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Thursday, April 19, 2012

Hitch Mounted Carriers...Getting It Up...And Safely!

Since my RV isn't very large, I really didn't want to go the towed vehicle route (toad). I figured I could mount a small motorcycle on a carrier to the class IV hitch in back. I started researching hitch mounted carriers in general. From the small and inexpensive to the massive, hydraulic lift, expensive versions.

Since an average, small, dual purpose (on and off road) motorcycle would weigh around 300 pounds I went looking for a carrier that could carry at least 400 pounds, figuring the extra capacity would act as a "safety net" in case of problems. Seemed pretty logical to me. I have a 1999 Lectra VR-24 electric motorcycle that would eventually live on the back of the RV and charge from the excess power generated by my solar charging system after the batteries were fully replenished. It weighs about 258lbs. So far so good. Kind of.

Tongue weight. That conjures up some pretty bizarre images! Actually, it's the weight supported by your hitch in the vertical direction. This is NOT how much you can tow! Hitches can have tongue capacities ranging from 200 pounds for class 1 all the way up to 1800 pounds for a class 5 hitch. I have a class 4 installed by the factory so that gave me around 600 pounds to play with.

Choosing your carrier. Motorcycles are HEAVY! While a small bike is easy to push around on the ground, pushing one up a steep incline isn't nearly as easy. Most of the less expensive hitch mounted carriers have a ramp that either drops down or is removed from the hitch and affixed to another part of the carrier to act as a ramp. There is also the type that tilts the entire carrier to form a ramp, but this looks more difficult to me as it will "flatten out" when the weight of the cycle gets past the center of gravity. That might happen pretty fast! This can be a bit scary to do alone. If you have a LIGHT motorcycle or even a scooter it might not be all THAT bad, but would require caution to be safe. Either of these can be had for under $300. If you look around, you'll see MANY models both steel and aluminum versions and a variety of weight capacities.

The next style is a bit different. It has a winch that acts as a lifting mechanism for the the entire carrier. The carrier descends to the ground flat, then you roll the motorcycle onto it. then operate the winch to raise it up. Very cool. of course, cool comes with a price tag. In this case a bit less than $3000! I like the concept, but seems a bit pricey to me.

The last version uses hydraulics to lift the bike and is well suited to carrying larger motorcycles. Ones that you wouldn't be likely to push up a steep ramp in the first place. Of course, you need a very high weight rated hitch to carry this tongue loading. I've seen them on large bus style class A's.

There are other styles available, like this one with a dolly wheel to take some of the load off the hitch. There are also ones that use a trailer style tongue jack (electric or manual) to lift the carrier. 

Once you get the motorcycle on the hitch, how does it stay there while you are driving? 

Tie Downs! These are available at almost any big box home store or auto specialty shop. Maybe even Wally World! Most of them are nylon straps that have a hook on either side and some type of ratchet system to tighten the strap down over the load. Depending on your bike, there are various ways to hold it down. The front wheel is usually locked to the carrier to prevent it from rolling/turning. I use a strap on each handlebar end and one over the rear frame. I snug them down so the suspension is a bit compressed and then add another strap through the center of the frame. My carrier (like most of them) has points to attach the tie down strap hooks.

It is important that the motorcycle doesn't shift too much (or at all) during travel. aside from wearing through your nice paint, it could loosen more and more and eventually create a dangerous situation! Imagine a 300-pound+ motorcycle dropping off your carrier while en-route!

As one reader pointed out (Thanks, Dick!) I forgot to mention I cover my bike when travelling. Keeps dirt, road grime and stones from doing any damage. I suggest you folks do the same. Use some heavy duty bungees to secure the cover to both the carrier and itself. Just to be safe!

Since I will eventually be carrying my electric motorcycle I figured I would mount a socket near or under the back of the RV for charging. Stay tuned!

Be Seeing You...Down The Road,

Rich "The Wanderman"


  1. Do you cover your bike while on the road? Seems like it would get really dirty back there.

    1. Dick,
      An EXCELLENT point. For some reason I neglected to put that tidbit into my article.

      In answer to your question, YES, I cover my bike when travelling. Keeps dirt, road grime and stones from doing any damage.

      Thanks again!

      Rich "The Wanderman"

    2. I built my carrier for my Harley Davidson FXD. Its mounted via the class 4 hitch with out riders from the frame to the cycle carrier. Everything is slightly overbuilt, (thickness of materisal, webbing and gussets, etc.) I use a 1/4 ton winch to load it and to unload it. Actually works pretty neat. I also can tow my Jeep wrangler because the tow bar weights next to nothing. I've got over 5000 miles and several years with no problems. I tried covering the Harley but the wind ate the cover. After several, I gave up and just dust it off after unloading it.

      This thing was actually built according to blue prints I had drawn up. The bike actually rides close to the back of the motorhome, (class A) The frame of the motorhome extends completely to the rear. No extensions, and thats a concern when building one. So the frame actually carries the weight of the entire thing. Of course its added to the rear axle capacity, etc, etc. and calculated into the overall weights of the thing. There are many factors to consider when building one to fit your application but it can be done. I just couldn't find one that suited my needs so I built it. I figured if I can build hotrods from scratch, I should be able to build a carrier. Hmmm- - - -The thing comes off and you would never know it was on the back. The motorhome is a 2004 Allegro on a Workhorse chassis.

    3. Jonathan,
      I'd love to see a picture, sounds like a well engineered, well thought out solution! Perhaps the issue with the tearing covers is more related to aerodynamics rather tan the cover. Maybe a roof lip spoiler to calm the air near the carrier??

      Rich "The Wanderman"

  2. I have 2 scooters (Honda Elite 110 and Burgman 400) that I ride everyday. The 280 lbs Honda fits a standard motorcycle rack on the back of my motorhome. The Burgman 400 weighs about 480 lbs so it stays at a small storage cottage. Since I travel most days of each week, the riding balances out. I suggest RVers substitute a scooter in place of a towed vehicle. In place of my 25 mpg compact truck I now get 100+ mpg with the scooter. Four times the mileage per gallon!
    Lou Finkle (fulltiming since 2003)

    1. Lou,
      Scooters are great for on road excursions, but I was looking for a bit more flexibility. The Dual purpose nature of a 4 stroke On/Off road lightweight motorcycle gave me that.

      That Burgman is a beautiful scooter. Like a hi-tech recliner traveling down the road!

      Rich "The Wanderman"

    2. I have a FWC truck camper and like to bring my 650cc dual sport along including some rough terrain. I have a custom back porch with a channel for carrying the bike. It is just far enough back so I can still access the camper. It has a double receiver set up for greater weight capacity and stabilty

    3. Anonymous,
      How much does that bike weigh??? With the truck camper in, it seems that it would exceed the weight limits of the truck. Do you have a rear supplemental air bag suspension?

      Rich "The Wanderman"


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