No Trailer, No Problem: Here's How to Properly Carry Your Motorcycle in Your Truck Bed

A secure bike is a happy bike.

2021 Honda Ridgeline with CRF450RX.
Jonathon Klein

Folks, aside from my wife, my children, and writing all day about cars, there is nothing I love more than motorcycles. They offer freedom, camaraderie, lifelong friendships, and they’re singularly the best form of antidepressants on the market. They can, however, be a pain to move—and I’m not talking about learning how to ride.

Just like cars, planes, and humans, motorcycles are subject to Earth’s laws of entropy. Parts break, transmissions seize, handlebars crack, and tires go flat. Furthermore, not all motorcycles are road legal, as is the case with the 2021 Honda CRF450RX in this article. Often, to get anywhere you can actually ride the dang thing, it needs to be transferred to a destination. 

A red CRF450RX in the bed of a 2021 Honda Ridgeline.
Jonathon Klein

(The Drive and its partners may earn a commission if you purchase a product through one of our links. Read more.)

(Disclosure: When Guides & Gear wanted to do a big series on motorcycle parts, riding methods, payload carrying, and a few other stories for two-wheeled lovers, Honda came through and sent us a 2021 Honda Ridgeline and CRF450RX to play with. Look for more stories soon.)

You can load it onto a motorcycle trailer, but those are expensive and annoying to store and drive. Another option is to hire a tow truck, or if you have a truck, you could toss it into the bed and payload carry it to your destination. The latter is what we’ll be focusing on today, and we hope to have you slapping your two-wheeled pride and joy into the bed of your truck, strapping it down, and taking it there yourself.

The payload carrying a motorcycle can be intimidating. It not only involves your bike, it also includes ramping your motorcycle into the bed, strapping it down, and heading out onto the open road with 300-900 pounds in the bed of your truck. It doesn’t have to be tough, though, as the right guidance from your favorite Guides & Gear editors can make it a very simple process. Let’s start with safety considerations. 

Payload Carrying Motorcycle Basics

Estimated Time Needed: 10 minutes

Skill Level: Intermediate

Vehicle System: Truck bed

A red CRF450RX strapped in the bed of a 2021 Honda Ridgeline.
Jonathon Klein

Strapped down and ready to roll out. 

Safety Concerns for Payload Carrying a Motorcycle

Working with your vehicle(s), especially in this case, can be dangerous. Things can go very wrong, and when working with the bed of your truck and a heavy motorcycle, you have the real possibility of a 300-pound pointy motorcycle falling on top of you.

We’re going to go over how to protect against as much potential danger as we can, but you can’t escape all of it. So, here’s what you need to know so you don’t die, get maimed, or lose a finger and help you keep your jeans, shirt, and skin spotless — hopefully. 

  • Before you put on any safety clothing (gloves, moto-specific boots and jeans, etc.), take a second and collect everything you need, such as a ramp and ratchet straps, and place them where they can be easily accessed. Your ramp goes onto the tailgate of the truck, the straps laid out in its bed along the sides. 
  • After you’ve done that, take a second and breathe. There’s no reason you should be doing this when your heartbeat is channeling Travis Barker. A calm demeanor will help the process along. 
  • Grab your moto boots and jeans and put ’em on. If something goes wrong, they’ll add a level of protection. 
  • Ask a friend or family member for assistance. Two sets of hands are better than one, and in case something goes wrong, you have help to save your hide or get the bike off you.
A red CRF450RX in the bed of a 2021 Honda Ridgeline.
Jonathon Klein

A top-down look at the CRF450RX in the bed.

Do I Need To Worry about Payload Capacity?

I’m glad you asked! Your truck’s payload capacity varies from truck to truck and is determined by a variety of engineering factors. Most new trucks, even the mid-size ones such as the Honda Ridgeline I used for this story, have payload capacities of more than 1,200 pounds. The Ridgeline here has a payload capacity of 1,500 plus some change.

As for motorcycles, they range in weight from a scant 251 pounds with the Honda CRF450RX I’m using for this guide to 370 pounds with my old Suzuki SV650. And that Harley-Davidson Road King? Well, that sucker is more than 820 pounds without you on it. (If you want to know more about payload, you can read What Is Payload Capacity? It’s yet another good read by your favorite Guides & Gear editors.)

A red CRF450RX in the bed of a 2021 Honda Ridgeline.
Jonathon Klein

A rearward view. 

Everything You’ll Need To Payload Carry Your Motorcycle

We’re not psychic nor are we snooping through your toolbox or garage, so here’s exactly what you’ll need to secure your motorcycle to the bed of your truck.

Tool List

Parts List

Like I said above, organizing your gear so everything is easily reachable will save precious minutes waiting for your handy-dandy child or four-legged helper to bring you the ratchet straps. Drop the four regular straps, one at each corner of the truck bed. Set the two motorcycle fork ratchet straps at the front of the bed near the cab. 

Here’s How To Payload Carry a Motorcycle

Here’s the point where we usually say, “You’ll also need a flat workspace, such as a garage … yadda, yadda, yadda … Check your local laws … blah, blah, blah … we aren’t getting you out of jail.” That, however, isn’t always the best way to get a motorcycle into the back of a truck.

I’m going to go through two methods of loading your motorcycle into the bed. One makes it easier for you to load up the bike but isn’t always available. The other is slightly harder but is the far more common method.

Let’s do this! 

Hill Loading

If you’re like me and have a spot on your property where there’s a slight hill and flat space beneath it big enough for your truck, you can use the incline to reduce the ramp’s angle for easier loading. Here’s how to begin:

  1. Park your truck on the flat space with the bed oriented toward the hill.
  2. Unlock and drop the tailgate.
  3. Place the ramp’s end onto the tailgate end and stretch it out onto the hill. 
  4. The reduced angle will lessen the force required to push the motorcycle up and onto the bed. In other words, you’re flattening out the angle to work smarter, not harder. 
  5. You can either ride or push the motorcycle up the ramp and into the bed of the truck. For beginners, we recommend you push the bike. You don’t want to end up over the cab and then the hood before falling onto the pavement, dirt, or gravel.
  6. Once it’s up the ramp, drop the kickstand, and then you can start strapping it down (covered later in this article). 

Flat-Surface Loading

Most people aren’t like me and don’t have a convenient hill nearby, so flat-surface loading is required. It doesn’t really change the process; you’re just increasing the angle of the ramp and making it slightly harder to get it into the bed of the truck. Here’s how to do it:

  1. Park your truck on a flat surface.
  2. Unlock the tailgate.
  3. Place the ramp’s end onto the tailgate end and stretch it out until it hits the flat surface you’re working with.
  4. You can either ride or push the motorcycle up the ramp and into the bed of the truck. For beginners, push the bike so you don’t end up over the cab and on the hood before falling onto the pavement, dirt, or gravel.
  5. Once it’s up the ramp, drop the kickstand, and then you can strap it down. 
Jonathon Klein

Here's where the straps go.

Strapping Down the Forks

We’re going to start by strapping down the forks. 

  1. With the kickstand down, loop the two fork straps through the forks, then feed them into the fork strap loop to create a solid hold just below the bottom triple tree. 
  2. Cinch down the left-hand/kickstand-side fork just enough to hold slight tension, but enough to keep it from being pulled toward the right-hand side of the bed. 
  3. Switch sides and cinch down the right-hand side until it brings the motorcycle up off the kickstand and starts to balance upright. 
  4. Go back and forth between the sides until there’s equal pressure on both fork ratchet straps and the front suspension compresses by about a half-inch. This allows the bike to stay put even if you hit bumps in the road. 
  5. You can now switch to securing the wheels.
Jonathon Klein

How the straps should lay on one another. 

Strapping Down the Front Wheel

Strapping the wheels down is fairly simple now that the forks are secure. 

  1. Loop one regular ratchet strap through the front wheel.
  2. Pull the strap around, going over the tire’s tread. What you want to see is a U-shaped loop that you can then attach to the truck’s bed tie-downs.
  3. Loop the other ratchet strap just below the first. 
  4. Pull it around in the same manner but in the opposite direction.
  5. Attach the ratchet strap hooks to each side’s bed tie-downs. 
  6. Cinch the two straps until there’s equal tension on the front wheel. 

Strapping Down the Rear Swing-Arm

Strapping down the Swing-arm is fairly simple now that the front is set. 

  1. Loop one tie-down strap through one side of the rear swingarm. Don't pinch the brake lines.
  2. Pull the strap around. What you want to see is a U-shaped loop that you can then attach to the truck’s bed tie-downs.
  3. Loop the other tie-down strap on the opposite side. 
  4. Pull it around in the same manner but in the opposite direction.
  5. Attach the tie-down strap hooks to each side’s bed tie-downs. 
  6. Cinch the two straps until there’s equal tension on the rear wheel.  

Check Out the Strap Tension

Always perform a quick strap tension test before heading out. One may have loosened during another strap’s cinching, so a quick tug to ensure there’s still adequate tension on the strap is all you need to do. It saves you the headache of finding your bike has met an unfortunate end with the Kia Sorento that was tailgating you for the last 20 miles.

Hill Unloading

Once you’ve arrived at your destination, it’s time to get that thing off your truck. Once again, you have options based on your locale. Just like hill loading, hill unloading uses the topography to your advantage and reduces the angle of departure. Here’s how to unload your bike using a hill. 

  1. Park your truck on the flat space with the bed oriented toward the hill.
  2. Unlock the tailgate.
  3. Place the ramp’s end onto the tailgate end and stretch it onto the hill. 
  4. The reduced angle will lessen the force required to unload the motorcycle. In other words, you’re flattening out the angle to work smarter, not harder. 
  5. Put the kickstand down and begin unstrapping the motorcycle, starting from the rear wheel. 
  6. Unstrap the front wheel from the bed’s tie-downs.
  7. Save the fork straps for last and make sure you have a hand on the motorcycle so it doesn’t tip one way or the other. 
  8. Let the bike rest on its kickstand while you remove any ratchet straps still in the way.
  9. Pop the kickstand up, make sure it’s in neutral, and pull the bike out of the bed, hopping down from the bed as you move down the ramp slowly. 
  10. Once it’s down the ramp, drop the kickstand, and you can proceed to close your tailgate, clean up, and get ready to ride or to roll it to the mechanic.

Flat-Surface Unloading

Flat-surface unloading is as straightforward as flat-surface loading. Here’s how to do it:

  1. Park your truck on the flat space.
  2. Unlock the tailgate.
  3. Place the ramp’s end onto the tailgate end and stretch it out until it hits the pavement, dirt, or gravel. 
  4. Put the kickstand down and begin unstrapping the motorcycle starting from the rear wheel. 
  5. Unstrap the front wheel from the bed’s tie-downs.
  6. Save the fork straps for last and make sure you have a hand on the motorcycle so it doesn’t tip one way or the other. 
  7. Let the bike lean on its kickstand while you move any of the ratchet straps still in the way.
  8. Pop the kickstand up and pull the bike out of the bed, hopping down from the bed as you move down the ramp slowly. 
  9. Once it’s down the ramp, drop the kickstand, and you can proceed to close your tailgate, clean up, and get ready to either ride or to roll it to the mechanic.
Jonathon Klein

Bars in a bed.

Pro Tips to Payload Carrying Your Motorcycle

The Guides & Gear editors have picked up a few tips and tricks in our nearly 20-year riding career. Here are our best-kept secrets. 

  • Don’t cheap out on a ramp. Don’t use 2x4s. Don’t use ramps meant for bicycles. Use something that’s designed and rated for the motorcycle you have. I can’t harp on this enough. It will save you time and money repairing your bike and truck after the motorcycle falls through your makeshift ramp and dents your ride.
  • When you’re loading the bike onto the truck on a flat surface, get some speed by walking it back a few more feet. A little more speed will get it up the ramp easier. 
  • If you have a motorcycle that weighs twice or even three times as much as you, get a friend to help push it up the ramp. You don’t need an 800-pound Indian trapping you. 
  • Good straps are a must. Don’t cheap out on Harbor Freight-spec ones. Get a quality set of motorcycle fork straps, too. 

FAQs about Payload Carrying a Motorcycle

You’ve got questions, The Drive has answers!

Q: Can I use a bicycle trailer to carry my motorcycle?

A: Please, please, please, don’t do that. Those trailers aren’t rated to hold your motorcycle’s weight. You’re endangering yourself, your bike, your car, and those around you when you do stuff like this. Use motorcycle-rated equipment.

Q: Should I keep the motorcycle in first gear in the bed?

A: If you’ve secured your motorcycle properly, i.e., all the straps are in their correct place and tensioned, you shouldn’t need to. Do I? Yeah, I do as it calms my overly cautious brain and reduces the risk of rolling backward. It’s overkill, but safety overkill isn’t bad.

Q: So, can I put the motorcycle into the truck bed without a ramp?

A: How strong are you, and/or do you have friends?

Q: Uh, I’m not Hafþór Júlíus Björnsson (aka The Mountain), but I lift.

A: Get some friends, give it a lift, and drop it in, but we aren’t helping you get it out.

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