How to calculate Tongue Weight of Trailer - Suzuki Burgman Forum
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post #1 of 15 (permalink) Old 01-30-2011, 12:23 AM Thread Starter
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How to calculate Tongue Weight of Trailer

I may be over thinking this - but here goes:

We still work full time M thru F., and would like to get away on a Friday evening - but really don't want to ride in the dark (or the fog of the Central California valley!), to get up into the mountains or over the the coast. So, we are looking at an enclosed trailer to tow behind our newer RAV4. I have a class 3 hitch rated at 350 lbs tongue weight ( and the vehicle is rated to tow 3,500 lbs.)

We were looking at 10 foot trailers with the v-nose. The dealer says the nose is an additional 2 feet and not counted as part of the 10'. SO... in order to start calculating what the tongue weight might be since we are not able to drive the bike into the trailer at the lot.

IF, I can receive the front and rear axle weight of the Burgman 650 - and then I go back and get the measurements where the center of the single axle is placed - Can I calculate the approximate tongue weight at various distances within the trailer? I don't want to bring home the trailer and then find out I have 500 lbs on the tongue after mounting the front fork stand into the floor.
I guess if that would happen - then I would have to weight the back of the trailer to get the front end to lighten up.

Can we get the bike to ride in the trailer without exceeding the 350 lbs tongue weight?

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post #2 of 15 (permalink) Old 01-30-2011, 01:45 AM
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Re: How to calculate Tongue Weight of Trailer

Why not try several positions of the scooter in the trailer and MEASURE the tongue weight with a bathroom scale. Most of them will measure that high or at least close.

Just an idea.

Ray NIelsen, in MInneapolis and still snowbound.

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post #3 of 15 (permalink) Old 01-30-2011, 01:50 AM
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Re: How to calculate Tongue Weight of Trailer

I wouldn't buy it unless the dealer allows you to check out whether you could use it legally and safely.

I had a Highlander and found it was very sensitive to how much tongue weight I had (front wheel drive).


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post #4 of 15 (permalink) Old 01-30-2011, 11:00 AM
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Re: How to calculate Tongue Weight of Trailer

Before you can do anything, you need to know what the tongue weight of the trailer is when it is empty and how much the trailer weights when it is empty. Once you know that then you can weigh your bike and the hardware you plan to mount in the trailer and figure out where you need to position the bike to keep the tongue weight within limits. The method you outlined would work to do that.

One thing to be aware of is the precentage of tongue weight to total weight. That is why you need to know what the empty trailer weighs. Most trailers of that type pull best with tongue weight of around 15% of the total weight. If the percentage of tongue weight to trailer weight drops to low, you can run into problems with trailer sway. Assuming a tongue percentage of 15% and a limit of 350 lbs of tongue weight then you are looking at a total weight of trailer and cargo of about 2700 lbs.

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post #5 of 15 (permalink) Old 01-30-2011, 11:32 AM
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Re: How to calculate Tongue Weight of Trailer

You hit the nail on the head. The important thing to know for tongue weight is how much downward force is the tongue putting on the ball of the hitch. How much that V weighs is not important in the realm of tongue weight because it is supported by the whole trailer. Besides what Bufalo says about tongue weight being 15% of the total weight of the trailer there are two another important factors, especially if the trailer is being pulled by a motorcycle.

One, tongue weight is also measured with the trailer loaded. So if you know the trailer weights 400 pounds and you load it with another 150 pounds, then you should have a tongue weight at the ball of 15% of 550 or 82 pounds. So you must shift the load around in the trailer to get you this weight. That makes putting a good hitch on the Burgman to handle that 82 pounds of downward forced weight.

Second, and just as important for a trailer being pulled by a m/c is the length of the tongue. That V of the tongue talked about earlier is not the full length of the tongue inrelationship to the center of the axle or center point between the wheels. (Some trailers do not have an axle) That distance should be 2 to 2 1/2 times the length of the axle is wide. So if the distance between the wheels is 4.25 feet, then the tongue should be 8.5 and 10.5 feet long from that center point to the hitch ball. This also cuts down on trailer sway.

When I first pulled a homemade trailer back in 1980, I did not adhere to these specifications. On the road up I-35 I was experiencing trailer sway which felt like my Gold Wing rear tire was going flat. We pulled over at the suggestion of fellow riders and we shifted the inside weight around to make the trailer heavier at the tongue. That helped for the rest of the trip. Then a month or so later an article came out in Motorcycle Consumer news explaining the 10-15% tongue weight and 2 - 2.5 times tongue length.

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post #6 of 15 (permalink) Old 01-30-2011, 03:30 PM Thread Starter
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Re: How to calculate Tongue Weight of Trailer

Thanks all - over the next couple of months, I will get the bike 'weighed' with full tank of gas and all our 'travel' items in the GIVI and under the seat. Then take the bike, bike weight data, trailer weight data, tow vehicle, our bathroom scale and a calculator to the various trailer dealerships...and do a live load before we buy. - Sounds like fun!

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post #7 of 15 (permalink) Old 01-30-2011, 07:25 PM
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Re: How to calculate Tongue Weight of Trailer

If you can, it is a good idea to have the trailer weighed to determine it's real empty weight. The weight given by dealers is often about as realistic as the weights motorcycle dealers post for bikes. That is to say not very accurate. You probably don't want to do this with every trailer but when you window it down to a final choice, try to make it a condition of the sale that he let you take it to a public scale to weigh it. This is not as critical a step if you have a heavy duty tow vehicle but with a light duty vehicle like your RAV4 you can easily exceed it's tow limits.

One other thing, I believe Toyota requires tralier brakes if the towed weight is over 1,000 lbs. You might want to check your owners manual for that and consider it in your trailer purchase. I've added brakes to a trailer and it is not hard to do but why do that work if you know you need them before you buy.

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post #8 of 15 (permalink) Old 01-31-2011, 08:52 AM
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Re: How to calculate Tongue Weight of Trailer

If you don't need an enclosed trailer, consider just getting a utility trailer. They are much cheaper and tow much better since you're not pulling a wall behind you. Smaller tow vehicles may have problems at highway speeds pulling an enclosed trailer where a utility trailer won't be a problem. They are also much lighter weight and you'll be well within your limits.
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post #9 of 15 (permalink) Old 01-31-2011, 04:25 PM
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Re: How to calculate Tongue Weight of Trailer

Go to the U-Haul site, and then towards the bottom of the page.

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post #10 of 15 (permalink) Old 02-01-2011, 05:19 PM
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Re: How to calculate Tongue Weight of Trailer

Trailers! Do I know about pulling a trailer?!? Trust me on this, you do not want to buy an enclosed 10 ft trailer to tow behind a RAV4 on mountain roads or super highways. First of all that trailer is going to be heavy. Second thing is that trailer is big; bigger than what you need. It will act as a giant sail both to side winds and as a drag behind your car. Also, you will need brakes on the trailer, by law, if I remember correctly or for safety sake in any case.

What you may find more economical and simpler is to rent a M/C trailer from U-Haul. For a round trip rental they are cheap.

Or, if you feel the need to own the trailer because it's more convenient, whatever, you can get a simple class I flat bed or utility trailer. They will have a 7/8 inch ball mount, do not require brakes and have a gross weight, I think, of 2,000 pounds. I'm on my third trailer of this type. The first was a 4' x 8' utility trailer with 2' side rails and a bed made of 2 by 8's. That lasted about a decade until I replaced the wiring, replaced the wood in the bed and sold it. The replacement for that one was a similar trailer only the new one was a 5' x 10' utility trailer. Both had drop down loading gate and were constructed of welded angle iron with leaf spring suspensions. I sold that one, too. Since I no longer need to haul bikes and ATVs around my latest is a Harbor Freight 4' x 8' flat trailer that I put together. Cheap is a good way to describe it. I put on a pressure treated 3/4" plywood bed and I built some simple 36" plywood side walls for it. I could as easily have built 48" sides, too. It does not come with a ramp, but I may build one later if I need it. It also came with low speed tires only good up to 45mph. If I need to go faster with the trailer some time in the future I'll upgrade the tires, too. If I need to haul a bike I'll add another sheet of plywood to the bed to give it about 1-1/2".

When I haul bikes or ATVs in these trailers I load them with an eye to stability and tongue weight. When in place in the front wheel chock and tied down I cover the bike in movers blankets and bungee them in place. Then I put a tarp over the whole trailer. The tarp keeps road dirt, wheel spray and rain water off of the bike. The movers blankets keep dust off of the bike and prevent the tarp from rubbing on the bike.

Which ever trailer you get remember the warnings about trailer sway! If your trailer starts to sway you should stop immediately! It's an emergency; stop immediately! Do not go driving down the road trying to figure if you can make the next rest area. If you don't stop you could lose your trailer, the contents of the trailer and your car!

Lastly, be very careful with loading ramps. That ramp may look fine, but your bike may high center at the end where it meets the trailer. Also, avoid narrow ramps and make sure that they have a surface with some traction. A wet, slippery ramp is an accident waiting to happen.

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