When it comes to carrying luggage on your bike, cargo trailers offer a great alternative to panniers for some tours. Which trailer you choose depends on the amount of gear you need to haul, the type of terrain you plan to ride on, whether or not you need to fly with it, the type of bike you’re riding, as well as personal preference. This guide outlines all of the different trailer designs available to help you choose the best bike cargo trailer for bicycle touring and bikepacking.
Image: “Fully Loaded Ride”, by Kevin Teague, licensed under CC BY 2.0
Table of Contents: The Best Bike Cargo Trailer
Bike Trailer Mount Systems: Axle Mount Vs Seatpost Mount
The mounting system determines where and how the trailer attaches to the bike. Pretty much every bike trailer mounts to either the rear axle or the seatpost. A few trailers utilize a hitch that bolts to the chainstay. In this section, I’ll outline the pros and cons of each mount design.
Axle Mount Bike Trailers
Axle mount trailers attach to the bike’s rear axle. This the most common bike trailer mount location and design. Generally, single wheel axle mount trailers attach to both sides of the rear axle. They do not pivot side to side. Just up and down. Double wheel axle mount trailers often attach just to the left side of the rear axle. They usually pivot in all directions.
These trailers usually utilize a special quick-release rear skewer that you swap out with the one that came with your bike. The skewer includes a mechanism that allows you to quickly attach and remove the trailer from the axle. These quick-release axles are available in different sizes to fit your bike’s rear dropout spacing. Most work with a variety of hub widths from 126 mm vintage bikes to 197 mm fatbikes.
Some axle mount trailers are compatible with bolt-on and 12 mm thru-axles. Be sure to check for compatibility before you buy an axle mount trailer. In some cases, you may need an adapter for your trailer to fit your axle. To get the correct adapter, you’ll need to measure the thread pitch, diameter, and length of your bolt-on or thru-axle.
Image: “Crossing Stephen’s Pass”, by Robert Ashworth, licensed under CC by 2.0
- Easier to avoid obstacles in the road or trail- This is only true of single wheel axle mount trailers. The wheel tracks directly behind your rear wheel. It follows the same line because it doesn’t pivot left and right on the axle. This means your trailer won’t cut a corner and hit a root or rock or go off-trail. It won’t fall into a pothole that you’re trying to avoid. For this reason, axle mount trailers are great for off-road use.
- More stable- Because the trailer mounts to your bike lower to the ground, it doesn’t have the leverage to pull your bike left or right when turning or if the trailer gets hung up on a bump or obstacle. The trailer can’t shove your bike from side to side when braking. The center of gravity is also generally lower. This can improve stability when you’re stopped.
- The cargo area is flat- This is possible because the trailer mounts lower to the ground. Having a flat cargo area makes the trailer easier to load and unload.
- Maneuverability- Axle mount bike trailers make your rig really long. The turning radius is large. This can make navigating narrow trails and busy cities a bit of a challenge. You can’t turn around just anywhere. In fact, you might need to detach the trailer to turn around in some cases.
- More stress on the rear axle and wheel- Even though trailers are pretty easy on bikes in general, axle mount trailers put more weight on the rear wheel. This can cause some wear and tear over time.
Seatpost Mount Bike Trailers
Seatpost mount trailers attach directly to the bike’s seatpost. Usually with some type of proprietary clamp mechanism. Some models have a bar that extends from the seat post and over the rear wheel. This design allows you to use a rear rack and panniers with your trailer.
Seatpost mounted trailers are available in either one or two wheel designs. They typically pivot left and right and up and down at the clamp mechanism where the trailer attaches to the seatpost.
These trailers are compatible with almost any bike because the clamp can adjust to different seat post diameters. The clamp usually includes some type of quick-release mechanism so you can easily remove and replace the trailer.
Image: “buying a steamer trunk by bike”, by jon crel, license CC BY-ND 2.0
- Maneuverability- Seatpost mounted trailers offer a smaller turning radius than axle mounted trailers. This is possible because the trailer pivots left and right closer to the front of the bike. This allows you to more easily navigate through congested cities or tight trails.
- Less stress on the axle and rear wheel and frame- Seatpost mounted trailers more evenly disperse the weight of your gear across your bike.
- Harder to avoid obstacles like potholes, curbs, rocks, etc.- The trailer wheel does not follow your rear bike wheel when you turn. It takes its own path because it pivots side to side. This can pose a challenge when riding technical terrain off-road or through a crowded area in a city. It’s harder to avoid obstacles when you don’t know exactly where your trailer wheel is going. Your trailer could fall off the side of the road when you turn if you’re not careful.
- Less stable- Because the trailer mounts high up on the bike, it has leverage to pull the bike around. For example, if you make a turn and your trailer gets stuck in a pothole or falls off a curb, the trailer can pull your saddle to the side. Essentially, the trailer has the ability to push and pull your bike around. In an extreme case, a fully loaded trailer could pull your bike to the ground.
- You need to be more careful when braking- If you brake hard on the front brake, the trailer can push the rear wheel off the ground and push the bike sideways because the trailer has more leverage on the bike. When using a seatpost mounted trailer, using your rear brakes is important.
One Wheel Vs Two Wheel Bicycle Cargo Trailers
Pretty much all bike trailers have either one or two wheels. On one wheeled trailers, the wheel rolls straight behind your bike’s rear wheel. On two wheeled trailers, the wheels are mounted on either side of the trailer.
The most popular bike cargo trailer designs use one wheel. Both types of trailers are available in axle and seatpost mount designs. In this section, I’ll outline the pros and cons of one vs two wheeled bike trailers to help you decide which is right for your style of touring.
Image: “Русский: Велоприцеп Боб Як” by Findus, licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0
One Wheel Trailer Pros
- One wheeled trailers are easier to maintain and repair- There is one wheel to maintain instead of two. This means you have one less tire to replace, hub to grease, and wheel to true. This saves you time and money.
- Lighter- The one wheeled design often uses less material so it weighs less. After all, you’re not carrying the extra weight of a second wheel.
- Less rolling resistance- One wheel creates less rolling resistance than two. This increases efficiency because you’re fighting against less friction to accelerate the trailer when it only has one wheel. You’ll burn less energy.
- Better aerodynamics- One wheeled trailers offer a sleeker design that produces less drag. This is particularly important if you like to ride fast. At speeds of around 10 mph and higher, air resistance becomes the main force acting against you while cycling.
- Better handling- One wheeled trailers lean with the bike when you ride. In some cases, you can’t even tell that the trailer is there. For this reason, one wheeled trailers are better for off-road use.
- One wheeled trailers make it easier to avoid obstacles in the road- Because one wheeled trailers are more narrow, you can more easily gauge where the rear wheel is. It follows your rear wheel, more or less. If the trailer doesn’t pivot left and right, the rear wheel follows exactly the same line as your bike’s rear wheel. This makes it easy to avoid potholes, rocks, curbs, etc.
- Can fit through more narrow gaps- The trailer is the same width as the bike. This allows you to ride more narrow trails and between cars in a busy city.
- Smaller- Generally, one wheeled trailers have a more compact design. They are easier to store and transport. This is important if you need to fly with your trailer or haul it in a car.
- Most designs include suspension- Many single wheel trailers offer some type of suspension system. This can improve the ride quality off-road.
One Wheel Trailers Cons
- One wheeled trailers are less stable at slow speed- Some one wheeled trailers tend to tip over while stopped because they aren’t held up by a second wheel. This is annoying if you do a lot of stop and go city riding.
- One wheeled trailers don’t stay upright when they are not attached to the bike- This makes loading and unloading a bit more difficult. To solve this problem, some trailers include a center stand.
- They need to be balanced- When you pack your gear, you need to make sure that it’s weighted evenly between the left and right side of the trailer. If it’s not, the trailer won’t track right and your handling will suffer. The trailer might try to pull your bike to the heavier side.
- You can’t carry tall loads- One wheeled trailers can’t transport tall items with a high center of gravity like furniture or a stack of boxes. The whole trailer and bike would topple over when you stopped.
Image: “My Trek 6500 bike and Burley trailer loaded up for three days on the C&O Trail”, by Dion Hinchcliffe, licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0
Two Wheel Trailers Pros
- Easier to load and unload- Two wheeled trailers always sit upright, even when they aren’t attached to the bike. The second wheel keeps the trailer propped up so they don’t tip over.
- More stable at low speed- Two wheeled trailers don’t tip over when you stop or ride at low speeds. This makes them ideal for around-town stop and go use.
- Easier to build- If you’re handy, you can make a DIY two wheel trailer pretty easily from parts that are available at your local hardware store. Check out this cool bicycle cargo trailer guide from Instructables for some ideas.
- You can carry tall loads- Because two wheeled trailers don’t tilt to the side when stopped, you can haul tall loads with a high center of gravity.
- You don’t have to worry as much about balancing your gear- Again, they don’t tip over. Of course, if the trailer is widely unbalanced, it may pull to one side.
Two Wheel Trailers Cons
- Two wheeled trailers require more maintenance and repairs- After all, there are two wheels to maintain rather than one. Both wheels experience punctures and broken spokes on occasion. There are two hubs to grease.
- Less efficient- Two wheeled trailers are generally less aerodynamic due to the wide design. They also produce more rolling resistance because there are two wheels that you need to spin up. This just slows you down. You’ll burn more energy and travel at a slightly slower average speed. You won’t be able to cover as much ground as quickly.
- Harder to transport and store- Generally, two wheeled trailers are larger and wider than one wheeled trailers. This makes them harder to transport. This is problematic if you want to fly or take a bus or plane to your touring destination. You might have to pay some oversized luggage fees. They are also harder to store due to the size. They simply take up more space in your home.
- Heavier- The large size and second wheel add weight.
- Wider- You can’t fit through as narrow of gaps while riding through busy areas or narrow trails.
- Harder to avoid potholes- The wheels are offset from your bike’s wheels. This makes it harder to avoid potholes and other obstacles. Because of this, two wheeled trailers aren’t ideal for off-road.
Bike Trailer Materials
The materials that your bike trailer is made of determine its durability, repairability, and weight. Most cargo trailers that are designed for touring are made of either steel or aluminum. Both materials have their own set of benefits and drawbacks.
Steel trailers offer greater durability. The material doesn’t fatigue like aluminum. It can take more of a beating without failing. Steel trailers are also easier to repair. If the frame brakes, pretty much any welder can fix it. This brings peace of mind when traveling in remote regions or in the developing world. You can find someone who can weld steel pretty much anywhere.
The main drawback of steel is that it is heavy. The added weight reduces efficiency and slows you down. Steel can also rust. For this reason, it’s not an ideal material for long term use near the ocean or in areas that salt the roads during the winter. Steel is also more expensive than aluminum.
Aluminum trailers, on the other hand, are lighter, cheaper, and they don’t rust. The reduced weight increases efficiency.
The main drawback is that aluminum is more difficult to repair if it breaks. The reason is that welding aluminum is more complicated than steel. You may have trouble finding someone who can fix your trailer if it breaks in the middle of nowhere. Aluminum generally isn’t quite as durable as steel. The material fatigues over time and will eventually crack. The trailer probably won’t last quite as long.
Bike Trailer Weight
One of the main reasons bicycle tourists avoid trailers is due to their weight. Most cargo trailers weigh somewhere in the 10-20 pound range (4.5-9 kg). While it is true that trailers generally weight more than a rack and panniers setup, the difference might not be as great as you’d expect.
For example, a standard set of Ortlieb 65 liter front and rear panniers and steel Tubus front and rear racks weigh about 4.5 kg (about 10 pounds). This is one of the most popular rack and pannier setups for bicycle touring.
The BOB Yak bike trailer weighs 6.1 kg (13.4 pounds). This is one of the most popular cargo trailers for touring.
That’s a difference of only 1.6 kilos or 3.5 pounds. Pretty insignificant for most bicycle tourists.
Lighter trailers exist as well. For example, the Free Parable T2 and dry bag weigh 4.8 kg. That’s just 300 grams heavier than a rack and pannier setup.
Bike Trailer Size
One major drawback to bike trailers is their large size. They are bulky and cumbersome. For example, most one wheel axle mount trailers are over 5 feet long (around 152 cm). The Bob Yak measures 63” x 18” x 16” (about 160 x 46 x 41 cm).
Rear racks, in comparison, measure around 15” x 15” x 6” (about 38 x 38 x 15 cm). Front racks are even smaller. Panniers can fold up when not in use. You can easily store them in a closet, under your bed, or even leave them mounted on the bike.
The large size makes trailers harder to transport and store while you’re not riding. If you live in a small apartment or you intend to travel with your trailer often, size is an important consideration. For example, if you want to fly your bike, trailer, and all of your gear to your touring destination, you’ll end up needing to check a bike box plus an additional oversized box with your trailer inside. Fees can add up to hundreds of dollars per flight depending on the airline.
Before you buy a trailer, it is important to consider how you’ll transport it, and where you’ll store it. If standard trailers are too large, you do have another option to consider. That is a foldable trailer.
Bike Trailer Carrying Capacity
When comparing trailers to other bicycle luggage options like panniers or bikepacking bags, it’s important to consider the volume and max load that each can accommodate. After all, it’s not fair to compare an ultralight set of bikepacking bags that hold 40 liters of gear to a heavy-duty trailer that holds 100 liters of gear. The two setups serve different purposes.
Trailer and Pannier Volume Capacity
Volume-wise, trailers can usually accommodate more gear than panniers. Most cargo trailers are designed to carry a large dry bag in the 75-100 liter range. For example, the BOB dry sack has a volume of at 91.8 liters.
Some trailers, like the Burley Coho, offer the option of mounting panniers in addition to a large dry bag. This will increase the total volume up to 140 liters. Trailers also allow you to strap bulky items to the top.
Compare this to a standard set of Ortlieb panniers which holds 65 liters. You can buy extra-large 70 liter rear panniers to bump the max pannier capacity up to 95 liters. You can also mount a 30 liter duffel bag to the top of the rear rack to increase capacity.
Trailer and Pannier Weight Capacity
Weight-wise, most bike cargo trailers, including the BOB Yak, can haul a max load of 70 lbs or 32 kg. There are trailers on the market that can handle up to 100 lbs or 45 kg.
Steel front and rear racks can generally support a heavier load than touring trailers. For example, front and rear Tubus racks can handle about 120 lbs combined if you choose some of their heavier-duty models. One thing to keep in mind is that you’ll need some heavy-duty wheels and a strong frame to safely carry that much weight on your bike.
These trailers are designed to fold or come apart. The idea is that you can pack your trailer in the same box as your bicycle while flying. This can save you a considerable amount of money on checked bag fees. It also comes in handy if you have to take a bus or train. As an added bonus, foldable trailers take up less space in your home when they’re not in use.
The main drawback is that foldable trailers often prioritize the compact design over strength. This means they might not have the same carrying capacity as non-folding trailers. They also often use smaller wheels to make them more compact. This can reduce off-road performance.
Bike Trailer Wheel Sizes
Bike trailers are available in a wide range of wheel sizes from 12 inch all the way to 700c. 16 and 20 inch wheels are probably the most common. There are a number of trade-offs you’ll want to consider when deciding between small wheel and large wheel trailers.
The main benefit of smaller wheels in the sizes of 12, 16, 18, and 20 inch is that they are more compact. This makes the trailer easier to pack and store. Particularly if it folds. Another potential benefit is that the trailer sits lower to the ground. This lowers the center of gravity, which can improve handling and stability.
The drawback of small wheels is that they don’t roll over obstacles as well as larger wheels. For example, they can get hung up in potholes, rocks, and roots. They can’t roll up a curb as easily. This makes the ride rougher and limits where you can ride. For this reason, small wheels aren’t ideal for off-road touring or bikepacking.
The main benefit to larger wheels in the sizes of 24” 26”, 650b, and 700c is that they roll over obstacles much easier. Whatever terrain your bike wheels can handle, your trailer wheels can handle as well. Another benefit is that you don’t have to carry as many spare parts if you choose a trailer with wheels that are the same size as your bike. This way, you can use the same tubes, tires, and maybe even spokes to repair your bike wheels and trailer wheel. This allows you to travel lighter.
The main drawback of large wheels is packability. They take up more space, making them harder to pack and transport. If you’re planning to travel often, large wheels may cost you a lot in fees and may limit your transport options.
Some trailers come equipped with a suspension system to help dampen shocks and vibrations from the road. This can improve ride quality and comfort by preventing the trailer from bouncing around too much behind you. Suspension can also protect your load from moving around too much if you’re carrying something fragile. Most suspension trailers use a coil shock. Some models use an air shock.
There are several drawbacks to suspension systems on trailers. First, they add weight. The suspension components weight a couple of pounds. They also add complexity. You’ll need to maintain the shock and replace it when it wears out. They also add a considerable amount of cost. Suspension components are pretty expensive.
Suspension isn’t really necessary for road touring. If you plan to long-distance off-road, you’ll probably be better off with some type of suspension system on your trailer.
Bike Cargo Trailer Pricing
Bike trailers come in a wide range of prices. Lower end options run between $100 and $200. Most of these are two wheeled axle mount designs. These trailers work great for utility use around town and short tours. They may not have the durability that is needed for long-distance touring.
Mid-range options run around $300-$500. These trailers are perfect for long-distance touring. They are well made and durable. They are often pretty heavy. You can find trailers of all designs in this price range.
Premium trailers run around $500-$800. These often include additional features such as a folding design, ultralight design, or shock absorbers. They are perfect for long-distance use.
Bike Cargo Trailer Recommendations
As you can see, there is a lot to consider when it comes to choosing a cargo trailer for touring. Below, I’ll outline a few of the more popular options.
BOB makes some of the most popular bike trailers on the market. They are well built, durable, and reasonably priced. These trailers are a great choice for off-road riding. You’ll see plenty of them on the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route.
The Yak Plus is their original model. It is a rear axle mounted trailer with a single 16 inch wheel. It attaches to your bike with a quick-release system. A fender helps to keep your gear clean. The frame is made of strong and durable 4130 Chromoly steel. The trailer weighs 6.1 kgs (13.5 lbs) and can carry up to 32 kgs (70 lbs) of luggage. These trailers include a dry sack. The Yak Plus 28* is also available for 29er and 700c bikes.
This is probably the most versatile and feature-filled trailer on this list. For off-road riders, the Burley Coho features coil spring suspension. This smooths out the ride as well as reduces stress on the trailer and your gear while you’re riding rough terrain. A height adjustable kickstand holds the trailer up while you’re loading and unloading. A special release handle allows you to quickly detach the trailer with one hand. A platform over the rear wheel allows you to secure extra long items on top of your load. The trailer also folds down without requiring any tools. You can pack the parts into the cargo area for easy transport and storage.
The Burley Coho also has a number of optional accessories to make it even more functional. A rear rack can attach over the wheel. This allows you to mount standard panniers for additional storage. Off-road riders can install an extra-wide 16 x 3” rear tire. There are also a few accessory mounts where you can attach extra bottle cages and some of your tools.
The Burley Coho is on the heavier side. Even though it has an aluminum frame, the trailers weighs in at 21.5 lbs. The main cargo area allows for around 70 liters of storage. Burley sells a dry bag that fits perfectly in the storage area. The trailer is rated to hold loads up to 70 lbs (around 32 kg). It can attach to a wide range of bikes with rear axle width ranging from 126 mm all the way to 197 mm fat bikes. It is compatible with quick release rear axles as well as 12 mm through axles.
This two wheeled trailer from Burley attaches to the rear axle with a unique hitch system. The trailer weighs in at just under 15 lbs (about 6.5 kilos). It features a waterproof cover as well as interior pockets and clips for securing and organizing gear. Possibly the best feature of this trailer is the fact that it folds flat for easy transportation and storage.
This is a great choice for those who carry a lot of gear. This trailer can handle loads of up to 100 lbs (about 45 kilos). As an optional accessory, you can install a cargo rack on top of the trailer. This allows you to lash bulky gear on top, outside of the trailer.
Free Parable T2
This is one of the lightest trailers on the market at just 3.6 kg or 7.9 lbs. It achieves this lightweight by supporting the dry bag with a series of bars underneath instead of a full cage. The Free Parable T2 is also one of the most compact. It folds down small enough that you should be able to fit it in a bike box with your bike. This makes traveling much easier.
The drawback is that this trailer can’t accommodate quite as much gear as other options on this list. The dry bag holds 75 liters and the trailer is rated to hold 30 kg or 66 lbs.
This two wheeled trailer attaches to the seat post. The unique design holds your luggage at a 45 degree angle. This evenly distributes the weight over the trailer wheels, reducing the weight on your bike considerably. It basically works like a dolly.
The Burley Travoy weighs 9.8 pounds and can support up to 60 pounds of gear. The best feature of this trailer is the fact that it folds up into a package the size of a briefcase for storage. This makes it ideal for taking on flights. You might even be able to take it as a carry on some flights. You can also use the trailer as a hand cart to roll your gear around while you’re off the bike.
This lightweight trailer would be a great choice for those touring on lightweight bikes or folding bikes. It’s also ideal for those who fly or take trains and buses while touring due to the compact design. This would also be a great choice for those who like to hike while bicycle touring. A hiking backpack would fit perfectly on this trailer.
Topeak Journey Bike Trailer TX
This trailer from Topeak uses a similar design to other one wheel axle mount trailers on the market. The main difference is that Topeak decided to build the frame out of aluminum instead of steel. The result is a much lighter trailer at just 4.85 kg or 10.69 lbs. That’s about 30-40% lighter than similarly designed steel trailers.
The weight capacity is 35 kg or 70 lbs. The dry bag is designed for the trailer. It weighs 1.6 kg or 3.53 lbs. This trailer fits bikes with rear dropout spacing of 130 or 135mm with 26” or 700c wheels. A SlideLock QR attachment allows you to quickly mount and remove the trailer.
This Polish company uses a unique single wheel design which creates a second rear rack where you can carry two additional panniers. These trailers weigh around 4.8 kg (10.6lbs) and can carry 35 kg (77 lbs) of gear. They attach to the rear axle with a quick-release skewer.
The best feature of this trailer is that it uses a single 26”, 29”, or 700c wheel. Even a fat-tired version is available. If you match the wheel to your bike’s wheel, you can get away with carrying fewer spares than you would have to with small wheel trailers because you can use the same tires and tubes that your bike uses.
As an added benefit, the larger wheel floats over potholes and uneven terrain better than small wheel trailers, making the Extrawheel one of the best trailers for off-road use.
These trailers are also pretty customizable. You can buy them without a wheel and build your own. You can also choose your own panniers if you wish. The rack uses standard 12 mm tubing.
Schwinn Day Tripper Cargo Bike Trailer
This trailer makes for a great low budget option. The Schwinn Day Tripper uses a two wheel rear axle mount design. It attaches with a quick-release system. This trailer can handle loads weighing up to 100 lbs. It also collapses down for easy storage. It uses 16 inch wheels and includes a waterproof cover. This probably isn’t the most durable or well-built trailer on the market but it’s a solid choice if you’re on a tight budget.
Bike Friday Trailer and Folding Bike
This final option isn’t just a trailer. It’s a whole bike and trailer system. Bike Friday makes folding touring bikes that pack down into a suitcase that converts into a bike trailer once you reach your destination.
The suitcase/trailer is small enough that it can be checked as a standard-sized piece of luggage on most flights. This way, you avoid oversized luggage fees. This option isn’t for everyone but if you fly often and want to bring a bike, it may be perfect for you.
A Few Bike Trailer Benefits and Drawbacks
In this section, I’ll outline a few of the main benefits and drawbacks of bicycle touring with a cargo trailer as opposed to other luggage options like panniers or bikepacking bags. For a more in-depth analysis, check out my bike trailer vs panniers pros and cons list.
Bike Trailer Benefits
- You can use any bike- The trailer carries all of the weight of your luggage. This means you don’t need a heavy duty steel frame, 36 spoke wheels, or braze-ons for racks. You can ride whatever bike you want including carbon fiber frames, low-end bikes, folding bikes, full-suspension mountain bikes, fat bikes, recumbent bikes, or whatever bike you already have. Trailers are compatible with pretty much any bike.
- Trailers can carry bulky items- The large open cargo area allows you to carry oversized luggage such as a large tent, sleeping bag, hiking backpack, firewood, etc. You can also easily strap bulky items on top of your regular load. If you wanted, you could carry a surfboard, skis, guitar, etc.
- Some bike components last longer- Using a trailer puts less wear and tear on your bike. The trailer holds the weight and takes the wear instead. When you use a trailer, you’ll get more miles out of your rims, tires, frame, and hubs. You should also experience fewer broken spokes and flat tires caused by pinched tubes.
- Better handling- Because the trailer takes the weight of your luggage off of your bike, the bike feels unloaded while riding. It becomes more nimble. Some riders find that trailers make it easier to handle rough terrain while riding off-road.
- There is one bag instead of four- Trailers use one large dry bag to hold your luggage instead of 4 panniers. Some riders find it easier to carry around a single bag. Some drybags even include wheels to make them easier to move around off the bike.
- More luggage capacity- Generally, a trailer cargo area accommodates a 75-90 liter dry bag. There is also space to tie extra gear on top. A standard set of panniers, like Ortliebs, holds 65 liters of gear.
Bike Trailer Drawbacks
- More complex design- A trailer has wheels that need to be maintained. There are hubs to grease, tires to replace, tubes that can puncture, and spokes that can break. The wheels might need to be trued occasionally as well.
- Heavier- As outlined above, a trailer usually weighs more than a comparable rack and panniers. The difference usually isn’t too significant though.
- You cant ride as fast- Bike trailers tend to shake and sway at speed. It is not recommended to ride faster than 25 mph with most trailers.
- Trailers are cumbersome- It can be a hassle to transport and store a trailer. It might not fit on a bus or train. You might even have trouble parking your bike sometimes. Some
- spare parts might be hard to find- Trailer wheels are often smaller than standard bike wheels. If you need tires, spokes, or a rim while touring through a remote region, you might have trouble finding the parts you need.
- Harder to avoid obstacles in the road- While riding down a pothole-filled road, you can’t avoid the bumps as easily with a trailer. Particularly a two wheeled trailer. You might be in for a bumpy ride.
- Looks- Trailers attract even more attention than a fully loaded touring bike with racks and panniers. Some riders prefer to blend in.
A Few Bike Trailer Safety Tips
Safety-wise, trailers are just as safe as any other touring setup. Having said that, there are a few additional precautions you may want to take when using a trailer.
- Use a bike mirror- This allows you to keep an eye on your trailer while you’re riding. You can see where it tracks behind you. This helps you keep your trailer where you want it. I like the Mirrycle MTB bar end mirror Check out my full review here.
- Attach a flag to your trailer- Because trailers sit so low, they can be difficult for drivers to see in some situations. For example, while you’re passing through an intersection, a driver who is turning left could hit your trailer because they aren’t expecting it. To reduce the likelihood of getting hit, you might consider attaching a flag pole and flag that sticks up to the driver’s eye level. Many trailers include these. You might also want to install a light or some reflective tape to increase visibility even more.
- Practice riding with your trailer away from traffic- There is a learning curve to using a trailer. Load it up and take it for a spin around an empty parking lot or bike path before you leave for a tour. Practice some turns and watch how your trailer behaves as you ride. Get up to speed and see how fast you can stop. This will help you get used to the feeling of riding with a trailer.
Final Thoughts: Panniers Vs Trailer
Cargo trailers offer an excellent alternative to panniers or bikepacking bags. They are easy on the bike, allow you to carry bulky items easily, make it easy to mount and remove your luggage. You can also pair a trailer with pretty much any bike.
When it comes to choosing a trailer, you have plenty of options. The main design choices are seatpost mount vs axle mount and one vs two wheel. Hopefully, this guide makes the decision a bit easier.
If you’re still not sure whether or not trailers are for you, check out my pros and cons list to help you decide. Another popular luggage option to consider is bikepacking bags.
What is your favorite type of bike cargo trailer? Share your tips and experience in the comments below!