A No BS Guide to Choosing the Best Trailer Bike

By Eric Awwy, 04 Jan 2020

There are many ways to transport children. However, a trailer cycle is by far the most efficient and convenient one.

So what exactly is a trailer cycle?

They go by other names like tag-along bikes, trainer bikes, trail-a-bike, and trailer bikes.

Put simply, trailer cycles are a regular kid’s bike with the exception of the front wheel, fork, and headset. In place of these components is a tow bar that attaches to the back of an adult’s bike to form an integrated tandem.

Ordinarily, they are a wonderful alternative for kids who are beyond the bike trailers and child seats but are not just yet as ready for their first independent rides on first pedal bikes.

Also known as a bike extension, bike pull, or tow bikes; this gear is perfect for kids who are too young to ride long distances. While mom or dad does the bulk of the work, tots have the option to either help propel the bike by pedaling or to simply relax and get towed. 

Other than being conveniently cheaper and less cumbersome than a tandem, a trailer cycle is also a great way for kids to learn to pedal and get the feel of good balance, all while being safely attached to an adult bike.

These tandem-style rides are a cleverly way of making children ride with parents, which promotes bonding.

Much like any other equipment, there’s a science behind sighting the ideal trailer cycle. In this exclusive guide, you will learn exactly what to look out for when buying a trailer bike.

Let’s get to it.

1. Trailer type

When it comes to finding the ideal trailer bike, you need to find a balance that suits both you as the rider and your child as the passenger.

The first factor that you want to consider is the type of trailer cycle that you want. There are three main types: standard, recumbent, or tow-bar.

a) Standard Trailer Cycle

A standard trailer bike is a kid’s half bike that is attached to the back of an adult bike.

For this trailer bike, the connection system (which we’ll dig into later) either mounts to the seat post or the rear rack. A good example of this type of trailer bike is the Burley Piccolo, which mounts to the rear rack of the adult bike.

The main requirement is, however, that the child has to have the ability to sit stably on a traditional bike seat to prevent them from falling off. The child can either pedal or coast; thus, this type of trailer bike is ideal for kids who want to contribute to the riding power but can’t cover as much mileage as their parents.

Kids aged between four and eight years can confidently reinforce their riding skills using this type of bike.

b) Recumbent Trailer Cycle

In place of the saddle, a recumbent trailer bike features a chair with attached pedals or a footrest.

It can either have one wheel or two wheels; however, one wheeler in this case usually have better alignment to the lead bike as compared to two-wheelers.

Recumbent trailer cycles are best for kids aged between 2 and 9 years. The child, however, has to be big enough to fit securely in shoulder restraints

Similar to a standard trailer bike, pedaling is optional. The advantage of this kind of trailer bike is that it offers comfort and extra stability for younger kids. Additional, their low to ground nature offers extra stability.

The only qualm about this type of trailer bike is that they are bulkier to store as compared to standard trailer cycles

A good example of a recumbent trailer bike is the Weehee Turbo.

c) Tow Bar

While the standard trailer cycle and recumbent trailer cycles both don’t have the front wheel, fork, and headset; a tow bar differs in that it attaches a normal child two-wheeler to an adult bike.

The tow bar usually mounts to the seat post of the lead bike and the handlebar of the rear bike on the other end. Because it is a normal two-wheeler, it goes without saying that the child has to have the ability to ride a bicycle independently.

On the plus side, kids still get to ride their bikes separately if they want to, then tag along when tired. But on the flip side, the bar option isn’t as sturdy as the aforementioned alternatives. However, it is a cheap substitute.

This attachment mechanism leaves the steering to the puller bike and is best used with older kids or even adults who can decide to tow mid-ride.

2. Connection/Attachment System

The connection mechanism of a trailer cycle has to do with where its hitch attaches to the lead bike. The design of the connection point usually has a major role in determining how wobbly the bike will be.

There are only two options to the attachment system: seat post or rack-mounted.

a) Standard Seat post Hitch

Most trailer cycles mount to the seat post of the adult bike. You only need about two inches of exposed seat post between the seat and the seat tube.

Generally, round seat posts made of aluminum or steel are the best attachment areas as compared to carbon fiber or wood.

Other than where the trailer cycle mounts to, how it is mounted is another important consideration.

For seat post attachment, the hitch goes around the lead bike’s seat post and tightens via bolts. On the other end, a larger bolt holds the arm of the trailer cycles and allows vertical movement of the trailer cycle.

It is important to tightly and securely fit the hitch to prevent it from revolving around the seat post. As a safety caution, you might want to carry tools to retighten the bolts, especially if you are a novice at using trailer cycles.

You also need to ensure that the hitch on your trailer cycle of choice will fit the lead bike’s seat post. Mostly, this is because they vary in thickness.

As such, there is usually a number sculpted at the side of the hitch and seat post. By following the range, you can determine the best fit for your seat post. For wonderful experience off-road, the Tout Terrain Streamliner takes the day as fun to ride thanks to its pivot that uses sealed cartridge bearings – solution to the wobble factor.

b) Rear-rack Attachment

Rather than attaching to the seat post, some trailer bikes such as the infamous Burley Piccolo attach to the rear rack of a bike.

Although rare, this type of attachment point has the least amount of wobble. The reason for this is that rack-mounted trailer bikes have fewer connections and a lower center of gravity.

Seat-mounted tagalongs have a different center of gravity and are more prone to an exaggerated lean for the puller bike.

As mentioned, the fewer the connections, the less wobbly the bike is, and the more stable it is.  

The flop of the bike is negated because of this type of mounting whereby a perpendicular attachment ensures the trailer cycle will not twist when being pushed nor will the lean be excessive.

3. Adult Bike Compatibility

As we said, you always want to ensure that there are at least 2 inches of exposed seat post to accommodate a bike with a seat post hitch. The good news is that most manufacturers have you in the mind.

So, most trailer bikes are compatible with just about any bike with a seat post. Examples of trail-a-bikes that attach to the seat post or Seat post-fixing trailer cycles include the Weehoo Turbo and WeeRide Co-pilot.

For the rack-mounted trailer bikes, it is imperative that the puller bike is rear-rack compatible. Examples include the Burley Kazoo.

Rack compatible bikes or rack-fixing trailer cycles usually have eyelets on the frame required for mounting. Because some bikes don’t have eyelets consider checking it before purchasing.

4. Gearing

Trailer bikes come either come geared or with single speed option.

While most of them are usually single speed, geared trailer bikes have several advantages.

For starters, kids get an early experience of shifting gears. At such a young age, they get to experiment by switching back and forth between gears.

Another advantage is that they can contribute to the riding power, which is especially important when going up inclines.

Geared trailer cycles have grip shifters while others have thumb shifters. These shifters vary in stiffness and ease of operation. You, therefore, want to ensure that your kid can operate the shifter before you purchase a trailer bike with one.

In our experience, thumb shifters have always worked better for kids as they are much easier for them to operate.

The only disadvantage to geared trailer bikes is that they are quite expensive as they typically require more maintenance.

An expert tip: the trailer cycle gears should be very low as you might need some help when taking on hilly areas.

Only if the children are old enough to change gears can they enjoy using the gears. Otherwise, they remain a rudimentary feature until the child is old enough.

5. The Riders

A trailer bike does not just have to do with the ability of the adult rider and the features of the bike itself.

On the contrary, there are a couple of factors about the passenger that have to be considered before purchasing a tow-along bike.

a) Number of Children/ Riders

The number of children you are transporting is a huge deciding factor. Typically, trailer cycles are grouped into one and two-seaters.

You cannot fit two kids into a trailer cycle that has one seat; therefore, if you want to haul two kids consider a two-seater.

Remember, the main consideration of the number of passengers is that their combined weight has to be maneuverable by the adult rider.

b) Reach to Pedal

When purchasing a trailer bike, especially for a young rider, their feet don’t have to reach the ground.

This is the opposite of regular bikes which require their feet to touch the ground. The reason for this is that the adult rider will be providing the balance needed when mounting, starting, stopping, and dismounting. 

All your kid needs to do is to be able to reach the pedals. What you do not want is for them to rock back and forth to reach pedals.  

Some trailer cycles have footrests in place of pedals that are ideal for kids who can’t ride. However, for the youngest passengers, a front-mounted child seat is the best option.

c) Confidence or Rider Ability

It is highly advisable to haul a child who is mature enough to understand that they should not make sudden movements or attempts at getting off the bike while it is still in motion.

The ideal passenger is one who has riding ability. This is because they already know that they shouldn’t make attempts to mount or dismount while the bike is in motion and are only lacking in that they do not have the riding stamina that their parents have.

All the same, ensure that the trailer bike has a harness, especially if towing younger wiggly kids.

6. Safety and Comfort of the Child

Several features ensure the comfort and security of the passenger. This is to ensure that the adult rider can steer confidently without worrying about the safety of the kid.

They include:

a) Adjustable Handlebars

The more the bike fits the child, the higher their level of comfort.

Height and seat adjustments can be made to accommodate kids of different ages and sizes. As such, trailer bikes usually have an adjustable seat and handlebars to suit the size of the passenger.

As for height adjustments, the connection mechanism has an impact on the level of security offered by the bike. Therefore, most trailer cycles use a quick-release mechanism that is not only easy to use but also very secure.

b) Foot and Chest Straps

One of the biggest questions from parents when it comes to trailer bikes has always been whether it is a safe means to transport their kid. Safety is especially a concern for young passengers who do not have riding ability.

Well, the answer is in the affirmative as some trailer bikes feature chest and foot straps to prevent the kid from falling off of the bike.

As aforementioned, this does a great job at easing the minds of the adult rider and enables them to concentrate on steering fully. A five-point harness chest strap always better.

c) Mudguard

A mudguard is a security feature that is often foregone but whose work is of importance.

Ideally, you want a mudguard on the rear wheel of the towing bike to prevent dirt from spraying onto the face of the little passenger. It is important even when the little one has cycling glasses on.

Apart from the rear adult bike mudguard, also have a mad-flap and crud-guard on the trailer cycle. You can ensure extra protection by having the trailer cycle wheels too fitted with mudguards.

d) Toe Clips

Sometimes, you might need to have toe clips on your trailer cycle. The clips help stop the legs of the child or children from flailing and being hit by the pedals. As an additional safety feature, they also secure your co-rider to one position.

e) Safety Flag

A safety flag is usually installed at the rear wheel of the trailer cycle. Its work is to increase the visibility of the tag-along bike, especially on busy roads.

These flags vary in that some are reflective and therefore more conspicuous while others are plain. Either way, a safety flag is always good to add to the trail.

f) Light

While riding at night is not recommended, having a rear light is a safety requirement that adds to the visibility provided by the safety flag when riding in traffic.

To ease any anxiety about the passenger, installing a mirror is also highly advisable as it enables you to keep an eye on your toddler and oncoming traffic.

g) Brakes

While brakes are usually a safety feature for bikes, trailer bikes are a different case. Because the steering of the bike is in the hands of the adult rider, then braking also relies on them.

The arrangement automatically prevents kids from having unnecessary stops that derail the ride and might result in accidents by skidding.

It is important to mention that all trailer bikes are usually freewheel. That way, all unnecessary stops, and unperceived accidents can become avoidable, especially when the little rider backpedals.

7. Weight

The mechanism of trailer bikes is that not only are you hauling the bike but also your kid and any additional cargo.

You, therefore, ought to factor in the weight capacity of the bike before deciding to tow a bike and especially if you’ll be riding up a bunch of hills. Trust us, hauling a 40-pound kid is not an easy feat for the average rider!

As such, the rule of the thumb is always to have a 2:1 ratio for adult and bike weight versus child and trailer weight.

8. Storage

Storage is an important consideration, especially if you have cargo. Additionally, the trailer bike in itself requires storage and should not take up too much space.

a) Cargo Storage Space

Some trailer cycles have storage space where you can store all your riding essentials. Therefore, if you have quite some supplies, consider a trailer cycle with cargo storage space on the rear seat or rear wheel.

However, be sure to check the weight as you do not want a load that will weigh you down.

b) Folding Arm and Ease of Storage

The ease of storage has to do with whether or not a trailer cycle is foldable and how much storage space it accumulates.

Some trailer cycles are easier to store than others. The easier to trailer cycles have a quick release connection halfway down the arm that allows you to fold it under the trailer cycle.

This makes them not only easy to store to also much easier to transport.

As such, the folding arm is a major factor to consider if you have limited storage space for the trailer bike.

Parting Shot

Here’s a summary of everything you require to know before purchasing a tag-along bike: 

  • Rack-mounted trailer bikes are less wobbly as compared to seat post mounts.
  • One wheeler have better alignment with the lead bike
  • Most trailer bikes accommodate one child
  • Consider the reach to pedal and riding ability of your child before purchase
  • Some trailers incorporate chest and foot straps for added safety with very young passengers
  • A mudguard, safety guard, and lights are safety features that increase your visibility and protect your passenger from mud and dust.
  • Brakes are not a necessity for trailer bikes
  • Mind the weight of your kid, cargo, and the bike itself!
  • Consider whether you need storage space during your ride.
  • A folding arm eases storage and transportation of the trailer bike.

In a nutshell, when or before purchasing a trail-a-bike, consider: the type of trailer; the ability of the child rider; the number of children; compatibility with the adult bike; height adjustment capability; foldability; gearing system; mad guard, and safety and comfort features.

Safety Caution: Never use any panniers on the trailer cycle unless it is part of the manufacturers' design by default. Also, ensure your child has their helmet on in case of an accident. Finally, when using the trailer cycle at night or during foggy days, it must have a red rear light, reflector, and a flag. Safety cannot be postponed.

Lastly, always ensure to check the price and weigh it against the quality and features installed in the trailer bikes.

That’s it, folks! Now you have a better understanding of what it takes to get your ideal trailer cycle.

Happy shopping!

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