The Ultimate Guide To Towing a Motorcycle Trailer
Not all towing situations are nightmares. When moving home, you'll need a safe way to get your motorbike to its new location, or maybe you're hitting the road for a camping holiday and want to bring your bike for the ride. There's a range of ways you can move your motorcycle from A to B, but the very best and safest way is always to tow it properly.
Since there's so much information about towing out there, we're simplifying it all and offering you everything you'll need to know about towing a motorcycle trailer specifically. If you've towed a trailer before, then learning to tow a motorcycle will be fairly straightforward. However, if towing is new to you, we've got a comprehensive guide, with information on:
- The laws around towing a motorcycle trailer. Which includes:
- Do I need a specific licence to tow my motorcycle trailer?
- Are there width and length restrictions for towing a motorcycle?
- Ready, set, go: motorcycle safety checks you need to know
- Other related tips and alternatives for towing a motorbike
- What towbars are available for towing a motorcycle trailer
So if you're new to towing a motorcycle, take a seat. You'll want to know how to tow safely and learn to follow all the points mentioned below.
The laws around towing a motorcycle trailer
Similar to towing a trailer with your car, there are some rules and regulations you must follow when it comes to towing a motorcycle, including how much you can tow depending on your licence, and width and length restrictions for towing a motorcycle, which vary from regular trailer towing.
Do I need a specific licence to tow my motorcycle trailer?
Since December 2019, the rules have changed and you can now tow a trailer without a towing licence, depending on when your licence was issued. For licences received before the 1st of January 1997, you can drive with a MAM of up to 8,250kg and for licences issued after this date, you can tow up to 3,500kg MAM. Visit the government website for more information on towing weights.
Previously, towing lessons and licences were mandatory. However, you can still receive training if this is your first time towing a motorcycle. And if you're planning to tow with a medium-sized lorry you will need to apply for further certification.
Are there width and length restrictions for towing a motorcycle?
The same width and length restrictions apply to towing a motorcycle as they do with a regular trailer. That is 2.55 metres maximum width and 7 metres maximum length for a trailer towed by a vehicle weighing up to 3,500kg.
Ready, set, go: motorcycle safety checks you need to know
Before setting off there are a number of things you should check to ensure you get to where you need to be in the safest way possible. The government website has a guide on these checks but here is the rundown:
- Make sure the trailer is coupled to the towball properly, that the height is correct and that the core cable is in safe working order
- Fit a secondary coupling or breakaway cable to ensure the brakes work, and stop the trailer from running away should it become unattached; make sure there's enough slack so it cannot accidentally brake or drag along the ground
- The tyres on your car and trailer must be checked before, during and after your journey; this includes inflation and tread depth
- Check your wheel nuts and bolts are tightened and any mudguards fitted to the trailer are secure
- Always make sure your lights are in working order and there is no visible damage
- Make sure your load is evenly distributed and under the MAM of your vehicle, you can find this information on your vehicle manufacturer's plate or car handbook
- A trailer without a braking system should never exceed 750kg or weigh more than 50% of your car's weight
- Wheel bearings are one of the only moving parts on a trailer, check and add grease often
- Check your strap tension before you leave, a mile down the road and 50 miles down the road. Re-tension the straps as often as necessary. There's no such thing as too much checking, especially if it can save you a new paint job
You can be fined up to £2,500, receive 3 penalty points and be banned from driving for using a vehicle in a dangerous condition.
Other related tips and alternatives for towing a motorbike
One of the best decisions you'll make when it comes to towing your motorcycle is to leave early. Arriving safe and undamaged is better than arriving on time, and both are better than not arriving at all.
Speeding rarely saves time. It's best to stay below the limit while towing your motorcycle and you never drive faster than the limit for the road you're on. Towing a motorbike, especially with a smaller car, can sometimes overheat the engine at increased speeds. Your chassis may suffer unnecessary pressure and fuel consumption will be increased by the load. This is why it's so important to check if your MAM matches your specific car.
Never brake harshly on a bend, as it'll make the trailer unstable, and always reduce your speed with plenty of time if approaching a hazard such as road works or warning signals.
If your motorcycle trailer starts to snake, ease off and brake gently. It'll either be a sign you're driving too fast or your motorcycle is loaded incorrectly. Choosing a trailer with a fitted brake system should be a consideration when looking to buy, and as a motorcyclist, you'll appreciate the ability to independently control the brakes on your trailer. If your trailer does start to sway, applying just the trailer brakes can be one of the best ways to smooth things out.
There will be some new traffic experiences you'll learn along the way, and that includes people misjudging your ability to go, stop and steer. Always leave a big safety cushion in front of you, and ignore other drivers continually overtaking. You should never drive in the right-hand lane of a motorway.
Backing up a trailer is a skill in itself and if you're new to towing you should get used to parking whenever possible, typically in less residential areas, on back streets where there's more space.
It's also possible to get a free safety check for a trailer up to 3,500kg through the National Trailer and Towing Association's (NTTA) safety check scheme. This can highlight any issues and offer detailed information about attaching a trailer to your vehicle, how to drive with a trailer and how to maintain a trailer correctly.
Small trailers are great if you're new to towing. They're lighter, which helps with speed and control, and they're narrower. Towing a trailer which is narrow means increased visibility in your mirrors and all but the lightest-duty trailers can be suitable for moving a motorcycle. If you're thinking about buying a trailer, smaller usually costs less too. And just like motorcycles, your first trailer doesn't have to be your last. The more you find the need for your trailer, the more you'll learn to grow and adapt.
If you have minimal space to store a trailer, an alternative can be using a tow dolly. It's one of the most natural methods of towing a motorcycle and barely weighs above 15kg. They take up less space and for towing your bike, you only need to attach the front tyre of your bicycle with the tow dolly.
What towbars are available for towing a motorcycle trailer
At Witter, we sell a range of towbars suitable for use on trailers. All of our towbars are developed and tested to regulation 55, and are put through a number of rigorous safety tests to keep you and your motorcycle safe on the road.
Sometimes it can come down to preference for the appearance and other times your choice may be decided based on how often you'll be using it. Our range of towbars consists of the following:
Fixed Flange: This towball is permanently attached to your vehicle's faceplate. Ideal for serious towing, such as trailers and other vehicles. If you're going to use the same car and trailer combo to tow your bike regularly this is the towbar you'll need.
Detachable Flange: This towbar is just as versatile and robust, but with the added benefit of being removable. This is best suited to occasional towing, such as for the camping season.
Fixed Swan Neck: The sleeker, swan neck design is more aesthetically pleasing and comes fixed or detachable. However, you can't tow your motorcycle on a trailer and carry bicycles at the same time with this towbar.
Detachable Swan Neck: This versatile variety means you can remove the towbar when you're not towing. Ideal if you're only planning to tow sparingly. Like the fixed swan neck, you can't tow and carry bicycles simultaneously.
Retractable Towbar: This towbar can be folded out of sight in a matter of seconds. It offers the same advantages as the detachable towbars, but when the camping season comes to an end, there's no need to detach this towbar.
We also have a wide range of towbar accessories to keep your towbar safe, clean and undamaged when you're not out on the road with your motorcycle trailer.
It may feel like a lot to learn, but we hope you feel confident in your ability to check, recheck and check again when it comes to towing on the road. It's always better to be safe than sorry, and definitely not splashing out on a new paint job.
If you are feeling unsure, always check-in with an experienced friend or professional to go over any last minute queries. And above all, remember to drive safe and stay calm, that way everything will turn out fine. Just like riding your motorcycle.