Jun 06 2008

Shopping With a Bike Trailer

You don’t need much more gear to go shopping than you do for pleasure trips out and about. You do need to outfit your bike with a good set of panniers, and the good news is this doesn’t have to be costly. But if you intend to do heavy-duty shopping where the load will amount to more than about 40 pounds, consider using a bike trailer. Bike trailers vary in design and cost, but one of the most common types is the dual-wheel trailer for carrying two children. A two-wheeled trailer is stable and shouldn’t topple your parked bike.

Kiddie trailers can sometimes be found in garage sales, and they’re available new through bike shops, national outlets catering to cyclists, and at some Big Box retailers. The one shown in this article — the Kid Karriage — came from Bike Nashbar and serves admirably for shopping. Some of its most appreciated features are these:

  • No wider than mountain bike handlebars
  • Plenty of cargo space
  • Accommodates heavy loads
  • Distributes weight well
  • Lashing straps secure cargo inside
  • Can be ventilated or snugged against rain, snow, and splash
  • Pneumatic tires
  • Hitch clamp works with most bikes
  • Can be moved between bikes in a flash
  • Bright attention-getting color scheme
  • Reflective strips all round
  • Flag, rear reflector, and a tab for blinkie
  • Tracks well
  • High ground clearance
  • Breaks down flat for storage

Hauling a trailer, even when it’s empty, demands a bit more attention than riding unencumbered, but then again, so does riding with a load in panniers. The Nashbar trailer tracks well, and because the right wheel is in line with the right end of flat mountain bars, it’s easy to know where the wheel is in relation to the road’s edge. When you get your trailer, hitch it up, then squat down behind your trailer and sight along its wheels. Imagine being on the bike, and think where the trailer wheels will be in relation to your handlebars and body. You won’t get away with dropping a trailer wheel off the road’s edge more than once before realizing how important it is to know where your trailer is tracking. Practice hauling your trailer without a load, and pick a quiet spot to do it. Make left and right turns, climb and descend grades, stop, and generally get a feel for what it’s like. Then put a sack of dog food or birdseed, a bag of topsoil, or other heavy weight (not your kids!) into the trailer and ride again. Note how the bike feels when hauling the load, and how the trailer tracks (ride through a puddle and examine the tracks, if nothing else). Ready? Let’s Shop!

Canvas Sacks and Soft Cooler

There’s no one best way to haul groceries in a trailer. I’ve used regular shopping bags (paper and plastic), large canvas tote bags, boxes, and soft coolers. Trial-and-error will tell you which way suits you best. My method will serve as a stepping stone for you to evolve your own favorite techniques.

The Nashbar trailer is constructed with a stiffened fabric seat and seatback for carrying two kids. The webbing harnesses for strapping passangers in place serve also to lash cargo. On each side of the seat there’s a mesh pocket large enough to hold a folded tire tube or a cable lock. Behind the seatback is a “trunk” deep enough to hold narrow supplies and goods. And under the seat there’s space for 2-liter bottles of tonic and a big plastic bottle of gin so you can cool off with a tall G&T when you get back home with your 80 pounds of groceries. (Of course, you don’t HAVE to haul that much, and iced tea works, too!)

The empty and loaded trunk

A rigid box helps corral loose items, so I removed one end of a 5-liter wine box—it slides perfectly into the “trunk.” Later, when shopping’s done, this box carries bottles of juice, laundry detergent, and small loose items. Other things fit in beside the box to fill the rest of the trunk.

Ready to take a load

A box measuring about 11 inches wide and 16 inches long fits nicely on the seat. For added security the harness can be clipped over the top and front of the box — this is expecially important if the load is heavy or likely to shift in a hard stop. A soft cooler large enough to hold a gallon of milk and several large bags of frozen vegetables travels empty on the remaining space next to the box.

Once at the store, the shopping is done much like when shopping with panniers, but instead of placing panniers inside the grocery cart, I set the open soft cooler and box inside the cart. Alternatively, if using canvas sacks, I place those in the grocery cart. The bag, box, or sacks are filled with my selections as I shop, and at the checkout I just unload the items for the cashier to scan, then return the items to my carriers. The bagger usually wants to help, but I politely explain that I’m hauling the stuff on a bike and need to pack to suit that use. They get a break from work, and I pack as I please, so everyone’s happy.

Loaded Up

Back out at the trailer, the groceries are loaded to keep weight as low as possible, and the load is wedged together snugly or lashed in to prevent shifting when underway. If wet weather is anticipated, it’s a good idea to pack your food in plastic bags before loading them, just in case.

Loaded Up

The mesh door is pulled down over the front to permit airflow, but if the road is very dusty, wet, or rain threatens, the outer door with its clear plastic window is folded down over the mesh door. This provides a weather-tight seal which protects the goods inside. All that remains to do now is to pack up your bike, put on your hemlet, and roll off. Just be careful with traffic, and be prepared to work harder to climb the hills, but after you’ve gotten your shopping home, you’ll have the satisfaction of having passed every gas station along the way without having forked over any money to fill up. Congratulations!

Know how to fold 'em

One last thing needs doing after the groceries are carried inside. Clean off the trailer if it was splashed, check the tires to be sure you didn’t pick up any slow punctures, and store it. The Nashbar trailer can be left assembled and stored under cover in a shed or garage, on a porch, or in a mud room. It can even be tipped to rest on its back with the hitch straight in the air. But to save space, remove the fabric cover, pull the wheels, and then fold the trailer frame into a tidy flat package. Disassembly and assembly takes only minutes after you’ve done it once or twice. Now, it’s time for that cold one….

Loaded Up


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