COLUMNS The Bike Madame

In Search of a Pedal-Powered Camping Trailer

Camping trailers enchanted me as a child. On my family’s annual tent-camping trip to Lake Ontario in central New York, I rode around the campground on my ten-speed and stopped to visit with elders in the electric-hookup area. Their life of year-round travel in their cleverly designed miniature houses (bus-sized RVs had not been invented) enthralled me with the promise of carefree adventure.

Now RVs the size of Imperial Star Destroyers whiz past me on the road. Their presence prompts me to wonder if a pedal-powered alternative exists: a pull-behind sleeping place. A visit to the Internet revealed a variety of designs to make travel more comfortable for people for whom packing a tent isn’t an option. Most were individual creations on the part of handy individuals rather than the work of commercial producers.

Tina Gallagher’s Yahoo! Voices article “Bicycle Travel Trailers Are Becoming Reality” provides links to You Tube videos where inventors show their designs in action. A video called “A biketrailer” shows an elderly gentleman pulling a tube-shaped trailer behind his recumbent bike that’s just large enough to sleep inside. He has equipped it with two support stands and can close its mailbox-like door from inside or out. Artist Kevin Cyr, a jaunty older fellow, has designed a pull-behind trailer that looks more like a miniature fifth wheel than a launch tube for a spaceship. His video presents the trailer in several settings; it’s evident from the riding scene, though, that the additional space comes at the cost of a heavier load. (The looks on the faces of cyclists he passes on the road are priceless.) Ms. Gallagher offers her own design ideas at the end of the article.

Alternatively, one may be able to adapt a commercially available small pull-behind model to cycle towing. A website dedicated to pint-sized travel trailers (Teardrops and Tiny Travel Trailers or has entries depicting the trailers’ owners hauling them by bike or trike.

British cyclists can purchase the QTVan, specially made to be towed by cyclists or motorized scooter users. This compact craft fits a bed, cooking kettle and drinks area, wall-mounted flat-screen TV, and a radio. Manufactured by the Environmental Transport Association, this nifty device is not currently being marketed in the U.S. You can see it at the company’s website, (accompanied by a young fellow lounging under a quilt with an eye-searing pattern). It was marketed to elders wanting to secure an overnight spot for viewing the royal wedding procession without sleeping on concrete.

Hauling such a massive load requires specialized, durable connectors (imagine one of these things tipping over in traffic) and a custom gearing system. While all of the riders appeared comfortable pulling their trailers, none of the films I saw showed them going up or down a hill. If you want to try cycle-caravanning, make sure you practice in a safe place (like a parking lot early in the morning) to learn your new tolerances for braking and steering. I’ve hauled as much as 100 pounds with a bike trailer specially made for such loads, and I discovered the hard way just how much clearance you need to stop safely—and how easily you can tip over on turning.

Carbon-neutral trailers would be great projects for handy people…or a scout troop. (However, trying to fit the whole troop inside will require changes in the laws of physics that would challenge Star Trek’s Scotty.) For the less mechanically inclined, we can hope the QTVan soon crosses the water (on its own pontoons).