How heavy is too heavy? Can you get in trouble with the law for overloading your motorcycle? Andrew Dalton gives us the lowdown.
There is a temptation to fill every square inch of your aluminium panniers, particularly if you are travelling two up, and it is very easy to overload a bike. Let’s take the ubiquitous BMW R 1250 GS Adventure.
The bike itself weighs a chunky 268kg fuelled and its maximum load carrying is 217kg. A recent government survey showed the average weight for a UK man is 83.6kg (mind you, he is only 5ft 9inch tall, so he might struggling on a GS) and already 12kg over his ideal weight.
Put boots, helmet and armour on the same man and he will be around 95kg. If his female pillion is the UK average weight for a female, she will weigh 70kg and, with kit, say 80kg.
So just for rider, pillion and their clothing, we are coming in at 175kg. If we had a rack and kit at say 40kg, we are up to 215kg of a maximum load of 217kg, and if that same rider is now a 6ft 2inch man carrying an extra 12 kg over his ideal weight, he comes in at 92kg, so with the same female pillion, he is over the weight that his bike is rated for.
So, what legal implications does this have? It is certainly very easy to go overweight, two-up with kit, which leads to the UK offence of being overloaded. Here in the UK, police and VOSA can pull you over, and take you to a weighbridge.
The truth of the matter is that an overloaded GS with its trick suspension is not going to draw a copper’s eye like a Transit van sitting on its rear wheel arches, which is pure road traffic copper catnip.
If the overload is 10% or less, so you only have to be 22kg over the weight on your GS, a fine of up to £5,000 can be levied which depends on your income. It is a non-endorsable offence on a motorcycle, but budget a fine of one to two weeks wages, and the more overloaded you are the higher your fine can go.
If you were to have a collision, the Court could take overloading as an aggravating factor, but the overloading would have to be causative of the collision.
So, if you were up for, say careless driving, then the non-endorsable overloading would carry a fine in its own right, and whilst a particularly aggressive prosecutor might try and argue that this was an aggravating factor in the careless driving, that would be wrong in law, and it is evidentially a great deal easier to nick you for both offences.
Dangerously overloaded and a serious collision could lead to a dangerous conviction. It would be legally difficult to prosecute such a case, but I think possible, so overall it is a good idea not to overload your bike, even if the full force of the law is unlikely to be triggered.
If pulled and found to be over the weight, the police officer or VOSA enforcement officer can issue an immediate prohibition notice, which you could easily enough remedy by asking your pillion to get off, or a kinder officer could authorise you to ride to the next service station to drop your pillion or your luggage off, without committing a further offence.
The reality is, you are unlikely to get pulled, but overloading your bike does impact on handling and especially braking and can be remedied easily enough by packing a little more lightly. So, if you do tour two-up, look at your bike’s payload.
Be honest with yourself about your weight, how much kit you carry, the weight of your luggage racks and luggage, but you do not have to be a morbidly obese human with an equally morbidly obese pillion to get over the weight of even an ‘uber tourer’.
As my example shows, two entirely average British adults can easily tip a bike into overloading, and some of the lighter and sportier models, the Yamaha 900 Tracer being a classic example, really cannot really tolerate even a relatively light rider and pillion and carry any kit.
You may wish to take a leaf out of the book of enduro and dirt tourers. I can get my entire camping kit, tools and soft luggage in at under 20kg, but I am not carting around a pillion or their kit. I also won’t win too many prizes for stylish dressing living out of a single soft pannier.