Last updated: June 8, 2017
Hauling the laundry basket up and down stairs and chasing around a toddler-wannabe certainly qualify as exercise. Still, if you get the feeling it’s not enough, a bicycle trailer can help you cover some ground in the name of fitness and fresh air without having to hire a baby sitter.
Trailers have two bicycle-type wheels and a long hitching arm that fastens onto your bicycle. Some can carry two kids, and others are designed for children with disabilities. They’re promoted for towing a child big enough to sit up, usually starting at 6 months or so. But we think that’s too young. For one thing, children of that age may not be physically equipped to withstand the forces they’ll be exposed to in a trailer. For another, there are no helmets available at that age level – and a helmet is a necessity, in our view. If you want to use a trailer, our advice is to wait until your child is old enough to walk and can be properly fitted with a helmet, then you can do incorporate some ride tricks to make your bonding more cool.
Trailers give the impression of being safer than bicycle-mounted baby bike seat, since the passenger or passengers are seated, strapped in, and enclosed in a zippered compartment. Bicycle-mounted child seats can also make a bike unstable and hard to mount and dismount. As with trailers, they should not be used with very young children.
But trailers pose safety problems in their own right because their low profile makes them difficult for motorists to see, especially in limited light, especially in limited light, even if they’re brightly colored. And trailers can tip over if you turn abruptly or happen to turn when one wheel is going over a bump. As your bike speeds up, braking becomes harder, even more so on wet surfaces. Trailers may also become snagged on bushes or other objects.
For safety’s sake, consider trailers to be “off-road vehicles” and use them only in parks and on safe, smooth trails where there’s no risk of encounters with cars. Have your child wear a lightweight, well-fitting bike helmet, and follow the manufacturer’s recommendation regarding weight and size limitations. That’s typically 60 pounds for a one-passenger trailer and 100 pounds for a duo.
The better bicycle trailers have sturdy construction, tinted windows, a comfortable interior, and a wide wheel base. But before you decide to buy, ask yourself if you will use the trailer enough to justify the price. If you think you’ll be using it only occasionally, buy the most durable trailer you can that’s the priced at the low end. Also, consider how much weight you’ll tow. When the weight of the bicycle trailer plus the passenger or passengers exceeds 50 pounds, you may start to think of yourself as a beast of burden. At that point, maybe it’s time for riders to get their own kids bike.
If you plan to put the bike trailer together yourself, you’ll want clear instructions because assembly can be a challenge. If you need help, call the company or consult your local bike shop.
Some manufacturers offer conversion kits that allow you to turn a trailer into a jogging stroller. That’s an attractive, expense-saving, two-for-one option. But we don’t recommend the opposite – using a conversion kit to rig your stroller to your bike.
Many trailers come with plastic wind and rain shields, which protect against sun, wind, and rain. A zippered front shield can keep spray from the bicycle tires or mud from splattering onto your baby. But if the shield encloses the entire cabin, make certain there’s some form of ventilation, such as breathable mesh windows. Your kids may appreciate tinted windows, which aren’t available on all models. They can also help keep the “cockpit” cool.
Some bike trailers feature quick-release wheels and fold easily for storage (even in a hall closet), which can be an advantage if your riding is seasonal.
Frames are generally made of steel, ,but more expensive models may be aluminum or alloy, which are lighter. The frame should be firmly welded or bolted. Better models offer a roll cage to protect passengers in the event of a rollover.
Look for a padded adjustable five-point harness (two straps over the shoulders, two for the thighs, and a crotch strap), much like a car seat’s.
The hitching arm should have a backup to prevent the trailer from accidentally breaking loose. Check the wheel mounting to be sure that it will hold securely. Look for a universal hitch, which will accommodate almost any bicycle. Some hitching arms are designed to help keep the trailer upright even if your bike goes down.
Most trailers have side reflective strips, which are good if you’re riding at twilight – although we don’t recommend it. A safety flag, consisting of a pennant on a whip tall enough to make it visible to drivers, is a must.
The interior of the trailer should offer comfortable seating for young passengers, with adequate legroom and good back support. Storage pockets for toys or snacks are a plus. At the higher end of the price range, you’ll find seats that recline, cushier padding, and on two-person trailers, a seat divider. The seat’s protective cavity should be free of protrusions.
They’re typically made with rims of steel, which has the potential to rust, or aluminum, which doesn’t. Look for high-quality rubber tires.
Wraparound wheel guards are another safety feature to look for. They can help protect your kids while you ride and reduce mud spatter as well.