Trailer touring

Mark and Helen test out BOB trailers

Mark and Helen test out BOB trailers

Helen Cronin and Mark Slater share their journeys with trailers.

When Ed and Gaye Bourke rolled through Bendigo in 2006, they’d pedalled nearly 12,000 km from London towing all their gear in trailers. We decided we had to try them.

There are two types of bicycle trailer: single-wheel and two-wheel.

Two-wheel versions like the Smart Trolley and Eco Trailer are designed for shopping and short city trips. They even let you unhook the trailer and walk around with it. They have a single coupling on either the left chain stay or the seat post.

But for extended tours over varied and sometimes rough terrain, a single-wheel trailer is the only choice because they’re much more stable. Unless you’re just trundling along and taking corners gently, you risk tipping a two-wheel trailer. With a single-wheel trailer, you’re carrying the weight at the height of your bike’s wheel axle and it tracks right along behind the bike.

We whistled down the Barrabool hills into Geelong at around 70 kph on one trip. In spite of the sticker warning us not to exceed 43 kph, there was not a wobble from the trailers. We only once had trouble descending in a cross-wind when the safety flag on its long pole was destabilising the trailer. We’ve learned to fold it up in conditions like that now!

You might safely exceed the speed limit, but not the weight limit. Most bicycle trailers are designed to carry around 32 kg. The single wheel trailers have a two sided yoke that hooks onto a special skewer. Heading for a dry camp down a corrugated dirt road with too much water on board on one trip, we broke the skewer on one of the bikes. A three-day wait for a new skewer to arrive in the post put an end to that tour.

In any case, you want to learn to travel light on a bicycle no matter how you cart your gear. A single-wheel trailer already weighs around 7 kg, so you soon regret every little extra you packed when you’re grinding up a long hill. And coming down the other side good brakes are essential.

Unless you’re an exceptionally smooth rider, you’ll also pedal the whole trip sitting down. Just as with panniers, you can’t afford to rock the bike from side to side. Trailers are stable as long as you don’t deliberately wobble them.

There are two common single-wheel trailers available in Australia: the US-designed BOB Yak (and the BOB Ibex which includes suspension) and the Tawainese copy TW Bent. Both come with a waterproof bag in which to pack your gear.

The BOBs are beautifully designed and constructed, even including braze-ons on the back of the trailer for two bidons – and you pay for it.

The TW Bents are a similar design and considerably cheaper, although we had to do our own modifications to fit bidon holders.

Unfortunately, the hitch has a design flaw which eventually became obvious on a trip earlier this year. One side of the trailer would unhook itself while we were underway, usually at an inconvenient moment.

We’ve now ordered BOB yokes to fit to our trailers which we reckon will combine the best of both designs. We discovered early on that removing the wheels and stacking the trailers one on top of the other gives you a great camp table. And you can’t do that with a BOB.

The two sides of single-wheel trailers
Advantages

  • Weight is carried low and they’re inherently stable even at high speed.
  • The trailer doesn’t present the same windage as panniers, so they’re slightly easier in a headwind.
  • You can strap a fold-up stool on top – much nicer to have somewhere to sit than squatting on the ground the whole trip.

Disadvantages

  • They’re a nuisance if you need to do a lot of train changes, especially on the metro system, or board ferries where trailers can be charged as an extra bike. That’s a trip for panniers.
  • All your gear is packed in one bag, so anything you think you’ll need between camp sites must be packed in a small bag and strapped to the top.

[Caption BOBTrailers.jpg: Borrowed BOBs: Mark and Helen test out the BOB Ibex and Yak on their first trailer tour. Photo Allison Hanger.

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