Autumn is beginning, the weather is once again showing its best side and the new school, kindergarten and daycare year has begun throughout the country here in Germany. In this context, some people will certainly be thinking about the best way to transport the kids: with a bicycle or e-bike and a corresponding trailer, or rather en vogue with a cargo bike. This article looks at various aspects of both concepts and shows the respective advantages and disadvantages.
Bicycle trailer: a flexible classic
Long before the hype about the Cargobike arose, the bicycle trailer was the first choice for transporting kids and other loads. And there are still several points in favor of such a trailer:
So you can — at least in the vast majority of cases — use your existing touring bike, city bike, trekking or urban bike also with a bicycle trailer. This is connected to the bicycle with a hitch, usually attached to the rear axle. Manufacturers of trailers offer a wide range of universal hitches, thru axles or adapters that support almost every bicycle model.
But continuing to use your own bike not only saves you money — after all, a bike trailer alone is significantly cheaper than a complete cargo bike. The possibility of continuing to use the bike that is right for you with the appropriate frame geometry is also a notable advantage. Cargo bikes, on the other hand, are usually only available in one size, which means that small or large riders inevitably have to make a compromise. On short trips, this is certainly bearable — but those who plan frequent and long tours will appreciate the seating position on a perfectly fitting bike!
Another advantage is the flexibility you have with a trailer: you only use it when you really need it! In all other situations, you use your bike as usual — without having to drive an empty cargo area through the area, as would be the case with a cargo bike. If you don’t need the trailer, it can be folded flat in most cases.
Flexibility also includes the fact that such a trailer can be used by several drivers. For example, in the morning the children can be taken to the kindergarten by the mother on her way to the office. The trailer can then remain there and the father can pick up the kids again in the afternoon. And: without a bicycle, a trailer can also be used as a stroller, since the hitch arm can usually be easily replaced by a stroller wheel. So you can reach your destination with bike and trailer, once there the trailer is then used as a stroller.
So everything is fine with a trailer? Not quite, of course, such a trailer also has its drawbacks. Let’s start with the handling: the two-part composition of bike and trailer results in a rather long team of about 3.5 meters in length. These dimensions must be taken into account not only when driving, but also when parked: not everyone will be able to park this duo in one piece, which means that constant coupling and uncoupling of the trailer is necessary. In addition, there should also be a sufficiently large area for storing the trailer. Although it can be folded flat, the footprint usually remains the same size. All in all, the combination of bike and trailer can take up more parking space than a cargo bike alone.
Another aspect is the perceived safety, especially when transporting kids: In the trailer, the little ones are quite a distance behind you and there is also a lack of direct contact, which is still given with a child seat, for example. Factual disadvantages can certainly hardly be proven by this arrangement — but you still have a better feeling when the passengers are in the field of vision in front of you.
Finally, a note on road safety: as mentioned at the beginning, a trailer can be mounted on almost any bike. However, you have to weigh up for yourself whether this bike can also withstand the increased requirements. Although there are now some bicycle manufacturers who explicitly advertise the use of their bikes with trailers – but of course this does not help with an existing and possibly already older bike. For example, you should take into account the increased demands on the brake system due to the higher weight. If you have any doubts, it is better to ask an expert dealer.
Cargobike: all-in-one transporter
Everyone has been talking about the cargo bike for several years now – that alone is a sign that it is more than just a short-term trend. And in fact, especially for transporting kids, it offers quite practical advantages:
Many of these advantages also relate to the disadvantages of the trailer just mentioned: on almost all cargo bikes, the passengers sit in front of the driver, which provides a better sense of security. Due to the proximity, it is also easier to hold conversations with each other.
Due to their intended use as load carriers, the components of cargo bikes are also designed for the higher weight from the outset. You should therefore be able to assume that the manufacturer has, for example, adjusted the braking system or the electric drive to the possible total weight of the bike.
The footprint of cargo bikes is not necessarily larger than the combination of a regular bike and trailer. In addition, there are now also some cargo bike models that are particularly compact and hardly larger than a regular bicycle (for example, Yoonit or Muli). Of course, there is no need to constantly hitch and unhitch a trailer — you always have the loading area with you.
However, this aspect also leads us to the disadvantages of the cargo bike: because here the question arises individually how often you actually need this large transport area. If this is the majority of the time, then a cargo bike certainly makes sense. However, if you rarely transport large loads or kids, you will be driving an unnecessarily large, bulky and heavy vehicle around on all other trips!
This weight and the size also influence the riding characteristics – a factor that should not be underestimated. Especially with very long and two-wheeled models, you should plan some practice time: the handling of Cargobikes differs significantly from ordinary bicycles.
And also in terms of price, cargo bikes are on a much higher level than normal bicycles (without trailer): electrically powered models usually start at around 4,000 euros, but the sky seems to be the limit. However, it can be worthwhile to look for subsidy programs from cities and states – often the purchase of a cargo bike is subsidized!
So which is better, the cargo bike or a trailer? No general answer can be given here, it depends on the respective purpose.
For example, if you want to be as flexible as possible, you are probably better off with a bicycle trailer. This can be pulled quite easily by various bikes. Above all, it can simply stay at home when you don’t need it. This is especially true if you have a suitable bike anyway, with which you are also satisfied. Even those who only rarely need this transport option, is well advised with a trailer.
The situation is different for all those who really often use this cargo area — not only for transporting kids, but also for everyday shopping. This is where the cargo bike scores, as it can actually serve as a substitute for a car. However, the dimensions of cargo bikes should be taken into account, especially since the vehicle has to be parked somewhere. However, there are now many different versions of these bikes in terms of size.
Those who use an existing bike will ride the cheapest with the trailer. But those who don’t own a bike anyway (or can’t/won’t use the existing one with a trailer) may not pay more — especially since the purchase of cargo bikes is often subsidized her ein Germany at the moment.
The age and size of the kids also play a role: while the trailer offers space for up to about six years old, a cargo bike (depending on the model) can also accommodate larger kids; the maximum load is also higher for many cargo bikes than in the bike trailer. The trailer, on the other hand, always comes with a canopy and seats for the passengers anyway — with cargo bikes, this often has to be purchased additionally.
So there are many aspects that influence the choice between trailer and cargo bike. In addition to the pure facts, personal preferences also play a role that should not be underestimated, especially when transporting kids. But no matter which solution you ultimately choose: as an environmentally friendly and (at least in cities) often faster transport option, both options perform best!