May 2003; updated July 2003

Bicycle Child Trailer Buyer's Guide

My assumption is that most any trailer you buy will offer reasonable protection for your child. The choices you make should be based on how you expect to use it.

Size

Do you expect to have two kids, toys, and a picnic basket in the trailer? Not all trailers-for-two are equal, and you may find that many are uncomfortable for your pair. Yakima makes one of the widest that I know of. If you want three kids, you're limited (as far as I know) to a trailer from Tanjor

If you don't own a garage, and you store your bike inside, you might want to consider the overall width. I live in an apartment building, with a bike room and roll-in access. Roll-in access doesn't help for a trailer that doesn't fit through the door, and many don't. This may also be a concern if you will be using the trailer in stroller configuration (usually an option) to do some shopping, as you should be able to roll into the stores where you shop. Most trailers' specifications say they are 32-33 inches wide, and there are many 29 or 30 inch door openings.

Yakimas fold into a vertical position where they can still roll, which would solve the roll-in bike room problem, but not the shopping problem. InStep's Ride-n-Run and Ride-n-Stride have specs that put them at 30.5 inches wide, which just might work for my door, but you should measure yours. The trailers from Tanjor also look narrow as the kids sit one behind another, but I don't have a width on them. Or you can go with a single passenger model -- Burley sells the Solo, 25 inches wide, and Trek sells the Rocket which I don't have a width on, but it is actually made by Chariot Carriers, who's specs put their latest single passenger models at 27 inches (Chariot Carriers actually puts a "Door Pass Through" in their specifications -- although in some cases it is narrower than the listed width of the trailer :-).

Folding

If you will be driving to your ride, or you need to store the trailer in a small space, or you need to ship it regularly, then you may need to get a model that folds (most do).

Make sure the folded size fits in the spaces where you need it to go, in the trunk, or the garage, closet, or shipping container. Keep in mind that the advertised "folded" size may also include removal of the wheels, which they don't include in the easy folding demonstration, so check for quick-release wheels if you need them.

Do not underestimate the importance of ease of folding. Adding an extra 15 minutes at each end of the ride can be frustrating, especially if you have to do it while watching your toddler.

Hitch

Not all hitches are equal. There are four basic mount types I know of: mounting to the seatpost, the bike rack, the axle, or the frame (usually clamps on to the chainstay). The last two options are the most popular, with the axle mount becoming more popular than the frame mount.

If you will be hooking up to an older bike that can not be used with quick-release wheels, make sure there is an option available. InStep uses an axle mount which attaches to a quick-release skewer, and I haven't been able to find out if there is a fixed-nut option. Burley has both skewer, and fixed-nut attachments in addition to their frame hitch option.

If it is a frame hitch, make sure it will fit. Many mountain bikes have a very tight angle where the chainstay meets the seatstay, so if the clamp has to go in this space it may be a problem. It looks like the Wike trailer hitches go into this space, but they also offer a quick-release skewer hitch. (In the case of my Scwhinn Twinn, neither of these will work.)

Also consider heel clearance, particularly for frame hitches. If it is bulky and sticks out, your heel may strike it with each stroke which is clearly unaccetable. The Rhode Gear/Bell Pro might have this problem. It looks like the Burley frame clamp stays fairly flush to the frame. If you have big feet, it is possible I guess that you might have a problem with axle hitches too.

Of course, for a rack hitch, you need a sturdy rack, and you then can't use the top of the rack while using the trailer.

Will you be using the trailer on more than one bike? Make sure there is a solution for each of your bikes. Some trailers offer axle hitch mounts that can stay on the bike, allowing you to quickly attach the trailer to any of the bikes that have the mount in place. Burley's combination of clamp, quick-release skewer hitches, and fixed-nut hitches should satisfy any set of oddball bikes.

You should get a hitch that permits the bike to fall over without toppling the trailer, as this is safer. This is probably a standard feature on all trailers by now, but ask anyway.

Stroller

For the most part, these will be cumbersome strollers, poorly suited to either jogging because of stability, or around town use because of the size, in particular width fitting through doors. See above in the Size section for information regarding narrower trailers.

Two notable exceptions in the jogging department are the Chariot Carriers X-Country products and the Trek trailers (which are made by Chariot Carriers) -- these are well-rated as jogging strollers. If you look at them on the web, you'll see that they look like jogger strollers, with a large front wheel. Note however that this jogger stroller attachment would not be easy to transport while using it as a bike trailer. If you intend to ride somewhere and then walk around, you will probably want the more traditional (non-jogger) stroller attachment that is made by Chariot Carriers, and is also sold through Trek.

Harnesses

A kind reader encouraged me to add a bit about the harnesses, which I hadn't thought much about. I think from a safety point of view, most harnesses out there will be adequate, and some sort of five-point thing is pretty standard. However some harnesses may be easier to adjust or more comfortable than others. This kind reader emphasized that he felt the Chariot harnesses were top quality, and Burley was behind the times.

I think one thing worth considering here is what happens when your child falls asleep. When my son sleeps in our Rhode Gear/Bell Pro trailer the harness does a lousy job of holding my son upright (he ends up leaning very sideways).

Some trailers also offer the ability to recline the child's seat. Again, my trailer has this feature, however it is a major disassembly/reassembly process, and certainly not something you could perform with the child in the seat. I don't know if any trailers offer the ability to recline on-the-fly, but it would be a nice feature.

It's great if you can test the trailer with your child, although asking him or her to pretend to fall asleep may be a bit futile. Still, you'll probably get a good idea of how easy it is to deal with and how much your child likes it.

Quality and other features

It's up to you to compare the quality of the products. Pay attention to the fabric and stitching. How heavy-duty is the frame? How is it put together? To some degree, you can judge by price, especially for the larger, more established companies. Burley has the best reputation of all the trailer makers out there. They've been doing it a long time and offer good support. On the other hand, some of their competitors such as Chariot or Yakima are producing what could definitely be considered more advanced products, although still not as time-tested.

There are also a host of bike trailers out there that I don't mention here, and these tend to be smaller companies, or fairly generic trailers built by or for the name-brand bike companies. These trailers will tend to be perfectly adequate, but nothing special. They also tend to cost a bit less.

Look for large wheels. Larger wheels will be smoother on bumps than small ones. Spoked wheels are generally higher quality than the plastic ones.

Some trailers have a frame section that extends around the wheel. This makes the trailer wider, but can prevent the wheel from hooking on a post, or road debris. Some also have a frame section that extends to the wheel without covering it, for the same purpose. This is probably almost as good.

Make sure the cover gives you options for ventilation and protection. Flow-through ventilation is good for hot days. A screen in front in this case is mandatory to block bugs and road-debris. Plastic covers that can close the ventilation and protect against cooler weather and rain are also useful; even if you don't expect to ride in these conditions, sometimes things change.

Recalls

Recall information is available at the Consumer Products Safety Commission. There are various ways to search through their recall information, none of them good. At the time of this writing (May 2003), I am aware of recalls from Burley (the Bravo), Norco USA (several models), and several models of Chariot Carriers including those sold to Trek. However, I can't find the Trek recall information on the CPSC web site. (perhaps Chariot did the recall on their own).

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