Do you love the outdoors? Do you love your kids? Great! We’re on the same page. This article on bike trailer safety is just for you.
Safety concerns are one of the first considerations that parents have when riding together with a child in a bike trailer. The evidence is clear that bike trailers are the safest way to ride together with a child, as opposed to bike-mount child seats.
But how safe are bike trailers for riding on the road should and what can you do to ensure that you don’t have any incidents?
I have been using bike trailers regularly with my two kids for the last 6+ years since they were infants without ever coming close to having a crash or incident. This is everything you need to know about how to ride safely on the road with cars.
Can you ride with a bike trailer on the road shoulder?
Bike trailers are generally not safe to ride with on the road shoulder because they are low to the ground and may not be visible to drivers. In addition, the bike trailer is significantly wider than the bike, which results in the trailer sticking out into the road.
There are a few key reasons that bike trailers are not safe to ride on the road.
First, bike trailers are lower to the ground than the bike, which makes it harder for drivers in cars to see the trailer. This is especially true when cars are passing you on the road.
Second, drivers are not looking for cyclists, and in turn, are not looking for bike trailers. This is an unfortunate effect of tunnel vision. When people are driving, they are actively looking for cyclists because they are more focused on looking out for other cars. Since other cars pose the greatest threat to drivers, it is instinctive to only look for other cars. It’s called tunnel vision.
Third, bike trailers are significantly wider than a bike, which results in the trailer sticking out into the road slightly. This is particularly dangerous when cars are passing you on the road because they may assume that they are giving enough room for the bike, but not enough room for the trailer.
Fourth, since the bike trailer is wider than the bike, the trailer’s wheel might knock against the curb, which may cause the rider to lose control.
Where can you safely ride with a bike trailer?
Bike trailers are very safe to ride with on sidewalks, bike paths, and greenways. They can be made even safer by riding under 10 mph, using a flag, and using flashing lights.
If you are fortunate enough to have greenways, bike paths, or sidewalks in your area, then there is no need to be afraid of pulling a bike trailer to get around. In fact, bike trailers are actually the safest way to get around with a child, as I’ve outlined in this article.
What if I have to ride on the road?
If you don’t have any option besides riding on the road with cars, then there are a few things you can do to help ensure safety while riding.
1. Find local backroads with less traffic
The reason we often get scared of taking a particular route to our destination by bike is that we are used to driving that same route, and we don’t realize that there are usually back roads and small local roads that take us to the same destination without the traffic.
You should always use your phone’s map app (Google Maps, Apple Maps, etc.) to map out your ride before heading out the door. Google Maps will even recommend the best and safest bike route if you click on the “biking” icon.
2. Don’t ride faster than 10 mph (16 kph)
It’s tempting to want to compete with the cars and ride faster with the bike trailer. But the industry-wide recommendation is to not ride over 10 mph (or 16 kph) with a bike trailer. The reason for this speed recommendation is for safety. Bike trailers are heavy and require more time to stop and go when pulling 40+ lbs of extra weight. In addition, in the event of losing control of your bike, it is much easier to gain control or brake when traveling at a slower speed. Therefore, going at a relaxing speed of at most 10 mph is recommended to ensure safety.
3. Use flashing lights
If you must ride on the road, make sure you’re lighting up like a Christmas tree during the day and especially at night. Regardless of the time of day, flashing lights are tremendously helpful for drivers to see you.
A good front light has different options to either flash or stay on. When riding in the day or early evening, use the flashing function. When it’s completely dark, just keep the light on without flashing.
You will also want to make sure that your front light can be charged by USB, rather than powered by disposable batteries. You should be charging your lights at the end of every day, so USB charger is the way to go.
I have been using this front light from Cycle Torch for many years without any issues. It’s super bright and has multiple flash frequency settings.
The rear light should also have different flash options. You will definitely want to keep your rear lights on all the time in the winter, night or day. A good rear light will be powered by a USB-chargeable battery, rather than disposable batteries.
This rear light by Blitzu has never let me down through dark winters and freezing rain. It has different flash options, such as a rapid flash or a steady flash. It is also rather bright. Not dim at all for more than four years of constant use.
4. Use a flag
Most bike trailers come equipped with a bright flag. The flag serves the purpose of helping drivers see the bike trailer that they otherwise would not see because it is so low to the ground.
If you are riding anywhere near cars or in the city, a flag is highly recommended to help you be visible on the road.
How safe are bike trailers?
Bike trailers offer a protective cage and harness seat belts that protect a child in the event of a crash. Bike trailers are the safest way to ride together with a child in comparison to alternative options, such as bike-mounted child seats.
Bike trailers are actually very safe
With any outdoor activity that involves semi-high speeds, there is an element of risk, but the health benefits and enjoyment factors more often outweigh the risks.
For example, an adult riding a bike next to a child or skiing with a child has the same risk factors as pulling a bike trailer. This is exactly the reason why bike trailers are arguably the safest way to ride with a child.
By following some basic safety tips and your own common sense, bike trailers can be much safer than alternative options, such as bike-mounted child seats.
On top of that, there is the added benefit of being very healthy for you and your child long-term, which helps reduce the risk factors involved with riding with a bike trailer.
There is an excellent article by Mr. Money Mustache that argues that bikes are the safest form of transport. I recommend reading it here.
What does the research say about bike trailer safety?
There is currently not enough research done on the safety of bike trailers, simply because there aren’t enough people using them to gather a relevant case study.
On top of that, we haven’t really given bike trailers a fair chance because our entire infrastructure is designed for cars first (especially here in the US). The evidence we do have is based on the safety of biking in general, which is a good indicator of how safe bike trailers are.
Perhaps the most helpful piece of data available is how fatal crashes usually occur, and then do everything we can to avoid those situations.
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration in the United States, they state the following:
“There are two main types of crashes: the most common (falls), and the most serious (the ones with cars). Regardless of the reason for the crash, prevention is the name of the game. There are things you can do to decrease your risk of a crash. First, know some bicycle safety facts:
1. Regardless of the season, bicyclist deaths occurred most often between 6 p.m. and 9 p.m.
2. Bicyclist deaths occur most often in urban areas (75%) compared to rural areas (25%) in 2017.
3. Bicyclist deaths were 8 times higher for males than females in 2017.
4. Alcohol was involved in 37% of all fatal bicyclist crashes in 2017.
Ride responsibly, and remember: All states require bicyclists on the roadway to follow the same rules and responsibilities as motorists.”
I wrote an entire article on why bike trailers are the safest way to get around with a child. Check that out here.
My recommended bike trailer: Schwinn Joyrider
Check out the Ultimate Guide to Buying a Bike Trailer for more help with choosing a trailer. I also have compiled a list of the top bike trailers for every common situation, which you can check out here.