Towing a motorcycle with my Subaru

I live in North Carolina and am hoping to take a motorcycling vacation in the Smokies either this year or next. The thing being, my bike is an '83 Suzuki GR650 with about a 140 mile range counting the reserve tank, and I’d rather not ride the bike the 3+ highway hours out to the national park.

So the plan is, fit my 2001 Subaru Forester with an aftermarket trailer hitch and haul the bike out on a trailer, use the campground as a base camp for motorcycling excursions (Blue Ridge Parkway, the obligatory Deals Gap run, etc.), and then drive back. In theory, the numbers work out: the '01 Forester has a listed 2000 lb towing capacity (which oddly is close to twice what a current Forester will pull), and the motorcycle weighs 400 lb dry and a trailer similar to one my aunt owns weighs about 800 lb. The car has 190k miles on it but my mechanic tore down and rebuilt the engine after a cracked head gasket last January and I do regular maintenance on it. The transmission and AWD also seem to be okay aside from having had a cooler hose bust last year (I pulled over very fast when that happened, lol).

So, comments, suggestions, recommendations?

You did your homework! It should pull that much weight as if there was nothing there. Just “drive the trailer” and and you should be fine. I.e. Just remember its back there and don’t chop someone off because you forgot there was another 8 feet back there.

Just make sure the bike is forward on the trailer so there is enough tongue weight - at the very minimum 120 lbs for a 1200 tow load, better if its a bit higher. Make sure the lights and turn signals on the trailer work.

Strap the bike at all 4 corners so it won’t move around. Helps to have a front wheel chock to tie against.

Good Luck

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Have you changed the transmission and differential fluids? I would. And don’t push it too hard, especially on the hills.


Well the transmission fluid got involuntarily changed when I blew that transmission cooler hose, but I haven’t touched the differentials myself. I’ll dig into my service manual and see what that involves.

That’s pretty light so really don’t see a problem but I would service the differentials, brakes, and cooling system for sure as long as the rest of the maintenance has been kept up to date. Cooling and trans would be my concerns, but you’ll have back-up transportation anyway.

I did the truck/motorcycle vacation thing many times when I lived in Colorado. My bike was a lot smaller than yours though, a moto-cross style 2 cycle motor. Quite light weight. It makes for a really fun vacation. You can cruise around looking at stuff all day long on dirt and gravel roads, not much worry about ground clearance, and using very little gas. I’d often take 2-3 bikes along so everybody in the group had one to ride. I’d put two in a small utility trailer I’d tow behind, and one on the front bumper of the truck. I had a sort of motorcycle bumper rack.

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Given 190K mileage, I would definitely consider replacing oil in differentials, BEFORE you tow, it may be long overdue.

Another thing to consider would be a brake fluid. Your brakes gonna work harder to control your trailer, so answer a question “was the brake fluid replaced per Subaru recommended 30K miles schedule?” and do what is right to do

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I know it’s not really exactly the same thing, but if you loaded your Subaru with 4 or 5 passengers of typical American weight, the whole load wouldn’t be much different, would it?

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Just remember that you have some 500lbs +/- attached to the back of the car at one pivot point without its own brakes and drive carefully. And be sure you move the bike forward on the trailer so its Cg isn’t too far back. You don’t want it reducing the weight of the car’s rear end.

Have a safe trip.

A word of caution about differential fluid changes and this is where many people have gotten into serious trouble including engine oil changes.

The drain plug on the front differential is located near the engine oil drain plug and they are similar in appearance.
Make sure the correct plug is removed to drain the front differential.

Following that, make sure the correct amount of gear oil is added to the differential. This means through the dipstick hole on the PASSENGER side of the transmission. The automatics have 2 sticks; a long one for the ATF on the driver side and a stubby one that is hard to see for the differential gear oil. The stubby one is located near the inner CV joint on the passenger side.

I say this because many a Subaru transmission has been wiped because someone botched an engine oil change or a transmission fluid change.

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Yeah that’s a good point. Best to have it done by a pro or a dealer.

As far as the weight goes, the tongue weight is generally what adds weight to the car and the tires. I doubt this would exceed 100# for the class 1 hitch. Of course you are pulling an extra few hundred pounds or more but not like you are exceeding the capacity of the car.

The other thing depending on where you are getting the trailer is that most trailer failures are from bearings that haven’t been lubed or tires that are old. Bearings are cheap and so are tires so I just change them every so often.