Question:I would like to buy an Escapade motorcycle trailer in just the plain gel coat finish but I’m told it is different than other gel coat trailers. Why is this?
Answer:The gel coat on the exterior of the Escapade is the same as other trailers. However, it is not a smooth finish that you would consider suitable to use as the primary finish. The reason has to do with the Escapade’s stylish curves and the way fiberglass trailers are made.
Fiberglass trailers are typically made up of a lid (the top) and a tub (the bottom). Simple fiberglass tubs are wider at the top than the bottom. This allows them to be removed from a fiberglass mold in one piece. For this reason, the gel coat surface can be buffed and used as the trailer’s primary exterior finish.
The Escapade Elite motorcycle trailer has a more complex shape that can’t be made in one solid piece. This means it is made of multiple pieces that are bonded together. That creates seams, and those seams must be finished after the molding and assembly process.
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.
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Question: Is it difficult to adapt a motorcycle trailer to work on a car as far as lighting goes? I know the trailers are usually five-wire and my car uses four. How does that work?
Answer: It depends. Often it’s not too tricky, but sometimes the setup throws you a curve. The reason a conversion is necessary is because, as you say, a motorcycle trailer usually has five wires and four-wheelers use a four-wire setup. Motorcycles, unlike cars, has a brake circuit separate from the bike’s tail lights. Most cars/trucks have brakes and tail lights that share the same bulbs.
Easiest: If you haven’t yet ordered your trailer, ask your manufacturer if the trailer can be wired for a four-wire system. Some accommodating folks will do this for you just for asking. Put a four-wire harness on your bike, and you can swap the trailer between your bike and car with no conversion.
Simple: If your motorcycle trailer has turn signals with red lenses, you’re in luck. All you need to do is hook up the ground, running light circuit, and two turn signal circuits on your trailer to a four-pin plug and ignore the wire for the brake circuit. This will plug up and work with a car/truck with no problem. You can actually rig up a converter to go between the existing plug on your trailer and a four-wire plug to match the car side without doing any re-wiring on the trailer or your bike. When you want to tow with your bike, just remove the converter.
Less Simple: If your turn signals are amber, you can’t use them as turn and brake. Brake lights must be red. The next simplest thing is to source red lenses for your lights. Many trailer makers use off-the-shelf lights which are available in either color.
Harder, but doable: If you have a trailer that uses proprietary turn signals, like those that match the Honda Gold Wing, you have more engineering to do. That’s because neither the old style (01-05) nor new style (06+) offer tail lights with red turn signals. In this case, you need to do some re-wiring. The easiest way to accomplish this is to move the turn signal wire down, replacing the brake wire on both sides. This is a permanent change, so you’ll want to confirm that by doing this you will still have running lights. You will also need to put a four-wire harness on your bike to run the new system. You are not building an adapter like the “simple” process above, you are making a permanent change to your trailer.
As always, with any wiring project, test your work before you make it permanent, and always do a shakedown run. Don’t do this the night before you take a long trip! If you aren’t comfortable making wiring changes, enlist the help of a buddy from your club or if someone at your dealership is knowledgeable about trailers, ask them for help.
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If you’re starting to think you should forget the idea of trailering to save your bike’s wiring, fear not. Rather than wiring a harness directly, use an isolation harness, also commonly referred to as a relay package. An isolation harness is a simple solution that will not only power your trailer’s lights at full power, it will also electrically separate the trailer’s lights from the bike’s light circuits, preventing any possibility of damage to the bike.
A isolation harness contains a set of relays; one each for the brake, turn signals, and running lights. Your bike is full of relays that control the lights, horn, and many other circuits. In short, a relay is an electrically-controlled switch.
When installed on your bike, the isolation harness uses your signals circuits as the triggers, but it draws power for the trailer lights directly from the battery. This means your trailer lights are running at full power and they are separated from the rest of the bike. Even if a short developed and rendered the trailer’s lights inoperable, it would not affect the bike’s lights.
An isolation harness can be installed on any 12 volt motorcycle. A popular relay package I often use has three components: 1) the relay package consisting of a weather-sealed epoxy package with a passel of wires, 2) a 5-to-4 converter package for use with four-wire trailers, and 3) a subharness.
The subharness, consisting of four wires terminating in a four-pin plug, is installed first. If you own an ’88 to present Gold Wing or Harley touring bike you can use a plug-and-play style subharness that plugs into your bike. All other bikes require a universal subharness which contains a set of quick taps. We’ll assume you have something other than a Harley or Wing and need to use the universal subharness because your installation will require a little more effort.
Job one is to identify which wires run your bike’s running lights, left and right turn signals, and brake. If you have added a brake light modulator or other aftermarket accessories, you may already know. It’s times like these that it pays to have the shop manual for your bike or access to an online owner’s forum.
Remove the seat from your bike and look for a wiring harness that runs toward the back of your bike. On many bikes there is usually only one wiring harness running to the lights in the back. Without the shop manual you can still figure out which of those dozens of wires are the right ones to tap. Remove your lights from the back of the bike and make a note of the wire colors for each light. All of your lights should have one color in common and that common color should be the ground side of your wiring. Locate the other color wires in the wire bundle running under the seat. You will need to pull away some of the wrapping around the harness so you can get at enough length of the wires to tap into them.
Before you start tapping, I’d advise that you take an extra step just to make sure you’ve flagged the right wires. Using a pair of pliers, push a straightpin into one of the wires until you’ve punctured the insulation. Attach a test light or voltmeter (set to a range of 20 to 50 volts) with the positive lead on the pin and the negative lead on the negative battery post. Turn on the bike to check the light you’re testing. If you’re checking a turn signal you can expect to see the test light flash on and off just light the turn signal. On a voltmeter, the needle will swing as the voltage on the circuit rises and drops. Do this for each wire and you can feel confident you’ve identified the right wires.
The subharness comes with a set of quick taps. If you haven’t used quick taps before, they’re an easy way to splice in a wire into your harness without actually cutting into your harness. A quick tap has two slots that hold the wire you are tapping and the wire you are adding. Using a pair of pliers, push the metal tab down until it penetrates the insulating jacket of both wires, then fold the plastic tab over the body of the tap to clip it shut. Do this for each of the four signal wires and you have just completed the most difficult part of the trailer harness installation.
After installing the sub-harness, you’ll plug in the 5-to-4 converter if required. You’re probably wondering, “How do I know if I need this?” The easiest answer is to check your owner’s manual or look at your wiring harness. If you have a separate wire for brake lights and each turn signal, you have a five-wire system. If the wiring diagram in your owner’s manual shows your brake lights combined with the turn signals, you have a four-wire system. This is similar to the wiring scheme used on boat trailers and motorcycle haulers.
If your trailer is a four-wire system, you need to install the converter. Your bike has separate lights for brake and turn signals, so they can operate independently. The converter adapts the bike’s wiring so the trailer’s lights can operate properly, allowing the turn signals to override the brake lights on the trailer. Without a converter, your turn signals will only work when the brake is not applied.
With the 5-to-4 converter in place (or not), you’re now ready for the relay package. The relay has a four-pin connector that plugs into the sub-harness (or 5-to-4 converter), two power leads, and five output wires. Find a spot where you can tuck the relay package. It’s built to be weather resistant but you can usually find one little spot under the seat if you look around.
Next, run the power leads. The relay package uses power directly from the battery to operate the trailer lights. The relay package contains a set of crimp connections and a fuse to wire to the hot lead of the relay package. Always wire in the fuse! The connectors on the package require a crimp connection. To ensure you get a good crimp, use a real crimping tool to attach the terminals, not a pair of pliers.
With the fuse and terminals wired onto the power leads, connect the relay package to your battery. Disconnect the negative lead entirely from the battery before connecting the positive lead. This avoids a potentially dangerous situation. When working around the positive terminal, you can’t accidentally short out the battery if the ground lead is disconnected. After disconnecting the ground, connect the positive lead to the positive side of the battery, then connect the negative side, reconnecting the main ground lead.
Before you go further, it’s a good idea to check your work at this stage while everything is easily accessible. Attach a voltmeter or test light to the outputs of the relay package. The ground lead of your test device connects to the ground wire on the relay package. Connect the positive lead of your device to the wire designated for the running lights. Key the bike to the “on” position and check your test device. A test light should simply light up while a voltmeter will read a steady 12 volts on the scale. Check the other lights including brake and turn signals. Make sure the leads of these wires do not contact the ground lead while you are testing.
How did that turn out? Just fine, I’ll bet. Now you are ready to wire on a plug and button up the bike. I’ll discuss this step in a future installment.
Cleaning your trailer is the first step toward maintaining its peak performance and appearance. When cleaning your bike, pull the trailer out for a little TLC. Its broad surfaces are easy to clean and wax and won’t add much time to your overall routine.
Wash the trailer’s exterior to avoid damage to the painted surface from environmental pollutants, acid rain, tree gunk, etc. Bird droppings are especially harmful to any painted surface. Droppings adhere to your trailer like acidic glue, eating away at the clear coat, then the paint.
When you use cleaning products designed for motorcycle or automotive applications, you can use these on your trailer, too. For example, always use a detergent designed for bike or car applications. Never use dishwashing liquid, it’s too harsh and will dull the painted surfaces over time. Use a soft terrycloth towel designed for washing applications. The fibers in terrycloth capture the contaminants removed from the surface, reducing swirl marks and spider webbing in the clearcoat.
While you’re washing, don’t forget the underside of the trailer. Use a long-handled brush and soap up the underside to remove road grime, particularly salts leftover from winter road treatments. Also clean the wheel wells, wheels, and tires. Rinse everything completely. I like the Mr. Clean wash system that includes a water filter. Using this as a final rinse, you can let the trailer air dry. If you don’t use filtered water, wipe the trailer exterior and sides with a chamois cloth. Unfiltered water contains mineral deposits that remain behind when the water evaporates leaving spots.
If water beads on the surface of the trailer it has a sufficient coat of wax. If water breaks, leaving a thin film on the surface, you should consider preparing the surface further and then wax the trailer.
Where you go from here in preparing the trailer’s surface for waxing depends on your level of interest. There are entire books written on professional methods for cleaning that discuss when and how to use paint cleaners and polishes. In brief, cleaners are used to remove residue like bug carcasses and tar that ordinary detergents can’t remove. Polishes are used to restore the clearcoat on the paint when it begins to show significant spiderwebbing. Spiderwebbing or swirl marks are tiny scratches in the clearcoat that occur from any contact made with the trailer’s surface when it is not clean. Polishes are available in differing levels of abrasion. You always start with the most abrasive polish you intend to use, then follow up with less abrasive polishes to finish the job.
One method for deep cleaning the surface is to use a paint-cleaning clay. Paint-cleaning clay picks up contaminants left behind that washcloths miss. Lubricate a limited portion of the surface you’re cleaning with a detail spray, then rub the surface with a clean chunk of clay. After finishing a section, fold the clay to trap the surface gunk in the clay. Move on to another small section, folding and reshaping the clay as you go. Be sure to wipe away the leftover detail spray as you go. You will be amazed that how smooth the surface will be when you use clay.
With a clean surface, you’re ready to wax with a quality carnuba wax. Wax is a necessary final step because it provides an essential added barrier between the environment and the trailer’s clearcoat. Wax restores the luster of the trailer’s paint finish by filling in the tiny surface scratches that look like swirl marks or spiderwebbing. I prefer pure wax products to combination products that have some type of cleaner embedded. Use a soft, moistened applicator to put down a thin coat of wax. Don’t use too much wax on a single coat. It’s preferable to apply several thin coats if you’re trying to build up wax on the trailer. A heavy coat of wax leaves behind no more product than a thin coat and is harder to remove.
Don’t forget the exposed metal bits on your trailer. These will benefit from the use of a high-quality polish to match the type of metal, e.g. aluminum polish for aluminum wheels, chrome polish for chrome wheels, etc. After polishing chrome, apply a thin film of carnuba wax. Wax will greatly assist in preventing surface rust from developing on chrome. You may have heard that coating your wheel rims with Vaseline will prevent them from rusting. While some people do that for long term storage, I think it’s messier to deal with and returns no better results than simply keeping the wheels clean and waxed.
Maintaining the underside of your is less fun than washing and waxing the top side, but contributes the most to the trailer’s trouble-free operation over the years. This includes tire maintenance and inspecting and repacking bearings.
Tire maintenance is simple. If your trailer uses regular trailer tires, keep them inflated to at least twenty-five pounds of air. Trailer tires are rated to handle up to fifty pounds of air pressure, but you’ll never need to maintain that much. A lower pressure will provide some additional cushion for the contents of your trailer without significantly shortening the life of the tires. Inspect your tires at the beginning of the riding season for signs of deterioration or embedded objects. While you’re on the road, check trailer tire pressure when you check your bike’s tires.
Unless you travel tens of thousands of miles each year with your trailer, you will probably never wear them out. Its more likely that you’ll need to replace your tires after a few years due to exposure to UV rays. Over time tire rubber loses the natural oils that make it, well, rubbery. This leads to cracks in the sidewall. The tread of the tire may become noticeably hardened, much like an old pencil eraser. In either case, these tires should be replaced. Standard size trailer tires are available at many locations in the U.S. including Wal-Mart and any RV or trailer dealer.
Bearings are the unsung heros of every wheeled conveyance. Because they are hidden from view, encased in grease and disguised by pretty wheel covers, bearings go largely unnoticed for the job they do. And yet, it is the wheel bearings that handle the load of the trailer and make high speed road travel possible. Bearings must resist lateral forces as the trailer is tugged in different directions by the bike, and it’s the bearings that really take the pounding when a trailer tire finds a hole to drop into or runs over an obstacle in the road. Tires may be where the rubber meets the road, but bearings carry the biggest part of the burden and get the job done.
Trailers using typical lightweight axles have two-piece caged bearings that are packed in grease and are set between the wheel hub and axle. As the wheel rotates the hub, the bearings spin around the axle. Trailer bearings are made of hardened steel and will usually last for the life of your trailer when they are properly maintained. Opinions about what constitutes proper maintnance varies widely, so I’ll try to offer you a reasonable maintenance schedule that should suit the widest range of trailer users.
The most important aspect of bearing maintenance is to keep bearings well encased in fresh axle grease. Axle grease prevents metal-to-metal contact, absorbs heat from the friction generated by the spinning bearings, and prevents moisture from getting to the bearings. Since bearings are made of hardened steel, they will rust overnight if exposed to water. Over time, even heavy axle grease tends to break down and wear out, providing less lubication and allowing moisture to creep in.
Wheel-on Bearing Inspection
You can check your wheel bearings any time simply by observing how the wheel feels when you rotate it. This is something you should do at least once a year and preferably each time you plan to take a trip. Wheel bearings should display no visible play, meaning, if you grab the top of the wheel, push in and pull out, the wheel should not move. Likewise, with two hands, grab the tire and the nine o’clock and three o’clock positions and try to turn the wheel in and out like the front wheel of your bike. Again, you should feel no movement in the wheel. If you do, it’s a sign your bearings are worn and should be replaced immediately. Jack up one side of the trailer and spin the wheel. It should turn freely with no grating sounds. If you find the wheel won’t make at least one complete revolution or you hear any grinding noise, you’ll need to pull the bearings for further inspection.
Wheel-off Bearing Inspection and Service
Many trailer manufacturers recommend that you check your trailer bearings and repack the grease annually. If you’re so inclined, there’s no harm in that, but it probably isn’t necessary. If you pull your trailer a few thousand miles per year or less, you can probably go several years between wheel-off inspections. If you trailer between five and ten thousand miles per year, expect to repack the bearings every three years or so to keep them in peak condition. For those who trailer more than ten thousand miles per year or frequently trailer in extreme conditions—rain, bad roads, dusty conditions—you are a candidate for annual bearing inspection.
Wheel-off maintenance entails disassembling the wheel hub, pulling out the bearings for visual inspection, cleaning and repacking them with grease. It isn’t difficult, and it’s a good thing to know in case you run into trouble on the road. If you don’t care to do this, a mechanic can do this for you.
Begin by removing the dust cap. Use a hammer and cold chisel to pop the cap off. Don’t use pliers to pry off the cap, you will dent the cap and possibly compromise its ability to seal. Remove the cotter pin that holds a castellated nut in place. Now remove the nut. This will allow you to remove the wheel hub from the spindle.
Remove the bearings
With the bearings removed, wipe everything in the assembly as clean as possible including the inside of the wheel hub, the spindle, and the bearings. Opinions differ whether to soak the bearings in solvent to remove all the grease. I think it’s not necessary because solvent may find places to hide that will attack the new grease you put in. I think it’s better to simply wipe the bearings as clean as you can get them and call it good.
Run your fingers over the bearings, feeling for any hesitation in their action. Examine them for rough spots or pitting on the surfaces. Bearings are not expensive, so if you find any problems, replace them with a new set.
Packing bearings is fun and messy. Place a glob of grease in the palm of your hand and work it into the bearing assembly until the whole package is packed with grease.
Having functional lights on your trailer is not only required by law, it’s a critical safety feature. Often, the trailer you tow will block the lights on the back of your bike from the view of drivers behind you, making your trailer lights the only signals others will see.
Checking your lights should be part of your preflight check every time you hook up the trailer. When you find a light is not in working order, it’s usually a simple to troubleshoot the problem.
If a single light is not working, start at that light and work your way back. Open the lens and remove the bulb to inspect the filament. Some trailer lenses have external screws. Some lenses fit into the body of the trailer, requiring you to loosen the lens from the inside and pop it out.
Your trailer likely uses a standard tail light bulb. Single filament bulbs (1156) are used for turn signals. Dual filament bulbs (1157) are used for running and brake lights. Holding the bulb up, a broken filament is usually self-evident. Replace the bulb with a known good bulb and try the light again before you reassemble the lens.
If replacing the bulb did not solve your problem, begin checking at the plug that runs from your bike. Let’s say your left turn signal is not working. Attach a test light or voltmeter to the pin on the bike-side plug that should be the left turn signal. Activate the signal and check the meter or light. If the voltmeter needle shows no activity or the test light does not blink, the problem is likely on the bike and not in the trailer.
If the voltmeter needle swings or test light blinks, move to the trailer and check for any breaks in the wire between the trailer plug and the turn signal socket. If this wire run shows continuity, check for continuity between the ground side of the light socket and the ground wire on the trailer. Unless the trailer has sustained damage to the wiring harness underneath, the best candidates for problems are a loose ground wire or a problem at the plug.
So, lately you’ve been thinking about pulling a trailer with your motorcycle. Is trailering the best solution for you? The only way to come to the right conclusion is to get the answer to a few basic questions which we’ll consider in this section.
Here’s the first one: What does owning a trailer help me achieve as a rider? Why am I even thinking about owning a trailer? For most people, the answer to this question can be summed up in a word—convenience.
How much time do you spend before a trip trying to figure out how to get all your gear on the bike? How many strategies have you concocted for getting all your gear on board? Ever had a fight with your co-rider about who gets what space? Adding a trailer to your bike will almost surely eliminate the fussing and carping that precedes any long ride.
Packing up in the morning is a snap. Toss your gear into the trailer, drop the lid, and ride off. When you’re riding with friends, you’ll make the whole trip more enjoyable for your buddies when you offer them a little extra space to pack some gear in your trailer. And you’re not limited to towing your trailer with your motorcycle. You can easily tow your trailer with any vehicle.
Pulling a trailer has some potential safety benefits, too. Trailering makes your bike more visible on the road. Your physical size on the road increases, making you easier for other vehicles to spot. Your trailer also improves your conspicuity at night with its extra lights. And, if you’re the type who stacks their bike high with gear and a co-rider, a trailer will make your ride safer simply by eliminating the top-heavy feel of your bike and restoring its balance.
Trailering with a pop-up camper makes motorcycle camping a blast. Have you passed the age when sleeping on the ground was fun, but still enjoy sitting around the campfire with other riding buddies? A pop-up camper will allow you to really enjoy this aspect of riding. Campers not only making setting up camp easier, they are also more comfortable when you need to ride out a bad weather spell. And have you priced hotel rooms lately? Even at middle-level hotels? For the price difference, you can recoup the cost of a motorcycle camper in just a year or two if you attend a couple of rallies each year or take a couple of long trips.
Trailering your gear means it will stay dry and secure. It means you won’t need to stop to put rain covers on your soft luggage, and your rain gear, kept on top of everything else in your trailer, will be easy to get to quickly without unpacking a bunch of stuff.
Your gear will be far more secure, too, than when strapped to your bike in a couple of soft bags. When you stop for lunch or call it a day, you can easily secure your trailer and its contents without spending time securing your gear or worrying about it when it’s out of sight for a few minutes.
The bottom line is this—a motorcycle trailer will help you enjoy the motorcycle touring experience and, quite possibly, encourage you to ride further and take more trips. How can that be a bad thing?
Inspiration, ideas and how-to's for motorcycle travelers.