Trailering Your Motorcycles in Baja

If you live far from the border or ride smaller dual-sport or dirt bikes, you may want to trailer your bikes to Baja. Jonathan bought his trailer about 30 years ago and has modified it to perfection for hauling bikes, an inflatable boat, outboard motor, and kayaks or paddleboards. He started with a Big Tex 6×8 utility trailer with a 3500 lb.-rated axel, but there are plenty of other brands to choose from. You should be able to find a basic trailer for about $1,000, and you can get the welding done for a few hundred dollars.

trailering your motorcycle to baja

Trailering our KTMs behind the Tacoma.

Trailer mods

Make front wheel chocks for your bikes out of angle iron and channel steel. You can also add more fun stuff like a bracket to carry an outboard motor.

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Wheel chocks and a boat engine block on the motorcycle trailer.

motorcycling baja, ammo cans for motorcycle trailer

Brackets for 5-gallon fuel and water containers are welded forward of the axle and can be used as ballast to balance out the front-to-rear trailer load. You can purchase these items at military surplus shops or online.

motorcycling baja, motorcycle trailer fuel and water containers

5-gallon fuel and water containers come in handy when you’re heading off the beaten path.

Drill and mount U-bolts through the ammo can side wall and lid to add security locks and keep curious minds out of your stuff. Buy a set of eight locks with the same key for the brackets that lock down the water and fuel cans and your cable locks through the wheels or frames of the bikes.

motorcycling baja, locking up your motorcycle trailer

A set of  locks with the same key gives you ease of use with peace of mind.

Bolt 3/8” eye bolts into the wooden floor of the trailer in various places to provide convenient tie-down points. Back them with heavy flat washers.

motorcycling baja, trailer tie-down points.

The more tie-down points, the better!

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On the top edge of the trailer, you can weld 3/8” steel bar stock that’s been bent into a loop to provide more tie-down points.

motorcycling baja

While you’re at it, you might as well make some hooks and weld them along the bottom edge.

Jonathan bought this lightweight but very rugged “Duratrunk” 30 years ago to mount on top of the trailer tongue and secured with U-bolts. It holds spare tie downs, tow straps, tarpaulins, camping gear, and other lightweight items. A quick Google search shows Duratrunks are still available.

motorcycling baja

The trailer tongue is also a great place to mount a Hi-Lift jack.

Beef up your wheels

Most trailers come with smaller, lower-load capacity wheels and tires that are fine for short distances and light loads. These are absolutely not safe for long-distance travel through Baja where the shoulder is often non-existent, and your trailer tires occasionally drift over the road edge. Sidewalls on the smaller, lighter tires are likely to shred, which is impossible to fix with a tire repair kit.

Ideally, you’ll match the wheels on your tow vehicle. This gives the trailer a much heavier load rating and also allows you to carry two spares that can be used on the tow vehicle or trailer.

If your trailer wheel wells won’t accommodate a matching wheel size, then at least bump them up to a heftier tire with sidewalls that won’t puncture when (and I mean when, and not if) the trailer bounces off the edge of the road on a tight turn or hits a deep, ragged-edged pothole. And carry a spare.

motorcycling baja, trailer tires

Trailer tires are the weak spot in most outfits, so beef yours up with an off-road worthy set.

Loading it up

We love our triple-fold aluminum ladder ramp from Harbor Freight. It lets us walk next to the bikes while loading and unloading. It also fits nicely on the side of the trailer.

motorcycling baja

Do yourself a favor and get this 1500 lb. Capacity Tri-Fold Aluminum Loading Ramp from Harbor Freight for $99.

A lot of people try to ride up the ramp and end up crashing because the tires slip and they fall. It’s safer to push your bikes up. It can also be a good idea to change out of your flip-flops into your motorcycle boots and gloves before loading up.

Tying down the bikes

Put the bike in neutral and secure it with heavy-duty nylon web motorcycle tie-downs. Overkill is a good rule of thumb here. Two common brands are RiteTie and PowerTye. Ours are branded by KTM but manufactured by PowerTye.

motorcycling baja

Tie-down overkill. That’s okay!

Tie down points are handlebars and on the frame down by the swing arm. Ratchet them all down so the suspension is tight, but still has a bit of give. If you’re carrying two bikes, also make sure the handlebars aren’t going to bash together.

When you’re bouncing along the road the tires are going to jump, so tie the wheels down, too, or they’re likely to bounce themselves off to one side or the other. Braided 1/4 to 3/8 inch nylon line works fine.

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Prevent the bike from jumping out of the wheel chock.

motorcycling baja

A secured wheel is a secured bike and a secured trailer.

motorcycling baja

Lock it all up tight with a cable lock.

Note that we’ve got the bikes locked down at the tires with a cable lock, which is also threaded through the handle of the fuel can that’s tied down between them.

Learn to tie a bowline knot. It’s very easy to untie even after being strained tight after hundreds of miles of travel.

motorcycling baja

Creative Commons bowline knot photographs by Patricio Lorento is licensed under CC 2.5.

Weight distribution

When you’re loading the trailer, try to balance the weight at about 60% in front of the axle and 40% behind, with the heaviest items directly over the axel. Also distribute the weight evenly across the trailer wheel-to-wheel, so you don’t get any listing to the left or right.

We pack heavy items in 17-gallon black and yellow plastic totes you can buy at Costco, tying them down to the center of the trailer over the axel between the two bikes. With the water and gas in the front, and the ammo cans in back carrying tools, oil, and other heavy supplies, we figure we’ve got the right ratio, more or less.

motorcycling baja

Proper weight distribution makes for a safe and smooth ride.

Driving with a trailer

Try to get some time in to practice towing your loaded trailer before you get down here. You’re going to want to instinctively know where the trailer is when you’re facing a big truck on the narrow highway. MEX 1 is pretty skinny so you might want to drive MEX 3 and connect with MEX 1 further down the peninsula after Gonzaga Bay.

Drive and ride safe

You’ve heard the mantra “ride your own ride.” Well, drive your own drive, too. You’ll be in a hurry to get there and have some fun with your bikes, but that’s not going to happen if they bounce off. So pull over at least once a few miles into your trip to make sure everything is still tied down tight, your hitch is solid, and your lights and signals are all working.

Tie the loose ends of the straps nice and neat. When you look in your rear view mirror, you shouldn’t see any flapping. If you do, that may be a warning that things are loosening up. Make sure your mirrors are trained on the trailer so you can see the wheels and the load.

After the first good bounce or two, pull over for a check. Whenever you stop for fuel or food, give it a once over.

When you get there, use the ramp (and don’t forget to attach the chains to the trailer) and carefully back it down. If you’ve got 30 years of trailering experience and you know your bike like this guy does, you might risk being a bit more casual. Still, I wouldn’t recommend it.

motorcycling baja

Don’t try this at home!

These are our KTM 450 EXCs set up for exploring Baja Sur mid-peninsula near Mulege and Loreto this winter. Read about the mods in the previous post and stay tuned for ride reports, which will include trips that look something like this.

motorcycling baja

You can see why we settled in Bahia Concepcion.

baja motorcycle carla-king_olympia-shot More posts by Carla King.

Carla King has been writing about her motorcycle adventure travels since 1995. Read about her misadventures in North America, China, Europe, India, and Africa, and current adventures in Baja at CarlaKing.com.

 

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