!
In 2006, Harley-Davidson introduced a new model to its touring line up, the FLHX Street Glide. Designed by Willie G. as his “personal ride,” the Street Glide added a bit of flair to the full dresser category.
While the underlying bike is an Electra Glide, differences in the back end of the bike affect hitch fitment. The most significant difference is the lighted rear fender. While this adds a touch of attitude to the back end, the light housing occupies some of the room used for hiding the receiver portion of a motorcycle trailer hitch. (Not that Harley cares. You ain’t supposed to be pulling a trailer anyway, according to their manual.)
In 2009, the Street Glide underwent the same frame change as other touring bikes in the FLH/FLT series. Hitch designs changed, again, to accommodate the new frame. New hardware was added to accommodate bikes equipped with the four-point quick release system for the TourPak.
Then, in 2010, another change to the Street Glide added a new twist that really complicated things for Harley hitch makers. For the 2010 model year, Harley moved from an incandescent light fixture to an LED powered fixture in the rear fender. That’s not a surprise. LEDs are becoming common on bikes. The problem is that the housing for the LED lights was much larger than before, completely eliminating the space behind the fender that hitch makers counted on.
While this complicates things, it doesn’t mean you can’t get a hitch for a current Street Glide. But for now, you can’t get one that is quite as fully hidden as in years past. That may change as the light fixture box evolves. But for now, here’s the line up of choices.
Hitches for Harley Street Glide – 2006 – 2008
Your choices in this category are pretty simple. Our chrome hitch for the Street Glide is almost identical to the one for the Electra Glide. It installs in exactly the same way. If you watch the video for installing a hitch on an Electra Glide, you’ll be set. The only difference between the two is that the receiver tube is cut down so that it doesn’t make contact with the light box housing behind the fender.
In black powdercoat mc hitches, the receiver is horizontal instead of vertical. That means it required no changes, so this is exactly the same hitch as is used on the Electra Glide.
Hitches for Harley Street Glide – 2009
2009 was a unique year for the Street Glide. It had the new frame, but still had the incandescent lights in the fender. A new chrome receiver hitch was designed for it. This is the same as the chrome Electra Glide hitch, except for the same change – the receiver tube is shorter.
Hitches for the Harley Street Glide – 2010 to present
At present, there is one hitch option for Street Glides from 2010 to present. That is the black powdercoat hitch. Because it uses a horizontal receiver, there’s nothing to get in the way of the light box housing. The folks at HitchDoc who build our chrome hitches have been working on a fixed-ball chrome hitch, but no release date has been announced.
This is the third article in a series about Harley hitches. The first article discusses in general the Harley hitches we sell. The second article discussed Electra Glide hitch options.
Of all the touring bikes made, there are probably more choices for the Electra Glide than any other (except the Honda Gold Wing). That means you have a lot of choices when it comes to hitches, which can also make things confusing. My previous post explained that I’ve narrowed my range down to two different Harley hitch styles.
Your hitch choice for the Electra Glide begins by model year range, either 1984 to 2008, 2009 to 2013 or 2014 to present.
This includes the standard Electra Glide, the Classic and the Ultra. Bikes in this model year range have a lot of structure at the back of the bike. The hitch attaches to the fender struts and the saddlebag sub-frame. This hitch installs easily.
Does your bike have a rubber bumper under the fender?
Most Electra Glides do. In this case, your bike requires the standard Electra Glide hitch. The chrome version has a vertical receiver. The black powdercoat hitch, which is nearly identical in design, has a horizontal receiver.
The chrome version of this hitch doesn’t have much chrome, because most of the hitch is hidden behind the fender. Its advantage is the fact that because most of it does fit behind the fender, it is less visible than the black powdercoat hitch.
Harley Electra Glide – 2009 to 2013
In 2009, Harley redesigned their flagship full dress touring bike frame. An updated design made the bike lighter. Overall, that was a good thing. However, in doing so, H-D eliminated much of the structure in the back that hitch makers relied on for support. This meant hitch design would have to change.
Furthermore, H-D began introducing more CVOs and Screamin’ Eagle editions. Road Glides started appearing with Street Glide fenders. Tires got wider, then narrower. Filler strips between the fender and saddlebags became more common. More bikes beyond the Street Glide appeared with removable TourPaks. That’s all great for customers, but man, it’s a headache for hitch makers.
When fitting a hitch to a present-day Electra Glide, three common questions need to be answered.
1) Does your TourPak mount permanently or is it on the Harley 4-point quick release system?
2) Do you have filler strips between the saddlebags and fender? And are they lighted?
3) Does your bike have the rubber bumper under the fender?
Standard setup: Fixed TourPak, no fillers, bumper present
This is what most folks have; an Electra Glide with a TourPak that bolts on, no filler strips, and a rubber bumper. This hitch mounts higher up than the older hitch because of the frame redesign.
This chrome receiver Harley hitch mounts at the point where the TourPak bolts onto the bike. When you have someone helping you install this, it is a fast an easy installation. The chrome hitch sweeps down the side and the receiver is hidden behind the fender. The chrome blends nicely with the saddlebag support structures, so you really don’t see much at all.
This video demonstrates the hitch being installed on a 2009 Harley. This bike happens to have a removable TourPak, but the installation is the same. And this will give you a good idea what this looks like on a current model year Electra Glide.
Project Rushmore bikes appeared in 2014, sporting all sorts of new goodies like water cooling and a CAN-BUS wiring architecture. The frame was also changed and lightened, which means, a different hitch design was required.
Thankfully, there are fewer differences between models which means almost everyone will use the same hitch. And once again, we have two hitch offerings, black and chrome.
If you ride a Harley touring bike like an Electra Glide or Softail, you’re in luck. There are many choices of motorcycle hitches for your bike, going back to models in the 80s. This article series summarizes what I carry and the primary differences between them.
After years of selling the widest range, I’ve narrowed down my range to two primary styles. What I sell now represents the best combination of features, value and performance among everything that’s available. Yes, you will find cheaper hitches, but not better ones.
Country of Origin: All my Harley hitches are made in the U.S.A. We talk about keeping our dollars at home–this is a good place to do it. Our US made hitches are designed, cut, welded, and chromed right here by US workers. When you buy a US-made hitch, you are directly supporting US manufacturing and working folks who enjoy riding, just like you.
Materials: Now, let me be clear – I don’t sell US-made hitches just because they’re made here. I sell them because they are the best available. US-made hitches use thicker, better quality steel than most imports, typically ⅜” throughout. Imported hitches use thin materials for flat surfaces and hollow tubes for rounded surfaces.
Finish: Many imported hitches have rough welds with spatter. They are usually painted with a thin coat of cheap, flat enamel that will nick easily and begin to rust. Imported hitches with a chrome finish have a thin plating that gathers surface rust quickly. The welds and finishes on on US-made hitches are of a much better quality. The chrome hitches I sell are triple-plated show chrome. You can feel the quality of the chrome. Those that have a black finish are powdercoated. This is superior to paint for surfaces that are exposed to weathering.
Most of hitch models I sell are receiver-style, which means you can remove the ball for a cleaner look. There are a few for older models bikes that have a fixed ball, but for anything built after 2000, I have a receiver style. And, every Harley hitch I sell is a bolt-on. No modifications, cutting or drilling are required.
Lastly, each is designed to safely pull anything that you can reasonably tow with your bike. I am frequently asked how much a particular hitch is rated to carry. The only way to state that with any certainty would be to test them to the point of destruction to determine a maximum rating. That isn’t done in this industry. But I can tell you that the materials for these are sufficient to pull any motorcycle cargo trailer or motorcycle camper that is sold today.
In the next post, I’ll begin a round-up of the different models and hitches.
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!
In the first installment of this article, I talked about looking in the right places for a motorcycle camper. In this installment I want to talk about questions you can ask and things you should evaluate that will help you determine if you’re looking at a good deal or a potential money pit.
An owner might not know every answer, but how they answer will tell you a little something about their history with the camper and whether you should take the time to go see it. That could be really important if the camper is 400 miles away.
Were the pictures you sent taken recently? This question is just a little integrity check. Did the owner send you pictures taken when he first bought the camper? Or did he set it up and take current photos? If the pics are only a year old, that might be okay, but I think we both know that if someone sent you pictures from 2005 and doesn’t “have time” to set up the camper to take new pictures…that’s a red flag.
What is the year, make and model of the camper? Some manufacturers make different models, so you’d want to know, for example, if the Time Out you are looking at is the Easy Camper (smaller), the original Time Out (mid-size) or the Time Out Deluxe (biggest).
Is this a camper designed for a motorcycle? If the camper is a name you recognize, Time Out, Bunkhouse, Aspen, Kompact Kamp, Roll-A-Home, Lee-sure Lite, Kwik Kamp, then you can be reasonably sure you’re looking at a camper built for the width and weight limitations of a motorcycle. If the owner throws out a name you don’t recognize, do your homework to make sure you know the camper is, in fact, a motorcycle-specific camper and not just because the current owner says it is. Motorcycle campers are generally under 400 lbs empty weight and not wider than about 40 inches. Anything heavier or wider than that may be a “micro camper” and might be fine with a trike, but not necessarily a motorcycle camper.
Is the person you’re dealing with the first owner? If not, how many have owned it before? Like cars, a first owner camper is usually a better deal that one that’s passed through multiple owners.
Is the title clear and do you have it in hand? Again, like a car, you only want to give serious consideration to a camper with a clear title that the owner has in hand.
Where has the unit been stored? Very important. “In a garage”is good. “Outside under a tarp” means one thing — Be. Very. Afraid. Some campers, especially older models made with an untreated composite wood frame, crumble away. Newer models of most reputable campers use weather-resistant pressure-treated materials that can better withstand exposure to weather. But in talking with an owner you find a camper has been sitting “out back,” unprotected for a few months (or a few years), take a pass and wait for a better opportunity.
When did you last use the camper? How often do you use it? Why are you selling it? These questions will help you get an idea if this is a camper someone bought on a whim, used once, put away wet, and hasn’t opened in the last five years. I’d rather hear someone say that they take it out a couple of times a year and have just decided they want something bigger, shinier, different, whatever.
In what condition is the tent? Any rips, tears, stains, mildew? Without a doubt, the most important aspect of a motorcycle camper is assessing the condition of the tent. I can’t tell you how many calls and e-mails I’ve gotten about replacing the canvas on a camper someone just bought from eBay. That might or might not be possible. You would expect some stains and some fading on a tent that has been used regularly.
Does the interior have any evidence of mice? You may or may not get the answer to this over the phone. Mice can find their way into just about anything that sits unattended in any storage unit outside of a hermetically sealed chamber. (And we know most places we store stuff aren’t hermetically sealed chambers.) So when you do happen to look at the unit, look for any damage that might be caused by nasty little rodent teeth chipping away at carpeting, wood, or tent canvas.
Does it have all its critical parts? Is anything missing? Broken? I sold a bike and my first camper to a buddy who bought it and rode it cross country to California. He didn’t want the camper, so he, in turn, sold it to someone out there. Six months later, I’m cleaning the garage and what do I run across? The poles for the tent. That means: When you go to look at a camper, have the owner take you through the setup to make sure all its critical parts are included. You can get by if it’s missing a table or sleeping pads need to be refurbished, but if you’re missing something crucial to the setup, it might not be a deal worth doing, or worth a substantial discount.
When were the bearings last serviced? Generally speaking, it’s not a deal-breaker if the owner hasn’t done regular service to the bearings. Most units use standard automotive bearings with replacement parts available at an auto parts store. Knowing the bearings were in good shape and well lubed would give you peace of mind if you planned to pull it home a few hundred miles or if you were heading out soon on a camping trip.
What options does it have? Helpful to know for establishing a good market value of the camper.
Does the camper require any repairs or restoration to use? Another market value question. Is the camper represented as “ready to camp” or does it need to have the tent replaced, new tires, and a new tongue?
Finally, is the company still in business? I wouldn’t expect an owner to necessarily know this. This is something worth finding out on your own. I typically advise folks to avoid purchasing used units from a name that is no longer in business for the simple reason that custom parts, like the tent canvas, will be impossible to find. Most of the companies I named above have been in business for a while. Time Out has been producing campers since 1974, Kompact Kamp, which makes the Mini Mate, has been building since 1982. One once-popular camper from the above list that’s no longer in production is the Kwik Kamp.
Having some answers to these questions will give you a good sense whether the deal you’re considering is real or not. In the last installment, I’ll discuss what you should do when you look at the camper in person.
I get a lot of requests for used motorcycle campers. It’s not uncommon to receive a dozen or more inquiries a week during the peak riding season. If I could only manufacture a used camper, I could sell every single one!
Of course, I realize the reason demand is so high is because folks are looking to save a few dollars. If you are considering that, this article series offers a few tips to help you make an informed decision. (This is especially true when you’re looking at motorcycle campers as they have soft parts that are exposed to the elements.) Dollars are precious, and you want to make sure you really are getting a good deal, not someone else’s basket of problems!
The first rule is — don’t be in a hurry. This is the hardest piece of advice to take, but it’s also the most important. A lot of folks get the idea to purchase a motorcycle camper a couple of weeks before their trip. A good used motorcycle camper can take months to locate. If you’re in a hurry, trying to find a camper to make a specific trip, your haste increases the chances that you’ll take whatever you can find. Buy something sight unseen. Take a chance you would otherwise avoid. RUSH – it’s a four-letter word for TROUBLE!
Next, when you’ve decided to take your time and do this thing right, look in the right places. If you have a friend who tows a motorcycle camper and you know it’s been well cared for, get on their wait list. (This is the main reason why there aren’t that many used campers on the market. Friends often buy from friends.)
If you don’t have a friend with a camper, turn to a source where motocamper and mototrailer oriented folks tend to gather. I frequently send people to the For Sale section of www.gl1800riders.com, a very active Gold Wing forum, and to www.motocampers.com, a site of special interest if you are into motorcycle camping. Of course you should carefully vet any offers posted here just as you would elsewhere, but I generally find the quality of campers offered here to be better than your average Craigslist or eBay listing.
Finally, watch out for the too-good-to-be-true deal. If you’ve been scouring the Internet, you may have come across what looks like a super deal. A brand new camper for almost half the price of other similarly styled campers. Sound too good to be true? I think so.
Chances are good that what you’re looking at is an imported knock-off of the Time Out camper that I sell. Materials and construction of this particular unit are sub-par and if you look a little further you’ll find a long history of “F” ratings from the BBB, frequent company name changes, and a lot of customer complaints on the same forums mentioned above. Hey, you’re free to spend your money as you like, but why patronize a business that steals American designs and jobs to deliver a crappy product that they don’t support? Enough said.
In the second installment, I’ll cover the questions you should ask and things you should look at when you do identify a potential deal. On the other hand, if you decide you’d like to consider a new Mini Mate or Time Out motorcycle camper, please contact me. If you do find a good deal and just need a motorcycle hitch or motorcycle trailer wiring, I can help with that, too.
Q:What is your opinion regarding differences in the Mini Mate vs. the Easy Camper??? For instance—should my wife camp with me ?
A:First, watch this video. Then join me afterward (below), for more commentary.
If your better half will be joining you once in a while, then I think either camper would work for you.
The bed area is exactly the same between the Mini Mate, Easy Camper, and regular size Time Out — 6.5 feet long, 4.5 feet wide. The Easy Camper bed area probably feels a little bigger because you have the extra covered space inside, but that’s just an illusion.
(Little Known Fact: You can put a queen air mattress in any of these units. When you inflate it, the mattress pushes the tent material out a little and creates a couple of extra inches of space. A queen is only six inches wider than these beds anyway.)
If I were regularly traveling two up, the Easy Camper or regular Time Out would be more comfortable for two because it has the sitting area inside. I think the Easy Camper is the best value in the Time Out line. It uses all the external accessories as the Time Out and Time Out Deluxe, and has almost as much inside space, but is lighter and less expensive.
The Mini Mate set up is faster and easier and the unit is 60 lbs lighter. I know you’re pulling with a trike, so weight isn’t as much of a factor in how it affects handling, but it would have a reduced impact on your gas mileage.
So to recap, both have the same bed size. Easy Camper has more interior room and options, but is heavier. Setup requires medium effort. The Mini Mate is lighter, sets up faster with light effort. It has fewer options.
To be honest, I think they’re both great campers and you would quickly adapt to whichever you choose. I would gladly tow and camp with either of them.
Q: I would like to get your receiver style Chrome Hidden Hitch for my 2005 Heritage Softail Deluxe. I have the deluxe rigid saddlebags & a detachable solo rack which includes the required docking hardware kit, all mounted on the bike. Will these items cause a problem in installation?
A: The hitch would fit, and should work with your saddlebags without issue. The rub may be with the detachable rack.
When you install a hitch on the outside of the fender, as is the case with almost all cruiser style bikes, you add a total of about 3/4 of an inch to the total width. This additional spread affects the ease with which you can put on and remove detachable items.
So, I don’t think those accessories would present a problem to installing the hitch, but might make it difficult to use the luggage rack. It’s possible you could spread the attachment points and angle them a bit to make them work better. After all, it’s probably not something you are putting on and taking off every day.
Be sure to check out the Harley Softail Hitch installation video. This bike has a fixed backrest and luggage rack and, as I mentioned above, I had to stretch them a bit, but they do go back on the bike.
We also have Softail hitches for current model bikes as well as other members of the Softail family, such as the Fat Boy. I don’t always have them all listed, so if your bike is not among those on the current hitch list, use our contact form to ask me about a motorcycle hitch for your Softail (or any other bike, for that matter!)
Inspiration, ideas and how-to's for motorcycle travelers.