While preparing for a bicycle tour, one of the most important decisions you need to make is how you’re going to haul your gear. Your luggage choice determines how much gear you can carry, how your bike handles, and the type of terrain you can ride. This guide explains all of the pros and cons of using panniers vs a trailer for bicycle touring and bikepacking to help you choose which is best for your style of riding.
Bike Trailer Pros
- Better handling and maneuverability- Using a trailer takes all of the extra weight of your gear off of your bike. This makes your bike feel much more quick and nimble. Almost like it’s unloaded. For this reason, trailers are a great choice for off-road riding. Using a trailer makes it easier to navigate technical terrain without the weight of your gear on the bike itself. This is the reason that many Great Divide Mountain Bike Route riders choose to use a trailer.
- A trailer allows you to haul large and bulky items- Maybe you want to tour with a kayak, surfboard, guitar, hiking backpack, firewood, skis, or a large tent. A trailer allows you to do this. If you’re traveling through a section where you need to carry several days worth of food or water, you can always find a way to strap more on.
- Some components last longer and require less maintenance- Using a trailer takes the weight of your gear off your bike. The trailer handles the weight instead. This reduces wear and tear on some bike components. For example, you can expect to get more miles out of your tires, rims, hubs, and frame before they need to be replaced. You’ll also experience fewer broken spokes and cracked or bent rims. Pinch flats become less common as well. Dragging a trailer behind you is much gentler on the bike, in general.
- You can ride any bike with a trailer- Because you aren’t carrying any extra weight on the wheels or frame, your bike doesn’t have to be as sturdy to use a trailer. There is no need for heavy-duty 36 spoke wheels, a beefy steel frame, or braze-ons for mounting racks. You can ride whatever bike you want including lightweight road bikes, folding bikes, carbon fiber frames, recumbent bikes, or whatever bike you already have. You can also buy a used bike at your destination rather than flying with your own bike. This can save you a lot of money and hassle. Pretty much any bike can safely pull a trailer.
- More luggage capacity- Trailers allow you to carry an incredible amount of gear. Most trailers can handle 70-100 pounds (about 32-45 kilograms) and include a 75-100 liter dry bag. This is great for those traveling long term or riders who don’t care about carrying extra weight. Many riders use panniers in addition to a trailer for additional storage capacity. This way, you could carry over 100 kilos (about 220 lbs) of gear if your bike is sturdy enough to support it.
- One bag instead of 4- Most trailers are designed to haul one large dry bag or duffel bag. When you’re off the bike or checking into a hotel at the end of the day, it’s easier to carry around one bag instead of 4 panniers. You don’t have to make multiple trips. Some trailers even have a handle that allows you to roll it around like a roller suitcase or cart. You won’t forget which pannier you put something in. It’s all in the same bag. Additionally, using one bag can be more secure. After all, it’s easier to keep an eye on one big bag than 4 small panniers.
- Some trailers offer suspension- This is useful for riding off-road. Suspension can prevent your gear from bouncing around too much. It also reduces stress on your bike and the trailer frame.
- Improved aerodynamics- While researching for this article, I encountered a few articles claiming that trailers are more aerodynamically efficient than panniers. I’m not sure if this is true or not. I wasn’t able to find any evidence to back this claim up. I’ll add it to the list anyway for you to consider. Of course, aerodynamics depends on the style of trailer you use and how you load it.
- Faster and easier to pack and unpack- Because you’re dealing with one bag instead of 4, you don’t have to worry as much about balancing the weight out. You can just stuff everything in and you’re ready to go.
- Trailers allow you to fit through more narrow gaps- Most bike trailers use one wheel and have a narrow design. The trailer is no wider than the bike itself. This allows you to ride single track trails and fit through tight gaps in traffic. Panniers stick out and make your bike much wider. They can get caught on trees and bushes as you ride.
- You can bring small children or pets with you on your tour- If you have kids who are too young to ride or if you want to tour with your dog or your cat, a trailer gives you this option. If you want to do this, you’ll need to choose a trailer that is designed to carry people or animals to keep them safe, of course.
- You can quickly and easily remove all of your luggage from the bike- Most trailers attach to the bike with some type of quick-release mechanism. You can unload your bike in just a few seconds by detaching the trailer. This allows you to ride your bike around town, to the store, or around camp without carrying any extra weight. Removing all of your panniers and racks is much more time-consuming.
- No heel strike- If your bike has short chainstays or your feet are particularly big, you may experience heel strike. This happens when your heel rubs against your rear pannier while riding. A trailer sits far enough back that your heel won’t come anywhere near it. Of course, a properly designed touring bike with the right rack and panniers won’t have this problem either.
- The bike is easier to push with a trailer- If you reach a steep hill or deep sand, you might have to get off your bike and push. Panniers hit your leg and get in the way when pushing. With a trailer, you can easily push your bike like you normally do.
- Trailers are unique- Most bicycle travelers use panniers or bikepacking bags. Trailers are much less common. If you want to try something different, give a trailer a try. I always enjoy experimenting with different types of cycling gear. I didn’t think I would enjoy using a trailer until I tried it. Now I consider them a completely valid alternative to panniers. For some tours, a trailer is the better option.
Bike Trailer Cons
- Trailers add more parts to maintain and replace- This is the biggest drawback. Trailers add complexity to your touring setup. Your trailer can get broken spokes, a cracked rim, or a flat tire. The hub needs to be maintained periodically to keep it rolling smoothly. The tire needs to be replaced when they wear out. The frame can crack after heavy use or if it’s overloaded. This is just more stuff that you have to worry about and maintain while touring. Trailers reduce the overall reliability of your touring setup.
- Trailers tend to sway and shimmy while you ride- This is a problem with most trailers. Particularly while you’re traveling at speed or accelerating quickly. Most trailer manufacturers recommend that you not exceed 25 miles per hour (40 Km/h) with the trailer. The shimmying problem gets worse if you stand up off the saddle and ride because the bike itself tends to pitch back and forth as you pedal. The trailer follows and makes swaying worse.
- Heavier- Generally, a trailer setup weighs slightly more than racks and panniers. For example, a standard set of 65 liter Ortlieb front and rear panniers with Tubus steel racks weighs around 4.5 kilograms (about 10 pounds). This is probably the most popular pannier setup for long-distance bicycle tourists. A BOB Yak trailer, which is one of the more popular options, weighs 6.1 kilograms (about 13.5 pounds). In this case, your setup weighs 1.6 kilos (about 3.5 pounds) more if you go with a trailer. Of course, the difference depends on the models you choose. Some heavy-duty two-wheeled bike trailers weigh as much as 18 kilos (around 40 pounds). There are also significantly lighter options available.
- Finding replacement parts can be challenging- Most trailers use 16 inch or 20 inch wheels. Replacement parts for these sizes are harder to find than 26 inch or 700c bike wheels because the smaller wheels are less common. If you need spokes, a rim, or a new tire or tube, you might have trouble finding one. Particularly if you’re touring through a remote region or in the developing world. Be sure to carry enough spares with you to keep your trailer going.
- Harder to avoid potholes and other obstacles- Two-wheeled trailers and seat post mounted trailers pivot left and right. This means the wheel(s) take their own path. When you turn, the trailer can cut a corner and hit a pothole, rock, root, curb, etc. The only way to avoid this is to choose a single wheel axle mount trailer. These don’t pivot side to side so the rear wheel tracks directly behind your bike’s rear wheel.
- You may need to carry extra tools and spare parts- You’ll at least need to carry a spare tube for your trailer’s wheels. You might also want to carry a couple of spare spokes as some sizes can be hard to find. Additionally, you might also need to pack extra tools if your trailer requires different sized wrenches or Allen keys than your bike. This adds weight to your setup. Check out my tool kit and spare parts list to help you decide what you need to pack to keep you on the road.
- Trailers require some maintenance- Once in a while, you have to grease the hub. You’ll have to replace the tire when it wears out. Occasionally, you may have to adjust the spokes to true the wheel. This maintenance work costs you time and money. You don’t have to worry about any maintenance when using a rack and panniers.
- More rolling resistance- A trailer adds another wheel or two that you have to get rolling every time you stop. The extra wheel(s) create friction which takes energy to overcome. When you’re coasting, the extra friction slows you down. This reduces efficiency because you’re burning more energy and not traveling any faster or further than you would with a pannier setup.
- Trailers can add cost to flights- Flying with a bike is already expensive. When you add a trailer, you’re adding another item that you’ll have to check in your luggage. This probably means another oversized bag fee in addition to your bike box. Using a trailer could potentially add hundreds of dollars to the cost of your trip depending on which airline you fly. There are a few trailers on the market that are designed to fold so you can pack them in the same box with your bike. For example, the Aevon KIT L80 is designed for air travel.
- Less maneuverable- A bike with a trailer has a large turning radius. This makes navigating dense areas a bit more difficult. You can’t easily turn around on a narrow shoulder or bike lane if you make a wrong turn. You can’t easily cut between cars in a crowded city.
- There is a learning curve to riding with a trailer- You may find it harder to turn because you always have to keep in mind where your trailer is going to track. For example, maybe you take a sharp turn to avoid a pothole. Your trailer could fall in. If you ride too close to the edge of the road with a two-wheeled trailer, it could fall off of the road and drag you with it. Trailers also increase your bike’s turning radius. Reversing is harder as well. Before you start touring with a trailer, you’ll want to get some practice with it so you know how it feels and behaves when you’re towing it.
- Trailers are long and take up more space to park- This can be a problem when you’re riding through a very dense area. A touring bike and trailer measure 10-12 feet long. When you park at a bike rack, your trailer can stick out into a sidewalk or walkway. It can also make staying in hotels and hostels a bit more challenging. Some properties won’t allow you to bring your massive bike and trailer setup inside with you.
- Harder to organize- With a trailer, you just have one big bag to store all of your stuff in. This makes organizing your gear a challenge. It can be hard to find small items while digging through 100 liters of stuff. Having to store your dirty clothes and clean clothes in the same bag also isn’t ideal. Panniers give you 4 bags to work with which makes organization much simpler.
- Trailers can increase your chances of getting hit by a vehicle in some situations- Because the trailer sits so low, there is a risk that a driver could turn a bit too close behind you and hit the trailer. This could easily happen at an intersection with a driver making a left turn. Alternatively, a driver could hit the trailer from behind if they were following too close and didn’t notice it. The solution is to mount a flag on your trailer that sits in the driver’s field of vision. Lights also help.
- Poor traction in some conditions- While climbing steep gravel hills, you may lose traction in your rear tire. This happens because there isn’t enough weight on the rear wheel. All of the weight is in the trailer. On downhill sections, your front wheel can lose traction because the weight of the trailer is pushing you too hard from behind.
- Trailers are a hassle carry on flights, busses, trains, taxis, etc.- If during your tour, you need to use a form of transportation other than your bike, the trailer becomes another bulky item that you have to deal with and find space for. You might have to take up two bike racks instead of one. There might be additional charges. You probably can’t fit your whole touring setup in a car if you decide to hitchhike or take a cab. Additionally, some airlines limit the amount of luggage you can bring. They might not have space to accommodate a bike box and trailer and your luggage. This happens when you fly on small regional airlines. Trailers limit your transportation options.
- You can’t pick up and carry your bike and gear all at once- Once in a while, you might find the need to carry your fully-loaded touring bike. For example, maybe you need to go up a flight of stairs to cross a walkway over a busy intersection. Maybe you need to go over a fence to reach a wild camping spot. Maybe you need to turn your bike around in a crowded area. You can’t really lift a bike and a trailer at the same time. You couldn’t get the leverage to lift the trailer with the bike. Even if you could, it would be too unwieldy. You’ll have to detach the trailer and move it separate from the bike. When you have to, you can lift your touring bike with panniers.
- Trailers take up a lot of space to store- A trailer is a big, bulky thing that you have to find room to store when it’s not in use. Most single wheel trailers measure over 5 feet (152 cm) long. If you live in an apartment or small home, trailers can take up too much valuable space. Panniers can easily fold up and fit in a closet. Racks are pretty small compared to a trailer.
- It’s hard to ride off the saddle- You can’t really stand up and ride while using a trailer. The reason is that the trailer tends to begin swaying or dog tailing. This limits you while climbing hills. You can’t get the same amount of power or leverage while seated.
- Some trailers tip over when stopped- This is only the case with one-wheeled trailers. When you stop, the trailer can fall on its side because it isn’t balanced on anything. This can be annoying when you’re riding in stop and go city traffic. It can also be annoying when parking your bike. You have to park strategically or else your trailer will tip over and bring your bike with it. Some people mount a kickstand or center stand on their trailer to solve this problem.
- Trailers can look funny- I know that looks shouldn’t matter but they do. You need to like the look of your rig. Some riders just don’t like the way bike trailers look. This is a personal preference kind of thing.
- You’ll get more attention- When you ride with a trailer, you’ll get lots of looks. It’s a unique setup. People may stare, stop to ask questions, or even take a photo. Some people enjoy the attention but many get annoyed by it.
- Easier to organize your gear- With panniers, you have 4 bags to separate your gear into. For example, you could have your clothing in one, your food and cooking gear in another, your camping gear in another, and your electronics in yet another pannier. It is nice being able to pack your laptop in a separate bag from your wet tent. With a trailer, you just have one big bag for everything.
- Panniers are more reliable- Panniers and racks offer a very simple solution to hauling your gear. There are not mechanically complex. The rack bolts to the frame and the panniers attach with simple clips. There are no mechanical or moving parts to worry about maintaining or repairing. There is no hub, spokes, tire, rim, or tube, that can fail. The most common problem when using panniers is a broken rack. These can usually be easily repaired by a welder. Another common problem is that the clips that holds the pannier to the rack occasionally brake. The solution is to simply carry a spare.
- Lighter- Generally, a pannier and rack setup weighs less than a trailer. For example, an average set of 4 panniers plus a front and rear rack weighs around 4-5 kilos (8-11 pounds). The average trailer weighs somewhere around 5-7 kilos (11-15 pounds). Ultralight pannier and trailer options are also available but the panniers almost always weigh less.
- Panniers can carry more weight- Heavy-duty steel rear racks are capable of holding up to 50 kilos (110 pounds). Heavy-duty front racks can haul an additional 15 kilos (33 lbs). That’s 65 kilos or 143 lbs combined. In order to carry this much weight on your bike, you need to have high-quality wheels and a heavy-duty frame. Most bike trailers are only rated for 32-45 kilos (about 70-100 pounds).
- Cheaper and easier to fly with- You can fit your panniers and racks in the same box with your bike when packing it up for a flight. You don’t have to check an extra oversized item. This can save you a significant amount of money each time you fly. For example, most airlines charge $50-$150 one way to check a bike box. If you have to check an additional box with your trailer, you’ll end up paying that fee twice each flight. The savings is significant.
- Panniers are a more modular luggage system- You don’t have to use all of your panniers all the time. For example, if you’re just going for an overnighter, you may only need to use your rear panniers. Maybe you’re going bikepacking and you just want to use your front panniers. This allows you to make your load as light as possible. With a trailer, you don’t have this option. It’s all or nothing.
- You can use a pannier as a day pack or carry-on bag- When you fly or if you take a bus or train, you can pack all of your valuables and fragile items into one pannier and carry it on with you. You can also attach a shoulder strap and use your pannier as a day pack. This isn’t an option with a large trailer dry bag.
- Panniers and racks take up less space- When panniers are empty, they can compress down small enough to easily store in a closet or under your bed. Racks are fairly small as well at just 15” x 15” x 6” (about 38 x 38 x 15 cm) on average. They are easy to store in even a small apartment. A trailer has an almost 2-meter long metal frame that you have to find space to store.
- Less rolling resistance- There is no extra wheel to accelerate. This may make panniers more efficient.
- Easier to carry your gear off the bike- At the end of the day, you might need to carry your gear over a fence, up several flights of stairs, or even across a river. Panniers allow you to make multiple trips and carry less gear at once. Each pannier is relatively light and manageable. With a trailer, all of your gear is stored in a massive 100-liter dry bag. This gets heavy and unmanageable very fast. Imagine carrying a 65-pound bag up 2 flights of stairs at the end of the day.
- You can ride off the saddle- Panniers allow you to stand up and ride. This comes in handy while climbing steep hills. You can get more leverage on the handlebars and use your body weight to help you pedal. You can’t really stand and ride with a trailer because they tend fishtail.
- Panniers and racks require virtually no maintenance- Once they’re attached, they just work. The only maintenance that you may want to do is to periodically check that the bolts on the racks are tight. A little bit of Locktite Threadlocker Blue can help keep rack bolts tight. Sometimes they work their way loose after riding on bumpy roads. There is no wheel to maintain like there is with a trailer.
- You don’t need to carry many tools or spare parts- The only spare you may want to carry is a couple of extra bolts for your racks in case one works its way loose. You could also carry a spare clip for your pannier in case one breaks. Most bicycle tourists don’t bother with this. As for tools, you’ll just need an Allen key that you’re likely already carrying with your multitool.
- Panniers are traditional- Bicycle tourists have been using panniers for decades. They are a standard piece of gear that has been tried and tested for countless trips around the world. They are also an iconic piece of bicycle touring gear. It’s nice to follow a tradition. You’ll also blend in a bit more when using panniers.
- Some components wear out faster- Panniers put extra weight on your bike’s frame and wheels. This causes extra wear and tear. Broken spokes become more common. Rims can crack if they are overloaded. Bike frames can also crack if they’re overloaded for an extended period of time. Tires wear out more quickly and need to be replaced more often.
- Less storage capacity- A standard set of 4 panniers gives you 65 liters of storage capacity. You can increase that by using Ortleib’s extra-large 70 liter rear panniers and 30-liter front panniers. This gives you 100 liters of storage. Adding a trailer to your pannier setup allows you to carry twice that much stuff.
- You can’t easily haul bulky or odd-shaped items- Panniers can easily carry all of the standard gear that bicycle tourists use. If you want to carry something unconventional like a kayak, case of beer, full-sized pillow, a stack of firewood, or a pair of bongos, etc. you’ll have trouble carrying them with a rack and pannier setup. A trailer allows you to stack large items right on top.
- Some bikes are not compatible- Panniers require racks. Racks require braze-ons on the bike’s frame in order to mount them. Not all bikes have the required braze-ons. Some frames are not capable of carrying heavy panniers. This is the case with carbon fiber frames and some folding bikes. There are racks that mount to the seat post or clamp to the seat stays but these generally can’t handle much weight. You can pull a trailer with pretty much any bike.
- Heel strike- If your bike has short chainstays, you may experience heel strike. This happens when your heels hit your panniers while pedaling. You don’t have to worry about this while using a trailer because the trailer sits much further back.
- The bike is harder to push- Rear panniers stick out and hit your leg while pushing the bike. For road touring, this isn’t that big of deal because you rarely have to push your bike. For off-road touring, this can get annoying. Particularly when pushing through a narrow singletrack trail.
- You have to balance your panniers- Weight needs to be distributed evenly on the left, right, front, and back of your bike. If one side is heavier, the bike can become harder to ride and handling suffers. If the rear is too heavy, the front wheel can come off the ground while you’re pushing your bike.
- There are 4 bags to deal with instead of 1- You must remember in which bag you put each piece of gear. It’s also hard to carry all 4 panniers at once. Trailers usually use one big bag. It can be easier having everything in the same place.
- You can’t fit through narrow gaps- Panniers add a few inches of width to your bike on each side. With a wide rig, you can’t easily ride through gaps in traffic. Sometimes panniers get caught on tree limbs or bushes sticking out on narrow trails. Trailers, on the other hand, are about the same width as the bike or narrower. They track directly behind you and don’t stick out.
- Poor aerodynamics- Because panniers stick out on the sides, they cause wind resistance. This slows you down. This causes panniers to be less efficient while riding through a headwind.
- It takes more time to remove your luggage from the bike- You must remove the panniers one at a time. If you want to remove the racks, you’ll need to use an Allen key. This job takes a few minutes. With a trailer, one quick-release pin removes all of your luggage from the bike in just seconds.
- Panniers raise the center of mass- This makes the bike a bit harder to balance when it is sitting at a standstill. This can be a problem when you’re stopping to take a photo with the bike between your legs. If you let it lean too far, it can fall over.
- Panniers bounce around while riding off-road- Hearing your panniers rattle against your racks gets annoying after a while. Trailers are generally quieter.
- Panniers can fall off the bike- This is uncommon but it does happen. Occasionally, while riding on a particularly bumpy road, a pannier may bounce off the rack.
More Cycling Pros and Cons Analyses from Where the Road Forks
Weight and Carrying Capacity of Panniers Vs Trailer
One of the main reasons most bicycle tourists choose panniers over trailers is the weight. Everyone wants to travel as light as possible these days. Panniers and racks are almost always lighter than trailers.
The problem with this comparison is that trailers usually haul a larger volume of gear than panniers. At the same time, Panniers and racks can usually hold more weight. This makes it difficult to directly compare the two.
Volume Capacity of Panniers Vs Trailers
An average set of front and rear panniers and racks accommodates 65 liters of gear and weighs about 4.5 kg (around 10 lbs).
An average cargo trailer that is capable of touring accommodates 75-100 liters of gear and weighs about 6 kg (around 13 lbs).
As you can see, the trailer holds about 25-30 liters more gear and weighs just 1.5 kg (3.3 lbs) more than comparable racks and panniers. If you have more gear or bulkier gear, you might be better off with a trailer.
Weight Capacity of Panniers Vs Trailers
To make the decision even more confusing, you’ll want to consider the maxim load weight. Strong steel front and rear racks can handle loads up to 65 kg (around 143 lbs) combined.
Most trailers can handle a maximum load of 32 kg (70 lbs). Some heavier duty trailers can handle up to 45 kg (100 lbs).
In this case, heavy-duty panniers and racks hold 20 kg (44 lbs) more weight than a comparable trailer. If you have heavier gear or you need to haul a lot of water, you might be better off with racks and panniers.
Panniers Vs Trailer Pricing
This is one area where both systems are about equal. Mid to high end cargo trailers that are suitable for long-distance touring usually run somewhere between $300-$500. This includes everything you’ll need to tour including a dry bag, quick release, flag, and the trailer itself. Most Burley and BOB bike trailer models fall into this range.
A mid-range pannier set usually costs somewhere around $350-$500 depending on the brand. This includes front and rear panniers as well as front and rear steel racks that are suitable for long-distance touring. The ever-popular Ortleib panniers and Tubus racks fall into this price range.
Of course, there are cheaper options as well. You can buy low-end trailers or panniers for less than $100. These would work fine for short tours. If you’re on a really tight budget, you could DIY a trailer or makes some bucket panniers for next to nothing.
For some budget tips, check out my guide: How to Put together a Budget Bicycle Touring Setup.
A Note About Efficiency of panniers Vs Trailers
This is one area where I am unsure which system is superior. While researching this article, I read multiple claims that both trailers and panniers were more efficient for various reasons. I was unable to find any solid evidence proving either case.
On one hand, trailers produce more rolling resistance. After all, there is an extra wheel that you need to accelerate and maintain momentum for. It adds friction to your system that you must overcome. This costs you energy. On the other hand, trailers are more aerodynamic. The design is sleeker and produces less drag to slow you down.
Panniers produce less rolling resistance. They increase the weight on your bike wheels but they don’t add another wheel to slow you down. Panniers aren’t as aerodynamically efficient as trailers due to the boxy design. They produce quite a bit of drag.
If you have any evidence one way or the other, comment below. I’d be interested to learn which is the more efficient design. My best guess would be that efficiency-wise, trailers and panniers are about the same.
Types of Bike Trailers for Bicycle Touring and Bikepacking
When it comes to choosing a bike trailer, you have a number of designs to choose from. The best trailer for your style of touring depends on the type of terrain you ride, the amount of gear you need to pack, whether you need to pack it for transport, and personal preference.
The two main design choices you’ll have to make when choosing a trailer are one wheel vs two-wheel and axle mount vs seat post mount. You’ll also want to consider the trailer’s size, weight, wheel size, and material.
Trailer Mount Systems: Axle Mount and Seat Post Mount
Axle mount trailers attach to the bike’s rear axle. Generally, single wheel trailers mount to both sides of the axle and only pivot up and down, not side to side. Two-wheel trailers usually mount to the left side of the axle only and pivot left and right and up and down. Axle mount trailers usually include some type of quick-release attachments system so you can easily mount and dismount the trailer.
Generally, axle mount trailers are more stable because they mount and sit closer to the ground. The center of gravity is lower. They also have a flatter cargo area that is easier to load.
The drawback is that they are less maneuverable due to the length. They also put more stress on the bike’s rear axle and wheel. None of the weight sits on the bike’s front wheel.
Seat post mount trailers use some type of clamp mechanism to attach to the seat post. They pivot left and right at the clamp. The clamp usually includes a quick release to allow you to easily mount and dismount the trailer.
These trailers are more maneuverable because they pivot closer to the front of the bike. This reduces the turning radius. They also put a bit less stress on the bike’s frame and wheels because the load weight is distributed toward the center of the bike.
The drawback is that seat post mounted trailers make it harder to avoid obstacles in the road because they pivot side to side. They are also less stable because they mount higher on the bike. If your trailer gets caught up, it can pull the bike around because it has more leverage.
Bike Trailer Wheels: One and Two-Wheeled Bike Trailers
Bike trailers have either one or two wheels. On one-wheeled trailers, the wheel rolls directly behind the bike’s rear wheel. On two-wheeled trailers, the wheels are mounted on the left and right sides of the trailer. Both one and two-wheeled trailers come in axle mount and seat post mount designs.
One-wheeled trailers are easier to maintain because there are fewer parts. It is easier to avoid potholes and obstacles because the wheel tracks behind your bike’s rear wheel. For this reason, one-wheeled trailers are preferable for off-road riding. They also handle better because they lean with the bike as you ride. In addition, one-wheeled trailers increase efficiency because they have less rolling resistance and a lighter, more aerodynamic design.
The main drawback to one-wheeled trailers is that they are less stable at low speeds and while stopped. They also don’t stay upright when they’re not attached to the bike. Additionally, they are limited by load height because balance becomes an issue.
Two-wheeled trailers are easier to load, unload, and balance because they always sit upright. They are also more stable at low speeds. In addition, two-wheeled trailers allow you to carry extra tall or unwieldy loads.
The main drawback to two-wheeled trailers is the reduced efficiency due to the increased rolling resistance of the second wheel, poor aerodynamics, and heavier weight. They also require more maintenance because of the second wheel. Maneuverability is also poor due to the width and wheel placement.
Image: “Русский: Велоприцеп Боб Як” by Findus, licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0
Bike Trailer Wheel Size
Trailer wheel sizes range from 12 inch all the way to 700c. 16” and 20” are probably the most common sizes.
Small wheels in the 12-20 inch range make the trailer more compact and easier to transport and store. The drawback is that small wheels can get hung up on obstacles like potholes and rocks. Small wheels are better for on-road touring.
Large wheels in the 26”-700c range handle rough surfaces much better. The larger circumference allows them to glide over potholes and debris in the road without getting stuck. They are better for off-road touring. The drawback is that large wheels take up more space. This can make transporting your trailer a challenge.
Bike Trailer Materials
Most bike trailer frames are made of either steel or aluminum.
Steel offers better durability and longevity. The material is also easier to repair if it breaks because pretty much any welder can fix it. For this reason, steel trailers are better for long tours in remote regions or the developing world. The drawbacks are that steel is heavy and it can corrode.
Aluminum trailers are cheaper, lighter, and they don’t corrode. The drawback is that aluminum is more difficult to repair if it breaks. Welding aluminum is a bit more difficult than steel. Not every welder has the equipment or know-how. The material is also a bit less durable.
These same points hold true for steel and aluminum racks as well as bike frames.
A Couple of Trailer Recommendations
A few of the more popular bike trailer options to consider include:
Burley is one of the biggest bike trailer manufacturers. The two-wheeled Nomad trailer weighs under 15 lbs (about 6.5 kilos) and can accommodate loads up to 100 lbs (about 45 kilos). It includes a waterproof cover. The trailer folds down for easy storage.
This single wheel axle mount trailer features a lightweight aluminum frame. It weighs just 4.85 kg (10.69 lbs) and can haul 35 kg or 70 lbs of gear. A dry bag, flag, and fender are included.
This single wheel axle mount trailer weighs 21.5 lbs and can haul up to 70 lbs of luggage. It features suspension, a center kickstand, and an adjustable yoke which allows you to mount the trailer to bikes with hub widths ranging from 126-197 mm. One unique feature is the option to mount panniers to a rear rack which attaches over the rear wheel. This greatly increases storage capacity.
BOB Yak Plus Bike Trailer
BOB makes some of the most popular bicycle touring trailers. This single wheel rear axle mount trailer is made of strong 4130 Chromoly steel. It weighs 6.1 kgs (13.5 lbs) and can carry up to 32 kgs (70 lbs) of gear. A dry bag is included.
Final Thoughts: Panniers Vs Trailer for Bicycle Touring and Bikepacking
This choice comes down to the bike you ride and how much gear you have to carry. If your bike can handle the weight of racks and panniers and you can fit all of your gear in 4 panniers, then panniers are probably your the best choice.
On the other hand, if you’re bike isn’t designed to accommodate racks and panniers or you’re planning to travel with a massive amount of gear, a trailer is a great option. One of the best benefits of a trailer is that you can ride whatever bike you already have, even if it’s a full-suspension mountain bike, carbon road bike, or folding bike.
To complicate matters even more, you can also consider a bikepacking bag setup. Check out my panniers vs bikepacking bags pros and cons list for more info.
For more info on trailers, check out my guide to the different types of bike cargo trailers.
Where do you stand on the panniers vs trailer debate? Share your experience and tips in the comments below!
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