Optimizing Motorcycle Trailers
By Ron Miller
This is a story about motorcycle camping towing a home built trailer, having electricity while remote camping and In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida.
By Ron K. Miller
For all of its romanticism, motorcycle camping is ultimately about compromise. This should come as no shock to anyone versed in long distance adventuring on two wheels. After all, it was you who chose to leave the comforts of modern convenience behind in favor of time well spent on the road. In any case, the success of a moto camping trip ultimately rests upon one’s ability to adapt, overcome and do without. I have now come full circle.
I guess it's the Luddite in me, but pulling over after a long day - without the hassles of checking back into civilization and now Covid - has always been very appealing. It's all about serendipity when my 15 year old imagination was fired by the 1969 TV series Then Came Bronson. As I look back at all my travels those that were least planned stand out in my memory as the best.
At 19 years old and pony tail in the wind putting the kickstand down for the night on my 1972 Kawasaki 500 H1B triple (yes, the widow maker) and tossing the sleeping bag out was more than adequate. Then I started strapping on a tent – now I was living large. In 1981 at the tender age of 27 I happened upon a smokin' deal on a 1976 Honda Gold Wing – the GL1000 - along with a huge trailer that housed a queen sized bed and pop up tent. Man, that rig was heavy, slow and LONG. 5 star camping was now a way of life for this vagabond and miscreant: Yep, I started towing a trailer behind my motorcycle.
At this point, dear reader, I would like you to stop and catch your breath. Those of us that choose to tow trailers have been bashed for many years by self-anointed “expurts” on the subject about how foolish and dangerous it is.
Misinformation, rumors and stories about the dangers of towing need to be talked about elsewhere. Think before you comment about such things. Third hand stories are rarely truthful. I'm still alive - so there - rant over. Almost.
Meanwhile, back at the ranch....
After the Goldwing I had a long hiatus pulling a trailer until my next big serious touring bike came along in 2001 when I was 47: A brand new fully optioned BMW K1200LTC. For those of you in the know this 800 lb. beast is a handful under 5 mph and does not suffer fools gladly. However, at speed it is without a doubt one of the most comfortable long distance cruising machines ever created - and due to it's portly heft and excellent cruise control - superbly well suited to towing a trailer. I like it so much I've had two. I put over 140,000 miles on the first one until it finally puked a rear drive and was starting to annoy me. I bought my second with the express intention of pulling a trailer again.
I looked at trailers on the market and thought they were wildly over priced - so I decided to roll my own. With a highly modified Harbor Freight cargo trailer and Sears roof top carrier I was on my way to building exactly what I needed for a budget price. The chop saw and welder came out. The Chinese wheel bearings were immediately replaced with Timkens. Leaf springs and shocks were installed. I could now carry a cooler, tent, chair, low profile cot, umbrella and adult beverages in relatively small unit. It's been a great rig but was missing something.
This spring I had an epiphany:
I started thinking how nice it would be to have electricity at a remote campsite!
Things got completely out of control earlier this summer when I bought a Duracell 660 “solar” generator. It's a 55 amp heavy duty AGM battery, solar charge controller, inverter, 4 plug 115 volt outlet, 12 volt outlet, and two USB outlets in a box. It also has a sophisticated control panel that monitors everything to make sure you don't fry it by overcharging or over taxing it's output. VERY clever and weighing in at (ugh) 55 lbs. With 1400 watts of continual output it can power up anything needed at a campsite for an evening of fun, including lights, music, a small fan and of course a blender. Now at 66 trips around the sun I can finally turn up my boom box to full volume and play In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida by Iron Butterfly (the long version!) to completely irritate those snot nosed loud gen X cage campers next to me. Get off my lawn! End of rant.
Except... after a night of illuminated debauchery, how do I recharge it while on a ride about?
Install a solar panel on top of the trailer, of course.
I opted for a flexible and very light 50 watt panel. It's attached with Dual Lock fasteners that hold it firmly in place. It can easily be popped off and propped up next to the trailer to take advantage of maximum sun angle for charging while parked. During the day it charges while on the road. I also have a 20 foot extension cord to allow it be positioned in the sun away from a shady campsite.
50 watts isn't enough to recharge a deeply discharged battery unless you have a couple of days of solar output, but it does maintain the battery for an indefinite period of time while on the road. Fortunately the Duracell unit has an alarm to let you know you've reached 12 volts minimum, and will continue working well past that before complete shutdown to avoid damaging the battery. If needed I can always pop it out and plug in to a 115 volt outlet during lunch to quickly bring it up to full charge. Between the Duracell unit, solar panel and assorted wires and connectors
I've got about $700.00 into the project. For me, it's been worth every dime to have power at my remote campsite. Not to mention Iron Butterfly.
Ron K. Miller is SEAT member, an active commercial pilot and lives in Tucson.
He also owns KonTour Seat.com