In general, a motorcycle can typically carry a weight of somewhere between 350 to 450 lbs. To calculate your motorcycle’s weight carrying capacity follow this simple calculation – take the safe maximum fully loaded operating weight specified by the manufacturer, minus the weight of your ready-to-ride motorcycle. The difference is the amount that can be safely added and carried, this additional weight includes rider, passenger, and luggage.
First: Find the GVWR
The Gross Vehicle Weight Rating (GVWR), the manufacturer’s recommended maximum total weight for your motorcycle. This number is the maximum you can safely reach fully loaded – with rider and passenger, cargo and all fueled up ready to go.
Your GVWR number is can be found in several places;
- Located on the vehicle-identification-number (VIN) plate, usually found on the steering head, or nearby frame.
- Owner’s Manual – for your year and model
- Service Manual / Repair Manual (like Chilton or Haynes)
GVWR is a number in pounds (lbs.) and, or kilograms (Kg.)
Note: some Harley Davidson also display the Gross Axle Weight (GAW), this number is not directly transferable into GVWR. European bikes use may use metric weights in Kilogram (Kg). One Kg is approximately 2.2 lbs.
Second: Determine Motorcycle’s Weight
Look up the Dry Weight of your bike. This is the weight as it came from the factory. “Dry” because they are shipped with no fuel or fluids. This can be found in your Owner’s Manual or Repair Manual. Then simply add typically 40 to 50 lbs. (Kg), to determine Wet Weight (also called curb weight).
The Safe Weight to Carry is…
Take the two numbers from above, GVWR – Wet Weight = Carrying Capacity.
Next, to get to how much stuff you can haul…weigh yourself and your passenger. A bathroom scale will do nicely. And include all your riding gear. Helmet, jacket, and boots. You don’t have to put it all on, of course – just hold it and step on the scales.
Record these numbers. Take the above totals and minus from Carrying Capacity. This will give you the Maximum Cargo Weight you can safely add. This is an upper guideline – travel as light as possible, there are benefits.
Example Weight Capacities
|Curb Weight (lbs.)||GVWR||Capacity*|
|2018 GL1800 Gold Wing||836||1256||420|
|2016 Harley Davidson FLH series||880||1360||480|
|2016 Kawasaki Concurs, with bags||690||1193||503|
|2016 BMW 1200 RT||603||1089||486|
|Yamaha Royal Star Venture Tour Delux||842||1241||399|
|Honda GL1000 Gold Wing||584||944||360|
|Honda GL1200 Gold Wing||780||1170||390|
|Suzuki DL650 V-Storm||520||926||406|
|Suzuki DL1000 V-Storm||590||965||375|
* for illustration purposes only – refer to your Owners Manual
Fully Loaded – Other Considerations
A motorcycle loaded to the maximum will behave differently and increased weight has an effect on mechanical components. As you would expect – Wear and Tear increases on all moving part especially; tires, rear shocks & front forks. Final drive – particularly chains & sprockets. The engine is under more strain mechanically; oil life is decreased. Fuel economy will be decreased
Special note: the chance of bottoming the suspension is increased – when for example you hit a pothole and the suspension is compressed to its limits. The force is then sent through the bike as a shockwave. Electrical components are most vulnerable – the most affected is your battery. It doesn’t do well over time in these conditions.
Adjustments & Maintenance
Tires – Number One – pre-trip, look for signs of sidewall cracking, road damage, uneven wear or the tread depth reaching its safe limits. If the tires are reaching the wear limit – change them out ahead of any long touring adventure. The cost “saved” by putting it off is not worth the hassle and risk.
Adjust to correct pressure and check often. Consult your manual. Tires usually require higher inflation psi, when under increased loads. Do a visual check at any time you are off the bike and have the chance.
Read more about tires, post – Should I Replace Both Tires at the Same Time?
Shocks & Forks – First, read the relevant section in your motorcycle’s service manual to understand your design and operating specifications. When touring with full loads often spring/forks “pre-load” is recommended. Pre-load is when the fork and rear shock(s) are compressed under no load. Pre-loading effectively makes the spring stiffer. This can be done via mechanical adjustment or by adding air to the system (if equipped).
Some forks and shocks allow you to change dampening. Damping is the controlled movement of oil inside the shock, it dampens spring movement for a more controlled ride. Dampening may be adjustable in both directions depending on your design. It is good practice to change fork oil every two years, this will keep internals clean and fresh oil has a consistent viscosity. You may also switch to a “premium fork oil” (research required), or try higher viscosity oil, to better suit the added weight.
Chains & Sprockets – keep chain adjusted and well lubricated is key to longer component life. Consider adding a lubrication system, this can extend the life of the chain and sprocket set a considerable time.
Engine & Oil – follow basic maintenance – valve adjustments, spark plug, filters, coolant changes, as per Service Manual. If operating with constant heavy load follow the recommended oil & fluid schedule for “severe” or “extreme” conditions. If the manual does not specify – cut the mileage/time in half. Oil and a filter are cheap compared to engine repairs.
- Keep it low. Heaviest items go at the bottom of saddlebags or backpacks
- Pack food created for hikers & make frequent grocery store stops, restaurants are great too, but of course expensive
- Don’t use add-on rear “toper cases”, especially on top of an existing rack, this put the weight up precariously high on the machine – even empty
- Avoid adding any weight to the front end – handlebars, or front fender areas
- Strap everything securely, check straps frequently
- Double-check all your planned gear – challenge the usefulness of every item
- Share the load – if you travel in a group, or even just with a buddy – split up the tools, air pump, etc. and only take one of each.
Riding with a Full Load
Some tips for riding a heavily loaded motorcycle;
- Keep safe stopping distance – get to the point where you instinctively know what it is from repeated practice
- Get to know your stopping distance with no, then load up – do several simulated panic stops
- Be prepared to stop and prop – a firm footing is essential – watch out for graded gravel if you are forced to pull over on the roadside
- Get used to how handlebars motions affect the center of gravity when stopped, It can help and hinder – practice and get the feel of it unloaded, and fully loaded. This effect is most noticeable when stopped and at slow speeds
Cold Weather – go slow, give those cold tires a few miles to warm up.
Rain – be cautious of course, but extra in the first 15 -20 minutes since all the oil leaked on the roads is just rising to the surface, making things extra slippery.
Parking – always park with the intention of a smooth departure – avoid having to wrestle your rig around in the parking lot. It’s worth it to drive around to find a choice spot.
Legal – yes! If you travel over the total GVWR and are involved in an accident, this may factor to determining who is at fault. It could also disqualify you from being compensated.
Passenger – Live Weight
A passenger adds significant weight. They also can cause unexpected handling issues. Both parked and on the road, and often at the worst times! To be safe and enjoy the company always educate any new “pillion” riders,
- Let your passenger know they should consider themselves a sack of potatoes, firmly strapped to the back of the motorcycle – do not move/lean to the left or right
- Never, ever lean into a corner. To keep them engaged in the experience – instruct them to look over your shoulder opposite of the turn. This provides a mild counterweight, with the bulk of their head and shoulders, and is very consistent movement (for you to anticipate)
- Heavy Braking – your passenger will usually have little control over sliding forward on hard braking – prepare for it. Brace yourself by stiffening your arms on the handlebars, and knees into the tank – push back slightly to firmly stop the slide
- If you are friendly, have them grip your waist, otherwise, instruct them to hold handgrips or suitable areas of the bike
- Backrests – are ideal, they add to your comfort and safety of your passenger. Backrests also offer a great place to tie-down luggage & cargo. Check Amazon for a wide selection of cargo bags & travel luggage, and have a look at the high-quality bags from Viking Bags.
- Hand Signals – work out any combo of signals that make sense. Far better than yelling and distraction of a random conversation
- Getting On & Off – instruct the passenger to wait until you give the OK. Make sure your feet and legs are well braced, the bike is vertical, front-wheel straight, and you are ready for their weight. On leaving, I prefer to get the bike running first, put the kickstand up. On dismounting, shut off the motor first, put it in neutral. After these steps – give the passenger the OK to mount/dismount
About Bike Trailers
No motorcycle manufacturer sells, recommends or endorses the use of motorcycle trailers. Undoubtedly, countless miles are racked up by folks pulling bike trailers and they love them. However, they are definitely not something for the novice to consider. Handling, especially emergency stops and evasive maneuvers will be greatly influenced by a tow-behind.
If you want to take your bicycle, golf clubs or even a BBQ – check out 2×2 Cycles for unique cargo solutions!
This post has a lot of information. Nothing super complex, no degree in rocket science required. Just be aware – know the safe limits of your motorcycle, the anticipated driving conditions and be prepared.
All the best practices for operating a motorcycle safely apply – practice, travel at an appropriate speed for the conditions, wear suitable gear, educate your passenger, maintain your bike, and load cargo with care.