Cargo Trailers for eBikes: Ultimate Guide & Tips

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Need to Carry More with Your E-Bike? Consider Bike Trailers!

If you already have an e-bike but find yourself needing to carry larger loads, bike trailers are the perfect solution. They seamlessly complement the extra power provided by e-bikes. If you’ve ever attempted to pedal uphill with a traditional, non-electric bike while hauling a heavy trailer, you know how challenging it can be, especially if you plan on doing it frequently.

Some e-bike riders may have concerns about safety when it comes to towing a trailer, or they may think it adds unnecessary complexity and difficulty to using their e-bike. However, this shouldn’t be the case if you keep a few basic tips in mind. The main consideration is ensuring that your specific e-bike is compatible with the hitching system of the trailer you choose. Once you overcome this hurdle, you’ll discover that a good trailer significantly expands your carrying capacity on your e-bike.

Let’s now delve into everything you need to know about finding a high-quality cargo trailer for your e-bike. However, if you’re putting the cart before the (electric) horse, you can also check out our picks for the best electric bikes here.

Comparing eCargo Bikes to Trailers

eCargo bikes are undeniably fantastic, but they may not be suitable for everyone. Limited space or difficulty maneuvering and storing these lengthy and heavy vehicles can be major obstacles. Additionally, budget-friendly e-cargo bikes are hard to come by. Therefore, pairing a budget e-bike with a budget trailer is often the most cost-effective and eco-friendly solution for carrying cargo.

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Desirable Traits of Well-Designed Bike Trailers

Construction Quality

The HBS Mini exemplifies the construction quality of more affordable trailers, with the axle and towbar bolted to a plastic box.

The strength and weight of the materials used in the construction are the primary indicators of quality. The cheapest designs, such as the HBS trailer pictured above, feature a plastic box as part of their construction. While this keeps things lightweight, simple, and affordable, there may be compromises. For instance, in this design, the main plastic box serves as both the mounting point for the wheels and the towbar.

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The Surly Ted: Exquisitely Crafted and Virtually Indestructible

On the other hand, the Surly Ted trailer boasts a welded all-steel construction that offers incredible strength.

Surly’s Ted trailer has a remarkable load capacity of 136kg, far exceeding the average trailer. This showcases its exceptional build quality.

The load rating of a trailer can also serve as an indicator of its quality. Most trailers have load ratings that don’t surpass 40kg (around 90lbs), although this is just a rough estimate. The impressively sturdy Surly Ted trailer has a load rating of 136kg (300lbs), which far surpasses the capabilities of a typical production e-bike. Nonetheless, it’s a testament to the trailer’s immense strength and superior construction quality.

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Alternative Hitch Fittings for Different Frame and Axle Designs

Does it Have Alternative Hitch Fittings that Will Cope with Different Frame and Axle Designs?

To determine if a trailer is compatible with your e-bike, you need to consider the trailer itself and your specific e-bike. Reputable trailer manufacturers usually offer a variety of hitch solutions that cater to different bike frame and axle designs. These options should be clearly explained and listed on their website.

Quick Release Skewers

One of the most common axle fittings found on e-bikes is the quick release skewer (QR). Some trailer manufacturers provide a fitting that can be securely attached between the QR’s lever cam, just like Burley’s Steel Hitch and the example from Wike demonstrated in the following video:

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Acv-LOqK7nY&w=956&h=715]

Others provide their own design of replacement quick release skewer, which incorporates a hitch attachment point. ExtraWheel, for example, offers a skewer that allows attachment on the small cylindrical sections at both ends. When a trailer comes with a complete replacement QR skewer, it is crucial to ensure that it is the same length as your existing one. This will guarantee a proper fit. Most QR rear skewers are made to fit a standard rear dropout width, which measures 130mm for road bikes or 135mm for MTBs. To verify this, you can remove your rear wheel and measure the distance between the internal faces of the frame, similar to the example above where it measures 125mm. An important detail to note is that typical quick-release axles are slightly longer than the hub locknut spacing. This results in approximately 5-6mm of axle protrusion on each side.

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Classic ‘Solid’ Axles

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If your e-bike features a rear hub motor or hub gears, it likely has a solid threaded axle secured with nuts to hold the wheel in place. With certain hitch attachments, like the Burley Steel Hitch, you can simply slide it behind the nut and resecure it, provided that there is enough threaded axle protruding. If you are receiving replacement nuts with the trailer, it is advisable to confirm the diameter x thread pitch measurement of your bike axle. Most modern solid rear axles have a measurement of 10mm x 1mm, but for older bikes, it might be worthwhile to double-check by testing if a 10 x 1 nut fits. These nuts are relatively inexpensive and can be found at a local bike store.

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Surly’s Ted and Bill trailers require these custom nuts if attaching to a solid axle

Other trailer designs may include an entirely new nut or set of nuts with their own unique design for attaching the trailer, as shown in the Surly ones pictured above.

Thru Axles

Introduction: Thru Axles and Trailer Compatibility

Thru axles have gained immense popularity, mainly due to their marketing claims of enhanced strength and improved rigidity compared to the traditional quick release skewer system. These axles usually measure 12mm in diameter and are available in various lengths. Therefore, it is essential to measure your rear thru axle accurately and consult with the trailer manufacturer to determine if they offer a replacement axle or an additional fitting that will allow you to use the desired trailer.

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The Robert Axle Project: Making Trailers Compatible

Fortunately, The Robert Axle Project presents an impressive range of pre-made thru-axles that enable bikes and e-bikes equipped with thru-axles to become trailer-capable. For instance, they offer a hitch specifically designed for a Thule Chariot child trailer. This innovative solution empowers cyclists to enjoy the convenience of towing their trailers effortlessly.

Moreover, The Robert Axle Project, which manufactures its products in Bend, Oregon, presents this informative table. This table allows cyclists to connect various trailer designs to their e-bikes effectively. Even if your specific trailer and e-bike combination is not listed, I encourage you to contact them, as they might have a suitable solution tailored to your needs. Additionally, it would be worthwhile to visit the trailer manufacturers’ website, as they may stock Robert Axle Project products as aftermarket fittings, ensuring that you acquire the appropriate axle for your setup.

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Important Considerations: Ensure Correct Thread and Not Overtightening

While installing thru-axles directly into your bike frame, it is crucial to exercise caution. Be meticulous in selecting an axle with the precise thread and avoid overtightening it. Neglecting these precautions could result in an expensive mistake that compromises the integrity of your bike and its components.

Hooded Dropouts and the Burley Classic Hitch

Some bike and e-bike frames possess “hooded” rear dropouts, adding complexity to the installation of a trailer hitch. This configuration makes it more challenging to snugly fit the hitch against the frame. However, Burley has ingeniously addressed this issue in the following video. The video also showcases the Burley Classic hitch, which uniquely fits around the frame itself instead of the axle. While this hitch allows for quick interchangeability between different bikes, please note that it is incompatible with bikes featuring disc brakes.

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[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=chiaypyp_OE&w=942&h=530]

Attachment Points for Lights and a Flag

Certain trailers are equipped with designated mounting points for lights and may even include a safety flag, emphasizing their prioritization of safety measures during manufacturing.

Tips for Towing: Ensuring Safety and Stability

Proper Load Distribution and Riding Precautions

When loading cargo onto the trailer, strive to position it centrally over the load-bearing wheels. For standard two-wheelers, this typically means placing the load between the trailer axles. Experiment with different load placements to find the ideal position that optimizes traction and bike handling. Placing the load too far back may cause the rear wheel to lose traction, while positioning it too far forward can adversely affect the bike’s handling.

Moreover, if loading multiple items, prioritize placing larger and heavier items towards the bottom and the center of the trailer. This distribution ensures stability during the ride.

Remember to moderate your speed, especially when towing heavy loads. Avoid excessive speed, particularly when descending steep slopes.

Choosing a Reliable Hitch

The hitch serves as a critical connection point between the bike and the trailer, enduring substantial stress, especially when hauling heavy loads. It must allow for articulation during turns while remaining robust enough to withstand the continuous push-pull forces exerted between the bike and the trailer.

Although the seat post hitch is convenient and commonly found on budget models, it may not be suitable for exceptionally heavy loads as it could destabilize the bike and impact steering. On the other hand, the Burley Travoy, showcased below, mounts to a rear rack and offers a classic and highly practical design.

Hitches with single-sided configurations vary in strength and design, but it is advisable to opt for a well-engineered hitch with substantial fittings. An excellent design exhibits minimal flexing and permits movement in all planes to ensure optimal towing performance.

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The Importance of a Flexible Element near the Hitch

In order for the trailer bar to move independently of the trailer or bike, it is crucial to have a flexible element near the hitch. This serves as a way to achieve the desired movement. Additionally, the presence of a fail safety strap in this example is a clear indication of the manufacturer’s attention to detail.

Some designs employ a spring, flexible tube, or similar mechanism to alleviate stress on the surrounding parts. This also acts as a shock absorber when the trailer is under the most load. However, the movement should be kept minimal. This particular design is primarily suitable for lighter loads, up to 25kg. As the load becomes heavier, the ride may feel more unstable due to increased movement within the flexible parts. It is important to avoid experiencing a ‘snake’ motion from side to side at higher speeds. Nevertheless, many designs of this nature perform well when used with lighter loads and ridden with reasonable care.

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The Versatile and Strong Surly System

Surly’s system features a yoke that attaches to both sides of the axle. It also incorporates a hitch mechanism that allows the trailer to roll and pitch along behind you. Notably, this system is exceptionally robust and functions admirably.

Undoubtedly, one of the strongest hitch designs available, if not the strongest, is the type that attaches to both sides of the axle. Surly’s system, showcased in models like the robust Bill and Ted, serves as a remarkable example of this design approach.

Choosing the Right eBike for Load Carrying

When it comes to load carrying, it is essential to select the appropriate eBike.

The powerful crank drive motors commonly found on many current e-bikes are an excellent choice for load carrying. Alternatively, larger hub motors geared for high torque can also perform well. For exceptionally heavy load hauling, it is recommended to opt for crank motors with the highest torque ratings. Several options, such as Bosch’s Performance Line CX, Brose, Shimano, and Yamaha, offer powerful performance.

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Adequately powerful and graduated brakes are an absolute necessity. Hydraulic disc brakes have become the standard on e-bikes, and they greatly enhance the effectiveness of load carrying.

In order to ensure stability and manageability with heavy loads, it is crucial to have a well-built e-bike. Bikes with wider rims and tires also contribute to stability. Hybrid and mountain bike style e-bikes often feature strong rims, wide tires, and durable spokes. Conversely, lightweight, racing-style e-bikes are less suitable for pulling heavy loads. If you ride an e-bike that feels stable and solid and handles well without a load, it is likely to perform similarly with a load.

Protecting Against Punctures

Preventing punctures is essential, particularly when carrying heavier loads.

While low tire pressure or a flat tire may not be noticeable when the trailer is lightly loaded, it is important to minimize the risk of punctures with heavier loads. Using strong tires with puncture-proofing features such as Kevlar and/or slime can be beneficial. Additionally, it is wise to have a backup plan. Ensure that the trailer is easy to secure and remove a wheel if necessary. Carrying essential tools and an inner tube will also come in handy. Getting stranded with a heavy trailer and a flat tire would not be enjoyable, but with some preparation, it should not be a major inconvenience.

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Ensuring Safety when Carrying Children

This particular Croozer model incorporates bright colors, a visibility flag, and ample space between the side wheels and fabric. These features enhance safety.

All the aforementioned hints are applicable when transporting children in a child trailer. It is important to note that the trailer may not be easily visible at all times, so it would be beneficial to equip your handlebars with a bike mirror.

Additionally, to further alleviate safety concerns, opt for a child trailer that is brightly colored with ample reflective striping. These features are often included in child trailers and it is advisable to choose one with a large flag. Furthermore, exercise caution when selecting your route and avoid heavily congested areas.

Currently, there is a wide range of child trailers available that can also be used as strollers. However, in this section, we will only focus on specific cargo trailers. A comprehensive post on child carrying solutions will be published soon.

Exploring the Trailers

In this section, we will delve into the major manufacturers of cargo trailers across various classes. It is important to note that the featured manufacturers in this section are well-regarded in terms of producing high-quality trailers. While there may be cheaper imitations available, the models showcased here have established reputations for their quality and excellent customer support.

Trailers with a Single Wheel

These trailers are ideal for lighter loads where maneuverability is crucial. Single-wheel trailers align directly with your bike and are usually narrower than the bike itself. Therefore, they are useful for traversing off-road single tracks or narrow bike paths with limited access points. However, it is important to note that they may exert more pressure on your bike’s rear wheel, making them less suitable for heavier loads compared to trailers with two wheels.

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One notable manufacturer in this category is B.O.B Gear, hailing from South Carolina.

The Yak

Construction: 4130 CroMoly Steel

Trailer Size: 63.5 inches in length, 16.5 inches in width, 56 inches in height

Weight: 19lbs / 8.6kg

Weight Rating: 32kg / 70lb

Price: Starting at US$339