Over 9 years, we've bought and tested the best 12 bike trailers on the market side-by-side. This review compares the top 10. Our bike-commuting, toddler-toting test team pulled these trailers over 500 miles. We all but forgot about our minivans, tackling playground missions, pool parties, and park outings with bike helmets on our heads. After we finished the field tests and our kids settled on their favorite rides, we headed into the lab. Using an accelerometer and an obstacle course, we objectively tested how each trailer handles speedbumps, curbs or unexpected potholes. Armed with the results, we rated each trailer on its safety and versatility, factoring in the all-important kid vote. Keep reading to find the right ride for your wee ones.Related: Best Bike Cargo Trailer
Best Bike Trailer of 2020
Best Overall Bike Trailer
In every metric we tested, the D'Lite is at or near the top of the pack, and the only situation where it doesn't truly excel is a sustained downpour. Its safety features impressed us, with a comprehensive roll cage, substantial ventilation, UV-resistant windows, and a top-notch harness system with plenty of padding. Burley's hitch set-up is the best we tested because it makes it easy to hook up the trailer and the bike while providing a stable, lurch-free towing experience. Our passenger testers were "d'lited" with the D'Lite's comfort, reclining seats, and smooth ride quality. The D'Lite is outstandingly versatile — not only do its seats fold flat to accommodate dogs, camping gear, over-sized cargo, or really anything else you can think to throw in it, but multisport families can purchase optional walking/hiking, jogging, and cross-country ski kits as aftermarket add-ons (not included).
The D'Lite does have its drawbacks, even if they aren't immediately apparent. The trailer isn't completely watertight, so if rain doesn't spoil your biking plans or you live in a climate with lots of cold, wet weather, you may want to look into a trailer with total rain protection. It also has an adjustable suspension system that is difficult to adjust mid-ride, and a few connecting loops that are not as durable as they could be. Still, if you're in the market for a trailer that does everything well and most things best, look no further than the Burley D'Lite .
Read review: Burley D'Lite
Best Bang for the Buck
If you're hunting for a high-quality trailer that is light on your legs and your wallet, we recommend the Burley Bee as the Best Bang for the Buck. The Bee is less than half the price of our top award winner, the Burley D'Lite, but comes standard with many of the same great features we expect in a top-of-the-line Burley trailer. The Bee is just as simple to set up, attach, and tow as the D'lite and just as easy to use, even if it doesn't sport all the bells and whistles. One of the best features of the Bee is that it is the lightest trailer we tested yet it also has one of the largest cargo spaces, so it's a great option for commutes or running errands around town.
The passenger experience in the Bee isn't as plush as what you get with a more expensive model; the seats are unpadded and there isn't any suspension. In addition, this is a single-function trailer with no options for additional strolling or multisport conversion kits. There are also a few design features in the Bee that are susceptible to everyday wear and tear, such as a fabric bottom that tends to rip if stepped on when it's resting on the ground. If you don't need a trailer that can serve double duty as a stroller or a jogger and you want a nimble, fun, easy to use, and relatively inexpensive solution for biking with kids, the Burley Bee is a truly great buy.
Read review: Burley Bee
Best for Athletes
Thule Chariot Cross 2
Although the Thule Chariot Cross didn't quite beat out its closest rival, the Burley D'Lite, make no mistake, this is an outstanding bike trailer. The Cross comes with a range of abilities and a depth of thoughtful design that will leave most families very satisfied. The Cross has a fantastic suspension that can take the jolt out of potholes and curbs better than any other competitor. Meanwhile, its rain cover keeps passengers completely dry even in truly miserable conditions. Its seats are comfortable, its harness straps are easy to adjust and stay in place well, and it's surprisingly easy to set up it's time to ride.
The Chariot Cross only offers a tiny cargo bag to store extras, so unless your parenting is as ultralight as your backpacking you may struggle to fit all your gear. It's also not light on your wallet, so those who aren't committed to biking regularly with the kids, or who have kids who will soon outgrow a trailer, would be wise to look elsewhere. That said, this trailer supplies steller quality, and a full range of multi-sport options.
Read review: Thule Chariot Cross
Best for a Comfy Ride
Hamax Outback Multi-Sport
The Hamax Outback impressed us enough to become our top choice for a comfy ride by excelling in every aspect of the passenger experience category. Those riding in the Outback are in for a real treat: they'll enjoy wide, comfortable seats, large windows to take in the view, a secure footwell design that makes climbing in and out a cinch, and an adjustable suspension system that lets you dial in a smooth ride. Like the Burley D'Lite, the Hamax has seats that can unclip to lie flat which allows you to tow just about anything you can think of in its roomy interior. Our friends over at BabyGearLab also really like the Outback in its jogger guise.
Although the Outback has some great features, we have to literally weigh the negatives as well. This trailer is flat-out heavy. It weighs more than any other trailer we tested and more than twice as much as its lightest competitors. This means whoever is spinning the pedals is in for a tough workout on all but the flattest rides. We believe its weight is enough to limit its versatility, since carrying large loads simply isn't feasible with such a heavy baseline weight. Other aspects of this trailer's design are also a challenge. From a crucial zipper that's missing a stop, to its unwieldy size when folded, this trailer just doesn't exhibit the same design quality as some of its competitors. But if you're not too concerned about weight or slick design and you just want the plushest possible ride for your little ones, the Hamax Outback might be the right choice.
Read review: Hamax Outback Multi-Sport Bike Trailer
Best for an Ultra-low Budget
The Schwinn Echo is one of the least expensive trailers, and compared to the other affordable trailers on the market, it performs the best. This model is compact and easy to tow, and it sports larger, more sturdy wheels than similarly priced trailers. The Echo is well ventilated with a generous amount of cargo space. If budget is your top priority, this trailer is worth your consideration.
Of course, as we all know, you get what you pay for. You don't have to make a big investment in the Echo, and what you get in return isn't huge either. You'll get a saggy footwell that's hard for kids to step in to, a difficult and annoying cover attachment system, virtually zero protection from inclement weather, and a cramped passenger compartment. If you're going to be using a trailer regularly, you'd be wise to look to a product that's more user-friendly and functional. However, if you're only planning on the occasional ride, you only bike in good weather, and you don't want to spend too much, the Echo may be all you need.
Read review: Schwinn Echo
Why You Should Trust Us
This review is brought to you by OutdoorGearLab Review Editors Joanna Trieger and Chris Binder. Joanna uses her home in Reno, Nevada as a base of operations for various Sierra Nevada excursions including trail runs, skiing, and mountain biking. A safe streets advocate, you can find her bike commuting every workday, which she has done without exception for the past three years. Even off the clock, she is often still on the bike, towing her niece around town. Having a dedicated, cycle-centric lifestyle gives Joanna a keen eye and the experience to understand the functionality of a bike trailer.
Chris has been putting his outdoor gear through the wringer for fun and profit around the world for nearly two decades. In the course of his adventures he has thru-hiked big name trails, lived and adventured on four continents, and biked across America (twice). He is currently enjoying life in Lake Tahoe where he taxis his daughter and his dog around the mountains, always exploring new challenges.
Like everything we do at OutdoorGearLab, this review started with copious amounts of market research into which products were best suited for purchase and testing. We always want to choose models at a variety of price points and then focus on the best products available in each bracket (pricier doesn't always mean better, plus everyone has their own budget). We scoured buyer reviews, manufacturers' websites, and gear forums to distill a large array of 40 initial models down to the 10 best we could find. We also carefully planned how we would judge each trailer's performance, narrowing in on several key metrics that will resonant with families in the market for bike trailers. For each metric, a custom testing protocol was developed, such as a protection test using an accelerometer fixed to a water bladder while towing the trailers across rough terrain that was meant to compare smoothness of ride among the different models. In the end, we can provide comprehensive results that should help your family make a well-informed choice, even if that means you decide a new bike trailer isn't right for you right now.
Related: How We Tested Bike Trailers
Analysis and Test Results
We choose a diverse set of 10 of the most popular bike trailers for kids on the market and rode them for hundreds of miles in a series of side-by-side tests. These trailers were hauled along city streets, on urban bike paths, over rough forest roads, and through grassy parks. We towed everything we could think of, from beach gear, dogs, and camping equipment, to groceries, gardening supplies, and — of course — kids. After months of rigorous testing, we're confident in our analysis of how these trailers stack up.Related: Buying Advice for Bike Trailers
Related: Best Bike Cargo Trailer
Each testing metric has been weighted according to its contribution to the overall experience of using a trailer. Then we used our weighted ratings to calculate the overall score for each trailer. The right trailer for your family isn't necessarily the one at the top of the chart, especially if you value one or more of our metrics more than we do. It's worth your time to take a stop and consider which metrics matter the most to you and your family, and to plan how much you're willing to spend. Below, we analyze how all the products performed in each of the chosen metrics and discuss some of the stand out models.
Let's face it: price matters. If you want to get the most out of your trailer, enjoy the full range of riding options, and are thinking ahead to potentially reselling a trailer after the kids have moved on to their own bikes, we think you'll get the most value by springing for a trailer with a suspension. All the models we tested with suspensions are near the high end of the bike trailer price spectrum. If you can afford to shell out more money up front, the more pleasant experience of the suspension models will encourage you to use it more often and lower the cost per ride over time. The Burley D'Lite is our top recommendation for its stellar performance at a price point that is toward the low end of the top-performing products.
By far, the best value award goes to the Burley Bee. Purchasing the Bee gets you the quality design, ease of use, and durability that usually comes from the Burley brand but at less than half the price of the D'Lite. Sure, the Bee isn't as fancy or as plush for passengers as the D'Lite, but it's still a fantastically simple trailer to set up and tow, and the kids aren't likely to complain about it either. It's also fitted with solid safety features and is light enough to remain useful as an around-town grocery hauler and cargo trailer long after your kids have outgrown it.
Another trailer that shouldn't be ignored in the value department is the Schwinn Echo, which snagged our top choice for an ultra-low budget option. This is definitely a basic trailer, but it's easier to tow and has sightly better components than other trailers in its price range, like the Allen Sport Steel and the InStep Take 2. The Echo is less than half the price of the Burley Bee. The Bee is much more stylish, user-friendly, and durable than the Echo, so we still think the Bee is a better value. But if you don't want to spend a penny more than you have to to get rolling with your kids, the Echo is a solid choice.
The Thule Chariot Cross and its pared-down version the Thule Chariot Lite are unmistakably on the pricier side. If you decide that it's worth it to spend that kind of money, you might as well get the Chariot Cross. The Cross has strategically padded seats that recline individually, a rain-proof cargo pouch, an adjustable suspension system, and a flare that can't be beat. Since both these Thule trailers are a serious investment, you might as well spend a little extra to get the best. Just don't forget to buy a lock to protect that investment.
Keeping kids safe is a top priority, so we considered passenger protection to be our most important rating metric. All of the trailers we tested meet the minimum requirements set by the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM), but some treat those standards as a baseline and layer on additional safety features. We considered factors like construction quality, roll cage coverage, rain and sun protection, harness effectiveness, ventilation, and suspension as we evaluated each product in this category.
All of our testing took place with appropriately aged passenger testers, and the input from the children near the high end of the age spectrum for bike trailers was essential in determining which models supplied the smoothest ride. However, we still do not recommend the safest trailer with the smoothest ride for children younger than one year of age, and we never recommend towing any child that is not wearing a well-fitted helmet.
A note about helmets and head position
Some trailers are better than others at providing a smooth ride over rough terrain. We found that the adjustable suspension systems in the Hamax Outback, the Burley D'Lite, and the Thule Chariot Cross were exceptional at absorbing a lot of the bumps in the trail, making them a passenger favorite on dirt and gravel roads. None of the other models we tested featured suspensions, and that resulted in very slow, cautious riding to avoid bouncing our passengers around in the non-suspended trailers. If you're considering riding off paved roads and/or bike paths, investing in a bike trailer with a suspension system is a good idea that will keep your passengers much more comfortable and happy.
To test the trailers' suspensions, we simulated riding with a 6-9-month-old child. That's the absolute minimum manufacturer-recommended age for bike trailer passengers (again, our BabyGearLab friends don't recommend towing children under one year). For this test, we loaded a 20-pound bump-test-dummy into each trailer and towed it with a hardtail mountain bike to test each model under virtually identical conditions.
Two tests were performed. The first was a visual assessment of shock absorption, and the second was a quantitative measurement of acceleration over a series of bumps on a surface of broken pavement. For the visual test, we mounted a rear-facing camera to the seat post and towed the trailers over a series of bumps at controlled speeds while filming the test dummy. As expected, the amount of jostling was much lower in trailers with suspensions than those without suspensions.
To measure suspension performance, we mounted an iPhone with an accelerometer app to the test dummy and towed the trailers over several prominent bumps at identical speeds. The primary purpose of this trial was to obtain numerical results to complement our visual test. The test also demonstrates how jostling in a bike trailer has the potential to affect 6-9-month-old children who may not have the strength to resist what most bikers would consider unimpressive bumps. Again, we do not recommend towing a child younger than 12 months in a trailer.
The test answered a few of our key questions about trailer suspension systems. Here is a summary of our findings:
- You get what you pay for — Yes, there is a substantial price jump (two to three times) when you purchase a suspension trailer. However, those products provide clear benefits in shock absorption and ride smoothness. The peak acceleration on our test dummy was typically more than two times greater in trailers that did not have suspensions.
- Some suspension designs are better than others — The Thule Chariot Cross has a much more effective suspension system than both the Burley D'Lite and the Thule Chariot Lite. The Hamax Outback also offers a superior ride. The difference is noticeable but not off the charts. Any one of these three trailers offers a far better ride than a trailer with no suspension. The Thule Chariot Cross and Burley D'Lite both have adjustable suspensions, which enable users to adjust spring stiffness based upon passenger weight. The practicality of adjusting that setting in real life, however, is questionable (see our in-depth reviews for more detail).
- Is it worth spending more to get a better suspension? — Yes, we believe it is worth paying more to stack the deck toward both safety and comfort in the event of an unexpected pothole or bump in the road, especially if you plan on hauling passengers on the younger end of the recommended age range.
To test for water resistance, we soaked each of the trailers with a sprinkler and/or hose to test their rainy day chops. We carefully placed the water source to mimic a heavy downpour as well as to imitate road slick spraying off the bike's back tire. In our experience, bikes without rear fenders tend to throw up water and nasty road sludge that can make their way under a trailer's front cover. The Thule Chariots were the clear winners in the rain tests. Both of them have identical rain shields that fit very snugly and cover the entire front and top of the trailer. Fasteners also direct runoff to the exterior of the trailer, similar to the effect you get when you layer rain pants over the top of rain boots. By contrast, none of the other models have rain covers that stretch tautly over their tops, so saturation in prolonged heavy rain is inevitable. If you're not daunted by riding in a consistently wet climate, you'll thank yourself for strongly considering one of the Chariot models.
The Burley Bee, Thule Cadence, and Burley D'Lite remained relatively dry inside throughout our rain tests and are certainly suitable for prolonged rides in drizzly conditions. They probably wouldn't stay completely dry, however, for more than 15 minutes of seriously heavy rain. Among the trailers on the high end of the price spectrum, the Hamax Outback stood out for how poorly it performed when doused. After five minutes under the sprinkler, the Outback's footwell was soaked through from underneath thanks to a small canvas patch at the front of the trailer, and there was enough seepage through the top of the trailer to partially soak the seats (and any passengers sitting in them). The Outback could probably keep kids and cargo dry through a drizzle, but not serious rain. At the very bottom of the pack are the Schwinn Echo and the InStep Take 2. Their rain shields fit loosely and their fabric covers are barely water-resistant, so their interiors were soaked after five minutes under the sprinkler. Although they might stand up to a bike ride on a foggy day, these models are best for dry conditions only.
Another atmospheric concern is the sun. Some trailers go above and beyond to protect children from sun exposure. The Burley D'Lite has an adjustable sunshade, UPF 30 windows, and an excellent ventilation system that includes a mesh-covered window in the back of the cargo compartment to encourage airflow. The Thule Chariots also performed well in this aspect, with an even larger adjustable sunshade, mesh backing behind the passengers' heads, and adjustable ventilation panels in the footwells. Although the sunshade on the Hamax Outback isn't adjustable, the trailer does feature great ventilation and UPF 30 windows. Keep in mind, sunshades are only valuable if they're practical. They block the sun, but can also block a passenger's view of the bike rider (and the rider's view of the passenger). Younger children or those who get anxious when out of sight of parents may not tolerate the sunshade.
Our top award winner, the Burley D'Lite, took the top spot in the protection category. The D'Lite features a full aluminum roll cage, including extra framing to protect against side impacts, with a handlebar that folds down during rides to provide even more top-side protection. It has UPF 30 windows and an adjustable sunshade, and it's well-ventilated for rides on hot days. Its suspension smooths out the ride for kids, and its rain performance is acceptable, though not bomb-proof. The Hamax Outback and the Thule Chariot models gave the D'Lite a run for its money in this category, but they scored just slightly lower because their frames don't include side-impact protection. The Weehoo weeGo and the Burley Bee have well-developed roll cages combined with secure harnesses, so both are positive safety standouts.
Safety and kid protection are obviously essential considerations in every trailer purchase. Even though features like a full roll cage and better shock-absorbing suspension cost more, we encourage you to consider a bike trailer that will be used to tow young kids to be an investment both your children's pleasure and their safety.
If your children aren't happy in the trailer, chances are high that you're not going to get much use out of it. With that in mind, we took a close look at the passenger experience inside each of the products we tested. We evaluated how easy it is for kids to get in and out of the trailer, how comfortable the seat and harness are, and how much space passengers have to spread out and stow their belongings. The Hamax Outback is a top performer in this category. In fact, it's so good that we dubbed it our top choice for a comfy ride. The Thule Chariot Cross is also outstanding, with our Editors' favorite, the Burley D'Lite, in lockstep.
All of the trailers we tested are stable enough when attached to a bike with a kick-stand, or leaning against a solid object, that kids can climb in and out on their own. Each of them, however, takes a slightly different approach to the design of the entryway and footwell. The king of this category, the Hamax Outback, is low to the ground and has a firm, flat, rubberized footwell that makes it super easy and stable for even smaller tykes to climb in and out by themselves. The lower front panels of the Burley D'Lite, Burley Bee, and Allen Sport Steel unclip so that little legs can quickly step up into the trailer. However, the sharply slanting floors of the Burley models make it harder for kids to find their footing, and the elastic straps that secure the lower front panels are potential breakage points. The Thule Chariots and the Cadence are relatively low to the ground, so while their front panels are fixed, they're still easy for kiddos to navigate. Like the Outback, the Weehoo weeGo provides a flat, rubber-reinforced footwell. The weeGo is a little tippy and unstable for kids to get into, but they can find firm footing once inside. The Schwinn Echo and the InStep Take 2 do not perform well here — they both have ill-fitting, saggy fabric floors that don't supply stable footing for little feet. Older kids are generally alright with this, but some of our youngest kid passengers, who are just getting a feel for being upright, were freaked out by the wobbliness of the saggy footwells.
Once passengers are in the trailer, comfort is key, and it can definitely pay off for parents as well. Again, the0 Hamax Outback, the Thule Chariot Cross, and the Burley D'Lite shine in this area, with strategically padded seats and harnesses to prevent little bodies from getting sore or chafed, even on long rides. We found the seat and harness pads in the Outback to be the plushest, and each of the pads is removable and machine washable, so inevitable dirt and spills won't become permanent. Most of the other trailers, including the Burley Bee and the Thule Cadence, have unpadded bench-style seats and unpadded harnesses. The Schwinn Echo, our favorite for an ultra-low budget, has a bench-style seat with a thinly padded harness. A well-adjusted harness — one that holds the child in place but doesn't crush them — is essential for a comfortable ride, and we found the five-point systems in the Hamax Outback and the Thule Chariots to be the easiest to adjust and the best at staying in place during long rides.
To ensure an apples to apples comparison, we only tested double-passenger trailers in this review. (Note that most trailers also have a single-passenger version available.) Although all the trailers are marketed for two passengers, we found that the interior space of each model varied significantly when we measured the total width of the seats. The Outback has the widest interior of the trailers we tested at a generous 24", giving little ones plenty of room to relax. The Schwinn Echo has the narrowest seating area at just 21". Unless they're tiny toddlers, fitting two passengers into the Echo could be a squeeze. The Echo does feature the ability to reconfigure the harnesses to secure a single passenger in the middle of its seats, so even though this trailer is cramped, solo passengers don't have to be squished.
One reason the Thule Chariot Cross and Burley D'Lite score so highly in the passenger experience category is that both feature an impressive adjustable seat recline feature. Both seats in the Cross and D'Lite can lean back independently of each other, so if one of your passengers is ready for a nap and the other one wants to sit up and see the world, you don't have to compromise (though you may have to stop to make the adjustment). The seatbacks in the Hamax Outback and the standard Burley D'Lite are adjustable, but only as full units, so if one kid relaxes, the other one does too (note the Burley D'Lite features independently reclining seats like the Cross). The individually adjustable seats of the Cross and D'Lite are probably most useful for users who plan on doing long rides with multiple children.
All of the products we tested demand extra energy expenditure compared to riding a bicycle without anything in tow. However, we also noticed noteworthy differences in how each model feels to pull. Weight is one of the biggest factors in this category, as is feedback from the trailer to the bike. We also paid close attention to which trailers tend to need mid-ride adjustments, how easy they are to tow off-road or on uneven terrain, and how well we can maneuver the bike-and-trailer rig while walking through and around obstacles. Our best value award winner, the Burley Bee, is a clear favorite in the biker experience category, followed closely by our Editors' favorite, the Burley D'Lite. The Schwinn Echo, our top choice for an ultra-low budget, also punches above its weight here. We explain why below.
All else being equal, a lighter trailer will offer less towing resistance, which means your legs won't become jelly before you reach your destination. At a mere 20 pounds, the Burley Bee is the lightest product we tested, and that's a big part of why it cleaned up in this category. Even going uphill with passengers or cargo, we could tow the Bee without needing to shifting into our granny gears. By contrast, riders will quickly see their legs sculpted to exquisite marble when they tow uphill with the hefty Thule Chariot Cross, which is part of the reason we named it our top choice for athletes. The Hamax Outback is an outlier in this category with a weight of 44 pounds. This makes it a pretty challenging trailer to tow uphill, even when there's nothing in it. When we added kids, bags, and equipment, the Outback made us struggle on even the mellowest inclines.
Also, consider how much weight you'll be putting in the trailer. Most of our test group can carry up to 100 pounds, the exceptions are the InStep Take 2 and the Schwinn Echo (both 80 pounds) and the Hamax Outback (88 pounds). The trailers are generally suitable for children between 1 and 5 years of age, after which many kids start to want their own wheels and towing multiple kids can get too heavy. Keep in mind that trailers with larger cargo areas, such as the Burley D'Lite might be lighter on their own but tend to get filled up with heavy gear fast since the space is available, often negating the benefit of a lighter trailer.
If you, as a rider, value your own experience on the bike, and your children are old enough, a two-pedal trailer might be the best option. They give the biker a faster and more maneuverable platform while opening up trails that would be too narrow for a typical trailer. They also engage the child passenger, who can choose whether or not to pedal. The downside to this option is there is no protective cage and many options do not fold down as easily as standard enclosed bike trailers. We reviewed two models: the WeeRide Co-Pilot is a budget option that has no restraint system. The Weehoo iGo Turbo is a top-of-the-line model with a restraint system, storage, and many accessories, including a sunshade.
We paid close attention to any feedback from the trailer to the bike, like lurching, shuddering/vibrating, or lateral pulling, since these movements can make the cyclist feel unstable and can really tire legs out quickly, especially while climbing. The Burley D'Lite and the Burley Bee are outstanding in this area, transferring virtually no movement to the bike. This is mostly due to the superior Burley hitch design, which attaches the tow arm to the hitch adapter with a single super-secure connection point that allows for no back-and-forth play. The Schwinn Echo is also a top performer in this area. Its hitch and tow arm are secure, so the only time we noticed slight lurching was when standing up on the pedals to tow a heavy load uphill. The Thule trailers, the Chariot Cross, Chariot Lite, and Cadence, all use a ball-and-socket hitch connection. We noticed some lurching while testing each of these models since the ball has a little bit of wiggle room in the socket, and it can move both horizontally and vertically. The other trailers we tested all have springs in their tow arms, and this design transfers significant motion to the bike.
We found some trailers to be easy to tow off-road, while others were not well-suited for this purpose. The Thule Chariot Cross and the Burley D'Lite are top performers in this category due to their adjustable suspension systems, which absorb a lot of the lumps and bumps of trail riding. The Hamax Outback also has a great suspension system, but its high weight makes it challenging to tow over trails that aren't super smooth. None of the other trailers we tested have suspensions, and we found that the lighter trailers, like the Burley Bee and the Thule Cadence, tend to feel pretty jumpy on trails, even when towing passengers. The Schwinn Echo performed surprisingly well here — it's fairly light, but it's compact and solid, so we found it easy to tow-off road with very little feedback transferred to the bike (note that since this trailer doesn't have suspension, we don't recommend towing kids off-road in it — but that shouldn't stop you from hitting the local fire road on your way to the preschool pickup). Most of the trailers we tested have 20" wheels with pneumatic tires, and those big wheels roll over gravel and dirt trails with relative ease that helps to smooth out the ride. Exceptions are the InStep Take 2 and the Allen Sport Steel, which both have 16" tires. Towing these trailers over uneven terrain requires more effort and makes for a bumpier ride.
Although most of the time spent with bike trailers is, well, biking, a bike-and-trailer rig needs to be maneuverable when walking along a sidewalk or navigating to a bike rack. We evaluated the trailers' walkability by weaving them through tricky-yet-typical urban infrastructure. The Thule Chariots are standouts in this area — their hitches allow for maximal rotation, and their tow arms are sharply bent, which keeps the front of the trailer close to the bike and allows for quick turns. The Hamax Outback has a similar tow arm with a sharp bend that makes it nimble to maneuver, though it features a less flexible hitch. The worst performer here is the Weehoo weeGo, which has a very long and relatively straight tow arm that makes it very difficult to navigate in tight spaces.
Ease of Use
Biking with your kids can be all kinds of fun for the whole family, so hopefully, you'll be pulling your trailer out and using it often. Most people don't have the garage space to keep their trailer permanently set up and attached to a bike, so a good trailer should be easy to assemble, attach to a bike, break down, and store. We considered each of these steps for all of the trailers we tested and performed timed trials to score each product on overall ease of use.
Most of the trailers took about 20-30 minutes to go from boxed up to fully assembled, attached, and ready to ride. The quickest trailer, the Burley Bee, took just 12 minutes, while the slowest, the Thule Chariot Cross, took 40 minutes. Since full assembly is usually a one-time event, we didn't put too much weight behind this test. In general, though, we found that the more "deluxe" model trailers took longer to assemble than the basic ones. Some models, like the Hamax Outback, required a screwdriver for assembly, but none of the trailers we tested were any more complicated than that.
We defined the setup process based on what most parents will do every time they prepare to tow their kids — starting with the trailer in its folded state with wheels on and ending with the trailer attached to the bike, ready to ride. Since most users will go through this process every time they use the trailer, this is a significant focus of our testing in this category. Parents and caretakers of trailer-aged children will find that a product that comes together quickly and smoothly, and attaches without drama is worth its weight in gold, especially when little ones are raring to go (or are approaching meltdown status).
The Thule Chariots have the most user-friendly frame designs and are outstanding performers in this category, with average setup times of just 28 seconds for the Cross and 29 seconds for the Lite. For comparison, the Burley D'Lite took 52 seconds to set up and the Burley Bee took 48 seconds. Although the Chariots were speedy to set up, we occasionally had to pull hard enough on one of the hitch components during attachment that we knocked the bike over, startling our young passengers. This was rare, but it never happened with the Burley models, which feature our favorite hassle-free hitch. This is one area where we noticed a big difference between the well-designed models, like the Burleys and the Thules, and the budget models, like the InStep Take 2 and the Schwinn Echo. The Take 2 and the Echo both have maddening cover attachment systems that require parents to secure long strips of Velcro across the entire front and back of the trailer, and if this Velcro isn't aligned well, the trailer won't snap shut. Try doing this with a squirming kid who's making a game out of ripping open the Velcro, and you've got yourself a hellish morning routine. We can't stress enough: if you're going to use your trailer for routine transit, spring for a thoughtfully designed model, like the Burley Bee.
Some of the trailers are low-profile and easy to stow when not in use, while others are bulky and take up a significant amount of space. In general, the less expensive (and less tricked-out) models, like the Schwinn Echo, the Allen Sport Steel, and the InStep Take 2 are slimmer and easier to slip into an unused space in the garage. The higher-end models, most notably our favorite for a comfy ride, the Hamax Outback, are heavier, bulkier, and harder to stow. The Thule Chariot models are the only trailers that include a clip mechanism to keep them securely folded when they are stored upright. We love this feature and wish that every manufacturer in our test group would include it.
While the main focus of this review is analyzing how each product works for towing kids, we know that most users will end up going for at least a few spins with something else back there. Some parents discover that purchasing a bike trailer allows them to ditch their second car, so we evaluated each product for its ability to haul groceries, pets, and bulky items. The higher-end models can also convert into a stroller, a jogger, a ski sled, or all three. We only analyzed bike towing capabilities, but we noted where conversion kits for other sports and activities are available. Our top award winner, the Burley D'Lite, ticks all the boxes and came away with the high score in this category. We'll explain why below.
Since the focus of this review is kid towing, we weighted this category relatively lightly at just 10% of each product's final score. If you're looking for a trailer that's exclusively devoted to cargo, head on over to our cargo trailer review.
The D'Lite scored exceptionally well in this category for several reasons. Not only does it allow full use of its ample interior space (its seats can unclip from the top frame of the trailer to lie flat) but it also has plenty of cargo space in the rear, even with children sitting in the main compartment. The Hamax Outback also offers this feature, which opens up the possibilities for what you can haul. Do you have a huge box that needs delivering to the post office? A large dog who wants to go for a ride? An elaborate replica of Mission San Rafael built out of sugar cubes that needs to get to your kid's classroom? The D'Lite and the Outback's ability to break down the barrier between their cargo and passenger spaces means they're more likely to accommodate those needs than any of the other trailers we tested. (The InStep Take 2 also used to have lie-flat seats, but it appears that they've removed this feature from their newest models. Sad!) It's worth noting here that while we love the Hamax Outback's convertible interior space, its weight limits how much you can haul. Towing a 60-pound dog with the D'Lite is doable; with the heavy Outback, it's a struggle.
Most of the trailers in our test group consist of one ample interior space, separated by the seat-back into passenger and cargo areas. Exceptions to this are the Thule Chariots. The Chariot Cross has a back pouch with interior pockets that's about the size of an average messenger bag. It's suspended behind the trailer and can be clipped up to the top frame bar when not in use. The Chariot Lite has one big open-topped pocket made of fabric and mesh that spans the back of the trailer. We found these cargo alternatives to be a mixed bag. They're smaller than the other trailers' cargo spaces, and they're an awkward fit for paper grocery bags or anything else that wants to sit on a flat surface. However, for things that need to be kept separate, like dirty gym clothes, or handy, like a purse, they're a great option.
Even with passengers present, having ample cargo space increases the versatility and utility of a trailer. With a 23"x12" cargo area footprint, the humble Schwinn Echo is a surprise winner in this category. The Burley Bee is close behind at 23"x11.5", and the Burley D'Lite and InStep Take 2 also impressed us with generous cargo footprints.
The Thule Chariots and the Weehoo weeGo come with stroller conversion kits included, and the latest model of the Burley D'Lite has an integrated front stroller wheel that stows when not in use. Although we weren't evaluating strolling capabilities, testers did find it useful to have the option to convert a trailer to a stroller once they reached their destination, especially those with younger kids. The Thule Chariot Cross, the Burley D'Lite, and the Hamax Outback also have optional jogging and cross-country skiing kits available for purchase. Again, we didn't evaluate these kits, but we rated these trailers higher in the versatility category because they give parents the option to purchase one outdoor kid mobile instead of potentially four.
There is no shortage of bike trailers on the market today and finding the right one for your family can be harder than it might seem. We hope our ratings and this review ensure you choose the trailer that will be just right to get your whole family rolling.
— Joanna Trieger