Trailer OptionsTrailer Options

It has often been noted that nothing - animal or machine - beats the bicycle in terms of energy efficiency.  A human being on a bicycle uses fewer calories per mile of travel than any other means of conveyance.  53 times less energy than what an average car uses.

What is less appreciated, at least here in the United States, is how much stuff one can carry with a bike—especially when equipped with a trailer.

As Marcia Lowe points out in her classic essay, "Bicycle: Vehicle for a Small Planet" (Worldwatch 1989) "With a trailer, human power can be maximized even further, allowing a human to carry a half ton of cargo."

Wait a minute, you say, a half ton is 1,000 pounds!  No way!

Yes way. Although, most bike trailers available in the United States are recommended for no more than 100 pounds, there are utilitarian trailers built to carry far more.

The three main types of trailers are:

  • Carts to carry children
  • Touring
  • Utilitarian

There are also various specialty trailers one can buy (or build) such as canoe/kayak haulers.

Carts for Kids

The safest way to transport small children with a bicycle is with a trailer specially designed for children. While child carriers on bikes are a less expensive option, bikes are less stable when a baby or toddler is on board. The better designed trailers on the other hand will stay upright, even if the bicycle lands on its side. And seats are held in suspension, allowing the child to have a much smoother ride. 

Some of the best known manufacturers include Burley and Equinox.

Trailers for Touring

Although they add extra weight and rolling resistance, many long distance bicycle tourists find they can travel more comfortably (and safely) with a trailer than with front and rear panniers packed full of their essentials. Certainly, the stability is better, and some items simply are easier to carry with a trailer. There a numerous manufacturers that now make trailers that are very light weight, including trailers with just a single wheel, like the Bob. But packing a trailer is a fine art like packing a pannier - one should try to get the weight distributed as evenly as possible but with heavier items at the bottom and as close to the wheel axle as possible.

Utilitarian Trailers

Some of the most rugged trailers built in the world for utilitarian purposes have been homemade inventions, where the inventor felt some necessity. There are also a number of manufacturers that offer customized trailers capable of carrying considerable more weight than what is found in most bike shops. But unless you are needing to carry a refrigerator or rotertiller or other such items, you probably will find for most urban purposes, utilitarian trailers now widely available through local bike shops will meet nearly all of your shopping needs.

At the recent Minnesota Bike Summit attendees were asked to list the items they have carried with a trailer. The list was nearly endless:

  • Six bags of groceries
  • Dogs
  • A canoe
  • Two cases of beer
  • Children
  • 500 pounds of squash
  • And yes, even a rototiller!