Experiences with a child trailer

This page was written back in 1998, and is thus somewhat out-of-date (in particular, the choice of trailers is now much wider, and obviously any price information is wrong). It may still be of interest to someone, though...

A shorter version appeared in the Cambridge Cycling Campaign newsletter.

There are also some pictures of my (then) upright bike with Michael and the trailer (taken by Claire Macrae of CCC), and also some notes on adapting it for my (current) AnthroTech trike.

We're going on a bike ride.
We're going to use the trailer.
What a beautiful day!
We're not scared.

Uh-uh! Traffic!
Fast discourteous traffic.
We can't go over it.
We can't go under it.

Oh no!
We've got to go through it!

Pedal pedal pedal!
Pedal pedal pedal!
Pedal pedal pedal!

With apologies to We're going on a bear hunt by Michael Rosen and Helen Oxenbury.

How we got started

Back in September 1997 we knew that we would be moving back down to Cambridge, which meant we had to think about how we would move Michael (who was then about 18 months) around by bike.

For various reasons neither of us was very happy with the idea of a child-seat on a bicycle - mainly because:

(I should perhaps say that our distrust of the safety of child-seats doesn't come from any particular experience - I certainly don't know of any of our friends with child-seats who have had accidents because of them.)

In the end we decided that a child trailer looked like the right thing to use. Our bike shop in Glasgow had a fairly cheap and decent looking trailer available, and on a short visit to Cambridge we had discovered that Ben Haywards sold the Trek trailers (although unfortunately they hadn't had one in stock), so this gave us a reasonable fallback position. else.

Meanwhile, we did a look through various magazines, and Joan telephoned round several suppliers. It turned out that D.Tek of Little Thetford sounded as if they did the best range of child trailers in the area (indeed, they claimed in the UK), so we decided to visit them.

Come the move. The removal men packed up our belongings, including our bikes, and departed with them. We came down by car, and everything was duly unloaded (well, except all but one of our bicycle locks, which we dearly hope are in the stuff kept back in store). Next day, our bikes went off for servicing (we hadn't used them much for a while, and what with the move as well, this seemed sensible). The day after that, we went and got bike racks fitted to our car. And the day after that (or was it the next day?) we drove off to Little Thetford, with my bike on top of the car, in search of a shop.

You'll gather from this article that we recommend D.Tek wholeheartedly. However, do be aware that Kevin Dunseath (who is D.Tek) does not necessarily keep normal shop hours. So once you've found the shop (not easy, despite the fact Little Thetford is small and the shop is obvious (it's across from the church) once you've seen it), you may need luck to find it open. We didn't. But all was not lost - there was a guy doing something with a bike by a small van just along the road, and indeed it was he, and he was willing to show us trailers there and then.

Anyway, Kevin spent a while showing what sorts of trailers he had, and talking about the pros-and-cons of the various models. The main thing leading our choice was the need to be able to fold the trailer up quickly for storage - both because we had nowhere obvious to store it at home (apart from on the street in front of the house, not a good idea, or in the kitchen), and also we wanted to be able to take it with us in the car if we were going further afield.

In the end we actually tried out two different trailers (including taking a rather boggled Michael for a short stretch off the road), and decided in the end on the Burley D'Lite. For some perverse reason it irks me that this appears to be the most popular choice of trailer at the moment. Oh well.

Kevin got out a new trailer for us to take away (he would have delivered it if we wanted, but that seemed silly), and we drove home again. For various reasons it wasn't until a few days later that I got round to actually assembling the trailer and taking my first ride.

As advised, this was intended as a combination of getting used to the thing, and figuring out what route I could use to Michael's nursery and my work. So I loaded the trailer to about half Michael's weight (it would have been unfair to involve Michael!), and set out.

As I had suspected, the trailer was too wide to fit through many of the obstacles that the council seems to feel they place at strategic points along cycle-paths. In particular, most places where posts with "ears" have been set at the entrance or exit of a bit of path are too narrow for me (for example, the only useful ways on/off Midsummer Common for me are where there are cattle grids). Interestingly, I suspect that parents with side-by-side tandem pushchairs will have a similar experience, except that they may not be able to cross the cattle grids.

Further experiences

On the whole, the trailer has been a Good Thing. It was a pain to have to assemble it each morning and disassemble it each afternoon/evening, but we've fixed that by moving to a house with a garage (OK - we didn't move just because of the trailer). (Acually, for the first few weeks I was lazy and did leave the trailer set up outside the house. Then one morning I came down and found that the cover had disappeared, rendering the thing useless. Now, that cover is quite hard to get off - it wasn't just the wind, it must have been people. A new cover only took a few days to get delivered, but after that I did the assemble/disassemble thing.)

Michael appears to quite like it, and happily points to Daddy's Bike and Michael's Trailer. On a couple of occasions he's even fallen asleep in it (although I think he had to be quite exhausted). Several times I've heard him singing as we go.

Other road users seem to give us quite a wide berth (cars on the road in particular). I suspect they don't quite know what to make of us, and half wonder if we're going to explode or do something else strange. Interestingly, when I'm cycling without the trailer, I'm much more assertive about taking the road space I need - I've gotten used to having to do so, I think.

Various of the children at the nursery are clearly fascinated by it, and I've quite often gotten comments from pedestrians (although, not being a fast thinker, I still haven't got a good answer for the occasional person who asks for a ride). The typical comment, though, is along the lines of "Way cool!", or variants of "Heh, there's a kid in there" from one pedstrian to another.

One should, though, be prepared to be asked by people where one got the trailer - the best thing is probably to carry some cards or leaflets explaining where you got it from.

About the trailer

D.Tek supplied the trailer mostly assembled. All I needed to do was to put together the quick release skewers through the wheels and to screw the front and rear reflectors onto the frame. This was no problem (even the fixing to the bike frame that I'd had trouble with at D.Tek), apart from a minor adjustment needing to the supports for the wheel axle on one side - for some reason they had been fitted slightly too close together by the factory. It was fairly obvious what to do (loosen one bracket, shift slightly and retighten), but I checked over the telephone with Kevin anyway. As normal, I had to leave a message on his answering machine, but equally as normal he got back very quickly, and the problem was solved.

(I assume that if Kevin had delivered the trailer he would have assembled it if wanted.)

Later on, when evenings began to draw in, I also obtained some rear lights - two Catseye LEDs, used in non-blinking mode. The tubes I wanted to fit these to were too narrow for a good fit with the plastic padding supplied, but some sections of old inner tube make a more reliable fit.

The plastic `bung' sealing the rear end of the tube that attaches the bike to the trailer fell out after a while - this was probably partly my fault for not taking action earlier when I noticed it was loose. A rolled up piece of the aforementioned inner tube forms an effective (although less elegant) plug.

Looking at the trailer itself:

When cycling into a wind, the trailer does act as a noticeable drag. And Michael's weight is noticeable when he's in it. Since I've never used a child-seat, I can't compare the impact that has on riding. I do know that the bike's handling isn't affected as much as I might have expected - although it's always a surprise how skittish the bike seems when it doesn't have a trailer attached!

Obviously we like the machine. The few caveats I have are all minor. It was designed for being used on the right (i.e., in the USA). The trailer itself is asymmetrical about the axis of the bike - but I could argue for the way it is as being as well suited to our side of driving as theirs, so this is not very relevant.

I would prefer the flag to be on the right, away from pedestrians, and given time in the future I might create a new mounting for it (I'm not quite happy with the way it mounts anyway).

Oh, and if you use a flag, ensure that it is secured to its pole! At one point I left the nursery with a flag, and arrived home without one, and I don't think there was anyone obvious close by me during the journey who could have nicked it. Unfortunately, it also wasn't lying on the ground on the bit of the journey I could be bothered to retrace. I've ensured that the new flag is fixed more securely to its pole.

Trailers versus child-seats

This is a hastily thrown together list of the more obvious pros and cons of trailer versus child-seat. I've probably missed some things, and would be interested in other people's views, particularly if they use a child-seat or have experience of both child-seat and trailer.

For using a trailer:

Against using a trailer:

Buying or renting a trailer

Our main piece of advice on buying a trailer is to make sure that you (and your child) try it out first. It's also a good idea to try out at least two different trailers.

Most of the main Cambridge bike dealers sell a child trailer of some sort - in particular I know that Ben Hayward's sell Trek (and can talk sensibly about them), Howes have some sort of trailer up by the ceiling, and Mike's Bikes have a Burley D'Lite in their rental shop, as well as a Burley and something else in their main showroom. However, we would definitely recommend going to a specialist dealer in the first instance (since that is what worked well for us).

The obvious local specialist is D.Tek, run by Kevin Dunseath. They are contactable by post at:

Little Thetford
Cambridgeshire CB6 1BR

by telephone on 0800 834 105 or 01353 648 177 (or 07071 CYCLES) and by Fax on 01353 648 777. The first two have answering machines on them, but Kevin normally gets back fairly fast.

They specialise in child trailers (and other trailers), recumbents, and cycle solutions for disabled and partially disabled people. They normally have between 14 and 20 different models of child trailer in stock, with costs from £170 (second hand) to £600 (rather expensive!). They also rent, and when selling a trailer will allow one to treat the first month as rental so one can check the trailer out. Oh, and Kevin does `tickets' for a "play with recumbents" afternoon - I've got one for my birthday...

Beware that their opening hours may be somewhat erratic, so telephone first before visiting.

Author: Tibs (tony@lsl.co.uk or tibs@tibsnjoan.co.uk)

Last modified: Wed Jul 2 14:03:10 BST 2003