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How cargo weight can make a difference in your motorcycle riding experience

Added November 14, 2019
Person getting onto their motorcycle

Does Gross Vehicle Weight Rating (GVWR) mean anything to you as a motorcycle rider? It should, since it’s one of the most important specifications about your motorcycle that you should be aware of before you ride. It’s especially critical when you start packing for a long-distance tour.

Why is GVWR important?

By understanding your bike’s GVWR, you know how much you can carry without risking your safety or damaging your bike. It starts with understanding your bike’s specs.

Motorcycle manufacturers carefully design their motorcycles to meet many technical standards for performance and safety. The popular selling points of performance—like acceleration and braking—are directly related to the motorcycle’s weight when tested. Unfortunately, of all the specs we look at, GVWR is likely to go unnoticed. Yet this motorcycle weight number affects every ride you go on.

What defines a motorcycle's GVWR?

So, how much does a motorcycle weigh? It depends on the bike. The GVWR is the maximum safe weight limit of a motorcycle's design. This measurement includes the weight of the motorcycle, fluids, rider, passenger, and gear packed on the motorcycle. To know how much you can load onto your motorcycle safely, it's important to understand the weight numbers manufacturer specs provide:

  • Dry weight: This is often used to represent the weight of the motorcycle as manufactured and shipped from the factory. It doesn’t include the weight of a tank of fuel. Depending on the manufacturer, it can also exclude the weight of engine and transmission oil, coolant, battery, and, in some cases, the hydraulic fluid for brakes and clutch.
  • Wet weight/Curb weight: This weight measurement is used to describe a motorcycle in ready-to-ride condition. It includes the weight of fuel, all necessary oil, coolant, hydraulic fluids, and battery. Know that the weight of fuel in the tank can vary among sources. It can easily vary from half to a full tank. Curb weight, a term usually used for automobiles, is the same as the wet weight.
  • Carrying capacity: This is the magic number that represents how much weight the motorcycle can carry. You reach it by subtracting the wet or curb weight from the GVWR. It’s important to do the research to determine that the wet or curb weight accurately represents your motorcycle in ready-to-ride condition, which includes the weight of any accessories you may have added.

Evaluating rider and passenger weight

Just about everybody is sensitive about his or her weight—it’s simply part of our culture. For many folks, stepping on the bathroom scale is done wearing only our birthday suit. To understand the true weight of a rider or passenger, we need to go in the opposite direction and step on the scale wearing your full riding gear, including boots and helmet.

Once you’ve determined how much gear you can carry beyond the weight of rider and passenger, it’s time to balance the load. An unbalanced load can move the center of mass or gravity. That can adversely affect the handling of a motorcycle.

Effects of overloading your motorcycle

If watching out for overloading your bike seems like a hassle, consider that there's more to the effects of overloading your bike than taking it easy on steering and breaking and otherwise adjusting the way you ride. Since every component on a motorcycle is designed to perform correctly up to the stated GVWR, it's realistic to expect adverse results to critical systems. Let's take a deeper look:

  • Engine: One of a motorcycle’s exciting features is the ability to rapidly accelerate. It can also be a safety benefit in certain traffic situations. When you overload your motorcycle, you reduce its ability to respond. When you subject your engine to the extra strain of excess weight, you also reduce its longevity.
  • Rear suspension: The rear spring and shocks are carefully calibrated to carry the GVWR and absorb the jolts of surface irregularities. If you overload the suspension, you reduce ground clearance and put stress on your bike—and you.
  • Front forks: In addition to the functions performed by the rear suspension, the front forks handle the weight transfer during braking. You put tremendous strain on the front forks when you brake hard on an overloaded bike.
  • Tires: Motorcycles only have two tires with very small contact patches that provide the traction connecting us to the road. Tires have a finite weight-bearing limit at proper inflation. If you overload your bike, you're overloading your tires. This can lead to excessive wear, overheating, and possible blowouts. Under inflation compounds the problem.
  • Brakes: The more you overload your bike, the more strain on your brakes and the longer it will take to stop
  • Frame: You can cause stress fractures in your bike's frame from overloading—and from direct pounding when you bottom out.
  • Battery: The internal structure of motorcycle batteries are actually delicate. Too many hard jolts from the suspension bottoming out can cause them to fail.

By understanding and respecting weight limits, you can get the most performance, safety, and longevity from your motorcycle.

Of course, in addition to protecting yourself from the dangers of accidents and crashes, it’s also important to protect your bike. A number of insurance coverages like roadside assistance are out there to protect you while you’re on your ride. Discounts can also help make insurance coverage even more affordable.

Till next time, ride safe!

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If you enjoyed this piece on motorcycle safety, we have other motorcycle safety tips featured in our Safety section.

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