A review of my experience using a Burley Flatbed trailer for bicycle touring.
Having done couple of extended bicycle touring trips and in all cases defaulting to a racks-and-panniers setup, I’ve always been concerned about the durability and bike handling of this setup on rough gravel.
On a previous trip, I battled continuously with the racks shaking loose on badly corrugated roads. I also did not like the fact that I had to go sloooooow on technical jeeptrack downhills.
In 2006, I had an opportunity to do a short tour which would include 80%+ gravel roads, and possibly some rough jeep tracks (read the report here). As a result of past experience with racks and panniers, I decided to get a bicycle trailer and see how it would hold up under these conditions.
This is the promo picture (notice how clean it is!):
At the risk of spoiling the suspense…the answer is VERY WELL! So well in fact that I have used this setup twice more, and it would be my default choice if there is any reasonable amount of gravel roads involved.
This is what I liked about it:
+ Weight carried low: Even when the trailer is loaded high, it is still only as high as what normal panniers would be.
+ Available packing options: With the flatbed loading area’s base I could move things around for balance, accessibility and weight distribution
+ Minimal influence on bike handling: On flats and downhills (even technical, offroad ones), the bike behaved much like a single 26” would.
+ Durable design: Absolutely no complaints, despite the reckless abuse I threw its way.
+ Extreme ease of de-rigging: Detaching the trailer from the bike takes seconds, leaving the bike free to be used as a single. Note: This can be a security concern, but one fixed by using a cable tie or combination lock/cable.
+ Compact storage: While not strictly an in-use advantage, the trailer folds flat, wheels can be removed and it can be stowed without bother whatsoever.
These things I disliked:
– Dust/debris-prone: With the trailer placed behind the rear wheel of the bicycle, any and all dust kicked up passes over the trailer…and into anything that is not dust-proof.
– Flat bed collects water: Due to the design of the load carrying platform, any water that gets onto the platform stays there. It then works its way into baggage from the bottom. Note: I resolved this by making three small holes in the canvas.
– Length of vehicle once rigged: This is not a problem while riding, but when getting into cramped spaces (like a busy parking lot, or narrow streets).
– Extra spares required: With wheels sized different than the main bike wheels (16″ vs. 26″), extra spares need to be carried
Conclusion – Would I use this set-up again?
Yes…sometimes. The use of a trailer for touring is well suited to those tours taking in mostly rough gravel roads. What I liked most about this setup is the way my mountain bike kept feeling like, well, a mountain bike. For longer ‘round-the-world kind of endeavours, I would favour racks and panniers for their security and simplicity.
Most memorable moment with this kit:
I was bombing down an extremely technical mountain pass, with speed bumps, switch-back turns and washouts across the road surface. Every time I’d let the brakes go, the speed would shoot up to the high 40’s (km/h) and I would reign it back in just before each turn. Totally reckless. During one such stretch, I hit a water run-off gulley at maybe 45 km/h. The bike shot up, going airborne. I was expecting to be yanked back to earth due to the weight of the trailer, but no, it followed! The landing that followed was less than elegant, but rubber side down and no harm done. I did take it much slower afterwards…
If you’ve used a trailer and had similar or different experience, let me know about it in the comments below.
Similarly, if you have questions about the suitability of this option for your planned tour, leave a comment and I’ll try help.