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How to Choose a Bike Cargo Trailer

How to Choose a Bike Cargo Trailer
Getting started towing almost 140 lbs can be a little challenging, but once you are moving this trailer handles with ease.
Credit: Kat Elliott
Tuesday August 24, 2021
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Over the years, we have churned through a smorgasbord of bike cargo trailers to figure out which ones are worth their metal and which ones should get a one-way ticket to the scrap yard. Our expertise and experience in bike touring, commuting, and living off a bike have given us the insights necessary to accurately examine each trailer's abilities. Read on for tips on how to hone in on the perfect trailer for you.

Types of Cargo Bike Trailers

There are two main types of bike cargo trailers available on the market, one wheel and two-wheel. In general, two-wheel trailers can handle more sheer weight, while single-wheel designs are more efficient but can't handle extreme loads.

bike cargo trailer - the coho is ultra-versatile, able to tackle single-track touring and...
The Coho is ultra-versatile, able to tackle single-track touring and grocery runs. The single wheel keeps it nimble, but the design still allows for impressive loads. Add-ons from Burley can beef it up even more. This is definitely a jack of all trades.
Credit: Brian Martin

Single Wheel Trailers

If maneuverability and efficiency are high on your list of necessities when considering a cargo trailer, a single-wheel model is probably where you want to start. The single wheel cuts down on drag, tracks directly behind your bike, and ultimately offers better handling than two-wheel models.

Consider this: cyclists drafting other cyclists save about 27 percent of the energy they would have used pushing through the winds resistance. When using a single-wheel trailer, the trailer sits in your slipstream instead of creating an extra surface for you to pull through the air. While this might not be an issue around town, the resistance adds up quickly if you're planning a several hundred-mile bike tour.

There are a few drawbacks to a single-wheel trailer. First, you as the rider must balance the weight of both your bike and trailer when stopped. With a fully loaded trailer, this can be very laborious. Also, attaching the trailer to your bike usually takes two people (or leaning the trailer and the bike against something) to get it properly attached. As you might imagine, this makes single-wheel trailers better suited for long stints in the saddle with few stops. Two-wheel trailers offer better usability for stop and go when riding around town.

bike cargo trailer - hitching heavy loads is noticeably easier with the coho since its...
Hitching heavy loads is noticeably easier with the Coho since its kick stand puts the hitch right below the attachment points on the bike. This lets you focus on steadying the bike and only lifting the trailer about an inch to hitch.
Credit: Brian Martin

Two Wheel Trailers

Two wheels offer a significant boost in stability, durability, and overall hauling capacity. Generally, single-wheel trailers top out at about 70 pounds, whereas some two-wheel models can handle more than 100 pounds.

Typically, hitching and unhitching two-wheel trailers is also much easier than single-wheeled as it only requires you to lift the tong up and down with the trailer doing the work of balancing itself upright.

bike cargo trailer - hitching the travoy to the seat post mount is an easy one hand...
Hitching the Travoy to the seat post mount is an easy one hand operation. This allows you to stabilize the bike, or manage groceries with the other hand!
Credit: Brian Martin

While most two-wheeled trailers are horizontal, there is also an upright "golf bag" variation. This design allows you to keep groceries and fragile items from getting jumbled up during your commute. The Burley Travoy was the only trailer of this variety we tested. It allowed for hauling unique items from fragile to bulky.

bike cargo trailer - the burley travoy tote bag in the high configuration. this allows...
The Burley Travoy Tote bag in the high configuration. This allows you to put a couple cases of La Croix on the bottom shelf.
Credit: Brian Martin

On the downside, the width of a two-wheeled option also creates more drag on both you and the trailer. They also take up more space on and off of the trails and are less stable when making sharp turns and going on and off the pavement. Overall, the two-wheeled trailers we tested tended to be better for around-town commuting and hauling larger loads than were their single wheel counterparts.

Ready to Buy?

If you're ready to take the plunge, here's a step-by-step breakdown of the decision-making process. Think about how you're going to use the trailer, whether you'll need suspension, and how much you're willing to spend.

First: What Will Be Your Primary Use?

Think about your primary purpose for getting a bike trailer. Are you going to be doing longer overnight bike touring, or are you simply looking for a way to transport items around town? Do you want a trailer specifically for shopping? Does having the option to go off-road matter, or are you going to be staying on paved streets?

bike cargo trailer - the coho xc offers an easy solution to camping by bike allowing you...
The Coho XC offers an easy solution to camping by bike allowing you to pack enough cargo to be comfortable for days.
Credit: Brian Martin

If you are looking for a trailer to haul heavy and uneven cargo, then the wagon-like Burley Flatbed may be a good fit. It can carry up to 100 pounds, and with its open front and back design, it's easy to load and unload. Conversely, if you are looking for a trailer to tour with, the two-wheeled Burley Nomad or Burley Coho XC are good options, depending on whether you want a single or double-wheeled touring bike trailer. If around town grocery shopping will be a primary task, the Burley Travo is a well-adapted urban solution.

bike cargo trailer - along with its low price, we appreciate the large carrying capacity...
Along with its low price, we appreciate the large carrying capacity of this model.
Credit: Kat Elliott

Second: Suspension or No Suspension?

To suspend or not to suspend? That is the question. Our main tester was suspended a lot during high school, and we wouldn't recommend that type of suspension. For cargo trailers, suspension can go a long way to making your bike tour more pleasant and keeping your items unspoiled. Probably the biggest benefit is when traversing washboard gravel roads where suspension helps to smooth out the bumps and, in turn, tug and pull less on your bike. Much like wind resistance, this doesn't matter much over short distances, but over hundreds of miles, it can make or break your trip.

bike cargo trailer - the adjustable coil spring on the coho offers a smoother ride than...
The adjustable coil spring on the Coho offers a smoother ride than the unsprung trailers, as well as the feeling of having less cargo weight when hitting larger bumps.
Credit: Brian Martin

Third: Price

Most of the cargo bike trailers on the market today are well over a couple of hundred dollars. In our opinion, quality and durability are always worth the price. You also usually pay extra for certain features. For instance, the Burley Coho XC seems incredibly expensive. However, it has excellent build quality and offers everything you could want in a bike cargo trailer. It also has some options, such as a fat tire add-on and even extra panniers to expand the cargo space. So, if you're committed to really using your trailer and want to have options for various kinds of outings, the higher price is a solid investment.

On the other end of the price spectrum, you have trailers like the Retrospec Rover Hauler, Schwinn Day Tripper, Aosom Elite II, and Aosom Wanderer. These trailers are all affordable, and while they lack the refinement of the more expensive trailers, they absolutely get the job done. The Wanderer is particularly unique as it can haul an absolute ton of stuff — over 100 pounds! It all depends on what you need and how often you plan to use your trailer.

bike cargo trailer - from hauling your ski equipment to the hill or skipping over to a...
From hauling your ski equipment to the hill or skipping over to a backyard BBQ, the Flatbed can make it happen.
Credit: Brian Martin

We hope this short guide helps you narrow down the choices as you decide on your new bike cargo trailer. Opening up options as to what you can carry with your bike is hugely liberating, and you're doing a wonderful thing for the environment too!

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