Bike Trailers: How to Choose
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Bike Trailers: How to Choose
From Size to Suspension to Conversion Kits, We Guide You Through the Features that Really Matter
“What should I look for when shopping for a bike trailer?” is not a simple question. Finding the right bike trailer to meet your family’s needs can be a complicated process. Luckily, we’re here to help! Whether you’ll use your bike trailer just to bike, or as a stroller or jogger too, the 11 main criteria to help you choose the best trailer for your family are: 1) trailer type, 2) budget, 3) size, 4) seat type, 5) external covers and venting, 6) trailer bottom type, 7) storage, 8) wheels, 9) brakes, 10) suspension, and 11) adjustable handlebars.
1. Trailer Type
Determining how you plan on using your trailer is the first step in selecting the best trailer for your family. Trailers can convert to basic and deluxe strollers, high-end joggers and can even be fitted with skis for cross-country use. Based on their ability to convert, we sorted trailers into three main types: Trailer Only, Trailer + Jogger or Stroller (jog or stroll, not both) and Multisport Trailers (options for stroll, jog and/or ski). Reviews, ranking and comparisons of bike trailers on Two Wheelings Tots are sorted by these three trailer types.
What Type of Trailer Do I Need?
MULTI-SPORT: Top of the line trailers that excel as bike trailers, and offer conversion kits to convert to joggers and/or strollers. Multi-sport trailers offer the most features, provide the smoothest overall ride and start at $400. Burley and Thule Chariot are the most popular line of multi-sport trailers.
- Best For: Families who want the highest-quality bike trailer OR active families who regularly use their bike trailer as a stroller or jogger.
- Conversion Kits: All multisport trailers come with a trailer arm. Some models also come standard with a stroller and/or jogging conversion kit, while others require the purchase of additional conversion kits. Burley, Thule and Croozer trailers offer cross-country ski kits as well.
- Our Top Pick: Thule Chariot Cross 2
TRAILER + JOGGER or STROLLER: Bike trailers that come with either a stroller wheel or a jogging wheel attachment. These trailers offer less comfort features (i.e. padded seats, suspension) for the riders as compared to multi-sport trailers. Popular brands include InStep, Allen and lower-end Burley and Thule trailers.
- Best For: Parents that will use the trailer primarily as a bike trailer, and occasionally as a stroller or a jogger.
- Our Top Pick: Thule Coaster XT
TRAILER ONLY: Dedicated bike trailers. Stroller and jogger attachments are not available for these trailers. Standard trailers range from $100 to $400, based on overall quality. Lower-end models provide the bare basics in trailers with NO comfort features. Higher-end models offer larger wheel size and padded seats, but not suspension or conversion kits.
- Best For: Families who do NOT plan on using their bike trailer as a stroller or jogger.
- Our Top Pick: Burley Bee
Trailer Type: Stroller Attachments
The type of stroller available on trailers varies widely and the most common complaint about trailers is in regards to 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 want. The five main types of strollers are outlined below and are also listed on our bike trailers comparison charts.
Attached Swivel Stroller Wheel: A small, plastic swivel wheel is attached to the trailer arm. It flips up and out of the way when in bike use and flips down for use as a stroller. When in use as a stroller, the trailer arm sticks out about 1.5 feet past the cab of the trailer and is therefore not ideal for crowded areas. Examples include the InStep Sierra Double and the Burley Honey Bee.
Stationary Jogging Wheel: Jogging wheels are designed to track straight while running, so their front wheel does NOT swivel. A true jogging wheel is also at least 10″ in diameter and is pneumatic (air-filled) to provide smooth rolling. To turn a jogging trailer, you must push down on the back wheels and pivot the trailer while the front jogging wheel is in the air. All multi-sport trailers come with or have the option to purchase a jogging wheel. Examples include the Allen SST (single), the Allen Premier 2 and the Burley Encore.
Dual Swivel Stroller Wheels: This is the most functional and easy to use stroller type. Two small, plastic wheels attach underneath the front of the trailer body. Since the wheels are tucked in, it makes for easy steering and maneuverability. Thule Chariot models come standard as a four-wheeled stroller, and all Burley trailers offer it as an upgrade.
Single Swivel Stroller Wheel: Very similar to the dual swivel stroller, but only comes with one stroller wheel, creating a three-wheeled stroller. Pushes smooth and easy, but is not as maneuverable as four wheels when on uneven surfaces. Comes standard with the Hamax Outback and all Croozer models.
Trailers range from under $100 to $1,000, and in most cases, the quality and performance of a trailer is reflected in its price. Higher-end trailers provide the most features and offer a smoother ride for parent and child, but can be heavy on the pocket book. Lower-end trailers are sufficient for many families riding on paved surfaces, but lack many safety and comfort features offered by mid-range and higher-end trailers. 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 page.
3. Size of Trailer
SINGLE OR DOUBLE CAPACITY
Single Trailers: Generally lighter, narrower and more affordable, but offer less storage overall. If you plan on carrying only one rider, a single trailer is generally always your best bet. Our favorite single trailer is the Burley Solo.
Double Trailers: Can carry one or two riders (max capacity is generally 80 to 100 lb.) and offer more storage. However, they are heavier, wider, and can be more expensive. Double trailers are best for growing families, but remember that due to changes in stroller regulations, center buckles are no longer available in double trailers for single riders. As a result, a single child must sit to one side of the trailer. With a single trailer, they can sit in the center, which is generally more comfortable. Our top pick in double trailers is the Thule Chariot Cross 2.
INTERNAL CABIN DIMENSIONS
Overall Cabin Size: The internal cabin dimensions of trailers vary greatly. A difference in a few inches can provide much-needed headspace and shoulder space for riders, especially for older and/or taller riders. Lower-end brands, like InStep and Schwinn, tend to have smaller cabins while WIKE, a higher-end brand, provides the largest cabins.
Differences in Internal Cabin Dimensions
Shoulder Room: Internal shoulder width of double strollers (width of the trailer at the child’s shoulders, not the seat width) varies from 22″ to 25.5″ depending on brand. Burley’s high-end D’Lite and Solo trailers are unique in that the sides of the trailers bow out to provide additional shoulder room for riders.
Head Room: The inside height of the trailer (seat to top of cabin) can vary from 23″ to 30″. Several Thule trailers, like the Thule Chariot Lite, provide almost 27″ of headroom, while WIKE trailers provide even more at 30″.
Weight Capacity: Smaller, lower-end trailers have a lower total weight capacity of 80 lb., while higher-end trailers can carry 100 lb.
4. Type of Seat
If you are hauling two kids, the strength of the seat is essential to prevent them from sliding into one another.
Hammock-Style Seats: Found on lower-end trailers, the seat is created using simple nylon straps to support a non-padded nylon fabric seat. The straps loosen with time, causing two kids to be squished together. Hammock-style seats are more problematic for double riders versus single.
Bench-style Seats: Found on high-end trailers, the seat is a padded bench that prevents sagging. These supportive seats are more comfortable overall and also provide more leg room for riders.
Bench vs. Hammock Style Seats
Buckles and Harnesses: For extra comfort on the go, higher-end trailers also provide padding around the buckle and the shoulder straps, while lower-end trailers do not.
5. External Covers & Venting
Plastic Rain Covers: While riding in the rain is rarely someone’s intention, keeping your child dry and warm is a concern for many that live in wet climates. Almost all trailers come with a permanently attached rain cover that rolls up when not in use. Rain covers on lower-end models secure with elastic bands while mid and high-end models secure with a zipper.
Burley trailers – based out of damp Portland, Oregon – provide the best weatherproofing with rain covers attached with waterproof zippers on their D’Lite, Solo and Cub models. The plastic covers on all Burleys can be unzipped at the bottom to provide some venting to prevent fogging, and rolled up when not in use.
Thule’s lower-end Coaster and Cadence have a basic zip-on rain cover available for purchase, while their higher-end Cheetah, Lite and Cross models come with a removable rain cover secured by elastic bands. Thule’s removable rain cover cannot be left partially unattached for venting, and adhering it to the trailer takes some time to figure out. However, it is very effective in keeping the rain out.
Examples of Plastic Rain Covers
Canopy/Sunshade: To keep the glaring sun out of a child’s eyes, high-end Thule, Burley, Hamax and Croozer models come with sunshades. Burley’s system is built-in and slides up and down on the D’lite and Cub, but is stationary on the Encore. Thule’s sunshade snaps on and off and slides up and down the front metal rails of the trailer. Croozer’s sunshade is available as an upgrade, is removable, and slides up and down on the internal frame. The Hamax Outback comes standard and is height adjustable with hook and loop fasteners.
Examples of Trailer Sunshades
Windows: The side windows on all trailers are plastic. UV-blocking windows are available on many mid to high-end trailers. Vented side windows are no longer available on any trailers (previously available on the Thule Cougar and CX).
6. Bottom of Trailer
The bottom of most trailers (where kids rest their feet) is made of the same nylon fabric as the rest of the trailer. The thickness of the fabric varies from brand to brand. Lower-end trailers, such as the InStep Sierra, use thin fabric which quickly wears with time, while higher-end Thule trailers use thicker versions of the same type of fabric.
For increased durability, Burley offers a hard plastic bottom on their Cub, while other brands, like Hamax, offer a rubberized bottom. While practical, these thicker surfaces increase the weight of the trailer.
Trailer Bottom Types
All trailers have a storage area behind the seat to store kid and trip essentials. Most trailers provide plenty of room for jackets, a diaper bag, lunches, basketball-sized balls and much more. Large, stiff items, like a small cooler, rarely fit in the trunk space and if they do, they tend to poke into the backs of the child riders. The shape of the trailer greatly determines the amount of storage space available. Burley’s storage area is larger than most, but can interfere with the stride of a parent with tall legs in stroller mode. The storage area on the Thule Cheetah, Lite and Cross is smaller, but folds up out of the way to provide more room for the legs of taller parents. To compensate, Thules have a large mesh pocket above the storage area.
Handlebar consoles are also available for handy storage of water, keys, phone etc. while in stroller or jogging mode. Burley and Thule both offer handlebar consoles as an upgrade. Thule’s attaches to the frame of the trailer and remains stationary when the handlebar is adjusted or flipped for trailer mode. Burley’s console stretches between the handlebars and moves along with the handlebar as it is adjusted or flipped.
8. Wheels & Maximum Speeds
Tire Size: 16″ and 20″ tires are available on trailers. 16″ tires are less stable than 20″ tires and are not recommended. To save on costs, trailers with 16″ tires often have plastic rims, which are prone to cracking and warping. 20″ tires on metal rims offer the best performance and are available on trailers in all price ranges. Trailers with 20″ tires generally have a maximum recommended speed of 15 mph, while those with 16″ tires max out at 10 mph.
All trailers that are sold with an option for a stroller are required to include a brake. The types of brakes range from a simple strap around a tire to a hand brake on the handlebars. While brakes are of minimal concern when used as a trailer, as a stroller or jogger, a well-designed parking or hand-brake can make a world of difference.
Trailer Brake Types
Parking Brake: A simple nylon strap buckled around the rear tire to keep the stroller from rolling away. These straps are not convenient to use and are found on low to mid-range trailers.
Foot Brake: Similar to typical stroller brakes, foot brakes are engaged with the foot and lock the rear tires. They do not slow the trailer down like handbrakes. Foot brakes can be found on trailers of all prices ranges.
Hand Brake: Designed to slow a trailer versus completely stop it, like parking and foot brakes, hand brakes can be life-savers for joggers and parents navigating hills in stroller mode. The most universal hand brake is available as an upgrade on the Thule Cheetah XT, Lite and Cross models and can be used in stroller or jogging modes. The Hamax Outback jogging upgrade is the only jogging kit to come with a hand brake, but activates the front jogging wheel and cannot be used in stroller mode.
Suspension can make the difference between a smooth, comfortable ride and whiny, “I want to go home” ride. For families sticking to smooth pavement, suspension shouldn’t be a priority, but for those riding on all-terrain surfaces, it can be a life saver. Several different suspension systems are available, but we found no significant difference in their performance. Adjustable suspensions found on the Burley D’lite, Cub and Solo, the Thule Cross and the Hamax Outback adjust to fit all families but are particularly suited for families carrying either really light or heavy kid(s). For the average family carrying one or two average weight kids, the non-adjustable suspension systems found on the Thule Lite and Croozer Plus models should be sufficient.
11. Adjustable Handlebars
An adjustable handlebar greatly improves the usability of a trailer in stroller or jogger mode. All trailers come with at least two heights, achieved by flipping the handlebar and reattaching it to the trailer. Higher-end trailers such as the Burley D’lite, Cub and Solo, the Thule Cross and Lite, and the Hamax Outback come with a swiveling handlebar that offers multiple heights. Swivel handlebars are ideal for couples with great differences in height. Multiple height handlebars can be adjusted within seconds, while dual-height handlebars can take several minutes.
Trailer Handlebar Options
While all trailers fold down for easy storage, some fold down more easily and smaller than others. If you have a small trunk or limited space, be sure to check the dimensions of the folded trailer to ensure it will fit in the space you desire. Quick-release wheels are also an essential feature if you plan on folding your trailer on a regular basis. The weight of the trailer is also worth considering as lifting a trailer in and out of a car can be challenging.
The design of the trailer hitch determines how smooth of a ride you and your child will have. Most trailer companies (InStep, Schwinn, Allen) use a standard hitch. High-end brands (Thule, Burley, Croozer) use their own unique designs that fit more precisely, resulting in less “give” and pull-back from the trailer as you ride. All hitch designs sold in the US flex to allow the bike to be placed on the ground while keeping the trailer upright for easy loading and unloading.
14. 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 strollers and joggers. To provide additional support for infants and babies, Thule, Burley and Croozer offer various inserts for use in stroller mode. The Hamax Outback is the only trailer to come standard with inserts. Lower-end trailers do not offer inserts and are not safe to use with infants and babies.
Babies and toddlers almost always chew on the straps of trailers. Burley and Thule trailers claim to use only non-toxic materials, but Croozer trailers are the only brand to be certified as non-toxic by an outside agency.
16. Warranty/Customer Service
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. And from our experience, Burley has superior customer service. As a dedicated trailer company, they know how to do it right!
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.
Just want us to tell you what to buy? Check out our favorite trailers for every budget on our 12 Best Bike Trailers: 2017 page.
Looking to buy a Burley or Thule Chariot? Be sure to read our Burley vs. Thule Chariot Comparison Guide for a complete comparison of all available models.
By: Natalie Martins
Last Updated: February 20, 2017