unhappy owner

Thou Shalt Not Loan Thy Ironhorse Trailer

As several Ironhorse owners have discovered, that really should be the first commandment of Ironhorse ownership.

Why? Think about it for a minute. First, if your friend had a trailer, he/she wouldn’t be borrowing yours. Second, if he/she doesn’t have a trailer, what’s the chance that he/she’s got any idea how to handle yours?

Oh, but your friend has a boat or utility trailer you say. That’s good, as far as it goes. That means he/she probably knows how to hitch and unhitch a trailer and maybe how to back it up. But those skills don’t help much when he/she tries to back an enclosed 8.5 feet wide Ironhorse through an eight foot opening. Nor do they keep him/her from towing your pride and joy through a fast food or bank drive thru. Or even when he/she cuts a corner short and drags it up on a curb and back down again.

Likewise, what’s the chance the borrower knows anything about loading a bike(s) into a trailer with a ride on step off wheel chock(s)? The open “wings” on the front of the wheel chocks that look so inviting from the bottom of the loading ramp are a lot harder to see as you ride into the trailer. And what do you suppose happens if your front tire is so far to one side that you ride up on the end of the wing? Just what you would think. When 500 lbs. comes down on the end of a piece of steel two inches wide and ¼” thick standing at a 45 degree angle from the floor, something has to give. In that case, it is typically the two inch wide and ¼” thick connector between the cradle’s front and rear “wings”–it twists the front “wing” and the connector to the side the tire rode up on.

That kind of episode leads to some highly strained and sometimes heated conversations. What are you going to say when your buddy brings your trailer back saying that those ride on step off wheel chocks don’t hold the bike up straight like you said they would? Or, better yet, how do you think he/she’s going to react when you tell him/her that it’s going to cost $700 to fix those three inch long scratches and/or gouges in your custom paint job.

But surely these kind of things are highly unusual. Not really. The basic truth is that nobody else will ever value your trailer as highly as you do. Even if they are trailer-proficient, they aren’t going to care for your trailer the way you do.

All in all, it’s pretty simple. If you value your trailer and your friendships, DON’T loan your buddy your Ironhorse.

METAL-VERSUS-IRONHORSE

FIBERGLASS VS. METAL TRAILER BODIES

Ironhorse Motorcycle Trailers fiberglass walls respond differently from metal box trailer walls to the same kinds of road hazards, accidents, malicious mischief, and cumulative use. That’s because Ironhorse Trailers fiberglass walls consist of a thick, extremely resilient, substrate layer of glass fibers embedded in plastic and a thin, less resilient, surface layer of gelcoat.

Road Hazards

Have you ever seen a metal box trailer without an add-on aluminum gravel shield? Probably not, but if you find one, the front will be covered with small dents, rust spots and dings. But you never see an Ironhorse Motorcycle Trailer with an aluminum gravel shield. Nor do you see one with small dents, rust spots and dings. That’s because gelcoat is extremely tough, the fiberglass behind it is extremely flexible and the shapes of the Ironhorse Motorcycle Trailers noses are designed to divert stones to each side.

Minor accidents

What about a baseball or golf ball hitting the trailer? The same accidental impact from one of these that leaves a permanent dent in a metal box trailer is unlikely to leave any mark on an Ironhorse Motorcycle Trailer.

Malicious mischief

What about a kid with a teenager who bangs the side of his fist against the side of a trailer. The same blow leaves a dent in a metal box trailer is unlikely to leave any kind of mark on an Ironhorse trailer.

Cumulative Wear

Most metal box trailers have vertical wall sections joined together and to wall studs with rivets. As the metal expands and contracts with temperature changes, the joints between the sections loosen, the walls bulge, and the rivets ultimately pop out. That’s why so many of them are known in the industry as “Two Year Trailers”. Other metal box trailer manufacturers have adopted space age adhesives as a way to combat this problem. But none, to my knowledge, has every found a way to keep metal from expanding and contracting and prevent the wall bulges that go with it. By contrast, Ironhorse Trailers Generation Three fiberglass bodies are one-piece and independent from the top. There are no joints that need to be riveted or glued nor, as a result, any bulges or rivets popping out of wall sections. Even better, Ironhorse one piece fiberglass bodies get harder and stronger with age.

Major collisions

A collision from the rear, the side, or partially head on typically not only ruins metal wall sections at the point of impact but also the metal studs behind the wall, the “rafters” that support the top and the cross members beneath the floor. Unfortunately repairing such damage requires removing and replacing wall sections and other components and is both time consuming and expensive. The same kind of collision will crush the fiberglass on an Ironhorse Trailer at the point of impact, but it will not typically damage the fiberglass top nor do any serious damage to any of the frame members. That’s because Ironhorse trailers have heavy duty tubular steel perimeter rails and a similar center rail that that runs from the coupler to the rear cross member not to mention heavy duty cross members as well. Fortunately, broken fiberglass and bent tubular steel are both readily repairable and rarely require removal and replacement.

Ten Things to Think about when Choosing Wheel Chock(s) for Your Motorcycle Trailer

1. Independence

Will you be able to ride your bike into your motorcycle trailer and step off, or will you have to put it on the kickstand and get somebody to hold it while you tie it down?

2. Put In Ease

Will your bike roll straight into your motorcycle trailer or will you need to “goose” the throttle to get it to up and over a cradle pivot point? How high is the pivot point?

3. Take Out

Can you just lean backwards and roll back or will getting it out of your motorcycle trailer require a major effort and maybe even somebody with a pry bar?

4. Removability

How hard is it to remove the chock from the floor of your motorcycle trailer, and replace it the next time you need it?

5. Tire Size

What kind of adjustments have to be made for different width and diameter tires and how hard are they?

6. Tire Damage

Are the areas where the chock contacts the tire large enough to distribute the pressure that is an inevitable result of your strapping your bike into the chock?

7. Ruggedness

Is it likely to collapse or is it so overbuilt that it adds fifty pounds or so the weight you’ll trailer? (Some Aisian copies of Made in U.S.A. chocks are made of MUCH thinner metals.)

8. Bulkiness

Is it compact enough to store easily when it is not in your motorcycle trailer or is it so awkwardly shaped that it takes up a lot of storage space?

9. Design

Is the design straightforward are is it over engineered with moving parts that can wear out or fail?

10. Price

Is its cost in line with its capabilities? (Motorcycle wheel chocks start around $40 and go up from there. While you won’t get much for $40, you also won’t get many more benefits if you spend more than $150.)

our motorcycle chocks at Ironhorse are the finest

The chocks at Ironhorse Trailers

The Apples to Apples Trap

What do apples have to do with trailers?  Not a whole lot, but a comparison of ripe red apples to green apples prematurely picked from the tree is a good place to start thinking about what kind of motorcycle trailer you need and which one is likely to give you the most bang for the buck.

Suppose a ripe red apple costs $.37 at the local fruit stand but a green apple is only a $.25.  Well clearly the green apple is a much better deal, right?  Only if you ignore the taste, the texture, and the green apple quick step you’ll get from eating it raw.

In other words, as long as you look only at the easily measurable cost of two similar items, you will continue to make highly questionable and sometimes flat wrong purchasing decisions;  decisions that wind up being hard to live with.

To avoid buying a motorcycle trailer that you’ll have trouble living with, you have to think through the whole trailering experience from A to Z.  That experience starts when you hitch your new trailer to your tow vehicle and continues until you trade it in for a later model, or sell it on Ebay or Craigslist because you no longer need it.

What kind of experience will you have hitching up your trailer?  If it weighs a ton, has tandem ales, and no wheel on the bottom of the jack, you can forget moving the tongue a little bit to get the coupler over the ball.  Instead, if you are by yourself, you’ll have to back up, get out and check, get back in and adjust your position, over and over until the coupler is exactly over the ball.  It’s pretty easy to spot tow vehicles used with this kind of trailer—most of them have dents in the rear bumper from hitching mistakes.

What kind of experience will you have loading and unloading your bike?  If your trailer has a barn door instead of a ramp door, you’ll need ramps–ramps that you have to keep up with and haul around with you when you transport your bike.  And don’t forget those heart-stopping moments when you are on the ramp but not in the trailer or on the ground, and your feet won’t touch the ground.  You can often spot bikes that are loaded and unloaded this way by bent brake or clutch handles, dents in the gas tank, paint chips on the fenders, etc.

What about securing your bikes?  It’s been said that good judgment comes from experience and experience comes from bad judgment.  Trailering beginners exercise bad judgment by not taking the time and making the effort to really understand the problem. The experience that gets them past the beginner stage is opening the door of their trailer only to find their bike lying on its side or, worse yet, one bike lying underneath another.  Yet, it doesn’t have to be that way.  With the right chock, the right straps, d-rings in the right place and the right tie-on spots on your bike, one person can quickly and easily secure a bike for a 3,000 mile trip with only two straps.  (No need for any front-end around and over acrobatics as that’s not where the two straps go!)

To make bad matters worse, you have to be careful where you turn for help in making sure you have a positive trailering experience.  There’s a whole lot more trailer salespeople, bike dealership employees, and just plain biker friends who think they know how to tie bikes down than there are who really know how.  Consider the Honda dealership employee who told a trailer owner to put his Wing up on the center stand to tie it down.  That effectively turned the Wing into a pile driver which punched through the wood floor in roughly a dozen miles.

So when you are evaluating different trailers, unless you already fully understand the two strap tie down system, be careful! There’s ten times as much misinformation out there as there is good info.  And just because a trailer already has a few tiedowns and a couple of wheel chocks doesn’t mean they are in the right place for your bike(s).  Instead they are probably where somebody at the manufacturer though they should go.  And all of his experience may have been with motocross bikes when he was barely a teenager.

Driving is driving, right?  So your experience pulling one motorcycle trailer should be pretty much the same as it is pulling any other one.  Not hardly.  If the design of your motorcycle trailer causes or permits the front end to be overloaded (chocks against the front wall of a trailer considerably longer than your bikes), you may find yourself driving down the road with the front end of your tow vehicle much higher than normal and the backend practically dragging.  That might be a little hard on your nerves but it’ll probably be a lot harder on your tow vehicle.
On the other hand, fishtailing is not fun and as anyone who has ever experienced it knows all too well, it can be scary enough to really give your sphincter a workout.  Yet that’s what can happen if the inherent design of your motorcycle trailer encourages you to overload the rear of your trailer.  But if your motorcycle trailer has flat sides, a back end overload isn’t the only thing that can kick-off a fishtailing episode.

When you pass or are passed by an 18 wheeler at highway speeds, you have to be prepared to counter the sideways push-pull-push you feel.  As you get closer and as you leave its side, turbulence pushes you away from the semi.  But when you are side by side, the semi trailer sucks you toward it.  if you are back end loaded and towing over 55 mph, you’ll get a quick introduction to the “joys” of fishtailing.  And the LONGER, TALLER and the FLATTER the sides of your trailer, the worse the fishtailing will be.

Unfortunately fishtailing is not the only thing you have to worry about with a flat sided trailer.  Strong crosswinds can literally blow you off the road while even moderate ones can move you from one lane to another.  Steady strong cross winds are one thing; you just hang on to opposite side of the steering wheel with both hands.  But strong gusty cross wind are quite another. Your only real choices are to slow to a crawl, or find somewhere to hole up until the weather changes.  Again, the longer, taller and flatter the sides of your trailer, the more severe the problem and the worse the trailering experience you’re likely to have.

How do you feel about fuel economy and frequent downshifting?  The heavier your trailer and the hillier the roads you travel, the more often your automatic transmission will downshift.  Check your owner’s manual and you’ll find some sound advice about how much downshifting is acceptable before you should turn your overdrive off.  But keep in mind, there’s no free lunch; clearly your engine will rev higher and it will likely burn more fuel.

Speaking of fuel, buy a tall heavy box-shaped motorcycle trailer and you can expect your towing mileage to be not much more than 45% of what the same vehicle gets when it isn’t towing.  Add a V shaped nose and you may be able to increase that up to as much as 55-60%.  Chop that extra foot off the top and there’s a chance you’ll see 60-65%. drop.  But you won’t see 80-90% unless you buy a low lightweight  trailer shaped a lot more like a bullet than a brick, and made out of something much lighter than steel.  (Mileage reductions are much less extreme for special purpose vehicles like diesel duallies.)


Let’s pause for a minute and remember that this is supposed to be about the whole trailering experience, and that experience includes a strong psychological component as well as the physical realities we’ve talked about so far.  If you are like most people who trailer, you are in a good mood on your way to some fun riding or coming home from such fun.  How long do you think that good mood will last when you stop for the umpteenth time to refuel?  How long do you think it will last if you have to fight to keep your vehicle on the road in crosswinds?  How long do you think it will last if you survive a serious fishtailing incident only to have to call a tow truck to get you out of the ditch and/or have to stop to clean out your pants?  Clearly when you ignore the emotional impact of buying one motorcycle trailer versus another, you may well live to regret it.

Unhitching your trailer is easy but putting it away and retrieving it can be a little harder.  Putting it away may be as simple as backing it into a regular parking space in a defined parking area or as complicated as parallel parking it.  Regardless of whether putting your trailer away and retrieving it are simple or complex, how hard they are depends on which trailer you choose.

If it has tandem axles, your manual options are limited.  Get enough help and depending on how heavy it is, you may be able to actually move it forward or backward.  But if you want to turn it and reposition it, you’ll need a small tractor.  By contrast, anything with only two wheels and weighing less than 1500 lbs can be moved around on level pavement or hard packed ground with a $59.95 dolly from Harbor Freight.   Even if it has a couple of big bikes in it.

But if your trailer is parked on sloping ground, you can forget moving it around by hand, loaded or unloaded.  It’s simply too hard to push uphill and too dangerous to pull down hill as even a light trailer can easily over run a really strong man.  So you need to think long and hard about just how you will use your trailer before your buy one.  In general, the more often you intend to use it and the more different temporary stops you expect to make, the more lack of maneuverability will limit your enjoyment of the trailering experience.

Let’s not forget storage.  After all, that’s where motorcycle trailers spend the lion’s share of their lives.  If the trailer you buy is too tall or too wide, it won’t fit through your garage door.  If it’s too heavy and has tandem wheels, forget about occasionally rolling it outside and hosing it off.  It’ll stay right where it is until the next time you really need to use it.

Last but not least, there’s resale value.  The current economic climate has literally put some major cargo trailer manufacturers out of business.  That’s allowed other trailer industry executives to acquire physical and human resources and raw material inventories at bargain basement prices.  The result is a flurry of cargo trailers so cheap they have to be seen to be believed.  Granted the quality of some of these trailers is so questionable that the new companies may not last long.  But while they are around, they put so much downward pressures on the resale value of similar looking trailers that any cash you put in one evaporates as soon as you tow it off the lot.

Fortunately cargo type motorcycle trailers are not your only option.  Ironhorse trailers look so different and are seen as so much better suited to motorcycle hauling that they are virtually immune to downward pressure from plummeting cargo trailer prices.  That, and their ever-growing popularity, has kept their resale values high.  The record as far as we can tell is an owner whose actual depreciation over several years amounted to less than $12 per month.

So the next time you are considering buying a motorcycle trailer, remember that there’s a lot more to buying apples and motorcycle trailers than simply comparing prices.  After all, if you are going to trailer your bike(s), you are buying not just a trailer but also a whole bundle of individual experiences.  And that the outcome of each of these individual experience can range from highly positive to extremely negative.  Clearly those who choose trailers with the biggest positive bundles will get the most out of trailering.  Those who ignore these factors will find that trailering can  be a real pain in the ass.

Want to personalize your Ironhorse Motorcycle Trailer?

White is the standard color but if you want to personalize your motorcycle trailer, you have two options—color and graphics which you can do together or either one alone.

COLOR

Gel Coat

Pros—You get a nice shiny tough as nails finish which is much cheaper than automotive paint.
Cons—Darker colors, especially black, sometimes fade.  The number of standard colors is limited and none of them are likely to exactly match your favorite bike or tow vehicle.

Automotive Paint

Pros—We can closely match the metallic finish of your favorite bike or tow vehicle with a metallic automotive paint that fades no faster than the typical modern automobile.
Cons—Paint is not as tough as gel coat so you’ll need invisible gravel shield on the front to keep the paint from chipping, and you can expect this approach to be very expensive.

GRAPHICS

Air Brushed

Pros–Although we don’t offer this option, there’s nothing to stop you from finding your own artist.  Individual designs can be wildly individualistic depending on the artist you choose.
Cons—Air brushing is typically very expensive and sometime so personal that it can limit your resale opportunities and value.

Vinyl

Pros—Relatively inexpensive and easy to peel off if you trade your tow vehicle—a lot of   bang for the buck.
Cons—Life of the graphics is supposedly limited to seven years or so.  You have to actively participant in the design process to get what you want.

Getting ready to tow your Ironhorse

GETTING READY TO TOW YOUR IRONHORSE

HITCH

Already have a hitch on your vehicle? You’ll need a draw bar with a 2” ball and the correct drop or rise to get the top of the ball to 16” above the ground for the most level towing. A locking hitch pin is a great idea.
No hitch? You’ll need to have one installed, and then get the draw bar with the correct rise or drop and a 2” ball.

ELECTRICAL

No electrical plug on your vehicle? You’ll need to have that installed too. For Ironhorse Trailers with electric brakes, you need a round 7 vehicle end plug, as well as a brake actuator in your vehicle. For Ironhorse Trailers with no brakes, a flat 4 vehicle end plug is required. If you have a round 7 plug and are getting an Ironhorse with no brakes, a 7 to 4 adapter is readily available.
Already have an electric plug? That’s great, but check your vehicle owner’s manual to be sure the proper fuses are in place and operational.
Factory tow package – read the attached Tow Ready Factory Tow Package article for details to make sure your vehicle will actually be tow ready when you receive your Ironhorse.

WHAT ELSE DO YOU NEED?

Ratchet straps – we suggest good, strong 2” straps for each side of the back. Always use ratchet straps rather than cam buckles which slip and cause problems. Look for straps that are as short as possible to prevent having to wrap up miles of strap. For the front of the bike, 1” ratchet straps are fine…ratchet straps on the front are for insurance!

A security coupler lock – we suggest a good, strong lock that fits in the coupler when you’re not hooked to a tow vehicle.
A lug wrench with a 13/16” thin wall socket. The wheels we use can’t be changed with a standard automotive lug wrench.
Wheel blocks for the exterior wheels. You’ll find many times that you want to block the wheels to keep your Ironhorse from moving, and exterior wheel blocks are critical if you plan to load or unload when you’re not hooked to your vehicle.
We carry all of the above accessories…we don’t push them, but if you’re interested, let us know!

FINALLY

The big moment comes and your Ironhorse arrives. So, how do you tie the bikes down? We suggest that before you try, go to You Tube, type in Ironhorse Trailers, then watch the “Motorcycle Tie Down System by Ironhorsetrailers.com” video.

First, make sure your stabilizers are in the travel position—nothing is more disgusting than getting all hitched up and then discovering that your stabilizers are still down and digging into the ground/pavement.

Next, make sure your coupler is jacked up enough to clear the ball with room to spare and that the coupler handle is in the vertical position. After doing this too many times to remember, we think the best approach is to back your vehicle up until your ball is a few inches off to the right from, and a little further back than, the ideal position under the coupler. Then push on the tongue to roll the tongue to the right until the coupler is directly over the ball.

After that, it’s a piece of cake. Move the coupler handle from the vertical to the horizontal position—make sure it’s fully horizontal. Use the rolling jack to test the connection—if it’s not secure it will easily lift off the ball. Then use the handle to fully retract the jack and swivel it, with the wheel forward, to return it to its horizontal travel position.
Attach the safety chains to your tow vehicle—we recommend crossing them so that turning makes them looser not tighter. We also recommend attaching them with the open part of the J hook to the rear (facing the trailer) rather than the front. Then make sure your vehicle ignition is off before plugging your trailer connector into your tow vehicle connector—failure to do so will sometimes blow a fuse. And finally, if your trailer is equipped with a breakaway box, attach the breakaway cable to your tow vehicle.

Some final checks

Make sure your tailgate is fully latched regardless of whether it is locked or not. Then start your car and test your trailer lights—troubleshooting non-burning lights is another story. If your trailer is equipped with electric brakes, check to make sure the trailer controller is working, and that your tow vehicle is charging the breakaway battery—look for a yellow light. If either or both are not working and this is the first time you’ve hitched to your trailer with this tow vehicle, refer to the article titled “Tow Ready Factory Tow Package”.

Dead Breakaway Battery? Maybe, Maybe Not

Dead Breakaway Battery?  Maybe, Maybe Not

Over the last eight years we’ve had a lot of calls about breakaway batteries on Ironhorse Motorcycle Trailers.  Many of them start with “the wires on my breakaway battery are too short”, to which my inevitable reaction was “what are you doing taking the lid off the battery box anyway?”, as we fully expect them to last many years.  After all, the battery is supposed to recharge as soon as you hitch your Ironhorse to your tow vehicle.  Or so we thought!

Recently we had someone bring his Ironhorse back for a new battery after about three years.  He distinctly remembered that that when the trailer was first hitched to his Nissan, the recharging light on the battery box did not glow.  He also remembered that we had traced the failure to recharge to the absence of current on one particular pin of his seven pin receptacle.   Subsequently he had taken the Nissan to his dealer and been assured that everything was okay, but the battery still didn’t recharge.

Somewhat frustrated by then, and ready for a new vehicle anyway, he traded his Nissan for a new Ford F150.  But the breakaway battery still wouldn’t recharge.  By then he was convinced that there must be something wrong with the trailer wiring because a) there’s no way two vehicles in a row would have defective wiring, and b) the new Ford came with an integrated towing package including a built in trailer brake controller—totally set up for towing, or was it?

So he brought his Ironhorse back to us to get a new battery and have us fix the wiring problem.  Sure enough, I put the new battery on, hitched it to his new truck and —– nothing.  No recharging indication.  I then spent two or three hours looking for a problem with the trailer wiring before finally pulling out a test meter and checking the current on the appropriate pin in the seven pin receptacle on the new truck.

Imagine our surprise when, once again, there was no current on the appropriate pin.  By now our customer was getting angry and we were getting desperate.  So I grabbed the owner’s manual, searched for the appropriate fuse location, found it, and then looked for the fuse in the fuse box, but there was nothing there.  Then inspiration struck—when all else fails let your fingers do the walking—in a Google search box!

After typing in “F150 trailer tow battery charge issues”, it took at least a half second for Google to display a meaningful result.  It seems there is a slot for a “trailer towing battery charge” fuse AND another slot for a “trailer towing battery charge relay”, and that the required fuse and relay are typically in a plastic envelope in the glove compartment.  So I went charging back out to the customer’s truck and looked for the envelope in the glove compartment only to come up empty, and the customer didn’t remember having seen it.

By now the customer truly thought I was nuts, and who could blame him, but I don’t give up easily.  So I went roaring over to the Ford dealership about 300 yards from our plant only to find that, since it was Saturday afternoon, there was no one in the Parts Department.   BUT there were salespeople there and, after I explained what I was looking for, one of them opened a new F150 for me and sure enough, right there in the glove box was the plastic envelope of parts I needed.
Unfortunately, the salesman said he couldn’t let me take it and referred me to the sales manager—who happened to be standing next to a customer’s truck with his head in an owner’s manual trying to resolve exactly the same problem.  We quickly worked out a trade—if he’d let me take the package and come back and pay for it on Monday, I’d tell him where to put the fuse and relay in the truck he was working on.

Roaring back across the street, I stuck both items in the indicated slots, plugged the trailer into the truck receptacle and grinned from ear to ear when the recharging light came on!  Our customer, gratified although somewhat chagrinned, went on his way and I breathed a sigh of relief.  But I was still pretty pissed—why on earth would Ford put the relay and fuse for the towing battery charge in the glove compartment in a truck supposedly equipped with an integrated towing package?  So back to Google I went.

Here’s what I found.  First, unlike the majority of Ironhorse Trailers, many trailers don’t have a battery to recharge any way.  Second, packaging, but not installing, the necessary relay and fuse is apparently common practice among manufacturers to avoid liability if an improperly wired trailer catches on fire. Third, some manufacturers install the necessary fuse but not the relay.  Fourth, the necessary components are not always in the glove compartment—sometimes they are in a compartment in the door, in other cases they are packaged with the spare, etc.

The Bottom Line

If the battery charging indicator on your Ironhorse doesn’t light up or stops lighting up, check your tow vehicle’s owners manual.  Find the fuse section and look for something like “trailer towing battery charge”.  Once you find it, don’t stop.  Keep looking—this time for a “trailer towing battery charge relay”.   Note the specific “address” for each.  Then locate your fuse box, pull the cover and check the “addresses” you found in the owners manual.  If either, or both, “addresses” are empty, or the fuse is blown, your charging indicator is not going to light up until you replace/install the correct component(s).

Tow-Ready Factory Tow Package?

Tow-Ready Factory Tow Package?

Not hardly!  As far as we can tell, after nine years of building and selling Ironhorse Motorcycle Trailers, there is no such thing. .  The problem, you see, is that manufacturers seem to be the only ones who realize that the words factory tow package don’t mean “tow-ready”.   If your new trailer has electric brakes and a breakaway battery, there are still one or two things that have to be done before you will be tow ready—even on vehicles with integrated brake controllers.

Apparently it is common practice for vehicle manufacturers to ship factory-tow-package  vehicles without activating either the trailer tow battery charge feature, the trailer brake controller feature or both.

Trailer Controller Issues

Ford apparently ships vehicles with factory tow packages, but not integrated brake controllers, with a “pig tail” which plugs into a receptacle under the dash.  But unless you buy a matching pigtail from your after-market trailer brake controller source, the plug on the controller has to be cut off and the controller hardwired to the four wires from the pigtail.  GM used to supply its factory-tow-package-equipped vehicles with a pigtail as well, but in its infinite wisdom stopped doing so in the mid-nineties.  Instead the four wires for the brake controller are blunt cut, wrapped with a label and taped in a bundle under the dash.

But that’s only half the battle to get your factory-tow-package vehicle ready to actually tow your motorcycle trailer.  One of the wires that hook to the controller has to “hot” before the controller will function.  Getting the wire to be hot may be as simple ( in a Ford) as locating, in your owners manual, the “addresses” for the “Trailer Tow Brake Controller” relay and fuse, checking to see whether the addresses are currently occupied, and if the address or “addresses” are vacant, acquiring and installing the necessary electronic component(s) if the addresses are empty.

On the other hand, getting the brake controller wire to be hot can be as complicated (late model GM) as finding the right wire under the hood, connecting it to the right stud on the fuse block, and acquiring and installing the necessary relay and fuses.  But where do you look for the right wire, which stud do you hook it to, where the hell is that stud, and what kind of relay and fuse do you need?  No problem—google has the answer—if you are persistent enough.  The answer, once again, is in the appropriate GM factory bulletin—which states among other things that doing this is well beyond the capabilities of mere mortals and is better left to GM certified technicians.

But what about vehicles equipped with factory integrated brake controllers?  Darned if I know—all I can say is that if you trailer brakes won’t respond to your brake controller when you first hook your new motorcycle trailer to your tow vehicle, follow the procedure just described, or get somebody at a GM dealership to do it for you.  But don’t be surprised if they don’t know what you are talking about.

Once you’ve got the brake controller problem licked, you and your new Ironhorse Motorcycle Trailer should be good to go—right?

Trailer Tow Battery Charge Issues

Is your Ironhorse Motorcycle Trailer equipped with a breakaway braking system?  How about an electronic security system? In the first case, there’s a small battery that needs to be recharged every time you use your trailer; in the second it’s a large marine battery.  And that can’t happen unless pin 4 in your trailer connector is hot.

So if you’ve got an external battery, check to see if the battery-recharge indicator lights up whey you hook your tow vehicle to your trailer.  If it doesn’t, or if you have an electronic security system, you need to make sure pin 4 on your seven pin connector is hot.  You can do that with a tester, but that’s another story, so let’s just concentrate on making it hot.

First, find the addresses of your “Trailer Tow Batter Charge” relay and fuse in your vehicle owners manual.  Then find those addresses in your fuse block and check to see whether they are occupied or not,  If either are both is empty, go back to the owners manual to see what should be in the empty address(s).  Buying an installing the right electronic component will typically turn pin 4 from cold to hot—on a Ford.  But what about GM vehicles?

If pin 4 is still cold on a GM vehicle you and your Ironhorse Motorcycle Trailer still are not good to go.  Once again, you need to use google to find the GM bulletin that tells you where the apparently unconnected “Trailer Tow Batter Charge” wire is under the hood of your vehicle and then what to do with it.  The good news is that once you’ve done it, you finally really are good to go.

The buck stops here

What’s involved in building an Ironhorse motorcycle  trailer? Clearly it takes a frame and several fiberglass parts as well as the hardware and electrical parts necessary to assemble the final product.

When we started building motorcycle trailers in 2002, both our frames and fiberglass were produced by outside suppliers.  That sounds okay on the surface, but there were several things wrong with that approach.

Our original building was so small that keeping much inventory of frames and sets of fiberglass parts was impractical.  Instead we relied on our suppliers to produce and deliver at the same rate we used the parts.

But it seemed like we were out of either frames or fiberglass parts more often than not.  And without both, we couldn’t build trailers.  Since no amount of jawboning did any good and we were tied into a five year lease, we struggled with that situation until 2008.

When we moved into our current facility in 2008, we quickly started making our own frames but  continued to truck fiberglass parts in from the same supplier—a distance of 100 miles. Making our own frames helped but we could still only assemble in fits and starts as our fiberglass supplier just didn’t get regular.

So we spent much of 2008 and 2009 building molds for a new model and learning to fabricate fiberglass parts.  By the time we introduced the Widebody in 2009, we had strong enough fiberglass skills to build all the parts for it in-house.  That smoothed out our output a little more, but one and two bike motorcycle trailer assembly was still as erratic as ever.

By Thanksgiving of 2010, the handwriting was on the wall. We were never gonna get where we wanted to be without bringing the remaining fiberglass production in-house.  So we bit the bullet and started producing ALL our fiberglass parts.

Start-up was interesting to say the least, but now when we don’t have frames or fiberglass parts to assemble motorcycle trailers, it’s because WE didn’t make them.  If there’s a blemish on the fiberglass or a bad weld, it’s because WE did it.  Gratifyingly enough, neither happens nearly as often now that the buck stops here.

Changes Since 2005 that Make Ironhorse Trailers Easier to Maintain

Rear I.D. Lights—The three single function LED marker lights on the rear of the top have been replaced by a single LED light bar with three functions.  It provides the three D.O.T. marker lights any time the other marker lights are on, it signals left and right turns along with the regular turn signal lights, and it provides a high center brake light.  As a side benefit, it requires only three potentially troublesome connections rather than the six connections the former I.D. lights required.

Improved Wiring—In the event there is ever a wiring problem with the newer flip top trailers, there is no longer any need to remove the tail light or crawl under the trailer to check the rear lights.  The newer trailers have a small plastic junction box in each lower interior sidewall about six inches from each rear corner.  The appropriate wires from each side of the wiring harness meet the wires from the corresponding rear corner marker and tail lights inside the junction box for that corner.  The wires inside the box are strictly color coded and wire nuts are used for connectors.

Floors—The floors are much easier to keep looking good in the newer flip tops than in the older ones.  Washing down a gelcoat floor is one heck of a lot easier than trying to scrub grease and tire marks off a painted wood floor.