Getting It To The Track (A Trailer for the CBR)

I should probably call this "Getting Your Bike to the Track on the Cheap".  I don't mind spending money when I think it's worth while, but I always hate spending more than I need to.  A trailer for hauling the bike around is definitely an area where you can spend a lot of money.  Options I considered were:
  1. Ride it to the track.
  2. Get a pickup with a long enough bed and I'm done.
  3. Get any kind of four wheel drive vehicle with a hitch and get a trailer.
  4. Get a hitch for the car and get a trailer.
Option 1 is not going to work for several reasons.  When I go to the track I take everything off the bike that I don't need like mirrors and turn signals. Yeah, I could do all that at the track, but with what tools and who's got time?  Also, there's all the stuff I need to bring with me like a cooler with food, a chair, etc..  And, what if I crack the bike up, how do I get home?

Option 2 was tempting.  The wife needed a new car anyway, so if we got one of those extended cab extended bed pickups we kill two birds with one stone.  But I'm sure those things suck down the gas, maintenance is more expensive, and it would still be difficult to get four people and a bunch of groceries home from the store.

It was a tossup between options 3 and 4 so I went and did some research.

First I went looking to see if there was a hitch available for my 2001 VW Jetta.  It has a 2000 lb towing capacity, which was more than I needed.  Some hunting around on the Internet got me to Draw-Tite Hitches where, for $95, they list a Class I hitch for the Jetta. For that matter they had hitches for most vehicles.  Including a ball, wiring harness, and draw bar I could get away with about $140.

Having found a hitch I turned to the trailer.  Now, you can spend a lot of money on trailers... A fully enclosed aluminum job will cost you thousands.  The idea of spending that much just for a trailer I'm going to use a few times a year didn't make sense.  A flatbed aluminum trailer can be had for about $1000, but that still seemed high.  I narrowed it down to two options.  Scandi Pacific Trading had a nice selection of small trailer/rail kits and Harbor Freight also had some inexpensive flat bed trailer kits.  Scandi was definitely the no brainer was to go because you got everything you need. They were also the only place I could find that had a sport bike rail; wider in the back than the front.  Some of the Harbor Freight models were folding and had tilt beds.  You can find people selling these things on Ebay.  But either way, I could get a trailer for under $500.

Well, it became pretty clear that option 4 was possible and relatively inexpensive so it was time to place some orders.  At first I figured I'd go with the Scandi option, so I went to their web site, placed my order, and at checkout got a bit of a shock; shipping was going to be nearly $100.  Scratch that!  That brought me back to the Harbor Freight site. After some hunting around I decide to get their 1175 lb capacity model for about $220.  But, I found out later that model was on backorder, and I wasn't willing to take a chance waiting for it just to be told later that it was discontinued or something.  I could have gotten the same model through Ebay, but people there were also charging at least $80 to ship, unlike Harbor Freight that only charged $20.  Don't ask me how they can ship a trailer kit weighing hundreds of pounds cross country for $20 bucks...  So, I decided to move up a model and got the 1800 lb capacity model.  That was about $340.  And, I got a motorcycle rail for another $45.  Cheaper than Scandi.

Well, time passed and I got a call from the shipping company as to when they could drop off the tailer.  We went back and fourth a few times, but we just couldn't arrange a mutually agreeable time when they could drop it off.  They needed someone to help them unload it (only one man per truck) when they got here. Ok, so now we know why they charge only $20. Anyway, I decided to just go pick it up from them since the shipping hub was about 15 minutes from my house.  I figured since it was two packages, total weight about 230 lbs, I could handle it and somehow get them into the Jetta; fold down the rear seats and let if hang out the back if it had to.

Funny things was when I got to the shipper, there's about 40 docks and pretty much nothing but semi's and trailers all around.  I stopped at the guard shack to ask for directions, but I could tell they didn't get to many people in cars driving up to their docks.  I found my way to the office area and got directions through the building to the dispatch area.  After checking my ID they told me to drive around to the far end of the docks and they would bring out the items. Did I happen to mention there were some grubby looking people working there?... different story...  First box wasn't bad, it was about 2' x 2' x 1.5'.  Then the guy came out with this 10' x 1' x 1' wooden crate made out of about 1/2' x 2' .  Needless to say the majority of the weight was in that box.  The smaller one had the two wheels and tires along with the light kit.  I told him to just put it down I would figure it out.  At first I'm thinking, how does a 4' x 8' trailer end up in a 10' long box, but after closer inspection it turned out that there were two boxes end to end.  Well wasn't that nice of them.  Well, to make a long story short, after some hoing and heaving I managed to get the thing in the Jetta and had about three feet of it hanging out the back.  The smaller box I opened up, took out the stuff, put it in the car where there was room, and threw the box away.  It wasn't pretty, but I got it home, and unloaded.  If you ever do the same... bring a friend... cause it would have been pretty ugly if I had to start taking stuff out piece by piece to get it in the car.

Well, the following Saturday I got myself into the garage and started unpacking stuff.  First think I looked for and found were the assembly instructions for the trailer kit.  Didn't take me long to see this was going to be a challenge.  There were pages of them, but the instructions weren't very clear and the pictures weren't accurate nor to scale.  Don't you just love a challenge?  The bottom line is that, except for very obvious things, it was going to be some trial and error.

When I open instructions I expect to see the following; illustrations of the fasteners drawn to scale and identified... nope, not here... ; each of the major parts drawn to scale and identified... nope, not here... ; maybe each of the parts labeled, since all the rails looked very similar with minor differences... nope, not here... ; and finally, instructions that say something like, "fasten part A to part B using fasteners I, J, K"... NOPE, NOT HERE!  Need I say that if you're not mechanically inclined, and can't figure things out for your self, you probably don't want to buy a kit trailer from Harbor Freight.

The good news is that the trailer is almost done and I didn't even have any spare parts.  All I need to do is mount and wire the lights, get a piece of plywood on top of it, mount the bike rail, and install some eye hooks for tiedown points.  Yeah... just that...  See, there is a reason a fully assembled flatbed trailer will cost you at least $1000.  But I got more time than money...

Well, the hitch arrived too.  One of the things I noticed when searching around for the hitch was that some sites listed hitches for Jettas, but specifically excluded the 1.8L Turbo model, which is what I had.  So, when I ordered mine I made it clear that if this model didn't fit the turbo, I didn't want it.  When the hitch came, the first thing I did was go to the instructions.  Under "Application" it said "Volkswagen Jetta sedan excluding Wagon and Turbo".... #!##@%!!!!!!  After I calmed down I figured I'd drag the damn thing out to my car and see if things lined up before I go to sending off a flaming email to the supplier.  Believe it or not, it fit.   Well, given the choice between instruction that say it fits and not having it fit vs. the other way around, I was perfectly happy.

Another weekend rolled around and it was time to install the hitch.  Generally, I have to say that I'm pretty impressed by it.  First, it seems like sturdy construction, also it has four mounting points, two of which are to the frame rails of the car, and two which are to the spare tire well.  The installation instructions were very clear and it didn't take me more than a couple hours to get the thing installed.  One hole is already there, and so you have to drill four other half inch holes. So the nice thing is that you use the existing hole to get the hitch in place and hold it there while you use it as a template for the other holes. The mounting on the driver side frame rail is a little convoluted in that it requires drilling two holes for a bracket which actually goes over the frame rail on the inside of the trunk.  Those holes have to be drilled fairly close to the tail of the trunk, so there's not a lot of working room.  I did have to loosen the muffler to shove it aside slightly so that I could get a drill in from underneath the car.  The other thing that was kind of tricky was the positioning of the bracket and the holes for it.  On ones side, the side that screws to the hitch, positioning is clear, but on the other side you have limited positioning for the hole.  You're drilling thru very close to the frame rail, and if you don't put the bracket at the right angle, when you drill through, the hole will be too close to the frame rail and you will not be able to get the nut on the bolt.  Yes, this did occur to me before I actually drilled the hole.  Drill a tiny hole first, to make sure your positioning is correct. 

Also a pretty decent amount of work went into getting the wiring harness hooked up properly.  The hardest part of that job was figuring out how to get to the wires.  Eventually I realized that some of the panels in the trunk just pull off because they have these slip in barbed fasteners that hold them in place.  Once I did that I could see the wiring harness.  And, using the handy dandy electrical probe that came with the trailer I probed around until I found all the wires I needed, hooked everything up, passed the harness through the bottom of the trunk, and put everything back together.  

On one end of the harness you have the standard trailer light connector and in the middle you have the converter box, so there was no way I was going to drill a hole big enough to pass that through the trunk floor.  Instead I snipped the wires and passed them through a slit I made in one of the plastic plugs in the trunk floor.  I spliced the wires back together and caulked around the wires to seal it all back up.

And there you have it.  I'll be ready for hauling off to the track days.  By the time I'm done the whole setup will probably cost me about $600.

Tying the Bike Down to the Trailer

Well, I'm into my second season with the trailer, just got back from the 4/2006 Grattan track day.  I've learned a lesson regarding trying the bike to the trailer.  I use to put the bike on and almost completely compress the suspension so that over bumps the bike didn't move up and down on it's suspension.  Figured I didn't want it bouncing to the point where it got loose enough and a tiedown end popped out.  Well, this last trip I really didn't compress either end that much.  I used a tiedown on each passenger peg bracket, the usual one's on the handlebars using a Canyon Dancer, added another set hooked up to the main footpeg brackets, and finally one going through the front wheel, holding the wheel down onto the trailer.  Most of that was just for backup, but the bike bounced around a lot more than before, but the interesting thing is that the overall ride of the trailer was much smoother.  Bottom line is that the bike suspension helps to damp out some of the bouncing around that the trailer use to do.   Same principal as when a dirtbike rider absorbs some of the shock with their legs, except in this case the rider is the bike and the legs are the suspension.