How to Choose Bike Trailers
Towing your gear, or your child, in a trailer can be more comfortable than carrying that weight on your back or your bike. Gear trailers are also ideal for carrying bulky items, while kid trailers give your child a comfortable place to rest.
Whichever trailer you choose, remember that you will be towing the weight of the trailer—some weigh up to 40 pounds—in addition to the weight of your child or cargo. Once you choose a trailer, pack your gear wisely, and when your child asks if he can bring a friend along for the ride, consider the request carefully!
There are three types of trailers: bike trailers for cargo, bike trailers for pets, and bike trailers for kids.
Shop REI’s selection of bike trailers.
Bike Trailers for Cargo
A cargo trailer lets you carry bulky gear on long trips and because the weight is on its own wheels, weight in the trailer will feel lighter than weight on your bike. And, the extra weight and length will only minimally impact how your bike handles.
When you arrive somewhere and you want to leave your gear behind, cargo trailers are easy to unhook quickly.
Some cargo trailers, once detached, convert to wheeled carts appropriate for roaming the farmers market or grocery store, or wheeling straight into the house to unload.
If you’re planning to haul gear on rough roads or trail, consider a cargo trailer with suspension. Suspension helps keep your gear from being bounced around, and it helps the trailer wheel(s) stay in contact with the ground, which makes your load easier to maneuver, with less stress on you, your bike and the trailer.
Cargo trailers are typically available with one or two wheels.
Shop REI’s selection of bike trailers for cargo.
Single-wheel cargo trailers
Single-wheel trailers have less drag on the road than two-wheeled trailers, so they’re easier to tow. On technical terrain like singletrack, they are easier to turn. A single-wheel trailer will roll better on a narrow track than a two-wheel trailer.
Two-wheel cargo trailers
Two-wheel trailers are easier to keep upright, both when they are on and when they are off your bike. A two-wheel trailer can make loading, unloading and storing the trailer easy. And, you won’t have to stress about perfectly balancing your load when you’re packing.
Cargo Trailer Accessories
Gear bags: Many cargo trailers have an assortment of compatible bags to keep your gear clean, dry and organized.
Hitch arm/mount: Some gear trailers have swappable attachment systems to make them compatible with different rear axles, wheel sizes and brake configurations.
Spare mounts/skewers: A spare mount or skewer will let you swap a single trailer between bikes.
Shop REI’s selection of bike trailer accessories.
Bike Trailers for Pets
A pet trailer will typically be enclosed and larger than other cargo trailers, with a corrugated plastic semi-rigid bottom and no seats. Pet trailers can be used for gear, but gear trailers can't necessarily be used for pets. Some gear trailers have soft bottoms that don't offer sure footing and others have sides that aren’t enclosed and won’t keep your pet from jumping out or protect him from spinning wheels.
Bike Trailers for Kids
There are two types of bike trailers for kids: enclosed child trailers and trailer bikes. In an enclosed trailer, your child rides and does not pedal. Enclosed trailers can hold one or two children and are typically for younger kids. Trailer bikes are for kids who want to pedal but who may not be strong, savvy or confident enough to do so on their own yet. Both styles attach to the back of your bike.
Your child should always wear a helmet when he or she is riding in a bicycle-towed trailer. Not only will this protect your child, but it will also help him or her develop good habits.
Shop REI’s selection of bike trailers for kids.
Enclosed Child Trailers
Enclosed trailers typically have a fabric top, bottom and sides with aluminum bars for structure and protection, and a zip door about the width of the front of the trailer. The door will typically have a mesh window under a plastic window for venting, keeping out insects and offering weather protection.
Fabric on the sides of your child trailer should be tight and free of gaps to prevent small fingers from reaching spinning wheels.
Enclosed child trailers offer greater protection for your child than a seat mounted to the frame of your bike. If your bike falls over, a child in a bike-mounted seat will fall up to three feet before he or she hits the ground.
Child trailers have full roll cages to help protect your passenger(s) in the event of a crash.
Enclosed Child Trailer Features
Harness: Inside, an enclosed trailer has a seat with a harness system—similar to a child car seat—for each passenger. On more expensive models, the seat reclines for a more comfortable resting position—good for napping while riding.
Higher-end seats may have a washable seat pad.
Storage pockets: Most trailers have some kind of interior storage pockets and snack tray for your child’s toys, games and food. Most enclosed trailers also have storage compartments for adults, so you can stash your keys, wallet and a diaper bag or backpack.
Suspension: Some trailers have adjustable suspension to smooth out bumps in the road.
Seating capacity: Some trailers are designed to carry only one child, while others can hold two.
Parking break: All convertible enclosed child trailers have a parking brake to keep the trailer from rolling away. The most secure ones lock the hub. On lower-priced trailers, the brake may be a bar that presses on one of the tires, which is not as secure.
Retractable sunshades and windows: Some trailers have retractable sunshades and plastic/mesh side windows so that your child can look out as you ride, and for cross ventilation. Some trailers use UV-rated plastic and/or fabric to help protect your kids from the sun’s rays. High-end trailers may have bowed sides to give your child/children more interior space.
Enclosed Child Trailer Accessories
Jog/stroll/ski conversion kits: Many enclosed trailers either come with a spare wheel so that you can convert for foot travel on the fly—no fumbling with extra parts required. Or you can buy accessories to convert the trailer from bike-towed trailer to jogger, stroller or ski jogger.
Trailers that convert either come with a handle—also called a handlebar—on the back, or a rear-mount handle is available as an accessory. Check each model’s specs to see if the manufacturer makes a compatible conversion kit. (Less expensive trailers may not convert.) If a trailer comes with a rear handle, it may fold away when you’re biking, not strolling/jogging. In some trailers, the handle folds to act as a second roll bar.
A strolling kit typically includes a single swivel wheel that attaches to the tow bar. A jogging kit typically includes a single larger wheel. And, a ski conversion kit has a pair of skis that attaches to the trailer.
Handlebar accessory bags: Handlebar accessory bags hold essentials where you can reach them without stopping and unzipping the trailer.
Toddler neck support pillow: If you are pedaling with a young child, always support his or her head. Some trailers offer stabilizing pillows. The industry standard is to wait until a child is one year old before allowing him or her to ride in a bike trailer. A child should be able to sit upright unattended and hold his or her head up while wearing a bicycle helmet. Always check with your pediatrician to confirm your child is ready to be towed in a trailer.
Additional bike mounts: Depending on how your trailer attaches to a bike, you may want additional bike mounts so that you don’t have to switch a single mount from bike to bike.
Light kit: Some manufacturers make trailer-specific light kits. If your trailer has loops on the front and rear, you can also use these to clip on cycling lights to make the trailer extra visible when you’re riding.
Trailer bikes are for kids who want to pedal, but who may not be strong, savvy or confident enough to do so on their own yet.
Trailer bikes have a single wheel, like the rear wheel of a bicycle, and are available in upright and recumbent configurations. Upright trailer bikes best simulate riding a regular bike, while recumbent setups give kids the option to pedal, play or doze.
Most trailer bikes have adjustability, so they can be set up to fit your passenger as he or she grows, or as you swap passengers. Some have very basic adjustments, such as a seat that goes up or down, while others can be fully dialed for a performance fit.
Trailer bikes are either single-speed for riding on flat terrain or have a multispeed drivetrain that makes it easier to climb hills. A drivetrain with gears also helps your passenger learn to shift.
Trailer bikes can carry a maximum weight of 65–85 pounds. Compare trailers at REI.com to make sure your child can grow into the trailer you choose.
For more information on introducing your child to biking, see our article, Cycling with Young Kids.
Trailer Bike Accessories
Bike kit: Some manufacturers make an aftermarket kit to convert the trailer bike into a full bike.
Additional bike mounts: Depending on how your trailer attached to a bike, you may want additional bike mounts so that you don’t have to switch a single mount from bike to bike.
Shop REI’s selection of trailer accessories.
Bike Trailer Attachment Systems
All bike trailers, whether for you child, gear or pet, attach to the bike by bolting to the rear triangle or your seat post, or by attaching to a special quick-release skewer. Check to make sure that the trailer you’re considering is compatible with your bike’s brakes, axle and drivetrain. Hooded dropouts, thru axles, disc brakes and some 11-speed drivetrains can interfere with trailer attachment systems.
Most trailers easily detach in seconds, so when you want to ride without the trailer, it’s easy to remove it.
Bike Trailer Storage
Before you buy, consider what space you have for trailer storage. Some kid trailers pack down flat and have removable wheels for easy storage, while others store fully assembled. Some come in easy-to-carry bags that can also be used for gear transport.
Trailers with smaller wheels are more compact and easier to store. However, larger wheels absorb bumps in the road better than small wheels, with less jostling of your passenger or gear. Most child trailers have 20" wheels. Cargo and pet trailers typically have 16" wheels.