Bike trailers of all kinds are becoming increasingly common. Loyal cyclists who don’t want to leave their environmentally conscious vehicle behind when the family grows, love these practical trailers.
If you can cycle, you can usually cope with a bike trailer. Kids and young people can also ride with bike trailers, if they are physically able to do so. However, only those over the age of 16 are allowed to transport kids in the trailer.
This brings us to what you can transport in a bike trailer. For the most part, they carry small children, dogs and shopping. Anything is possible, the only limits are weight and volume. Most trailers have a maximum weight limit of 40 kilograms.
Some bike trailers can carry loads of up to 400 kilos, but most bikes, brake systems and riders would be completely unable to cope. It’s worth taking a look at the bike’s manual, some manufacturers do not recommend towing trailers with their bikes.
As a general rule, the weights of the rider, the bicycle and the trailer including the load must be compatible to some extent. The towing bicycle and the person travelling must not be too light in relation to the intended transport load. If they weigh too little, the rear wheel of the bicycle could break away when braking due to the lack of pressure on the road. It also puts undue strain on a lightweight person’s joints if they pull a trailer load that is too heavy.
What are bike trailers used for?
Bike trailers are suitable for leisure and holidays as well as for everyday life and professional uses such as courier trips. You can pack lots of swimwear, toys and gear for a trip to the lake or the park in the trailer. You can buy your weekly groceries at the supermarket without having to drive. Craftsmen, DIY enthusiasts and gardeners can transport their hardware store purchases or things like firewood and garden waste in a robust cargo trailer.
This is ideal for city dwellers and people living in big cities. In rural areas, often you have travel further and there aren’t designated cycle routes. Of course, you can still ride from A to B, but you may have to use busy roads and bumpy dirt tracks. You should only use bike trailers on rural and main roads in emergencies, if at all.
What kinds of trailer are there?
The range of types and manufacturers is large and continues to grow. The main categories are child trailers, transport trailers and dog trailers. Many manufacturers incorporate the intended use into the product name with designations such as “Kid”, “Cargo” or “Dog” We will focus here on child trailers, as this is where there is the most to consider.
Today, children can choose from a huge range of seats and trailers, and the safety technology is becoming more and more similar to that found in cars. Five-point seat belts and roll bars are now common, and helmets have now been compulsory in the cabin for a long time.
Bike trailers are available in one- and two-seat versions. Some models can be folded, which is an advantage when travelling or when there is little storage space.
If you decide to buy a bike trailer, you will get many advantages compared to a common bike seat, but also some disadvantages. These trade-offs can be quite extensive and usually include the following points (for simplicity’s sake, we will leave out other alternatives such as pull-along and cargo bikes):
Advantages of a child trailer compared to a kids seat:
- You have to be less concerned about balance, so you experience less difficulty with lane changes, tight turns, fidgeting kids, and when starting and driving slowly
- Trailers are easier to ride with over long distances
- Trailers often hold two kids plus additional luggage including snacks and toys
- They are more comfortable and relaxing for kids, and they can play or sleep at the same time
- Lower risk of injury in case of an accident as they have less height to fall
- Kids are protected from wind and rain
- Trailers can often be converted into a stroller or running buggy
- They can be stressful on narrow cycle paths and in traffic
- Cumbersome to handle
- Needs getting used to when braking and manoeuvring
- Not every trailer fits every bike
- Not everywhere has space to park a trailer
- More expensive than a bike seat
- Limited communication between parents and kids when driving
A flatbed or a box with wheels and a tow bar: that’s how simple most transport trailers are. They often come with just one wheel. If the intended loads are not too heavy and bulky, this is a good solution. If they need to carry heavy loads, however, at least two wheels are required.
Large transport trailers can also be equipped with two axles or four wheels. This makes it easier to control the load, but the trailer is then more difficult to manoeuvre.
How are bike trailers constructed?
This brings us to the finer differences between bike trailers, which are usually related to the different construction details.
The cabin or passenger compartment of child trailers is made of a solid aluminium or steel frame, which is often used as a roll bar. The base is either made of sturdy fabric or a rigid floor made of metal or plastic. The frame of current models has a tube running around the side that acts as a bumper and crumple zone.
These stable and tip-proof constructions have a low centre of gravity, a wide wheelbase and large wheels of about 20 inches in diameter. The larger the wheels, the more comfortable the ride.
The body is covered with robust fabric that protects passengers from rain and flying stones. There are windows made of transparent plastic at the front and/or sides, and usually there is also a fly screen. It should not be possible for children to get their fingers into the spokes of the wheels from inside the passenger compartment.
There are two common types of coupling for attachment to a bicycle: Rear axle and seat post coupling. Rarely, the coupling is attached to the frame via a clamp.
Most bike trailers are attached to the side of the rear axle. This means that the weight is behind the bicycle, which takes the load off its frame. It also keeps the trailer more stable when riding because of the low centre of gravity. Power transfer is also better and the braking distance shorter than with other types of coupling.
In common models, there are joints in the tow bar and on the coupling so that the bike trailer remains stationary even if the bike tips over. For child trailers, a rear axle coupling is generally recommended.
When attached to the seat post the trailer is closer to the bicycle which makes it easier to negotiate tight bends. However, the centre of gravity is higher and the stability is lower. The trailer starts to wobble more quickly on unpaved roads. You cannot use it with a luggage rack, but the trailer can be used as a handcart.
The brake system
Heavy bike trailers with a load of more than 40 kilograms require hydraulic brake systems that function like the coaster brakes on car trailers. However, most trailers don’t have their own brake systems. Therefore, the brakes on the towing bike must be powerful and in perfect condition. Of course, you must always drive with caution and foresight when towing a trailer.
Since 2017 in Germany, special bike lights for children’s bike trailers has been required by law. Rear lights are especially important because the rear light of the bike is covered by the trailer. More information on bike trailer lighting can be found here on Wikipedia, among other places.
More details and differences:
One- or two-wheeled trailers: one-wheeled are light, manoeuvrable and can go off-road because they can easily negotiate potholes. Also, you can only get a puncture in one wheel. However, one-wheelers tilt when cornering with the bike, which can be annoying or even tricky when carrying larger luggage or travelling at low speeds. Two-wheeled trailers remain stable in most riding situations.
There are also one- or two-axle trailers, one- or two-seaters, multifunctional trailers for various modes of transport (e.g. with attachment options for runners, skis or as a jogger) or trailers with suspension or shock absorption.
In specialist markets you can also find other accessories such as safety ropes to hang between the trailer and the bicycle, signal-coloured pennants on a long, vertical post, rear-view mirrors on the bike handlebars or protective mudguards.
How do I find the right trailer? What do I need to consider when choosing?
The best way to narrow down the selection is with targeted questions, the most important of which are listed below:
- Is my bike suitable for attaching a trailer?
According to the ADAC, around 15 percent of all bikes, including full suspension bikes (Fullys) and bikes with carbon frames or hub gears, are not suitable. You should also check which coupling system your existing bike is compatible with.
- What will I primarily be transporting?
Kids? Groceries? Bulky waste? Garden waste?
- What transport volume do I need on average?
For occasional trips to the supermarket and short bike rides, a capacity of 50-60 litres is plenty. If you are planning a multi-day tour or camping trip with a tent, a trailer with 100 litres or more would be recommended.
- Do I tend to transport the same things or do I need an all-rounder for all kinds of things?
- How often and over what distances am I travelling? I
s average quality enough or do I need the highest level of robustness?
- Am I travelling on well-surfaced paths or unpaved roads?
For longer and rougher trails, upgrades such as suspension, V-reinforcement bars and through axles should be fitted.
- Does the size and weight of the folded trailer matter?
Does the trailer need to be carried at all?
- Do I want to be able to park the trailer unattended? Does it have to be lockable and/or rainproof?
Trailers for kids and dogs are usually weatherproof at the very least and often rainproof as well. Cargo trailers often come with bags made of water-repellent material, but this will not withstand persistent rain. If you want to err on the side of caution, you should buy a rain tarp and/or waterproof panniers.
- What is the maximum weight of the trailer?
Consider 10 kg unladen weight as a solid average for cargo trailers and about 20 kg for kids trailers. If you’re planning long mountain trips, you’ll want to save every gram, which of course has an impact on the price if you want to keep the quality the same. With cheaper trailers, the necessary stability is compensated for by a higher weight. You should also consider the existing bike: according to the manufacturer’s specifications, how much weight it is allowed to pull. Excessive weight can lead to damage or even break the frame, particularly in the case of bikes with carbon frames.
The heavier the trailer, the better the bike’s brakes should be. This is because the additional weight pushing forward puts significantly more strain on them.
Sign of quality:
Can I judge the quality of the construction and materials? If not, it’s better to go for well-known brand manufacturers kids trailers. They do not generally use harmful chemicals in seat pads and rain tarpaulins.
You can also determine the quality by studying reviews from online retailers and test reports in trade magazines. Personal reports from friends and acquaintances are also helpful. A reliable indicator is the DIN certification EN 15918 test, for which a trailer must pass safety-relevant tests. It guarantees that it is stable to ride with and, in the case of trailers for kids, that there is a spoke protector.
Good bike trailers have a parking brake which brakes both wheels. These are also usually easy to assemble and take part. There are no breaking points. Unfortunately, this also makes them easier to steal, so they should be used with a large lock made up of several parts.
How much to bike trailers cost?
Finally, of course, we come to the question of how much all this fun costs.
Good-quality load trailers with a rear axle coupling and a decent carrying capacity of 50-60 kg are available from about 150 euros, simple and less robust models with a seat post coupling are available for about half that.
Child trailers are available from well-known names such as Croozer, Burley or Thule from around 400 euros. Occasionally, you will find solid branded goods from manufacturers such as Trixie or Samax for as little as 200 euros, but you will have to make sacrifices in terms of features and materials. If you want the highest possible level of comfort, features and safety for two kids, you will have to shell out between 800 and 1500 euros.
Dog trailers are usually slightly cheaper than child trailers.