Yet Another Bicycle Trailer




About: Building energy efficiency/construction industry consultant; woodworker; casual (not hard core) cyclist.

There are plenty of other great bicycle trailers on Instructables, but I thought I'd post my own. Some of the key points: no welding is required for this trailer, and it is built (mostly) from items from Home Depot and spare bicycle parts.

This trailer was built over time, with a couple of iterations. A few times in this Instructable, I'll use the phrase, "Ask me how I know..." Most of these lessons were discovered during failures of the trailer on the road... these were cases when "the wheels coming off," is more than a figurative phrase.

Also, I make no claim that my solutions to these problems are the best or only way of solving them. However, in the spirit of Instructables being "open-source hardware," feel free to choose, mix, and match these solutions to your favor.

Step 1: Overview & Anatomy

There are several portions of this instructable, so I'll start with an overview of the steps and the parts of the trailer.

Main body: the body of the trailer is a plastic bin with a lid; I used an Akro-Mils Nest & Stack Tote (NST) Model 35300 (29 1/2 x 19 1/2 x15)--I bought mine at Grainger. I like it because it is pretty intrinsically strong and stiff. However, I think this plan can be adapted to most plastic bins.

Wheel mounts: the wheels are mounted to metal brackets on the sides of the container. They are adapted from brackets from Home Depot, with some cutting and drilling.

Internal Structure: the plastic bin is not strong enough to support the wheels (ask me how I know), so an internal frame is needed to hold everything together. It connects the wheels to the bin, and the bin to the trailer connection.

Hitch (trailer side): to connect to the rear wheel hub, the hitch needs to take a right angle and come in at roughly 45 degrees to the axis of travel. Therefore, when you make a turn in one direction, the hitch comes in roughly parallel to the rear wheel. There is a flexible coupling (rubber tubing) to allow turning. The connection to the rear wheel is made using an air hose quick-connect.

Hitch (bicycle side): the connection to the rear wheel to the trailer is made out of a metal bracket with an angle that matches the hitch, which remains semi-permanently in place on the bicycle (you can remove it, but you will need a wrench). It doesn't add much weight, so I leave it on all the time.

Step 2: Wheel Mounts

The wheel mount holds the wheels, cantilevered and bolted from one end of the axle. I know, this isn't the strongest way to mount the wheels by a long shot, but attaching them from both sides would require a fork or frame that comes around the outside.

The wheels are mountain bike wheels and tires that I got from a University Bike Purge--basically, the abandoned partial bikes all get thrown in a dumpster. These were two roughly matched front wheels that were not completely taco'd.

These mounts are well suited because they raise the wheel axle relative to the tub, and thus lower its center of gravity. If you can get smaller wheels, it is probably not as big of a deal. Even with this setup, if you take a corner too quickly/sharply, you can flip the trailer. Ask me how I know (although I managed not to break the bottle of single malt I had inside).

The mounts are made out of a Stanley "Door Stop" (see photo of bin). From the original state, you cut off the upper "wing", and drill a hole to match the axle size. You might ask why I didn't tap this hole as well--the reason is that bicycle axles seem to be some oddball thread that I couldn't find a tap for.

When you mount the wheel to the hole, you will need to add a pair of lock washers (I used split lock washers; I guess tooth lock washers should work too). Since these wheels are right-hand threaded, when you're rolling down the road, one side is going to try to loosen and fall off the trailer. Ask me how I know. Nylon lock nuts (nylocs) are not an option--again, the odd threads of the axle.

Also, you'll want to tighten these wheels down with a fair amount of torque, given the cantilever. You might need to hold the cone nut (using a cone wrench--a bicycle tool) to avoid overtightening the bearings (freezing up the wheel). And if you get a cone wrench, you might want to go ahead and rebuild/regrease the bearings. Note that I only used a thin hex nut before attaching the wheel to the bracket, slightly reducing the cantilever.

Step 3: Internal Frame

This structure needs to connect the wheel brackets to the plastic tub, the wheel brackets to each other (to prevent flexing of the box), and will provide somewhere to connect the hitch mount underneath the tub. Everything was connected to a piece of scrap plywood, resting at the bottom of the tub.

My original solution was to use a 2x4 to connect the wheels, with the wheel brackets lag bolted into the end grain of the wood. This might result in the brackets loosening, and the wheels rubbing against the top of the tub and/or falling off the trailer. Ask me how I know. FYI, putting screws into the end grain of wood is a very weak connection. I tried improving it by gluing in dowels at right angles to the screws, to give a stronger connection, but that didn't work either.

So the working solution was to use EMT (electrical metallic thinwall) electrical conduit and threaded rods, to form a "sandwich" with the wheel brackets at the ends. I used 1" nominal conduit. To match the angled sides of the plastic tub, I needed to cut angled ends to the tubing. I used a pipe cutter and angle grinder, but there are other options for sure (metal cutting bandsaw, hacksaw if you want a workout, etc.) In the future, I would change the angles slightly, so that the wheels are canted inwards at the top (like racing wheelchairs) slightly, to increase stability.

The lower EMT conduit is bolted to the plywood, through the plastic floor of the tub. The upper EMT is connected to the lower one using hose clamps. This results in a strong structure--probably not the lightest solution, but it seems to work so far.

Step 4: Hitch (trailer Side)

As mentioned earlier, the hitch has to connect to the rear wheel at an angle (~45 degrees), to allow turning, and have a flexible element as well.

The basic structure of the hitch is 1/2" EMT electrical conduit; you need to make three bends. Find or borrow an EMT bender to do this--I have doubts whether you could make these bends work by hand. First a right angle at the bottom, to "hook" the connection into the structure. Then a 45 degree bend, to bring it off at an angle, and another 90, to come back to the wheel.

Then there's the complication of the flexible coupling connection. Solution #1 was to use a flexible electrical conduit with plastic threaded ends. However, this solution might result in your trailer continuing down the street in your original travel direction after you make a turn. Ask me how I know. So solution #2, from the conduit to the wheel, is made out of:

- 1/2" EMT weathertight coupling (it's a compression fitting, so when you crunch it down, it will stay attached better than a standard setscrew EMT coupling)
- 1/2" NPT galvanized coupling
- 1/2" NPT male thread x hose barb fitting
- rubber tubing, with fiber reinforcement; attached with hose clamps
- 1/2" NPT male thread x hose barb fitting
- 1/2" NPT galvanized coupling
- 1/2" NPT x 3/8" NPT bushing (size reducer)
- 3/8" NPT air hose quick connect (the heavy part, with the hardware)

However, after taking this out for a ride, I found a few problems. The hose is flexible enough that if the trailer is loaded, the connection sags at the front. Also, you get a lot of push-pull action when you're pedaling down the street--it surges back and forth, giving you the feeling of being a puppet and puppetmaster at the same time.

To fix this, I added a coil spring wrapped around the rubber tube, to stiffen it up. This required some disassembly, gloves, and an ample supply of foul language. It was a tight fit, so I ended up sticking the tube in the freezer, to make it easier to ram the pieces together. It's not a great solution, but it definitely reduces the two problems mentioned above.

Step 5: Hitch (bicycle Side)

The hitch is attached to the rear axle of the bicycle; I put it on the side away from the derailleur, to make that side less congested. For the mounting bracket, I found that a Unistrut P2109 bracket works pretty well--plus I had it around the lab. It requires threading the other end of the air hose quick connect into one side of it. Fortunately, a 3/8" NPT hose requires a 9/16" hole, which is what the fitting is already drilled at. Win!

The first connection strategy was to use the existing hole, and connect it to the quick-connect on the rear wheel. However, that didn't work: the weight of the trailer pulls down on the hitch, and it rotates downward. Grr.

Therefore, I added a bolt and additional hole to stop the rotation; had to drill another hole for the quick release skewer at the axle. You have to line everything up first to make it, and then drill the hole. A quick release skewer only needs a small hole (~1/4" or less).

Step 6: Finishing Touches / Using the Trailer

I drilled a few holes to attach the lid with bungee cords. If I have a need for more capacity, I'll set something up where you can strap things to the lid.

I'd recommend a few safety measures--such as a blinking red LED, or reflectors, or both. Incidentally, it seems like most bike stores have a surplus of reflectors (they are usually removed if you're installing a rear light), so just go in and ask--I got a few of them for free.

If I wanted to be extra safe, I'd get a trailer flag (so motorists can see there's something behind you), but I haven't bothered yet.

Pulling a trailer behind you feels a bit weird--it still does "surge" (push and pull, with your pedaling), but you get used to it. This would be solved by a more rigid connection (e.g., a universal joint). Also, you can't take corners nearly as fast, and going uphill is more of a pain (depending on your load).

Also, it doesn't track terribly well--i.e., it "waggles" as I head down the road a little bit. I'm not sure if this could be helped by truing up the wheels or something. Based on random web reading, it seems like the longer the distance between the axle and the tow point, the more stable it will be... but I'm not planning on changing that.

One nice effect of the air hose quick connect is that there's a rotational degree of freedom. Therefore, you can set your bicycle down on its side, or lean it up against something, without flipping the trailer. Also, I think it makes it corner a little more nicely.

With this trailer, I've managed to reduce my car use a fair amount--grocery runs for moderately large things aren't a problem. However, Home Depot lumber runs probably aren't in the works. It's also neat because (at least here in People's Republic of Cambridge) people sometimes smile and wave when they see a homemade trailer like this passing them.

One last step I'll need to complete--putting an Instructable sticker on it, so people know how to make these things!



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    23 Discussions


    3 years ago

    I love it


    4 years ago on Step 6

    Nicely done, Bats22. Perhaps using a heim or ball joint in series with the quick-connect for the hitch would eliminate unwanted lateral and vertical flexibility. Also, since you're already penetrating the bin with two lengths of conduit, adding a third for a through axle would only give up another 1 1/2 inches or so while adding stiffness and parallelism to the wheels.


    10 years ago on Step 5

    Very well done, kudos on the airhose connections! Cool.


    Great Trailer! Excellent Instructable!
    For those who may venture into either making a trailer or buying one, may I recommend new trailer users need to practice on a quiet traffic free road.
    Please remember:
    Bikes for pulling trailers need good brakes.

    Load the trailer as close to the axle as possible, keeping the centre of gravity (c of g) slightly forward of the axle.

    Keep the load as low as possible.

    Secure the load properly so it cannot move.

    Please keep your speed down.

    Think ahead and brake early and slowly, avoiding harsh braking.

    Do NOT use the rear brake. (To avoid jack-knifing).

    And keep your speed low. The heavier the load, the slower the tow. For a reasonably heavily laden trailer, keep the speed to NO MORE THAN 10 mph.

    Handling problems
    Trailers follow a tighter turn radius than the rear wheel.

    Making S-turns will almost certainly capsize a trailer.

    Trailers can roll, especially when turning and braking, or when turning too fast, or turning and the inside trailer wheel hits an obstacle or a pothole, or turning combined with adverse camber, or turning and an improperly secured load.

    Keep the centre of gravity as low as possible and forward of the wheels. Weight too far rear can lead to pitching and yawing, rear-wheel lock-up during braking and consequent jack-knifing and loss of control. To reduce the chances of jack-knifing, DO NOT USE THE REAR BRAKE.

    Tyres need to properly inflated, soft tyres can lead to speed wobbles yawing and rolling-over.

    Take care to ensure that the wheels are parallel, or the tyres will wear excessively. Excessive tyre wear is a sure indication that the wheels are not parallel.

    The hitch featured here will remain attached to the trailer even when the trailer has rolled. This could have serious consequences in traffic. My trailer has a hitch which de-couples when the trailer rolls-over. My commercially made trailer is a 'Der Roland' and I would definitely NOT buy another Der Roland or similar type if I needed a replacement.

    The Der Roland trailer can be seen here

    If looking for new trailer, I would look for a two-wheeled type, rear axle hitch, wide track (the distance between wheels) and a load platform as reasonably low as possible. In-fact virtually identical to the trailer presented in this Instructable. My only DOUBTS CONCERN THE HITCH which will cause the trailer to remain attached to the bicycle after the trailer rolls-over, which is inevitable and may cause the rider problems in a number of circumstances, assuming that the trailer is fully-laden when it happens.

    If you hear banging, IMMEDIATELY brake slowly and stop in a straight line. Probably caused by an inadequately restrained load, under inflated tyres, too high a centre of gravity (c of g). The banging sound lasts only a few seconds and IMMEDIATELY PRECEDES A ROLL-OVER. The banging noise is caused by the wheels of the trailer alternately lifting off the ground and crashing back down.

    On even a slight almost imperceptible slope, a laden trailer can easily topple a bike off its kick-stand, or pull it away from a leaning-point. Consider chocking both trailer wheels, before loading or unloading.

    2 replies

    10 years ago on Introduction

    I saw, if a wheel falls off my trailer, and i'm on the trail, i'm gonna put it on as good as possible and keep riding.


    10 years ago on Introduction

    totally_screwed gives a lot of useful advice about trailer towing, but also some I must disgree with (having been a heavy trailer user for a few years - I'll post my design on here sometime: It has proved good enough to carry 75Kg of sand, 2 students, lots of concrete flags etc). Firstly it's the _front_ brake you need to be careful with to avoid jacknifing. Heavy front braking with a heavily-loaded trailer can lift the rear wheel enough that the trailer shoves it sideways (this is quite exciting!). The advise about sensible speed and thinking ahead is imporntant - it amazing how much extra braking distance you can need with a big load. Secondly I disagree with the 'hitch should disconnect if trailer falls over' thesis, although to be fair it may depend on the trailer design in how low it's CofG is. In my experience, a heavy trailer will not fall over (or at least mine won't). It only tends to fall over when it's quite empty and bounces around - road humps are the biggest problem. When it is trying to fall over, having a hitch with a limit that brings the trailer back level again is much more useful than one that just lets go (potentially putting the trailer arm into your wheel (I've had that too - not good). This centering aspect is just one of many to consider when making a hitch - stength, hunting, rigidity, bending, sufficient yaw, pitch and erm 'the other one', (but not too much yaw), quick release, ease of construction, cost. Good trailer hitches are hard to make. I'm on my third design (using a car steering ball-joint) which works very well indeed but is a pain to make the bike half of. I like the various designs detailed here - some good ideas.


    10 years ago on Introduction

    I used this idea, with a castor wheel bracket and a little welding to make a nice trailer hitch attachment for my stereo trailer. Sorry the pics are not so good but you get the idea.


    11 years ago on Introduction

    Ctrl-F "Ask me how I know". Next... Next... Next... Next... I'm so happy about that :D The air hose quick connect is a great solution to the problem of rotational freedom- if I had half of this stuff available I'd probably make one. Interestingly, in the Cambridge this side of the pond a lot of people have similarly sized bike trailers they transport young children in- I guess it's a great solution to traffic/pollution/global warming etc. but I'm not sure I'd trust my 3-year-old child to a tiny trailer with no roll cage or seat belts that's probably very easy for 4x4 drivers to not notice.

    2 replies

    Reply 11 years ago on Introduction

    Thanks! :) I'm always glad to help people learn from other peoples' mistakes.... including my own. I see lots of folks with their kids in cycle trailers in the (newer) Cambridge, where I work. It does seem a bit scary to me, but I admire the concept... and I figure the kids will have some fun early memories of zooming along the road. Enh... not having kids, I don't have to work out that risk/reward balance.


    10 years ago on Introduction

    Hey, thanks for the info on how to lock the wheel that unscrews itself. I was wondering about the best way to solve that problem.


    10 years ago on Introduction

    A good stability idea would be to put a second hitch on the other side of the bike, and bring them together with a U-Joint. I like the quick connect idea. You could probably put a universal ball joint on it, and use the quick connect to attach to the hitch from there.


    10 years ago on Introduction

    I like it. I was just shopping for a bike trailer so I don't have to take my car to the grocery store. Man they are costly, $400 or so, geez. This one you made looks cool. I like the giant wheels.


    11 years ago on Introduction

    I'm looking at adapting something like this for my wife's scooter. I'd add rear visibility lights to the rear, with wires running along the underside to the scooter. The scooter itself has some connectors for the back lights, presumably for just such a thing (my luck!). ~adamvan2000


    11 years ago on Introduction

    I like the rubber hose with spring and hose quick connect idea because the rubber hose allows pitch and yaw while the coupling allows roll and the spring reduces lag and catchup. However, while I retained the coupling idea I replace the hose with a 2" caster wheel by cutting parallel flats on the wheels and bolting the wheel to the frame using the 1/4"-32 threaded fender mount holes. An angled bracket is then bolted between the caster and the conduit.

    Another modification was to not loop the conduit but to use only one 45 degree angle so that u-bolts could be used to fasten to the trailer and allow adjustment for wheel height in order to achieve a level trailer. When tightened the u-bolts hold good enough to keep the trailer level. A hole can be drilled through the conduit once the height is adjusted but was not necessary even with a 200lb load. I did a completely different deal to get pitch and raw by using square tubing with the coupling still used for roll. Pictures won't upload here, had to add links. Instructable later maybe. Good work.

    hitch wo/roll control
    u-bolt leveler method


    11 years ago on Introduction

    Great job. I am trying to find out and learn more . My trailer is still working great but I will build more. How much weight can this wheel connection take though? +- please let us know max weight and also weight it takes with ease. Thanks

    1 reply

    Reply 11 years ago on Introduction

    Thanks for the nice comment! I'm not actually sure how much weight this trailer can take. Given how many times "ask me how I know" comes up in this Instructable, I don't particularly want to do a "max load" test that has a risk of making the wheels fall off (yes, again). That being said, I'd guess it could take around 75 lbs safely. This is based on my being able to balance most of my weight (160 lbs) on the axle, and nothing seemed about to fail. However, a static test like this has much different results than a dynamic test. For instance, the loading that comes from riding over a pothole with a full tub would be much higher. If I end up doing a 'bike pull' (i.e., like a tractor pull), I'll post how much was in there.