What you need to know to choose the best motorcycle dog carrier for sharing the thrill of the ride with your small, medium, or large dog
Do you find that everything is better when your dog is with you? Then imagine the thrill of bringing your dog on motorcycle rides, to rallies, or on a round-the-world trip. Few have even thought to try it and the manufacturer certainly didn’t design your motorcycle, trike, or scooter for it. But that doesn’t mean you can’t or shouldn’t ride with your dog. Instead, it highlights the importance of selecting the best motorcycle dog carrier for the ride experience you want to achieve. In our experience, the three key factors that should determine your choice are how the carrier:
- Mounts to your motorcycle
- Provides comfort and protection for your dog
- Delivers a thrilling ride experience together
There’s a whole lot of info here that we think you’ll enjoy sinking your teeth into, but we’ve also summarized the key points in the comparison chart below.
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Purpose of this Guide and How We Can Help
At RUFFLY our mission is to help you share the thrill of the ride together. We pursue that goal by offering the custom-built K9 Moto Cockpit for medium and large dogs, and the Nano Cockpit for small dogs. We also offer a Build Guide to help DIY enthusiasts make their own version of the Cockpit. Another way that we help dog-loving motorcyclists is to provide:
- Information in this guide and through our Frequently Asked Questions page and many other articles
- Motivation through our GoRUFFLY Around the World adventures and video series and tips and tricks videos
The purpose of this Rider’s Guide is to help you assess the carrier options for small, medium, and large dogs so you can make the best choice for your motorcycle, budget, and riding goals.
We Hate to Say It but…Size Matters a Lot
If you have a small dog, then there are plenty of motorcycle dog carrier options. That’s because small dogs – defined here as 20lb (9kg) or less – have a size and weight that most motorcycle luggage was designed to accommodate. So, if you’re as intrepid as Israel Eugene Gillette, you could probably ride with your small dog directly in an aluminum pannier and do just fine! Ok, maybe that’s not for everyone. Still, it demonstrates that the physics and design of a carrier for small dogs is pretty similar to what goes into a normal tank bag, top case, or sissy bar bag. On the other hand, while your passenger-ready motorcycle can certainly accommodate the weight of your medium or large dog – defined here as 20-45lb (9-20kg) and 45-85lb (20-39kg), respectively – most luggage cannot.
Let’s Start with Small Dogs
If you have a small dog, then there are any number of useful reviews with click-baity titles like “Best Motorcycle Dog Carriers for 2022”. We dedicate the bulk of this Riders Guide because there are few options and the differences between them are even more dramatic and consequential. If you are a rider with a small dog, the most common options that come up in Google searches are the Kuryakyn Grand Pet Palace and the Saddlemen Pet Voyager. We dig into the Kuryakyn below. The Saddlemen has a similar price tag, similar design, and similar features, so overview for the one provide a solid understanding of the other. Then, we’ll look at two options that we think are clearly better than the airline luggage-style carriers. The POW Pet Carrier features a hard exterior and is on the more economical end while the Nano Cockpit is the premium, top-shelf option up there beside Glenfiddich and Johnnie Walker Blue Label.
Kuryakyn Grand Pet Palace
Despite its loftily name, the Grand Pet Palace is actually quite modest in size because it only accommodates dogs up to 20lb (9kg). It is made from durable, water-resistant textiles and features several zippered openings and pockets. It is sturdy and functional but, from a design perspective, the Palace is definitely more PC than Mac. Off the motorcycle and with the shoulder strap on, you could easily mistake it for carry-on luggage. The Palace comes with several clips and straps for mounting to handrails, a sissy bar, luggage rack, or pretty much anything else given the small load it has to secure. The Kuryakyn comes with a price tag of nearly $300, which puts it among the more expensive small dog carrier options.
POW Pet Carrier
The POW carrier features a friendly design and smooth, Italian curves that match beautifully with Vespas. The hard plastic exterior, should offer better crash protection than the airline luggage types. Here are two reasons why:
- The sides hold their shape against a tip-over to keep the dog further from the ground.
- Limiting the dog’s movement prevents it from being thrown about in hard leans or a get-off.
On the other hand, two other safety issues are worth considering. The circular opening places a rigid edge around the dog’s neck can become a potential impact point in hard leans, sudden speed changes, or tip-overs. Also, like all fully or partially enclosed carriers, the closed design can trap heat and limit airflow. This can create temperature concerns when riding in warm, summer conditions. The POW comes in at $299 and includes a near-universal mounting plate for securing the unit to a variety of luggage racks. It is most commonly used on scooters but broadly compatible makes, models, ebikes, and more.
Our Nano Cockpit is – not surprisingly – our choice for safety, comfort, and appearance. It features all the advanced design principles from our medium and large dog carrier – the K9 Moto Cockpit, which we describe in detail below. The Nano Cockpit features several design improvements over its competitors. The rigid metal frame fully protects against external impacts while the cushioned interior cradles the dog through crashes, aggressive leans, and sudden speed changes. The roll bar design permits massive amounts of cooling airflow to ensure safety and comfort on even the hottest riding days. The Nano SunShield provides top cover while the Nano Rainfly protects against cold weather and downpours. The Nano Cockpit is designed for the dog to ride in a laying position – not seated or standing. This design:
- Reduces fatigue and stress
- Improves safety and comfort
- Maximizes enjoyment of the sights and smells
The Nano features custom upholstery according to your selection and an intelligent mounting system which is both universal and custom to your tastes. Welded anchors line the bottom but are recessed away from your seat and plastics. Secure any strap, webbing, or ratchet system you prefer and secure it to the luggage rack, under the passenger seat, or anywhere else you prefer. The Nano costs a cool $850 so this is a boutique option for those prepared to pay for superior quality, performance, safety, and appearance.
How About a Trailer or Side Car for Medium and Large Dogs
Some riders might argue that a trailer or side car is not strictly a ‘carrier’. Perhaps to be more exact you might call them ‘off-motorcycle’ carriers. We’re always happy to argue semantics over a beer or tequila shots late into the night. Either way, a trailer or side car is worth considering because they have a few clear benefits:
- Provides a highly protective half or total enclosure
- Highly comfortable, allowing the dog to sit, lay, or maybe walk around
- Can usually accommodate more than one dog
On the other hand, trailers and side cars come with drawbacks that are big, obvious, and a total deal-breaker for many motorcyclists. To highlight the benefits and drawbacks, we selected the popular WAGS Pet Trailer and DMC Economy Classic Sidecar to highlight these benefits and drawbacks.
WAGS Pet Trailer
The WAGS features a solid, protective structure with a shapely design and tons of nifty add-ons. The base price is $4,295 – gulp – before you add the hitch, doors, windows, vents, or any color paint beside the base coat. Two wheels provide good stability, but the WAGS rig is heavy. It requires a minimum 650cc engine and creates substantial drag. That means slower acceleration, less responsive braking, and accepting that a minivan or street-cleaner might be your pace car through twisty roads. The WAGS trailer is large and comfortable but it’s hard to argue that your dog is actually sharing the ride with you from way back there. Your eyes might connect as you glance behind you in the rearview mirror but that’s about together as the ride gets. At least with a side car, you can turn your head to see them but reaching over to scratch their head requires you to release the throttle.
DMC Economy Classic Sidecar
DMC Sidecars is a leading manufacturer of sidecar outfits and they offer a broad range of designs, accessories, and optional extras. We reviewed the Economy Classic because it has classic styling, and it is their least expensive rig. The Economy Classic has a six-month build time and starts at $6,496. Sidecars create stability and provide a considerable amount of additional space for both your dog and your luggage. The stability factor is an important benefit when riding with a larger dog, especially for riders who worry about their ability to control a motorcycle whether due to age or skill level. Nevertheless, while driving a sidecar outfit demands less balance, it employs different skills and techniques. So, it’s likely that you’ll need to take sidecar-specific training. DMC builds mounting hardware for a wide variety of makes and models, which means it’s a good bet they can fit your bike. Some manufacturers offer universal mounts, but these units require considerable time and expertise to install and fine tune. Check out this episode of Adventure Rider Radio for a good explanation about the intricacies of adjusting the angles and load distribution to achieve the proper performance from a sidecar outfit.
‘On-Motorcycle’ Dog Carriers for Medium and Large Dogs
As we have seen, trailers and side cars generally offer superior comfort and protection, but they are also expensive, cumbersome, and separate you from your furry pal. Alternatively, what you might call ‘on-motorcycle’ carriers aim to address those factors but with considerable differences in how and how well they do it. In this category, there are four commercial carrier options for medium and large dogs that stand out:
The important differences come down to how the carrier:
- Mounts to your motorcycle
- Provides comfort and protection for your dog
- Delivers a thrilling ride experience together
The price tag is also an important factor but only you can decide which carrier delivers the best value for your money after comparing their features. So, let’s dig into it!
The Buddy Box
As its name suggests, The Buddy Box is the bottom half of a cube with a large, square footprint and an interior that can be upholstered in your color choice of vinyl. With tall side walls it creates a large, rigid, and protective partial enclosure for your dog. In most cases, solid sidewalls are undesirable because they surround the dog with hard impact points. It’s not a concern here because The Buddy Box has a padded interior. Here’s the rub. The Buddy Box is designed only for the Harley Trike and perhaps could be mounted to a few other large, three-wheeled models. If you have one of these motorcycles and like the look of it, then units are built-to-order fairly quickly and start at $2000.
The Beast Riders
The Beast Riders is a low-profile bucket seat carrier that can mount to a wide variety of motorcycles if they are equipped with a sissy bar or backrest. The bucket seat design requires the dog to remain seated upright. So, when positioned on the passenger seat (versus the luggage rack), it delivers a ride geometry that is pretty comparable to a human passenger. According to Beast Rider, dogs sit sideways rather than front-to-back and every dog chooses a favorite side they prefer to face. The upright seated position is just fine for short stretches but becomes uncomfortable for older dogs and during longer rides. Your dog might be able to curl up in the laying position if you opt for a large enough unit. The unit comes in three sizes with price tags ranging from $819 to $959 plus extras and each comes with a leather harness. The Beast Riders are built-to-order and the build time is advertised at 18-20 weeks.
The Rowdy Hound motorcycle dog kennel is an enclosed-style crate that can be mounted to the BMW R1200RT and Harley-Davidson touring models. This carrier includes several attractive features:
- Quick-release system
- Manufactured from advanced materials
- Sliding top with waterproof closure
Its sleek exterior makes the Rowdy Hound the most attractive travel kennel ever mounted to a motorcycle. But being a ‘travel kennel mounted to a motorcycle’ is also its major drawback. The crate has a robust profile that measures 2ft x 3ft x 2ft (61cm x 91cm x 61cm) and it weighs a whopping 50lb (23kg). The kennel is designed for dogs up to 75lb (34kg), but how comfortably and safely can a big dog fit inside? The unpadded top and sidewalls surround the dog by hard impact points on all sides.
The enclosure is fully waterproof, which is useful in the occasional rainstorm. For the rest of the time, the enclosure traps heat and permits minimal airflow. Sliding the top open is essential so the dog can dog get some air. It also this creates potential safety hazards:
- The dog’s head is no longer protected by the enclosure and
- The open hatch places hard edges near the dog’s head and neck
This exposes the dog’s head or neck to repeated impacts against the hard edges in an emergency stop or crash – and even during normal riding. Dogs can feel trapped and stressed inside a travel kennel. To help acclimate your dog, the purchase includes an instructional course for a 2-6 week desensitization program. The Rowdy Hound comes in two colors and has a price tag of $2000, which includes a harness and cooling pad. Shipping within the U.S. is free but international shipping is not available.
The big, colorful Pillion Pooch gives the distinct impression of mounting a dog-sized camping tent to your motorcycle. The 35lb (16kg) unit consists of a ridged, box-shaped lower half with a tent-like structure overhead. This is a carrier that wants to be noticed! Mounting the Pillion Pooch requires a luggage rack that can support the carrier plus the weight of your dog. With the full load distributed behind the passenger seat, it’s hard to ignore the impact on the motorcycle’s ride geometry. The waterproof vinyl covering protects your dog from the elements. Meanwhile, the overhead harness anchor prevents them from leaping out and allows considerable freedom of movement.
Freedom of Movement
At first glance, freedom of movement seems to be be good for your dog’s comfort. Instead, it stresses your dog and is dangerous to their safety.
- The dog struggles to keep its balance and easily gets jostled around in tight turns and under poor road conditions.
- They can be thrown against the top or sides of the structure in a crash situation.
- 40-60lb (18-27kg) of dog shuffling around on the luggage rack creates instability, especially at slow speeds.
The Pillion Pooch comes in one and two-dog versions with a starting price of $1,057, although a 20% discount seems to be on semi-permanent offer. It comes prefabricated so it should be available to ship out from the UK upon purchase.
K9 Moto Cockpit
Our K9 Moto Cockpit is a tubular steel frame carrier that – like the roll bars on an ATV or Jeep – combines cushioned, rigid protection with an authentic, open-air experience. The Cockpit places the dog in a natural, semi-curled laying position. This allows them to lean their head out beside the rider so that you and your canine copilot enjoy the sights, sounds, and smells together. The design enhances your ability to share the ride together with the least impact on the look or performance of your motorcycle.
Benefits of the Design
The many benefits of the Cockpit’s long, low, and narrow design include:
- Comfortable position so your dog can relax for comfortable rides
- The passenger seat carries the heaviest load: the dog’s head, torso, and front paws
- Low-profile that complements your motorcycle’s sleek appearance
- Natural ride geometry that’s similar to riding with a light passenger and top case
Custom-Built with Convenience
We custom build each Cockpit to mount to the rider’s specific motorcycle and accommodate their aftermarket accessories. The design features a partial bottom so the dog and removable cushion lays directly on the passenger seat. This reduces the carrier weight and minimizes stress on the chassis. To customize the placement and mounting for the individual rider, you participate in the planning phase or, what we call, the ‘pre-build process’. This involves uploading a series of photos, measurements, and selecting your custom upholstery through our web-based tool. We also schedule live video calls if you need some additional support. This process delivers a fully custom build that is low cost, efficient, and extremely convenient. It allows you to:
- Avoid the expense of transporting your bike to our workshop
- Keep your bike and continue riding throughout the custom build process
- Complete the 30-60 minutes of participation flexibly according to your schedule
The custom-built K9 Moto Cockpit starts at $1750 and has a nine-week build time. The Cockpit comes in three sizes. The Mini is for dogs 20-45lb (9-20kg), the Standard accommodates dogs 45-85lb (20-39kg), and the Large is custom sized for larger dogs.
Price and Value for Your Money
Only you – the rider and consumer – gets to decide where the best value for your money lies. Still, there are no objectively inexpensive motorcycle dog carriers for medium and large dogs – and for good reason. They are expensive because the perform a very difficult task: carry and protect your furry copilot. Unlike side cars and trailers, they carry and protect with the smallest, most compact footprint possible. Just like with any other technology (think smartphones): smaller, thinner, and lighter with equal or better performance is more costly to achieve. The physics and safety factors of carrying a large, living, non-human load are very complex. It’s even trickier because the manufacturers don’t build this use case into the motorcycle’s design. So, while even the least expensive option for medium and large dogs – the Pillion Pooch – is nearly $1000, bare this in mind:
- Your saddle bags or aluminum panniers probably cost more than a grand
- Your riding suit, boots, gloves, and helmet probably do too
Well, your precious, furry copilot’s motorcycle dog carrier needs to do that and more: carry, protect, and let you experience a thrilling ride together.
The Best Motorcycle Dog Carrier is the One that Works Best for You
We know you want a clear, definitive answer, but this is a guide not a matchmaking app. Besides, declaring which is the best motorcycle dog carrier is like debating which motorcycle is the best. Quality, design, and rider experience count for a lot, but it ultimately depends on what you can afford, what you think looks awesome, and how you want to share the ride together. We think the Nano Cockpit and K9 Moto Cockpit is going to deliver the most thrilling ride experience for most dogs, riders, and motorcycles. That’s because the design emphasizes quality, performance, safety, and appearance rather than off-the-shelf availability and low cost. So, which is the best motorcycle dog carrier? We’re going to leave you hanging and conclude simply with: The decision is yours to make! So, head back to the Comparison Chart for a helpful rundown of the appearance, performance features, and prices.
We hope you found this Rider’s Guide helpful. As the next step in your decision process, we recommend checking out the Gear Guide review video for the K9 Moto Cockpit and the Nano Cockpit. Then take a deeper dive with this Gear Guide article. Check out our GoRUFFLY Around the World travel video series for tips, motivation, and a few laughs. The Nano Cockpit is available for purchase here, and for K9 Moto Cockpit click here.