How To Carry Absolutely Anything On a Motorcycle

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How To Carry Absolutely Anything On a Motorcycle

Photo by Motographer

Are you one of those chumps who thinks a motorcycle’s carrying ability is limited to what fits into a backpack or the stock panniers? Think again, there is actually a huge range of ways to carry cargo by bike.

Size Matters

But not how you might think. Free from stuff like a roof, windows or doors, you can carry some surprisingly tall, long or wide objects on a motorcycle. What’s more important is the object’s shape. A 8-foot long pole may not fit in even a large car, but you could strap it to the side of a bike.

When considering an object for motorcycle carry, first consider the space you require as the rider and the area through which you need to freely move. Consider that sacred; anything that impinges on your ability to comfortably control a motorcycle, including mounting and dismounting it, shouldn’t be carried.

How To Carry Absolutely Anything On a Motorcycle
Carrying oversized loads with finesse.

Photo by Proggie

Next, consider a motorcycle’s relationship with its environment. Again, we have an unexpected advantage in that roads are built to accommodate cars, but motorcycles occupy a much smaller “footprint” than the average automobile. We’re therefore free to expand outside the perimeter of our vehicle without encountering fit problems with most roadways. A great example of this is most topboxes. Go look at one and you’ll notice that it hovers over the rear of the bike, out beyond the backseat passenger and even the wheel, thereby adding room for cargo without reducing space for people. The trouble here is obviously that you can alter a bike’s dynamics by moving weight far from its center of gravity or create a built in obstacle that could create an unwelcome interface with another road user. Draw an imaginary box around what you’d consider defines the “space” a motorcycle owns in traffic and try not to go outside of that.

Also worth bearing in mind is aerodynamics. If you’re only going around the corner, a big cardboard box on your backseat isn’t going to cause many problems, but applying highway-speed windblast to that object could. We’re not so much talking about your ability to strap something down tightly here, more the impact large objects will have on handling when hit by windblast or side winds. If you’re new to the action packed sport of transporting things by bike, we’d suggest starting small, gaining experience and working your way up slowly before attempting to carry a fridge through a thunderstorm during rush hour.

How To Carry Absolutely Anything On a Motorcycle
Not good.

Photo by Daniel Palmer

Weight and Where To Put It

So we’ve covered the fact that carrying a heavy object a long way outside your motorcycle’s center of gravity is probably going to be a bad idea. But, motorcycles actually are able to carry a surprising amount of weight. Heck, our long term Honda Grom is rated at 340 lbs max load capacity. I weigh 180 lbs, so that leaves 160 for random pieces furniture/livestock/family members.

But where is all that weight supposed to go? Well think about the things it’s specifically designed to carry: passengers, luggage and fuel. If it comes with a passenger seat, even your ridiculously light sportbike is built to haul the weight of a full-size human on its tail.

That tail is obviously the place to start when carrying cargo but motorcycles are also designed to carry gallons of heavy fuel and likely a rider even heavier than yourself. When carrying something very heavy, positioning it as close to your motorcycle’s center of gravity (an imaginary point in the center of the bike, just ahead of your genitals and below the fuel tank) will minimize its impact on handling.

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  • eddi

    I have never even approached the level of carrying skill of the least of Asian cargo haulers. In Korea, I saw loads that would bog a pickup down casually cruising through bumper-to-bumper traffic. Bicycles are routinely reinforced with rebar and carrier cages welded to them.

    Loading my top case and bungeeing a pack to the back seat usually does it for me. Add saddlebags and I could migrate as I pleased with all I would ever need. I have hauled awkward loads. Just recently a new printer. In the top case with the bungee net to tie it down and if stayed right where I left it. Of course the traffic behind me was WAY behind me, but that was a bonus.

    • runnermatt

      “In Korea, I saw loads that would bog a pickup down casually cruising through bumper-to-bumper traffic.”

      That is because today, in the US, most truck engines are made for horsepower bragging rights, not torque and reliability under duress. I think the early 90′s was the last time “half-ton” pickups were built for work instead of glorified commuter toys.

      • Stuki

        Current half tons are capable of carrying more than they ever were. Diesels these days aren’t all that as far as reliability go, but aside from that, and their silly size, new trucks are bloody marvels for what they cost.

        • runnermatt

          I disagree. My Dad’s 1989 F150, other than lack of horsepower was far more capable of carrying loads than Half-tons today. Granted Ford saw fit to put a 3.08/1 final drive ratio in it for gas mileage so it didn’t have much power with its 300 c.i. (4.9 liter) gasoline straight six, but it’s suspension was far better suited for carrying loads and the 300 straight six was pretty much bullet proof. When my dad sold it with 100k miles we had not had to change the clutch or brakes despite hauling a 1100 pound lawnmower and other equipment in the bed and then towing a 1500 pound trailer with said lawnmower/equipment. Because of the lack of power to get the 3000 pounds of trailer and mower moving from a stop you had to slip the clutch while feathering the throttle at 2000 rpm (torque peak, I’ve heard it was close to 300 ft/lbs.) The standard gearing from Ford was the biggest problem with the truck as in their attempt at gas mileage the 3.08/1 gearing meant the truck got better gas mileage at 60 in 4th gear instead of 5th.

          Looking the manufacture websites for current half ton trucks so few options for making the trucks better for work. Looking at the Ram (Dodge) website recently I saw that the only options for making the half ton truck better for work was a choice of final drive gearing, but serious work gearing of 3.73/1 or 4.10/1 are not available in the 1500′s.

          Also, your assertion that gasoline engines are as reliable as diesels is just plain wrong. Sure gasoline engines are a lot more reliable than they used to be, but once you start making the gasoline engines work hard day in, day out they will not last as long their diesel counterparts. When working hard towing a load the increased resistance to acceleration means that pistons, connecting rods, crankshafts, main bearings and caps, and head studs see increased forces because the energy released by the combustion of the fuel/air charge cannot be turned into work as quickly. Because it cannot be turned into work as quickly the parts mentioned have to contain that chemical energy until the parts convert it into mechanical (kinetic energy) work.

          • Piglet2010

            The other problem these days is that too many people are thoughtless and think because their truck is fine going down the freeway at 75 mph unladen, it should be fine to do the same with 1,500 pounds of stuff in the bed or pulling a 7,500 pound trailer.

            • runnermatt

              Yeah there are those people too. Just because you have the horsepower to go that speed doesn’t mean the engine isn’t going to eventually overheat or that the brakes are up to the task of stopping that amount of weight… repeatedly, or that the weight of the trailer won’t just push the tow vehicle around.

              My younger brother used to work at Lowes in the Lawn & Garden section. People would pull up and want to load 2 pallets of stone (3000 lbs. each) into the back of a half ton. They seemingly think pickup trucks have an infinite weight limit because they don’t understand the concept of “weight limit”. City people that think this way are encountered more frequently than country people, but country people are not exempt. Tire pressures and tire weight limits are beyond them as well. My brother tells the story of a customer who had them load a bunch of stone into the back of an SUV. They told the customer that the SUV and its tires were not rated for the weight, but the customer insisted. After they loaded it up the customer got in and drove 10 feet and all four tires blew out. I would have loved to have seen that. Sometimes they made customers sign waivers before loading things.

        • runnermatt

          Oh and my Dad’s 2005 Dodge Ram 3500 non-dually has 220k miles on it and still gets 24 mpg with 4.10 gears while weighing 7000 pounds wet. My younger brother has also used it to beat his friend who was driving a BMW 335i in a impromptu drag race.

  • Darragh McD

    this was the article that i expected to see Wiley wearing doggles on the back of a bike; or maybe even on the tank

  • Jack Meoph

    “positioning it as close to your motorcycle’s center of gravity (an
    imaginary point in the center of the bike, just ahead of your genitals
    and below the fuel tank) will minimize its impact on handling” and once the engine is removed to accommodate the load, you can Fred Flintstone your bike to your destination.

    I will always have a tail bag on my bike. There are some things you can not do without when you go for a ride, and I will not ride with a backpack. My Triumph has a top box, which is fantastic, and it’s effect on the bikes handling is negligible. If I have to take more than what will fit in a tailbag/topbox, tankbag, and saddlebags, I’m taking the car. I’m glad I have that option, and I’m not one of those folks with 20 chickens in cages strapped down on my scoot. That would suck.

  • ThinkingInImages

    I just switched to saddle bags after a few years of backpacks and tank bags. They’re brilliant! Yes, I’m spooked by the width issue, especially on a narrow motorcycle like a CBR, but it’s worth the overall convenience.

  • HoldenL

    Sunday, I took a 7-foot Christmas tree home on the back of my Versys. One word: RokStraps.

    • Blixa

      Nice Versys.

    • metric_G

      All I can think of is Richard Hammond in the Top Gear UK Vietnam special, riding his 125 cc Minsk with a Spanish galleon scale model strapped on the back.
      If you didn’t see it yet it is a must for motorcycle enthusiast.

    • Eric Shay

      Off road even!

    • Stuki

      That thing looks almost as hard to lanesplit as a Vstrom with factory panniers…….

  • Justin McClintock

    This whole article reminds me of the old saying: Just because you can doesn’t mean you should.

    • nick2ny

      Always thought it was “just because you can’t doesn’t mean you shouldn’t”

  • Michael Howard

    “Absolutely” anything? Uh… “Almost” anything, yeah. “Practically” anything, sure. “Absolutely” anything? ‘Fraid not. Great article aside from the exaggerated headline.

    • ILDIZASTRO

      Seen a cow being carried on chinese motorcycle in Tanzania, Africa!!!I was lost for words. Seen a canoe tied to a bicycle too, though not related to motorbikes, still got two wheels!!Amazed!!!OPbviously cannot carry a car or stuff like that….but theres lots of stuff one can carry albeit the exaggerated headline

  • Blixa

    I would love to know how to carry a 35 lb dog sans sidecar.

  • Jason 1199

    I keep a bungee net and rok strap hooked on my KLRs luggage rack at all times. It lets me bring home random things on the fly: dinner left overs, boxes, parcels, spare gear, a gym bag for Crossfit, and up to 4 bags of groceries

  • Jacob D

    Ropes are a great backup, they can fold up smaller than a bungee in most cases and can be tied to any length you need. As for knots? you don’t have to be an expert, just creative. Test out the knots and you’ll find one that works for you. Typically lots of loops through loops through loops with the end puled though and tied off somewhere to eliminate flapping does the trick. And on top of all that rope is extremely cheap. I wouldn’t say I rely on rope, but whenever I do a bike trip theres usually tied down with rope.

    • Rich

      If you can’t tie a knot, tie a lot!

      • Piglet2010

        Or use the handyman’s secret weapon, duct tape.

    • I Have the Hat

      A taut-line hitch isn’t too difficult to learn. Never used it on a bike but have done so successfully on car roof racks.

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Taut-line_hitch

    • Sean

      Why a backup? Ropes are great at securing loads, and knots aren’t some crazy skill learned by only the most devoted Shaolin monks. Check out Animated Knots by Grog for easy, step-by-step instructions. You’ll be a hit with your friends when they need to secure that monster flatscreen to the roof of their rackless car, or to their motorcycle for that matter.

      • Piglet2010

        The problem with ropes and knots is that it is nearly impossible to get the fastening truly tight – unlike say a strap where you have the mechanical advantage of a racket buckle..

        • Sean

          Two words: truckers hitch.

          • Piglet2010

            “3:1 Purchase: The arrangement of line
            provides a theoretical 3:1 purchase. However, rope is running over rope
            with considerable friction. In practice the mechanical advantage is
            much less, may be more like 1.6:1. However, hauling on the line can be
            surged and then the friction is an advantage as it helps hold the gain
            while the end is secured. The theoretical 3:1 gain assumes that the
            lower attachment point is fixed and the upper point is being moved.”

            1.6:1 is not comparable to what a ratchet buckle can achieve.

  • Yuri Grinshteyn

    Using photos of people in “3rd world” countries who are doing the best they can to make life work with very limited resources as illustrations for “what not to do” is insensitive at best and basically assholish. These guys (and often women) are probably better urban/day to day riders than most of us. You guys do good work on the site, and there’s no need to stoop to jingoistic bullshit to make your point.

  • Rich

    I spent a year commuting on my BMW R/75, 70 miles round trip, while doing restoration carpentry.
    30″ steel toolbox bungeed avross the luggage rack; 4 foot level bungeed to the side of the frame; milk crate bungeed to the passenger part of the seat, with skilsaw, drill, grinder, router, blades and bits.
    On another job, I did punchout work with a friend, riding a BMW R/80 from house to house on the same bike, both of us wearing toolbelts, and my friend sitting backwards with two sawhorses and a power miter saw across his lap.
    Pickup trucks are for girlymen.

  • mulderdog

    I miss Mulder and the KLR !

  • Jose Manuel

    Air Compressor = Easy

  • runnermatt

    My test to see of something is strapped down good enough. Grab the item and shake, jerk, push and pull it. If the bike moves before the item moves it is strapped down good enough. Ideally the item shouldn’t move in relation to the bike when the bike moves.

  • Blixa

    I’d love to do what you did, but my tank bag gets really hot underneath, so that’s my only concern. I bet my dog would be thrilled to ride peering over the bars – I’m just afraid to burn him. Maybe it’s time for a new ride? ;)

  • Roland Straylight

    Was once sent to fetch a dinner set (as in new crockery) from argos minutes before the place closed. Strapped to bike ok, but scared shitless of speed bumps and potholes on the way back.

  • Diego Martinez

    I wish I could track down the photo, but a friend arrived to a party once carrying a 10 gallon fishing cooler on the back of a ’95 VFR750…

  • Michael Howard

    In the early 70′s my father and his 2nd wife did their honeymoon from Missouri, through Colorado, Wyoming, and back to Iowa on a CL350 scrambler. In addition to the normal tent, sleeping bags, etc., they carried two VW tires to a family member in Yellowstone. When asked by people along the way what the deal was with the tires, Dad told them they were his training wheels.

  • eddi

    We have only scratched the surface here. If this works a motorcycle truck from Huajun Motor Tricycle Manufacturing Co. Ltd.

    You really can carry ANYTHING on a motorcycle. It just takes broadening your definition of a motorcycle.

  • Jose Manuel

    Vespa!