Trikes and Trailers

An aside while I figure out how to proceed on the Sprint Di2 project…

This post is not the “Pannier vs. Trailer” debate.  In my opinion there is no debate.  If you’re carrying more on a tour than you can fit directly on your trike, you need to get rid of something or do a better job packing.  That’s my flippant answer to that debate.  Now, I did pull my daughter Zoe across the country on a tagalong trailer.  She wouldn’t have appreciated being repacked or left behind so I guess even the strongest held opinions have their exceptions.

Instead, this post is about every day utility.  The ability to take almost anything, anywhere with your trike instead of your car.   When the goal really is more about the cargo than the journey.  For that I happily own a trailer.  But for trikes, not all trailers are created equal.

My first trailer, back before I’d evolved to three wheels, was a two-wheeled Chariot to pull my months-old daughter around in.  It worked fine although I did manage to put it on its side a couple of times when rounding corners with curbs.  If one wheel hits a curb a little (and I do mean a little) too fast, it will bounce up and over on it’s side.  The restraints are quite effective as Zoe can attest.

Zoe eventually graduated to a single-wheel tagalong, a Burley Picolo.  At the time it was the cream of the crop in tagalongs.  Pricey but much more stable than the seatpost-mounted variety. The Burley attaches to a beefy rear rack.  I highly recommend it if you’re pulling it with a two-wheeler.

It’s when I started riding trikes that the trouble began.  Zoe was still at prime tagalong age and my first trike, homebuilt from the classic Thunderbolt design, had a beefy rear rack.  So of course I attached the Picolo tagalong and away Zoe and I went.  It wasn’t long, however, before we realized this was a very bad idea.  One day we were traveling in downtown Boise when I took what I thought was a very conservative right turn onto a cross street.  This time both Zoe and I wound up skidding along on our sides down the center of a busy street.  We don’t talk about this with Mom.

Why did this suddenly get harder?It seems so obvious now.  As we all know, a tadpole trike has a flipping point- the combination of speed,  brake,  and steering input beyond which your trike will flip.  You have to try pretty hard to reach it and it’s pretty easy to avoid, but if you exceed it you’ll have a very bad day.  When you attach a heavy load at a point high on a trike, like the top of a rear rack, you’re adding a huge force along the roll axis of the trike (as opposed to pitch and yaw in aircraft terminology) whenever you simultaneously turn and brake.  The effect is that the flipping point you know so well and avoid so effectively has been dramatically reduced.  Before you’re even aware there’s a problem, you and your payload are scraping along the pavement on your sides.  Let me tell you, it happens fast.  It was that experience that led me to replace the Picolo with the Hase Trets, a two-wheeled recumbent Drink Breaktagalong that attaches at the axle of the trike.  Problem solved, with style.  This thing is rock solid and doesn’t even have the tendency to pop up on one side if a wheel hits a curb the way the Chariot did, I think because of the significant camber designed into the wheels.

Monarch Pass

My one exception to trailers on tours

Zoe and I traveled across the country with the Trets and never had a single stability issue.  Not with the crazy amount of gear we had attached to it and my trike.  Not even once.  In a way it was almost too stable.  I’m embarrassed to admit some of the speeds she and I attained while bombing down some “big hills” in the Rockies.  But boy it was fun.  Here’s a video of us  bombing down a much smaller hill in Idaho while “training” for the big trip.

You’d think I would learn.  When I gave up the Chariot, I no longer had a trailer that could haul things in addition to kid.  So I purchased a beefy trailer from a manufacturer headquartered right down the street in Boise– BOB.  One of the first trips with my new BOB Ibex trailer was to haul a few buckets of gravel for some landscaping I was doing.  The surly workers at the local sand & gravel business didn’t know what to think of the middle-aged guy in a tie-dye t-shirt riding up in a 3 plus 1 wheeled contraption asking for gravel.  They loaded up several 10-gallon buckets full of gravel onto the trailer.  I think I made their day when as I inched away in my lowest gear, turning the trike slightly to negotiate the driveway, trailer, trike, and pilot flipped on our sides, spewing gravel everywhere.

BOB Trailer

BOB Ibex.  Bad Bet for a Trike

The problem?  A trike is not a lean-steer vehicle, but a single-wheeled trailer like the BOB is.  Even though the BOB connects at the axle, it connects on both sides of the axle, using the towing vehicle to keep it upright.  This places a rolling force on the trike just like the Picolo did when it was connected to the rear rack.  Worse, the BOB is designed to lean with the bike during a turn, when the trailer is at an angle with the tow vehicle.  This is what got me at the gravel yard.  With enough weight on the BOB (I was admittedly over their 70 lb. limit), you can flip the trike without it even being in motion. Just turn it so the BOB leans a little bit.

The solution:  With a trike, use a two-wheeled trailer that attaches on one side of the axle and is free to “roll” relative to the trike.  This decouples the two vehicles so that all the trike is doing is holding up the tongue weight of the trailer and either pulling it or holding it back via the rear axle.  There are a number of good choices for this type of trailer.  One of my favorites is the Cyclone made by Radical Design.  However it’s extremely expensive and probably overkill for something that won’t be used on tour.  I ended up with the Burley Flatbed because I’ve had good luck with other Burley products, they’re made one state away in Oregon, and it’s a good design.  Very light yet with one of the largest load limits at 100 lb.  The part of the hitch that stays on your trike is nice, too, because it’s simple and there is no way for it to rattle.  A big complaint I had with the BOB is that it rattled with just the hitch adapter installed, no trailer.  All of the trailers themselves seem to rattle though the Flatbed is noticeably noisier than the BOB when carrying a load.

I’m curious how long the tightly stretched fabric bottom of the Flatbed will hold up, but after a year it’s going strong.  I won’t be leaving it out in the sun though.  You can see from the pictures that the attachment arm is designed for a larger wheel with a higher axle—connected to a 20” trike wheel the trailer has a noticeable downward slant from the rear to the front.  This could easily be taken out with a different design for the detachable attachment arm but as far as I know Burley doesn’t offer one.  The aesthetics of this slope bother me a bit but functionally it hasn’t been a problem at all. There is no camber in the wheels so the trailer can be sloped without causing any scrub in the tires.  All in all the Flatbed does a great job for a good price relative to other trailers out there.

Burley Flatbed HitchBurley Flatbed

Quiet hitch, basic trailer

Drive Dog to ParkDrive Dog to Park

Drive to the Dog Park

Recycling

Dump the glass recycling

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