There is no right and wrong when you're moving a motorcycle.
There are, however, good and bad tools and methods. There’s a lot of ways to skin a cat, but some are better than others. Let me share some of my thoughts with you, and the obverse viewpoints where I can.
Generally, motorcycle-specific equipment costs a snotload of money. It is expensive because it works. Have I ever loaded a bike with a long 2x8? Of course. Was it a good idea? Not really. What’s the point of saving money on a transport tool you need, only to go back and spend it on paint and body work to repair damage caused by a loading mishap?
The vehicle: The first and most important tool is the vehicle hauling the bike. A dedicated motorcycle trailer is the easiest way to move a bike. They are designed to be low and strong and hold the bikes securely.
We have a trailer at RevZilla that I love to pull — and so do most of the other folks here, because it makes the task so easy and it will handle even the largest, heaviest bikes with ease. I feel confident saying that a trailer trumps truck loading in terms of ease.
If you’re stuck using the bed of a truck, even the truck itself makes a difference. A 2WD long-bed pickup makes life a lot easier than a lifted 4WD stepside truck, due to its longer bed (you can reinstall the tailgate!) and lower load height. The lighter the bike and the longer the bed, the better.
The ramp: There are all sorts of ramps on the market. I think arched ramps have a lot going for them as they really help mitigate the effects of breakover angle. Effectively, an arched ramp breaks one fairly sharp angle into multiple smaller angles. What does this do for you? It reduces the likelihood of "hanging" your bike on a low-hanging frame, fairing, or exhaust.
I also believe in buying the longest ramps I can to make the loading angle less steep. Delta Y over Delta X, amirite? Other nice-to-have features include a bit of a stickout at the truck end to clear the bumper, ridges for traction, and construction that minimizes confidence-killing flex.
I’m not a big believer in plugging product unless I like it. Let’s just say this: I’m doing my best to walk out ZLA’s back door with the Oxford ramp we used in the video. It is long, reduces breakover angle by having a bend at the hinged section, and exhibits thoughtful build characteristics, such as extruded aluminum cross-bars that permit the tires to "bite." It also offered long enough truck-side "fingers" to clear the bumper when loading without a tailgate.
In the same vein, your choice of ramp will also be dictated by the bike you have. You can get away with a steep ramp — or a non-arched one — if your bike has good ground clearance, like many off-road machines offer.
While we’re on the topic of ramps, you can cheap out if you have the right terrain. One of my favorite loading devices is a hill. A hill is a great equalizer. You can either push a bike up a steep ramp, or load down into a trailer. Guess which is easier? The a hill can also help reduce or eliminate breakover angle. This is especially important for those who are moving bikes that have little ground clearance.
The chock: A chock is also a “bare minimum” piece of equipment in my book. I’ve hauled bikes without them before, but the whole drive is a white-knuckle affair because I’m constantly checking and re-checking the straps to make sure the front wheel hasn’t moved. If that wheel cocks after one good bump, odds are good that a bike is going over. A chock just helps to keep the wheel straight. Heck, the chock on my bike table isn’t fancy at all. It’s made from some scrap 2x4! Anything beats nothing.
The restraint: No, not of your frustration. I'm talking about a whole mess of tie-downs. Most folks will use either ratchet or cam-buckle straps. The difference is as simple as whether or not the load is able to loosen the fastener. If you have gorilla strength and don't possess good "feel," cam-buckle straps can keep you from accidentally overtightening if you get a little aggressive securing the bike. Me? I’m a ratchet kind of guy, because they almost never loosen on their own.
Proponents of the cam style are usually concerned about the fork seals blowing out. Here’s some editorializing: I’ve never had that happen, but I also do not make the straps tight enough to play a tune on. Both styles can work effectively, and their success is probably based more on how they are used than anything else.
Sportbike guys, you will likely need a set of Canyon Dancers or similar items. They move the tie-down points to the outside of the bike at the clip-ons, allowing you to cinch the bike down without putting straps in contact with your fairings. The handlebars and clip-ons are not my favorite spot from which to tie down a bike, but often they are the only option.
There’s no end to human ingenuity — or stupidity. Where you fall on that spectrum depends largely on your skill and the way you approach your work. I’ve seen folks ride their bikes up the ramp. I’ve also seen fellas simply lift a small dirtbike into a truck, sans ramp. Some people prefer to load alone, and others need five friends to get the job done. One time, memorably, my baby brother helped me load a moped into the trunk of my elderly Cougar.
Again, there are no definitive right and wrong answers here. There are, however, some things to think about that might make your loading a little easier and save you some damage. When you’re loading, think about the fact that most folks stand perpendicular to a bike’s direction of travel when loading. That means if you only have one ramp, you won’t be able to walk the bike up yourself.
If you choose to ride your bike up the ramp (boy, you'd better be confident!), realize that without a super-wide ramp, if you lose your momentum, you have nowhere for your feet to land to bear the weight of the bike. If you slow down, you go down. Visit YouTube for excellent examples of this in action.
In general, I am a proponent of moving the bike onto the truck with your own muscles, not the bike’s engine. There’s no danger of a clutch or throttle slipping and damaging bystanders, truck, or bike. If you’re a solo loader, it may be necessary to move the bike under its own power, but I personally like having a buddy spotting me. There have been some days where a bike has sat on the truck until Andy (my reliable loading and unloading partner) had a hole in his schedule to help me unload it. It’s not always convenient, but I’ve also never damaged a bike I was transporting.
When you’re stuffing a bike into a pickup, I feel one person should control bike placement (balance and steering) as well as the brakes. Someone else should be responsible for applying power to the machine. If you don't make everyone's responsibility clear, you and your buddy may wind up working against each other in a misguided effort to keep the bike upright.
In general, if you’re not in a place where you can comfortably hold and balance the bike on your own in case one of you needs to shift, take a break, or reposition, you’re probably in need of more help or a different approach. Stress, fatigue, and frustration are detrimental to one’s safety and tins.
Finally, don’t forget to secure things. Your tailgate and ramps need to be secure in the bed so as not to come out or damage the bike. Often they don’t fit easily. Be prepared to have a second vehicle chase you with these items. Does it seem like overkill? Sure, but after you see a ramp fall out of a pickup truck and behold the damage, my guess is your opinion will change.
Anyone can safely and easily load a bike with the proper equipment. However, not all bikes, trucks, and equipment are immediately compatible. Asking folks who move bikes often can be a good way to get some insights on what works and what does not. Just remember that there's not a right and wrong — there's just good and not-so-good.
Do you have a tip that I missed? Toss it in the comments section down below. If it's stupid and it works, maybe it's not stupid, eh?