A Match Made in Hawg Heaven

| April 07, 2005

Rick Rosen brings his own Harley-Davidson along when he’s hauling motorcycles for his customers.

You don’t mess with a man’s truck, and you definitely don’t mess with his motorcycle. You don’t ride it, borrow it or touch the gleaming chrome.

While a big rig may have 18 wheels and loom like Goliath over a motorcycle, there’s a bond between truckers and bikers that crosses the usual lines. There’s an understanding that they not only share the same road, they often share the same passion for the road, a passion that their four-wheel cousins could never feel.

Truckers and bikers have a lot in common, but truckers who have the good fortune to haul motorcycles have a very special deal.

Rick Rosen, trucker, biker and owner of Motorcycle Freight of Daytona, Fla., is used to causing a sensation along the road when he’s hauling his signature bright yellow tractor-trailers filled to the brim with a million dollars worth of motorcycles including brands such as Harley-Davidson (also known as “hogs” or “hawgs” depending upon one’s preference), Yamaha and Kawasaki.

Rosen treats every motorcycle he hauls just like he’d want his own bike treated. Which is why bikers turn to Rosen to transport their bikes to rallies and shows around the country. It’s also why Rosen tries to hire professional drivers who share his customers’ love of biking.
Hauling motorcycles from dealers or clubs to bike shows takes a truck driver with the same affinity for the passion a bike stirs in its owner. Rosen has had customers call him begging for information about how their bike fared on its journey. “Sometimes they sound like they are talking about a girlfriend or wife when they call,” Rosen says.

He understands their concern. You can’t just throw a bike in the back of a trailer and hope it makes it OK. Rosen has built a 21-year career in the niche market of custom bike hauling by making sure he knows all there is to know about delivering this specialized freight.
His customers trust Rosen implicitly. He may have a load of Harley-Davidson executives’ bikes mixed in with those of carpenters and maintenance workers. “It’s not about whose bike it is or how much money they make, it’s always about the bike,” Rosen says.

Rosen’s 20-plus truck fleet is a landmark at all the major motorcycle shows including the summer rally in Sturgis, S.D., and Daytona’s famous Bike Week. He’s known not only for his expert freight hauling but also for the customer appreciation party he throws on the last Saturday of Daytona’s Bike Week. Thousands of bikers, motorcycle executives, Harley dealers and customers party at his orange grove estate ringed by the yellow big rigs. Many of his longtime customers dance to the music of a live band and enjoy fresh sushi and an open bar into the wee hours of the night. He’s come a long way from where he started 20 years ago.

“In the early ’80s, people hauled their motorcycles with tow-trucks,” he says. “I happened to be in a dealership and answered a call from a guy who wanted someone to transport his bike without damaging it.” Rosen had a Toyota pickup truck with a 4×8 trailer, and he hauled his first paying customer’s bike that day. He started his motorcycle freight company by advertising his method of hauling versus the bike-damaging way of hanging them from the back of a wrecker. As motorcycles got more sophisticated and the riders more affluent, Rosen’s business prospered.

Doctors, lawyers, nurses and businessmen often ride today’s costly bikes, but many of them can’t take off the time to drive to far-flung rallies. So they hire companies like Rosen’s, fly to the shows and pick up their bikes when they get there.

While there are plenty of small to mid-size companies transporting motorcycles, one-truck owner-operators make a good living on a smaller scale. Tim Yeager from Boynton, Beach, Fla., has been hauling motorcycles for 10 years and still gets a kick out of picking up a load of bikes and delivering them to a bike show. His custom Freightliner pulls a 48-foot racecar trailer where he can fit 10 to 12 bikes and an exotic car or two.

Like most motorcycle freight haulers, Yeager won’t turn down the offer to haul the motorcyclist’s Porsche as well as his bike. The trailers are built for both, and often the more toys a person has, the more high-paying freight for the trucker.

Not all customers are experienced motorcyclists. Yeager delivered a specialty bike to a customer in California who ordered the bike from the Internet. When he unloaded the expensive, new motorcycle, he could tell the owner was hesitant to climb aboard. “What are you waiting for?” asked Yeager. Embarrassed, the customer admitted he’d never been on a bike before. Yeager spent the rest of his afternoon teaching him how to ride. “It’s not a burden – not when you love bikes like I do,” he says.

Rosen’s had to teach his share of motorcycle mini-courses over the years. “You never know what someone’s skill level is, but you’d never leave a guy in a lurch, either,” Rosen says. “I do whatever I have to do.”

Charlie Bryant and Arlen Ness travel to motorcycle rallies around the country.

The big bike shows like Sturgis and Daytona draw huge crowds and up to 500,000 bikes in one small town. The shows are filled with motorcycle clubs, chapters, movie stars and every kind of manufacturer of parts and goods. There’s plenty of leather and outrageous sights at Bike Week, and the glitz and glamour of the biking lifestyle draw visitors from all over the world. One huge Freightliner truck draws crowds to its site.

The famous motorcycle designer Arlen Ness puts his custom bikes aboard a tricked-out, custom-built Freightliner with a head-turning 16-foot sleeper cab. Trucker Charlie Bryant and his wife Betty, of Lakehead, Calif., along with their dog, Spanky, travel to all the major motorcycle shows around the country. Movie stars like Peter Fonda and television’s Jay Leno show up to shoot the breeze with Ness and Bryant, checking out the newest bikes and coolest gear.

Bryant, retired from ABF Trucking, works five months a year and loves every minute of it. “It’s a good life, one I wouldn’t trade for anything,” Bryant says. The job includes setting up at the shows, helping unload and load Ness’s custom bikes, talking to customers and giving tours of his sleeper.

“Truckers especially want to climb aboard. They can’t believe the sight of a marble shower, microwave, TV, two satellite dishes and four stereos and a driver’s lounge in the trailer,” Bryant says.

Of course, there’s room to stash his own motorcycles. Bryant’s love of trucking and biking has made him a valued employee, and Ness says he couldn’t do it without him. “If it weren’t for Charlie, I wouldn’t feel comfortable about sending millions of dollars worth of bikes down the road,” Ness says. “He’s a complete professional.”

He also says he wouldn’t hire just anyone to haul his specialized bikes. “You’ve got to have a driver who totally understands how to load, unload, tie down, set up and ride the cargo. Bryant’s a great trucker, but he’s also a biker and that sets him apart,” Ness says.

Truckers who are bikers or bikers who happen to truck don’t always get to haul motorcycles, but if their companies allow them, they bring their bike with them on the job.

Trucker/biker Bill Durr, known by his handle, “Ghost Rider,” worked for CT Express in central New York hauling auto parts. He’d always take along his 1993 Harley-Davidson Classic and stash it in the back of his trailer. While the other guys were stuck in the parking lot, whiling away the hours in their cab, Durr would fire up his bike and head to town.

His love for biking and trucking goes hand in hand, and he says he’s a better trucker and biker because he’s got experience on both. “When I’m on my bike, I respect the power and size of the big rigs on the road with me. Just like when I’m driving.”

Respecting the power of the big rig hit home when he nearly lost his life to one. One day he was riding his Harley on the freeway when a truck came barreling over a hill. He barely had time to react when the truck clipped him and tossed him and his bike into a ditch. Durr’s bike was ruined, but he was glad to be alive. “It’s hard to see motorcyclists; you have to really look out for them,” he says.

Not all companies allow drivers to carry their bikes and not all trailers can accommodate a motorcycle. Still, truckers have been known to rig their motorcycle to the back of the cab and hit the road with the freedom that comes from being able to leave the truckstop.

Owner-operator Butch Barnes of Cheyenne, Wyo., a former Overdrive Trucker of the Year, used to take his Harley with him when he was driving a load across country. “It’s a great way to do a little sight-seeing along the way,” he says.

Barnes’ favorite jaunts include New Orleans and San Francisco. He hauled furniture so it was easy to tie down his bike in the back of the trailer. “It worked out great for me, but I’ve seen guys rig all kinds of ways to take their bike with them,” Barnes says. “It gives you a little more freedom.”

Barnes always looks out for motorcyclists, and once he let a group of them wait out a hailstorm in his empty trailer. “Truckers who also ride bikes are better truckers,” Barnes says. “They know how to drive around bikes safely, and they know how vulnerable bikers are.”
Owner-operators have a little more flexibility when it comes to bringing along their motorcycles. But companies like Rosen’s absolutely encourage it. “I wouldn’t have it any other way. I want my guys to bring along their bikes. Especially when they are parked for a week in Sturgis or Daytona,” Rosen says. “Of course they need to fire up their hogs. It all blends together, the biking and the trucking. You can’t tell where one ends off and the other starts. I sure as hell bring my bike with me!”

Rosen stashes his silver and black 100th-anniversary edition Harley-Davidson Ultra Classic in the back of his truck and says he still gets jazzed when he rides it down the ramp. “There’s a sense of freedom that comes from both trucking and biking. I wouldn’t trade either one of them.”


Workers load bikes into the double-decker trailer with a hydraulic-lift door.

Hog-tied
Careful attention goes into securing bikes

Rick Rosen, owner of Motorcycle Freight, says there’s an art to securing motorcycles for transport.

His company invests in thousands of dollars worth of ratchet straps instead of traditional motorcycle straps. “I want to be able to adjust the tension, and you can’t do that without using ratchet straps,” Rosen says. He uses a soft strap around the front of the bike so none of the metal in the ratchet straps touches the metal of the bike. He also uses a soft strap off the swing arm or luggage rack.

Rosen’s trailers are equipped with logistic racking, and the bikes are secured to the permanent steel binding attached to the walls of the trailer. He uses the racking instead of pallets because he believes it’s a better way to haul bikes.

“The bikes move with the motion of the trailer,” Rosen says. “In case of a disaster, my way is a lot safer than pallets, which can bounce.” He uses double the amount of straps needed, up to eight per bike, and his drivers check the cargo every 100 miles. “I’m always adjusting the tension on the straps,” he says.

Rosen can stow about 12 to 15 bikes on a regular trailer and up to 35 on a double-decker trailer. His drivers either ride them up the ramp and roll them back down, or they use the hydraulic lift on the double-decker.

The bikes have to have less than a quarter of a tank of fuel before he loads them. Rosen also recommends owners get their bikes checked out before they ship them. “There’s nothing worse than to ship a bike to a rally and have it break down once you are there,” he says.

It’s company policy to never leave the trucks running unattended, and they always travel in tandem. “I’ve got the words Motorcycle Freight painted in man-sized letters across my trailers. A cargo thief wouldn’t have to guess what’s inside,” he says. But the thief won’t get a chance to hit as long as the wheels are rolling. And the tracking devices inside the truck would guarantee a quick return. “I’ve never had a problem, but that doesn’t mean we ever let our guard down,” Rosen says.


Tips for sharing the road with motorcycles

  • Weekend rally riders are not always the most experienced bikers on the road. Always consider the chance that some of them don’t know how to ride around a truck.
  • Especially watch out for lost riders who tend to dart across lanes while reading a road map.
  • Give bikers a gentle honk to let them know you are coming up on them. Try your CB radio; many new bikes are equipped with CBs.
  • Make sure the biker is moving over if you are passing him. Take into account wind conditions when you pass him. A bike and rider can get blown over by the force of your rig, high speeds and blowing winds.
  • Flash your lights when a biker has safely passed you.
  • You’ve got the bird’s-eye view. It’s courteous to indicate road conditions ahead. If there’s an accident or a construction zone coming up, put on your hazards to warn other drivers.
  • Watch your speed and braking times around motorcycles.
  • Bikers are hard to see and sometimes unpredictable. Drive defensively.

    Big Rig Ride Raises Money for PTDI

    Truckers and trucking executives who share a love of motorcycles came together March 10 for the inaugural running of the Big Rig Ride in Orlando, Fla., and raised $6,000 for the Professional Truck Driver Institute.

    The four-hour ride began at Orlando Harley and traveled through the rolling countryside of central Florida before returning for a sunset reception at the historic factory dealership.
    “We are pleased that the first Big Rig Ride was so successful, and we are proud to have raised such a sum for the Professional Truck Driver Institute,” says Jeff Mason, vice president and group publisher of Randall Trucking Media, which hosted the Big Rig Ride. The Randall Trucking Media Group includes Truckers News, CCJ and Overdrive magazines.

    The Big Rig Ride was sponsored by Bridgestone/Firestone, Caterpillar, Inc., DNV Certification, IdleAire Technologies, Peterbilt Motors Co., Pilot Corp., Qualcomm, Roadranger and Volvo Trucks. Sponsors paid for the motorcycle and helmet rentals and other costs. Participants’ $100 donations went to PTDI, an organization that certifies driver training programs.

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