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.

If You Enjoy Riding, Thank a Politician

Dale HeadshotDoesn’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.

Consider this short list:
1) Cherohala Skyway
2) Needles Highway
3) Blue Ridge Parkway
4) Natchez Trace Parkway
5) Beartooth Highway

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.

420px-BeartoothHwy_near_BeartoothPassThere’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!

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!

Chrome Hitch Installation for Harley Electra Glide 2009-2013

This video demonstrates the installation of a chrome receiver hitch on a 2012 Harley Ultra. This model fits Electra Glides from 2009 to present that have the standard rear fender. Models are available for CVO and other special builds as well as Road Kings, Road Glides, Street Glides, Softails and more. For more information or to order, visit www.OpenRoadOutfitters.com or contact dale@openroadoutfitters.com.

Time Out Deluxe Motorcycle Camper Setup

The Time Out Deluxe is a roomy lightweight trailer that can be pulled by a full-size motorcycle, trike, or any car, crossover, SUV.

In this video, I’m demonstrating how the camper arrives at your house, how to unpack it, and how to assemble it.

If you like this video, consider subscribing to my Open Road Outfitters YouTube channel. You’ll be notified when I post new videos about motorcycle trailers, campers and motorcycle travel-related topics.

—– Video transcript ——

Well it doesn’t look much like spring yet but the arrival of my Time Out Deluxe motorcycle camper must mean that spring is just around the corner, and I thought you might like to take a look at how these are assembled.

After I get it off the truck, I like to go around and take a look at the carton to check for any potential damage. I’ve got a hole here, but this looks like it’s okay. There’s nothing wrong here. So I’m going to go ahead and pop these metal straps off and put this together.

The first thing I’m going to do here is pull out the aerodynamic cooler out of its box and check that to make sure that’s okay. That looks like that’s fine.

So now I’ll lift the top off and I’ll use that to hold all the stuff I’m going to get rid of. These are wrapped up pretty well so I’ll take this off and just take a look at the exterior to make sure it’s okay. I’m sure it is.

All right, the next thing I’m going to do is pop the latches on either side of the lid and I’m going to open this up. I’m going to prop the top and the bed area together and that will hold it open and let me unload it.

Let’s see, so what have we got here? Well, we have the Add-A-Room. We’ll take a look in another video about how to set that up. We also have the l-shaped awning. We have the air conditioning stand. We’ve got some poles that you can use to support the tent if it’s wet outside. I have ten poles associated with the Add-A-Room. These can also be used for the l-shaped awning.

Let’s see what else do we have here? Well, we have a bag of cat crap…(record scratch noise)…wait a minute. A bag of cat crap. She kind of snuck that in there. I guess I’ll deal with that later.

This is a tripod in case I want to use the table outside of the camper. I’ve got a chair. And these are the standard wheels that come with it. 12″ white steel wheels. I might change those later. I’ve got a queen-sized air mattress, a cover for everything.

The I’ve got some instructions, license plate frame, wiring harness, brake controller, center caps, a coupler for the tongue, some safety chains and some hardware. So let’s take a look at how all this goes together.

The first thing I’ll do here is remove the tongue. As you can see, that has the VIN on it. If you’re looking for the sticker, that’s on the tongue. Now, I’m going to take the screws out of the jackstands in the front of the camper so that I can use this flat jack to jack it up. And that will make it real easy to put the wheels on.

Center cap goes on and then I will slide a wheel in place. I’m going to tighten these down just enough to move the camper. Before I take it out for the first time, I’ll tighten those down to about 50 to 60 foot pounds of torque.

Now I’m going to pull out the wiring harness so I can run that through the tongue. I got the lighted cooler package and the wiring harness is prewired here so I have a pair of leads for the cooler package. On the front I’ve got a five pin flat plug for the lights and a two pin plug for the brakes. You can always change that. I might change that later to something smaller but for now I’ll leave it as it is.

So after I run the wiring harness through the tongue, I’m then going to run the tongue back through those two brackets on the front of the camper and I’m going to use the Grade 8 hardened bolts that come with it to lock that into place. This comes with nylock nuts so you don’t need to use washers with it.

And now, looking under the camper, I’ve got a nice solid powdercoated steel frame, an independent rubber torsion suspension. I’ve got a spot in the back where I can mount a spare tire underneath. It’s just a nice, clean, sturdy setup. This camper will last for a long time.

Now, I’ve run the two bolts through the coupler and I’m ready to pull this off the pallet. I would recommend that you either put a set of runners or something under the tires to run it off the pallet. Or, since I’m not going to keep the pallet, I’m going to cut it up. Because if you try to run it off the pallet, the wheels will drop down into the center section and you’ll be stuck.

Well, this is just the start of the snow we’re supposed to get this spring, so I’ll put this camper away for now. If you’d like to learn more about the Time Out camper, visit my site here at OpenRoadOutfitters.com. Feel free to drop me an e-mail.

So until next time, this is Dale Coyner for Open Road Outfitters, wishing you many happy journeys.

Motorcycle Trailer Wiring Harness for Honda Gold Wing

You just bought a motorcycle camper or cargo trailer and now you need to wire up your Wing. What’s the best way to do it? This video demonstrates how to install the Gold Wing Trailer Wiring Harness on a GL-1800 Gold Wing. This particular kit fits the 2001-2010 model years. The kit for the 2012 installs similarly, but the wiring sub-harness (the first piece you install) connects to different points on the bike.

Harley-Davidson Road King (FLHR) Motorcycle Hitch Fitment Guide

Road King with hitchThe Harley-Davidson Road King has existed in one form or another for decades. Not that it was called that. You can trace its mechanical and visual origins back to the introduction of the big-framed Knucklehead and the first FL designation in 1941.

The contemporary Road King (FLHR) was introduced in 1994 and received its first major upgrade in 1999 when the Twin Cam 88 was stuffed into its frame. As far as Harley hitches for the Road King are concerned, this is where the story begins.
Because the Road King is a close stable mate of the Electra Glide (FLHT), hitch design is similar. The key difference is that most Road Kings do not have a rubber bumper under the rear fender. Hitch design between the FLHT and FLHR varies because of this.

Of course, there are exceptions. It’s entirely possible to put the rubber FLHT bumper on a Road King. And some bikes like the Road King Custom sport a chrome v-rail under the rear fender that takes up the same space that the rubber bumper would. In that case, the Electra Glide hitch is prescribed.

The Road King remained largely the same from 1999 to 2008. A slight frame lengthening in 2008 changed the bike a bit but did not change hitch fitment.
The Road King got the same chassis redesign in 2009 as other members of the full dresser family, which means hitch designs changed as well. Many Road Kings also feature a removable TourPak for those who prefer a more classic, less dresser look. While that feature doesn’t directly affect hitch design, it does require different hardware for some hitches.

So, given that, here’s the line-up of hitches for the Road King.

Hitches for Harley Road King – 1999 to 2008

The Road King hitch we offer for bikes from ’99 to ’08 is available in either a vertical receiver or horizontal. The biggest distinctions between the two are the orientation of the receiver, the amount of hitch that’s visible, and the price.

The vertical receiver Road King hitch design fits entirely behind the rear fender and is the least visible. When the towbar and ball are removed, there is very little to see of this hitch. This design is made by Hitch Doc, who mostly makes chrome hitches. Some might classify this as a “chrome hitch” but I hesitate to call it that. The only part that is chrome are two side straps that bear the tongue weight of a trailer.

The black powdercoat hitch for the Road King is almost identical in design to the Electra Glide hitch. The only difference is that it’s designed a little shorter to account for the fact that the Road King doesn’t have the rubber bumper.

If you have a Road King Custom or any version with a bumper or chrome rail under the fender, then you want to consider the Electra Glide hitch selection for your model year.

Hitches for Harley Road King – 2009 to present

From 2009 to present, the Road King has enjoyed a lot of tweaks in addition to its chassis, an improved transmission, bigger power plant, and more cosmetic and accessory changes. Changes that affect hitch design have been minimal.

This time, I can safely say there is a true chrome hitch option for the Road King. The Hitch Doc hitch for the Road King is beautifully made; a heavily chromed vertical receiver hitch. The standard chrome Road King hitch is designed for a bike with no bumper and a fixed TourPak. If you have a removable TourPak, you want to specify the added hardware kit option (see the bottom of the order page).

The black powdercoat hitch for the 2009+ Road King is of the same design as the black Electra Glide hitch. It is slightly shorter to provide a close fit to the rear fender without a bumper. If your Road King has a bumper and you want the black hitch, choose the Electra Glide model. No additional hardware is required for this hitch to be compatible with the removable TourPak.

This is the fourth 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. The third article covered Street Glide hitch options.

Harley-Davidson Street Glide (FLHX) Motorcycle Hitch Fitment Guide

Receiver Hitch for 2006-08 Street GlideIn 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.

The black powdercoat Harley hitch for the 2009 FLHX is the same as the 2009-to-present Electra Glide.

2010 Harley Street Glide HitchHitches 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.

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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.

Harley-Davidson Electra Glide Motorcycle Hitch Fitment Guide

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.

Hitches for Harley Electra Glide – 1984 to 2008

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.

Here’s a video showing how to install the chrome hitch on a 2007 Harley Electra Glide. The black hitch installs similarly.

Does your bike lack the rubber bumper?

If you have an Electra Glide without a rubber bumper, you want the Road King hitch. It’s basically the same but designed to fit flush with the fender. This, too, is available in two different styles with a “chrome” version with vertical receiver and a black powdercoat with 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.

The black powdercoat Harley hitch mounts at a slightly different point but it too is an easy installation. This video demonstrates the black hitch installation on 2011 Electra Glide.

Harley Electra Glide and Ultra, 2014 to Present

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.

Here’s a link to the chrome hitch for Ultras and Electra Glides. Installation is largely similar to the 2009 to 2013 bikes.

Other Versions

If your bike has something different from the standard setup, there is probably a hitch for you, but the exact version will vary. Rather than list fifty different permutations here, it’s just easiest to contact me and I can match you up with the right hitch for your Harley.

The next installment will discuss Street Glide trailer hitch options.

Inspiration, ideas and how-to's for motorcycle travelers.