Monday, April 25, 2011

A Seven Letter Word Meaning “No Balls” — Trailer... Not True

There were a bunch of us pulled over by the side of the road, taking a break from an arduous ride when an SUV went by pulling a massive chrome and leather cruiser strapped into an open box trailer. One of the members of our group, all BMW riders, casually remarked, “There goes another Harley Davidson in its natural habitat.” This was followed by a chorus of laughter, the implication being that Harley’s are more likely to be trailered than ridden to cut down on the chrome polishing time and that real riders would rather be dead than trailer their rigs.

But this observation stung me a bit as I happen to own a rather nice motorcycle trailer that I have not hesitated to use when the circumstances so warranted. And furtively glancing about the crowd that day, I realized that several others — including the speaker — also owned motorcycle trailers. Out of 17 riders present that day, seven of us had motorcycle trailers tucked away in respective garages. Now the very word “trailer” is anathema in some motorcycle circles as it seems to indicate the rider is a milk-toast (with unusually small genetalia), or that the motorcycle is something of a fashion statement and not up to the demands of the road. But the truth is that a motorcycle trailer can be a damned useful thing to have from time to time.

For example, a trailer can be helpful:
• When the bike refuses to start, or is running so badly that a mile in any direction is wishful thinking, and you want to get it to the dealer.
• When you are planning a trip and the distance factor outweighs available time to a point where you cannot be delayed by weather, aching joints, or the hint of a mechanical problem.
• If your machine is in the “vintage” or older category and you do not want to burn it up at slab speeds, and there is no easier alternative. (Does not apply to BMWs.)
• When the weather at the northern start of a trip is solid ice, snow, or freezing rain, and conditions at the southern terminus are clear, warm and dry for the next seven days.
• When you are headed to the track to compete or to take a class and the machine has had to be temporarily modified, rendering it unlawful for the street
• When your riding buddies — who relentlessly bust your balls over every little thing — break down and need rescuing.

The first five of these points are matters of personal convenience. The sixth is the most gratifying of occasional circumstances.

I have a Kendon two-rail motorcycle trailer that was purchased as a “ride” extender when my significant other was into biking. Leslie’s (Stiffie's) point was that there were hundreds of regions that she might want to ride her Honda Aero Shadow “around,” but not actually “to.” These included places like the Natchez Trace, the Grand Canyon, and the Adirondacks. But she had no desire to thread her way through highly congested urban areas, truck infested interstates, or miles of stop and go traffic that often connects each. The trailer was regarded as the ideal means to get us there. A bout of vertigo that lasted over a year ended her riding ambitions, however, and the trailer remained. I have used it six times: once to tow a Honda out to Nebraska; twice to tow friends who have broken down (a Suzookie and a Ducati), once when I picked my second K75, once to help move a collection of 17 vintage motorcycles, and once a trip to the Adirondacks (400 miles) that I didn’t feel like riding in a day. (I have serious arthritis in both hips and knees.)

The Kendon dual rail motorcycle trailer is rated to transport 2,000 pounds (2 bikes), weighs 400 pounds, folds, and stands upright in the garage to conserve precious floor space. It has a locking front wheel chock that will hold most bikes upright for the lashing-up. Moving the trailer around the garage, lowering it to the floor and hooking it up to the tow vehicle is a one-man operation. (It is better with two... And lifting the trailer back to the upright position is certainly simplified by the presence of another person.) A Zerk fitting in the wheel hubs makes lubricating the bearings a snap and the 13” tires make towing at 65mph a pleasant experience.

Above: In addition to ease of operation, the Kendon two-rail trailer makes for a neat towing presentation. "Fireballs" seen at rest on the trailer in Lake Placid. Note caster wheel on the back. This is one of several that hold the trailer upright in the garage. Photo by the author.

The loading ramp bolts onto the trailer when folded. (When the trailer is loaded, the ramp rides in the towing vehicle.) The load deck is about 10 inches above the ground, which makes rolling a bike up the ramp (and rolling it off) exceptionally easy. Again, this is a one person operation. A spare trailer tire is bolted underneath. The unit does not have brakes. This trailer is extremely well thought out, and well-built (in the United States). My aged GMC Suburban towed my K75 some 800 miles and never once handled like it was pulling anything. I also towed a Honda Rebel (400cc) out to Nebraska (behind a Toyota Land Cruiser) and didn’t feel any drag either.

My complaints about this trailer are minor. When empty, it bounces a bit on really rough or uneven road surfaces. The electrical connections to the rear lights are the kind where the wire is inserted into a hole and grabbed by a kind of trap. When I get around to it, I intend to replace the lights with an LED retrofit available from Kendon, and will have the connections soldered. Most damage to motorcycles carried on an open trailer are caused by stones tossed up from the tires of the towing vehicle. The Kendon trailer off has a $343.95 stone guard option, which is still sitting — uninstalled — in the garage, as the directions for bolting this on came without illustrations or photographs.

I was sitting at home one fine summer afternoon, when I got a call from my old pal and fellow Mac-Pac member Mike Evans. His Suzuki was on the fritz and gave up the ghost about three miles from his house. Now it should be noted that Mike and I are friends, but a slow-moving target like myself is often the subject of his witticisms, which are as smooth as a bag of broken glass. Evans opened the call with his usual pleasantries, focusing on the weather, the potential for a good tomato crop, and how mechanical things are so unpredictable.

“Let me guess,” I said, cutting to the delectable chase, “You broke down and your bike needs a ride on my trailer?”

“In so many words, yes,” replied Evans.

My response was the kind of laugh for which the late, great Vincent Price was famous.

We loaded his bike onto the trailer 40 minutes later. With Mike sweating and me supervising, the loading process took about 15 minutes. “You’re being an awfully good sport about this,” said Evans. “I expected you’d be bloating and gloating over this episode.”

“Not me,” I said. “This could happen to anyone, especially if they are out riding an older, less sophisticate motorcycle.”

His response was a raised eyebrow.

“I take no satisfaction in someone else’s misfortune,” I said. “But I do take lots of pictures and post them to the internet,” I thought. I had already taken a prize shot of Mike’s rig on the trailer, and with the touch of a button, sent the good news out to the world.

Above: I felt no satisfaction in taking this picture of Mike Evans's Suzuki on my trailer... But I like to look at it a lot. Mike's bike got three miles from the house, moaned, and died. I believe he does his own work. Photo by the author.

Two years later found me enroute to the Adirondacks. It was almost 400 miles of slab riding that had to be done overnight, due to an issue at work. Quite frankly, I wasn’t up to it. I had been dreaming of riding my bike through Lake Placid and Saranac Lake (in the company of Mike Cantwell, Chris Wolfe, and Lee Kazanas for months. Now my plans of a two-day leisurely ride just to get up there simply evaporated. In my youth, I would have straddled the bike and opened the throttle. To do so now with these hips and knees would have rendered me a cripple for a good deal of my time in the mountains. The solution was obvious, and with a sense of resignation, I hitched the trailer to the Suburban.

Getting the motorcycle on the trailer was the easy part. For all its angular looks, as befits the designation “Flying Brick,” the K75 is really short on lash points. Accessing the triple trees is complicated by the support arms for the “Scout” Parabellum fairing. And the lashing directions call for compressing the front forks by 30%. It’s a lot easier at the rear where the pillion hand-holds and the pierced kick plates for the passenger pegs offer great lash-down points. The directions in the Kendon guide are most specific that none of the load stabilizing lashings should extend beyond the fold in the trailer. The reason for this would probably be clear in an instant to an engineer, but I didn’t have a clue. (I just follow the directions.)

Above: The tie-downs are strategically placed and the luggage is removed from the bike. The diamond steel deck attests to the well-made nature of the Kendon motorcycle trailer. Photo by the author.

It is essential to use quality tie-downs with ratcheting tensioners. I use several that are guaranteed not to scratch the paint. (There are some that will easily scratch the paint). I also have fleece sleeves to run over the tie-downs if I am suspect of a possible rub, like on the paint of the pillion hand-holds. Cheap tie-downs produce no savings. Shitty ratcheting tensioners will drive you crazy. While four well-placed tie-downs will hold the bike, I also lash the front wheel to the chock and the rear wheel to the rail to absolutely minimize movement of the bike. It is critical to pull over after the first 50 miles to check the tightness of the lashings. There is always one that seems to get a little loose. Thereafter, I check the lashings every one hundred miles, or when I have to stop for gas.

Never trailer a bike on it's sidestand.

The Kendon trailer minimizes aggravation. Before I had this unit, I once rented a U-Haul open box trailer to pull the K75 to a rally out in Ohio. While there were lash points on the deck and on the rail that ran around the top of the trailer, I was highly unhappy about loading my first K75 into it, and abandoned the idea. But if you do not see a need for purchasing a trailer and need one on the spot, U-Haul does have options. (Here is a great primer on how to secure a motorcycle into an open U-Haul box trailer though.) If I thought I was going to be using open box trailers to move my bike, I would get a locking front wheel chock that I could move from trailer to trailer. The cost varies from $39 to $169.

I also rented a U-Haul motorcycle trailer that was thoroughly rusted at the lash points, and which only had a kind of receptacle for the front wheel. (The U-Haul ads for these look good, and the rentals are cheap enough, but it wasn’t what I had in mind. And please note the U-Haul disclaimer.) If you love your motorcycle and think you will have a need to trailer, I highly recommend the Kendon trailer.

Lots of friends will offer to “borrow” your trailer... There is a real skill in backing up a short Kendon trailer and lots of people don’t have it. Jack-knifing the trailer can easily damage the stone deflector or bend a rail against the towing vehicle’s bumper. I am highly selective about who gets access to this one. I would recommend this trailer to anyone. I have only towed it behind eight-cylinder motors, but I think it would perform equally well attached to a six cylinder engine. I would not attempt it with a four-cylinder engine.

I was headed to the Pennsylvania Turnpike, to pick up I-78 off the Northeast Extension, and I took the shortest way that would pass a Starbucks. With an eight-hour ride ahead of me, I wanted to freight up with their largest cup of java and one of their chicken salad sandwiches on custom bread. And thus are the threads of fate woven. Sitting at a light, the minivan next to me started blowing it’s horn like crazy, and two young boys were pointing at my K75 and laughing as if this was the funniest thing they had ever seen. .

The driver of the van was Mike Evans.

“So that fine piece of German shit finally broke down,” yelled Evans, from the passenger’s window. And then he started fumbling with his cell phone... To get a picture.

I gave him a big smile, flipped him the state bird of New Jersey, and took off as the light hit green. Evans missed his shot.

Above: How Mike Evans envisions me towing my bike in the future. Photo from Mike Evans.

The news of my Suburban’s demise this season made the rounds among my friends, many of who expressed sympathy by remarking at how high gas was likely to become. Mike Evans went one step further, and put together an artist’s concept of my future mode of travel. The man is despicable and without mercy. This started a war of illustrations, and Dick Bregstein also felt compelled to send in a picture of me that he had worked on. He claimed it was one of me in grammar school. There is nothing sadder than to realize your friends and riding buddies have become flesh-eating zombies.

Above: How Dick Bregstein sees me. Illustration from Dick Bregstein, who I suspect "borrowed" it from someplace.

Author’s Note: I have no promotional consideration nor barter agreement with Kendon... Not because I don’t want one, but because no one offered. My experiences with this trailer have all been pleasurable, with only minor issues cited. I cannot address Kendon’s customer service because I have never had to call them.

©Copyright Jack Riepe 2011


ADK said...

How did you get into that Smart Car?

Radar said...


I have to second your (non-paid) endorsement of the Kendon trailer. I have an early edition, single-rail version and absolutely love it.

I don't have the rocking chock for the front wheel, so loading is more safely done with the help of an assistant. My bride willingly does so, but constantly chants the disclaimer that "she is not responsible" the whole time we are loading and tying down the front wheel.

I once allowed a Kawasaki to ride on it, but have never disrespected the trailer since.

Jack Riepe said...

Dear ADK (Chris Wolfe):

I can't imagine how I left you out of this story, as I was writing about despicable individuals. Mike Cantwell is planning to arrive here about July 18th for the BMW MOA Rally. Why not put in for the time off now and ride down with him? Granted he's got a K75, so my guess is that he'll have to slow down so you can catch up.

Fondst regards,
Jack • reep • Toad

Jack Riepe said...

Dear Radar:

The Kendon two-rail motorcycle trailer is living proof that you occasionally get exactly what you paid for. It is a bit pricey, but it is all value. Used in the manner in which I prescribe, it opens certain avenues of riding that I might otherwise have to pass up.

Some guys can go to Harbor Freight, buy a trailer frame, and weld something. I can't. I want all the problems worked out and everything to run to spec.
My only real complaint was the wire connection in the taillights, and it is easily remedied. When I get around to it, I will fix it with the LED replacement kit.

Thanks for reading Twisted Roads, and for leaving a comment.

Fondest regards,
jack • reep • Toad

Unknown said...

The esteemed Rubber Chicken once mentioned to me that he's seen the ratchet straps spontaneously release. That said, I have a really nice set of Ancra ratchets that lock up once the handle is in a particular position.

As for towing, my 4-cylinder WRX towed 1500 lbs. easily. Unfortunately, Subaru North America doesn't rate the majority of its vehicles for towing any more, even though Subaru Australia does. I think that says more about American drivers than the cars.

Unknown said...


I really liked your "rIEPE-sized" smart car. Looks good on you

Riding the Wet Coast

Jack Riepe said...

Dear Matt:

Now that is useful information, and a bit scarey too. The ratchets I use are so damn stiff I need Godzilla hands to release them. To be honest, I don't know the brand name, but they were not cheap.

Now with the Suburban off the road, I am short a towing vehicle.

Fondest regards,
Jack • Reep • Toad

Jack Riepe said...

Dear Bobskoot:

I like Smart Cars. If I had the cash, I'd own one.

Fondest regards,
Jack • reep • Toad

redlegsrides said...

Jack, nice report on the Kendon, however my trailering needs as you know require something a bit bigger....

Knock on wood, the Ural has not broken at all since I repaired the final drive, so I've not had a need for a trailer. I just make sure not to piss off my friend with the trailer. : )

As to your "friends", I am sure they cast despicable commentary and photoshop results at you in an effort to conceal the awe at which they hold your story telling and writing abilities.


Redleg's Rides

Colorado Motorcycle Travel Examiner

Cantwell said...

Dear Adk (Chris Wolfe),

How,you ask, did Jack fit into that SmartCar?
The only way ...Photoshop.


Stacy said...

The Korean Death Ray approves of your judicious use of your trailer.

RichardM said...

Pretty good article on trailering bikes. I'm betting that that model is plenty wide even for a Ural. It looks like the trailer width is wider than the Suburban. BTW, what happened to the Suburban? Did you write a post about it?


Doc Rogers said...

Dear Jack,
I echo your comments on trailer usage. Working two jobs and restoring a century old house means time is beyond precious. Sometimes there is just not the time available. Add to that vintage bikes, a profound dislike of interstate riding, and an old knee injury makes me just smile and drive on, treating any jeers like water off a ducks back. Chuckle, I'm at a point in life that I don't have to prove anything to anyone ... hmmm ... that could also explain why I am single again ... but, I digress. Add to that the utility of hauling 4-wheelers, lawn mowers, and any number of other large bulky items and trailers quickly become a most handy tool. I soon will add a 2011Ural Gear Up Gobi to keep my R100S and others company. I won't hesitate to make the most of my precious time to trailer this rig and others to distant events, the dealers, and of course ... to rescue myself or others ... which occasionally happens. Grin. Thanks for another great blog posting. Take care, Doc Rogers

Steve Williams said...

I have no need of a trailer since my Vespa fits into the bed of my Ford Ranger. Getting it on and off at home is a breeze since the wall along the driveway is the same height as the tailgate. On arrival I just jump the beast out. Pays to have a manly ride and big balls.

I have to confess until reading your story I always sort of guffawed at those limpy men who trailered their machines. Your list of reasons helped but not much until I saw the picture of you in the SmartCar. Then I realized the real value of the trailer (for Kim and I) would be to haul big rocks home to use in our woodland landscape. Nice and low it would be easy to roll those puppies onto the trailer. The Smart Car is about the size we're after.

Any other use still seems kind of wimpy.

Steve Williams
Scooter in the Sticks
Follow me on Twitter

Nikos said...


I have a bike trailer too and it pivots at the hitch end so as to allow straight on loading as the back end dips to the ground.

All the best, N

Nikos said...


I also had a Smart car that my ex-wife said "sent the wrong message out to loose women"....stupid cow.


Jack Riepe said...

Dear Charlie6 (Dom):

The rails on the Kendon trailer are removable and I suspect that it would accommodate a sidecar rig. It would certainly be within its capabilities weight-wise. As I stated in the article, it is very well made and very well thought out. The folding characteristic enables it to stand upright in the garage, where it takes up very little space.

I'm delighted to hear the Ural has not been a problem since your last misadventure. I still think it would be worth it to build a highly customized Ural, using the parts from a wrecked one and a new, or newer BMW engine.

I ook forward to seeing your new hack rig soon.

Fondest regards,
Jack • reep • Toad

Jack Riepe said...

Dear Cantwell:

Once again, that stung. As a matter of fact, there is more room in the driver's seat of the Smart Car than there is the Subaru Forester.

Oddly enough, the Smart Car is propelled by a three cylinder, 75 horsepower, gasoline engine. Sound familiar?

But it doesn't whine. More's the pity.

Fondest regards,
Jack • reep • Toad

Jack Riepe said...

Dear Stacy (Korean Death Ray):

Man was I glad to get your letter. I don't know what I would have done if you hadn't approved of my trailering strategies. You are a lot more open -minded than Steve Williams, who sees everything through the paralax view of a Vespa.

Fondest regards,
Jack • reep • Toad

Jack Riepe said...

Dear Richard M.:

The Suburban, the fifth of these I have owned, gave up the ghost at 250,000 miles. The engine still runs great and burns no oil... But the rust is through the chasis. Despite the fact that the price of gasoline is climbing through the roof, it is my intention to get another one of these, sooner or later.

While I was always careful with the salt on the body, I never gave a thought to what was happening on the undercarriage. Living in upstate New York, where the roads are covered with salt six months of the year, eventually took its toll. I do love the GMC Suburban.

Fondest regards,
Jack • reep • Toad

Jack Riepe said...

Dear Doc Rogers:

I applaud your philosophy of not having to prove anything to anyone. I feel the same way. And trailering can sometimes make the difference between a ride in an exotic location, as opposed to having to pass on it, due to rotten knes and joints.

However, if it was up to me, I'd ride everywhere, and leave the trailer in the garage.

Thanks for reading Twisted Roads,
Fondest regards,
Jack • reep • Toad

Jack Riepe said...

Dear Scooter In The Sticks:

Having a Vespa rider deem one of my riding practices somewhat wimpy is like the kettle calling the pot black. Nevertheless, it must be great to own a machine you can pick up with one hand, while the other unfastens the tailgate.

I am fascinated with the SmartCar for a whole bunch of reasons. But I am somewhat disappointed too. For example, the base model starts at $17,000, has a 3 cylinder motor, and only gets 33 miles to the gallon. For a few grand more, you could drive a Mini, with a more robust engine, more interior space, and greater load capacity, and get the same or equal mileage.

The greatest advantage of the SmartCar, from my perspective, is in parallel parking on tight city streets. I haven't had to do that on a regular basis in 13 years. (I don't propose to start either.)

Thanks for reading Twiated Roads and for lusting overr the BMW K75.

Fondest regards,
Jack • reep • Toad
Twisted Roads

Jack Riepe said...

Dear Nikos:

There is really a lot of convenience in owning a motorcycle trailer, and yours soulds like a real pip. As I have said before, I'd own a Smart Car in a minute. But if I had the choice of spending $17K on a smart car and $14K on a good used Suburban, the truck would win hands down.

Fondest regards,
Jack • Reep • Toad

irondad said...

There are other places to use a bike trailer. For example,

A friend and I were discussing how many Harley riders trailered bikes to rides. They would park a couple of miles away from the sign-in point. Fooling nobody, these guys would ride to the start like they had ridden a hundred miles to get there.

As drinking will do for you, we devised a plan. My brother met us at a HOG run with a pick-up towing a trailer big enough for two bikes.

My friend and I rode our rice burners a hundred fifty miles to the sign in spot. Then we loaded them on the trailer. Did you realize how many glares and dirty looks you can get by driving the poker run route with two bikes on a trailer?

Once back at the rally site we unloaded the bikes and rode them home. I thought it was very unsporting of the sponsors to disqualify us from winning any prizes.

Chris said...

interesting you have your name as your license plate on the K75 :)

Jack Riepe said...

Dear Chris:

This is a vanity plate I bought from the State of Pennsylvania. I went to a Jesuit Prep school (high school) where everyone was known by their last name. Most of my close friends cal me "Riepe" to this day.

My friend Bregstein has a plate that reads "Dicks," but someone suggested printing "I Love" on a card, and taping it to his plate.

Fondest regards,
Jack • reep • Toad

DC said...

Those are some FUNNY pics!
Not only are you a good writer, Jack, you are a good sport!
Dave Case

Jack Riepe said...

Dear DC (Dave Case):

My mom said, "Ropll with the punches as you're going to get a lot of them."

Thanks for reading and chiming in, Dave!

Fondest regards,
Jack • reep • Toad

Conchscooter said...

I had a date with you and we never...wait a minute while i re-think that.

Jack Riepe said...

Dear Conschscooter:

I think the pink crocs are starting to get to you.

Fondest regards,
Jack • reep • Toad

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