Monday, November 18, 2013

DIY: The Thrifty Man/Woman's Bicycle Cargo Trailer

With the holiday season approaching (how did that happen so quickly?!), I am reminded that soon shopping centers will be packed with people searching for perfect gifts for loved ones in their lives. I am also oh so grateful to be able to carry additional cargo without the need for a box bike or other extra-cargo-capable bicycle. I've discussed in the past that I could see the possibility of such a bike in our lives because it would make hauling groceries and other shopping finds much easier, but the expense (even for a used one - which can be somewhat difficult to find, depending on where one lives) can be cost-prohibitive and if one is limited on space, storing an extra bike for such occasions can be challenging as well. With a bit of ingenuity, it's possible to make a great substitute that can work for those who don't need to haul children, but do require extra load capacity on occasion.
Image from Craigslist ad
First, hunt down a used Burley (or other similar) trailer. The more ripped up it is, the more likely you are to get a good deal, so just go with one that has a good base, but doesn't necessarily look the prettiest. I've seen them locally on Craigslist from $30-$250 (if you're really patient, you may be able to find one free). We paid $50 for ours - I personally wouldn't pay $250 for something that's going to be ripped apart (Plus, you can buy a new Burley cargo trailer for about $300, so if the point is to keep costs to a minimum, this may defeat the purpose). The image pictured above is the type of Burley axle we selected. It works well because the weight capacity is higher than some other models and it makes building a base for a cargo trailer a lot easier.

Tools you may want to have handy:

Screwdriver or drill (the drill will make your life easier)
Drill bits
Small screws
Hand saw (or other saw)

Next, tear the Burley covering (nylon portions) completely off. Some parts have snaps and buttons, others are sewn around the axles, so you may need scissors and/or a knife to completely remove all the material (unless you are especially adept at ripping nylon with your hands). You want to be left with just the metal frame and wheels for the base of your cargo trailer, and if you intend to put side and/or front/rear "block" pieces (to keep things more securely on the platform),

I would recommend keeping the plastic reflector pieces and their attachments as well because they can be used to secure side/rear border planks in place. If they're already missing or not usable, you could purchase replacement parts, or create your own makeshift pieces to secure the corners.

After you've torn the fabric pieces off, you'll want to determine what type of platform to build. We used scrap lath boards that were found at Lowe's,
but you could use ply-board or almost any type of solid surface, or even pieces that can be built into a solid surface as long as it will withstand the weight you'll be hauling around (keep in mind that many of the solid pieces of faux-wood, ply-board, etc may end up limiting your ultimate carrying capacity due to the weight of the solid piece, but using individual boards is perhaps not quite as sturdy/reliable as a solid piece would be). In our case, there were a few cross pieces set up running perpendicular to the wheels to make a base to build from (these were screwed into the metal using the drill bit first and then screwing them in),
and then lath boards were lined up running length-wise (same direction as the wheels, as pictured) and these were screwed into the cross boards created.
We also decided to put some wood pieces around the edges as well (we used scrap wood we had at home - which was 1x4 material  for the sides and some trim pieces for the front/rear of the trailer), to keep anything from easily sliding off. They're great even when a box isn't attached because it allows a little more forgiveness when tying things down, and the side pieces prevent items on the trailer from coming in contact with the tires or wheels.
It's easy to attach (and remove) from the bike as well. I leave the "hitch" attached permanently to my bike so that I can easily attach the trailer when needed.
Step1:  Place rubber piece in the space between the top and bottom of the hitch attached to the rear wheel
Step 2:  Slide metal dowel-looking piece from the bottom to the top of the hitch, and through the now-sandwiched rubber piece from the trailer
Step 3: "Lock" the dowel in place with the clip provided to secure the trailer to the bike
It really is easy to attach, which was a huge deal for me because I knew if it was overly complicated or difficult to do, I wouldn't use it at all. Additionally, leaving the hitch attached to the bike makes the convenience and ease of use that much simpler and quick when needed. We also picked up an extra attachment/hitch piece so that we each have one on a bike.

That's it... pretty simple and easy for almost anyone to do. I should also caution about the more modern Burley trailers out there, as some frames are built from a different structure/wheel base. While they could still be used, I think it could be a bit more challenging to set up, and they have a lower weight/cargo capacity in some cases.
As for hauling capability on the trailer, it can be used just fine without any other pieces, but I've used a plastic box as pictured above to help create more enclosed space. Eventually, I realized most of the time I would be using a box rather than the trailer alone, so I found a clearance-item storage box and screwed the base of it on to the trailer (I also painted it and put stickers I've had around the house for far too long now on it - because who wants a boring, ole normal looking box?). I've been able to get five large, completely filled grocery bags in the box without issue, so carrying capacity is actually quite nice with a container of some sort.
Another great quality of this box is that it has a small spot on the latch side,
so that I can lock it with a small pad lock.
This comes in really handy when I'm making multiple stops on the bike and don't want to haul everything purchased into the next store. I'm not sure I'd leave it unattended this way for a long period of time, but I've not had issues when just popping into and out of one store to the next (at least thus far). There is also some side space left on the trailer for items that may be a bit longer and don't fit inside the box.
For example, one time I was carrying a small ladder and it hung off the rear of the trailer, but there was a perfect amount of leftover space to squeeze it on and bungee it down.

The trailer may not be as pretty as some ready-made products on the market, but it is extremely functional, and I've had more people stop to ask about it over the last several months than any bike or add-on accessory I've ever owned. It's functional, and in the case of this particular trailer, capable of carrying up to 100 lbs/45 kg of cargo.  As with your bicycle, don't forget to lock up the trailer if you leave it unattended (it's easy to attach and remove for you, so it's easy for a thief as well). To simplify, I carry an extra bike lock and chain the trailer to the bike, and lock the bike to something secure as a deterrent to theives.

Voilà!  Happy hauling this shopping season and throughout the coming year.


  1. That is spectacular!

    I had the cargo bike before we officially retired the kid trailer, but I went ahead and made a flat hauler out of it. I just used the fabric from the seat and the remains of my roof top rack cross bars (darn carport!) and it's worked rather well. I might go ahead and do something more like this though. I;ve got the stuff laying around...

    1. Thanks, Chris. It really has worked well for moving "stuff" that isn't small enough for a basket or rack. It sounds like you found your own great solution too!

  2. It tickles me to no end to watch someone re-purpose an item for use on a bicycle. Thanks for your great photos and instructions. Will you haul your Holiday Tree home on the trailer?

    1. I will if we get a live tree...that always seems to be a topic of discussion this time of year. :O)


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