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Go, Go Golden Circle! Biking the Golden Circle with BOB

Ker-PLINK !

Another broken spoke. My heart sank. My bike tour was going nowhere fast, and it had barely even begun. I had too much weight on two cheap wheels, too flimsy for a Clydesdale like myself. I needed a trailer.
Author Wesley Cheney at the start of his six hundred kilometer Golden Circle ride through Alaska, British Columbia and Yukon, before hooking up with BOB.

I felt my goals were modest enough: I wanted to bike the “Golden Circle” from Haines, Alaska, through the Yukon Territory and British Columbia and back to Skagway, Alaska in less than four days. I would be crossing two major mountain passes and riding six hundred kilometers on the Haines Highway, the Alaska Highway, and the Klondike Highway. I could not afford to have spokes breaking. It would be three hundred kilometers between bike shops and gas stations. I only had one emergency spoke with me.

Admittedly, it was a problem partially of my own creation. I was riding a Trek Alpha 1.1 entry-level road bike. If I’d read the fine print on the warranty, I’d have seen that I exceeded the maximum recommended weight. But I’d been hesitant to ship my favorite touring bike from Virginia to Alaska for my first season as a bike tour guide. I didn’t know if I’d really need it. Instead, I bought a used rental bike from my shop. And promptly started breaking spokes.

Ker-PLINK!

If I was going to make it any farther than the ferry dock in Haines, I was going to need another wheel. I didn’t have the time or the funds to buy another bike, even if there were any 63cm touring bikes available, anyway. (Did I mention that I’m almost always the tallest guy in any room?) But there was a BOB Yak Trailer for rent at Sockeye Cycle Co. And I had ridden many miles with a BOB in tow before.

The BOB Yak Trailer is amongst the most versatile of bike trailers, and a worthwhile investment for cyclists who need to get the groceries or go five hundred miles.

I bike by the seat of my pants, literally. The feel of my bike comes through my seat, through my pedals, through my handlebars. Different roads, different trails, and different bikes all feel distinct and different.  If I really want to get in touch with nature, I ride my skinny, high-pressure tires down a rutted gravel road. There’s nature, pounding my palms and soles mercilessly. The same holds true for carrying loads on bikes. The location, size, and volume of cargo directly affect how a bike feels in motion. To the seat of my pants, cargo carried in trailers is more stable and less tiring than cargo carried on bike racks. And carrying cargo in a backpack is even more of an exertion than carrying cargo on a bike rack.

Larger than Life: Touring with a bike trailer spreads the load out, making it less taxing on both the body and the bike to ride long distances with cargo.

Bicycles are physics in motion. And carrying cargo on a bicycle is an act of compounded physics. In addition to balancing myself atop two wheels, I’m also balancing a static load. The higher that load is above my pedals and wheels, the more work I have to do. Lower loads are less work. Handlebar bags and baskets are great for quick access, but when they’re overloaded they make a bike harder to handle, both in motion and standing still. Watching my bike flop over on its kickstand and spill a couple of smoothies over a couple of sandwiches made me swear off handlebar baskets once and for all. Feeling my shoulders ache under the pinch of overloaded backpacks was one thing, but it was another matter to feel the wind gust and jerk bulky backpacks. It taught me that it’s not just the weight of a load that matters, but also the volume. Biking is like sailing. Air resistance is everything. Tucking down into my drops lets me pedal faster into a headwind. The location of loads makes a difference in how the wind feels. Higher loads place the center of resistance to the wind higher on the bike, and require more work, making the bike more finicky and twitchy, and leaving me craving more burritos. Whereas lower loads are easier.

 

Cargo on the Down Low: The OMM Ultimate Lowrider Rack is a great option for lowering the center of balance on a touring bike, and keeps the weight evenly distributed.

The same load carried in a trailer will be more stable than carried on a bike. When it comes to moving cargo on a bike, two wheels are good. But three, or more, wheels are better. Moving my cargo from my back and my bike to a trailer made all the difference in not only the amount of energy required to ride but also decreased the strain on my bike. The biggest difference was in the number of flat tires and broken spokes that I had to deal with. I already weigh over a hundred kilo. I’m big enough to be mistaken for a (svelte) linebacker. My spokes don’t need the added stress of extra weight. By moving my cargo to a trailer, I removed weight from my rear wheel, moved the center of mass below my bike hubs, and lowered the center of wind resistance. Furthermore, I was able to carry bigger loads, both in terms of weight and volume. The only trade off was that I was carrying more deadweight. Even empty, a bike cargo trailer weighs at least twice as much as a pair of panniers and a set of racks.

BARGAIN GEAR ISN’T ALWAYS A BARGAIN

You get what you pay for. Buying a bike rack at a big box store may be easy on the wallet, but it doesn’t make for reliable gear. If you’re only using a bike rack once a month or once per season, then it may do just fine. But if you plan on loading your panniers every day, carrying groceries home, bringing books to class or paying the rent by delivering food, then you’ll want to invest in a quality rack.

The Ortlieb Touring Rack R2 is a sturdy, affordable option that beats any bargain bike rack in the long haul.

 

PLINK!

The replacement spoke sang as I plucked it on the truing stand at Sockeye Cycle. I swapped the skewer on my rear wheel, set my wheel back in the dropouts, and mounted a rental Yak B.O.B. (Beast of Burden) trailer onto the rear of my bike. With my spare clothes, bivouac sack and food transferred from sitting high over the rear wheel to sitting down low behind my bike, I now had a more stable ride, and I was stressing my rear wheel less. Four days and six hundred kilometers later I was exhausted, but happy that I’d made the switch. I only wished that I’d done so sooner.

When I finished my own private odyssey a few days later, I unclipped the BOB trailer and lickety-split, I had a little, lightweight road bike again. Unlike a cargo bike or a touring bike that is always loaded down with racks, the BOB Yak is easy to detach and store when it’s not needed.

And, it looks darn cool.

A rainbow stretches over the Haines Highway and the author’s bike during his self-supported Golden Circle bike tour with a BOB Yak trailer.

Author Wesley Cheney leads bicycle tours in Alaska and Virginia, blogs at The Kilted Writer, and delivers freaky fast sandwiches in the off-season.

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One Wheel Vs Two Wheels : Bicycle Trailers

One of the most obvious differences in bicycle trailers is the frame and wheel design.  A quick example of each can be seen below.

For heavy hauling most trailers I have seen, especially child trailers, are two wheels.  The two wheels allow you to distribute the weight over the surface and into two rolling wheels instead of one.

Personal Experience

I’ve used the BOB Yak and several different models of Burleys so I have a good idea how the different systems handle.  A bit of a disclaimer as every trailer will handle differently, especially dependent on how you attach the load.

Bike Trailer Blog

Our friends over at BikeTrailerShop.com have a blog, BikeTrailerBlog.com, and they wrote about this exact topic a couple years back.

One wheel designs
In a one wheel designed trailer the weight of the trailers load is shared between its only wheel, and the rear wheel of the bicycle.  Due to the weight being spread between the bike and the trailer, the rear driving wheel of the bike will be pushed into the ground aiding traction tremendously. When off-road touring or bike-camping, this is a great advantage as steep terrain is amazingly easy to sit and spin up with surprising grip, even with the additional load being towed.  Also, the width is an obvious bonus in tight conditions. The compromise however, is that the handling of the bike changes in direct reflection to the weight of the load. With maximum payloads often being around 100lbs, this can be quite a dramatic difference from the bike alone. Learning to predict the weight shift in tight terrain & quick maneuvering is key as the bike will occasionally try to find its own direction. When using a single-wheel trailer for around town errands, it’s sometimes difficult to stabilize the entire bike-trailer unit when parking, unless a prop (sign post etc) or a secondary kickstand is used. These characteristics of single-wheel trailers make them the most efficient design when technical situations such as single-track and narrow pathways are sought, and less ideal for general around town use if operating space is ample. This video shows a great example of a B.O.B. Ibex single wheel trailer in its element.

Two wheeled trailers, on the other hand, rest the majority of their load between its own two wheels. This leaves the rear wheel of the bike, and therefore the handling of the bike itself, relatively unaffected by the added weight. Actually, it’s only the weight being pulled that is felt, for the most part. Tire wear should not increase substantially and using a single kickstand is no problem as the bike remains independent of the trailer.  The compromise of course, is the width of the two-wheel design. For any type of technical terrain, or extremely tight areas of operation, this can become overwhelming. Narrow sidewalks and gates can become a real obstacle.

Good Rule of Thumb

If you are planning to do extensive, off-road single track or narrow technical pathways or otherwise, you’ll want to lean towards a single wheel trailer.  If around town utility is what you’re going to be looking for, study up on the variety of two-wheeled designs available and keep the load off your bike, and your bikes handling, predictable.

What is Your Personal Experiences?

Let us know what style you prefer, and why!