14 Tips for Towing a Toddler Trailer – Everything Cycling Parent Should Know

Elvis Elvis

As a Cycling Parent you have or will need a toddler trailer at some point. Bicycle trailers come in various sizes but for the most part have similar configuration; two wheels, screened cover with plastic weather guard, tow arm and clamp with safety strap.

You should be fastidious about assembling and hooking up your trailer. Follow the manufacturer’s directions verbatim. I know most Dads will look at the rig and say “all you need to do is pin this thing and that do-hicky and tighten that knob there and…Bingo!

We’re on the road”. Trust me, READ THE DIRECTIONS! No matter how simple it looks, your child trusts that they are safe as you rocket down a hill – think about it;) Trailers are very simple to use but we mustn’t be complacent when there’s just a few mil of nylon fabric and tubing between your offspring and the pavement. I once had to make some quick serpentine moves to avoid an obstacle and the clamp popped off! The safety strap caught the trailer and I was able to stop and reattach the clamp. No damage, toddler safe. I hate to think what would have happened had I not connected the safety strap properly.

When hooking up, be sure you are on level ground. Use your kick stand (if you don’t have a kick stand, get one installed. It will save you a ton of grief). Pull the trailer forward to position. Hook up the parking break (this is usually a strap with a clip that is threaded through the spokes). Attach the clamp to the chainstay (the tube that runs from the crank to the wheel) and tighten vigorously. Hook up the safety strap according to the manufacturer’s direction.

14 Tips for Towing a Toddler Trailer   Everything Cycling Parent Should Know

Toe clip pedals are not a good idea when pulling a bike trailer. You may need to drop you feet quickly to gain balance – especially your first time up a hill. I know, they make quick release clips but I’d rather not take the chance with my kids. Swapping out clips for standard pedals shouldn’t be a big deal. You can always swap them back when you get your own time to ride.

Next, do your pre-trip inspection. Double check all connections and safety devices (including the orange safety flag). Check your tire pressure, brakes, chain and gears. Go through your needed supplies for your passengers including safety belts, helmets, sunscreen, water, juice, snacks etc.

First-timers should take a couple rides without a passenger. Ride around the block a few times. Make some tight turns back and forth to feel the drag and turning radius. Practice starting and stopping. If you have large feet, you may have to reposition the clamp a few times to keep you heel from hitting. The chainstay tube tappers at the end so don’t go back so far back that the clamp can not tighten. Reposition your left foot forward if need be (another reason to avoid toe clips). Never stop on an incline. Although the trailer rolls easily, the weight will drag your bike down the hill…along with your precious cargo!

Either place your child in the seat or help them into the bike trailer. Never let a toddler jump in or out of a bike trailer. Kids naturally want to use the tow arm as a step. Your bike could easily tip over and possibly injure your little one. When you dismount your bike to attend to your passengers, try to keep one hand on your bike to prevent a tip over. Just like in your automobile, fasten safety belts!

Remember, you’re like the tractor-trailer of the bike world so ride accordingly. Start and stop in a low gear. Use your left gear shift first. This is for your front sprockets. It can get you quickly from “granny gear” to cruising gear smoothly. If you rely on your right hand or rear sprocket you’ll be jamming through gears like Jerry Reid in Smoky and the Bandit. This increases the possibility of slipping a gear and can be distracting. To use guy terminology, think of it like your remote control (sorry ladies, but sometimes a man-ism is the best way to get a point across). Instead of going through the entire guide channel by channel to see when Deadliest Catch is on, you use the page up/down feature to skip three to four pages at a time. Same sort of thing with your gears when pulling a trailer. Instead of clicking through every gear sequentially you skip chunks to get where you need to be quickly.

Stay to the right when riding. Just like truckers, you should stay in the right lane unless passing. When riding in a group, you set the pace. If you’re riding on a trail and you’re approaching oncoming traffic, stay in your lane and have the other riders in your group get in line either in front or behind you.

Hills pose a real challenge when towing a fully laden trailer your first time out. If you’re normally a Speed Racer on your bike, get ready for a real work out. You’ve now become that person cranking away in low gear creeping up a hill. Best advice is to get momentum up before you get to the hill and then drop to a lower gear as you start the incline. Conventional wisdom says you shouldn’t change gears up hill because you may slip a gear or jump the chain but I say use your instincts. You know your bike. Just remember the weight of the trailer is adding quite a bit of tension on your gears. Use common sense and you’ll find your rhythm when climbing hills.

Down hill poses the opposite scenario. Since you have more mass than usual, the bike and trailer will accelerate exponentially. As you begin down the hill, it’s a good idea to find the gear now that you’ll use at the bottom of the hill. While coasting downhill, apply both brakes evenly without locking up. Slow to a reasonable speed. Always ride in control. Right before you begin to slow, start pedaling – don’t over pedal to catch up. Start cranking at an easy pace and the bike will eventually sync with your speed.

Here’s a quick summary:

  1. - Follow the directions from the manufacturer precisely
  2. - Test ride your trailer without passengers
  3. - Hook up and stop on level ground only
  4. - Avoid riding with toe clip pedals
  5. - Always use the safety strap
  6. - Conduct a pre trip inspection
  7. - Never let a child get in or out of the trailer unattended
  8. - Two words: safety belts!
  9. - Use your left hand gear for starting and stopping
  10. - Stay to right unless passing
  11. - You set the pace! Let others in your group match your speed.
  12. - Build momentum as you approach an incline
  13. - Downshift before you slow going up a hill
  14. - Use both brakes evenly as you coast downhill

Good luck out there. Ride safe. Ride in control. And most of all have fun!