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Thread: Trailer brakes

  1. #1
    aka Tom Reingold noglider's Avatar
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    Trailer brakes

    What kinds of brakes have you put on trailers? In some discussions here, there has been mention of needing more braking power when hauling extra mass, which makes sense. So has anyone done anything about that?
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    Gammal cyklist Reynolds's Avatar
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    I think it depends. Probably brakes would be useful for a heavy loaded trailer going downhill. My rides are always on flat roads, 40/50kg max load (often less) and at moderate speeds, never felt the need for trailer brakes.

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    Senior Member DiegoFrogs's Avatar
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    I would think that, with the loaded trailer on the rear holding the bike down, in reality it would just make the brake on the rear wheel of the bicycle more effective and important, since it can't lift off the roadway as easily.

    This is only from the perspective of someone who used to carry about 50 pounds of stuff on a rear rack, which made the bike less prone to "lifting" in heavy front braking and the rear brake much more important in terms of my braking strategy.

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    Bicycle Repair Man !!! Sixty Fiver's Avatar
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    We use Bikes At Work trailers at the co-op and have towed loads that have exceeded 300 pounds over varied terrain... the trailers do not have brakes but the bikes that pull them have good ones.

    My favourite tow vehicle is my P20... it has great gearing for towing, the wheels are strong enough to handle the extra stresses, and the V brakes are excellent stoppers.

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    Formerly Known as Newbie Juha's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by DiegoFrogs View Post
    I would think that, with the loaded trailer on the rear holding the bike down, in reality it would just make the brake on the rear wheel of the bicycle more effective and important, since it can't lift off the roadway as easily.

    This is only from the perspective of someone who used to carry about 50 pounds of stuff on a rear rack, which made the bike less prone to "lifting" in heavy front braking and the rear brake much more important in terms of my braking strategy.
    That would be the case with 50 pounds on rear rack. However, if you have similar downward force on trailer hitch (at the bike end of the tow arm), chances are you're not loading the trailer right. I have two trailers, and both manufacturers state that when you distribute the load on trailer, you should aim to have some downward force at the end of the tow arm (as compared to having the tow arm pull the rear wheel up), but not much.

    --J
    Last edited by Juha; 10-01-13 at 03:05 AM.
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  6. #6
    aka Tom Reingold noglider's Avatar
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    My question was inspired by the thread about a big trailer where the plan is to haul heavy loads.
    Please email me rather than sending me a private message. My address is noglider@pobox.com

    Tom Reingold
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    I have no expertise to offer but a bit of logic.

    Cable brakes are certainly out as connecting them would be a nightmare and I seriously doubt that bowden cable that long would work effectively.

    That means it's either gonna be electric (do they even exist?) or hydraulic and then you would have to come up with a fool proof way to connect them without injecting air into the hydraulic lines.

    Pneumatic I would guess would be out since you would have no way to create airpressure to replenish a tank.

    If you do succeed in adding them how do you apply them? A separate lever? That seems dicey.

    Is there any other meathod that I am missing?

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    Senior Member Null66's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Juha View Post
    That would be the case with 50 pounds on rear rack. However, if you have similar downward force on trailer hitch (at the bike end of the tow arm), chances are you're not loading the trailer right. I have two trailers, and both manufacturers state that when you distribute the load on trailer, you should aim to have some downward force at the end of the tow arm (as compared to having the tow arm pull the rear wheel up), but not much.

    --J
    Even properly loaded the trailer will exert a downward pressure on rear wheel while braking, same physics as what loads the front wheel when breaking.

  9. #9
    aka Tom Reingold noglider's Avatar
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    On the subject of downward loading, if the trailer presents a small downward force on the rear axle, it might be enough to ensure good traction, so I'd think the rear brake does become more effective than on an unloaded bike. But the added weight counteracts that, so we're back to adequate but not superb brakes, if the trailer weighs up to 100 pounds. When my load is over 100 pounds, I go down hills more slowly so I don't gather much speed.

    Rootman, you raise a good point. A trailer that has brakes would be more involved to attach and detach, so if one expected to haul bike loads frequently, I suppose one would leave the trailer and bike connected. At that point, you may as well use a cargo bike or trike.

    So, hmm, thinking at the keyboard, maybe it doesn't need much more thought, at least for me.
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    coprolite fietsbob's Avatar
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    since I have a trailer with 2 standard front hubs in it, supported from both ends .
    I could fit 2 front drum brake hubs , in wheels built for the purpose .

    there are double cable pull brake levers .. a bit of clever engineering can make
    a surge actuated scheme
    to not have to run 3 levers so the bike stopping makes the trailer brakes come on.

    surge system , hitch linkage, will rely on he weight in the trailer putting on it's own brakes ,
    as it pushes the towing vehicle, such as going down a hill , or the tow rig slowing down.


    there are single sided drum brake hubs made too, for tadpole trikes , like Greenspeed

    they used to modify their own , now S-A Sun Race does that. for builders of those kinds of rigs.

    Want hydraulics? magura's hydrostop Rim brakes would lend themselves to this use,
    because ..
    they are a closed system, no expansion tank, so ..
    one lever master, goes to 1 caliper , as they are there is a balance tube to the 2nd slave piston
    on the wheel .. then they work together to squeeze the rim .. Sooo ..

    Daisy chain, you use the Bleed connector on the
    2nd piston as a supply line to the other wheel ,
    and its balance line then has the Bleed connection at the end of the whole thing ..
    and all 4 pistons will close at the same time because they are all in the same line of fluid.

    standard V brake mounting for the slave pairs

    [I've seen (web pictures) the use of dual control on the lever end, HS 77 was a Road bar lever ,
    the daisy chain had a regular HS33 straight bar lever interrupter like ,
    in the middle of the fluid hose, and so either lever would push the brake fluid pressure..
    down the hose.
    Last edited by fietsbob; 11-25-13 at 11:38 PM.

  11. #11
    Transportation Cyclist turbo1889's Avatar
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    I have used trailers hauling weight up to and sometimes exceeding 1.5 tons (3,000 pounds), and routinely pull trailers with at least a hundred pounds of cargo in the trailer not including the trailer weight itself, so I have fairly extensive experience with trailer brakes and the need to have them once you get into the heavier trailer weight ranges. (No, I'm not Hercules, most of my cargo and towing bikes are hybrid powered with both the human pedal drive and another power source, preferably clean quite electric which helps pull such heavy loads).

    For the medium weight trailers where you need trailer brakes but your trailer cargo weight is measure in hundreds of pounds the best system I've found is to use 20" bicycle wheels as trailer wheels with mechanical cable disk brakes with good quality calipers (I like the Shimano mountain bike style ones that self center) and use a hitch arm compression system to pull the cables to engage the trailer brakes. Basically make the hitch arm on the trailer one tube inside the other old radio telescoping antenna style with a drilled bolt in slot so that its a solid pull action but under compression it slides one tube inside the other slightly and then hook up the brake cables with a pulley loop so that when you hit the brakes on the bike the trailers own momentum pushing into the tow arm pulls the trailer brake activation cables and the quicker the towing bikes stops the harder the trailer pushes into the compressing tow arm and that force is transferred to the brake cables so the harder the trailer brakes are engaged. Takes a little trial and error to figure out the right amount of leverage to build into the system to get the right amount of trailer brake engagement but it works like a charm once set up and there is no extra anything to hook up to the bike except the normal hitch itself. The only draw back is that if you you try to backup the bike by flintstonning it and rolling backwards the trailer brakes will catch and stop you unless you do it real gently.

    Now for true heavy trailers where the cargo weight is measured in fractional tons, the only way to go is use full size automobile style trailer with electric braking system and then build a mini two wheel pup rig that hooks to the bike with an automobile style ball hitch on the top of the pup that the real trailer hooks too with 12V batteries and electric brake controller unit on the pup using either a bike side hitch point compression sensor or a hand control or actually hook in a sensor to the bikes rear brake cable.

    I suppose one could also rig up your own "mini" electric brake system for medium weight trailers using an electric solenoid to pull a brake cable on the trailer with a couple of electric wires running between the trailer and the bike and push button to activate on the bike with a battery, but without some sophisticated custom electronics that would be just an on/off solution with unnecessary added complexity. I prefer just a simple mechanical trailer tongue compression activated trailer brake system which also offers proportional brake activation and is a very simple and easy solution once you figure it out.

  12. #12
    aka Tom Reingold noglider's Avatar
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    Very, very impressive, turbo.
    Please email me rather than sending me a private message. My address is noglider@pobox.com

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    Hells bells Turbo that's impressive! I've just spent the day moving the new horse trailer (about 900kg) around the barn. It was doable with two of us for a few yards, but there's no way I could have towed it on my bike.

  14. #14
    Transportation Cyclist turbo1889's Avatar
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    Gearing, dude, gearing.

    I've got a tadpole trike I built specifically for towing that uses a small 13" rim size car wheel (155/80-R13 tire size) for the rear wheel and in the lowest gear you have to turn the pedals around four times to make the rear wheel go around once and I've got a 1,000 watt electric motor geared in to the pedal crank so that the motor closely matches human pedal cadence. Me and the motor working together on that bike can pull almost any trailer an SUV can pull, just not as fast.

    Even my regular long tail cargo bike (a slightly modified Yuba Mondu) has gearing that makes it such that in the lowest gear cranking the pedals around slightly more then one and a half times makes the rear wheel go around once. You have to have those low gears to get all that mass moving and then slowly shift up one gear at a time. Often you don't even get half way up in the gear range before you top out and that is as fast as you can go. But having low enough gears to get the load moving and overcome the initial resistance is the key.
    Last edited by turbo1889; 10-03-13 at 08:37 PM.

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    How about a set of TRP/RD hydraulic disc brakes. They have the master cylinder mounted to the caliper and are actuated by a cable. So this would allow you to run a third cable from off the lever of you choice out to the trailer with a cable coupler near the hitch. Because it is a cable actuated master cylinder the cable stretch over that long of a run wouldn't be much of an issue.

  16. #16
    coprolite fietsbob's Avatar
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    fine, but the trailer frame, with the proper caliper mounts, and wheels with disc hubs, and their fittings,
    are the larger things to sort out, first..

    got a picture of that?

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    Senior Member cderalow's Avatar
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    i would think any trailer with brakes would be a custom job no matter what.

    I will say this, my burley cub with two kids + appurtenances weighs in around 115lbs. The avid mechanical discs on my hybrid stop me, the trailer and the 30-40lbs of other kid on the back without a problem.

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    Transportation Cyclist turbo1889's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by cderalow View Post
    i would think any trailer with brakes would be a custom job no matter what.

    I will say this, my burley cub with two kids + appurtenances weighs in around 115lbs. The avid mechanical discs on my hybrid stop me, the trailer and the 30-40lbs of other kid on the back without a problem.

    If its a trailer made for a bike, yes, custom is about the only way to get trailer brakes, especially good ones. The simplest method I know of is to use "scrub brakes" (rubs against wheel) hooked to a tongue compression activation via a rigid fork shaped assembly so that when the tongue compresses the front of the wheels are pushed into contact with the scrub surface. Makes for extra tire wear and is the least effective but it does work.

    As to the need for trailer brakes, try a hard braking maneuver with a loaded trailer like you described only on a downhill curve where the tongue of the trailer isn't pushing straight on into the back of your bike that is doing the braking but rather at an angle. Get a good feel for that sensation as the trailers weight tries to push the rear of your bike out to the outside of the curve and jack-knife you during braking. That's not a good feeling and with a heavy enough trailer at speed it takes only micro-seconds to push the braking bike in front into a full jack-knife and roll the bike under, a good way to trash a good bike and get yourself torn up at least a little in the process (don't ask how I know this). With a heavy enough trailer compare to the bike doing the towing you don't even need any kind of preceptable angle due to taking a curve to get a jack-knife situation started.

  19. #19
    Senior Member katcorot's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by turbo1889 View Post
    As to the need for trailer brakes, try a hard braking maneuver with a loaded trailer like you described only on a downhill curve where the tongue of the trailer isn't pushing straight on into the back of your bike that is doing the braking but rather at an angle. Get a good feel for that sensation as the trailers weight tries to push the rear of your bike out to the outside of the curve and jack-knife you during braking. That's not a good feeling and with a heavy enough trailer at speed it takes only micro-seconds to push the braking bike in front into a full jack-knife and roll the bike under, a good way to trash a good bike and get yourself torn up at least a little in the process (don't ask how I know this). With a heavy enough trailer compare to the bike doing the towing you don't even need any kind of preceptable angle due to taking a curve to get a jack-knife situation started.
    I've done this before with 180 pounds on a steep hill, light went yellow and I tried to stop to quickly. Slick lane marking arrows allowed the weight of the trailer to start forcing my bike into a jackknife. Releasing brakes and accelerating slightly to straighten out then brake again on regular pavement.
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    Meta-Whiner gregjones's Avatar
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    A jackknife can occur in a lot of vehicles in a lot of different situations. There are times that equipment is not the limiting element in safety---it's the operator. Slowing and looking FAR ahead and expecting problems go a long way to preventing problems.

    I90/94 towards Tomah, WI

    600HP with a 25,000 load, the hood is searching for a ditch.
    Last edited by gregjones; 11-26-13 at 08:00 PM. Reason: spelling

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    coprolite fietsbob's Avatar
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    Was following a Coast Guard's Truck, towing a Zodiac [boat] on a trailer , watched it fishtail
    then flip around the towing truck and trailer putting it into the ditch on the opposite side of the road,

    I was in a Shuttle Van Operated for the VAMC in PDX, a year later it happened that the driver
    of that same van, then, that I took in to Portland, for another appointment, was in that truck ..

    .. one of the 4 trailer tires went flat, setting off the oscillations of the trailer.

    Dry road , not like the arctic storm and blowing snow, as above..
    Last edited by fietsbob; 11-26-13 at 12:53 PM.

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