Carrying Your Stuff: Bicycle Cargo Trailers
Last April, we covered the most common methods for transporting goods on a bicycle in Stacey Moses’s article Carrying Your Stuff: Bicycle Bags and Racks. Now it is time to turn our utility cycling obsessed brains in the direction of a less frequently used method for transporting goods by bicycle, bicycle cargo trailers. Though used by cyclists less frequently than bike bags, bicycle cargo trailers are critical in enabling bicycles to be reliable vehicles of utility when the load gets a bit larger.
While bicycle bags are a standard everyday tool for utility cyclists of all stripes, bike cargo trailers are frequently considered an auxiliary tool, left home for days when there is a larger or more cumbersome load to haul. Most utility cyclists that rely on bike trailers for daily use are using it for a special purpose such as a bike delivery service.
Though commonly viewed as auxiliary or specialty use tools, bike cargo trailers can also offer everyday utility for standard types of utility cycling needs. Take for instance, bike commuters with large amounts of stuff needed at both home and work. Another common scenario is making use of bicycles designed for racing or recreation for utility cycling purposes. Most bike cargo trailers can be hitched up to almost any type of bicycle, transforming even the most non-utilitarian time trial road bike or down hill mountain bike into a machine that can carry both you and your stuff. In some instances, a combination of a racing bike with a trailer even might be the best tool for the job. Think of a long, low traffic commute on smooth roads where a sizeable load is being carried. Some utility cyclists simply prefer the function of the bike with a bike cargo trailer as opposed to bike racks and bags. A bike loaded with bags handles differently than a trailer loaded bike, and the best tool for the job, may come down to a matter of preference. Finally some trailers such as the Burley Travoy and Carry Freedom City offer use both on and off the bike which can be very appreciated for a variety of utility cycling challenges.
Bike cargo trailers can be effectively explained, broken down by either type or by use. Since here at UtilityCycling.org we are generally interested in combining the words such as use, using, utilize and utilizing with words like bike, bicycles, bicycling and cyles, I think I’ll focus on breaking things down within the use paradigm. But quickly, I’ll blurt out the main types of bike cargo trailers. Single-Wheel. Two-Wheel Enclosed or Flatbed. + Bonus Specialty Use (aka wacky). I’ll explain a few of these types of trailers a bit within their use, but overall, most types of bike cargo trailers are usable to some degree within all of the uses that I’m about to describe.
Local Hauling & Chores
I think I can safely presume that the most typical use of bike cargo trailers is for picking up groceries. In this same genre, bike cargo trailers are an ideal tool for other bike errands like hauling loads of laundry, picking up gardening supplies or dropping of donations at goodwill. I’ve personally used a bike cargo trailer for hauling all imaginable types of goods around town. The odder things I’ve transported include a shop vac, a hand truck and jumbo packs of toilet paper. Whatever the load is, the most important aspect of bike cargo trailers is their liberating nature. They free up cyclists from dependencies on motor vehicles in situations where loads need to be carried.
And in the same light, we shouldn’t forget long haul utility cycling. For long distance travel by bicycle, bike cargo trailers can be very helpful, especially in those instance when extra amounts of gear is needed. For voyages where things like video, photography or perhaps even scientific equipment is needed, bike cargo trailers are an essential tool for handling the extra capacity.
Bike Commuting & Ready For a Load
While many make the choice only to bring a bike cargo trailer only when anticipating a load, others prefer to always have the capacity to handle cargo. In the daily routine of bike commuting there are many unexpected situations where having a bike cargo trailer would be very convenient. Planning ahead for the unexpected, some bike commuters choose to simply have a bike cargo trailer with them at all times so that they are always prepared. Planning ahead for the unexpected when your spouse calls you at lunch and asks you to pick up some groceries, you’ll be able to say “No problem hun” rather than “errr, I don’t know if I can get everything in my pannier“.
Another way to be prepared for unexpected loads is to choose to ride a long tail bicycle such as a bike with an Xtracycle kit, a Surly Big Dummy or some other version of cargo bike. Advantages of these style bikes over bike trailers include everything built into the bike, a shorter overall vehicle and capacity to carry passengers. Disadvantages are that you always have a cargo rig (no unhitching and riding unencumbered) and a bigger bulkier bike that may be more difficult to store and maneuver into small spaces. (We’ll be fully covering cargo and longtail bikes in an upcoming post) The use of a longtail or cargo bike also presents the interesting option of adding a bike cargo trailer into the mix when the load gets really large. (See photo of Xtracycle Raddish with Wandertec BONGO bike trailer above)
In considering always being prepared for the unexpected load during a bike commute, I’ve been interested in the notion of coupling a bike cargo trailer with an electric bike. While the extra weight of a perhaps only occasionally utilized bike cargo trailer might seem like more of a burden than a help, the added speed and range of an electric bike would offset this disadvantage significantly. An electric bike coupled with a bike cargo trailer certainly seems like a worthy vehicle capable of handling the majority of situations and challenges of modern life that a motor vehicle does.
Delivery Services, Pedicabs & Other Bike Businesses
When it comes to delivery services, bike taxis and many other forms of business’s on a bike, bike cargo trailers are a necessary tool for getting work done.
Small and maneuverable, single-wheel bike trailers like those by BOB and Extrawheel, are excellent for more personal type uses as those described for local hauling and bike commuting. For business’s involving small package delivery or perhaps a handyman on a bike, a standard size bike cargo trailer such as the Wandertec Bongo or Burley Nomad will smoothly do the job. Single-wheel trailers such as the BOB might be the best choice if the loads are not to small or if the terrain is especially rough. BOB trailer’s are a popular choice when the utility cycling gets rough and are great for uses such as carrying tools and equipment for trailwork.
When the utility cycling task involves larger loads, a two-wheeled bike cargo trailer is generally called for. While the spectrum of styles of single-wheeled trailers is limited by the ever present factor that the weight of the loaded trailer will be swaying with the rider, the spectrum of two-wheeled bike trailer designs is much broader with the weight of load supported almost entirely by the two wheels of the trailer. Weight limits of two wheeled trailers are much higher and are primarily defined by the following factors:
- Load transfer and strength of the bike trailer’s hitch design
- Load capacity of the frame and wheels of the trailer
- Braking capacity of the bicycle to handle a loaded trailer (requirements vary depending on speeds and hilliness of riding)
- Ability of rider (with the right trailer and bike) the weight limit sometimes is only limited by what the cyclist can actually pull.
Large load, two-wheeled trailers are well suited for large haul tasks such as recycling services or large item deliveries. Large bike cargo trailers such as those by Bikes-At-Work, Tony’s Trailers, Haulin Colin and the new Surly Trailer are excellent platforms for building up unique business ideas on. Think out-of-the-box ideas like mobile coffee, beer or food stands, mobile bike repair or perhaps a mobile retail shop. Now think of some more and maybe just go do one…
One particular booming bicycle based business are pedicabs also referred to as bike taxis or cycle rickshaws. While the predominant form of pedicabs are tricycle styled bikes where 2 to 3 passengers sit tingin the rear, bike trailers can also make for excellent pedicabs. Advantages of bike trailer style pedicabs are that they can be more affordable to manufacture and can work with a broad variety of bicycles. The taxi driver can ride a bicycle ideally suited to them and has the ability to share the pedicab with a variety of other pedicabbies.
Parades, Advertising & More Fun Stuff
What would a bike parade be without bike trailers? Bike parades are the perfect opportunity to bring out the weird and the wacky. Haul a sound system or perhaps a keg of beer, maybe a toilet or just bring the whole band.
The spectator side of bike cargo trailers makes them great for bike advertising. A variety of business’s have been set up with cyclists towing advertising billboards in densely trafficked areas such as city centers, universities, beach fronts and sporting events. Bicycles are great vehicles for advertising in dense areas where other form of advertising can be very expensive. This unique form of advertising is eye catching and accessible. The cyclist can be a spokesperson for the product answering questions and handing out samples or pamphlets. There are a variety of advertising bike trailers designs. The Extrawheel Advert is the only single wheeled advertising trailer while there are a variety of custom style two-wheeled advertising bike trailer styles.
Bike cargo trailers just generally bring an atmosphere of fun when they are in use. I’ve watched quite a few videos of whole tribes of friends moving someones house by bike trailer. It’s hard to imagine people having more fun than that while going through a move.