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Sunday, December 19, 2010

I did it....the "Trailer" rumours are true (subtitle: Kendon Trailer Loading & Unloading)

After all the dust settled, there was a motorcycle trailer parked....or rather stored...up against the wall in my garage as of Sunday, December 12th. After about 43 years of giving people a hard time about trailering bikes, I've crossed over to the other side.

I have to tell you, buying a bike trailer wasn't an easy decision, beyond the simple fact of deciding that I probably needed one. For years, I lived in my own home with a yard, a driveway, and sometimes a garage. Usually I had someplace to park a small trailer, but living in the DC area, or as we say it, "inside the Beltway" typically means your place of residence has limited (or no) parking, much less your own garage. Unless you make some serious money, that is. I don't.


So the decision sorta made itself. I already rent a garage for the Porsche and bike, so if I had a trailer that fit in there too, I'd solve the trailer problem without creating an additional financial drain each month....more rent for parking. And a manufacturer in California, Kendon, makes such a beast, so I was on the hunt.

Kendon Dual Rail Standup trailers go for about $2,300 new if you shop, and with a spare and utility box, the total price is about $2,700. Now I might use this damn thing 4-5 times a year, to and from the shop, and on a couple trips, so spending $2,700 wasn't going to happen, so "previously-enjoyed" seemed like the way to go. Then I had to find one, which I thought would be easy, and I figured those I found would be cheap.

Wrong on both counts.

Turns out, Kendon owners don't part with these things often, and when they do, they sure ain't giving them away. Lots of single-rails were out there, but I wanted something to haul two bikes. Used prices for a dual-rail went anywhere from $1,300 to $2,000, depending on age, accessories, etc.

There are also a few variations on the Kendon design, and there's even one outfit that sells an almost identical folding trailer on eBay, but that doesn't stand up, brand new for $1,295. It turns out that these are "Made in China" knock-offs of a Kendon, but they don't add the stand-up feature due to patent infringement restrictions.

So, before you rush off to buy one of these, think twice about loading that nice Harley up on top. Repeat after me: Made in China, Made in China.... I thought the same thing when I bought my hitch ball mount. I could have saved 20 bucks buying a Made in China version on eBay, but decided I wanted something solid and dependable pulling my Harley, made right here in the USA. I didn't want my bike and trailer passing me while southbound on 95. Or have crappy welds breaking. Or worry about that cheap axle with cheap wheel bearings. Or all the above.

So to find a Kendon........

Searches on eBay and Craigslist turned up a few, but none in my area. One guy in Virginia Beach had one, but didn't have a title, so that was out. There were a few others in Florida, and I found one in Atlanta. After contacting the Atlanta owner, we came to terms on a price, and he agreed to meet me in Charlotte, NC, to do the deal. And I'll tell ya. I paid $1,300 for my 2002, plus the gas and a night's lodging to go get it. (And yes, dinner at Hooters!) If you find a Kendon Dual-Rail for a price in that range, buy it. You will always be able to get your money back.

George and Joyce, at Speedway Harley Davidson, Concord NC

Off I went, meeting a great guy, George, and his wife, Joyce, and we exchanged some cash, took the trailer off his truck and hitched it to my Hummer. George and his wife promptly went into the Harley dealer to do some shopping (Spend that money, guys!), and I hauled the trailer back up to Alexandria where I folded it up, stood it up, and rolled it up against a wall, totally out of the way in the garage. Totally cool.

Lessons learned:

The 3-1/4 " drop hitch on a Hummer H3 was far too high. After getting back, I had to get an 8" drop which almost levels the trailer for towing.


An 8" drop ball mount levels it out far better. Not perfect, but it tows just fine.

Then I got to thinking about loading the bike on this thing. By myself. All of sudden, I realized this wasn't going to be easy. Online, folks were saying DON'T ride it up onto the trailer. Instead they recommended starting the bike, putting it in gear, and using the clutch to walk it up on the trailer while you walked alongside. I gotta tell you, that sounded kinda shaky, especially as the bike went up the ramp and you stepped up 15" onto the deck for the last few feet while balancing the bike. Fuck that. More research required.

Ideally, you'd have a wide ramp and just ride the fucker up there, with the ramp providing a place for your feet while going up or town. But with the narrow ramp that comes with it, you just sorta need to do a little Evel Knievel deal, starting at the bottom and just letting it rip, with no place to put your feet until you're up on top. Coming back down, you'd get to that point where you just had to let it roll back, catching it when you were down.

I solved the problem the cheap way and cut a piece of 3/4 plywood, fastening it to the bottom of the narrow ramp with a couple carriage bolts. It's still a little wobbly*, but the plywood supplies just enough of a safety net to get you up, or down, without incident, making loading easy. And the self-locking chocks hold the front wheel so rigid and upright that you can get off without tying it down. There's lots of time to get the straps hooked up without hurrying, or needing someone to help out. Cool.

Added this loading note, September 19, 2012: I've loaded and unloaded my Kendon trailer many, many times now, putting either the Softail, Nightster, or Road Glide up on it, and often, I've had some combination of those three bikes on it at the same time. Loading has, for the most part, gone without a hitch, but I do have one caveat: After many successful loadings, I started running them faster and faster up the ramp, until one day my front wheel got a little crossed up on the upper rail and over I went. Sideways. There was nothing hurt but my ego and a broken brake lever, but (at the risk of stating the obvious), I've learned to just slowly ride the bike up that ramp, just like the first time, using the plywood for a place to rest my feet and keep my balance. Meaning of course, that loading a motorcycle isn't a race, and that's a lesson I learned the hard way. If I just take it easy, loading the Kendon Trailer is effortless and safe.

So that's it. Sorta boring, but it's the story of the trailer. Next installment is loading up the bike and hauling it to Daytona over the Christmas/New Years Holiday. I'll see then how it tows with one bike on it, and also how dirty the bike gets on the way down. Yep, the only deal is that the bike is out there in the elements with a Kendon trailer, and that just can't be helped.

I was going to get a tight fitting cover for it, but I then heard some real horror stories about towing a covered bike on an open trailer. Folks arrived at their destination to find the paint "sanded" off the tank, or the finish dulled by the abrasive action of accumulated grit between the cover and the paint. Makes perfect sense to me. I'll just put up with a dirty bike and wash it when I get there.

Plenty of room for two bikes. My Road King fits up there too, alongside one of the others.


* !! After staring at that rear-view picture of the ramp, with the plywood attached, I realized that sliding the plywood down just a bit more would allow outboard contact of the wood to the ground, giving it more stability. All I need to do is drill a couple new holes. Or I could leave it as-is, and add a small block to the outboard edge on both side, underneath, to make up the gap between the plywood and the road surface. This might be better, and would create a triangular flat plane. Hmmm.

* !!! Have now added a couple blocks on the lower outside edges of the plywood and also moved the top carriage bolt up to the slot instead of the round hole. Using the slot(s) lets a 3/8 -16 x 2" carriage bolt sit down almost flush with the ramp. I use a fender washer and wing nut underneath. I'll post some pix after I load up for Daytona.