Bike Cargo Trailers
“But you can’t go to the grocery store on a bicycle!” a neighbor dismissively claimed, when I tried to explain how we might encourage more people to use their bikes instead of their cars. I’ll never forget her words or her contemptuous tone. That conversation spurred me to prove her wrong, to prove that not only can you go to the grocery store on a bicycle, but with the help of an inexpensive cargo trailer, you can haul quite a bit of cargo, have fun, get exercise, save gas (and maybe the planet) while you’re at it.
As I’ve shown in an earlier post, an inexpensive pair of grocery panniers on your bike will enable you to carry two or three full-size grocery bags on your bike. A front basket can help you carry more. But what about those large grocery loads? What about families whose shopping requires more than two or three shopping bags per trip? In order to shop for the whole family, a cargo trailer takes your bike to a whole new level and enables you to leave your car at home for even the most sizable grocery runs and errands. With my cargo trailer I can easily haul about half a week’s worth of groceries for a family of four. For me, this might mean going to the store twice a week instead of once a week, but since it’s fun and I get exercise, the extra trip has added benefits.
My Croozer cargo trailer is shown above, only about 1/2-full, with about 30 lbs of groceries from my local farmers’ market. When not in use it folds down to a small size, quickly attaches to my bike, and comes with a nylon cover that keeps my cargo from falling out. The interior cargo area of the trailer measures 28 inches long, 19 inches wide, and 12 inches deep. This lightweight, medium duty trailer is rated to about 65 lbs towing capacity and holds about 6 full-size grocery bags (I’ve actually towed a little more than 65 lbs with the Croozer, but the manufacturer does not recommend it). I’ve also used the trailer to haul picnic supplies, hardware, office supplies, etc. I’ve even hauled rocks (yes, rocks), from the local canyon to use for natural decoration in my garden.
The trailer’s towing arm (shown below) attaches to a small metal hitch connected to your rear wheel hub that is easy to install. You do notice the extra weight when the trailer is fully loaded, as is to be expected, but simply shifting into a lower gear is sufficient for me to deal with the extra weight and the trailer rolls smoothly behind my bike, even when loaded. I’d recommend a bike with mountain-bike gearing if you’re going to pull a trailer in a hilly area like I do, and remember to give yourself more braking distance when going downhill towing a load. The trailer does not affect the balance of the bike as much as loaded panniers do, but I wouldn’t recommend taking corners at racing speed while hauling a cargo trailer. Despite these caveats, the trailer is remarkably smooth and easy to pull. Having used the Croozer for a little more than a year, my main complaint about this design is that there are very few places on the trailer to hook a bungee or cargo net for oversized or shifty loads.
There are numerous other bike trailer options out there, including bike trailers for towing kids, dogs, and other gear, and in a later post I will review the Surly Ted cargo trailer, which is a bit more heavy-duty and has a towing capacity of 300 lbs. Specially designed cargo bikes can also be an option for carrying large, heavy loads, and a number of manufacturers are producing them, including Surly, Soma, Civia, Trek, Bullitt, and Cetma, just to name a few. Front-loading cargo bikes called “bakfiets” have been popular in the Netherlands for years, where people use them for all manner of transportation needs. Such bikes are beginning to catch on here in the U.S., as gas prices go higher and people gain a heightened awareness of the connection between our automobile habit and climate change. There is even a group of like-minded cargo bike enthusiasts on facebook. While specially-designed cargo bikes have some advantages, I like the trailer option, because you don’t have to buy a separate cargo bike (they can be quite expensive), and you can detach and fold up the Croozer cargo trailer when not in use.
Occasionally, I still use my car for hauling really heavy, oversized loads, but my cargo trailer enables me to carry 95 percent of my family’s grocery and other goods by bike, and I get a great workout while I’m at it. The addition of the cargo trailer has made it possible for me to go “car-lite” and leave the car at home for a wide variety of errands. I know that most Americans aren’t going to give up their cars (I still have one, after all), but my response to my skeptical neighbor is that not only can you go to the grocery store on a bicycle, you can bring home quite a large load of groceries, get exercise, and have fun doing it.