How to maximize your vacation time by shipping your motorcycle

Mar 24, 2016

As riding season swiftly approaches, it’s time to start narrowing down where you are going to ride this year.  For most of us, the problem is finding enough time to do all the trips, rallies and group rides we want to do while staying within the confines of our meager allotment of vacation days.  

For my cross-country ride last fall, I completely maxed out my vacation and my boss’s patience when I took three weeks off of work. This left me with one major obstacle: how to make it to California and back in 21 days.  Of course there was really no feasible way to ride an 82-year-old motorcycle more than 7,200 miles in three weeks and I can honestly say that it would not be enjoyable to even try. Instead, I decided to use a motorcycle shipping company to handle the return trip from San Francisco. This freed up the entire three weeks for the type of ride I wanted, giving me enough time to actually see the country I was riding across.

After spending 18 months piecing together an essentially irreplaceable motorcycle, I was a little apprehensive about letting a complete stranger load it up and cart it across the country. I took my time researching the different companies in the business, searching for one that had experience with antique motorcycles. In the end, the clear choice was a company called Haul Bikes. Why Haul Bikes? Because when you see those $200,000 motorcycles at the major auctions, Haul Bikes is the company that delivers them. Another point in their favor is that Harley-Davidson uses them to transport new motorcycles from their factories to dealerships. They are also reasonably priced and if you time it right you can catch one of their special rates. They were actually running a west-coast-to-east-coast special last fall, so the cost of shipping my motorcycle back to North Carolina was reduced to $450. You’d be hard-pressed to find a cheaper way to get your motorcycle across the country.

truck interior
The inside of the trailer has more tie down locations than the belly of a C-130. Photo by Panhead Jim.

The reservation process is straightforward. You either go online or call one of their operators and give them the “what, when, where.” The “when” can be a little tricky because obviously they can’t just show up at your house the next day, unless by coincidence they have a truck driving through your neighborhood. So reserving a date ahead of time is key, along with adding a couple of days of buffer on either side of your preferred pickup date.

As my pickup date approached, Haul Bikes kept me updated as to the exact day that the truck would arrive. On the actual day of the pickup, I was contacted directly by the driver, who gave me the specific time of arrival, verified directions and made sure my location was 18-wheeler accessible (if you live on top of a mountain with only a one-lane road to your home, you are going to have to push your bike down to the main road).

lift gate
The lift gate really is a nice touch. No ramps, no backing alongside hills and more importantly no dropped motorcycles. Photo by Panhead Jim.

To prepare the bike for transport, all that was needed was to push the motorcycle outside. Gone are the days when you would have to drain all the fluids, build a custom wood crate and partially disassemble your motorcycle. Haul Bikes uses a standard enclosed trailer which has been subdivided into two levels to maximize the number of bikes it can hold. The trailer interior was well lit, the floors and walls were lined with tie-down anchors and, like the exterior, it was clean. They also have oversized hydraulic lift gates on all their trailers, so you completely avoid the typical scenario of four guys trying to push a heavy motorcycle up a narrow ramp.

inspection of motorcycle
The driver carefully inspects the motorcycles for any damage, marking the type and location of the damage on his form. Photo by Panhead Jim.

There was a little bit of paperwork before the motorcycle was actually loaded onto the truck, but it was relatively painless. The driver started with a standard form that verified the “what, when, where” for the delivery as well as an inspection form for the motorcycle. He gave my motorcycle a thorough inspection, noting any scratches or dents. After he got a signature, he had the motorcycle loaded and secured in about 15 minutes.

I was a little worried about what happens once the truck and, more importantly, my motorcycle were out of my sight. Clearly, they don’t just load up one motorcycle and drive directly to the destination without making any other stops and the idea of my motorcycle being unloaded and reloaded multiple times was not appealing. Turns out loading their trailers multiple times is not something Haul Bikes wants to do, either, so they have come up with an efficient procedure to minimize juggling the motorcycles around. They have three central hubs (located in Milwaukee, Las Vegas, and York, Pa.) which work just like the hubs used by FedEx and UPS.   Motorcycles are transported to a hub, unloaded into a secure facility and then reloaded onto a truck bound for the region of the country containing their final destination. Logically, the motorcycles are loaded in the order they will be unloaded, so the typical motorcycle only goes through one extra load and unload cycle. Sometimes, there are enough motorcycles being picked up from and shipped to the same regions that the motorcycles skip the hub altogether and go straight to their destinations.

loading motorcycles
The lift gate makes it easy to get the motorcycles loaded into the trailer. Check out the two story design inside. Photo by Panhead Jim.

Six days after leaving San Francisco, the Haul Bikes truck pulled into my neighborhood. Just one look tells you exactly what these trucks are hauling, and I’m sure my neighbors were thinking, “That jackass is getting more loud, leaky motorcycles!” The “unload procedure” was the exact opposite of the “load procedure,” including an inspection of the motorcycle to verify that there was no damage during shipping and checking that I was indeed the intended recipient. As with the pickup, the driver was courteous and professional during the entire process and patiently answered my laundry list of questions. He took the time to explain some of the extra steps they take to ensure that the motorcycles are delivered without being damaged. Unlike normal freight, there was no leeway for the contents to “shift during flight,” so speeds, routes and even road surfaces had to be carefully monitored at all times.

motorcycles back home
After 19 days on the road, I had grown somewhat attached to my blue '33. Glad to have it back home. Photo by Panhead Jim.

I have to admit that my experience with Haul Bikes has made me rethink the whole “trailers are for boats, not motorcycles” mentality which I have held fast to for the last 20 years. Just like everyone else, there seems to be an ever increasing list of constraints on my time and my penchant for motorcycles that cruise at 50 mph is only making the problem worse. I know, it’s supposed to be all about the journey and not the destination, but let’s face it, sometimes the destination is a hell of a lot better than the journey. I’m not saying that I’m going to ship my motorcycle to Daytona so I can cruise up and down Main Street during Bike Week, but the idea of shipping it to Maine so I could spend a week or two riding around Nova Scotia definitely sounds like the right idea.

Haul Bikes exceeded my expectations with professional, timely service. I definitely will look to them in the future to make sure I get the most adventure out of my minimal time.