Bike trailers offer a viable alternative for carrying cargo compared to pannier bags, bikepacking bags or a backpack. They can be very useful for carrying children or pets, transporting shopping or cargo around town, or for extended cycle touring trips.
In this guide, we will explain what a bike trailer is, how to mount a bike trailer to your bike, and outline what types of bicycle trailers are out there.
What is a bike trailer?
Bike trailers are designed as a means of carrying luggage, cargo, kids or pets. They also make for a great option if you are carrying a load heavier than a pannier or frame-mounted bag is rated to handle.
It is first worth considering the material the trailer is made from. Quality options will be made from aluminium or steel. Aluminium will generally be lighter but, depending on the construction, steel may be more durable.
We would recommend avoiding a trailer that uses a plastic frame as it’s unlikely to be as durable and will be difficult to repair.
Many trailers feature a flag for visibility. This is important given how they are positioned lower on the ground and, thus, out of a driver’s eyesight.
The best bike trailers can be used all year round and many feature weatherproofing properties to protect your cargo against the elements.
Some bike trailers also feature suspension to dampen vibrations on rough terrain. This is particularly important if you are riding off-road with children as it will provide a more comfortable ride.
Is it difficult to ride with a bike trailer?
Fitting a trailer to your bike will alter its ride feel. You’ll need to take corners wide, especially on descents. Acceleration will also take more effort, given the extra weight, as will pedalling uphill.
If you’re considering using a trailer to carry a child or pet, it is worth test-riding the unit first with weights, such as a sack of potatoes, to get used to how the bike handles. This will ensure a safe and pleasant journey for your child or furry companion.
How do you mount a trailer to a bike?
There are a number of mounting options for bike trailers.
Most attach via a hitch mount that attaches to your rear wheel axle. This is a desirable location as it doesn’t put additional stresses on your frame.
Others attach to your bike’s seatpost or to the eyelets on your frame’s rear triangle.
You may want to consider investing in a spare hitch kit if the trailer is going to be used on multiple bikes.
What types of bike trailers are there?
As with anything in cycling, there is a wide range of trailers designed for different purposes available. These range from purpose-built heavy-duty flatbed trailers designed for carrying luggage to lighter models designed to carry children or pets.
Children’s bike trailers
Children’s trailers provide a more spacious alternative to carrying kids than even the best child seats. They are also, arguably, more convenient – with a trailer, you simply strap the child into their respective seat and pedal away.
Some children’s bike trailers convert to a pushchair or can be utilised for other sports such as skiing – perfect for families who want to use them for multiple activities.
It’s important to consider how many kids you are going to carry in a trailer as children’s trailers often come in two options – a single or double.
A single is narrower and lighter, which makes for an easier ride. It will also be less of a hassle to store when not in use.
A double trailer will allow you to take two children or carry more luggage on a ride. It’s worth noting that, if you’re using a double trailer with just one child, you usually cannot sit them in the middle, which may affect handling.
Many quality options contain vents to allow airflow and to stop bugs getting in if you live in a warmer climate. Some also contain removable shades to protect your child against sunburn. The opposite is true for cycling in wet weather, with some trailers coming with rain covers.
Some trailers feature storage for additional items, typically to the rear, so you don’t need to worry about fitting an extra bag or carrying a rucksack just because you have a kid in tow.
Storage when not in use is another key factor to consider with a children’s trailer, as they can be quite large items. More expensive kids’ trailers fold for ease of storage.
As with anything, you get what you pay for. If you’re going to be using it regularly, it is well worth investing in a high-quality bike trailer.
What ages can a child use a trailer?
Age isn’t a particularly reliable metric for determining whether or not a child can ride in a bike trailer. Instead, manufacturers will often advise a minimum weight as kids can be all shapes and sizes for their age.
Your child should at least be able to hold their head up unaided. Some quality options provide additional measures for those under the minimum, such as Thule or Hamax.
We’d also advise a child to wear a helmet when in transit.
Most manufacturer’s will state an upper weight limit of 50kg for a kid’s bike trailer.
Cargo bike trailers
Cargo bike trailers do what they say on the tin.
They can be a great option if you need to carry more cargo than what your bike can currently take, or if you’d prefer not to use panniers or frame bags.
The design will typically be less fussy than a children’s trailer and will generally consist of a set of barriers and, potentially, a cover to prevent cargo from spilling out.
There is a split as to whether a manufacturer features a bag or not. If they do feature a bag, it will generally be integrated into the barrier design and waterproof so your cargo is protected against the elements.
Many designs typically feature mudguards over the wheel(s) to protect the cargo from spray.
Like children’s trailers, some cargo trailers will also be foldable for ease of storage.
Bike trailers for dogs and pets
There are even some bike trailers out there designed for keeping your furry friend secure when riding.
They will typically be a similar design to a child’s trailer, only smaller to better accommodate your pet.
Many of the principles for children’s trailers apply to pets. If you’re heading off-road and your dog is of a suitable breed, you could also train it to be a trail dog.
One or two wheels?
There is a split between manufacturers using one or two wheels and there are pros and cons to both. So what are the differences?
A two wheel bike trailer will generally be more secure as it balances the weight more evenly and will be more stable at lower speeds.
However, a single wheel will track better off-road, it will generally be narrower and lighter and have a lower rolling resistance. You also have one less tyre to puncture.
It’s also important to bear in mind the wheel size. 16 or 20 inch options will be optimal and we’d recommend avoiding a trailer that uses plastic wheels. Plastic wheels won’t be as strong as a typical spoked wheel and are near impossible to repair.
Bike trailer vs cargo bike
Where does one draw the line between considering a trailer or just going the whole hog and getting a cargo bike?
It all depends what your intentions for using a trailer are. If it’s for a touring trip and you want to be able to use the bike without a trailer for road or mountain bike riding for example, then there is little point getting a cargo bike.
However, if you’re after a one-bike solution to replace your car, it may well be worth investing in a dedicated cargo bike. They are ideal for commuting to work, or heading to the shops and can transport shopping with ease.