Monday, November 20, 2017

Bicycle Trailers and Cargo

As a prepper, and as a fairly broke one at times, I have found myself with an opportunity to get something useful (55 gallon drum, free tools, lumber, mobile fire pit, etc.), but no way to transport it.

At other times, I have found myself with a bicycle as my primary form of transportation and had to plan accordingly, even when carrying tools to a job site.

If TSHTF and you need to evacuate, a bicycle does not require fuel (beyond the food that you eat, which you need to do anyway), can reach a surprising number of places, and is relatively easy to repair and obtain replacement parts for.

Methods of Bicycle Cargo Transport

Panniers (aka saddle bags)
These are bags, boxes, or baskets in pairs that hang over the frame or wheel, typically the rear wheel, and can be anything from canvas bags to old ammunition containers. If the loads aren't properly balanced (see Cargo Balance, below), you will expend a lot of effort just staying upright, which exhausts you quickly. If properly loaded, they can still cause some hassle when turning but they are an excellent way to store and carry smaller loads, such as groceries.

If you have a locking pannier it is an excellent place for a small tool kit or a first aid kit. I like to keep my tool kit on one side, with my bike chain and lock on the other while I ride.

They can come in a variety of forms, from small wicker affairs strapped to the front of the handlebars to large wire baskets that hang over the rear wheel. These make the best transport for things that come large enough to not slip through the gaps and will be taken out quickly.

I like to line mine with IKEA blue shopping bags, so that if I need to quickly weatherproofed what's inside, I can just tie the bags shut.

These are almost always purpose-built for something like a water bottle or a smartphone, and can be super useful to access something without having to dig it out of your bag.

Cargo Racks 
Typically a platform that you strap things to. I find it very useful for carrying certain kinds of loads that will not fit well into a basket or pannier, such as a car battery or a tool box.

These are a wide field in and unto themselves, but break down into two broad categories: utility/cargo and passenger.

Passenger trailers tend to have fabric floors and walls in order to save weight, making them much less useful as a cargo trailer, but I have carried water bottles to a parade in a passenger trailer. Unless it was a true emergency I would never put a child on a utility trailer.

Utility trailers are the real workhorse of cargo on a bicycle. Trailers are best for things that are oversize/weight and will not fit the other carry options: I have actually seen someone bike to a junkyard, pull an engine, and put it on their flat bed utility trailer to take home. Not something that I would want to do, but a lot better than nothing. They are also fairly easy to pack and leave packed in case of bugout.

Straps, Bungee Cords and Rope
I don’t really recommend these on their own (they work, but are a pain in the butt), but they make an excellent addition to just about any other method mentioned here.

These are something that you generally carry on yourself. This is the first go-to for most people that use bikes, and is sometimes the best option, but in the case of a utility vehicle may not be enough.

Cargo Load Balance
This is important when carrying large loads over a distance, especially if you use panniers, and can make the difference between carrying 30 pounds of cargo and carrying 130 pounds of cargo.
  • Make sure to balance right to left first, and then front/back if it applies. 
  • Try to balance weight so that it presses slightly to the rear of the center of balance, typically around the seat. 
  • Most mountain bicycles can handle around 450-500 pounds (including rider) if properly distributed and still be a comfortable ride.
  • If you are towing a trailer, make sure to balance weight to the front of the axle. It can cause disastrous problems if you accidentally balance it to the rear, and the trailer comes unhitched. I have done this, and had the trailer roll right back down the hill I was biking up.

Whichever options you choose, remember that using care when installing can save a load of hassle later, and that if you decide to use these cargo options, you are being good for your wallet, your heart, and the environment.

Don’t forget to practice.

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