Motorbikes are meant to be ridden, but there are frequently times when you’ll need to move it in a van (or on a trailer). Whether it’s a track bike, a non-runner or simply a new bike you’ve bought, riders increasingly need to move their bikes from time to time.
But loading and transporting a bike can be a risky business. Poor loading is a sure fire way to cause minor cosmetic damage to your pride and joy, while failing to properly strap down your bike (or dropping it on the way in) can cause serious damage to your bike, your van and your wallet.
If you’ve never loaded a bike into a van before, we’ve put together these guidelines to help. Do remember that these are only guidelines, and all situations are different. In all cases, we strongly advise that you make sure your bike is very firmly secured before driving off…
Get the right tools
Before loading your bike, you’ll need to make sure you’ve got the right equipment for the job.
First things first, you’ll need a ramp. Unless the bike is really light (in which case two people can potentially lift it into the van) a proper ramp is vital to getting the bike into the van. There are many great folding style aluminium ramps which are designed especially for the loading of motorcycles into vans. These are just wide enough for bikes, strong enough to cope with the weight, and usually featuring serrated or rubber mounted ends to stop the ramp sliding around when in use. This will cost from around £40.
Straps are key to keeping the bike in place while in transport. Many bike moving ninjas can strap a motorcycle down with a single ratchet strap, but for the amateur bike mover we would definitely not recommend this!
We would suggest using at least two straps (one either side) and ideally four, with a few to spare. Webbed ratchet straps are super strong and come in various types. Some prefer the kind with claw hooks, while others are the ‘endless’ type which can be joined together or wrapped around themselves. Ideally you should have a selection with you, in order to use the best straps for the situation. These usually cost a few pounds each, however it is worth speaking to your local bike shop to see if they have any spare. Most motorcycles are strapped down inside their transit boxes when they leave the factory, leaving the dealer with a pile of unwanted straps when they take delivery of a new bike. Reuse, recycle and all that…
It’s also worth taking blankets, rags and bits of packing material, in case you find straps chafing against vulnerable paintwork or bodywork. Covering the bike up with a blanket may also help with security, especially if your van has side windows.
Finally, it goes without saying, you’ll need a van. Most panel vans, such as short wheelbase/low roof Ford Transits or Mercedes Vitos, can accommodate motorcycles, but bigger and (especially) taller bikes may need a larger van, or a little work in removing the screen and/or mirrors from the bike first. If in doubt, check the size of the bike (you can usually find dimensions with a quick Google search) before you hire your van.
Bring a friend
Loading a bike into a van should be a solo job for the experienced bike mover, but for the rookie it’s always best to ensure a second pair of hands is around to help guide you up the ramp and get you out of trouble if need be.
Step one is to ensure that your van has sufficient space and that the bike will actually fit. Where possible, have the van parked on level ground and ensure that there is enough space behind you to allow you to take a short run up with the bike.
Put the ramp in place and test to see that it feels firmly in place, because the last thing you want is for it to slide out of place when the weight of the bike hits it.
Line the bike up and stand of the left hand side of the bike. Make sure it is in neutral and that you are covering the front brake, in case you get into difficulty. Ideally you want to have a little run up in order to build up momentum, before walking the bike up the ramp. Shorter people may need to stop at the top of the ramp, holding the front brake on while stepping into the van and resuming the load. In this situation, having a second person helps – as they can either steady the bike behind you or be based inside the van and ready to take over the bike. If transferring the bike between multiple people, it’s usually best to have a verbal code, such as saying ‘my bike’ in order to know who has the who has the bike at any given time.
Experienced bike movers may choose to load up with the engine on. This technique involves keeping the bike in first gear and using the clutch to take the bike up the ramp. It can work well on vans with fixed, wide, ramps, but is not advised when using portable ramps as the power going through the back wheel can fling the ramp away from the van and leave you in a world of hurt.
Get your straps on!
There are various view here, but this is how we’d do it – assuming that it’s only a single bike you’re transporting.
When the bike is in the van, position it in the centrally with the front wheel hard against the bulkhead and in first gear.
Modern vans have D-ring style anchor points on the floor, so we would be threading the straps through the most forward positioned ones (or grabbing it with the hook end of the strap) and running these to the triple clamp. We’d run a strap from each side of the fork leg (wrapping it around several times) and down to the corresponding anchor point on the floor of the van. Ratchet these up in a balanced way (ie alternating between the two). If the strap is rubbing against the bike, you should consider putting some kind of padding in the way to stop damaging the paintwork.
The suspension should start to compress, so keep tightening until it is as taut as possible. In many cases this will be sufficient, but we would adopt a belt and braces approach and add additional strappage. Additional straps at the back should give additional support, but do check where your strapping point is. Subframes are usually a solid spot, but be careful when attaching straps to more delicate parts like footrest hangers, as they can easily snap if you put too much tension through them. As an additional insurance policy, you could also consider jamming on the front brake by wrapping additional ratchet strap around the brake lever.
The bike should be rock solid but give it a check over, if you find any movement when you rock it, go back and tighten the straps. Once you’re happy all’s good, we’d recommend putting a cover on the bike and, if you’re stopping off anywhere and leaving the bike unattended, fit a sturdy padlock for added security.
Set off cautiously and switch the radio off in order that you can hear any untowards noises from behind. If anything doesn’t sound right, stop as soon as you safely can and check it over. Don’t take chances!
Bring in the professionals
There’s no shame in bringing in the professionals to move your bike for you. It might even work out cheaper.
Sometimes, when you add up the cost of hiring a van, diesel, a ramp and your time, it just doesn’t make sense to do it yourself. With the rise in numbers of people buying bikes in online auctions in recent years, several companies specialising in the movement of motorcycles have emerged.
These guys can pick up the bike and drop it off to you at convenient times. With properly kitted out vans and full insurance in case your bike is damaged in transit, it’s well worth looking into saving the hassle and getting an expert in.