I recently served as a SAG driver in support of our local bicycling organization’s Surry Century. I started supporting (rather than riding) the club’s two annual events a few years ago. Later, I took possession of the club’s 14 water coolers. I had a 4×6′ utility trailer, so moving them was a cinch. My event routine had become to deliver the coolers to prescribed locations, uncouple the trailer, mount my bicycle carrier (hitch-mounted) and then drive my SAG routes, restocking water along the way. I’d reverse the process at the end of the event, usually resulting in a really long day. Last year, I towed the trailer while I was SAG’ing. It was less time-consuming, although slightly cumbersome. I recently purchased an even smaller trailer. Transporting the coolers while making my rounds is now very convenient. The car/trailer combination is only a foot longer than an F-250 with crew cab; but it’s lighter, more nimble, and more fuel-efficient. I averaged 34 mpg over the course of 353 miles, including idling with the AC running.
“Why talk about a trailer here? Isn’t this a bicycle site?” Honestly, I was really surprised by the number of comments and questions I received about the trailer throughout the day. “Did you build this?” “Did it come with this rack?” “Why don’t you just get a truck?” Those are all common questions for a person who tows with a sedan. Allow me to explain the backstory about my trailer:
One of my other passions is Volkswagens, specifically VW’s turbodiesel, known as the TDI (yes, I’m aware of the unfortunate TDI emissions debacle). Volkswagen (the company) certainly has its faults, but the TDI community is fantastic! I have a dedicated website, StealthTDI.com, where I share VW-related adventures, tuning choices, and photos with other TDI enthusiasts. If you’ve noticed that I like to maximize the versatility of my bicycles, then it should not surprise you to know that I do the same with my Volkswagens. I drive nearly 30,000 miles per year, usually alone with some things in the trunk. A car that gets over 40 mpg is a great asset to me. I don’t need a truck, but sometimes I need to move things that are too large or dirty for my sedan. A small utility trailer is a great alternative for someone who doesn’t want the full-time mileage and maintenance penalties of owning a truck that’s actually used as a truck only a fraction of the time.
Until now, my trailer was a “car thing” that I shared on my TDI website. It hadn’t occurred to me that I should share it here, too. I’ll take the time to tell you about it now that I know cyclists may be interested as well. Since I wanted a small trailer, I opted for Carry-On’s 3.5x5LSHS, a 3.5×5-foot trailer with 16-inch tall mesh sides. It appears to be exclusive to Lowe’s Home Improvement. It has a 2000-lb axle and a maximum carrying capacity of 1700 lbs, meaning the trailer itself weighs ~300 lbs in stock form. My wife immediately called it a “baby trailer.” It’s great for taking stuff to the dump or transporting dirty items that I don’t want inside my car. It’s like having a part-time pickup truck that gets 40 mpg. I couldn’t be more pleased with the purchase.
Its immediate drawback was I could not see the trailer while driving. That presented a challenge when backing, but also made it easy to forget it was back there in traffic. The remedy was easy. I already had some guide posts that I used on my old trailer. Mounting them was my first change. Next, I installed a wooden floor because I remember how quickly the mesh floor warped under load with my old trailer. I also moved the spare tire carrier, tongue jack and Yakima “Top Loaders” (rain gutter adapters) from the old trailer before selling it. The new trailer was nearly complete.
I had been nervous about carrying my bikes on a trailer because it would bounce over small bumps if it wasn’t weighed down. A pair of 1000-lb leaf springs and skinny 90-psi tires provide very little road compliance for a trailer that weighs less than 500 lbs most of the time. My solution for a softer ride was to replace the leaf springs with 500-lb replacements and to swap-in larger 35-psi tires. This photo shows the difference between a 1000-lb spring and one rated for 500 lbs. A photo below shows the larger tires as well as the larger fenders I had to add for extra clearance. The trailer’s weight capacity is reduced to 1000 lbs. That’s okay because I prefer to tow less than that, anyway. The ride quality is vastly improved.
Of course, the bike rack itself is what got people talking and asking questions. I’ve used Yakima racks, mounts, and matching locks/keys for over 20 years. I use 1A RainGutter towers (they attach to the TopLoaders), 54-inch cut crossbars, and old Steelhead bike mounts. I bought a BT-76 tandem mount from Atoc several years ago. I opted to buy another BT-76 (I found a cheap one on eBay) so I could offset the outboard bikes and squeeze up to five bikes on the relatively short crossbars, with four of them facing forward. The BT-76 pair unintentionally act as side rails for larger loads such as the coolers in the top photo.
That’s it, the details of my “baby trailer.” It carries bikes and cargo without the wind noise, mounting hassles, overhead lifting, head knocking, or marred paint of a roof top rack while providing much of the versatility and positives of owning a small pickup truck. My setup can carry five bikes AND still have room for 30 cubic feet of cargo. The vertical clearance of the tallest bicycle is less than seven feet. It seems perfect for a weekend getaway for a foursome of cyclists. If I can’t find three people who can stand to be in the car with me for a weekend, then the baby trailer is still ideal as a SAG wagon and as a mini-workhorse (a pony? ) for a stubborn guy who won’t buy a truck.
Packed and Ready,
PS: Humorous photo-op…