Monday, November 21, 2016

Trailer for Sale or Rent

Trailer for sale or rent
Rooms to let, fifty cents.
No phone, no pool, no pets
I ain't got no cigarettes

Ah, but, two hours of pushin' broom
Buys an eight by twelve four-bit room
I'm a man of means by no means
King of the road.

This old song by Roger Miller was popular when I first started college at the Montana School of Mines. The lyrics tell of the day-to-day life of a vagabond hobo who, despite being poor (a "man of means by no means"), revels in his freedom, describing himself humorously as the "king of the road.” It was Miller's fifth single for Smash Records.

According to a ’69 interview in Pop Chronicles, Miller said that the song was inspired when he was driving and saw a sign on the side of a barn that read, "Trailers for sale or rent.”

As many of my readers know, I’m a avid motorcycle collector. I like those vintage bikes from the ‘60s and ‘70s, and I’ve traveled far and wide to pick up my purchases. I used to rent a U-Haul van to make these journeys. But after four trips in those expensive vehicles, including one clear to Philadelphia when I crammed two motorcycles into the back, I decided there was a better … and cheaper way.

Not only did the daily rent charge for these week long trips add up quickly, but the loading into the van was very difficult. For the first trip I got a large wooden pallet that I added a wheel chock and several tie down rings. I’d load that pallet into the back of the U-Haul. I had a long 6” x 12” ramp that I’d push the bike up.

Because the ramp was so narrow, you had to push the bike up manually. You couldn’t run the engine because the throttle and clutch would get over your head while loading and the ramp was so narrow. I was always glad to get plenty of help from the person I bought the bike from, since it was a real task to get it up and into the van and then over the edge of the pallet. I usually had to remove the mirrors prior to loading to get all to fit.

I considered buying my own van. I found some nice ones with high ceilings and I could have purchased a good ramp for the back. But even a used van of the type I needed ran over $20,000, and I just could not justify that expense. Trailers seemed a much more cost effective and reasonable choice.

So I decided to buy a trailer for the next trip. The trailer cost about $3,000. Since I had already spent over $5,000 on U-Haul rentals, it seemed like a sound business decision. It had a high ceiling plus the back door would drop down for loading making a simpler and easier ramp that one could actually ride the bike up into the trailer. The height would clear mirrors, rider, and even windshields if that was ever necessary. Since I was able to install the wheel chock and tie downs in the floor of the trailer, it was a straight, flat shot onto the wheel chock. I added a side door for quick load inspection and access. The trailer had a V-nose and it is long enough for the biggest bike made.

The Ford Flex has a factory hitch receiver capable of 4700 pound towing weight and is fully equipped with lighting connections and electric brake attachment. However I only needed a single axle, 3,000 pound GVW trailer, so I expected the Flex would have no problem towing such a trailer. Single axle trailers don’t require electric brakes and are simpler and cheaper, yet could easily handle a motorcycle or two loaded.

I purchased a Haulmark Passport trailer from a dealer in Denver and left it with them to have the tie-downs installed. While that was being done, I headed for Seattle to visit my brother. He’s a motorcycle enthusiast also and has a trailer he uses to move his large road bike to distant destinations. He’d towed everything from a hitch to a fifth wheel trailer, and had plenty of trailer experience. He told me I wasn’t going to like the trailer. He said they are noisy, awkward, and really mess with your gas mileage.

I had little experience with trailers prior to this purchase. It turns out my brother was spot on. Upon returning to Colorado, I picked up the trailer. It was very noisy as it snapped back and forward over bumps and joints in the street and navigating railroad tracks and dips in the road. The trailer would bounce on the hitch and up and down and clattered and clanked behind the Flex. I assumed that once loaded it wouldn’t be as noisy, and that turned out to be somewhat true.

It pulled very well and I had pretty good visibility around the trailer, but I was surprised once I headed for Dallas. Prior to this purchase I had very limited experience with trailers. When I got out of the Navy, I lived with my parents in Spokane, WA for a few months and we would take Dad’s boat over to Idaho for water skiing and camping. I usually drove his large pickup with the boat in tow. I don’t really recall much about towing that trailer since it was so long ago.

On occasion I’ve towed a trailer with my pickup and the Flex. I brought a motorcycle home from Oregon with a small U-Haul trailer and I’d driven a large Penski rental truck to Idaho with a car on a trailer in tow. Neither of those experiences prepared me for my trip to Dallas. The open motorcycle trailer from U-Haul added little wind resistance and the big Penski diesel truck was not affected much by adding the trailer in back.

As I headed south and east on US 287 with my new trailer in tow and into a stiff 50 mph headwind, the first thing I noticed was the Flex didn’t shift into it’s highest gear. Running at 65 mph the tach showed I was in a much lower gear than usual. The wind resistance added by the stiff headwind made it hard for the Flex to keep up with the speed limit.

The Ford Flex has a relatively small six cylinder engine. That usually gave me excellent gas mileage. It could get up to 25 mpg if I kept the speeds at 60 or under. On the 80 mph speed limit roads, it dropped to 20. I had reset the instruments in the Flex to get a current gas mileage reading. Even though I was only going 65 into the wind the mileage dropped down to about 11 mpg. I soon learned to slow down more to let the Flex shift into a more comfortable gear and pretty much took it easy on the whole two day drive.

When I previously had filled the tank, the instruments would report a range of over 400 miles with a full tank. Now it was more like 250 miles and I’d stop very often to top off the fuel.

Things were a little better on the trip home. As expected, with the bike adding weight to the trailer and on the hitch, it was quieter and didn’t jump up and down so much. Also, without the strong headwind (although it never became a tail wind, mostly blowing at right angles to my direction of travel) gas mileage improved a bit. I got as good as 13+ in the mpg department measured both by my instruments and the frequent visits to gas stations. But I still kept 5 or 10 under the posted speed limit to keep the RPMs down.

The good news is that the bike loaded as smooth as butter. We actually rode it into the trailer and locked it onto the wheel chock under power. Had to duck my head a bit inside, but it rode right up the ramp and into the trailer. Tie-downs worked well and the bike made it home with no incidents or accidents.

Now I need a place to store the trailer. With a U-Haul I just took it back to the store. Still I think the little 5’ x 8’ enclosed trailer is going to be an asset to MC Squared. I’m already shopping for more bikes and planning to attach my little trailer to the Flex and head East or West or South as the case may be. I do think a new pickup with a big V-8 or even a Diesel might be a good solution for going the speed limit on the super slab, although I’m told by more experienced friends that trailers suck down the gas mileage no matter how big or small the engine is.

The problem is quite simple: wind resistance. The Flex already suffered from that physical fact due to the height that the roomy vehicle posses. Add that high trailer to the back end and, even though it has a V-nose, it takes considerable energy to pull it through the air. That issue is aggravated by higher speeds and head winds. Plus it can’t be doing the Flex good to be running all day in those higher speed gears. She’s an old lady now with over 160,000 miles. She has been very trouble free so far in her travels, but the trailer is putting stresses on her parts and adding a hitch in her get along.

Turns out my brother was correct. “Bro knows trailers!” The trailer is noisy. It was also a task to back that baby up the long driveway to the garage where my new motorcycle was waiting for me. (I’m getting better at backing a trailer with practice.) And Lord have mercy, that trailer robbed a ton of gas mileage and top speed from my Blue Bus. He was right on all counts. Yet it was a cheaper trip than driving a rented van.

So what is to become of my little trailer? Will I have to buy a more suitable towing vehicle, or will the Flex be just fine as long as I keep the speed down? I’m currently pondering the answer to those questions. Meanwhile, no matter what decision I make, I’m “King of the Road.”


  1. Trailers are nice, but they drag along behind you. I tow an 18' enclosed car trailer that is extra high for my Model T's. Have room for a Model T and a motorcycle across the front. You know it is there, but with my F250 Super Duty, it does not cause much trouble. I get around 12 mpg loaded cruising around 65. Go much higher than that and the wind resistance nocks it down to 10mpg. Side winds are almost as bad as headwinds. If I were going to be making a lot of long trips with a trailer, a truck would be a much better option. Brakes and transmission on the Blue Bus will take a major hit. John Barr

  2. I agree John. A larger truck would not strain under the load. I do have a pickup, but it is also a six. Yet if I was going to buy a truck, I might prefer a van. Trailers can be very inconvenient trying to park at gas stations, hotels, and restaurants.

    For now I think I'll use the Flex and just keep the speed down. I don't know where I'll be going next. So, for now, I'm going to wait and see. I did have one bike shipped to me and I often look at bikes as far away as Florida. Still there is always some risk to shipping, and I like to ride any new bike before handing over money.

    Guess time will tell what I ended up doing.