Top Five Reasons NOT to go on Bike Tour with a Trailer
On our first major bike tour we decided to haul a trailer to store our gear. Much like you are probably doing right now, we had read several articles online that extolled the virtues or (more often than not) described the many drawbacks to touring with a trailer. Nonetheless, we had purchased the Bike Friday Travel System which included a trailer for our tandem bicycle and we were eager to put the system to the test.
In the end we discovered what so many touring cyclists have before us. Trailers are a pain and we will never do a long tour with one again! Here are the top five reasons why.
1. Awkward handling
2. Wide Profile
3. Tendency to Over Pack
4. Requires More Maintenance
Having only hauled the Bike Friday trailer we can’t offer much specific performance info on other trailers, but there’s probably a reason why even the BOB trailer has been affectionately renamed the Beast Of Burden. Read on for details as well as tips for tandem touring without the trailer.
A fully loaded bike can be awkward to handle regardless of whether you choose panniers or a trailer. Either system will take some getting used to, but with your panniers packed to correctly distribute the weight you can make handling a loaded bike a breeze.
Both systems will obviously weigh more than an unloaded bike, making braking distances longer, though trailers and associated hardware will usually weigh more than panniers.
Where the trailer comes short is on tight turns. The inertia of the trailer can tend to pull the bike to the side and at high speeds can be a little disconcerting to say the least.
If you read our review of the Bike Friday trailer then you know we broke it twice. The axles stick out wider than panniers and it is critical to know how much room you have when maneuvering tight spaces. Many bike paths have narrow posts that block cars from driving on the path. On several paths we encountered blocks that were impassable with our trailer.
While touring in Eastern Europe we encountered many roads without shoulders. On these roads it becomes a liability to have a trailer. Drivers seem to always be testing the limits of their abilities by navigating as close to you as possible. It’s scary enough riding a bike in traffic without a trailer doubling your width.
Tendency to Over Pack
When you have a huge cargo capacity it seems like you should fill it. We have found that limiting your space enables you to pack more efficiently and with only those things you need. You could carry food for a week, but you will likely be close to a supermarket when you want one so why haul more than a few days worth?
One advantage of the trailer is that you can pack large items more easily. Things like your tent poles and sleeping pad usually end up strapped to your rack outside your panniers anyway, but with a trailer everything can be inside.
Requires More Maintenance
Adding another tire or tires and moving parts means you’ll need to replace more tubes and tires. Trailer wheels are often a different size than your bike’s wheels so you will need an extra cash of tubes in your bags.
Additionally you have a hitch assembly that will give you another potential point of failure. If you over load the trailer beyond the recommended weight capacity you can also damage your bike. A bent rear fork, rims and trailer are all possibilities. One lesson that we learned on our tour is that a broken trailer can be more difficult to find parts for than a bike and can stop you dead in your tracks when it fails.
The cost will depend largely on your specific setup, but by and large a trailer will be more expensive. For a few points of reference, the BOB Yak trailer starts at $359 while panniers like Ortleibs will be less than $300 and can be made for as little as $50.
Alternatives for Tandem Riders
One of the major reasons we elected to tour with a trailer was because we were riding a tandem and didn’t think it would be possible to contain two people’s gear and food in the four panniers that would fit on our tandem.
If you think about it, touring on a tandem creates a lot of benefits for lowering gear volume per person. Assumedly you will be sharing a tent and need only have one set of spare tubes, parts and bike tools. This means that you basically will only have to deal with double the clothing and double the food and water.
The ultimate tandem setup that we have decided on is four water proof panniers and a large dry bag tied to the top of the rear rack. Dry bags come in all shapes and sizes and can be found in sizes up to 40 liters. That gives you the equivalent volume of two extra rear panniers without any of the hassles of towing a trailer.
In the end the choice to tour with a trailer is up to you. There are people who love touring with trailers, we have just never met any of them.