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Bike Trailers: How to Choose

Before you purchase a trailer, it’s important to consider how and when your family will use your trailer. From weather-tight, all-terrain trailers to basic day-trip trailers, there are plenty of options to meet every families needs.

1. Budget

Trailers range from under $100 to $1,000.  In most cases, the quality and performance of the trailer is reflected in it’s price.  For the budget minded family looking for a basic trailer for occasional use, several great options are available in the $200 range.  Our budget-trailer comparison test found Allen trailers to be the top-pick for under $200.  The main problem with lower-end trailers is the lack of supportive seats.  Many have a simple hammock style seats that provides little leg room for the rider and also squishes dual riders together.

Quality trailers start at around $300 and climb in price with available features and upgrades. Top quality brands include Thule, Burley, Croozer and WIKE. A comparison chart of trailers in all price ranges can be found on our Bike Trailer Ratings & Comparison Charts.

2. Stroller Attachments

The most common complaint about trailers are about their stroller attachments.  If you plan to use your trailer as a stroller, be sure to purchase a trailer that converts to the type of stroller you desire.  The simplest stroller attachments, a mere wheel on the end of the trailer arm (the middle green stroller shown below), serve the purpose of a stroller, but receive the most complaints from parents.  Trailers under $200 typically come with a trailer-arm stroller wheel.  Jogging attachments are also common, but don’t swivel and can be burdensome to turn when used for everyday outings.  The higher-end trailers convert to a four-wheeled stroller, which receive the most praise.  All Thule Chariot and Croozer models come standard as a four-wheeled stroller, and they are available as an upgrade on all Burley trailers.  To help you sort through your stroller options, our bike trailers comparison charts are sorted by stroller availability.

3. Size of Trailer

Beyond merely transporting one or two kids, the size and age of your kids should be a determining factor when purchasing a trailer.  While many trailers come in single and double versions, the internal cubic dimension of the trailer (i.e. the amount of space your child has) varies greatly between the brands.  Not surprisingly, the higher-end trailers tend to provide more space than lower-end trailers.  Wike trailers provide the best height, while Burley higher-end trailers (D’Lite, Solo and Cub) have bowed out sides that provides additional shoulder room.

4. Brakes

All trailers that are sold with an option for a stroller are required to include a brake.  The types of brake range from a simple strap around a tire to a hand-activated jogging brake.  While brakes are of minimal concern when used as a trailer, as a stroller, a well-designed parking or hand-brake can make the world of a difference.  The true, well-designed hand brake is the Thule Chariot Lite and Cross brake kit which is available for $100.

5. Adjustable Handlebars

If you plan on using your trailer as a stroller shared by your spouse or partner, an adjustable handlebar is a must. Most trailers/strollers offer at least two handlebar heights, while the Burley’s and Thule Lite and Cross offer multiple heights.

 6. Weatherproof

While riding in the rain is rarely someone’s intentions, keeping your child dry and warm is of concern for many living in wet climates.  The door panels of trailers very greatly and range from a simple mesh covering with elastic tie-downs to a thick waterproof covering attached with sealed zippers.  Zip-on plastic rain covers are standard on almost every trailer, but the zippers attaching the covers are rarely waterproof.

True, all-weather covers with waterproof zippers are available on the Burley D’Lite, Solo and Cub.  All Thule models come with a plastic cover but without waterproof zippers.  Thule’s higher end Cheetah, Lite and Cross models come with a plastic cover that attached with elastic for easy removal, while the Coaster and Cadence zip on.  In addition to waterproofing, the zip-up rain cover on the Burley’s allow for some venting to prevent fogging, while the Thule’s system does not.

7. Storage

While every trailer on the market provides storage, the amount of storage and its accessibility are key.  Unfortunately, very few manufacturers provide the actual dimensions of the storage space available, so determining the size available can be challenging (Burley does have their cargo dimensions listed on the specification page for each trailer).  If however, you are planning on using your trailer to haul goods during kid-free errands, then an upgrade to a Burley D’Lite, Solo, Cub or Encore is in your best interest.

8. Folding

While all trailers fold down for easy storage, some fold down easier and smaller than others.  If you have a small trunk, or limited space, be sure to check the dimensions of the folder trailer to ensure it will fit in the space you desire.  Quick-release wheels is also essential feature if you plan on folding your trailer on a regular basis.

9. Suspension

If you plan on sticking to the pavement, a suspension system isn’t worth the extra money, but for those hitting the fire trails, it can mean the different between a blissfully happy ride and a whiney, “I want to go home!” ride.

10. Infant and Baby Inserts

While it is not recommended to haul kids less than a year old in a bike trailer, many trailers convert into excellent stroller and joggers. To provide additional support for infants and babies, Thule, Burley and Croozer offer various inserts for use in stroller mode. Lower-end trailers do not offer inserts and are not safe to use with infants and babies.

Cougar with inserts

11. Conversion Kits

Beyond the use as a stroller, Thule Chariot and Burley trailers offer additional conversion kits for the multi-sport family.  More detailed differences between the Burley and Chariot trailers is outlined in Chariot vs. Burley Comparison Guide.

12. Bottom of Trailer

The material upon which your child puts his or her feet is perhaps the most telling feature of the quality of the trailer.  Lower-end trailers, such as the InStep Sierra, use thin, essentially see through fabric, while higher-end Thule’s use thicker versions of the same type of fabric.  For increased durability, a hard-bottomed base is available on the Burley Cub.

13. Non-Toxic

Babies and toddlers almost always chew on the straps of trailers. Burley and Thule trailers claim use only non-toxic materials, but Croozer trailers are the only brand to be certified as non-toxic by an outside agency.

14. Warranty

No one wants to be stuck with a lemon.  If you are debating between two trailers, don’t forget to pay attention to the warranty offered by the manufacturer or the reseller.

Which trailer is best for you?

Now that you know what to look for, head over to our Bike Trailer Comparison Charts for help finding the trailer that best matches your desired features and your budget. Looking to buy a Burley or a Chariot?  Be sure to read our Burley vs. Chariot Comparison Guide for a complete comparison of all available models.

By: Natalie Martins

Last Updated: February 20, 2017