Hitch Installation Tips

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Installing a hitch on your bike can be a simple as bolting on a couple of braces and straps, or a difficult, multi-step process that requires you to remove bodywork, saddlebags, etc. Most hitches fall somewhere in between. This article offers you some hard-learned lessons that will make your installation easier.

1) Confirm fitment before you buy. Given all the different models of bikes and trim levels, it’s just not possible for hitch manufacturers to test their hitch on every combination. For example, a hitch that fits a Harley Softail Classic may or may not fit a Softail Deluxe. Another model of hitch might fit the entire line of Softails. If there is any uncertainty, make sure you ask first before you buy.

2) Again, because of all the different bike/model combinations, manufacturers do not design their hitches with aftermarket parts in mind. So, if you have aftermarket products on the back of your bike, you’ll need to determine if they’ll work, or if you need to remove them.

3) RTFM (Read the freakin’ manual). Take out the directions and read through them entirely so you’ll have a complete understanding of the process. I’ve learned that if you don’t read through the directions, you’ll often be tempted to take a shortcut during installation that you’ll have to undo later. End result – you’ll spend more time reinstalling your hitch than if you’d read the directions the first time.

4) Lay out all the parts. I know you’re anxious to get started with your installation, but I’ve laid out hitches and found important parts missing. Wouldn’t it suck to have your bike torn apart only to find you were missing a critical bracket? Now, do keep in mind that if you’re missing something like a bolt, you may be able to source this at the local hardware store or Home Depot.

5) Do a test assembly. This pre-installation preparation also includes pre-assembling your hitch. Take out all the hardware from the bag and install it into the holes indicated in the directions. This gives you a chance to sort out the correct placement of bushings, bolts, washers, etc.

6) Stay organized. Clear plenty of space for your installation. When you remove a piece from your bike, place the hardware with the piece you removed or screw it back into the bike. This will help you keep your parts straight and speed reassembly.

7) Don’t force it. Unless the installation manual indicates some tight fit or modification that needs to be made, your hitch should fit with a minimum of effort. You shouldn’t need to muscle it into place. If a bolt doesn’t seem to be going in well, back it out and check to make sure the replacement bolt has the same thread pitch as the original bolt.

8) Get some help. A fender style hitch is easier to install with an extra set of hands helping keep everything aligned while you get it bolted on. If you get stuck during the installation, call your dealer or the hitch manufacturer for guidance. They can often give you a few pointers or help you interpret those grainy, hard-to-figure-out pictures that come with many hitches.

9) Secure the hardware. On an installation of this importance, make sure you take steps to secure the hardware. Never leave off the lock washers. For extra security, especially on bikes that generate a lot of vibration, use a thread locking compound like Locktite. If you do use a thread locker, use the non-permanent solution like “blue” Locktite that can be removed without heat.