Category Archives: FAQs

Will Installing a Motorcycle Hitch Void My Warranty? No.

Here’s a topic that’s been debated almost as much as tire brands and the “best oil.” Will installing a hitch and pulling a motorcycle trailer or camper void your new bike warranty?

The simple answer is “No.” It’s against the law.

Here’s the longer answer. The Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act of 1974 was passed to insure that manufacturers honored the terms of their warranty fairly. Any manufacturer who sells a product that comes with a full warranty (like a motorcycle) can’t cancel your warranty or decline to honor it just because you’ve install aftermarket parts, like a motorcycle hitch or a wiring kit.

A notice from the Federal Trade Commission published in 2010 clarified this matter, stating that consumers (like you) have the right to patronize independent retail stores and repair shops for parts and service without fear of voiding your new vehicle warranty.

A dealer or vehicle manufacturer does have the right to deny a warranty repair only if they can demonstrate that the aftermarket part caused the problem. That means if you were to install a hitch on your bike, tow a 20’ bowrider and burn out the clutch, your dealer could refuse to repair that under warranty. I wouldn’t blame them.

However, under ordinary travel conditions, the only effect a motorcycle-specific trailer or camper will have on your bike is to cause accelerated wear on consumables like tires and brake pads. You’d expect that.

Furthermore, your warranty remains in effect for all other covered parts. Let’s say you have a problem with the display on your bike’s media center. Your dealer can’t deny a warranty repair because you have a hitch installed.

The debate about tires and oil, or which color is faster will never be settled. (It’s blue, by the way.) But when it comes to installing a motorcycle hitch and your warranty, the law is clear. You don’t give up your warranty or your rights by installing and using aftermarket parts.

So install your hitch, plug in your wiring, hook up your trailer, and go ride.

 

If your dealer and your manufacturer fail to own up to their responsibilities, you have legal rights to pursue. And, while you’re at it, you’ll probably want to look for a better dealer and a different brand of ride.

Importing a Motorcycle Camper or Cargo Trailer into Canada

Photo by Brian Wilson
Photo by Brian Wilson

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
  • Provincial taxes
  • A trailer import fee

Shipping Costs

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.

Customs Broker

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.

Provincial Taxes

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.

Alternative: None.

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.

Harley CAN-BUS Trailer Wiring

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.

Relax.

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.

How does a motorcycle camper affect a bike’s gas mileage?

The Impact of a Motorcycle Camper on Gas Mileage

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.

Heavy weight should be evenly distributed in the bottom of any motorcycle cargo trailer or camper
Heavy weight should be evenly distributed in the bottom of any motorcycle cargo trailer or camper

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.

motorcycle camper mpg table

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.

After climbing for several miles on US 64, this scenic overlook provided the best view of the trip. It was wet and windy from here out.

After climbing for several miles on US 64, this scenic overlook provided the best view of the trip. It was wet and windy from here out.

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.

Return mileage wasn't as stellar, but it still wasn't that much of a deviation from my regular hammer-down riding style.

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!

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!

Trailer and Bike Wiring Compatability

You can connect any trailer to your trike as long as you understand how BOTH are wired.

Q: I am in the market for a good used Escapade in the 1990s and up.

I purchased a 2004 Goldwing Trike last year and am considering now in looking for a trailer although my possibilities of locating one are slim to none because I’ve been searching the web for a year now and still can’t find a good used Escapade for sale.

I was told by the company I bought my trike from to make very sure what kind of motorcycle cargo trailer I ever purchased because all trailer hookups are not the same. For example, if I purchased an Escapade BE SURE the wiring on the trike is for an Escapade; otherwise, it will fry the trike’s wiring.

Can you confirm for me if this is true? Also, are all Escapade models wired the same. Example, I don’t want to have the trike wired for an Escapade LE model only to find out that I found a good deal on an Escapade SE model; however, the wiring is different.

Thanks for your input on both of these questions.

A: Good questions. There is a lot of confusion about bike-trailer wiring, because every company that makes trailers tends to do something different. There are quasi-standards, but no one is bound to follow them. Every maker uses a different style of plug. There are four-wire and five-wire trailers. Four-wire trailers can have five wires, five wire trailers can have six. If you aren’t familiar with them all, it’s hard to sort things out.

First, let me assure you that you can attach any trailer you like to your trike. The key is to understand how the trailer is wired so that you are matching the trike’s wiring to the trailer. This is where some folks get into trouble by matching wire colors, thinking that they should connect “white to white” or “black to black”. That is probably what led to some of those fried wiring harnesses your dealer was talking about.

If you know what light function corresponds to which color wire on your trike, you can match that up with the same light function on your trailer, whatever color it happens to be. If you need to change plugs and slightly rewire the trailer, it’s really no big deal, as long as you know what color corresponds to which light function.

For trailers like Escapade, the company is still in business (and making great trailers), so you can get a wiring diagram with color codes that will tell you what color on the trailer wiring corresponds to the ground wire, brake, turns, and running lights. (While we’re on the subject of Escapade, the wiring for the Escapade LE is the same as the Escapade SE, as the Escapade Elite, etc.)

If you’re buying a used trailer of ANY brand, Escapade, Time Out, ANY trailer, I always recommend that you map which color wire activates which specific light. I’ve seen some that have been rewired over time, and done differently than what came from the factory. I once saw one where it had been completely rewired with ALL RED wire because that’s what they guy had on hand. He made little tick marks on the end to distinguish one red wire from another.

The best way to do this is to simply hook up a 12 volt source to the wires on the trailer and power them up one at a time to see what color wire turns on which light.

If you find your trailer is a four-wire (brake lights operate on the turn signals), you may need to install a 5 to 4 converter so your trike’s brake lights will show up properly on the trailer.

Plugs don’t matter. You can change plugs on the trike or trailer. All you need to insure is that the connection between trike and trailer have enough pins for your wires and stay securely plugged together.

In all cases, I prefer to use an isolating trailer wiring harness for trikes because this powers the trailer lights off of the trike battery instead of adding them to the trike’s signal circuits. If something does happen and a short develops, it will not “fry” the trike’s wiring harness. It will simply take out a fuse on the wiring kit. A fuse that can be easily replaced once the problem is found and fixed.

Good luck in your search – used Escapades are hard to find. When one rider is ready to sell his, he usually has two or three friends in line to buy it. Of course if you decide to go the new Escapade route, feel free to contact me!

8 inch versus 12 inch wheels

Question: I’ve heard that 8 inch wheels on a trailer are a problem but I’m not sure. I’ve heard the bearings run hot. What is your opinion on 12″ versus 8″ wheels?

Answer: The short answer–8″ wheels are fine. On some trailers they are the only choice due to the design. I would not make a buying decision based solely on wheel size.

The longer answer is that the problems people have with bearings has more to do with maintenance than wheel size. It is true that an 8″ wheel turns faster at the same highway speed than a 12″ wheel, that’s just mathematics (or geometry or algebra or physics or something, I dunno.) However, today’s axle assemblies use bearings that are designed for much heavier loads than a motorcycle trailer or camper will EVER carry, so when you’re tooling along at 80 mph on I-90 out west, properly maintained bearings can handle that all day long, day after day.

To achieve the proper ride height based on design, sometimes an 8″ wheel is the only choice. For example, the Mini Mate and Time Out campers both use 8″ wheels and as a class motorcycle campers are heavier than cargo trailers. I’ve towed both thousands of trouble-free miles.

The key is keeping the bearings packed with fresh grease and this is not a big deal either. If you are a casual tower and don’t ride in a lot of rain, you may need to service the bearings just once every few years. This consists of pulling the dust cap and castle nut off the hub, pulling out and wiping off all grease from the bearings and hub, then repacking with fresh high speed high temperature grease.

12″ wheels do have a couple of advantages but, as I said, they are not deal makers or breakers for me. A 12″ wheel will not step as deeply into a rutted road surface, so it pulls fractionally smoother over rough surfaces. And there are a few more design/material options in 12″ wheels, chrome and alloy, so you have some different looks. But that’s about it.

Bottom line, I’d not hesitate to pull a trailer with 8″ wheels and I wouldn’t worry about maintaining a specific road speed to “save” the bearings.

Have a question about motorcycle trailering? Feel free to e-mail me, dale@openroadoutfitters.com and I’ll try to answer your question, or point you in the right direction.

Correct swivel for 2.5″ tongue

Question: I’m looking for a swivel coupler for the tongue of a trailer I’m making to pull behind my motorcycle. The tongue width is 2-1/2″ and the holes, center to center, are 2-1/2″. Which type swivel coupler on your web page will fit? I didn’t find any name of coupler on the original fixed coupler or tongue.

Answer: The swivel units I sell are designed to fit into a tongue that has an interior height and width of 1.75″. That’s the standard width of a steel tongue that’s 2″ square. For applications like the Harbor Freight trailer, you need a couple of extra pieces to account for the added width of the tongue.

I sell a swivel for the Harbor Freight trailer that includes spacers and a new coupler for the front. The spacers make it fit snug in the tongue and the new coupler allows you to bolt it onto the front with the proper hardware, eliminating the possibility of binding that comes with trying to fit a 2.5″ coupler on the front.

You need to make a small modification to the tongue of the Harbor Freight trailer to get the best fit. I did a video on this a while back that shows how to make that change.

Matching Trailer and Bike Wiring

Question: On the TriGlide hitch you sell, what kind of wiring harness comes with it? My trailer has a round 6 pin plug.

Answer: The TriGlide hitch comes with a five-pin receptacle and plug. This works for most trailers, even those that have a six pin plug. Most motorcycle trailers have four signal wires and a ground wire for a total of five wires. If that’s the case with your trailer, you can use the five-wire harness that comes with the TriGlide hitch, you’ll just need to change the plug on the trailer.

Some trailers come equipped with an extra wire for an interior cargo light. In that case, you can do two things — you can find a six-pin receptacle to match your six-pin plug (not difficult), or you can combine the cargo light lead on the trailer with the running light circuit. This means your interior light will only work if the bike is keyed on, which some folks prefer as a way to prevent leaving the light on and draining the battery.

Whatever the case, you can feel free to change up the plug on the trailer to match up whatever works best on your bike. I talk to some folks who are afraid to change it for fear that something new won’t work, but there’s no magic to the plug that’s on it. You just need to make sure the new plug has the right number of pins to accommodate all the functions on your trailer. Five is usually enough.

Got a question about trailering? Feel free to send it to dale@openroadoutfitters.com and I’ll try to answer as best I can. Thanks!

Getting Hitched

The hitch industry, if you’d call it that, is a tiny segment of the powersports industry. That’s why you should be certain a hitch is available for your bike before you plunk down money for a trailer.

For popular trailer towers like the Gold Wing and Electra Glide, this is a non-issue. You actually have a range of choices. If you ride a less likely towing bike like an ’83 Suzuki G850 or a brand new model of bike, you may need to turn to other options.

See the complete list of hitch manufacturers on www.openroadoutfitters.com to find a hitch for your bike. If it’s not listed among the manufacturers there, drop us a line. We don’t list everything that’s available because the range of hitches changes all the time. If there is no hitch available by any manufacturer you’ll need to find a fabricator, a topic we’ll discuss in more detail shortly.

Hitch Designs

A motorcycle hitch has several tasks. It must distribute the tongue weight of the trailer across the rear of the motorcycle without upsetting handling of the bike. Tongue weight is how much downward force (measured in pounds) the trailer tongue exerts on the hitch.

The hitch must transmit lateral pull and push forces between bike and trailer as the bike speeds up and slows down. The hitch also serves as a critical pivot point, allowing the bike to lean into curves while permitting the trailer’s attitude to remain unchanged. Those are a lot of requirements for such a seemingly simple device.

Hitch designs follow one of two basic styles, one I’ll call the “towbar style” and the other I’ll call the “fender mount.”

A towbar hitch is a steel bar or rod, bent in a u-shape, and attached to a frame point on either side of the motorcycle. Common attachment points include passenger footpegs, exhaust mounts, and rear saddlebag guards. Any two attachment points on opposite sides of the bike that mount to the frame will do just fine. This provides support for the lateral push-pull forces the trailer will exert on the back of the bike when you’re towing.

In addition, support is required to handle the tongue weight of the trailer and to hold the towbar in place. This support is provided by hanger straps. These straps, also made of steel, often attach somewhere under the seat of the motorcycle and connect to the tow bar.

The towbar style hitch may use a single piece, classic u-shape bar, or it may be made of several pieces, as is the case with a popular design used for the Honda Gold Wing. Even though it comes in pieces, when you put it together, the Wing hitch still looks like a U-shaped towbar with hangar straps.

The fender style hitch is popular on cruiser style bikes. It’s necessary to use this approach because cruisers don’t often have convenient attachment points to bolt on a traditional towbar hitch. Fender style hitches bolt on in the same location as the saddlebags bolt to onto the rear of the motorcycle, usually through two or three holes along the top of the fender. The fender hitch then sweeps down the length of the fender, terminating in a plate at the bottom where the hitch ball is mounted.

Exterior fender hitches are usually chrome plated so they complement the look of the bike. On the one hand, a fender hitch does cover up your painted fender when looking at it from the side. On the other hand, if you have saddlebags on the bike, you can’t see much of the fender anyway.

If your fender is wide and deep enough, some manufacturers offer a hidden fender hitch that fits on the underside of the fender. These are powder coated rather than chrome because you can’t see them.

Fender hitches can be tough to install. It’s not uncommon for several items to already be using the fender bolts—back rest, luggage rack, saddlebag sub-frame are typical. Now you’re adding another thing to line up and an additional thickness. The hitch is designed to fit against the fender, possibly with bushings. (Those are a blast to install along with everything else.)

You may need to stretch the other add-ons so they’ll fit the extra width of the fender plus hitch. It’s helpful to have an extra set of hands and a few small sections of dowel rod that will slide easily through the fender mount points. When you remove a bolt, replace it with a length of dowel rod that is long enough to act like a bolt and hold the hitch in place with enough left over to grab so you can pull it out. This will help you get everything lined up so you can bolt the hitch into place.

In either case, as you look at the list of hitches for your bike, you may find a choice between hitches labeled “standard” and “receiver.” A standard hitch has a hitch ball permanently attached to a permanently affixed drawbar. A receiver hitch is designed to work much like a removable hitch on a four-wheeler. The hitch’s drawbar is pinned into place and can be removed when you’re not towing. Receiver hitches are a little more expensive, but many riders consider them worth the few extra dollars for the ability to improve the look of their bike when they are not towing.

Evaluating Options

Much of the success of a particular hitch design can be attributed to two factors: 1) the quality of materials used to construct the hitch and 2) the number and placement of the attachment points used to mount the hitch to the bike.

The quality of materials is important because lightweight (cheap) materials will flex if too much weight or force is applied to the hitch. Flexing, in short, is not good.

Any movement in a hitch due to flexing could apply some undesired input to the suspension load of your bike, likely at a time when you don’t expect it and are least prepared to handle it. Consider only hitches made from 1/4″ or thicker plate steel. Inexpensive hitches can be found that use thin tubular steel. Buy one of those only if you plan to use it on your kid’s Big Wheel, not your motorcycle.

The second significant consideration in hitch performance is determined by the number and placement of attachment points. These attachment points determine where the load of the trailer is placed on the bike’s suspension and how the lateral push/pull forces are transmitted between the bike and trailer.

The ideal hitch allows the trailer to be level as it is pulled and is designed to put the tongue weight of the trailer on the rear frame of the bike in about the same position as the saddle bags. You may think the load of the trailer is being borne at the ball, but it’s actually at the points where the hitch bolts to the frame.

In the case of a tow-bar design, this job is handled by the hanger straps. In the case of a fender style hitch, all the forces, lateral and vertical, are being shouldered by the bike at the top of the fender where the hitch bolts to the bike.

Other Considerations

When considering a hitch, you’ll want to know the answers to a few other key questions as well. For example, what tools are required to install the hitch? Does the hitch require any modifications to your bike? Most hitches are designed to bolt on, but some may require modification. On towbar designs, you may need to cut slots in the inner fender to allow the hanger straps to reach under the seat. Does anything need to be relocated? On a fender style hitch, relocating turn signals is not unheard of.

Another important consideration is to determine how the hitch will affect the bike’s serviceability. An inexpensive, one-piece hitch may be a good deal until you find that your service tech has to remove it and reinstall it to change the rear tire. The first extra labor charges for removing and reinstalling the hitch will likely outstrip what you saved when you bought the hitch.