Trailer update

Homebuilt bike trailer

My homebuilt bike trailer using the Wike DIY trailer kit recently passed the 100 km mileage mark and I wanted to share some thoughts about it. First off, I have zero regrets about buying the kit and only some minor reservations about my construction. Mostly, I’m as pleased as I can be to have a nice big trailer that can haul virtually anything I want it to. In all, it’s saved me more than a dozen trips that would otherwise have required the car. Some of its duties since its June inauguration have included:

  • Making several trips with three big storage totes all packed full of stuff ranging from coffee makers to power tools. The trailer can easily carry anything I can put into three bins, plus a whole bunch more stuff on top.
  • Ferrying electronics, including a new computer and a large printer.
  • Hauling short sections of lumber. In the picture at the top of this post, a dozen 4-foot sections of cedar are heading off to temporary storage along with a couple of lawn chairs.  The trailer could easily accommodate 6-foot lengths; 8-footers would require a bit more care in loading and travelling, but it could still be done.
  • Carrying sheets of foam insulation and a heavy load of deck-building hardware.
  • And, of course, bringing home big boxes of cat litter.

There are also some things it hasn’t done yet:

  • Go to the farmers’ market. I’ve been satisfied with panniers and a backpack so far this year, but with only one week left, time is getting short to haul home backpacks full of local honeycrisp apples. I usually get a big bushel of them on the last day of the market, but I could pull five or six bushels home this year if I bring my trailer along.
  • Go downtown. The trailer has lived mostly on residential roads in the east end. Although it’s done considerable duty on Danforth,  Broadview, and other busy streets, it hasn’t yet crossed the Viaduct.
  • Haul something really heavy. If the trailer can handle 150 lb as Wike claims, its heaviest load so far has been only about half that.

Despite my early concerns, the pop rivets I used to bind the aluminum tubes to the kit brackets have held up well, and not a single one has come loose or broken. So far so good. I’m still prepared to replace them with screws or bolts if necessary. The oak cargo bed is also holding up well, with no noticeable wear, cracks, or other problems. Even though I planed it down pretty thin, it’s proven to be more than strong enough. This oak stuff is pretty tough; I bet you could make giant trees out of it.

I’ve used a single-wheel BOB Yak trailer for several years and find that using a two-wheel trailer requires a bit of an adjustment. In particular, the Yak tracks so beautifully behind the bike that I never have to worry where its wheel is when I’m riding: it’s always in line with the rear wheel of the bike. A two-wheel trailer, especially one as wide as mine, tracks very differently around turns. I haven’t yet bounced it into the curb, but it’s only a matter of time. And with a wheel off to each side of the bike, it’s that much harder to manoeuvre all three tracks around potholes and other obstacles.

If I were constructing this trailer today, I’d make some minor changes based on my experience so far:

  • I’d use small rubber washers between all of the wood-to-wood and wood-to-metal joints, and maybe dip all of the screws in glue before driving them in. Riding down the street, the trailer tends to squeak and rattle a bit. I know the joints are solid and I’m not worried about them, but I wouldn’t complain if rides were a little quieter.
  • I’d reinforce the front and back of the oak slats with additional crosspieces at each end. Only after I started using the handles at the front and the back as tiedowns did I realize that I don’t have the sturdiest construction at the very edges, which is precisely where the load on the tiedowns is greatest. A crosspiece tying the ends of the slats together underneath the tiedowns would better distribute the force. I haven’t yet encountered any problems with it the way it is, but I can feel the potential for weakness every time I cinch down a bungee cord.
  • I might make the trailer about four or five inches narrower. I’d still be able to haul the same number of storage totes, but would also be able pull the trailer through many more doorways. As currently constructed, the trailer is 34″ wide with the wheels on and thus can’t be pulled through narrower doorways. Still, I like the current bed width of two feet. It could go either way.

Also, I’m planning to make a couple of additions over the winter:

  • I’d like to make a removable pull handle so that I don’t have to stoop down just to pull the trailer around by hand. The handle would also have a stabilizing foot so that I can let go of the handle and still have the trailer rest in a level position.
  • I have a bad habit of loading and unloading on small hills, so I’ve been thinking about how to implement a simple and reliable wheel brake. Chocks would be fine, but I’d always forget to bring them. I need something that I can attach to the trailer and forget about until I need it. This could take the form of a decent kickstand attached to the bike or trailer.

Things you can move with your bike #1

Carrying a full load on my bike trailer

A lot of people think that you need a car to carry big packages and are surprised at how practical bikes can be for pulling heavy loads. Whenever I’m pulling something in my trailer, someone along the way will ask me questions about it or commend me for being innovative/brave/green/crazy. In truth, I’m just too lazy to use the car.

I think that every city cyclist should have a bike trailer of some description. Trailers make bikes so much more functional for running errands and hauling gear that I don’t know how I lived without mine. I’m currently looking at options for a flatbed cargo trailer that will be even more versatile for use in the city.

Last week’s cargo was a new vacuum cleaner and accessories. Total weight was about 35 lb, a pretty small load compared to some of my previous hauls. The big box was a little too large to sit flat in the trailer, but it was easily secured with an adjustable bungee cord. Distance travelled with the load was about 4 km, mostly uphill.

Oh, and yes, Dyson vacuums really do suck like nothing you’ve ever seen. Highly recommended.

Ward 29 Environment Day

Today was the Community Environment Day in Ward 29, brought to you by Councillor Case Ootes. It’s the first time I’ve been to the event in this ward, having lived in neighbouring Ward 31 until a couple of years ago.

I wanted to make a point to Councillor Ootes, so decided to take my load consisting of several old cans of paint, a number of expired batteries, a dozen ink jet cartridges, an old cell phone, and a bucket of used syringes (courtesy of my diabetic cat) to the event by bike. This would be especially easy for me since the drop-off point was directly accessible from Ootes’s pet project, the Cosburn Ave bike lanes. My decision was also helped by the fact that Risa was out with the car today.

I planned to drop off my stuff and then track down Ootes to get the typical “smiling politician” picture of him with my bike.

So I loaded up my trusty BOB Yak trailer and set out.

My BOB Yak loaded and ready to go

I arrived at the Environment Day drop-off about 10 minutes later, and several cheerful employees helped me unload all of my goods. I then set out to look for Case Ootes, but couldn’t find him. No one I asked had seen him either. If he’d been there at all, it was probably just long enough for a photo op.

So much for my plan. And so much for the picture of Ootes propping up my bike that was supposed to accompany this blog entry.

Was it unreasonable to expect to see him there? Do other councillors attend (and stay at) their Environment Days to schmooze with their constituents? I guess I was spoiled by my attendance at Janet Davis‘s Community Environment Day in Ward 31 in previous years. Not only was she there, but she also had live music and other amusements to create a friendly atmosphere. No such luck in Ward 29, unless you count the Tim Horton’s tent and the free hot dogs (sold out by the time I got there at noon).