Bicycle trailers. Pushing/pulling the limit..

Well hello, and welcome back to “The adventures of the bicycle life”.  I am pleased to report that my love for the human powered machine has continued to grow.  This past week I have heard from people of all walks of life from every corner of the globe expressing their love of and/or connection to bicycle culture.  It reminds me of how the bicycle is like a universal language, a language of personal freedom, of connection with the self and nature, and a language of living life to the fullest.  A language that we all innately understand and is expressed in one way or another in our own unique lives.

H.W.’s machine, saddled up and tour ready.

I find that bicycles are such versatile  machines. In this post I intend to expand upon the human powered machine’s capabilities in our daily lives as a more than just a “bike”, and to take the musing to the next level. What non-recreational activities have you engaged in with your human power machines as a tool en-route?

The possibilities are  endless, to say the least. I have seen some awe-inspiring bicycles engaged in all works of life in many parts of the world.  This past spring the “sustainability bike tour” that I have guided for since 2007 decided (with a little help from me) we would go totally car free as a company. We would no longer be using use a “support” vehicle that was combustion propelled (a van).  We would be facilitating support vehicle duties from our staff Guide bikes. This is a week long educational camping bike tour of about 25 people, so there is a pile of gear and food that needs to move from one bivouac site to the next every other day over the week-long expedition. Group tents, stoves, pot/pans, cutlery, and of course food. We were going to need some trailers for the staff to pull that had capacity and versatility.

So I went to the drawing board and created blueprints for what was to become “the Tank”.   What I initially envisioned was creating a cargo platform that had all the qualities and abilities of the tried and true “pick-up truck”. I wanted a secure enclosed container with rear entry (tailgate), and a removable upper (like the canopy on a truck bed).

I have owned/used several types of bicycle trailers over the years i.e.- small one wheel B.O.B. trailer, larger 2 wheel Burly- Flatbed and Nomad trailers.  These trailers are nice and light weight (aluminum, or small steel frames) and good for some small around town jobs.  But what I needed was something big and heavy duty. I needed a real workhorse of a wagon.

H.W., living it!

A human powered truck that could hold its own on the highway with the big rigs.

And then just like that I was on the Surly bikes website  and I came upon their just released (spring 2011) bike trailer.   The cro-moly Surly-Bill trailer. It was perfect – designed to be a chassis that could be built up by the owner to his/her needs/specs. It still tugs at my heart every time I look at that chassis; it was designed and built by Surly with so much foresight to the end user and dedication to heavy-duty utilitarianism. A bow and a solid handshake to you Surly.

Once again I went back to the drawing board and revamped  my trailer blueprints around this Surly chassis.  Then with my blueprints in hand I pedaled into town and found a fabrication shop that would take the job of building my Tank.

I found a small shop and the owner, John, agreed to take on the job.  We sat down and discussed the design and materials.  There were issues ordering the ideal materials that I wanted (1/2 aluminum pipe), so we went with 1/2 steel square pipe for the box framing, and 1/8″ aluminum diamond plate for the box skin.

H.W.’s completed bike trailer. The new generation of haulers/campers.


A week later, I pedaled my bicycle to the shop and picked up the completed trailer.  When I walked into the fabrication bay and first layed my eyes on that beautiful piece of freedom on two wheels my mouth dropped wide open and my heart swelled.  Love at first sight… It was even more incredible than I imagined when I was dreaming it up on paper.  John did a fine job.  I shook his hand, paid him and pedaled away with my human powered big rig truck (aka The Tank) and a chest full of pride.

It looked really good with the shiny unpainted silver diamond plate exterior, but  I needed a box with a cool (temp.) non reflective earth tone for blending into  the scenery when I would be camping out on tour. I found a perfect khaki color camo-specific spray paint (Krylon). Primer, paint and presto, one bivouac-ready trailer.

The trailer is as versatile as it gets. There are 3 cargo platforms that the trailer can be set up as.

1) Stripped down (box and bed removed) it is a flat bed trailer, good for carrying long cargo like pipe,wood, ladders, couches, ect.

2) Truck bed (12″ tall side walls and tail gate).

3) Full box (12″ tall truck bed with 24″ tall “canopy”= total 36″ tall box)

* Total trailer specs=  trailer length 63″, width 24”. Box height 36″ tall. 16″ wheels(110 psi).

* Total trailer weight= 140lbs (chassis,bed, canopy).

“The Tank”. Tailgate and canopy hatch.

It surely is the “do all” trailer.  I have hauled loads of wood chips (for mulching the garden), burlap sacks of used coffee ground from the local coffee shop (for my compost pile), construction and gardening tools (wood, saws, shovels,rakes,pitch forks, etc.), friends that need a lift and countless other things.

The chassis is rated up to 400 pounds of load, and I have pushed it right up to that line. Early this fall I was moving cargo through the Cascade mountains from one town to the next town over, about a 25 mile one way ride, pulled through a truck weigh station en route with my bike and trailer and weighed in at 550lbs. I weigh 175lbs and my bike weighs around 40lbs, so the loaded trailer weighed over 350lbs (truck scales round down in increments of 50lbs).

Trailer, shovel ready!

A very practical, exciting and gratifying  way to travel and explore this big beautiful world,one pedal stroke at time.

So the story goes: from the moment I saw the Surly chassis I was struck by how long it was and couldn’t help but envision a “bicycle camper” – a trailer that I could sleep in when I am touring.  I imagined how nice it would be if after a long day of touring I could just curl up in a camper instead of having to put up and take down a tent every day.

When I was drawing up the blueprints for “the tank” I put this camper idea into the formula.  I designed a small shelf in the front so that when I’m in there I can have a “desk” for a lamp and space to eat or read.  Other than that I kept the inside accessories minimal for weight and inside space considerations, as I knew that it was going to be a beast to pull over some of the hills and mountain passes that lay ahead of me.

Down the road of life.

I loaded it up for my yearly ride from central Washington to central Oregon to meet up with my team for my summer Bicycle Guide job.  Yeehaa, what a wild ride it was!  I was pedaling a Surly- Long Haul Trucker bicycle with Surly- Nice touring racks  hitched to a built up Surly-Bill trailer, what a freaking tank.  Well done Surly.

I started in the heart of the Cascade mountain range of  Washington state (elev. 1900ft) and pedaled south east into the high desert and then back up and over the Cascades on White Pass (40 miles long, elev. 4200 ft.).

That climb was one I will always remember. It took me every bit of 8 hours of  steady steady pedaling up that mountain.  I reached the summit that evening, pulled into the woods and camped in the snow, too exhausted to drop down the other side of the mountain pass below the snow line.  So I crawled into my sleeping bag  inside the trailer, shut the tail gate and canopy hatch and lit a candle for a little extra warm.  Cozy.  Over the next few days I made my way southwest to the grand Columbia river and pedaled over the Bridge of the Gods into the great state of Oregon.

Enter the city zone.

I stopped in Portland for a day to visit with some of my fellow pedal heads and to experience the trailer’s practical maneuverability in the urban landscape.  I was pleased to find that it was just as much of a practical tool in the city as in the country. Then I pedaled south bound down sections of the I-5, side by side with the big rig semi-trucks, to central Oregon.

Every night I slept in the trailer very comfortably.  It was quite splendid actually.  If I needed a snack during the day I would just pull over and sit down on the dropped tailgate of the trailer under the shade of the propped canopy hatch and make a sandwich and sip on some electrolytes.

When my time on the pedals was over for the day I would simply look for a nice flat wooded area, pull in, throw a camouflage tarp over my bike and one over my trailer, roll out my air mat and sleeping bag inside the trailer and lay down with a good book while the dinner pot was bubbling away on my camp stove (Primus-Omni fuel stove).

I rolled into town a day ahead of the tour launch date for the Guide team pre-tour briefing and put my game face on.

H.W., happy about “the Tank”, its go time!

And that’s when the real fun began. 22 clients, 5 staff, two trailers equals a life-changing human powered caravan.  We pedaled our machines from one organic farm to the next, learning, sharing and living life one pedal stroke at a time for a week.  It truly brings a smile to my face every time I think of that moment in time. There is an incredible movie(click to watch) that one of the riders made and put on Youtube – check it out and see this bike trailer in action.  Bike trailers, get some!!

This trailer experience has been one of great joy, self achievement and satisfaction. There were ups and downs (mostly related the elevation gains and losses of the Cascades, ha ha bike joke) during this slice of time.  There was issues of availability when I was trying initially purchase the Surly trailer chassis, there were complications in terms of usable materials during the fabrication process of the Box, and let us not forget the expedition itself.

The days were long, bridges steep, mountain passes were endless at times and tugged at my soul with every pedal stroke.  But the love of life and of the human powered machine tugged at my heart even more, keeping me focused, motivated, and pushing me to the next summit of personal exploration and growth. At the end of the day I stand strong with a smile on my face.  ;) This is what bicycles can do for us all, if we will just make time to connect and understand the simple things in life.

Until we meet again. Live, love and breathe.

Viva bike – H.W.


4 thoughts on “Bicycle trailers. Pushing/pulling the limit..”

  1. Thank you for posting this. I had been toying with the concept. Glad someone beat me to the design. I was also thinking a bicycle trailer could be really useful for the working homeless in urban settings. Three variables addressed would be needed for bike trailers to be a viable housing solution: 1. Design that provides security against ambush while sleeping, 2. Acceptance and coordination with municipalities, 3. Layaway plan for individuals who lack the means to purchase a trailer all at once.

  2. Good for you, using me-power to get out there and back again. i thought you were going to tell us how you hook the bike up to a geni and make power. Now that would be my kind of bike, an exercycle that heated the bath water. We rely on electricity as little as possible on our wee farmy, so i am always looking at new ways to do stuff.. have fun.. c

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