Bike trailers can be confusing and frustrating to figure out how to attach to a bike. Some bike trailer brands, such as Schwinn, claim to have a “universal” hitch coupler.
But is there truly a “universal” bike trailer coupler attachment?
I have attached every major bike trailer brand to many different types of bikes, including cruisers, hybrid bikes, mountain bikes, road bikes, and disc brake bikes. This article covers everything I’ve learned about how universal bike trailer attachments really are.
Is there a universal hitch coupler?
There is currently no hitch coupler available that can universally attach to all brands of bike trailers. However, Schwinn and Instep bike trailers currently have the most universal coupler available. They can attach to standard quick-release bikes and thru-axle disc brake bikes without the need for an adapter or extra attachments.
In other words, Schwinn/Instep hitch couplers are universal in that they can attach to any type of bike, but they cannot attach to all brands of bike trailers.
Why are bike trailer hitch couplers so incompatible?
The main reason bike trailers are not compatible with some types of bikes (particularly disc brake bikes) is because the bike industry is rapidly innovating at a rate faster than bike trailer manufacturers can keep up with.
For instance, bike trailers were originally designed primarily for standard quick-release bikes back in the early 1990s. Back then, disc brakes were not common on bicycles, and the popularity of disc brakes did not hit the market until a decade later.
Since the increase in popularity of disc brakes and other types of bikes, bike trailer manufacturers have made significant efforts to accommodate the rapidly-changing bike industry. Notably, many bike trailer companies have produced thru-axle adapters for disc brakes and spacers for bikes with hooded dropouts.
Some bike trailer manufacturers have even gone to great lengths to completely redesign their hitch coupler attachment system in order to accommodate thru-axles and other types of bikes. Most notably, Burley and Schwinn are two companies that completely redesigned their coupler system. This is a rather bold move on their part, as it would add much more investment of time, money, and education on their part.
What is the most compatible bike trailer brand?
Schwinn and Instep bike trailers are the most compatible and hassle-free when it comes to attaching to any type of bike. I have attached my Schwinn trailers to a cruiser, a mountain bike, a road bike, and a hybrid bike without any need to buy additional attachments.
However, they are not entirely “universal” as their product descriptions claim to be. Meaning, they are universal in that they can attach to all types of bikes (disc brakes, quick-release, etc.), but they cannot attach to all brands of bike trailers.
Unfortunately, no one has figured out how to make a truly universal coupler attachment system, but Schwinn is getting pretty close! They made a significant upgrade to their coupler system in 2016 that even works with thru-axle disc brake bikes.
Schwinn and Instep bike trailers are under the same company, so they use the exact same coupler attachment system.
What is the least compatible bike trailer brand?
I have attached every major bike trailer brand to many different types of bikes, including a cruiser, mountain bike, hybrid bike, disc brake bike, and a road bike.
From my experience, the least compatible bike trailer brand to my different bikes is Thule.
It’s a close tie between Thule and Burley, but Thule bike trailers are particularly difficult to attach if you have a thru-axle disc brake bike.
Here are two reasons Thule trailers are the least compatible:
1. The coupler hole on Thule trailers doesn’t fit a thru-axle
Other coupler systems at least have a large enough hole to fit a 12mm thru-axle so that you can see if it will fit your bike, but Thule’s coupler doesn’t even have a large enough hole to even try it. As soon as I got my Thule Chariot Cross, I was immediately defeated by the fact that I had to spend another $60 on an adapter.
For such a high-end bike trailer manufacturer, I would hope that Thule can at least produce a coupler that can give disc brake bikes a chance by making a larger hole. Even Schwinn made a large coupler, and they’re not nearly as high-end as Thule is.
2. Thule trailers do not come with adapters
I know it might seem like a stretch to ask a company to provide a thru-axle adapter to their customers. But with a high price tag of over $1000 for some of its bike trailers, I don’t think it’s unrealistic to provide the adapter in the box when a customer orders the product.
Of course, there are many types of thru-axle sizes, so they can provide the correct adapter depending on the type of bike the customer has. For a high-end company like Thule, I don’t think it’s unreasonable. It just seems like double-dipping to ask customers to buy a $60 adapter just to attach the trailer to a bike.
The good news about Thule is that they do provide more variations of thru-axle adapters than any other company, which you can check out in this post.
There will surely be a universal hitch coupler designed in the future, but for now, we’ll just have to manage with the bike trailer companies that are making effort to innovate new ways of attaching bike trailers.
If you’re in the market for a new bike trailer, I would recommend a solid Schwinn bike trailer (here’s my personal favorite). Not just for the compatibility with all types of bikes, but also for the affordability.
Need help finding the right bike trailer?
If you need help finding the right bike trailer for you, my recommended trailer for most people is the Swhinn Joyrider, which is an affordable double-seater that converts beautifully to a stroller. Check out my full review with photos here.
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.