6-1 My bike trailer lives again

Bicycle trailers are quite common. The kind people usually see is used to carry kids, often beneath a fabric canopy with a clear vinyl windscreen. Sometimes you see them without the cover, hauling stuff instead of infants.

These trailers have two wheels, tubular metal frames, a plywood flatbed, and a left side arm with a pivot clamped to the back of the bicycle. Some trailers have an arm that extends up the middle for clamping to the bicycle seat post. One trailer has a single wheel and an articulated forward frame that bolts to both sides of a bike's rear wheel axle. All of them are mass-produced and cost more than I could usually afford.

Back in the late 1990s, I came to need a trailer but couldn't afford what I actually didn't need. In 2008 I was the bicycle assembly contractor for two stores; Zellers at Billings Bridge and The Bay at Rideau when the latter was selling off the last of its inventory after dropping sporting goods. That summer I had to take my folding work stand and bag of tools from one store to the other, about three miles apart. A regular bike trailer wasn't exactly the right shape or size and I didn't feel like dropping a couple hundred to get one.

Instead, I adapted a golf club caddy, fixed the work stand to it with packing tape and slung the work bag between the wheels with a bungee cord. No pics of that one, sorry. The handle of the caddy was attached flexibly to a wood dowel clamped to the left chain stay of my mountain bike, serving as a trailer hitch. When the dowel cracked and broke, I replaced it with a thicker one.

Then, I got a contract to deliver weekly infotainment tabloids along Bank Street, all the way down to Billings. I added a braced wire rack on top to carry more. 

But it had solid rubber wheels with no proper wheel bearings, a pretty bumpy and noisy rig to pull. So I decided to actually build a trailer myself.

The tricky part was to make a strong frame with sturdy attachment points for the wheel axles. I settled on a pair of lightweight racing bike wheels bolted onto bike forks that extended straight forward. The normal handle bar stem that goes on top of a front fork was mounted in each. A dowel ran between them, the right thickness to be clamped at each end by the bar stems. Back near the wheel axles, I clamped each end of racing handle bars using steel plumbing straps that you can buy at a hardware store. Onto this frame I placed a chrome steel storage rack. Into that I would put six bundles of newspapers at a time. The whole thing was quite low slung and pretty lightweight. When it rained I put everything into transparent yard waste bags. I eventually added a small folding suitcase dolly to this, so I could pull bundles into office towers instead of carrying them.

One thing I learned pulling this trailer is that it added stability on slippery roads in the winter, like a drag parachute. The bike's rear wheel would stay put and wouldn't fishtail. The rig was fine for hauling bundles of papers and whatever else would fit between the wheels but not much else. Then I realized I needed to build another trailer that could carry bicycles.

The dual fork and wheel configuration was retained but the flatbed surface had to be raised above the tires. This meant smaller wheels--14 inch ones--and some extra bracing to raise the bed above them. The racing handle bars at the back was inverted and at each end I strapped on brackets that would be fixed to the inboard wheel axles where they protruded from the fork drop-outs. That's what you call the flat jaws each end of a bike wheel axle fits into. For a flatbed I made a frame from boards with plenty of open room inside for payload protrusions, like the pedal of a bike laid flat on the frame. Guide brackets were attached to the flatbed for parts of a bike frame to fit into so it would not slide around. Bungee cords were tied onto the trailer to strap down the payload.

The back of the flatbed was held up just a little higher over the cross-bracing racing handle bars using clamps from racing bike brake levers as support struts. These proved unreliable and were later replaced with simple brackets made from reflector supports.

Over on my bicycle, the original wood dowel hitch was replaced by a hollow steel tube and a brace was added using a support strut from a child carrier seat, the kind that goes on a bike over the rear wheel.

To attach the trailer to the rig, it had to be empty because the entire trailer had to be lifted up, nose down, to fit the spring-loaded hook into the hitch ring. A short bungee cord is then wrapped around this connection to keep the hook from clanging around in the ring. Details, details. Hey, that's what applied R&D is all about.

I didn't use this trailer to pick up bicycles all the time. Maybe every couple of weeks. That includes winter, too. In inclement weather, I used a huge strip of thick plastic sheeting with a few holes in the right places, sealed around the edges with those black steel office file clamps. Prep was a tricky operation on a windy night.

This trailer could carry two adult bicycles without too much trouble but its not a fast ride. Usually these trips would be out over a radius of just a couple of miles. A few times, though I went farther, with each leg taking over an hour. From Pretoria Bridge I went northeast all the way to Rockcliffe Park to pick up and then deliver a pair of bikes. Once I went southwest past the other side of the Experimental Farm to pick up one. A few times I went west past the end of Gladstone Avenue. But these trips were rare.

Other items carried included a kitchen mini clothes washing machine for a few blocks. Or was it a dryer? For that one I didn't use my bike. The trailer just became a hand cart.

I brought the trailer with me when we moved out here to Smiths Falls in 2010. It stayed hanging up in the garage until now.

A couple of weeks ago I spied something in the junk pile behind the REAL Deal store. It was a hand-built solar heater! They told me the guy who built it donated it to them but they had no need for it, so they gave it to me. Its a long wood box with a double pane glass front. Inside, metal vent tubing coils around and attaches to a pair of holes on the back. Quite heavy, altogether. I have a work room that gets pretty cold in the winter and I had the means to hook it up.

First I tried to bring it home in our tiny hatchback but the panel was a few inches too long. I thought about walking back to the store with a yard wagon but then I remembered my trailer. So I hauled out everything and put it back together.

Lots of rust everywhere. I scraped off some of it but this rig will need a serious overhaul. Well, no matter, that can wait. Removed the payload bicycle frame clamp brackets, pumped up the tires and headed off.

The solar heater was waiting for me when I arrived at the REAL Deal store to pick it up. Must be 60 pounds! I maneuvered it onto my trailer and strapped it down.

One feature of my trailer design is that I don't have to lash my bicycle to something when its time to load up, I can just lay it down. Very handy when there's no other option. Once ready, off I went!

Its just a half mile from the store to my house. The ride was pretty wobbly but nothing I wasn't used to. Everything was going fine until I reached the RCAF Hall just before the river on Abbott Street. Suddenly, there was terrific drag. What? Something was wrong. I locked my bike to a post and looked. The underside of the solar heater was rubbing against the left tire! A trailer part had broke. Oh, crap.

Well, I walked home, made a new part, brought it back with some tools and replaced the broken one, and finished the ride home. Here's the replacement installed.

The trailer is embarrassingly rusty, so I'll have to find some time to rebuild it. Not fitting in with the clean professionalism I'd rather display. 

Smiths Falls isn't very big and I doubt I'll need to use the trailer for hauling bikes very often. Mind you, other things it can haul include camping gear. Its possible to bike along the shoulder of the highway to the Murphy Point Campground exit without too much difficulty... and the Cataraqui Trail; did you know its legal to stop anywhere along the trail and set up camp?

So my trailer is back on the road. You don't need a car all the time!