Guest Post by Bill Osuch (my husband)
If a situation ever arose where you had to use your bicycle to get around (EMP, sky rocketing gas prices, gas shortage, SHTF, or even a stern lecture from your doctor about exercise) you might like using it to move your *stuff* around as well! I had been wanting a bicycle trailer, but didn’t want to pay what most of them cost; a dedicated bike trailer starts at around $300! So, time to go the DIY route! I wanted to keep the total cost under $50, and I figured the easiest way would be to start with something that’s already designed to be towed behind a bicycle – a child trailer.
So, here are the basic steps to turn one of these:
Into one of these:
The first step is, of course, to find a trailer to start with. There are dozens of different styles of bike trailers, and since you’re going to be looking for whatever you can find at the best price, I can’t really offer a list of brands and models to look for. You’re going to want to examine the frame and make sure that any vertical pieces of metal (or plastic) can be easily removed (hopefully by unbolting) so that you’re left with a flat platform. If you can’t – for example, if the upright parts curve down and become the frame in one solid piece – move on to the next one. Also, look at the wheels. You want them to look like normal bicycle wheels with spokes and a rubber tire, rather than some of the trailers that use solid plastic wheels. Also, you want the wheels to be as close to the center of the frame as possible. The further back they are, the more weight you will be putting on the hitch when the trailer is loaded. Finally, the hitch. There are all sorts of different methods of attaching the trailer; I prefer the ones that attach near the rear wheel rather than onto the seatpost. Of those, you’ll probably find two different styles – ones that clamp on to one of the bars, and ones that click on (or in) to a hitch you’ve mounted on the bicycle. I prefer the second type, and I’ll talk more about this later. You can *probably* change the hitch style though, if you find a good deal on one that’s a clamp type.
So, where to find your trailer? Start with the usual places – garage sales, thrift stores, and Craigslist. I even went so far as to put an ad in the Craigslist wanted section. Perferably, you want to find one that’s reached the end of it’s life as a child-hauler, but still has a good frame. Look for ones with faded or torn fabric, but minimal frame wear or damage. Most of these will be aluminum, so you shouldn’t have to worry about frame rust, but you could find it on the hardware (all the nuts and bolts holding everything together) or the wheels and axles, so be sure to examine the trailer thoroughly. With a little bit of looking around, you should be able to find one for under $20.
Now that you’ve bought the trailer, the first step is to strip off everything you don’t need – the fabric and any vertical pieces. Unfortunately, I didn’t think to get a before picture, but here’s the after shot:
Notice that the trailer has no sides. If you’re handy with metalworking you could probably keep the vertical pieces, do a little cutting and welding and have side rails. I didn’t want to do either of these, so I went with just a flat surface.
Next, you’ll build the wooden platform. I made two rectangles out of 1×2 pine that would fit exactly into the openings in the frame, then added 1×6 decking. I started with 1″ thick boards, but planed them down to about 1/2″ to save a bit of weight. If you don’t have a planer, don’t worry – your trailer will be a bit heavier than mine, but think of it as good exercise! Before attaching the decks I used a power sander to round the edges off a bit; I’m not sure there’s really any need for that, but I liked the look.
I built the two rectangles and bolted them to the trailer before adding any of the decking. This way I knew the spacing would be prefect. If you don’t have some existing holes where the upright pieces were mounted, you’ll need to drill through the metal frame and the wood. Make sure you do this while the wood is clamped to the trailer frame, so that you can be sure the holes are exact.
Once the wooden frames are bolted on, cut the deck planks to size and lay them on temporarily. I left spaces in between mine for two reasons – it reduces the total weight, and to make it a completely solid surface I would have had to cut one plank lengthwise to fit into the remaining space. When you’ve figured out the correct number of planks to use, determine how much of a gap to leave between each one. You can either do this mathematically, or just eyeball it like I did.
You may need to cut openings in the planks to fit around the wheels or other objects, plus I also had to drill a few holes in areas where the frame had a part (such as bolt) sticking up, in order to have the plank lie flat.
Once everything is cut and you know where each plank goes, clamp them down and start attaching them to the wooden frame underneath. I drilled pilot holes, then used a countersink bit so the screw head would sit beneath the surface. Make sure to use some sort of weatherproof wood screws – I used brass but you could also use plain deck screws to save a little money. Driving two screws into each place where the plank crosses the frame will help keep the planks from warping after they’ve weathered a bit; I wound up with a total of 8 screws per plank.
Once everything is tightly attached, give the whole thing a light sanding, then add a sealer. We used a soy-based wood sealer, but anything designed for outdoor fences and decks will work.
The last step is the hitch. As I said before, there are two main styles of hitches – ones that clamp on, and ones that you physically attach (clip together) to a hitch you mount on the bike. Personally, I prefer the type that physically clips to an attachment on the bike; I think the clamp would wind up scratching the paint, plus I just didn’t really trust that it wouldn’t let go when I went over some rough bumps. Fortunately, it was easy to replace. I purchased the Michelin Avenir Axle Mount Bicycle Trailer Replacement Hitch from Amazon, removed the old hitch, and the new one slid right in.
The end result:
Once you’re towing a trailer on a regular basis, you’ll want to be sure to carry a spare tube (or two) as well as the parts needed to change it. I’m assuming you (hopefully) already carry a set of tire wrenches and a portable pump, so you’ll just need the tubes (which are, unfortunately, probably different sizes than the ones on your bicycle). If you don’t have room to carry them on your bike, just throw them in a bin on the trailer.
You’ll need to experiment a little to determine how you actually want to carry cargo – you could use one or more plastic bins strapped to the surface, a cargo net thrown over loose items, a large duffel bag, or maybe even try a soft-side car-top carrier.
Be sure to do a few trial runs around your neighborhood with loads of varying weights before setting out on any kind of a long trip; you’ll want to familiarize yourself with how pulling a trailer feels. I definitely notice the difference, especially when slowing down and trying to turn at higher speeds, but you should get used to it pretty quickly. Pretty soon you’ll be hauling all sorts of stuff; maybe you can get rid of the car entirely!