"You can set your watch by the rain," is what everybody was saying at the mid 1980's BMW National Rally in central Florida. Daily, there would come a downpour so hard that you couldn't see to drive a vehicle with wipers through it. My tent floor was submerged in over an inch of water, and a Therm-a-rest air mattress only floats if your gear is not on top of it. The standing water did show me where the tent had to be moved to. The problem was, the elevation difference in any remaining spaces in that crowded campground amounted to no more than 1/4-inch above mean puddle level. The relatively higher and dryer campers had the luxury of a full inch above the daily 2:30 P.M. high-water mark. There was no higher ground except for a really rough gravel base for vehicle paths and parking pads. Back then everybody was in the same boat, so to speak, as there were few really small fold-down campers suitable for motorcycle power, let alone boxer twin power.
Now pan forward to last year. My older brother and I are on our way to the AMA Heritage Days with identical fold-down campers in tow. After getting to our campsite in Yogi Bear Campground (really, the sign says Yogi Bear), I realized that my brother's camper was exhibiting an intermittent, light fishtailing because he had put most of the weight behind the axle. I can only hope the records will eventually prove me to be adopted. In my embarrassment, I wanted to run far away from this man. It was almost as if something could be denied through a physical distance. But then again, my face might well be hot and flushed, but is it really red if no one else knows?
Enough of my personal pain. Motorcycle camping has come a long way since that mid 80's rally. There are now numerous motorcycle/small car campers on the market. I bought a small fold-down camper and will share some of the logic that went into making my purchase decision.
There now exists a beautiful array of campers on the market. The mailman brought brochures on six brands, but there must be at least double that many manufacturers out there. The Internet was my most helpful research tool. What follows may be opinions and not necessarily facts. My priorities, likes and dislikes, are just that - mine. Hopefully, you would arm yourself with information equal to, or exceeding that which I used to make my decision. In today's world everything is expensive enough so as to require careful thought by anyone contemplating the purchase of a camper.
It was good for me that a camper is equally useful when towed behind my car. My car pulls the camper to Muncie, Indiana when I attend flying model airplane meets. The power output of this 1500 cc, 1986 Honda Civic somewhat resembles a gutless go-cart, yet it handily tows my camper. I traded a Triumph Bonneville for this 4-wheel drive wagon.
So, what was I looking for in a camper? First, I wanted a unit that was light in weight. Some campers would be fine only if you ride a 6-cylinder GoldWing. While some manufacturers do not readily list the weights of their campers, there is a big difference (to a motorcycle) in the weights of available campers. My modified 1986 Cali II automatic is more than enough bike to tow my camper and still return an indicated 37.5 mpg solo. Note however, that neither my power nor my mileage are to be expected of a completely stock Convert. Having said that, your stock Convert would also pull my choice of camper. Low range is typically only used for maneuvering the camper off road into position on uneven, shady (soft) campsites. Hey, when was the last time you saw a standard shift transmission on a Caddy or Towne Car?
In addition to a unit that was light in weight, I wanted a sleeping area that was not supported by poles. I toss and turn, sleep lightly, (earplugs help), and do not want to feel like a bird in the top of a windy tree. The same goes for elevated floors. Creaking, cracking, and swaying of either floors or beds is not for me. However, the less you weigh, the less of a concern you may have. I also did not want canvas that touched the ground when set up, because campsites in shady spots are more bare earth rather than heavy turf. In heavy rain, the mud splashes up on anything close to the ground. Still, if you need the room, this concern will be of secondary importance to you.
Would you prefer canvas or Ripstop Nylon? I feel that RipStop Nylon is a backpack tent material. I prefer canvas, but wouldn't for a second suggest that others might also. Nylon does have the advantage of being lightest in weight. Either nylon or canvas can be wetted through in heavy rain. Remember that the campers typically do not include a fly (rain cover). To my way of thinking, the heavy boat type Naugahyde top material of my camper choice is most waterproof.
Do you like things simple to put up? The bigger the camper, the more involvement there may be to set up or take down the unit. This information is not always readily ascertained from sales brochures. I think some campers require too much effort and memory (which way to those primitive restrooms again?) to set up. Maybe it's just me, but when I need to think hard, I do so, but when I am relaxing, my brain defaults to some kind of energy-saver mode. Look at the amount of loose pieces and complexity in the various campers and compare them. Later design attempts do seem to be getting much simpler through evolution in design.
I have owned my Eureka Timberline tent for about 16 years. It took several years for me to really remember the pieces and their functions. I will however, still use my trusty Eureka Timberline tent for camping off of my Dragonflyer recumbent tricycle.
So, low weight and a sturdy people-support area are desirable, and then add to those parameters a smaller-than-large towing size. Some of those who have seen my Westfalia cargo trailer were surprised at its large size. You must be more mindful of width when towing a larger (wider) trailer behind your Guzzi.
Study the camper's features in detail. This is not easily done without closely examining the camper, and is best accomplished as camper owners set up at rallies. For example, some campers have open floor areas touching the ground. Mosquitoes and other walking and winged insects are just out trying to make a living as they ruin your night's sleep. I ruled out an open floor early on. Conversely, a fabric floor pulled up from wet shady ground is a mess to pack up. However, you may still simply have the need for that additional space. Also, some campers do not seal their fabric-to-trailer box overlaps very well. The fabric just lies against the trailer box. Sometimes sealing against the entrance of insects consists only of Velcro fastenings every so often. If either a body part or bedding pushes the fabric out, you may get mosquito bit in your sleep. Still, because so many campers are made like this, it seems fair to acknowledge that this method must still work well. My choice of camper is fully sealed around its perimeter.
Some campers require a footstool to be placed on the ground next to the camper. I could see an elevated platform, a wet morning and wet or muddy shoes resulting in a fall. I ruled out stepping up and down in order to use the camper. I wanted a real hinged door that could be stepped through without my feet having to leave the ground beforehand. This feature was very important to me.
A fold-down camper can be set up on rough ground without spending time getting rid of twigs, branches, walnut and acorn shells, rocks, gravel or crushed stone. In a crowded campground, there is seemingly always an unlimited area of crushed stone that tent campers cannot use.
A big feature of a simple fold-down camper is the quick and effortless way it can be put up or taken down. My camper choice accurately advertised a two-minute set-up time. When the rally is over, you just throw everything into the box. Breaking camp has never been so easy. I do air out my gear for 48 hours in my garage.
You will need to carry some blocks of wood (3/4-inch plywood) for leveling the camper on uneven or sloped ground. Also bring along a 2-3 inch mason's line level for leveling before set-up. Tent campers often avoid uneven and sloped areas, because it is too difficult to sleep other than on flat ground. Oftentimes uneven ground (exposed tree roots, etc.) is also under the best shade.
Finally and possibly most importantly, when the rain comes it is so nice to be several feet above the ground, high and dry.
Now to the specifics of my choice of camper: Three years ago, I admired the camper owned by Bruce and June Gower (from West Virginia) at the Ohio Plain and Casual Moto Guzzi Rally. Two years ago, I closely examined this camper. Last year I ordered one from Dennis Martin, of Kompact Kamp in Myerstown, Pennsylvania.
The body and hinged lid are a pleasing off-white gelcoat color. The canvas is a traditional color, rather than a loud red, or bright yellow, blue or white, thank you so much. The Naugahyde boat top material is white to lessen the heat gain from direct sun. The effect is pleasingly purposeful and subdued, rather than being loud like some tents that look like psychedelic beach umbrellas. The 15 cubic feet of cargo space in my camper has proven more than adequate. There is probably 8-10 cubic feet of usable storage space below the bed while camping. When set up, there is also dew free storage beneath the bed of the camper.
This camper sleeps one or two adults and has provisions for sitting both persons upright in a bench seat made from part of the bed. There is no table as such, although a woodworker could easily make a simple folding (hospital bed type) table if desired. Even so, sitting on the bed-cum-seat, the folded-out lid portion of the bed is still usable as a platform for food, etc. There is plenty of room for the luxury of a two or three burner cook stove to be packed away inside the camper.
The weight of the sitting or sleeping person(s) is cleverly supported midpoint up the walls, at the molded-in ledge of the fiberglass body. This is superior to either support at the top peripheral edge of the body box or support via support poles. This represents excellent engineering design. Only the weight of the legs of sleeping occupants as well as the flipped-over rigid lid are supported by the clever, one piece, U-shaped aluminum support tubing that doubles as the luggage rack when on the road. An optional lighted bumper was not desired by me for my purchase.
There are those among us who may think that I like to pick on a certain brand of American bike and its riders. But, just for the record, my brother and his full-sized son were sleeping on the camper's lid until I told them what the obvious sleeping position was. Did I mention that he is a schoolteacher?
The hinged and reinforced fiberglass lid of the packed away camper serves to hold lawn chairs, fold-up table or cook stove, provided that a foam pad is put down first. The luggage rack provides unlimited tie-downs for those lashings. There is only hard fiberglass when the camper is folded down. A Time Out camper that I used to own, rotted its aluminum-clad plywood walls because an exposed canvas hinge line leaked water. The wet plywood was full of ants. Other campers have a soft-top when ready for the road, but the Kompact Kamp luggage rack on its rigid lid is just too handy for me to be without.
No materials, and as a result no pounds, are wasted on excesses. The camper, at the lid, measures 60" long by 40" wide by 34-1/8" high, exclusive of the luggage rack. The lid being hinged on the side means that sleeping is orientated crosswise. The 40" width is perhaps the most significant dimension here, as the fully dressed Guzzi is not as wide as some other touring behemoths that are on the road. The width at the tire outer edges would be about 38". The camper weighs 260 lb.
The trailer tongue is more than long enough for a cooler of any size. The camper therefore tracks very well. The optional cooler rack is for the medium or smaller sizes of coolers only.
In another excellent feature, the floor behind the axle is lowered about 4". In addition to keeping outside dimensions minimized, this feature provides 6'- 4" of interior height for entering/exiting, standing to pull up suspenders, etc. The sleeping length is 6'- 6." Compared to my "4-man" tent, what a difference it makes with arthritic knees and hips to be able to sit up, legs hanging down, while putting shoes and socks on.
The suspension is the common rubber torsion tube-within-a-tube system. I much prefer this to leaf springs. The torsion system is more simple, lighter and totally silent. As is fairly typical, no shock absorbers are used. However, no undue bouncing was noted at the loaded weights typically encountered. Units costing double the price may have shock absorbers, but significant size and weight increases come with that price territory. The spoke-like hubcaps will accept Bearing Buddies. I still have a soft spot for Baby Moons, if only I could find a pair. A 5/16-inch diameter rod (not supplied) is stored in my camper for adjusting the swing-down leveling jacks. A sturdy Phillips screwdriver would work well.
Two telescoping, twist-lock ceiling poles are the only non-attached structural items. The three bows that shape the canvas are permanently hinged to the camper. I don't think it could get much simpler than this for a freestanding camper, in which neither fabric nor lid requires lowering to, or touching of, the ground.
I ordered the very worthwhile awning, swivel hitch (a national name brand unit), universal cooler rack, two spare tire/wheels and also a coupler lock, which failed to unlock and had to be hacksawed off the first time out. Use this key lock unit to reduce chance of theft at an unattended campsite. Do not subject the unit to undue vibration, by installing it on the moving tongue coupler, as I did.
The company's Internet site and paper brochure are much the same. I personally would have had trouble making a purchase decision from what is presented in the existing information sources. What made my decision was physically studying an actual unit. A product this good would surely benefit from a several page photo brochure with in-depth text. Inquiring, probing minds want to know details. The value of most things is actually determined in the details.
A couple of tips: When using the awning, a made-up guy rope attached between the trailer tongue and a loop provided for this purpose at the camper's high point, is quicker than tying a piece of guy-rope to a stake in the ground. This cancels out the opposite pull from the awning guy-ropes. Also, I store my camper with the two closure buckles not over-centered to their closed position. This possibly lengthens the life of the hollow-bulb lid seal by avoiding long term compression of same. The bows-and-telescopic-poles framework provide a means for hanging mesh storage bags and a battery-powered lantern. Speaking of lanterns, in all my years of reading motorcycle camping articles, they always advised against taking along Coleman gas lanterns. The logic being that the silken ash mantles will always break. Okay, so buy them on sale and put new ones on at the campsite. Does anything sound more like camping than the subtle hiss of the pump-up, gas lantern? The large cargo area in a fold-down camper brings back the pleasure of full-size camping gear once again. I just recently used one of my gas lanterns while ice fishing late at night. It felt warm just hearing the hiss. It is sort of like the daydreaming brought about by looking into a log fire. (That answers a lot of questions, doesn't it.) If shopping for a lantern, always look for a frosted globe. The light is more useful when muted through the frosted glass.
Would I change or modify anything on my camper? Hey, does Paul Studer's bike contain more model years than the entire Harley alphabet put end-to-end? I would have liked another window. Also, all windows not under the big awning would benefit from 2-3 or even 12" wide mini awnings for those soft late night rains. I would also like a screen for the door so the door flys could remain tied back and still hold out the insects. This latter detail is a modification that could easily be accomplished by the owner.
After ordering my camper, my old-er brother (did I mention his close-set, beady eyes?) purchased a Kompact Kamp camper secondhand from a retired GoldWing buddy. Comparing our identical campers side-by-side showed the staying power of a good design for his 8+ year-old camper. His Heritage Softail had no trouble pulling his camper while returning excellent gas mileage. His replacement, and much improved, top-of-the-line touring Harley will surely do even better. He thinks I like his new bike, but I've got a much higher reputation to maintain. What I really do like however, is the lack of irritating noise from the stock, quiet mufflers.
In summation: My Kompact Kamp fold-down camper is one of the more logical, well-engineered, lighter (lightest?) weight, most simple, fewest parts count and less (least?) expensive campers on the market. After a season of five camp outings behind both bike and car, the Kompact Kamp is a winner and it would still be my first choice for pulling behind my Moto Guzzi. See you at a rally this year!
Prices: Camper $1895, awning $150, swivel hitch $125, light-bar-fender combination $250, universal cooler rack $30, tire/rim $30, freight $250, coupler lock $10.