Moving Children, Pets & Cargo
Mixed Use: a large dog is transported using a bike trailer designed for children (Photo: Beige Alert on flickr)
With a bike trailer in tow, you can conveniently and safely transport young passengers, animals or cargo around town, do your weekly grocery shopping, bring household items to the recycling depot, help a friend to move a piece of furniture or some household inventory or to deliver goods and services in your community all without worrying about fluctuating gas prices, parking tickets, congestion charges or the other costs and hassles involved with owning and operating a motor vehicle in a city.
For different applications there are specific trailor designs (although some trailers may be well suited to several applications). For commuting and utility cycling, a large capacity, heavy-duty, two-wheeled trailer can tow up to 45kg (or more), enough to transport two children, a pet or a week's worth of food shopping. For bicycle touring, using a two- or one-wheeled touring trailer in many ways is better than saddling down your bicycle with paniers. Need to bring your canoe or kayak to the lake? A watercraft trailer can bring you to shores and portages not accessible by car. Bought one or two second-hand bikes you want to fix up? A custom-built trailer will get them home easily and safely.
There are several design and safety considerations to note when it comes to bicycle trailers. Designs where the trailer tow arm and hitch attach to the left rear chainstay generally providing better handling than those that attach to the seat post. The seat post approach is an inferior design than a trailer which attaches to the chainstay due to decreased flexibility, rideability and increased ridgeness. Some manufacturers suggest that if your cycle has rear suspension it should be considered that the bicycle trailer should not be connected to the cycle's rear axle. All trailers must make use of a safety strap, usually of nylon, that provides short-term backup should the main trailer hitch mechanism fail.
Generally, a good trailer will include the following:
- a towing hitch attaching to the rear chainstay instead of the seatpost
- a second hitch, usually made from nylon, should the main towing hitch fail
- white front-, orange side- and red rear reflectors
- bright red LED lights at rear for use at night
- a frame that encloses the wheels to prevent catching poles on narrow bike lanes
- wheel covers or similar construction that keep children or cargo away from the spokes
- a weatherized cover to keep children or cargo dry and protected from strong sun, rain or snow
Visual identification, such as a tall orange flag, is critical on any type of bicycle trailer, especially for flatbed cargo trailers, as most trailers are not visible by motorists when cyclists ride along sidepaths with cars parked in between the sidepath and the street. Not seeing the trailer, a motorist will calculate the approach speed and execute the right turn based on when the bicycle -not the un-seen trailer- has passed.
Its important for your personal safety, your trailer passengers and that of others on the road to understand the principles of towing. There are several good resources on the 'Net which address this including Trailer Science [pdf] by the folks at Carry Freedom. In addition, Bikes At Work provides a useful Human Power Load Calculator online to help you determine the heaviest cargo (in lbs) that you can carry or tow using your bicycle or human-powered vehicle. Note that you should never exceed the maximum rated towing weight for the hitch (not the trailer) as specified by the hitch manufacturer.
Quality cycle trailers are still somewhat specialty, low-volume items (reflected in their relatively high retail list prices). But online auction sites increasingly provide quality trailers at affordable prices. If buying instead of building a bicycle trailer, check the country of origin and consider helping support a local manufacturer.
Note that traffic laws in many countries including most in the European Union do not allow a cycle trailer to exceed 1 m in width. Limitations on length are generally not specified.
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