Ways to Haul Kids with Bikes
There are several options for bringing kids along on bike rides, and the term "bike trailer" might mean different things to different people. The right choice for you depends on the age and abilities of your children, the type of riding you want to do, and whether you hope to transport anything other than just your kids.
Standard trailers, which were the sole focus of this review, have two wheels and an enclosed or partially enclosed compartment for one or two children. With a standard trailer, the only thing required of the child is to sit back and enjoy the ride. Passengers are buckled into their seat with a harness, usually either a five-point system like the Burley D'Lite or a three-point system with an additional lap belt like the Thule Cadence. The trailer is connected to the bike with a tow arm that attaches at a single point. All of the trailers we tested attach to the bike via an adaptor that's mounted by the back wheel's quick release skewer, but some other models attach to the frame or to the seat post.
The models we tested are all suitable for carrying children one year and up. Most of them have a cargo compartment for extra gear, and many can convert into a stroller. Some manufacturers, like Thule, also have an infant insert that they say makes trailers appropriate for even younger children, but our friends at BabyGearLab have done extensive research on this issue. Thus, we defer to their conclusion that biking with your baby should be strictly limited to smooth surfaces after your baby is one year old. Biking off-road with your child in a trailer before they're a year old exposes them to stressful forces that could be harmful. Your pediatrician can help you to analyze whether your child has sufficient head and neck strength to begin rolling in a bike trailer. In all cases, children should be secured by the trailer's harness and should be wearing a helmet while riding.
Pedal trailers, such as the Weehoo iGo Pro and the WeeRide Co-Pilot, are not enclosed and do not offer as much protection for the child as a standard trailer. However, they do allow the child to pedal and contribute to forward momentum. This can be more fun and engaging for a child that gets bored sitting inside a standard trailer. They are ideal for older children who are either not quite ready to ride a bike on their own but want to participate, or for children who are already capable of riding a bike but can't go quite as long and fast as a parent when on their own bike. This allows a parent and child to have a longer, more enjoyable ride together than if the child was on their own separate bike. This style of trailer attaches to the seat post of the adult's bike and has one wheel with a seat and crank system to allow the child to pedal.
Child's bike seats, like the Thule RideAlong, are usually mounted on the front of the bike near the handlebars or on the back of the bike via the frame or rack. Like bike trailers, bike seats don't require any input from the passenger other than to sit back and enjoy the ride. Bike seats are a significantly less expensive way to transport little ones by bike than trailers are, but they usually offer no protection from the elements and they are not designed to tow any form of cargo.
Selecting the Right Standard Trailer
If you know that a standard trailer is what you want, but aren't sure which one is right for you, then you've come to the right place. Let's roll through the factors you should consider!
How Many Kids Do You Have, and How Old?
We tested all two-child trailers so we could compare apples to apples, but all of the models we tested either have a one-child version or a similar one-child model from the same manufacturer. Since trailers are towed behind bicycles, manufacturers must balance the cyclist's need for an aerodynamic caboose with the passenger's need for space to sit. This means that even two-child trailers are relatively narrow, designed to fit two tushes with very little room in between or on the sides.
If you have two kids and are looking to maximize the space they have inside the trailer, we'd recommend the Burley D'Lite. At 22.5", it has one of the widest seats we tested, and it has bowed-out sides at shoulder height to give passengers extra breathing room up top. If you'll only be towing one kid, you could go with a one-child version like the Burley Solo. However, most one-child versions are almost as expensive as their equivalent two-child options (for example, the D'Lite is only 20% higher than the Solo), and you get significantly more space for your kid to spread out, increased versatility in towing cargo, and the option to bring an occasional friend along. Consider a two-child option even if you only plan on pulling one.
Each of the trailers we tested can carry up to 100 pounds except the InStep Take 2, which can carry up to 80 lbs. Trailers are generally suitable for children between 1 and 5 years of age, after which multiple kids start getting too heavy for the trailer (and kids start wanting to ride bikes of their own). If your children are on the young end of this age group, it might be worth it for you to invest in one of the higher-end, more durable products available, since your trailer will see several years of use. If that's the case, we'd steer you toward one of the Burley or Thule models, especially the Burley D'Lite or the Thule Chariot Cross, since they're incredibly well constructed and won't wear out before your kids are finished enjoying them. If you're looking into a trailer for kids nearing the end of their trailer days, it might make sense to spend less on a product you'll only use for a year or two. In that case, the Burley Bee, winner of our Best Bang for the Buck award, is still a fantastic and well-built trailer at a reasonable price.
Where Will You Ride, and How Often?
The type of terrain you plan to access with your trailer is a central factor in deciding which product to purchase. Consider how you plan to use your trailer. Do you see yourself hauling your kids along on training rides up and down difficult mountain roads? Are you purchasing a trailer to eliminate your daily car commute? Or are you envisioning the occasional cruise over paved roads to the local park?
If you're planning on regular off-road riding for prolonged stretches, we'd strongly recommend investing in a trailer with a suspension system, like our Editor's Choice award winner, the Burley D'Lite, or our Top Pick for Athletes, the Thule Chariot Cross. Having built-in suspension makes the trailer easier for you to tow and creates a much smoother ride for your passengers, which is especially essential when towing younger children. If you're going to be doing any off-road riding at all, even for short stints, do yourself a favor and choose a trailer with 20" wheels, which are significantly easier to tow over rough terrain. The trailers we tested with 16" wheels, the Allen Sports Steel and the InStep Take 2, are best-suited for paved road riding.
If you plan to use your trailer for commuting or other daily activities, the Burley Bee is our favorite affordable option, and the Burley D'Lite is an excellent choice at the higher end of the price range. Both of these trailers are a joy to set up and tow, and they're durable enough to stand up to daily use. If you'll be staying on paved roads but live in a community with lots of hills, we'll put in another strong recommendation for the Bee. It's the lightest trailer we tested and it has the most robust hitch mechanism, so it doesn't transfer any lurching to the bike even when standing up on hill climbs.
How's the Weather?
Most trailers on the market tout their weather-resistant properties, but we found a wide variation in the performance of the models we tested. If you are regularly riding in very wet or hot environments, spend some extra time with this section.
We soaked each of the trailers in our test group under a sprinkler for five minutes to perform a controlled test of their capabilities in the rain. We strategically placed the sprinkler head to simulate road slick coming up off the back tire of the bicycle, since this muck has a tendency to make its way into trailers under their front covers. The Thule Chariots were clear winners in this test. Both of them feature a rain shield that covers the entire top of the trailer and stretches over the front all the way to the bottom, and the fasteners are placed to direct runoff to the exterior of the trailer (like wearing rain pants over the top of rain boots). We're confident that even if we'd left the sprinkler on for five hours, the interiors of the Chariots would remain dry. By contrast, none of the other models we tested have rain covers that stretch over their tops, so eventual fabric saturation in heavy rain is inevitable. The Burley Bee, the Thule Cadence and the Burley D'Lite remained relatively dry inside throughout our rain test and would be okay for a prolonged ride in drizzle, but we don't think they'd stand up to much more than 15 minutes of riding in heavy rain.
On the other end of the spectrum, some trailers go above and beyond to protect children from sun exposure. The Burley D'Lite has an adjustable sun shade, UPF 30 windows and proper ventilation with a mesh-covered window in the back to encourage air flow. The Thule Chariots also did well here, with an even larger adjustable sun shade and mesh backing behind the passengers' heads for ventilation.
How Much Do you Want to Spend?
Some bike trailers cost as much as dinner and a concert; some cost as much as flying to France. The InStep Take 2, which retails for $140 and is often on sale for less, is the least expensive model we tested. On the other hand, our priciest test product, the Thule Chariot Cross, goes for the princely sum of $1,000.
Your budget is entirely your business, but we do have a few helpful notes here. One trailer in our test group stood out as an incredible value: the Burley Bee. For $300, the Bee gets you the quality design and durability that comes with the Burley brand for less than half the price of their deluxe model, the D'Lite. True, the Bee isn't as plush for passengers as the D'Lite, but it's a fantastically easy trailer to set up and tow, it has great safety features, and it's light enough to remain useful as an around-town cargo trailer long after your kids are grown up. The Bee is twice the price of the InStep Take 2, but we think it's high-quality enough to be more than double the value. If you're on a budget but you still want a great product, we believe that you'll thank yourself for springing for the Bee.
On the other end of the spectrum are the Thule Chariot Cross and its little sibling the Thule Chariot Lite, which retails for $800. We'll just say it: If you're going to be spending that kind of money on a trailer, go all out and get the Chariot Cross. The Cross has strategically padded seats that recline individually, an adjustable suspension system and a rain-proof cargo pouch with separated pockets that can be clipped up and out of the way when not in use. The Chariot Lite is a great trailer, but it doesn't have any of those excellent fancy features. Either one is a serious investment, so we think you might as well invest in the best.
Will It Fit Your Bike?
Most bike trailers will work with most bikes, but will your bike trailer work with your bike? In modern bike trailer designs, a big part of the answer to this question comes down to the hitch.
All of the trailers we tested have hitches that attach to the bike with a steel adaptor that's clamped to the bike frame by the rear quick release skewer. For this to work, there has to be enough of a flat surface on the frame dropout area to accommodate the part of the hitch adaptor that must lie flush with it. For bikes with flat dropouts, this usually isn't a problem. For bikes with "breezer"-style dropouts that have protruding hoods (and resulting smaller flat surfaces), it often is a problem and may make the bike incompatible with individual trailers.
To determine if a trailer's hitch adaptor will work with the bike you have, check to see if you have breezer-style hooded dropouts or flat ones. If your dropouts are flat, any of the trailers we tested will most likely work with your bike. If you have breezer-style dropouts, it's worth calling the manufacturer and telling them the make and model of your bike so they can say whether the hitch adaptor will fit or not. We attempted to test each of the trailers with a 2016 Novara Randonee with breezer-style dropouts. The Burley and Thule hitches fit; we were able to make the Weehoo and Allen hitches work, but they really were about a millimeter too big; and the InStep hitch was way too big to work with breezers.
If the bike you want to use has tight breezer-style dropouts that won't work with any hitch adaptors, don't fret. Burley sells a $12 hitch adaptor that can solve this very problem, and it also offers its classic hitch design that attaches directly to the chainstay for $30. There is also a chainstay adaptor for Thule models available for $40. The chainstay options will be a little heavier and clunkier to use than the elegant QR-based hitches, but they're certainly an easier and cheaper option than buying a new bike!
Not to rub salt in a wound, but your kids won't be trailer-aged forever. Thinking about what you'll do with your trailer once your children are pedaling their own bikes can help you decide how much to spend and which model to choose.
If you're planning to give your trailer to another family or sell it used when it's no longer appropriate for your kids, it makes sense to invest in a trailer that's well-constructed, well-designed and durable. The Burley D'Lite and the more-affordable Burley Bee are great options here, as are the Thule Chariots. Lower-end trailers like the InStep Take 2 and the Allen Sports Steel are probably not great options for long-term use or resale due to their overall lower quality of craftsmanship and construction.
If you're planning to keep your trailer when your kids are finished with it to haul canines, camping gear, groceries or just about anything else, we think the Burley D'Lite is the best choice. As we've mentioned, the large and convertible interior of the D'Lite make it the most versatile of all the trailers we tested, and its large wheels and suspension system make it an ideal off-road companion for your weekend bikepacking adventures. The InStep Take 2 also has a large interior and seats that fold flat, giving it similar spacial versatility to the D'Lite. However, with small plastic wheels and no suspension, we wouldn't recommend the Take 2 for off-road hauling.