Bicycle tips: choosing a bicycle dog trailer

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Traveling with your pet can be a snap, even if you're not using a car. Use this guide to help find the bicycle dog trailer that is right for your needs.

No matter whether you're traveling city streets or country roads, a bicycle dog trailer is perfect for keeping your pet safely close to you.  There are several styles of dog trailers, designed to meet a variety of needs.  Your location, your dog's breed or size, your frequency of use, and your travel requirements will determine what type is best for you and your dog.  
     
Before you purchase your dog trailer, you should be certain that you have the right bike for the job.  Many dog trailers require a sturdy variety of bikes, such as a mountain bike.  Other kinds of bikes, such as a hybrid bike, will work as long as the trailer load does not exceed about 150 pounds-so hauling a Saint Bernard with one is probably out of the question!  Although some hitches can be custom made for recumbent bikes and other unusual bikes, they are not as common.
     

If you know that you have the right kind of bike, you must now decide on what kind of trailer to use.  Bicycle dog trailers range from simple do-it-yourself flatbed trailers to complex trailers that convert to haul children or cargo as well as dogs.  The most common types of the trailer are the tent and solid-sided "spine" trailers.  Some, less common trailers, have a roll bar, or a hitch designed to keep the trailer from tipping over.  In the event that a dog trailer is not the appropriate mode of transportation for your pet, some companies actually have basket carriers and rear-mounted carriers that mount directly on your bicycle.  Those carriers will get a brief mention later.

Types of Trailers

Convertible Trailers: Convertible trailers are the most elaborate of all dog trailers.  Not only can they be used to haul dogs, but many are also convertible to a child or cargo trailers, or even heavy-duty jogging strollers.  Some convertible trailers are even suitable for adults up to 5'4" tall who weigh up to 170 pounds.  The best of these trailers will feature simple adjustments that require no tools to complete.  Convertible trailers are available in both solid-sided and tent-style varieties.
     
Flatbed Trailers: These trailers are the simplest of all, and maybe easily made at home in about half an hour.  All that is required is an aluminum towing arm and hitch, a pair of wheels with either brackets or an axle, and a sheet of 3/4" plywood that measures roughly 2' x 3'.  These items are available in kits or may be found at a hardware store.  Attach the wheels approximately 6" from the end of what will be the rear of the platform, and the towing arm on the opposite end.  Use sturdy connectors, since you will be hauling precious cargo with your trailer. For a slightly more "upscale" do-it-yourself trailer, cover the trailer with a section of indoor/outdoor carpeting.  You can add some features of your own, such as studs nailed on each side, or eye fasteners for use with tie-downs.  Although it is recommended to use a flatbed style trailer in conjunction with the dog's crate or carrier, attached with a tie-down, some people train their dogs to lie down and stay on the trailer while it is in motion.
     
Spine Trailers: "Spine trailer" is simply a way of referring to any trailer that attaches to a bike with a particular kind of tow bar.  Spine trailers attach to a bike with a rigid "arm."  This arm is usually a long tube made of aluminum, which is sturdy, but lightweight.  The tube attaches to the bike with a hitch, attaching to the bike's seatstay and chainstay in many cases.  Spine trailers are available in any or all of the styles of trailer mentioned in this article.
     
Solid-Sided Trailers: These trailers are often a variety of spine trailers.  Making a do-it-yourself solid-sided trailer is often simply a matter of bolting a plastic airline kennel to a flatbed trailer.  Commercial solid-sided trailers are usually made of one piece with either screen or grates at the front and rear for ventilation.  If your own solid-sided trailer does not provide a cushion for your dog's comfort, and to keep him or her from sliding while the bike is in motion, you should provide a non-slip mat or cushion that securely fits the bottom of the trailer.
     
Tent Trailers: Tent trailers are similar in style to solid-sided trailers.  The advantage that tent trailers have over solid-sided trailers is that they may be folded for easier storage, or for transporting in cars.  Tent trailers also afford your dog more of a view of the world as you travel, although this aspect might not be an advantage for easily excited dogs or dogs that easily get carsick.  Many tent trailers are screened on all four sides, so they may not keep out wind or rain.  For your pet's comfort, you may wish to look into an optional cover for your tent trailer.  In addition, for safety purposes, your dog should be secured inside the trailer with a leash and harness at all times.  For more excitable or active dogs, it may be necessary to use a dog crate for additional security.

Location of Use

When selecting a dog trainer, it is important to decide where you will be using it.  Will it be for city use or country use?  If you are going to be using your bicycle dog trailer in the city, a two-wheeled trailer with a narrower footprint is more suitable for urban use.  It is also important to keep maneuverability in mind.  Trailers with one wheel tend to "corner" a bit better, but may not be stable enough for skittish pooches.

What Breed or Size is Your Dog?

What kind of dog do you have?  Is she large or small?  Is she active or inactive?  Large dogs might do better on a flatbed kind of trailer, especially if they can be trained to lie down in place for long periods.  An alternative to relying on your dog's obedience training might be to adopt a flatbed trailer by bolting a large solid-sided dog crate to it if a large enough dog trailer that is suited to your needs can't be found.  Very large dogs, as previously stated, are not suitable for transporting on bike trailers, due to the limitations of the towing mechanism and strength of the bike itself.  
     
Medium-sized breeds might feel more comfortable watching the world go by from inside a tent-style trailer, although very active dogs should probably be confined inside a sturdier solid-sided trailer.  Very small dogs may feel insecure traveling inside a dog trailer if they are traveling alone.  For very small dogs, you may wish to consider a basket or rear-mounted carrier.

What Kind of Use Will do You Make of Your Trailer?

How often will you be using your bicycle dog trailer?  If you are going to be using your trailer on a frequent or on-going manner, you must consider the kind of wear that you will be placed on it.  Tent-style trailers might seem more appealing for your dog, but for frequent use, a solid-sided trailer may be more durable.  
Pay particular attention to the style of wheels that your selected trailer has.  Spoke wheels and bracket attachments might be fine for trailers that receive light or occasional use, but you may want to consider a trailer with an axle for anything beyond that.  Because the wheels are truly the weak point of any trailer, examine the wheels carefully, paying attention to the way they are manufactured.  Look especially at the quality of the rubber and the way they are secured to the axle or bracket.
     
How far will you be going with your bicycle dog trailer?  Once again, use is important.  If you live in the city and use your trailer to transport your companion to the local dog park, then your needs will be quite different from the person who chooses to bring a dog on a summer-long bicycle tour around the country.  Cyclists who do most of their traveling in cities, two-wheeled trailers are best.  They are stable, which is a benefit in urban use, and even if the two wheels do not permit the trailer to follow the path of the bike directly, the additional amount of "drag" this construction causes is not a major concern.   For touring, a one-wheeled trailer is preferable.  This kind of trailer directly follows the path of the bike, offering the least wind resistance for long journeys.  This small difference can significantly ease the long-distance cyclist's efforts. 

Baskets and Carriers

Although not dog trailers, baskets, and carriers are also useful methods of transporting your pet.  Baskets and carriers mount to your bike's frame or handlebars, using braces or clips to hold them steady.  These items may feature things such as water bottle holders or holders for pet treats and toys.  Look for baskets and carriers that provide a safe and secure method of keeping your pet dry in inclement weather or that have clips to which to attach a safety harness.  Baskets and carriers are only suitable for pets up to about 25 pounds.

Safety

Riding a bike with a trailer attached is very different from riding a bike without one.  It is important to be aware of changes in momentum and balance, particularly when coming to a stop or going downhill.  The trailer may be significantly wider than you are, so be aware that spaces you may fit through on your own may not allow passage with a trailer behind.  If your municipality offers courses on bicycle safety, find out if they offer one that discusses the safety requirements of hauling a trailer as well.  Here are at least a few things you'll need to consider to have a safe and enjoyable trip with your pet:
     
Flags: In the United States, although they are not required, dog trailers should be equipped with a flag.  Even if you expect only daytime use for your trailer, a flag will make you and your dog more visible to oncoming traffic.  Bicycle flags should be made of either red or orange fluorescent plastic to be visible even in low light.
     
Harnesses and leashes: Although they have been mentioned already, harnesses and leashes are important enough to mention again.  Whenever your dog is traveling in the dog trailer, he or she should be secured.  In the event that the dog should attempt to jump from the trailer, or should you fall and the trailer rollover, a secured harness may save your dog's life.
     
Reflectors: Your trailer should be equipped with a reflector, as it obscures the rear reflector on your bicycle.  Reflector tape should be used on baskets or carriers, as well.  Keep in mind that if you are using your trailer in the United Kingdom, your trailer must be fitted with a red reflector.  In addition, a BS-approved red light is required if you will be using your trailer at night.