ATV Tip: Make Sure You Check Your Trailer

It's already the middle of summer, and if you haven't spent an hour on basic trailer maintenance by now, you really need to. Where I live in Alaska, trailers take a lot of punishment, and a breakdown will most certainly happen 200 miles from a parts store.

Let's start with safety. Every time you place your bike on the trailer, the machine should become part of the platform. That means the bike should be left in park with the brake engaged, in gear, and strapped from four points. The bike needs be strapped down tightly enough that the suspension feels stiff and has little sway.

At a minimum, use 2,000-pound adjustable ratchet straps. Connect them to the frame of the bike, and ratchet them down to load the suspension. When the load is right, you can shake the bike and the trailer feels like it's a part of the machine with no play.

Here are some things to keep in mind after the bike is safely loaded:

1. Bearing Buddies
Get a set if your trailer didn't come with them; I wouldn't own one without them. Bearing buddies allow you to keep your hubs full of clean grease that will keep your trailer rolling smoothly down the road.

When filling them -- I've bought brand new trailers that were nearly empty -- use a levered grease gun and fill until the small plate around the nipple moves to the outside of the case. Pump slowly, or you may blow out the axle seal on the inside of your wheel, allowing all the grease to spin out.

Bearings should be checked or filled once a month or prior to every major trip. Any time you're rolling down the highway, make sure you touch the bearing and feel for heat whenever you stop for gas. If it's hot to the touch, put some grease in them. Warm is normal; hot is not. A bearing failure is the worst and will leave you stranded with a seized wheel that may require a welding torch to free. All the parts will need to be replaced. Oh, and this usually happens at 2:00 a.m.

2. Tires
This is the other "weak link" in the system. Be diligent about checking the tire pressure by following the manufacturer's specifications.

Underinflated tires can shred; overinflated ones can wear out very fast. Like the bearings, touching the tires can help you determine if there's a problem. Again, warm is fine; hot is not. Always check your tire pressure once a month or before a major trip.

And when you have a tire problem -- you will -- you'll need a spare. Make sure you know the condition of your tires and make sure the spare has air in it.

Trailers don't come with changing kits. You will need a tire iron to take off the bolts, and a separate jack. Do not assume that your truck's tire iron will fit the often-smaller bolts, or that the jack can be used. Buy a small hydraulic jack and put it away with your new trailer tire iron.

3. Lights
Keep up on your light maintenance. Carrying an extra light is always a good idea. That way you'll be ready to replace the one that gets shattered when you're unloading the machine on a dirt berm.

Whether it's backing up, loading a bike, or driving down a bumpy road, slow down, take your time, and don't rush it. You'll stay safer, and you'll keep your insurance rates down.

Peter Mathiesen lives, hunts, and fishes in Alaska -- one of the toughest testing grounds for ATVs and accessories. Each week Mathiesen will send a dispatch from the last frontier, informing you how to keep your quad running.