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Bike trailers are a fantastic way to bring your kids (or animal companions!) along on bike commutes and adventures in a way that’s comfortable and safe for all. In recent years they’ve grown popular on limited-access trails, and it’s easy to see why—not only are pull-behind trailers considered to be more secure than high-mount bike seats, but they also allow bike-loving parents to stay active during the early years of a child’s life when they aren’t ready to pedal along at a steady pace. As with most cycling gear, trailers have become surprisingly specialized in recent years, with off-road-focused models gaining traction in the market. The most common type, however, is still designed for use on paved roads and trails. No matter which model you choose, chances are you’ll enjoy taking your child for a ride more than you might expect.
Best Bike Trailers
The Expert: I’m a longtime cyclist who loves to explore town with my four-year-old and all her favorite stuffies tucked into a two-seater Burley trailer. However, to gain more insight into the general safety considerations of bike trailers—and what to look for in selecting the best models—I spoke with Gary A. Smith, MD, DrPH, director at the Center for Injury Research and Policy at the Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, Ohio. While Dr. Smith didn’t recommend any of the following models specifically, he helped provide a safety framework around biking with trailers and biking with kids in general that helped me make my selections.
What to Consider in a Bike Trailer
Bike trailers are designed to be safe for use with toddlers and babies as young as one year old, provided your small passenger has full neck control, can wear a helmet, and fits inside the seat’s harness. Nearly all bike seats come with a standard five-point safety harness, which means two shoulder straps connect to two laps straps and a between-the-leg strap at a buckle that fastens near the center of a child’s body. This secures the kid at the most rigid part of his or her core, similar to a car seat.
Many bike seats also have a roll bar that locks into place over the top of the trailer’s frame, so if you hit a curb with the trailer and it rolls or tips (not a common event, but it’s happened to us), the roll bar will protect your child from any impact, and he or she will be safely suspended inside the trailer by the harness.
The first decision to make is whether you want a single or double trailer. (Be warned: From personal experience I can say that you might wind up needing a double trailer when you thought you’d be fine with a single.) Also note that pulling a trailer behind your bike can make riding significantly more difficult—particularly if you’re bringing along an older, heavier kid or two. With that in mind, a lighter-weight trailer might be a bonus for you, though some of the heavier, more substantial trailers are also more premium and feature-packed.
Another element of size to consider is whether the trailer has storage space for all the vital gear you or your child wants to bring along, like snacks, water bottles, toys, and picnic blankets. If you plan to drive to biking trails, it’s also important to find a trailer that flattens down into a compact, portable package you can easily stow in a car trunk. The best trailers have removable wheels and an easy-to-mount trailer hitch system so you can take them anywhere and attach them to the quick release or thru axle of any bike (although for the latter, you might need to order a special adapter).
You want your tiny sidekick to enjoy the ride as much as you do, which is what might make springing for more premium comfort features worth the added cash. Most of our favorite trailers have padded seats with headrests and plenty of legroom. The highest-end models even have seats that recline independently, so each of your kids can settle in comfortably for naps while you pedal. Other useful features to look for include rain covers, adjustable sunshades, and mesh pockets for the little essentials that make trailer riding so fun (also known as “snack bribes”).
Multi-use gravel paths are ideal for bike trailer use, but they can be a jarring experience for little passengers. High-quality wheels with thick, knobby tires can make a big difference, as can adjustable suspension systems that smooth out the bumps.
Many bike trailers have a small, folded-up front wheel that can be employed to convert the trailer into a wide, three-wheeled stroller. The roll bar then sweeps back to operate as a pushable handlebar. This dual functionality makes the trailer more convenient, since you can use it alone as a running stroller or lock up your bike outside a destination, detach the trailer, and push the kids the rest of the way.
How We Selected These Bike Trailers
To narrow down our recommended bike trailers, I relied on the safety insight of Dr. Smith, as well as the work and research of writer Jack Baruth, who created the initial guide. Baruth selected trailers with off-road and cargo capacity, and prioritized durability and utility over “wow”-inducing features. To expand on this, I added a mix of well-reviewed models and trailers that I have first-hand experience using, after testing multiple models (and finally settling on one for all our pandemic-era outings). All the bike trailers here represent the best mix of safety features, comfort, convenience, and value.
THE DO-IT-ALL OPTION
Thule Chariot Cross 2
Thule has a well-earned reputation as top of the trailer heap. The Chariot Cross 2 is a godsend for the indecisive: Strolling, biking, jogging, and skiing are all part of the mission plan. There’s enough tire and suspension for the occasional off-road diversion—think gravel bike or cross-country trail here, not UCI downhill or Danny MacAskill in that famous video where he does a backflip while pulling a trailer—and enough cargo space to carry all the things that two children might need. It stores almost flat and includes a rear light. This is all the trailer most parents will ever want, and it’s priced accordingly. Also available as a single for a hundred dollars less.
Allen Sports Deluxe
At the opposite end of the feature-packed and higher-priced Thule is the Allen Deluxe, which requires some challenging (confusing) assembly, isn’t terribly upscale, and lacks a list of extra features. Yet its owners love it because it’s cheap, simple, and holds up to extended use. It also provides some weather protection, like front and side windows, and safety features, like a padded five-point harness, a flag, and a bar to protect your child’s feet. It’s available in both single (shown) and double ($119) seat variants. This is one of the smaller and lighter trailers on the market. It weighs about 22 pounds in its lightest version and folds down easily with a quick release.
The Trailblazer is affordable, yet offers a higher-quality build that includes sturdy 20-inch wheels and a secure, five-point harness. The Trailblazer’s design is similar to that of Burley (also in our roundup) and Thule’s, with a pod-like, aerodynamic profile and roll bar and small front wheel that allows the trailer to be converted into a running stroller. It’s got a spacious interior with storage space behind the seats, but the seats aren’t as comfy as they are in higher-end models and the nylon cover is a bit challenging to snap into place. The quick-release wheels are easy to remove, and the frame of the trailer folds down so you can stow it in the back of your trunk.
SUPER STURDY AND RUGGED
Burley Cub X
Off-road riders will appreciate the Cub X’s sturdy tires and adjustable suspension system, which give tiny passengers a smooth ride on rough terrain. It’s one of the more expensive models, but the trailer’s price is justified by its many high-end features: Two plush seats with soft headrests recline separately for comfortable napping, with adjustable sunshades for blocking out the glare. A stroller kit turns the trailer into a four-wheeled, all-terrain running stroller. The whole thing is designed to be cleaned easily, with removable seat pads and drain holes in the hard tray that allow you to hose the base out. The trailer has a generous weight limit, so you can stow plenty of cargo in the space behind the seats, and bring slightly older kids along for the ride.
NO-FRILLS, PREMIUM CHOICE
Thule Cadence Two
Parents who are fascinated by Thule’s Chariot trailer but want to avoid a four-figure commitment can try the Cadence. The high-end features are missing—no easy conversion to ski or jog, no suspension—but the same general form factor, spacious cockpit, and high-quality build are all present and accounted for. There’s plenty of ventilation for when the weather is good and a quick-flip-down plastic shade for when it’s not. Storage isn’t as sophisticated as with the Chariot, as the wheels have to be removed, but it’s still a quick pack-up that easily fits in a trunk or storage area. Be aware, however, that the seats are unpadded—something you can easily rectify using just a few of the eight hundred dollars you’ll save over the higher-end Thule.
LOTS OF FEATURES FOR LESS
Looking for a fully equipped trailer for less than the Thule or Burley? Schwinn has the Joyrider (shown), Trailblazer, and Echo. They’re all slightly different takes on the same idea of a wide, comfortable trailer with plenty of room for kids and trailer. While there’s a weight limit of 40 pounds per child, this shouldn’t be a problem for most parents. The hitch design allows the trailer to stay upright if the bike falls over. Other premium features: spoked wheels with aluminum rims, rubber tires, and canopies that open and close without tools or hassle. All models fold flat. The hitch does not work with every bike—make sure you take a close look at what you have before you make this choice.
BEST FOR SERIOUS OFF-ROADING
Wehoo Blast Bike Trailer
The Weehoo has a unique design that’s popular with parents who want to take young kids on bikepacking trips or rip down a gently rolling singletrack. Because the trailer only has one rear wheel attached to the bike’s seatpost by a self-aligning hitch, it’s lighter and more maneuverable on narrower trails than wider, multi-wheeled models. That said, the trailer certainly takes a more minimalist approach than all others—there’s no suspension or weather coverage, and the harness system is simpler and less plush than most. However, the trailer creates less weight and wind drag on the parent overall, so it can provide a faster, more dynamic experience for both rider and passenger.
HIGH QUALITY FOR LESS
Although it isn’t the plushest Burley, the Bee has a lot to offer for a fraction of the cost. First let me warn you what it won’t do: It doesn’t have the dual functionality of Burley’s other trailers—there’s no running stroller conversion kit for this one—and it doesn’t have seat padding, a shock system, rear storage, or reclining seats. But it’s the lightest Burley you can get, and it provides a smooth and safe ride for small passengers, with a secure five-point harness system and a protective aluminum roll bar. The trailer also has a thick, high-quality rain cover that can be rolled up for better air flow through the mesh screen or rolled down in inclement weather. Small touches like interior snack pockets, reflective accents on the rear and sides, and an included safety flag add to the overall value of the trailer. Like all Burley trailers, it’s easy to put together and fold down and stow when not in use.
BEST FOR LITTLE HELPERS
Burley Piccolo Trailer Bike
For slightly older kids who aren’t yet ready to keep up on their own bikes, the opportunity to pedal along with a parent is a big thrill. This type of tag-a-long or trail-a-bike trailer lets kids feel like active participants on a ride without having to worry about steering or maintaining pace. The Piccolo is Burley’s geared trailer bike, with a seven-speed drivetrain that kids can control with a twist shifter. The trailer is made of a lightweight aluminum and attaches to the included rear rack of your bike via an easy-to-use quick-release hitch mount system. It’s suitable for kids ages 4 to 8, depending on where you set the adjustable handlebar and seatpost, and up to 85 pounds. For younger or less experienced kids, consider trying Burley’s Kazoo, which has a similar overall design but only one speed.
Our Expert Caitlin Giddings Consults With Dr. Gary Smith on Bike Trailer Safety. Plus, Must-Have Features to Know Before You Buy!
BI: Is a bike trailer actually safer than riding with a kid in a frame- or rack-mounted bike seat?
CG: Dr. Smith says he hasn’t seen any data comparing injury rates between riding with a bike trailer or a bike seat but suspects we can make some inferences about comparative safety based on the principles of physics. “Because a bicycle-towed child trailer is lower to the ground than a rear-mounted seat, it may be safer,” he says. “The trailer enclosure may also provide some protection.”
BI: Most kids bike trailers suggest waiting until the child is a year old. But some companies make a sling for younger babies. Are these considered safe for riding?
CG: Dr. Smith says no—primarily due to the helmet requirement. “Children should always wear a helmet while riding on a bicycle or in a trailer,” he says. “However, children younger than one year old should not wear a bike helmet because they do not have the neck strength needed to support the extra weight of a helmet while handling bumps or decelerations during a ride. Therefore, it is recommended that children younger than one not ride in a rear-mounted bicycle seat or a bicycle-towed trailer, regardless of attachments.”
BI: Do kids always need to wear helmets inside a bike trailer, even if the trailer has a hard frame and a roll bar?
CG: In short: Yes, according to Dr. Smith. In general, wearing a bike helmet can lower the risk of brain injury by up to 88 percent. “On average, more than 600 children are treated in U.S. emergency departments for bicycle-related injuries every day, or about 25 every hour,” he says. But to be more specific, he has the following advice on helmet use for kids.
“Make sure the helmet is appropriate for the age and size of the child and that it fits well. A helmet that fits well will share all of these traits:
Feels snug, but not tight
Covers the forehead
Rests two finger-widths above the eyebrows
Has straps that form a V below the ear
Has a securely fastened chin strap around the jaw
Stays put when head moves from side to side and up and down.”
BI: Any particular safety features that parents should look for when shopping for a kids bike trailer?
CG: Make sure the trailer has a sturdy harness and adjust the straps to fit the child snugly, Dr. Smith says. And when purchasing or gifting a bike trailer, always buy or gift a helmet at the same time. Dr. Smith also recommends following the trailer manufacturer’s guidelines for size and weight limits, and add a tall, brightly colored safety flag to the trailer to make it more visible to drivers.
Any other advice for using a bike trailer with kids?
CG: Dr. Smith adds these additional tips:
Avoid riding on busy roads.
Stay in low-traffic areas such as parks, bike paths, and quiet streets.
Be aware that the extra weight of the passenger may make the bike less stable.
Ride slowly and allow for increased braking time.
Adults should always remember to wear their helmet to protect themselves and serve as role models for growing children.
*Editor's Note: Jack Baruth contributed to this article.
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