How to Load and Unload Your Motorcycle
If you own a motorcycle, there will come a day when you need to take it somewhere without actually riding it. We hope you’re going to the track and not to the repair shop, but in either case, we have some tips for loading and unloading the bike using a truck (or van):
1. Get what you need
- You’ll need at least one ramp. You can get a solid ramp (perhaps arched to make sure a belly pan isn’t damaged) or a folding ramp (which takes up less space). An ATV ramp is heavier and more expensive, but it can be a good choice because it gives a wide, stable platform for your bike. Whatever you use, make sure that it’s rated to hold the weight of whatever will be on it.
- You’ll also need at least two tie-down straps per bike, plus an extra per ramp to hold it in place. Consider using a bar harness per bike or tie-downs with “soft hooks”. You can also buy the soft hooks separately. Consider having another set of tie-downs per bike to stabilize the rear so it doesn’t “hop” during transport.
- Your truck needs to have tie-down points in the front corners of the bed. Be sure that they are strong enough that the tie-downs won’t pull out or through the metal.
- A wheel chock is very helpful, too, as it stabilizes the bike and can hold up the bike while you secure it. In addition, it keeps the front wheel from turning – more on that later.
- The jump into the truck bed can be difficult, especially if you have a tall truck (or if you’re “inseam-challenged”), so get a step-stool to use between the ground and the bed – just be sure it’s solid, stable and on flat ground.
- Get some back-up – always have at least two people to load and unload just in case something goes wrong. Sometimes all you need is a spotter, but sometimes you need more.
2. Get into position
- It’s easiest to load and unload a bike with the rear wheels of the truck in a low point, like at the bottom of a sloped driveway or in a gutter against the curb. The less you have to fight gravity, the better, and stepping into the bed of the truck is easier, too.
- Use a tie-down to attach the ramp to the truck’s bumper or other secure point so that it doesn’t slip off the tailgate during loading and unloading. Make sure the ramp is stable and straight, in line with the wheel chock, which should be in the center of the front of the truck bed.
- Place your interim step on the left side of the bike’s ramp, about even with the halfway point, stable and secured.
- Attach the truck-side strap hooks to their tie-down points and lay the tie-down straps straight, out of the way (but ready).
3. Get it in
- Loading should be done in one smooth, continuous motion because you don’t want the momentum to stop halfway. You have a choice to make – bike on or bike off.
- Bike on: Don’t do it.
- Bike off: You need a bit of speed to make it up the ramp in one shot, but don’t go so fast that you can’t aim well or stop once you’re in the bed. If you’re not comfortable with this, have your friend help you push it up the ramp (using solid points like a passenger grab rail, not the plastic, turn signals or rear tire).
4. Get it secure
- Once the front tire is in the chock or against the front of the truck bed, you need to keep it there. Click the bike into first so that it won’t roll back and have your helper hold it vertical if necessary.
- If you don’t have a chock, try to wedge the front tire into a groove (if that’s an option). If the front wheel turns during transport, the tie-downs could loosen and your bike could end up on its side.
- Find secure mounting points that won’t damage the bike and won’t slip (this is where the soft-ties are handy). Upper and lower triple-trees are common tie-down points. Use the coated hooks or soft hooks and attach the tie-down straps to the tie-down points on both the bike and the truck. Pull them snug enough to hold the bike vertical without compressing the forks and check your work for clearance and possible damage.
- Compress the front forks between 1/3 and 1/2 when tightening the tie-downs – no more, no less. You can do this easily and equally by sitting on the bike and pulling on the adjustment straps of the tie-downs at the same time. The weight of your body should be enough to correctly compress a properly-set suspension. Otherwise, you can move back and forth, tightening each side little by little to keep the pressure as even as possible.
- Make sure that the bike is perfectly vertical and then add a knot (like a cow-hitch) or two so that the adjustment straps can’t loosen because of vibration or side-by-side motion.
- As mentioned, you might want to add another tie-down on either side at the rear of the bike. Passenger peg mounts often work well, but you can use the rear wheel, too. Angle the rear tie-downs forward a bit to keep the bike snugly into the chock.
5. Get it out
- Lock the side-stand in place and gently loosen the tie-downs, being sure to lean the bike very slightly to the left (toward the side-stand). Remove the tie-downs and any soft-ties so they don’t get in the way.
- Unloading should be done with the motorcycle off and in neutral.
- Make sure that the ramp(s) and/or steps are in place, stable and secured. Line up the bike with the ramp and roll the bike down, making sure to keep it as vertical as possible. Feather the front brake to keep speed in check, but try not to lock the front wheel, as it could slide down (or off!) the ramp – you want to control the speed, not stop it.
- A spotter is helpful and if you’re not comfortable with unloading alone, it’s a good idea to have someone helping to ease the weight on the way down. That person can (and should) also provide input about whether or not the tire(s) are still in line with the ramp.
Other helpful hints
- Consider practicing the loading, tying-down and unloading by going through the steps with a bicycle that has front suspension. You’ll learn a lot before putting your moto at risk.
- After loading the bike and tying it down, drive around the block (carefully!) and make a few easy stops and starts, then recheck the tie-downs to see that nothing has shifted or loosened.
- Get a tarp (or an old blanket) and some bungee cords. If you’re staying overnight at a hotel near the track and you don’t want to unload the bike, lock it to whatever you can (including another bike in the truck), cover it with the tarp and bungee the whole mess. This will keep moisture off the bike(s) and discourage thieves.
- If you use a van, be sure to measure the clearance before you make “the run” - you might have to remove the windshield to get the bike to fit, but the last thing you want is to get your bike wedged in the opening.
- NEVER ride your motorcycle as a loading technique. If you need to know why, just search YouTube for “motorcycle load crash”.
- And if this is the first time you’ve loaded or unloaded a bike, we strongly recommend that you have a third helper present – preferably with a GoPro running. You know, just in case…