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Towing Motorcycles — the Bane of My Existence

May 20th, 2014 | By | Category: Nick Kemper's Blog

Nick Kemper I don’t know if any of you have seen a set-up called the AmeriDeck, pills but it’s pretty cool. They make a variety of bed styles that drop down and lay flat on the ground so that you can load something onto it at ground level. A few operators I know are using it to tow motorcycles.

When I was in a truck, pill motorcycles were the bane of my existence. I despised just the thought of towing a motorcycle. Part of the problem was that I drove an Eagle and we towed motorcycles by lifting the entire wheel-lift right over the bike, stomach threading straps through the bike’s frame, and lifting it straight up to dangle freely in the breeze as you towed it. We would use bungees to keep the bike from swinging more than, say, four or five feet from side to side and front to back as you crept down side streets praying that a squirrel wouldn’t run out in front of you and suggest an emergency stop.

So each tow was an adventure. There were times, as I tried to squeeze the sewn-eye end of a two-inch strap between a plastic body accessory with a flame decal and a wiring harness that looks way too thick for a motorcycle, that motorcycle engineers design their bikes to intentionally torture anyone who wants to move it without damaging it. How is it that the front suspension of a motorcycle can hold the weight of most humans and withstand thousands of miles of bumps and maneuvers, but if you want to find someplace solid to grab it and lift it without bending something, you need a schematic drawing and multiple hand tools? On one occasion, I was tasked with impounding a bike with upright handlebars out of a parking garage (try that with the overhead lift method). All was well until the rear tire of the bike touched ground for a few feet as I did the limbo under the 6-foot 7-inch exit, the load shifted on the strap, and one handlebar joined the other in direction and shape.

Impound work on a motorcycle brings into play the “locked steering” obstacle. Years ago one of our local meter maids (they were still called that back then) called in a tow on a scooter with a few hundred dollars in parking tickets. It was on a sidewalk outside the café owned by the scooter owner. We tag-teamed the tow — two drivers in one truck. I was riding shotgun, so I got dropped off down the street to casually sidle alongside the scooter and cart it out into the street. It was early in my career so I was not aware of the locked steering obstacle. Shortly after the first shout from inside the café (“somebody’s stealing your scooter”), I figured out that my path would not be straight if I kept both scooter wheels on the ground, so I did the lift-and-skip down the sidewalk until I could find a sufficiently wide space between two parked cars. I don’t know how we got it strapped and off the ground before the owner caught up with us, but we did. Then one strap came out of the open grab hook on the crossbar a few blocks away, because the scooter didn’t have enough weight to keep it in. Fortunately, scooters are resilient and a half-block or so of dangling and bouncing on one tire didn’t cause noticeable damage.

It can be even worse if the motorcycle owner is there. I was called to pick up a Harley on a bridge, and when I got there and explained the hookup process to the owner, he gave me a slow shake of the head. I went back to the storage lot and got a motorcycle trailer — double penalty — extra trip, plus when you clear, you can’t do another tow till you get rid of the trailer. That seemed to satisfy him, except that some of the trailer straps actually had to touch the bike, so then we had to strategically place handkerchiefs, clean shop rags and small patches of clothing between canvas and bike, even where a strap ran through the rear wheel for extra stability.

My only vehicle damage one calendar year was a cracked mirror on a motorcycle when I was trying to unhook it and the bleed-down drop function of the Eagle couldn’t be managed with the precision necessary to prevent contact when the front suspension did a reverse double-shift as I lowered the bike.

Motorcycles bit me in the butt even when I didn’t tow them. A co-worker called for assistance when he had an impound on a crotch-rocket with locked steering on a very narrow hilly street in an old section of downtown Portland. I was clear but nowhere close, and my policy on help is don’t ask/don’t offer (or it was when I was a commission driver, anyway.) So I refused when a dispatcher asked me to help him. Then he tried to move it by hand and dropped the bike, probably on purpose so I would get in trouble.

A driver who worked for me when I became a manager had a similar problem – dropping the bike, that is. In his case he was just being careless and lazy. Rather than unhooking the bike where he wanted it to end up, he unhooked it and attempted to “ride” it without a key into its resting place but it was too much for him to handle and he put it on its side.

Motorcycles know I don’t like them. I picked one up at an accident scene one time. The fuel tank had been disengaged from the rest of the bike. It was lying in the road, without a drop spilled or leaked. I inspected it, lifted it without tilting in any direction, and it dumped all of its fuel onto my torso.

So, in my opinion, the AmeriDeck would have been worth a try. Especially if I could have gotten another driver assigned to drive it.

Have a safe and profitable week.

Nick Kemper