The Trail Gator tow arm is a unique tool that allows you to safely tow your child on their own bike. Small and compact, it’s easy to bring along for the ride for those “just in case” scenarios. Stored on the adult bike when not in use, you can decide mid-ride to connect the bikes and tow a tired kid home! While a bit wobbly in use, this tow bar gets the job done for a pretty bang up price. Read the full review below for more details from our test rides.
Trail Gator Review
BEST FOR: Families who need a temporary fix to tow small kids during bike rides.
SUGGESTED AGE: 4 to 8
- Small and easy to store – great option for the “just in case” scenario
- Child can easily be removed or reattached to the adult bike at any point during the ride
- Child feels like they are riding along with their parent
- Super affordable
- Installation is very time-consuming and instructions can be confusing
- Can be a bit wobbly
- Kids can engage their rear brakes and produce drag
- May cause your child’s bike to lean to the side during the entire ride
Trail Gator Review – Why It’s the Most Popular Bike Tow Arm
The Trail Gator is a unique bike towing solution to several common problem parents often have when biking with their kids.
- Your child gets tired half way through a ride and isn’t willing (or even able) to make it back on their own
- You want to go on a longer ride than a child is capable of
- Training wheels are the norm and your child can’t ride long distances that way. Tow them without training wheels instead!
- Family rides or commuting through city streets where it would be beneficial to keep your little out of traffic
- That hill is just a bit too daunting for your child! Attach the Trail Gator and give them a boost of confidence (and your strength!)
Enter the Trail Gator tow bar! The Trail Gator converts any kids’ bike into a towable trailer cycle by quickly and securely connecting the child’s bike to the adult’s bike. The Trail Gator fits almost all kids’ bikes with wheels 12” to 20” in diameter. When not in use, it easily attaches to the rear axle of the adult bike, so it won’t be in the way when you decide not to use it during a ride.
Riding with the Trail Gator
In full transparency, we had a heck of a time getting our Trail Gator to work right, but once we did, it was SO. MUCH. FUN. Our kids thought it was a total hoot for mom to tow them on their own bikes!
Our 2.5-year-old toddler (36 lbs.) who can’t yet right a pedal bike, probably had the most fun of all. Singing and throwing her hands in the air like she was on a ride at Disneyland. 🙂 And our 49 lb. 7-year-old, who never gets towed anymore, was laughing the entire time. Basically, the Trail Gator can be the impetus for some pretty rad family experiences.
While the Trail Gator is certainly a fun and useful bike accessory for families, it’s not perfect. It’s important to understand some potential issues you may encounter before you decide to buy it.
The “Wobble Factor”
We’ve used a lot of tag along bikes and bike towing options. Like most things in life, their quality and ease-of-use are directly related to their price point. The Trail Gator is a bit wobbly, similar to the “wobble factor” we also found with the popular WeeRide Co-Pilot. But it’s also the most affordable towing option on the market.
The wobble is probably due to the telescoping arm design and the connection to the child bike, both of which are unique to the Trail Gator and introduce some additional instability.
The wobble is exaggerated when just gaining momentum, but becomes much less noticeable as you gain speed. If you can get your child to stay relatively still while pedaling, that’s also a huge help! Weight also plays a factor – the wobble was more noticeable when towing our 48-pound 6-year-old tester. I didn’t notice a wobble at all when I was towing our 2.5-year-old.
Child Bike Can Lean to the Side
One issue we experienced on our first set of rides was that the child bike leaned to the side almost the entire time we were riding. It was a drastic enough lean that our kid bike testers started complaining after the initial 30 seconds of “wow” factor wore out. If we couldn’t fix the issue, we knew we would never really use the Trail Gator.
We reached out to Trail Gator for help, and they provided several different potential solves. Based on their response, it seems that many others before me have probably had this issue. After about another two hours of finagling and trying every possible solve they provided, we finally resolved the issue.
This whole process was incredibly frustrating, but we’re glad we stuck with it because once we got the Trail Gator to work, it rides remarkably well for its price point.
To be fair, this may not occur with your Trail Gator. We reached out to a few other Trail Gator users, and they did not have this issue. However, there are a fair amount of Amazon reviews that also mention leaning problems.
Child’s Brakes Can Produce Drag
The Trail Gator does not affect the child bike’s rear brakes in any way, so the child rider can brake unexpectedly while riding. As the adult rider, you’ll feel the “drag” when this occurs, but it’s not a drastic jolt that would cause you to lose your balance.
No Training Wheels Allowed!
You cannot use training wheels when riding with the Trail Gator. If your child needs training wheels when riding solo, you can purchase flip-up training wheels that you can move up when towing the child bike and move down when the child is riding alone.
Initial Assembly & Installation
We’ve assembled hundred of bike products over the years, and unfortunately, the Trail Gator was easily one of the most frustrating and unnecessarily complicated. It took several hours to get everything just right. Just to verify that I wasn’t alone, I read many Amazon reviews of parents with the same frustrations.
The instructions are relatively straight forward, but difficult to read and lack details that would be helpful. There are a ton of parts and pieces separated into several different bags, but they aren’t all grouped together in a way that makes sense. So you’ll spend a bit of time finding the right parts at the right time.
In general, because every adult bike and every child bike is different, installation requires a lot of trial and error that just can’t be avoided based on the Trail Gator’s design. And there are so many steps. So get out your glass of patience, and take a big gulp! It’s worth it in the end!
Attaching the Hitch to the Adult Bike
The adult bike attachment is similar to many other trailer cycles. Installation involves removing the seat post, sliding the Trail Gator hitch onto the seat post, reinstalling the seat post, and tightening two bolts on the Trail Gator hitch. Because this involves tools, you probably won’t want to take it on and off very often. It’s unobtrusive enough to keep the hitch on between uses.
The Trail Gator will not work with every bike, so here are a few insights from our experience. Your seat post must be between 1″ – 1.25″ in diameter to work with the Trail Gator’s hitch. If your seat post is between 1″ – 1.16″, you’ll need to insert one or both of the included shims into the hitch before you place it over your seat post. This allows the hitch to be tightened enough so that it does not move.
But if your seat post is too wide, it just won’t work at all. Be sure to check your seat post diameter before you purchase. My mountain bike’s seat post was too wide, so we had to mount the Trail Gator on a different bike. Out of our many adult bikes, we only had an issue with our mountain bikes.
Does the Trail Gator work if you have a rack installed on your bike? It depends. On our small women’s frame bike with 26″ wheels, we were able to mount the Trail Gator over an Axiom adjustable rack. However, we had to lower the rack almost all the way down.
On our larger Fuji hybrid bike and Priority Classic Gotham bike (both have racks installed), we were not able to use the Trail Gator. Both of these bikes have ~29″ wheels, which requires the rack to be set higher than on a bike with smaller wheels. We were unable to mount the hitch to our seat post because the rack was higher than our seat post collar.
The Trail Gator would have worked fine if we didn’t have the racks installed. If you only have one bike, you may have to choose between the rack and the Trail Gator.
Attaching the Mounting Block to the Child’s Bike
The child bike attachment takes significantly more time to set up than the hitch to the adult bike. In theory, the set-up is pretty simple, but there are a lot of pieces, and we had to try several different configurations before the mounting plate fit our child’s bike appropriately.
The mount consists of a metal plate that connects via four bolts to two metal arms that reach around the head tube of the bike. Nestled in between are two metal mounting guards that make contact with the head tube. All these pieces are difficult to hold together with two hands, so we recommend having an extra person available to help!
Where the biggest difficulty came for us was in trying to find the right way to position the metal arms around the head tube. There are several different positions you could use, depending on the size of the bike and the shape of the bike’s frame. We tried several before we got it right.
Once you find a configuration that works for you, you still have to test it connected to the adult bike. The child’s front tire should be 3-5″ off the ground. If it’s higher or lower than this, you have to adjust the mounting bracket by unscrewing the entire thing and inserting spacing shims to adjust the angle of the mounting block. After it took me an hour to get the mounting block right, I wasn’t super excited to discover I had to add these shims.
You cannot tow a 24” bike with the Trail Gator because the bike’s front wheel cannot be lifted at least 3″ off of the ground.
Stabilizing the Child’s Handlebars
For overall stability and safety, there’s an additional step for installation. The child’s handlebars should not move when using the Trail Gator. To achieve this, a small stabilizer rod swings down from the tow bar and connects to a clamp on the front fork of the child’s bike.
To attach the clamp to the fork, you have to remove the front wheel of the child’s bike. Yes, this is a lot of steps to a very complex installation process!
The stabilizer rod needs to be adjusted and tightened on the tow arm at the appropriate distance from the child bike. To hold the handlebars in place, the rounded end of the rod must snap on top of the ball on the clamp you installed on the fork. Breath a sigh of relief. YOU DID IT!
Due to the time required to install the mounting block on the child’s bike, if you want to use a single Trail Gator with different child bikes, you’ll definitely want to look into purchasing additional receiver kits.
When a child is riding independently, there is the potential for child’s hand brake cables to catch on the metal mounting plate, especially when they turn the handlebars sharply. While this won’t be a problem with bikes that have more slack in the brake cables (like our woom 3), just be aware that it could be an issue if your child’s bike has hand brakes.
It’s important to note that the mounting plate can scratch the paint on the head tube of the child’s bike. The spacing shims in the fork clamp can also scratch the paint. (Both of these happened to us, and you’ll find plenty of people complaining about it on Amazon.)
In both cases, you have metal edges coming into contact with the bike frame. It seems like an oversight not have have included rubber guards to protect the paint, but you could easily add these yourself if you’re picky about the paint on your child’s bike.
Mounting for a Ride
The Trail Gator has a unique design for mounting and un-mounting, allowing for a fairly quick conversion from towing a child to having the child ride solo.
- Extend the tow bar to full length and insert the safety pin to lock it in place
- Attach the tow bar to the child’s bike. Slide the end of tow bar over the mounting plate on the child bike.
- Align the holes to then insert and tighten the quick release.
- Attach the other end of the tow bar to the hitch on the adult bike.
- Align the holes and insert and tighten the quick release.
To unmount the child’s bike mid-ride, you start by removing the quick release from the child’s mounting plate. We did find that in order to prevent wobble, we really had to tighten up the quick release, which sometimes made it difficult to loosen/remove without tools.
After removing the quick release and then the tow arm from the child’s bike, the child bike receiver is small enough that the child can comfortably ride the bike with the receiver still installed. You can insert the quick release back into the mount or into the end of the tow bar for storage.
But what do you do with the tow arm?? Trail Gator thought of a pretty cool solution! You pull out the pin at the center of the tow bar to allow the Trail Gator arm to collapse into itself to about half its length.
To store it, swing it down to the left side of the adult bike. The Trail Gator includes a small bracket that attaches to the skewer for the rear wheel of the adult bike, keeping the arm in place. It’s actually pretty genius!
If you’re going for a ride without your child passenger, you can also remove the Trail Gator arm entirely via a quick release. Once the arm is removed, the hitch is small enough to remain attached unobtrusively while you ride alone.
Note: We were unable to fit the arm into the bracket with a rear rack installed. The rack got in the way. If this is your situation, you can detach the Trail Gator and put the collapsed arm in a pannier instead. You could even bring along a bungee cord to attach it to the rack.
Storage and Transportation
The removed arm is very small and easy to store. This makes the Trail Gator a great solution if you want the functionality of both a child bike and a trailer cycle, but you don’t have enough storage space for both. It’s also quite easy to put in your suitcase to take with you anywhere!
The Trail Gator is the most affordable, upright bike towing product we’ve found. While its potential for wobbling and leaning aren’t ideal, for the price it does ride impressively well. If you need a compact, “just-in-case” solve for your family bike rides, the Trail Gator is a great option.
If you’re interested in a similar solution that’s more stable (but much more expensive), check out the FollowMe Tandem bike coupling device. We also have plenty of other kid towing ideas on our Best Tag Along Bikes and Towing Options page!