Choosing a Cargo Bike Trailer
2016 06 27
In part 2 of our ongoing series on what makes a good bike trailer we’re going to look at cargo trailers.
A cargo trailer can mean any number of things but for the purposes of this article it means a bike trailer that doesn’t carry people, pets, or boats. A cargo trailer can be used for lots of different purposes and it’s the sheer usefulness of these bike trailers that make them hard to classify. Because of this, picking a good one is even harder.
Knowing that there are so many different types of cargo bike trailers, what can you do to get the best one for you? A lot of it comes down to your specific needs. So assess what you actually need before you start looking. Some questions you can ask:
What am I hauling?
While any box on wheels can probably do the trick, you likely don’t want a massive trailer if all you’re doing it getting a few bags of groceries. Be realistic here. If you’re going to be mostly hauling small cargo then get a smaller trailer and borrow a bigger one for bigger jobs. Properly assessing your cargo needs will also help you narrow down the features you need. If you’re using the trailer primarily for groceries, a cover makes a good deal of sense so your groceries don’t get rained on. You may also want something that quickly converts from bike trailer to grocery cart to avoid leaving your trailer outside and make things a little easier.
Of course, if you’re primarily hauling heavy thing like paint and wood, a grocery getter is not for you. Look for something with a wide base and lots of room. A cover may or may not be a necessity for big loads like this.
Where am I hauling?
While a big trailer might appeal it may not be practical for your environment. Narrow streets and lot of turns might make you think twice about a wide and long trailer. It will turn out to be a balance between functionality and practicality when it comes to larger trailers.
What’s my personal carrying capacity?
Not everyone has legs of steel. Can you realistically pull your trailer under a full load? While you may be able to get a large pile of lumber in your trailer, it won’t mean much if you can’t actually move it anywhere. Of course, “full load” is something you’ll have to decide for yourself. A full load of gold bars (if you’re starting a bicycle Brinks) will be much harder to manage than a full load of, say, bread. Loads of over 125 lbs are very difficult to tow up steep hills.
No matter what trailer works for you, keep in mind that quality matters. A good, strong set of wheels, a strong frame, and quality materials will make your cargo bike trailer a joy to use rather than something that will be falling apart in short order. And also give some consideration to replacement parts. Unlike child bike trailers, it’s likely that you’ll be using it for the long haul (ahem) so replacement parts will be important. The limit of carrying capacity depends on many things that are not a function of the rating of the trailer. The ability to start and stop the trailer with your bicycle is a primary concern. Because trailers do not have brakes it is important that the momentum of the trailer will not cause your bicycle to jack-knife when you brake. If you are standing on your peddles and brake quickly, most of your weight is transferred to the front wheel of your bicycle. This leaves little friction between the rear wheel and the road which, if you are towing a heavy load, will cause a jack-knife… especially if you are in a turn.
What Makes a Good Bike Trailer?
2016 06 07
Well, this is a really general question. Right off the bat most people will assume that you’re talking about bike trailers for kids and what makes a good bike trailer for children doesn’t necessarily make for a good bicycle trailer for say, hauling your canoe.
We’re going to break this into a series so that you can get the best possible advice for your particular situation. But before we do that, we’ll lay out basics for what makes a good bike trailer.
We can go on all day about features and design but what it really comes down to in a good bike trailer is quality. Your bicycle trailer will no doubt be roughed up a considerable amount over its lifetime. Potholes, rain, gravel, being tipped over, swapping accessories, it all adds up to a lot of wear and tear. A quality built trailer should give you a decade of trouble-free operation.
If budget is your main concern, consider the after market before you consider a cheap new trailer. Some types of bicycle trailers are only used a few years before they are outgrown so a good used on should be fairly easy to come by and will last longer than a cheap new one.
And trust us: you’d rather not have a component fail at the worst possible time over a few dozens of dollars.
No matter what your hauling, stability is king. Whether it’s kids, your kayak, or a load of paving stones, you want a trailer that tracks straight and true and won’t make your job as the engine of the train harder. As a general rule, good sized alloy wheels with stainless steel spokes and a decent track width (the distance between the wheels) will make your trailer more stable overall. A low center of gravity placed just slightly ahead of the trailer wheels will reduce the possibility of roll-over.
The biggest safety risk when using a child bike trailer is that it will become disconnected from your bicycle… travel into vehicular traffic… and encounter a car or truck. The strength, durability, and simplicity of the entire connection link between the trailer and the bike is paramount. Other considerations are roll cage frame design and seat belt strength.
Not everyone needs accessories for their trailer. But maybe you want to take the kids for a ride and a jog. Or you want a cargo bike trailer you can take into the grocery store without any fuss. Size up your needs and pick a trailer that can grow to meet them. There are definitely trailers on the market that can meet every need right out of the box but no two people or families are alike.
So you’ve got a fantastic trailer at a good price. But there’s something missing from the box. What now? Well, call the dealer! Or maybe not. The manufacturer? The designer? With luck, you’ve bought from a company with a good track record of supporting its customers but there are many times where you may be stuck in a loop on the phone or, worse, can’t reach anybody at all.
The same applies to parts. Can you get parts easily? Will the manufacturer continue to support the product after it’s been discontinued? While it’s true that some trailers have a fairly short lifespan, others, like cargo bike trailers, can go for years and even decades. And even if you don’t think you’ll be hanging onto that child trailer for long, knowing that there’s good support behind it can mean peace of mind for you and be a selling point for the person who buys it from you.
So there are the basics. Look for these things when you’re in the market for a new bike trailer and you’ll be off to a very good start.