Bike Trailer Buyer’s Guide

Our Schwinn bike trailer, in stroller mode

Bike trailers are essential to the happiness and unity of the urban/suburban outdoor family. But, as with most gear, they vary widely in price and quality. This post includes all of my trailer research and recommendations, with a summary of the more popular makes/models.

Recommended Options

  1. Max capacity – The single-passenger trailers weigh less and are more aerodynamic but are less practical, as you can’t pick up hitchhikers. There’s no limit to the things you can tote – groceries, picnic supplies, library books, pets and other wildlife, camping gear, furniture, and, of course, kids – with a two seater you can carry twice as much.
  2. Strollability – Avoid trailers that can’t be converted to strollers – they’re like multitools with only one tool, an icepick, of limited use. Stroller kits are usually sold separately, with detachable handles. A jogging kit is best, with a 20 inch front wheel and a bommer handle that bolts to the frame – these are the two things I’m looking for in our next ride (more below).
  3. Foldability – Just about every trailer can be collapsed and packed down into the trunk of a car, some easier and more quickly than others. Exceptions include the tot-tote and the ones people handcraft out of old wagons and go-cart frames (see your local craigslist posting).

Optional

  1. Terrain – The high-end trailers have cross-country ski, off-road, and other add-on packages, maximizing versatility and price. Someday they’ll have a rock climbing kit with a pulley system and maybe a watercraft kit with a tow rope and scuba option.
  2. Wheel type – The low-end trailers come with plastic rear and/or front (stroller) wheels that will get thrashed when you hit a jump or go off-road. Inflatable tires and metal spokes let you boonie crash and Tokyo drift with peace of mind.
  3. Material – Most trailers consist of some kind of nylon/vinyl stretched across a aluminum, steel, or alloy frame. The only exception, to my knowledge, is the Burley Cub, with a plastic basin for a base. Aluminum will lower the weight and boost the price, as will waterproof fabrics, tinted windows, and 5-point padded harnesses.

Makes and Models

The three prominent bike trailer manufacturers, in order from least to most serious, are Schwinn/InSTEP, Burley, and Chariot. The chart below (updated June, 2011) gives an idea of price per tier. Prices are either MSRP or averaged from what I found through Google shopping searches, and dashes mean I couldn’t find the info.

Bike Trailer Comparison Chart
Make Model Price Capacity Weight Frame Harness Kits
Schwinn/InStep Spirit $129 2 None
Trailblazer $199 2 24 lbs Steel
Joyride $399 2 43 lbs Jog
Take 2 $ 99 2 25 lbs Steel
Quick N EZ $124 2 33 lbs Steel Stroll
Rocket $229 2 Alum Stroll
Burley Bee $249 2 18 lbs Alum 5-point None
Encore $399 2 24 lbs Alum 5-point All 3
D’Lite $579 2 28 lbs Alum 5-point All 3
Solo $529 1 21 lbs Alum 5-point All 3
Cub $589 2 34 lbs Alum 5-point All 3
Chariot Cheetah $465 1 or 2 21 lbs Alum 5-point All 5
CX $950 1 or 2 31 lbs 5-point All 5
Cabriolet $425 2 24 lbs Alum No Ski
Cougar $620 1 or 2 28 lbs All 5
Side Carrier $525 1 18 lbs Alum Bike

If you’re looking for affordable but functional, and you only anticipate occasional, maybe monthly use, make sure it can at least accommodate a jogging package – this indicates the trailer isn’t fooling around. Remember – you’re going to hitch this to the back of your bike and drag your kids around town in it, maybe even hit up a slalom course or bmx track. A bommer trailer is worth an extra $50 to $100.

If you’re a weekend warrior and you hope to keep your trailer for 10 years or more, using it with multiple cohorts of kids of various ages, consider the Burley and Chariot lines. Both are dedicated solely to making cycle-pulled kid containers.

Burley has been around the block and costs substantially less ($300 to $600), but they offer fewer features by default and fewer add-ons. The three conversion kits are stroller ($65), 2-wheel stroller ($89), and jogger ($140). All are all sold separately.

Chariot makes the ultimate sport utility trailers – for a hefty sum ($500 to $1000) you’re kids will tow in comfort and style, with cup holders and adjustable suspension (not a joke), from garage to summit. Kits include 2-wheel stroller ($75), jogger ($100), hiker ($110), and skier ($250). Prices vary by trailer model and most are also sold separately.

Conclusion

Our first and current bike trailer, a Schwinn, cost $140 and has taken a beating, over street and dirt, hiking and biking, for about 3 years. But, it doesn’t accommodate a front jogging wheel and the handle has too much play, as it clamps, rather than bolts, to the frame (see photo above). Excessive wheeliing (think bike-trailer X-games) and frequent strollering over rocks and tree roots have worn out the handle connections and destroyed the plastic front wheel. So I’m on the lookout for another trailer, probably a used Chariot Cougar or Burley D’Lite.

Happy towing!

Snow Day

Education sciences building

Bikenstien in front of the Education Sciences Building, in front of the 10th Ave Bridge, in front of downtown Minneapolis.

Campus was closed today on account of the snow, a rare occurrence.

Winter Bicycling: Essential Gear

Earlier this week I posted a list of winter bicycling essential attire. Today, I’ll finish the ensemble with some essential winter biking gear.

All you really need is a bike, preferably a beater, one you wouldn’t mind leaving in a ditch or launching off a bridge just to see if it explodes. For the past two winters I rode Frankencycle – a beast of a bike, scrapped together from numerous bike corpses abandoned around our apartment complex.

frankencycle
frankencycle

Somehow the front wheel escaped before I took the picture… It was actually a sturdy and reliable bike, and yet I never had to lock it up. I guess a bike thief is a poor judge of character.

Here are a few additional components that some people find handy:

  1. Studded tires – helpful on ice, but pricey, slower, and still not crash proof. These come in all sizes, even for road bikes, though the fit might be snug.
  2. Snowboarding helmet – full-face makes it warm and dry, but also bulky and heavy.
  3. Lights – absolutely essential. Here in the north the sun throws in the towel around 4:30, and the bike lane turns into a slosh fest which forces you into the road, so the more candelas the better. Since both my light mountings have busted I’ve strapped the front to my helmet and the rear to my backpack, which is nice because I don’t have to detach them when I park.

Last year, completely cankered with rust, Frankencycle disappeared into the northern countries to live its final days in solitude. I’ve since assembled Bikenstien, a mountain bike that’s just as scrappy, though not as loyal.

bikenstien
bikenstien

Winter Bicycling: Essential Attire

Fall snow

Last week it dropped into the single digits here in the Twin Cities. My wife shed a tear, which froze to her cheek. That only made it worse.

So we didn’t play outside on Thanksgiving, since it got well below 20° (Outdoor Thanksgiving Activities with Kids). I’ll be honest – the winter is going to kick our butts with its frozen foot, as always, but at this point I’m saying “Bring it on, punk!” I feel like lieutenant Dan on the Bubba Gump shrimpin boat, shouting into the hurricane.

One way I stick it to the winter is by biking to school, right in its face. Here, and in the next post, are some considerations for any fair-weather bicyclists or pedestrians who’d like to give it a shot.

For clothing, you don’t need anything fancy like spandex or gortex, even for the -30° temps that we’ll soon have in Minnesota, unless you want to be speedy or stylin. On the coldest of days my attire consists of:

  1. Thermal underwear – top and bottom
  2. Wool socks – heavy duty
  3. Jeans or dickies
  4. Waterproof low-top boots, or high-tops for deep sloppy joe snow
  5. Fleece – either light or heavy, depending on your jacket
  6. Jacket – insulated, hooded windbreaker. A shell is fine if your fleece is thick
  7. Ski mask
  8. Beanie, stocking cap, whatever you call it
  9. Scarf or neck warmer thing
  10. Mittens, not gloves

Note, I only bike 2.5 miles each way, so I could walk if I had to. I think 5 to 7 mile commutes are still bearable in the city with this much gear. Longer rides require more layers in case of an emergency, like a freakish wind chill or blizzard, wherein shelter is hard to find.

Note also that my eyes are exposed. This hasn’t been a problem, even at extreme lows, but on longer rides you might enjoy ski goggles.

Finally, some encouraging links:
www.ci.minneapolis.mn.us/bicycles/winter-biking
www.bicyclinglife.com/Recreation/wintercycling
adrenalist.com/biking/a-guide-to-winter-biking