A Tale of Two Motorcycle Tie Down Failures
William Little (Guest Blogger), A former motocross racer, morning drive radio host and stand up coming-turned small business owner. In 1998 he left his radio career to create Unique Powersports; a multi-line motorcycle dealership that quickly reached the Dealer News Top 100 and became a Top 25 Suzuki Retailer. Having sold his dealership in 2011, William is now a newspaper columnist, a featured columnist for Dealer News Magazine, (the motorcycle industry’s leading, long-time dealer publication), and an author. You can find his book, “MEXICAN BOWL FISHING: And Other Tales of Life” on Amazon. He lives on his farm in rural Missouri with his wife and children and is currently working on his next book.
Nearly 20-years ago..
I had loaded a Honda CT750 Aero Deluxe onto an open trailer to trade to another dealer for a bike I actually needed.
Now, that in and of itself is not much of a story, but considering that I’d inherited this unsold “Old Stock” unit from the dealer I’d bought the franchise rights from, sold it myself 3 times, only to have credit turn-downs stop the deal, then sold it a fourth time to a gentleman whose house burned down that very night, (so I tore up the paperwork on the deal and let him return it the next day), I was finally getting rid of a bike I thought I’d be married to until death do us part.
All was well as I set out on my Interstate 44 journey to a dealer 2-hours away, happy to be ridding myself of a curse. I actually thought I was going to make it, until I came into a construction zone and saw an orange sign that simply read, “BUMP.”
There I was, tightly-wedged into slowed traffic, carefully following the 35 MPH speed indicated by the construction signs, when suddenly, I learned that Missouri DOT and I share a vastly different definition of the word “bump” as it pertains to a roadway. I, for example, would consider that word to mean something 2 or 3 inches tall and rounded at the top; maybe along the lines of a speed bump or smaller. You know, an obstacle that a vehicle could safely traverse at the prescribed 35 MPH speed limit.
To MDOT, however the word is also fine to describe a roughly 8-inch high, sharp-square-edged cement wall that marked the transition from where they’d cut out a section of the Interstate’s surface, nearly deep enough to extract lava from the Earth’s core!
The front of my Dodge pickup made an awful noise..
as it contacted this motocross-style “whoop” in the middle of the highway, followed by a loud “THUD!” as the rear tires jumped into the air. My eyes reflexively shot to the rear view mirror and my cheeks clinched a crease into the seat upholstery as I watched in horror for my trailer and its cargo to react!
The afternoon sun’s glint upon the Honda’s shiny chrome handlebars and headlight casing winked once, then shot an instant laser beam of bright, reflected sunlight into my mirror before settling back, as the heavy machine swayed first to the left, then bounced hard to the right, before shooting back left again!
To my amazement, the bike rocked slightly back and forth, then seemed to settle back straight in the mirror’s view. A wave of relief washed over me as I thought I was safe. Then, as I looked back to the road ahead, I suddenly realized that they’d also left a letter off the sign … it should’ve read, “BUMPS” – plural. This realization came just in time for me to leap off of the downhill to the former bump’s up … you know what they say, “what goes up, must come down.” This applies to trucks in construction zones, as well as motorcycles tied “up” on a trailer. Nothing is forever.
As the second bump passed through my life, the bike once again did its left-right-left thing, but this time the second left was much more interesting. It was when the bike “left” the trailer!
Leaning forward to see more of the right hand mirror image, I found the front of the Aero, dangling from the side of the trailer and repeatedly head-butting each of the construction barrels, one after another with its headlight!
Behind me lights flashed, horns blared..
and construction workers ran for their lives, screaming obscenities that would make the devil himself turn away in a blush! Afraid to make matters worse in the tight traffic, I didn’t slam on the brakes, but instead, eased off of the accelerator and waited for the opportunity to exit.
As I finally pulled through the barrels into an untouched section of construction zone, jumped out and ran to the back, I realized that the two ties on the driver side of the bike had failed under the force of the rocking machine — one having broken apart at the ratchet itself, the other pulling free from its hook binding.
The bike had fallen against the upright railing on the trailer’s side, catching the right side foot peg on the edge of the railing, which was the only thing that kept it from falling all the way into the orange construction barrels that lined the lane!
After re-tying the bike, I was able to assess the damage and I realized how lucky I’d been. Aside from a huge dent and scratches in the tank, the only sign that the bike had stumbled was a small scratch on the aftermarket engine case guard. I called the receiving dealer and worked out a plan with them, still able to make the trade. Of course, I thought I’d learned a lesson about cheap tie-downs that I wouldn’t forget.
While hauling an ATV back to my dealership on an open trailer, I crested a hill on the highway started to descend the long downhill slope that precedes my exit. It was Fall and, as is typical at that season in Missouri, there was a recently-struck dead deer partially in my lane, so I quickly checked my mirrors and and swerved to the passing lane, then back again.
Just then, I saw a flash of red in my driver side mirror and shot my gaze back, afraid I had accidentally cut someone off!
As my eyes settled on what was there, it made no sense … it appeared that I was being passed by a rider-less Honda Rancher!
In a situation like this, where the eyes see something unexpected, it sometimes takes a second for the brain to process the image and figure out what’s really happening. Then, when you realize that it’s YOUR Honda Rancher that is supposed to be on the trailer, I can tell you that panic sets in pretty quickly!
My instinct was to slam on the brakes..
which is exactly what I did! The big truck’s tires screeched slightly as I watched the ATV continue it’s journey down the fast lane, neatly passing me by and riding on ahead of me as though it had somewhere to be! Obviously, I decided to follow.
We made it to the bottom of the hill, me again changing lanes to give chase and thoughtfully reaching up to click the button for my Hazard flashers. As the ATV rode itself through the valley and began ascending the next hill toward the exit, it crossed the center of the roadway and changed lanes, (I assume it knew it would slow on the uphill and wanted to make way for passing traffic. Ranchers seem to be quite courteous drivers).
I remained in hot pursuit, now slowing to around 40 as the ATV continued across the slow lane and onto the shoulder, where it kicked up a few stray pebbles that made bounced off of my hood.
At this point I felt nervous. I watched helplessly as the Honda left the shoulder for the grass and began its cross-way ride down the embankment toward the outer road. I was sure that it would roll, destroying plastic and causing untold damage to the bars, racks and frame as it went, but it continued on four wheels to the bottom, across the drainage ditch and up the incline to the roadway beyond!
Just before cresting the shoulder there, it turned left again, rode back down the embankment – across the same ditch, then back up onto the climb to the Interstate before again turning downhill and ultimately rolling to a stop in the (thankfully dry) drainage ditch where it sat, as though waiting for me to come retrieve it!
I drove up to the exit, circled around to the outer road and pulled to the shoulder above the ATV. From there, I walked down with the key in hand, started the bike and road it back up to re-load onto the trailer again! It was perfect! That ATV had just come off of my trailer at 65 MPH and taken itself for a 3/4 mile ride down the Interstate without getting a scratch on it! (Remember what I’d said about my Guardian Angel looking ragged?)
Again, I’d found that two straps I had used had failed..
I assume that the abrupt lane change had been the maneuver that finally freed the quad from its bindings and sent it upon its excursion, the remnants of one strap still dangling from the front rack.
Should I have used more straps? Absolutely. It was a dumb mistake on my part while in a hurry. After all, I wasn’t hauling a heavy, unbalanced motorcycle, so I just used some cheap tie-downs that I had stowed in the truck’s toolbox instead of grabbing my expensive straps. Nothing I hadn’t done a thousand times before. But when you think about it, why would you trust the safety of an ATV worth thousands of dollars to some cheapo tie-downs purchased in the clearance aisle at the local Wal-Mart? (Not to mention the safety of others on the road with you).
The fact is, a tie-down faces a great deal of force when in use. An 800-pound motorcycle that is being thrown from side-to-side can weigh multiples of that in terms of physical force against a strap, and that’s also compounded by the “snapping” as the bike whips back the opposite direction. Likewise, an ATV can place a great deal of strain on its bindings if you have to hit the brakes quickly, or floor it to get through an intersection amidst heavy traffic.
Don’t put your own Guardian Angel to the test by trusting your machine’s safety to something with the tensile strength of Christmas tinsel! Instead, put in the effort and take a close look at some of the better quality ties on the market. Sure, you won’t get 10 in a package for a $7.96 everyday low price, but you’ll still have a bike on your trailer when you get to where you’re going; and trust me, that’s a nice benefit.
Personally, I’d recommend checking out the Soft Cinch® brand tie downs from Motorcycle Shippers. First of all, you’re knocking out the middleman; buying at cost, direct from the source, which means that you won’t be breaking the bank to protect your bike during transport.
Soft Cinch® straps are well-built..
manufactured specifically for shipping heavy street bikes via long-haul freight and even overseas! They feature a 1” wide, heavy-duty ratchet, combining the ease of a ratchet strap with the safety of a detachable soft loop, which cinches tightly to strategic areas of your machine to ensure that it’s safely secured.
The vinyl-coated Secure-Hook with Carabiner-Style spring that is simple to secure to your truck or trailer and made to stay put, even through constant bouncing. And, these 5’ 6” long straps use a Grade A, extra-soft premium nylon that is gentle on fragile finishes as the self-tightening soft loop squeezes firmly to help reduce movement, (even while swerving to avoid Missouri road kill!)
Plus, these straps are strong, with an 800 lb. rated assembly, 1,200 lb. hook rating, combined with 4,500 lb. test nylon webbing, so that you won’t find yourself being passed on the Interstate by an ATV that should be on your trailer! Trust me, that alone is worth far more than the cost of these straps!
You can order a pair of these Soft Cinch® Motorcycle Tie Down Straps directly from for just $23.95. Like I said, knocking out the middleman and buying direct makes a difference! (We’d have easily charged $49.99 for these high-quality straps at the dealership).
Of course, since they’re so affordable, you may want to get extras to give as gifts to your buddies who ride, or even hand out to strangers hauling bikes with inferior straps. Heck, you can’t control who is hauling what on the highway next to you, but for $23.95 per pair, you could make sure that it stays on their trailer!