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Are Panniers for Dated Old-Schoolers? A TRAILER Seems MUCH BETTER...

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Are Panniers for Dated Old-Schoolers? A TRAILER Seems MUCH BETTER...

Old 11-09-03, 09:16 PM
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Are Panniers for Dated Old-Schoolers? A TRAILER Seems MUCH BETTER...

Since there aren't any recent threads comparing panniers and trailers, I thought I'd start one up. Here's my take.

While there are a few minor advantages to panniers, overall I think a trailer is better and panniers are dated, and here's why:

- A trailer is much easier on the bike. With a trailer, the weight is towed, rather than loaded on the bike itself. When the weight is on the bike itself, this puts additional strain on the wheels, tires, and frame, thus increasing the likelihood of flats, broken spokes, and other mechanical failures.

- A trailer will have a relatively minimal effect on handling compared to panniers (this is especially true with a single-wheeled trailer). A bike loaded with panniers rides like a tank, and can also be very difficult to handle going down hills.

- A trailer can turn any bike with low gears into a touring worthy machine. A cyclocross, mountain, or sport touring bike can all be used for extended tours while towing a trailer. If you tour (long distance) with panniers, you have to use true touring bike, which can be slow and limited for other types of riding.

- Trailers are easier to load. With panniers, the weight has to be very carefully distributed across the bike. With a trailer, it's very simple; put the heavy stuff on the botton, light stuff on top.

That said, there are a few advantages with panniers, mostly related to convenience. With four panniers, you can seperate each for a specific function (one for tools, one for clothes, etc.). It's also easier to take panniers on a train, airplain, or bus. But mechanically, it seems to me there are many more advantages with trailers. I've read several posts, and it seems to me that most people who ardently favor panniers do so out of tradition/bias rather than practicality. Maybe I'm way off, and I'd love to get feedback from proponents and opponents alike
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Old 11-10-03, 02:45 AM
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Originally Posted by AlanK
- A trailer will have a relatively minimal effect on handling compared to panniers (this is especially true with a single-wheeled trailer). A bike loaded with panniers rides like a tank, and can also be very difficult to handle going down hills.
Not true. A friend of mine is currently in hospital after a nasty crash with a trailer on a descent. They suffered a broken collar-bone, broken wrist and broken hip.

Personally I've never found descending with panniers overly difficult or scary. All you have to do is pack them sensibly (i.e. a reasonably even weight distribution).
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Old 11-10-03, 07:22 AM
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I haven't used a trailer, but I have done a nine day ride with just rear panniers. I did however talk with bikers along the way that did have trailers and they just seemed to be a pain.

I had trained for the trip with my panniers and handling was fine.
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Old 11-10-03, 07:36 AM
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The only time I've ever had trouble going down hill on a fully loaded bike with 4 panniers was because the load was improperly balanced.

Haven't done a trailer tour, but it seems to me that going up hills would be more difficult because you are dragging a dead weight behind you, whereas with panniers the weight is part of the bike. Also, I should think that descents, with a trailer, might create their own kind of control problems.
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Old 11-10-03, 09:10 AM
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Originally Posted by L J Horton
Haven't done a trailer tour, but it seems to me that going up hills would be more difficult because you are dragging a dead weight behind you, whereas with panniers the weight is part of the bike.
Weight is weight. If there's a difference, it's from adding rolling resistance (the trailer tires) and friction (the trailer's wheel bearings). Plus any difference between the weight of the trailer and the panniers themselves.

Also, I should think that descents, with a trailer, might create their own kind of control problems.
My one experience with a trailer scared me half to death under that very circumstance. But it wasn't my bike, and I was inexperienced with trailers.

Personally, I like panniers primarily because it lets me get some of the load in front of the BB, for better weight distribution. But of course you could stull use front panniers with a trailer. If I was planning a really long tour, I'd definitely consider a trailer.

I believe my greatest fear with a trailer is having it get run over by a close-following inattentive driver in heavy traffic.

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Old 11-10-03, 09:38 AM
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[QUOTE=Rich Clark]Weight is weight. If there's a difference, it's from adding rolling resistance (the trailer tires) and friction (the trailer's wheel bearings). Plus any difference between the weight of the trailer and the panniers themselves.


I'm not an engineer, but I think I disagree with you when you claim that weight is weight. It seems to me that weight ON the back would create a positive force in motion, while dragging weight behind you would create a negative force besides the rolling resistance etc. that you mentioned. It may only be a very slight advantage though.
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Old 11-10-03, 10:17 AM
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I've never used a trailer, but I've travelled with guys who've used them. The great advantage of a trailer is that it allows any bike to be used for long haul touring.

Trailers and panniers both affect handling. They make a bicycle handle like a truck. A set of panniers make a bike handle like a step van. A trailer makes a bike handle like a semi.

Distributing a load in a set of panniers is not really that difficult. I like the fact that having five bags give me a place for everything. I don't have to rummage around through one big bag to find my sandals or my jacket.

Pulling a trailer would require carrying another size spare tire and tube. Not a big deal, really, but something to think about.

My usual advice to people considering whether to get a trailer or a set of panniers is this: if you plan to use a bike without braze-ons for touring, get a trailer. If your bike has braze-ons, get a set of bags. If you are buying a new bike specifically for touring, get a dedicated touring bike.
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Old 11-10-03, 10:25 AM
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Originally Posted by ljbike
I'm not an engineer, but I think I disagree with you when you claim that weight is weight. It seems to me that weight ON the back would create a positive force in motion, while dragging weight behind you would create a negative force besides the rolling resistance etc. that you mentioned. It may only be a very slight advantage though.
I don't really understand what you're trying to say, but it takes a calculatable amount of energy to move a given mass a given distance. Beyond that, it's the variables that add or absorb energy (mostly friction in various forms) that create the differences we care about.

With panniers vs trailers, the energy comes from the rider. The weight is the weight. Friction comes from all sorts of sources -- tires, bearings, wind resistance to forward motion, oscillation caused by crosswinds, etc.-- and these are going to be the biggest differences. There may be some small difference in the rider's energy output that translates into forward motion vs energy used to keep the bike upright.

I must be misunderstanding your point, because it sounds like you're saying that the farther forward the weight is, the less energy it takes to move it.

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Old 11-10-03, 10:51 AM
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I must be misunderstanding your point, because it sounds like you're saying that the farther forward the weight is, the less energy it takes to move it.

RichC[/QUOTE]

I think that weight on the bike adds to the forward energy of the bike. Centrifical force? Whether that translates into less energy expended by the rider, I don't know.

As stated earlier, I'm not an engineer, but it seems to me that weight on the bike is more beneficial to forward momentum than weight trailing behind. And all those other factors you mentioned are true with or wihout the extra weight.
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Old 11-10-03, 12:45 PM
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I can take my loaded touring bike along rough mountain trails, carry it over boggy ground, over any obstructions. Take the whole bike over pedestrian step bridges, esp at railway stations, and get to my destination using a train. All of that would be much more difficult with a trailer.
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Old 11-10-03, 12:50 PM
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Originally Posted by ljbike
I think that weight on the bike adds to the forward energy of the bike. Centrifical force? Whether that translates into less energy expended by the rider, I don't know.
Inertia. And the intertia is the same no matter where the weight is. It's a function of mass and velocity.

As stated earlier, I'm not an engineer, but it seems to me that weight on the bike is more beneficial to forward momentum than weight trailing behind. And all those other factors you mentioned are true with or wihout the extra weight.
It may seem that way to you, but it turns out not to be the case.

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Old 11-10-03, 01:11 PM
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Trailers are easier to load. With panniers, the weight has to be very carefully distributed across the bike. With a trailer, it's very simple; put the heavy stuff on the botton, light stuff on top.
I would disagree with this. I have toured with panniers and they were very easy to load. Also, it was VERY easy to locate something fast, even in a downpour. The people I was with with BOB's couldn't even open their bags because any rain would dampen the inside and cause things to mildew. I was always the one who knew where my sunscreen was in the blink of an eye.
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Old 11-10-03, 01:24 PM
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I've never used panniers but I loaded my BOB and took it out over the weekend for the very first time on my converted mtb tourer. My first initial reaction was, ok, it felt almost like riding my tandem, which I haven't done so in a looong time. My first downhill scared the hell outa me thou.....the front end was a bit squirrely.... I definitely need to weigh it. But other than that, after a few miles, I adapted easily to this new riding style. The only reason I chose a trailer over panniers is so it can be used on any of my other bikes.

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Old 11-10-03, 03:56 PM
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Call me an old fart, but I have only toured with panniers. However, my last 3 tours were also done while towing a trailercycle (a.k.a. a 1-wheel trailer with auxiliary power source), and I frequently tow a 2-wheel trailer for day tours (weight = 1 child -- and usually the trailer was behind the trailercycle) or for groceries (weight = 40-70 kg). In other words, I have some experience with all those setups.

Originally Posted by AlanK
... Here's my take. While there are a few minor advantages to panniers, overall I think a trailer is better and panniers are dated, and here's why:

- A trailer is much easier on the bike. With a trailer, the weight is towed, rather than loaded on the bike itself. When the weight is on the bike itself, this puts additional strain on the wheels, tires, and frame, thus increasing the likelihood of flats, broken spokes, and other mechanical failures.

- A trailer will have a relatively minimal effect on handling compared to panniers (this is especially true with a single-wheeled trailer). A bike loaded with panniers rides like a tank, and can also be very difficult to handle going down hills.).[/
Those arguments are only true with a 2-wheel trailer. Two-wheel trailers carry most of the weight on their axis and there is limited weight on the tongue. BOB trailers (and there is another similar single-wheel trailer with similar characteristics) put 1/2 or 2/3 of the weight on the rear wheel of the bike. That added weight, plus the torque (trailer needs to be balanced by the bike) adds a lot of stress to spokes, especially on bikes with a flimsy rear triangle. If you google for long tours such as Trans-U.S. or Trans-Canada, you'll notice that there are as many or more broken spokes with people towing a trailer as there are with people travelling lightly.

Many people also complain about the lack of stability of a BOB in long descents.

Generally speaking, a single-wheel trailer works great with a touring bike or a mountain bike (including many suspended ones), but doesn't work as well with a road bike.

Two-wheel trailers are better in that regard, but on tight spaces or bad pavement, it's more difficult to find 3 nice paths than a single one.

Likewise, panniers work great on a touring bike. My Trek 520 handles as well loaded as it does unloaded. I just need lower gears when fully loaded.



Originally Posted by AlanK
- If you tour (long distance) with panniers, you have to use true touring bike, which can be slow and limited for other types of riding.).

Probably. However, if you look at bike design closely, the touring bike is one of the most versatile one. Also good bikes are hybrids/city bikes (or unsuspended mountain bikes, providing good parts and gemetry are used. I'm not downgrading the full-suspension MTB or the racing bike, but rather saying they are less universal.


Originally Posted by AlanK
- Trailers are easier to load. ...
Yes. Great for grocery shopping, but it might be tempting to carry the kitchen sink on tour.

Other arguments:

- with a trailer, you have 1 or 2 extra wheels to maintain, wear and tear in those bearings, extra friction...

- a trailer may or may not induce more wind resistance. Child trailers are the worst, the BOB is the best in that regard.
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Old 11-10-03, 04:51 PM
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Originally Posted by mgagnonlv
Call me an old fart.
Ok, I will...

Thanks Old Fart! That posting really helped me to see some of the "Pros" and "Cons" of both methods. I hope to start touring next summer on small weekend trips etc.. Your post was really a lot of help! Thanks Bob
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Old 11-10-03, 09:24 PM
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[QUOTE=mgagnonlv]Call me an old fart, but I have only toured with panniers.


"Those arguments are only true with a 2-wheel trailer. Two-wheel trailers carry most of the weight on their axis and there is limited weight on the tongue. BOB trailers (and there is another similar single-wheel trailer with similar characteristics) put 1/2 or 2/3 of the weight on the rear wheel of the bike. That added weight, plus the torque (trailer needs to be balanced by the bike) adds a lot of stress to spokes, especially on bikes with a flimsy rear triangle. If you google for long tours such as Trans-U.S. or Trans-Canada, you'll notice that there are as many or more broken spokes with people towing a trailer as there are with people travelling lightly."

That a great point that I didn't know. In that maybe it's a better idea to have the weight more evenly distributed on four panniers. Really great discussion, so much to consider...
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Old 11-11-03, 04:29 AM
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Another advantage to panniers is the flexibility to go light with just the two rear or heavy with all four while with the trailer you will have extra space and weight if you want to go with a relatively light load.And we all know extra space tends to get filled with extra weight.I am actually thinking of getting a trailer to haul around a folding kayak I plan to build someday but until then I will probably stick with the flexibility of panniers.
I also like the idea of having as compact a profile as possible on the road to present less of a target to autos.
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Old 11-11-03, 08:44 PM
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Many of those who tour with a trailer also use either 2 small panniers or at the very least a rack trunk. They use panniers to place quickly needed stuff and avoid opening the big bag in the rain. They also use their small panniers (or rack trunk) on day rides in the city.
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Old 11-12-03, 03:11 PM
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Trailer vs. Panniers

I'm one of those that have actually toured with both. I honestly can't decide which I like best. But, I can provide some comments and observations about the two options compared.

The trailer only makes sense if you're going self-contained, i.e. loaded touring with tent and all the other stuff for camping out. If you will be staying in hotels and eating in restruants, it would be overkill to use anything more than a couple of small rear panniers.

Front and rear panniers have a slight weight advantage over trailers--but it is only slight, once you add the weight of racks and panniers (you also have to figure in at least a spare tube weight for the trailer). However, weight only affects you when climbing or accelerating. All the rest of the time (which for the average tour is most of the time) aerodynamics are far more of a factor.

Trailers (assuming a touring trailer and not a child type) are much more aerodyanmic than panniers--I cruise roughly 1.5-2 mph faster with trailer.

Trailers are easier to pack--just like loading the trunk of a car. However, panniers are not hard to pack; it just takes more time and organization. Trailers also hold more than your average two set of front & rear panniers, but that's not necessarily a good thing as others have pointed out.

Panniers offer much easier organization of your stuff, although it always seems to take me a few days to get down what item is in which bag.

Two wheeled trailers handle very well; and other than the weight, it's hard to even tell it's back there. Even when occasionally running one wheel off the road, I usually could not feel it. I got to where I never bothered to consider where the trailer wheels would track, unless I was going through a narrow fence opening or something like that.

One wheel trailers handle okay, but put at least half the weight on the rear axle, and transmit side to side torsion to the rear triangle. I would not use a single wheel, BOB-type trailer on a lightweight racing bike.

One wheel trailers allow you to pack your rig by jackknifing the trailer/bike combo.

Two wheel trailers and bike require more space to park. I never thought about this until the first time I toured with one. When you pull up to the store for a snack, you need a good 12 ft of wall space to park your rig.

Trailers, particularly two wheeled ones, take up more space on the road. Some have assumed this is a disadvantage but I can tell you it the opposite. I have always gotten more space from passing cars with the two wheeled trailer.

Panniers are the way to go if you must fly with your bike to your starting point or on the return.

A heavier-built touring bike is required for self-contained touring with panniers, but not necessarily so with a trailer (particularly a two wheeled trailer). Then the biggest concern is having suitably low gearing.

Trailer tires are very lightly loaded and stressed--less so than you front wheel. Concerns about trailer wheels/tires are overrated. Just have at least a spare tube and something to boot with. You could ride a considerable distance with a flat tire on a trailer, and those tube/tire sizes are typically available at any Walmart.

In fact, for heavy loads, you are probably more likely to have rack breakage problems than wheel problems with a trailer. And of course rear wheel problems are always a concern with panniers.

If you occasionally take a hotel break, it easier to get a panniered bike into the room. Of course, you can unhitch the trailer to get the bike/trailer in.

By the way, two wheel trailers are significantly easier to hitch/unhitch than single wheeled trailers (most recommend hitching single wheels unloaded).

When using a trailer in the rain, you'll want to add a mudflap to your rear fender to keep the trailer for getting nasty.

Like I said, I don't know which I really prefer. These are just some of my notions after having toured with both.

Dave
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Old 11-12-03, 08:05 PM
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I haven't toured with trailers, but I have toured more than 17000kms with four panniers so I can add my experience about that:

Originally Posted by AlanK
A trailer is much easier on the bike. With a trailer, the weight is towed, rather than loaded on the bike itself. When the weight is on the bike itself, this puts additional strain on the wheels, tires, and frame, thus increasing the likelihood of flats, broken spokes, and other mechanical failures.
To be honest, I have had a few mechanicals: Six broken spokes and one broken rim (it was a bit scary, but it held up for another 100kms to the next town). Other than that, just the occasional flat tire (one every 2000-3000kms).

A trailer will have a relatively minimal effect on handling compared to panniers (this is especially true with a single-wheeled trailer). A bike loaded with panniers rides like a tank, and can also be very difficult to handle going down hills.
It feels different to ride a fully loaded bike after riding a non-loaded bike. However, the "tank" feeling is one that I appreciate very much. I have done some touring in mountains (the Alps, Pyrenees, Spain) and I have always felt that I have complete control negotiating switchbacks and steep, twisting descents.

A trailer can turn any bike with low gears into a touring worthy machine. A cyclocross, mountain, or sport touring bike can all be used for extended tours while towing a trailer. If you tour (long distance) with panniers, you have to use true touring bike, which can be slow and limited for other types of riding.
It depends. I only have one bike, which was made to be a touring bike, and I have used it in one-day long distance events. I have done a 300k averaging almost 27kph (rolling speed) while my average touring speed is 17-19kph depending on terrain. With its 622-37 tires I can also use it on anything from snow to gravel roads (I don't ride on paths).

Trailers are easier to load. With panniers, the weight has to be very carefully distributed across the bike. With a trailer, it's very simple; put the heavy stuff on the botton, light stuff on top.
It depends. Sometimes I pack food in the front/left pannier. This means that the weight of that pannier varies between two and maybe up to six kg while the front/right pannier has constant weight. I have found that I usually adjust to the "new" weight in less than one kilometre. Also, panniers helps with organization in the tent.

Another thing I like with panniers is that I know at all times where my bike ends. I can make evasive maneuvers, negotiate narrow gates and avoid bad tarmac without worrying about the trailer getting caught in something.

However, use whatever makes you ride more .

/Csson
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Old 11-12-03, 10:01 PM
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Maybe I was a little harsh

Good discussion. Maybe my initial header was a little harsh; there significant advantages and disadvantages to both. I think I'm still inclined to go with a trailer for the reason that I can attach a trailer to a light touring bike and use it for extended touring.

I just think a general purpose or light touring bike will be better for my overall usage than a tourer. A friend of mine has a 520 he's let me test ride. It is a nice bike, very comfortable and feels rock solid, but it is also pretty slow and cumbersome for commuting and general usage. I've ridden mountain bikes that are faster than the 520. I'm not positive yet that I'll be able to make time in the near future for loaded touring anyway, so I'd hate to be stuck with a sluggish touring bike unless I know I'll be doing loaded touring.
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Old 11-12-03, 11:04 PM
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Good information. Thanks, Hayneda, in particular for your detailed comments.

I've toured only with panniers, and I'm happy enough with them not to want a trailer. Yes, you have to pack them for balance, but it's not exactly difficult or time consuming to do this. They don't have to be perfect, especially not in the rear. With most camping items even a random placement in four bags would give you workable balance. So balance in packing is not really a problem.

I'm impressed by the cruising speed increase Hayneda reports-- though I have to say I'm skeptical that the aerodynamics alone make *that* much difference. But I don't doubt that the trailers make for a better wind profile and better road speed. That's a significant advantage on a tour, to be sure.

I like the greater organization you get with panniers, the ability to get things from the front panniers while you pedal, and their flexibility.

I guess the most important advantage of panniers comes from uses of touring bike other than touring. If you use that bike for errands, commuting, or whatever, it's obviously much less of a pain to take a bike in and out of buildings with panniers than with a trailer. It's also nice to be able to alter your carrying capacity, by using only some panniers rather than all four. In comparison, having to use a whole trailer all the time would be a major hassle. Carrying that thing, parking it, ugh. So, panniers allow for touring *or* practical uses; trailers don't.
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Old 11-13-03, 09:12 AM
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Originally Posted by Merriwether
I'm impressed by the cruising speed increase Hayneda reports-- though I have to say I'm skeptical that the aerodynamics alone make *that* much difference. But I don't doubt that the trailers make for a better wind profile and better road speed. That's a significant advantage on a tour, to be sure.

So, panniers allow for touring *or* practical uses; trailers don't.
I'm a hard and fast rider and would probably be considered a hammerhead by most touring riders. I like to cruise in the 18-20 mph range, and at those kinds of speeds the trailer's better aerodynamics pays off. Most touring riders, however, would not see as much benefit riding at say 15 mph. So, I wouldn't run out and buy a trailer in hopes of suddenly becoming faster.

Also, I forgot to mention it in my original post, but I greatly prefer two wheel trailers (I like the Burley Nomad) to the single wheel BOB types. The handling is much better, they are easier to load and hitch, can be wheeled around your campsite easily while unhitched, take practically all load of the bike's rear wheel, etc. The only advantage the BOB types have is for use on single track and the ability to jack knife the rig for parking.

Oh yes, the best "practical use" for a trailer other than touring is hauling along an ice chest full of beer!

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Old 11-14-03, 08:14 AM
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My experience has been with carrying small children, both on a back-of-the-bike child seat (that's the technical term?) and in a trailer. I noticed significantly easier and faster pedaliing for the child seat than the trailer (for same size children), a difference I attributed to greater rolling resistance (as some posts mentioned), as well as the loss of energy from transfering power to keep the trailer moving (especially noticeable from a dead stop and from hills). I greatly prefer the child seat.
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Old 11-14-03, 09:09 AM
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Originally Posted by Joe S
My experience has been with carrying small children, both on a back-of-the-bike child seat (that's the technical term?) and in a trailer. I noticed significantly easier and faster pedaliing for the child seat than the trailer (for same size children), a difference I attributed to greater rolling resistance (as some posts mentioned), as well as the loss of energy from transfering power to keep the trailer moving (especially noticeable from a dead stop and from hills). I greatly prefer the child seat.

Child trailers are an altogether different matter. We have one of those as well. They are about twice as heavy as a touring trailer, and MUCH greater size and aero drag (due to the large profile). It is definately harder to tow than using a child seat, but we prefer it anyway since it provides so much better protection for our child should we take a fall. Plus, it easily accomdates toys, sippy cup, pillows or what have you. And, it's really the only way to go when my wife and I want to ride our tandem.

For the most part, motorists seem more respectful as well--I guess assuming that a child is inside the trailer.

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