Bike trailers can be a great solution to the problem of how to transport a large load – such as one or two children or enough gear for a long tour – with your bicycle, without adversely affecting the balance or handling of the bike.
The type of bike trailer you choose will depend largely on what you want to do with it – whether you wish to transport equipment, children or both, and whether you need a robust ‘all-weathers’ option for epic adventure or just a trailer for park pootles or city commutes.
Read on to find out more about the different types of bike trailer and which one may be right for you.
A bike trailer does exactly what it says on the tin – it’s a one- or two-wheeled trailer towed behind the bike using a hitch mechanism and typically made of lightweight materials.
There are two main types of bike trailer: the children’s bike trailer and the luggage bike trailer.
Children’s bike trailer: These are designed as an alternative to child bike seats, or when you wish to transport more children (up to three in conjunction with a rear-mounted bike seat). Most child bike trailers are designed to accommodate two children, and many have additional storage space for luggage (of course, they can also be used to transport luggage without children). They will typically have two wheels and be enclosed to offer children protection from the elements. Many child bike trailers are also convertible into ‘stroller mode’, with a detachable handle and additional front wheel to enable them to be used as strollers for walking or jogging.
Luggage bike trailer: As the name suggests these are primarily designed for transporting luggage, rather than children. They are typically smaller and lighter in weight than child bike trailers, with one wheel as opposed to two, as the contents won’t require quite the same level of security or stability. Luggage bike trailers are often used in place of, or in combination with, pannier bags for long-distance touring. Owing to the position of the trailer and its potential exposure to water and mud thrown up by the rear wheel, a dry bag is essential to protect the contents.
NOTE: The advantage of single-wheeled luggage trailers is in the handling. A single-wheeled trailer can tilt with the bike when going around a bend, meaning riders can maintain a higher speed. A double-wheel trailer can’t ‘lean in’ to a turn and the rider will have to slow down.
There are a number of factors to be considered when buying a bike trailer, especially one in which you intend to put your kids.
The low position of child bike trailers has led some to question their safety, although independent tests have indicated that they are equivalent to, if not safer than, child bike seats. While there is no specific safety standard governing child trailers in the UK, they must be CE marked and are expected to meet the requirements of a generic British Standard for products or equivalent (or better) European standard. In the US the ASTM F1975-09 safety standard is applicable and many trailers sold in the UK and Europe will meet this standard.
Whatever standard your trailer claims to meet, be sure to look out for additional safety features such as a secure and childproof five-point harnessing system, a working handbrake and durable construction in both frame and fabric materials. Also – as with child bike seats – be conscious of the extra weight and effect on handling that result in having a trailer hitched on, and change your riding behaviour accordingly (e.g. allow for longer braking distances).
The hitching mechanism will vary according to trailer model and design. Some use a mechanism that attaches via a custom quick release (QR) skewer that inserts into the rear dropouts and hub (for this reason many trailers are incompatible with thru-axle rear wheels). Others forego the need for a skewer in favour of a clamping mechanism to lock against the left (non-drive side) chain stay and seat stay tubes. Whichever kind you have, be sure to follow your manufacturer’s instructions carefully when attaching your bike trailer.
While most child trailers will claim to be ‘two-seater’, their interior dimensions can vary considerably. Check the manufacturer’s specification to ensure that the interior size will suit the needs of your children, and that the exterior dimensions (when folded) are small enough for storage purposes.
Better quality materials used in the construction of the trailer will mean more durability and more protection for your children against the elements. Some of the signs of a quality trailer are a lightweight aluminium allow frame and towbar, alloy rums and hubs, pneumatic tyres, water-resistant covering fabric (with UV protection), additional mesh window coverings to keep out bugs and dust and taped and reinforced fabric seams. Some trailers also come with solid floors for optimum durability.
Check that your trailer has adequate storage space for additional luggage and that this space is accessible even when children are in situ. Additionally, many manufacturers enable the child seats to be laid down flat for hauling cargo in the main compartment. As for storage the trailer itself – as mentioned above, most models fold down to a smaller size so they can be stowed away when not in use. Check the exterior dimensions in the manufacturer’s spec to be sure.
For ‘stroller-convertible’ trailers check how easy it is to switch between modes and whether the additional accessories (third wheel, stroller bar) are included or sold separately.