The Beast of Burden
Trying to get an e-bike to do full boondocking duty is no small thing. Small errands to the nearest town are usually not a big deal, especially when the bike has a basket or other carrying capability. Early on though, it became apparent that replacing the truck with a bicycle for major grocery runs was going to be an issue. Such runs typically involved considerable weight and space in either the truck’s interior or cargo area.
Looking at oversized baskets, bags and panniers gave me a little concern, both from a weight standpoint and a volume one. And simply the need to carefully organize and repack relatively delicate produce in vertical side bags to avoid damage over a long and often jarring ride would become a frequent nuisance. A normal e-bike might be able to have a fairly decent amount of food strapped on, but even at that, I didn’t like having to add weight onto the front wheel because it affects steering. Things can get dicey when you’re in traffic and trying to swerve the tires precisely between potholes. The Evelo Aurora’s wonky frame design cut the cargo loading options right up front. As noted in my previous articles, it posed big compatibility problems for most cargo accessories. The good news is that this lack also simplified having to sort through scores of different bag and basket models in the hunt for sheer volume. They weren’t cutting it, anyway.
It was plain that in order to preserve the Mighty Furd for future generations, I was going to have to build a system of sorts, one that would allow for both unburdened exploration and errands, small and large. All-out, it would have to be able to go further distances than my butt will allow. Plus, this “system” would have to be transportable from campsite to campsite with as little effort and inconvenience as possible. If something is a serious nuisance to break out and use, it’s usually left unused, defeating the whole point in having it in the first place. As I’ve “matured”, my tolerance for the frustration caused by inconvenience and complexity has come to an all-time low.
So a decision to consider a detachable bike trailer rolled in pretty early, and stayed. A bike trailer can easily carry considerably more cargo than a bike alone can, and with greater convenience and safety. Cross-country cyclists have used them for many years to carry camping equipment, and they are a frequent sight today, out West. Load capacities range from forty to seventy pounds. They come with either one or two wheels, and attach with an arm to either the bike’s seatpost or its rear axle. I looked at maybe fifteen different offerings. It might make for a more interesting article to show each one and point out plusses and minuses of each, but you’d never make it to the end of the article, so I’ll relent. No carpal tunnel for me today.
I will say that in the distant past I’ve used a two-wheel child carrier trailer that attached to the seatpost. It was okay, but had a penchant for flipping over when empty, on bad pavement. That gave me pause for using a similar cargo trailer in Arizona, since even the paved roads have missing chunks of thick asphalt, and the drop-offs to the shoulder can be brutal. Unpaved trails run the gamut from glassy to nasty. I wasn’t enthused about having to be careful about keeping the wider wheel tracks behind me in mind, because picking a path at speed can get involved.
Single-track seemed to be the way to go for me, the trailer wheel following directly behind the bike’s tires. Continuing my research, I finally settled on the B.O.B. models of trailers. B.O.B. stands for Beast of Burden. But they use an uncommon way to attach to the bike’s rear axle, using a fork that fastens to both axle ends, so compatibility issues once again came to mind. B.O.B. offered some adapters, but which would I need? I used BOB’s contact form to ask some questions, and never got a reply, as 98% of their product line is now baby carts and strollers. Maybe that contact form was only for lawsuits. A Customer Service Rep at Evelo uses a BOB Yak trailer, and told me about what I’d need to hook it up. Score another point for Evelo.
The BOB Yak model is most universally recommended. It’s a straightforward one-wheel trailer with a full-coverage fender. BOB trailers are made of high-strength steel instead of lighter aluminum, but as a result have a seventy-pound cargo capacity. They are considered to be the gold standard of serious cross-country trailers. There are more exotic ones and cruder ones, but BOB trailers seem to offer the least problems and most long-term reliability for the price. They have a reputation of over-stressing the little 16” kid’s bike wheel and wig-wagging at high speeds, but I certainly don’t think I’ll be reaching its weight limit or exceeding the 30 MPH recommended max anytime soon. Doddering oldster, remember? Plus, I can only drink so many 18-packs at a time.
The pricier Ibex model is often deemed as overkill. The Ibex adds an adjustable suspension at its rear wheel, which adds a hundred dollars to that model’s cost. Naturally, with me being me, I thought long and hard about this issue, oh yes. I considered who was discounting the suspension, and then recalled the roads and trails I’d be taking, along with the types of loads I’d be carrying. Dang. The Ibex’s suspension seemed to me to be a financially painful but necessary no-brainer decision. Time to break from the pack.
Buying one was not as easy. No one in my area of the Midwest stocks BOB trailers, so there’s no way to look at one and determine suitability and fit. The BOB website listed dealers, but the ones here seemed to know nothing about them and wouldn’t order one for me. So, I found an online source that offered all the options, adapters and accessories that could be selected in one shot, and ordered. Ow. Over $500, optioned up. Then I remembered the recent Ford’s tires at $900+, and the front shocks it could use at $450 a pair, and the trailer looked a little more like a long-term investment. Boy, this e-bike thing better work out!
They packed everything in the trailer’s carton, and I had it a week later. Assembly went quickly, and the trailer’s overall quality looks very good, no exceptions. The only issue was that the funky plastic rear wheel fender took a hit in shipping, and broke at its mounts. It isn’t full-coverage like the Yak’s, and I asked about sourcing a better fender, but nobody seems to make one, short of having a fashionable/faddish wood one custom-made for a small fortune. The vendor promptly sent me a stock replacement while I was still wondering what to do.
The Ibex’s fork attaches to the Aurora by securing its ends to the bike’s protruding rear axle stubs. The stock two nuts there are replaced with a couple of “BOB’s Nutz”, which are two small nuts with rotatable bobbins that extend off the ends. The trailer fork rests on these bobbins, and that allows full up/down articulation over bumps. The forks are locked into place with a couple of pins that slide and lock into place underneath each bobbin. An articulated joint holds the fork to the trailer body, allowing turns to be made. Bikes vary on rear axle width, and the Aurora’s is wider than usual. That means putting one fork end onto one bobbin, and then carefully yanking the fork wider to spread it apart enough to go onto the second bobbin. That takes considerable pressure, but not enough to be of concern for either the bobbins or the fork itself. Mounting and dismounting the trailer from the bike is quick and easy.
The trailer itself weighs twenty pounds, which is considerable but not that much to worry about with an e-bike. It’s body is a pair of steel tubes bent into a “U” at the front, with struts connecting them one above the other. They form an open-back tub of sorts, with a floor of expanded steel sheet to prevent trapped water. The BOB trailers are commonly sold with what they call a dry sack – a waterproof duffle bag that you stuff items into and then lay down in the trailer. Not really needing a waterproof bag that’s tedious to fill and empty, I opted for an open nylon fabric tray that straps into place in the trailer bed. If necessary, add a couple of bungee cords or an elastic net on top, and you’re in business. Some folks have found plastic lidded storage tubs that fit the space well, to get both dry cargo and taller sidewalls for additional volume.
What’s the BOB Ibex trailer like to use? Gee, I dunno. I’ve pulled it a few times, and other than feeling its presence now and then on almost-imperceptible balance issues, and needing one more level of pedal-assist power to maintain the same speed as before, I quickly stopped having to think about it. Basically, if my tires take a path, the trailer’s will duplicate it. If my handlebars clear a pole or parked car, the trailer will, too. There’s no need to keep in mind, “What’s the trailer going to do here? Should I move over to avoid this?”
With a 25-pound load onboard, the BOB Ibex remains well-behaved and isn’t a power hog. A gusty sidewind puts some side-tip pressure on that needs to be dealt with. That feels odd, because dealing with the wind pressure solo seems to come so naturally that it goes unnoticed, so even though the trailer is rigidly linked to the bike, its own additional wind pressure feels foreign and unexpected. It probably varies according to load profile rather than weight, since the empty trailer has no real wind resistance. High crosswinds could be more of a challenge with a bulky load. This is more of a one-wheel trailer trait than something specific to the BOB trailer alone.
The much longer combination that results can complicate parking, but this hasn’t been an issue so far. Being locked to the bike’s axle, the trailer leans with the bike at all times. The Aurora’s sturdy kickstand holds both up well. But, loaded may be another matter and, as a precaution, I mounted a Greenfield aftermarket kickstand for the trailer itself. It’s designed to clamp to a bicycle’s rear stays near the back axle, but it just happens to fit the BOB trailer fork perfectly as well. It too is heavy duty, has superior reach outward, and has a large foot at its tip. The result is exceptional stability when parked and loading or unloading, particularly on soft ground. Used alone, it actually holds the combo up better than the Aurora’s kickstand does.
Lots of BOB trailer users abhor the extra weight of a kickstand – any kickstand at all, anywhere – and will park their bike at a 90-degree angle to the trailer, to keep both upright. This is like taping two playing cards together at one edge and bending the joint to let them stand up. The success of this technique seems to vary greatly however, and greatly complicates finding an appropriate space to park the contraption. Given the gusty winds I often face, and the fact that less than a pound of extra weight makes no difference with my setup, I decided to stay with my ease-of-use priority. Having to constantly keep an eye on balance and shifting while loading up is not something I want to have to do. Life’s too short.
To avoid getting a flat tire, I included a thicker, thorn-resistant tire tube with my order and changed that over while I assembled the trailer. The wheel is held with a quick-change axle clamp. The tire itself is much more of a problem to peel off the rim, but a Crankbrothers Speedier Tire Lever from a local shop made comparatively short work of that. I’ve learned over the years to always use what “the guys at the shop” use themselves. It usually costs, but conserves time, blood and vocabulary.
Once again, how good a choice the trailer is seems good initially, but will only be really known once I start pounding on it out West. As it is, it looks likely to outlast the e-bike itself.
Naturally, how to convey this elaborate and large “shopping system” from campsite to campsite without taking up valuable real estate in the trailer or the truck bed now becomes the issue. The cheap 2-bike Swagman bike rack mounted to the Defiant’s rear bumper isn’t rated for a 65-pound e-bike, and has been deforming under the weight of the 30-pound Raleigh alone! The bumper itself isn’t all that sturdy, either. Plus, the dust cloud back there is really bad news for a bicycle. Now I’m adding a bike trailer, too! So, how to safely transport all this extra crap? This is starting to get complex! Since I won’t use it if I can’t keep it convenient, stay tuned for that solution in the next article of this series.