It’s a Loaded Question

Story by William R. Duff// Photos by William R. Duff
August 29 2023

How much weight can your motorcycle handle?

Whether you’re off to local events or heading across the country for a huge rally, we all know how good it feels to put our faces into the breeze and hit the highways and backroads for high-mileage motorcycle touring.

You’ve spent the winter planning your route and nailed down a destination, and now riding season is here and you’re itching to get going. So, you toss a few gonchies and a couple of t-shirts in a backpack, bungee all your camping gear and necessities onto the bike and off you go, right?

Not so fast! Any overnight trip requires a tad more planning, and if your week-long pilgrimage is on a full-blown touring bike, you will have to make every kilogram of cargo count.

This experience of riding can be challenging if your motorcycle is overburdened with luggage, and can be even more difficult if you’re riding two-up. But, with this freeing wind therapy comes the responsibility of knowing how much weight your motorcycle can safely carry by understanding and respecting the Gross Vehicle Weight Rating (GVWR) specification.

Well, that is where our mitigation of risks needs to dive a little deeper and requires us to determine how much weight is safe without the all-too-common practice of pushing the limits on loading.

That’s Gross

I learned over 30 years ago when I began my aviation career that the simple-sounding concept of weight and balance is actually a fairly complex subject. This is because weight and balance have a direct effect on the stability and performance of the aircraft and are critical to its safe operation.

Just like aircraft, motorcycle engineers carefully design their bikes to meet many technical standards for performance and safety, which are directly related to the motorcycle’s GVWR and how the motorcycle is going to react when loaded. It’s all about weight and balance.

So, does GVWR mean anything to you as a motorcycle rider? It should, since it is one of the most important specifications about your motorcycle that you should be aware of. Unfortunately, of all the specifications we look at when purchasing a motorcycle, GVWR is likely to get passed over.

What Does it All Mean?

Basically, GVWR is the maximum safe weight limit for a motorcycle’s design. This measurement includes the weight of the motorcycle, fluids, rider, passenger, any accessories you’ve added, and gear packed on the motorcycle. To know how much you can load onto your motorcycle safely, it’s important to understand a few additional weight numbers that manufacturers 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…


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