What type of bike should I get for pulling a trailer?
August 25, 2008 6:31 AM   Subscribe

I'm planning to buy a bicycle for myself and a trailer for two children to ride in. For the bike, I'd like to get something like a simple three-speed cruiser, but I've been told that I'll need more gears to pull the trailer. What do I need to look for in a bike to make it a good trailer-puller?

The kids are currently 20 lbs and 30 lbs.

I'd like a bike I can sit upright on.

I'm planning to buy both the bike and the trailer used.

I'm not especially athletic but not in terrible shape. I walk about half an hour a day. Most of the cycling will be short distances without steep slopes.
posted by winston to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (11 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: also, I have not owned a bike for a few years, so I may be a little out of practice.
posted by winston at 6:33 AM on August 25, 2008

Anything with sufficiently low gears will work - a relatively cheap mountain bike with changed tyres and hardtail (i.e. no) suspension would be ideal, especially since you want to cycle relatively upright. You won't be challenged by hills, but by inertia, taking off with your kids from a standing start.

I have three trailers, no kids: I predominantly use this trailer while cycling this road bike or this mountain bike. You'd probably want a trailer like this, and a bike more like this or this.

I hope I've helped - and congratulations, BTW - biking is an excellent thing all around.
posted by Bora Horza Gobuchul at 7:07 AM on August 25, 2008

50lbs plus another 30lbs+ for the trailer itself is not inconsiderable.

I road a bike every day before we had our first child, and if I didn't already have a bike with a gear as low as a 30 / 25 (front and rear teeth respectively - in this case a road bike with a triple chainring at the front) I would have gone out and bought one by now.

Unless you're talking very short trips on very flat land then I think you're on a hiding to nothing. Why not get a mountain bike with a full range of gears?
posted by puffmoike at 7:07 AM on August 25, 2008

Even a gentle slope can be somewhat difficult while pulling a trailer, so I agree that you probably wouldn't get much use out of a 3-speed cruiser.

My husband and I each have this bike from Trek. Don't be scared of the MSRP - we got ours for around $300 each. Of course, if you get one used it will be even less than that. Check out the great reviews.

We live right near a bike trail and go riding with out almost 4-year-old daughter quite often, and these are great bikes for pulling a trailer. They are very comfortable and durable.
posted by Ostara at 7:11 AM on August 25, 2008 [1 favorite]

Have you considered an xtracycle or any other longbike? No problem fitting two kids on the back of one of those and it would arguably be more comfortable and safe for everyone.

Something like this
posted by uandt at 8:07 AM on August 25, 2008

You don't necessarily need lots of gears, you just need gears that are low enough, i.e. gears that make the bike go forward a relatively short distance for each crank of the pedals, since the extra weight will make cranking them more difficult. On three speed bikes, none of the gears is likely to be low enough because bikes aren't engineered with trailers in mind. A many-speeded bike will have some gears that were intended for climbing steep hills without a trailer, which will also work for climbing shallower hills with a trailer.

How many years' use do you want from this rig? How heavy will the kids be by the end of that time?
posted by jon1270 at 9:14 AM on August 25, 2008

In my experience, it's not just the starting up and hills that are difficult, it's going slowly. If you're riding anywhere with bumps, you'll want to keep your speed down, even when you're coming down a hill and there's an up-hill in front of you. That meas you'll be riding your brakes coming down, and losing all that wonderful momentum that would normally help you climb the next hill. So, yeah, you're going to be using those low gears even if you're not doing serious hill climbing.

Also, I never liked ride-on seats for kids. You have to consider what happens if the bike falls over. Most trailers are engineered to stay upright in a crash. Consumer Reports agrees that trailers are safer than seats.
posted by MrMoonPie at 9:25 AM on August 25, 2008

I've got a trailer for my kid and we loooourve it. Any modern hybrid or low-end mountain bike will work. I personally use a road bike.

If you're relatively new to cycling, go with something that has a 32-tooth cog on the back. That's a pretty low gear, and low gears will be nice when you get to a hill, you're starting from a stop, or the wind starts blowing.
posted by spikeleemajortomdickandharryconnickjrmints at 9:36 AM on August 25, 2008

I pull a kid trailer while biking almost 100% of the time.

I'd say that if you live in a hilly community, you'll want a bike with low gearing like everyone has said. But, if your community is pretty flat, I'd guess the three-speeder you're interested in would probably work okay. If you buy the trailer first, you can maybe give whatever bike you're looking at a try with it before you purchase.

I would recommend getting a trailer with 'bumper bars' around the trailer wheels, and a lot of them don't come that way. Something like this, for example.
posted by OilPull at 11:34 AM on August 25, 2008

Response by poster: Thanks for the great responses everyone. A follow-up question, in case anyone is still reading this: Is there a wev site where I can look up stuff like how many teeth are on the cogs for any bike model that I come across on craigslist?
posted by winston at 6:24 PM on August 26, 2008

There are lots of old threads about buying a used bikes, here's a good starting point (if I do say so myself).

The direct answer to your new question is, no I don't think there is a website that catalogues gearing by bike model. Even if there is one, the odds of whatever bike you find being on that list are pretty slim - there are hundreds of new bike models every year!

However, for the purpose of choosing the right bike, I don't think there is any point trying to look it up.. Any bike with 18-speeds or more is going to give you all the range of adjustment you'll need. There are lots of cruiser style bikes with mountain bike style gearing, like this one (looks like a great deal.. Trek 720 hybrid. It seems to have an adjustable handlebar stem angle, so you can be as upright as you want to be).
posted by Chuckles at 12:27 AM on August 27, 2008 [1 favorite]

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