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Tips for buying a bicycle trailer

Updated on March 8, 2011

Roger Smith of Vancouver has been towing children, weekly groceries and even lumber in a Burley trailer for more than a dozen years. He uses the trailer like a car.

"The trailer makes my bike into a station wagon," said Smith, a 49 year old videographer who has 4 children and has never owned a car. "I've been lugging kids around the city for more than a dozen years in a bicycle trailer. I've moved furniture, lumber, and literally tons of groceries over the years. Here are some tips he shared on what you should look for in a trailer.

"The first trailer I bought was basically a red, plastic bucket on two wheels. The sides of the trailer only went up to my child's shoulder. It was a terrible design because if it ever rolls, your child head isn't protected. It didn't have any pockets for storage. There was no protection from the sun or rain and it hitched to the seat-post on my bike. It was basically the worst possible trailer." He quickly replaced it with a bargain enclosed trailer. He wore the trailer out in 6 months. He then got a Burley trailer from Mountain Equipment Coop in Vancouver which has lasted more than a dozen years and is still going strong.

The frame of the trailer should completely enclose the children. The frame provides a shell to protect the children if the trailer every rolls over.

Look carefully at the restraint system. You want both a lap belt and a 3-point shoulder restraint system. The restraint system keeps the children from rolling around inside their shell. The restraint system also helps to keep the centre of balance of the trailer low to avoid tip-overs.

You want a trailer roomy enough to carry one or two kids with enough squirm and leg room for them to be comfortable. Be sure to have your kids sit in the trailer to ensure they have enough squirm and leg room. You need at least a couple of big pockets along the inside of the trailer for holding a thermos, sun-screen, snacks and a couple of toys.

Of course the trailer should be light but strong. Look for aluminum tubing. The trailer hitch is important. Look for a trailer that connects to the bicycle at the rear axle. The hitch should be easy and fast to connect. It also needs to be flexible so it doesn't interfere with the bike's ability to lean in corners. If the connection is too rigid it will make the bike hard to control. The first trailer I bought was rigidly connected to the seat-post on my bike so whenever I had to lean into a corner the bike is basically trying to lift the entire trailer into the turn.

Look carefully at the trailer wheels. They are the major source of repair issues. Since the trailer is wider than the bike it's easy to whack the wheels when threading your way through narrow spaces. You want quality, alloy wheels. A well-designed trailer will have some sort of bumper bar to protect the wheels. On the best trailers the aluminum tube frame actually encloses the wheels. I've never had to replace the wheels on my Burley.

The trailer needs to have a cover to keep out the sun and rain. The cover is also important to prevent your children from getting cold. The Burley trailer I have now has a system with a clear plastic cover and bug screen.

It's convenient if the trailer has a separate storage area to hold groceries. When hauling groceries be sure to balance the load and place the heavy stuff low in the trailer to keep the the center of gravity low and prevent tip-overs.

My absolute first choice among bike trailers are those made by the Burley Coop of Eugene, Oregon. They meet all the requirements I stated above. They are designed well and made to last a life-time. I've talked to people who are still using their trailers after 20 years. Craigslist is a good place to pick up a second hand Burley at a good price. If you're patient you should be able to get a used one for about $150. They're so well built that a second hand trailer makes a lot of sense.

My second choice is a Canadian company that is starting to give Burley some real competition; Chariot Carriers from Calgary, Alberta.

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