Stig’s Bike trailers
For the last decade I have used, researched and designed many bike-trailers. Bike trailers allow cyclists to carry large or heavy loads without wrecking their bike or their knees. They can replace cars and vans for shorter distances. In some parts of the world they are also used as mobile food-serving-tables, mobile workshops and ambulances. There are a few dozen useful links on the “Other’s Bike Trailers” page.
I have built 10 trailers, so far, recently one each year. All my trailers are prototypes, exploring new ways to make them better. None of my trailers require welding. Each one is a bit better than the previous one. I have run a few workshops to build bike-trailers with great success. It takes about 2-5 days to construct a trailer, and often longer to design and find the right materials. I am happy to offer advice and guidance.
Here are a series of photos of each trailer with a short description, including the main pros and cons.
The Bamboo Bike Trailer
Over christams 2014 I made a great new trailer using bamboo. Bamboo is amazing! It’s actually a grass not a tree, grows very fast and is very strong but light. It’s splinters are sharp but it’s a great material for making bike trailers. The main downside is that it does not grow well (to thick diameters) in the UK, so much of the it is shipped over from the far east.
I am already planning two more bamboo bike-trailers. One will be like this one but smaller and narrower so that I can take it on a train / coach as a hand-cart. The other will be larger – to carry a 2Kw battery, electrics, a stall and with a solar panel as it’s roof.
October 2015 update:
I just addded a tongue to the outside wheel of the Bamboo Biketrailer. See this 7-second long video:
The Bicester Bike cArt
In 2014 the lovely folks at Bicester Green asked me to help them make a large bike trailer. Below is a simple slide sequence of the stages of the contruction showing hte biuld from various angles. It’s a great trailer, very similar to the Abundance trailer from 2013. Most of the wood was from a reclaimed old pine bed frame. The aluminium legs came from scrap too. The net for the floor was from Orinoco Scrapstore, as usual. All we had to buy was soem screws, glue, and shackles and steel eyelets (to attach the net).
The trailer has two square tables that can fit on top, sliding firmly into wooden sockets. These were welded from aluminium by the multi-talented Jocke and have telescopic legs so that you can use them at diffferent heights – which makes them suitable for running workshops with children or adults. Emma from Bicester Green also made a set of 4 tent-pole legs that can support a canopy – providing shade and some rain-protection.
The ‘Abundance’ bike trailer
This bike trailer is a beautiful wooden trailer made with 6 members of the Abundance Oxford (UK) collective in 2013. The structure is mostly old pine floor-boards jointed together with glue and screws (and a few metal corner brackets too). We rounded the wood with rasps, then sanded and coated it with linseed oil. It has no solid floor – instead it has a strong black netting. We tested it before taking it out on the roads and it easily took the weight of two adults. It carried two wooden canoes on its first outing and performs very well.
The neck, reaching from its main carrying level up to the bike, is a bit longer than previous trailers, allowing the bungee-hitch to either join onto a back-rack or onto a saddle-post. This means the trailer can attach to almost any bike very easily. This trailer will live in Rose Hill and mostly be used by the Abundance folks who gather and redistribute fruit and other foods across Oxford. They had been using panniers but can now carry a lot more at any one time. They run very useful workshops on food-preserving, forraging, and other forms of sustainable living. Here are photos of the trailer in use:
UPDATE (October 2013): We have used the trailer for a few weekend harvests and it is indeed a very good trailer. It is lighter than the Tray Trailer (see below) because it has a net floor, yet it is a bit longer and just as stable. There are two issues that remain to be addressed: 1 – sometimes luggage / netting moves sideways and can rub the wheels/ spokes. We may add a bar or shield to the inside of each wheel. 2 – Although lighter than other trailers, it is a bit too heavy for smaller people to carry it through a house alone. So, with hindsight we could have made the trailer a bit smaller.
The ‘Play-frame’ bike trailer
…was made in a workshop with three of the folks from the Broken Spoke Bike Coop in Oxford in 2012. This trailer was the first time I used metal – painted pipes reclaimed from an abandoned kid’s playing frame, mostly, which we got for a few quid from Oxford’s amazing scrap-store, Orinoco. We simple drilled holes through the pipes and put steel bolts through, tightened (not too hard) with lock-nuts. Quick and easy. Compared to a wooden trailer (see below) this trailer is much lighter (14kg or 30pounds) but still quite strong.
Instead of a solid floor, it simply has a strong blue net that objects (or people) hang in, like a cargo net or taut hammock. Very comfortable, light and great for delicate loads as there is some swing in the net as the trailer accelerates / slows down / goes over pot-holes. This trailer gets used every Friday by Steve of Veg-in-clover to deliver a few dozen organic veg boxes to homes across east Oxford. It comfortably carries 12 boxes at a time.
One drawback is that the metal pipes are weakened at the places where we drilled holes. Those holes also attracted rain which leads to rust, and more weakening. This is a big problem. Twice I have repaired this trailer. First after it was gently reversed into by a big white van, and secondly after it was overloaded by a rushed borrower. In repairing, I used jubilee clips to hold new ‘splint’ pipes over the break, instead of more drilled holes. Seems quite strong. I think jubilee clips, instead of drilled holes, might be the main attachment method for the next metal bike trailer I make. Using aluminium pipes is another idea to explore – they do not rust – but they are a lot harder to find in scrap. I think aluminium is lighter but a bit weaker than steel.
‘The Tray’ bike trailer
This bike trailer is my favorite bike trailer. It is made of wood, with a few bits of metal to hold the wheels in place. The side beams are reclaimed from a pair of old wooden benches that were falling apart. It has a large plywood floor so it’s good for carrying many little boxes, many smaller items that are not in bags. It is heavier than the above play-frame but it’s wider and stronger. I have carried 80kg on this trailer. As with other recent trailers it has large wheels to better cope with pot-holes or rough ground. It works well as a hand-cart too, with a nice wide handle. It can be stored up-ended on it’s read wall taking up very little room.
Being made of wood makes it a bit susceptible to moisture. So it needs to stay out of the rain most of the time. I give it a coat of boiled linseed oil once a year as a preservative – this helps to keep moisture out of the wood. The joints are glued and screwed. I’ve repaired it a few times, which is quite easy to do with glue and screws. It broke when it was over-loaded with books once, helping to move a squat’s library. And I did once take a corner a bit too fast with a very loaded trailer – the trailer rolled and damaged one of the outer beams holding the wheel in place. It limped home with a bungee holding that corner together.
As shown in the first of the three photos above, there is a small platform at waist height beside the handle / bike-joiner. This can be handy for attaching a clipboard or map or delivery-list (for the veg-boxes delivered on it sometimes). The inner width of the tray is 75cm wide, and the trailer is 105cm wide at its widest point. Any wider and it will not fit through some ‘pedestrian access’ barriers or garden gates.
This trailer is great but has a few drawbacks: being wood it is quite heavy – it weighs 21kg or 46pounds. For comparison, my standard gent’s bike weighs 18kg or 40pounds. The Play-Frame trailer, above, weighs 14Kg or 30pounds. It’s solid wooden floor is much heavier than a net, and probably not worth it. Makes a good table for serving food / tools / literature etc. I had to add a few metal rings for bungees to attach, which are not very cheap.
‘The Goose’ bike trailer
This is the cutest bike trailer I’ve made. It was made from one sheet of plywood that come in standard 4foot by 8foot sizes here in the UK. We carefully chose a shape that got the most from one sheet, using most of the off-cuts to make the rounded ‘belly’ sections that hold the wheels. A bit of pine plank wood make the rear and front walls, and the beak. It also has some stronger wood around the wheels.
We made one big mistake – we used a plywood that was too thin. It was only about 4mm thick and cracked under the strain of being bent into place. It later broke again. Last I heard it was being repaired with paper mache – gluing layers of white paper to the outer wood to strengthen it further. I hope that worked! It’ll also look great if it is now white. If we had used a stronger plywood, maybe 6-7mm thick, this might have been much better, provided the plywood was still flexible to bend to the shape. One day I might go back to such a design as it is a great use of a single-sheet of ply, and it is quite beautiful..
‘The Ladder’ bike trailer
This is a beast of a trailer. It’s quite heavy (I can only just carry it comfortably on my own slung on my shoulder). It is very strong and has two layers – a top-level of solid wooden bars (45mm by 45mm cross-section) and a lower net that hangs below to carry smaller goods. There is an optional table-top of plywood that fits inside the top, to make the trailer into a very useful table. This was used several times as a mobile kitchen for the Oxford “Food not Bombs” group. The wheels are held below the main trailer using two bicycle front forks, that are bolted to the wooden trailer quite solidly.
I originally made this trailer to help me paint murals. I hoped I would not need to also carry a ladder with me. I’d put my paints and tools in the trailer, cycle to the wall, unload, and then raise the trailer up against the wall as a ladder. It worked quite well, except that when standing near the top your face is quite near the wall! It also worked quite well for getting up the first part of a tree, when collecting apples, etc.
Younger kids love this trailer as they can climb through the two layers, and hang in the lower one like in a giant hammock.
We have also hung larger banners above the trailer, using one flag-pole at the front, and two more meeting at the back, connected by a cross-pole that is about 9feet long. This worked well as a mobile banner machine, and then as solid info-stall in town. Such a rig could also make a roof to ward off rain or sunshine – not tried that yet.
The most unusual outing for the trailer so far was the moving of a small greenhouse, as shown on the right. We took off all the glass, carried the aluminum frame over three gardens and then onto the trailer. It was fun cycling this load – the traffic parted in awe! This was only possible because the wheels are BELOW the main trailer deck, not next to it, as in most trailers. This allows the trailer to carry objects that are wider than the trailer. It’s been very useful carrying sofas, beds, sheets of plywood, etc. The phrase “One Less Van” seems apt here.
The obvious drawback of this trailer is the weight, probably 30kg. Another smaller problem is the height of the main deck. Having the wheels below the main deck is great for moving wide loads, but it raises the centre of gravity and so makes he trailer less stable – we need to slow down when doing corners! I used smaller 20inch wheels on this trailer, which I regret. Smaller wheels mean that pot-holes and other obstacles affect the wheels more, and make the trailer bounce a lot more, which is sometimes not so good for more fragile loads.
The shape and design are quite successful, and many features have been used in subsequent trailers.
UPDATE: In Decmber 2013 I took a set of photos and made a new ‘continuation’ page that explains more about how I built the Ladder Bike Trailer. Please visit it for information more about this trailer.
Improvised trailer from an old ladder
I found the photo shown below recently – a very simple trailer made by lashing a small ladder to a pair of old trolley wheels. It was heavy, quite unstable and not very pretty. But it worked quite well – allowing me to carry a set of a dozen big signs to install at one of the first Cowley Road Carnivals.