What you need to know to choose the best motorcycle dog carrier for sharing the thrill of the ride with your 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 it can’t or shouldn’t be done.
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.
Purpose of this Guide and How We Can Help
At RUFFLY our mission is to help you share the thrill of the ride together.
One way that we pursue that goal is by offering the custom-built K9 Moto Cockpit. The Cockpit is a premium-choice motorcycle dog carrier for medium and large dogs. We also offer a Build Guide to help DIY enthusiasts make their own version of the Cockpit.
The other way that we help dog-loving motorcyclists is by providing information – like this guide and our Frequently Asked Questions page – and motivation – check out our on 2 Wheels + 4 Paws travel series – to help you get out there and ride together.
The purpose of this Rider’s Guide is to help you assess the carrier options for medium and large dogs and 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 and the differences between them are small too.
That’s because small dogs – defined here as 20lbs 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, but it certainly 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 20-45lbs and 45-85lbs, respectively – most luggage cannot.
This Guide is for Larger Dogs but…
If you have a small dog, then there are any number of useful reviews with click-baity titles like “Best Motorcycle Dog Carriers for 2021”.
Our Rider’s Guide is intended for medium and large dogs, but if you are a rider with a small dog, we recommend starting your search with the Kuryakyn Grand Pet Palace. It’s a good place to start because:
- It is representative of the small dog carriers out there and
- Frequently receives high marks and good reviews
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 20lbs. 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, it’s 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.
The different features among the options are important to consider. Still, they won’t mean the difference between a clumsy, dangerous, or failed attempt and a fulfilling, thrilling ride together.
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. But, 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.
We selected the popular WAGS Pet Trailer to highlight these benefits and drawbacks.
WAGS Pet Trailer
The WAGS features a solid, protect 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 the twisties.
The WAGS trailer is large and comfortable but, when you’re hauling them along behind your motorcycle, it’s hard to argue that your dog is actually sharing the ride with you. So, a glance in the rearview mirror is about as connected as the ride gets. At least with a side car, you can turn your head to see them and maybe release the throttle for a moment to reach over and scratch their head.
‘On-Motorcycle’ Dog Carriers
As we have seen, trailers and side cars generally offer superior comfort and protection, but they are also expensive, cumbersome, and create a barrier between you and 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!
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 enclosure for your dog.
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 don’t mind the big, boxy profile, then units are built-to-order fairly quickly and start at $2000.
The Beast Riders is a low-profile bucket seat carrier that is designed specifically for cruisers and Can-Ams. That is because it requires a sissy bar or backrest for mounting.
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.
The upright seated position is just fine for short stretches but becomes uncomfortable for older dogs and during longer rides.
The unit comes in four 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 but plan ahead because the build time is advertised at a whopping 18-20 weeks.
The big, colorful Pillion Pooch gives the distinct impression of mounting a dog-sized camping tent to your motorcycle. The 35lbs unit consists of a ridged, box-shaped lower half with a tent-like structure overhead. This is a carrier that wants to be noticed!
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.
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.
Also, freedom of movement is good for your dog’s comfort but not necessarily for their safety or yours.
- They can easily get 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.
- 40-60lbs of dog shuffling around 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.
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 of this carrier wants you and your dog to share the ride 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 during long 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
Each Cockpit is individually custom-built 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 $1200 and has an eight week build time. The Cockpit comes in three sizes. The Mini is for dogs 20-45lbs, the Standard accommodates dogs 45-85lbs, 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 – carrying and protecting 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 Cockpit is going to deliver the most thrilling ride experience for most dogs, riders, and motorcycles. That’s because the design emphasizes quality, performance, and appearance over 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.
Now Get Out There and Ride Together
We hope this Rider’s Guide has helped you to evaluate the carrier options for medium and large dogs – and to evaluate the K9 Moto Cockpit against our (friendly) competitors.
We want to help you share the thrill of the ride together.
So, if you decide that the Cockpit is the best carrier to achieve that, then we are eager and ready to get started on your custom build.
For those who decide they might do better with one of the others, let us be the first to welcome you into this growing moto dog community.
Good luck making the right decision for you and your dog – and don’t hesitate to reach out to us with any questions!
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 then take a deeper dive with this Gear Guide article. Check out our on 2 Wheels + 4 Paws travel video series for tips, motivation, and a few laughs. The K9 Moto Cockpit is available for purchase here, and don’t forget to follow us on Instagram, Facebook, and YouTube!