by James Lea, 9 December 2005
I sold my car three years ago, and haven't missed it once. Walking, cycling, trains and buses are much better forms of transport, and allow me to meet other people, or to relax and read a book. Avoiding the car massively reduces my carbon footprint and is the ecologically responsible thing to do. Beside which, I rather dislike cars - they fracture communities, increase congestion and support the UK's absurd housing market by enabling people to live miles away from where they work.
However, despite restructuring my life so I don't need a car (which isn't hard), there are still some occasions when I need to carry a heavy load around. For example, I've recently taken on a vegetable plot on a field a couple of miles away, and need to carry gardening tools, cardboard and newspaper for mulching the ground, and when the harvest is ready, the vegetables back home.
The low-impact solution? A bike trailer!
The Carry Freedom bike trailer
Pictured right is my new bike trailer, purchased from Avon Valley Cyclery in Bath (www.bikeshop.uk.com).
This trailer is made by Carry Freedom (www.carryfreedom.com), a Scottish manufacturer based in Ayrshire. I chose this model for a number of reasons:
The Trailer in Action
The trailer is easy to hitch up to the bike. A small steel bracket is permanently mounted on the rear axle of the bike. The trailer hitch clips onto the bracket and is secured with a lynchpin. Simple and easy.
When I first rode with the trailer attached (Carry Freedom recommend you do this without a load while you get used to it) I was amazed at how light it felt. Bike handling was completely unaffected. You can corner hard and brake hard without any problems. The only thing to be aware of is the width of the trailer. If, like me, you don't cycle in the gutter, you won't have any problems. However, I did have to consciously tell myself not to zoom down gaps between cars.
Once the trailer is loaded up, you can start to feel its weight when cycling - mainly as a sensation of greater momentum behind you. When you stop pedalling, the bike freewheels further than it would without the trailer. Going uphill is obviously harder work; simply choose a lower gear.
The biggest difference with a heavily laden trailer is the extra braking force needed. I have disk brakes on my mountain bike which are sufficiently powerful for me not to really notice the extra load. However, you must consider the traction available on the road surface when braking to avoid skidding.
The best thing of all about towing a trailer is the wide berth cars give you when overtaking! You also get some looks from pedestrians, and old men stop you to reminisce about their childhood and bike trailers: "I haven't seen one of those since I was a lad". To me this is a great sign: the best ecological solutions are often those which have been practiced long ago. We now just need to reapply those solutions.
Securing Big Loads
The Carry Freedom trailer is a simple versatile design. Because it doesn't have side-rails you need to find your own way of securing loads. After a bit of experimentation I found the best solution was a pair of elastic bungees and a pair of webbed tension straps, available from nearly all car part shops.
I've gone off road every time I've towed this
trailer. The large model has 20" diameter wheels which cope with rough terrain very well. Once in the field next to my vegetable plot I can detach the trailer and use it as a handcart around the site.
Next year I hope to go cycle-camping with my partner. The trailer offers a great way of carrying tents and camping gear without messing around with panniers on the bike. Once we pitch tent at our campsite we'll be able to leave the trailer behind and explore the area.
I'm really impressed with this trailer. It has opened up my transport options and given me ideas for new adventures on a bike! It's incredibly practical and doesn't involve burning fossil fuels, and is therefore a key step on the road toward a low-carbon economy.
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-- (c) James Lea, www.GreenLiving.co.uk, 2005 - 2007 --