Best Budget Bike Trailers (Under $200)
InStep Take 2 (Quick N EZ) vs. Schwinn Echo vs. Allen Premium 2
So you’re looking for a bike trailer without breaking the bank, but of course you want to get the most bang for your buck. As with most bike-related purchases, you get what you pay for when it comes to bike trailers. So before you spring for the cheapest option you can find, read on to see what you can expect from three of the most popular budget models available: InSTEP Take 2, Schwinn Echo, and Allen Sports 2 Child Trailer. While we only reviewed these three models, all of these brands use the same chassis, fabrics and components in essentially all of their models, so these reviews are also indicative of the quality and performance of their other models.
InSTEP Take 2 Double Bicycle Trailer
The InSTEP Take 2 is just about the cheapest trailer on the market, and it showed from the moment I took it out of the box. With small plastic wheels, a simple frame, cheap nylon, and unreinforced, unpadded seating, I was skeptical that this would provide a decent ride—let alone last very long.
Though the Take 2 is incredibly easy to assemble out of the box, I noticed right away that the nylon cover and sides weren’t going to last. The cover attaches with three pairs of snaps on the top, front, and back of the frame. The snaps at the top were hard to secure, and I had to pull the cover so tight front to back that it hurt my hands to fasten the other four snaps. When they were finally snapped on, the cover pulled so much that the Velcro barely overlapped enough to attach in the front—and only then with a lot of effort. This makes it a huge pain to access the kids when the cover is closed.
Also notice that the nylon is already staring to wear where it’s pulled tight against the frame. There is also a small hole starting around one of the snaps—and this is only the second time the cover has been put on! The snap areas are reinforced on the reverse side with another layer of clear vinyl, but will most likely eventually tear at the seams. Having to pull tight on cheap, thin nylon is a recipe for rips.
Though the bottom of the trailer has space for feet, it isn’t reinforced. The manufacturer lists the maximum payload as 80 lbs., which is just about the combined weight of this 3- and 5-year-old. Notice how the bottom sags under their bums and their feet. (Even with only the 35-lb. 3-yr-old, the bottom sags dramatically.)
The Take 2’s buckles are decent, though they are hard to fasten because the child slides forward on the sagging seat while you’re trying to buckle them in. The straps are narrow and have no padding.
The tow arm fits easily inside the coupler attachment and secures with a pin, which attaches to the rear axle of the adult bike. If you buy an additional coupler attachment (link), you can easily switch the trailer from one adult bike to another. The hitch joint is very stiff, but at slow, casual speeds, this shouldn’t matter.
So how does it ride?
I took my 3-year-old out on a short ride in the Take 2. He didn’t complain, but I could tell that compared to other trailers, he wasn’t nearly as comfortable in the Take 2. Because the seats aren’t reinforced, his bum sagged and his weight caused him to lean forward. Bumps tended to toss him around.
The maximum recommended speed for the Take 2 is 10 mph. That may sound fast, but you can easily reach that speed going down even a gentle slope. At 10 mph, bumps are pronounced.
Though I didn’t experience it personally, several reviewers on Amazon have commented that the tires sometimes pop off the plastic rims. Plastic, small (16”) rims alone are a reason to avoid this trailer.
The biggest downside, though, is the cheap nylon and uncomfortable seats. The weight of bigger kids causes the seats to sag and the kids to lean forward, but the construction doesn’t provide enough structure for a smaller child. It really doesn’t work well for a child of any size!
The InStep Take 2 trailer may be fine for a few casual rides along a smooth, paved trail, but before long it will start to fall apart. Most likely, it will end up collecting cobwebs in the corner of your garage.
Schwinn Echo Double Bicycle Trailer
The Schwinn Echo shares many identical features with the InSTEP Take 2 with a few crucial upgrades that warrant the higher price. (Both Schwinn and InSTEP are sold by Pacific Cycle, Inc.) Most importantly, the Schwinn has 20” aluminum wheels, which make for a smoother ride and will last much longer than the InSTEP’s plastic ones. The Schwinn
is slightly taller than InSTEP, and has more room for feet and rear storage. The seat is slightly better reinforced, but not much.
Unfortunately the Schwinn suffers from the same cover design as the InSTEP Take 2, including its challenging snaps and cheap nylon. (Again, there is already a small hole starting near the top snaps after only one ride despite being reinforced with clear vinyl on the other side.) The Velcro on the Schwinn does seem to attach better, however, so that’s one point for the Schwinn.
The Schwinn buckles are also identical to the InSTEP, but at least the straps have some padding. It’s still a challenge to get bigger kids buckled in, as the seat sags under their weight, despite the light padding and some slight reinforcement on the underside of the trailer.
The tow arm and hitch are identical to the InSTEP. The hitch joint is very stiff, providing a narrow range of motion on turns. For casual riding this isn’t an issue, but sharp turns are out of the question. It’s easy to remove the trailer arm from the hitch mount with a simple pin. If you buy an extra coupler attachment (link), you can easily switch the trailer to another bike without having to remove its axle.
So how does it ride?
The Schwinn rode surprisingly well. Bumps were pronounced, but my 5-year-old didn’t complain. Like with the InSTEP, you’ll want to stick to very smooth pavement and very slow speeds (again, the maximum recommended speed is 10 mph, though I did 15 mph in the Schwinn without a problem).
The Schwinn Echo (and its sister trailer, the Schwinn Trailblazer) is certainly a step up from the InSTEP Take 2 due to its wheels and frame construction. It’s a better overall ride, but it suffers from the same cheap materials, which cause the seat to sag and the vinyl to rip. The cover won’t last.
Allen Sports Premium Aluminum 2 Child Trailer and Stroller
$189 on Amazon (On sale for $159 on Amazon until the end of August 2016)
But wait! There’s good news: Allen Sports has done a great job putting together a budget trailer that will serve you pretty well. This trailer is lightweight and much sturdier construction than those sold by Pacific Cycle. It’s roomier than the other two trailers tested and made for a decent ride.
The nylon cover is thick and durable, and is clearly much better quality than both the InSTEP and the Schwinn. It has enough give to attach easily to the front and back of the trailer frame with Velcro (no tricky snaps). The mesh opening is large and it’s easy to attach and detach the sides, making for easy access to the kids.
The seats are padded and strong enough to support the weight of two heavy kids (the maximum payload is 100 lbs., compared to 80 lbs. for the InSTEP and Schwinn). Most importantly, and unlike the other two trailers, the seats are sewn into the frame separately from the bottom of the trailer. This means that they won’t sag, and there is an extra layer between the ground and those little bums.
There is less foot room in the Allen, but our kids didn’t mind. The foot area is made of a strong, rubberized plastic that won’t rip, making it much sturdier than either the InSTEP or the Schwinn. Kids should be able to easily climb in and out without ripping it.
On one of our rides in the Allen we got caught in the rain and learned that the trailer is not completely waterproof. Water only got in through the bottom corners of the cover attachment, however, and so only the kids’ feet got wet. The bottom also has small grommets to allow moisture to drain. The Allen also has good-sized pockets for kids’ drinks or snacks. The InSTEP and Schwinn have pockets, but they are so small and hard to access that they are barely worth mentioning.
One area where the Allen could use some improvement is the buckles. They serve their purpose, but they feel cheap and are hard to attach and detach. The straps do have some nominal padding, and at least the buckles aren’t in the child’s crotch! Also, rather than each seat having its own 5-point-harness, there is only one lap strap that goes across the whole seat.
The hitch mount is easier to attach to the adult bike than the other two trailers, and for less than $4 you can buy an extra (link), making it easy to swap the trailer to another adult bike. The tow arm slides easily on to the hitch mount and is secured with a pin. The hitch joint has a good range of motion (better than the other two trailers), but because of the shape of the tow arm, the back tire could hit it on a sharp right-hand turn. Take turns slowly!
The Allen comes standard with a handlebar and swivel wheel attachment, and for an extra $69 you can buy a fixed jogger kit (link). The stroller works nicely, and the handlebar canbe attached at two fixed heights (36” or 42”). The “parking brake” is about as rudimentary as you can get: just a strap attached to the frame that can be looped through the back wheel. It isn’t at all convenient, but it will keep the stroller from rolling away if you take the time to attach it.
So how does it ride?
The Allen rode very well, and both kids were comfortable in it together. Despite not having suspension, kids didn’t complain about bumps. As the towing adult, pulling this trailer was comparable to hauling more expensive trailers.
Allen Sports offers the best trailer for parents on a budget. It outperforms other trailers in nearly every aspect, and should last you a long time. We recommend it for durability and child comfort.
What are you missing with a budget trailer?
Shelling out over $500 for a Burley, Thule Chariot, or Croozer trailer is rough. But bear in mind that those trailers are superior in many ways, and they’ll last you a lot longer. Here are just a few of the features that budget trailers lack:
- Wheel guards prevent the wheels from getting caught while riding, which is a potential safety hazard.
- Suspension makes for a much smoother ride for little people, and less jostling for the towing adult.
- High-end trailers provide a lot more comfort for kids, with sufficient padding, reinforced seats, quality straps, etc.
- Many accessories are available for extending the use of high-end trailer (jogging, skiing, infant inserts, cargo conversion, etc.).
- Most of all, the quality and durability are orders of magnitude better on high-end trailers. They’re easier to use, and they should last throughout all your children and then some while maintaining a good resale value.
But if you’re on a budget, head for the Allen Sports Double Trailer and steer clear of anything by InSTEP or Schwinn.
By: Natalie Martins
Last Updated: December 21, 2016