Trailers are an alternative choice to panniers for carrying luggage on a bike tour.
Although we don’t have any direct experience with trailers, many cyclists do use them. Are they better than panniers? That’s a tough question to answer. The debate of trailers vs. panniers is one of the never-ending discussions in the bike touring world.
In this article, we’ll mainly stick to the benefits of trailers and the most popular models.
Trailers are good because they:
- Keep all your things in one place, making packing easy.
- Attach to bikes without the special braze-ons needed to fit luggage racks.
- Can carry bulky, heavy items (kids, large quantities of water, a backpack for hiking trips).
- Have more uses than just touring (grocery shopping, carrying firewood).
- Minimise strain on your bike.
- Have a wider profile that encourages cars to give you more passing room.
- Can easily be unhooked so you can ride a ‘naked’ bike, without racks.
- Can sometimes be flipped over and used as a table.
- Are still fairly unusual and make a good conversation starter.
- Distract aggressive dogs, who tend to chase the trailer instead of your legs.
On the downside, trailers are an extra bit of equipment that you have to worry about. There are more things that can potentially break and need to be replaced on tour. If you have to take a plane or train somewhere, the trailer is an extra piece of luggage that may attract a fee.
Single-wheeled trailers give your bike extra traction and are relatively narrow, making it easy to squeeze through tight spots. Both of these factors make them good for off-road touring or bike camping. They can, however, affect the handling of the bike with heavy weights. Double-wheeled trailers don’t affect the bike’s handling so much and are very stable, but are primarily for tours on paved roads. Cycling through narrow gates and on sidewalks can be impossible with a double-wheeled trailer.
Popular trailer models include:
BOB Yak Plus ($359 from REI) – This trailer is a long-time favourite among bike tourists. It’s solid, can carry up to 70 pounds, is easy to assemble and can be flipped over and used as a table when you’re in camp. The dry bag that comes with it is totally waterproof, so you won’t need to worry if it starts raining. Its narrow profile is also more aerodynamic than boxier trailers and can be easier to handle when you have to navigate through heavy traffic or narrow alleys.
Extrawheel – The Polish-made Extrawheel trailer has one big advantage: it uses a standard size wheel, that’s easily replaced anywhere in the world or even used as an emergency spare for your bike. The big wheel (in 26″ or 700cc size) also absorbs bumps better than the Bob Yak’s smaller 20 inch tires and is relatively easy to transport on trains and planes. The total weight of the trailer is a very light 3.9kg. Tom & Andy have given this trailer a good work out on their off-road expeditions and recommend it.
Burley’s Nomad Cargo ($349 from REI) – This cargo trailer is known for being very easy to assemble and it can carry a hefty 100 pounds of stuff. The trailer itself weighing in at 6.5kg, heavier than other trailers on the market. It has a cover but is not entirely waterproof. Other trailers, like the BOB, are probably better if you just want a trailer for touring but the Burley could be good if you’re looking for a trailer that will be as useful at home as on tour.
Cougar Chariot ($437.93 from REI) – This is the trailer of choice if you’re taking kids along. It was endorsed by all the families we talked to about bike touring with babies. The advantages? A truly waterproof interior, with lots of room for toys and books, plus suspension to minimise vibrations. It can be a stroller or a bike trailer. Remember, it’s always a stroller if you’re flying somewhere for a bike tour because strollers will be carried free, whereas you’ll have to pay for a trailer!
Carry Freedom Y-Frame – This UK-designed trailer has some very devoted fans. Simple and versatile, you can put just about any type of container on the back, from a large plastic box to an Ortlieb rack pack. It is made from simple components that are replaceable or fixable anywhere in the world – a big advantage if you’re cycling in more remote destinations. The Y-Frame is on the heavy side, weighing 6kg for the smaller model (with a carrying capacity of 45kg) or 7kg for the large size, which can carry up to 90kg of gear.
The Radical Design Cyclone IV Trekking trailer can be folded inside its own duffel bag for easy transport on trains and planes. Clever!