A guest post by Christina Bengtson:
Last year I had the bright idea of buying a cargo trailer and doing my shopping with that instead of using the car. The underlying reasoning was that we didn’t want to buy a second car, I was keen on the extra exercise, and we felt it fitted into our lifestyle, trying to minimise our carbon footprint.
We are a family of 5: three kids, my husband and myself, with one car, five bikes – and now a cargo trailer. I think we’re the only one-car household in our street; it’s definitely not ‘normal’. Because we run our own business from home, business use of the car takes priority over errands, shopping, etc, but kids’ activities (not reachable by bike) come first. So basically, because I do most of the running around and grocery shopping, I found myself at the end of the line, hence the idea of the trailer.
I ended up in quite a different place to where I first thought I would. I thought I’d be able to find something locally, and was initially leaning towards a one-wheeler, but after talking to other trailer users and doing a lot of research online I changed my mind – several times.
This is a (very) brief summary of my thinking.
Firstly, I ruled out a cargo bike. They were way too expensive and we don’t have storage space for two bikes for me (my road bike is not negotiable). So a trailer it was. The main difference is between one- and two-wheelers. I initially thought a one-wheeler would be the better option, as it seemed more streamlined and ‘efficient’. However, I realised that it would be difficult to hitch and unhitch on my own, that it would have to be packed quite carefully so the load was evenly balanced, and that it would be difficult to park because of the length of the ‘rig’. Basically the bike AND trailer would need to lean on something, e.g. a wall or bench; whereas a trailer with two wheels wouldn’t need to be supported, only the bike.
Also, a two-wheeler would be much more stable when loading stuff and hitching/unhitching, as well as being much less vulnerable to uneven loading. As I’m often out on errands on my own, this was important. I didn’t want to have to rely on passersbys to get through my to-do list.
Two-wheeled trailers are available in NZ, but they struck me as comparatively heavy and clumsy. I’m a reasonably strong cyclist, but I’m not superwoman and I don’t ride an e-bike, so I knew that extra weight would be an issue if I was going to use the trailer regularly. Being able to fold down the trailer when not in use was also important, as was the hitching system. I learnt that connecting the bike and trailer at a low point (the rear axle on the bike) is preferable to a seat-post connection in terms of how the bike handles, so a lot of kitsets were ruled out based on that fact.
In the end, I chose a Burley Nomad. We had to import it from the US as there is no supplier in Australasia. Getting it here was a nightmare, because so few US businesses are willing to deal with customers from outside the US. Then there was the time difference, the freight cost being misquoted on eBay auctions, the fuel shortage at the airport which somehow delayed NZ customs… However, once the box was delivered, it took me less than 15 minutes from signing for the package until it was hitched to my bike. It clicked together really easily and the hitch (connector) went onto my bike as simply as promised. One trip around the block and I was in love!
Yes, it was quite expensive (especially once you add shipping from the US, and GST), but it’s light, it handles superbly, it’s roomy, it has a rain cover and a load capacity of 50 kg. The hitch-system is also super easy, I can do it with one hand while holding my bike with the other.
I also have and use panniers, but I swap back and forth with the trailer depending on what I’m doing and where I’m going. I don’t like riding with a bag on my back, so will usually have a pannier for my handbag and lock if I’m heading out for even a short ride.
Experimenting with load in panniers and the trailer, I quickly realised that I much prefer how the bike handles with the trailer. Using the trailer, only 5 – 10 % of the trailer/load weight is transferred onto the bike (according to one of the many YouTube videos I watched while doing my research!), while panniers obviously place all the weight on the bike, making for very different handling.
When I have the trailer hooked up, I’m not as nimble in traffic as without it. It takes a little longer to get moving, and I feel the weight when going uphill. It surprised me that the trailer is vulnerable to side-winds – but only when it’s empty or lightly loaded. A bit of weight gives it stability.
Going up hills I can still stand up and work the bike because of the hitch being at the rear axle. There is a small amount of give, which allows for this movement. This also helps when cornering, as I can lean into corners and the trailer will simply follow without pushing me in any way – even along the slalom lane through the West Lynn village.
I don’t use the trailer every day, but certainly once or twice every week. Other cyclists have been complimentary and curious about it, and while some shop-owners have been surprised at being asked where the best place to park my bike and trailer is, they have usually been super supportive and helpful.
In the future, I’m sure we will see more cargo and child trailers in Auckland. As housing density increases and car-ownership becomes less desirable (at least in central Auckland), a cargo trailer is an amazing option for quaxing almost anything. And with more and more cycle lanes, family trips and errands can be done on bike as well. Bring on the new normal!!