Carrying Your Stuff: Bicycle Cargo Trailers

Carrying Your Stuff: Bicycle Cargo Trailers

Posted on 30. Jan, 2011 by in Transportation

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-WheelTwo-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:

  1. Load transfer and strength of the bike trailer’s hitch design
  2. Load capacity of the frame and wheels of the trailer
  3. Braking capacity of the bicycle to handle a loaded trailer (requirements vary depending on speeds and hilliness of riding)
  4. 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.

16 Responses to “Carrying Your Stuff: Bicycle Cargo Trailers”

  1. LBJ

    31. Jan, 2011

    Trailers can also be really good for camping/traveling, when you have a lot of stuff and might be acquiring more – check out this guy http://www.montaguebikes.com/folding-bikes-blog/2010/08/hills-are-alive-folding-bike-tour/, who has a cargo trailer attached to the back of his folding bicycle.

  2. Melanie Colavito

    02. Feb, 2011

    LBJ – Yea, bike trailers for camping are awesome. It’s always nice not to have to drive out to nature!

  3. David Yaffe

    11. Feb, 2011

    I’m definitely a fan of the two wheel trailers but would you expect from a guy who makes an affordable consumer-duty model with recycled materials? http://www.redbiketrailer.com. Nice article

  4. Julie Starling

    05. Apr, 2011

    I got a Burley Travoy recently. I overdid it with the first load of groceries attached to my Dahon folder. Last Saturday, I, was able to hook it up to my electric bike and I could easily take as much as the Travoy could hold. I’ll being using that combination for grocery shopping from now on!

  5. Leo Horishny

    11. May, 2011

    I am awaiting my Equinox Pet Trailer any day now. I have 2 dogs who have been sitting at home while I’ve gone on various errands by bike primarily now. I won’t be able to take them everywhere I go, but I can and will take them out more often, as much as possible.
    I have 2 long dogs and a pet trailer is the most sensible for us. They would not have been comfortable shoved into a kid trailer, even if it could have carried their weight.
    The other advantage I see of a pet trailer over a kid trailer, is that the design is more conducive to carrying a large amount of groceries if I choose to use it for a shopping trip.

  6. Darla

    19. Jun, 2011

    The plural of business is businesses, not business’.

  7. Cargo Trailers

    22. Jun, 2011

    These trailers are awesome for small time stuff. If you can, I would suggest buying one of these over a bigger trailer. You will be surprised how much you can fit on one of these smaller trailers.

  8. [...] Even with the Kahlkoff loaded down with 40 pounds of paper (plus the 16 pound trailer) weight, the Kahlkoff rode very easily.  We’re very excited to be getting into electric bikes here at the Bike Shop Hub and really think that they shine in application such as my morning commute and errand, adding an extra boost for transporting heavy loads by bicycle trailer. [...]

  9. WPeabody

    06. Aug, 2011

    Just bought a Burley flatbed trailer, and hooked it up to my Terratrike Tour. Used it to haul 40 lbs of groceries home, about 3.6 miles uphill, with plenty of debris and potholes on the way. It rode very well. Didn’t even notice the weight, or any difference in handling, in fact the trike was more stable at higher speeds than it would be with just the panniers alone.

  10. [...] would use a bicycle to go grocery shopping? You can’t go grocery shopping on a bicycle. Nobody does [...]

  11. [...] who apparently also moonlights as a keyboardist, sent in this photo of his bike trailer setup.  I’m guessing that the somewhat blurry, dark photo was taken as Batman was jumping on his [...]

  12. [...] Pau’ls words “Here’s some pictures of a trailer I built for a customer. The utility trailer was pulled by an electric hub-motor bicycle, and is capable of hauling 400lbs. Contact [...]

  13. Magnificent submit, very informative. I ponder why the opposite experts of this sector don’t understand this. You must proceed your writing. I’m sure, you’ve a great readers’ base already!|What’s Happening i’m new to this, I stumbled upon this I’ve found It absolutely helpful and it has aided me out loads. I hope to give a contribution & help different users like its aided me. Good job.

  14. Bob Fairlane

    07. Aug, 2012

    I use a bicycle to go grocery shopping. It helps to have a friction drive motor kit (2 hp). I have pulled lots of groceries with it. Once I ran out of gas though, and had to pedal it. It was about 80lb of food. I hauled it about 5 miles and it wasn’t so bad. Kind of slow though.

  15. B.J. Ondo

    13. Feb, 2013

    Being car-free bicyclist’s we’d be hard pressed to do it without a utility trailer! Our’s is homemade but it has a 50 gal tub, that comes off quickly so it can also be a “bicycle hauler”. Without it we’d be having to take a taxi or bum a ride with someone for weekly food shoping or getting our bikes to the LBS for services. You don’t have to pay a lot, I got the frame for $20 from a old kid carrier that tipped over all the rest of the work I did myself and we live in a 3rd. floor, one bedroom apt.

  16. David

    27. Feb, 2013

    Have used a Burley trailer to haul landscaping tools to do jobs and volunteer street cleaning projects has worked really well.
    I have used the jogger attachment on the trailer also in order to bring my tools down into the yard in order to have all my tools handy for quick use. No problem finding or taking neighbors parking places.

Leave a Reply