TUG JOBS: BIKE TRAILERS FOR TOURING AND UTILITY

With the right equipment and approach, Michael Stenning says, it’s possible to haul phenomenal amounts very safely by bike; whether meandering around the globe; or just taking empties along to the bottle bank.

Child trailers are extremely versatile and will double shopping carts once offspring have graduated to tagalongs and/or small solos. Even the dog gets a ride these days, However, in this instance we’ll focus on those designed for inanimate cargos.  

Trailers and The Law

Unlike other vehicles, there are relatively few rules and regulations governing bicycle trailers, so, gearing and muscles allowing, there’s nothing stopping you from hauling a procession. Some riders suggest such unusual configurations encourage better passing etiquette from other road users. Hmm, I’ve also experienced a fair share of extremely close shaves and SMIDSYs. 

Maximum payloads for cars/motorcycles are reckoned to be half their total weight. Applying this reasoning to bicycles; the combined weight of a typical adult and well equipped tourer hover around the 85kilo mark. 

Therefore, 45kilos isn’t outlandish-allowing for other factors such as braking, gearing and manufacturer limits. Ok, so a warrantee might not be a fat lot of use if you’ve busted your hitch in Outer Mongolia with only a heard of Yak for company. However, an overloaded unit that’s samba dancing along Streatham high road, contents bailing at every bump is asking for some passer-by to sue. 

Creeping nearer 60kilos and we’re looking at independent trailer braking of some sort. Talking of standalone, road traffic law also dictates the trailers, tagalongs etc. must have their own lighting. Personally, I like two LEDs with huge surface areas mounted either side; or even three if the model features a wraparound frame. Fibre optic “wand” types such as this Fibre Flare  are excellent due to their huge surface areas. Cat Eye’s long serving LD600 is another good option and has been widely copied over the years.  

Leading the Charge

 

Any machine can tug-well almost. Lighter but bulky loads are plausible with pared to the essentials fixers with gearing in the high 60s/mid 70s - I’ve used this combo on a few occasions around the capital, but wouldn’t want to tackle anything resembling a gradient. 

Road/Sportive/Audax bikes can morph into really capable tourers when coupled with a lightweight, low slung single wheel design-especially given the trend for double rings and 10/11speed cassettes, which provides similar amounts of bail out n’ winch grunt on longer climbs without sacrificing cruising or bombing prowess.

This includes full carbon builds but be very choosey about the type of hitch and method of attachment.    

 

Something like this free parable T2 that connects the quick release skewer should be fine. If in any doubt, consult with your friendly local bike shop; or manufacturer before laying your money down. 

 

Metal (Titanium, Steel, or indeed aluminium alloy) tourers, tandems, cyclo cross and cross country mountain bike builds are more obvious choices. Strong brakes and wider bars certainly help with control. 

That said; some people are literally determined to carry the kitchen sink. Disc brakes are arguably ideal but a decent cantilever is fine-even with heavier loads. My constantly evolving, mile munching (109,000 and counting) rough stuff tourer does the less glamorous lugging duties very capably.  

 

This one’s fashioned from triple butted Cro-moly steel but plain gauge framesets are technically better (and cheaper) options since thicker tubes are more resistant to accidental denting and lateral, twisting forces, which makes handling and heavy utilitarian loads and/or child passengers much easier combinations to wrestle with. 

 

Regardless of genre, give brakes and headset bearings a once-over and replace/upgrade anything suspect. I’m particularly fond of needle roller bearing models, which displace loads very capably and aren’t overly expensive. Ideally leading bike and trailer should be fitted with mudguards, if only to protect the cargo from getting caked in slimy road grime, or even grottier stuff. However, I appreciate this isn’t an option for mountain bikers.    

Chassis Materials

 

Most, better quality models are made from 6061 or higher grade aluminium alloys.  Being one of the most ubiquitous materials on the planet, this enables manufacturers to keep weight low and strength relatively high. Fatigue isn’t usually the problem cycling folklore would suggest and failures are for the most part, extremely rare. However, while 4130 cro-moly and other steels are heavier, they are easier to repair, should disaster strike mid-tour.    

Luggage Platforms

 

Box type carrying platforms are arguably easiest for dump 'n’ go utility runs-to the tip, hauling a week’s shopping back from the supermarket etc. Two wheeled designs are most frequently configured this way. However, Bob Yak and Topeak’s  offer similar versatility. However, spinal designs, including this Free Parable T2, which use an integrated dry sack require a more disciplined approach but on the flip side, track and handle better over longer distances, so potentially a better choice for. domestic touring or endurance events

Mount

 

These typically follow two basic formats-those attaching to the axle, or via the chainstay/seatpost. Mono wheel designs typically affix via two arms to the rear axle, often using a dedicated extra-long quick release and only pivot vertically (photo). 

Better quality two wheelers usually attach via the bike’s left axle, or chainstay using a ball, or similar three-way joint. This ensures it can pivot and track accurately behind, so doesn’t interfere with the bikes’ predictability-especially when cornering! A secondary strap usually isn’t necessary but adds peace of mind and will prevent unwanted and potentially dangerous detachment. 

Post mounting not only looks ungainly, the higher centre of gravity and relative length generates phenomenal forces. These do their level best to spit the rider off, waging them vigorously and shunting under braking. Highly amusing for bystanders; this is pretty scary beyond twelve mph, let alone bombing along 1in4 descents during blustery days. 

On the plus side, turns are slightly easier to perform and adequate if trundling along short distances at a snails’ pace. Don’t even dream of fitting these to anything other than a sturdy metal seatpost. 

One Wheel v Two

 

Opinions are divided but much of this is horses for courses. Two wheel designs displace the loads evenly, which leaves the main bike’s handling largely unaffected and are easily parked, which is more convenient for lugging larger stuff around town.  

 

Larger 20 inch wheels are less prone to potholes, inclement surfaces and similar obstructions but there’s an extra wheel to puncture, so carry at least one spare tube. On the downside, care is needed when tackling gaps and their width can make alleyways and cut-throughs impassable. Consideration if you live in a block of flats, or mid terraced property. 

 

Single wheelers have a definite edge off road, on long steady rides/tours. Loaded sensibly, weight is distributed evenly between bike and trailer tyre, which still requires a quick and fluid technique to keep everything following a good line. Failure to predict and counter steer will allow the trailer to choose its own, incompatible direction. 

 

However, greater contact with terra not so firma means traction, making it easier to concentrate on a steady cadence. Relatively narrow width ensures they’re surprisingly nimble whether negotiating tricky forest trails, canal paths or gaps in traffic. 

 

Talking of wheels, OEM types tend to be a bit low-rent, albeit functional. Bob Yak and their homages run 16 inch, which are plentiful and roll fairly convincingly over tarmac but can bounce around a bit when the trail gets tough. 

 

Personally, I like the convenience of a decent fit n’ forget cartridge bearing where hubs are concerned and some folks go the whole hog and build their own hoop using a high end mtb hub. More common, are the cheap as chips cup n’ cone type, which are a bit agricultural but up to the job; On the plus side, they’re easily stripped and serviced in the back of beyond and can be cheaply winterised with makeshift seals made using grease and string.    

Some including this Free Parable T2 opt for smaller, 12 inch units, which place unit and cargo lower to the ground and even closer to the firing line of crap.

 

However, this isn’t a particularly big deal so long as the trailer’s running a rear guard and cargo’s carried in a dry sack. Grounding out off road hasn’t proved an issue with this design (review to follow) and this even lower centre of gravity seems to result in a smoother glide over lumpy tarmac and similar obstacles.

 

Regardless of price, OEM tyres seem to be the cheapest knobblies going, especially the smaller 16inch type. Personally, I run these into the ground and then replace with something like Schwalbe Road Cruiser, which are inexpensive (£10, cheaper online), feature puncture resistant Kevlar belts and work very well on tarmac. 

During midwinter, I swap to home brewed spiked versions for additional traction across icy or even snowy roads. Presta/Schrader (car type) valves throughout is the most convenient arrangement, though most pumps have reversible or “smart” heads that automatically morph to fit their hosts.

      

Third Wheel Designs

As the name suggests, these are essentially an extra wheel for your bike and are crudely what you’d get if a Bob Yak and expedition rack had a passionate tryst. These tend to favour expedition tourists and haul 30/40 litre expedition panniers.

Extrawheel www.extrawheel.com has been producing a model, popular among expedition audiences for many years. Crudely the love child resulting from a passionate tryst between Yak trailer and expedition rack, there are several advantages over both systems.

Designed as a system, expedition panniers; the design isn’t model specific, so will accommodate others. A more unique feature is the choice of wheel size. Having one that mirrors the lead bike’s front wheel means they can be swapped over in an emergency. 

While small wheels accelerate faster, bigger wheels tend to roll more predictably across uneven, rutted roads and trails. This also presents better, purpose specific options tyre-wise. The old loading principles are important for any unit but especially here, pack evenly either side to keep handling predictable, minimising rider fatigue in the long run.   

Dry Sacks & Other Accessories

 

At its simplest, a large storage box with/out lid lashed down to the trailer frame can prove adequate for round town utility runs to the tip/recycling runs.  Folding crate types are another useful option round town. Some skilled woodworkers have been known to fabricate their own liners; working to the same principle as those seen in pick-ups. This protects the trailer base from scratches and provides an easy clean, level surface for cargo.

Ultimately, whether you are using your trailer for utility purposes; or touring something weatherproof is the ideal. 

Bob Yak, Carry Freedom and their competitors often come with waterproof dry sacks, which attach securely to the trailer in seconds. Aside from being made from high quality laminated nylons, most have welded and taped seams, so will survive river crossings and other immersion.

Sometimes economies of scale/purchase power means big outdoor retailers can offer their own at considerable discount. In my experience “pattern” types aren’t a precision fit but can otherwise prove a bargain. 

 

Check for welded and taped construction. Often fabrics are waterproof but wet stuff will find its way inside stitching; annoying on a quick supermarket run but a recipe for misery on a weekend camping trip, let alone epic tour.  

Price

 

Generally speaking buy the best you can afford. High end models such as BOB Yak and Carry Freedom go for around £400, although £150 to £200 still buys something very serviceable. The former hold their value well and make much better choices second hand if you’re planning a big tour, or similar heavy use.

That said; I have run a very keenly priced (Sub £100) Bob Yak homage for a good few thousand miles with few complaints. Being steel, both are easily repaired by a garage with Oxyacetylene welding equipment should disaster strike miles from civilisation.

However, aluminium models of comparable payloads are lighter, which could tip the balance in their favour for road biased touring or utility duties. On the two wheeled front, I’ve been particularly impressed by Carry Freedom, which has been engineered so other platforms can be made or retrofitted atop the Y frame aluminium chassis, which has obvious appeal for long distance adventure tourists or hard, utility use. 

 

Budget models made in the Far East can be useful too, although dry sacks and other accessories are likely to be of inferior quality and there’s often a weight penalty. This might be an acceptable compromise on utility runs and arguably you’ll be hard pressed to notice a kilo or two with thirty five already on board.   

www.carryfreedom.com

http://www.topeak.com/products/trailer/journey_trailer_drybag

free parable designs T2 www.cyclemiles.co.uk

PUBLISHED AUGUST 2016

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