Saturday, August 14, 2010

Product Reviews (Part 1)

We used quite a few products on our 1000-mile tour. We'll start with the gear trailer and its box:

Burley Flatbed Trailer modified by Calhoun Cycle to have a straight drawbar for use with delta trikes. The trailer has been through over 1500 miles of touring, including many miles on crushed limestone trails. We also use it for grocery shopping and have transported bikes and kayaks on it. We wore out the original tires and replaced them with Schwalbe Marathons. The fabric has required some patching with a combination of Kevlar fabric and Gorilla Tape. Despite being quite light, it is reasonably sturdy. The fabric has held up pretty well, considering that we often find the area under our luggage box to be full of sand and little rocks after a ride on a trail.

The trailer tracks well with the central drawbar. If we were to do it again, we would smooth the sharp edges of the attachment hardware, which ended up cutting into the fabric when we put a box on the trailer -- requiring some patching.

We have gone downhill pulling the trailer behind a pair of trikes (an Anura and a Kettwiesel on that occasion) at speeds up to 42 miles per hour, without any problems handling it.

We have used two different boxes on the trailer. The first was a Sterilite container that fit fully within the area of the fabric, but its lid was hard to open, especially in cold weather. We worried that it would crack, so we started looking for a suitable replacement. Even the box that we had was now unavailable, and the newer ones didn't appear robust enough for touring.

The Igloo cooler was the only sturdy, waterproof box we could find that would fit on the trailer. At 23 pounds, it is heavier than we would prefer, its thick walls reduce the interior space somewhat, and the latches are a bit flimsy, but it has many offsetting advantages. Drinks stay cool in it. It's easy to open and close. Even with the thick walls, the inside is roomier than the previous box. The white color is very visible on the road. It was fairly easy to mount Planet Bike "rack-mount" blinkies on the back of it. Reflectorized tape sticks pretty well to the surface. ...And, there are four cup holders built into the lid!

We use foam pipe insulation underneath to cushion the box and protect the trailer's fabric. The Burley straps just reach over the top of the box but don't hold it quite securely enough, so we also run a bungee cord through the handles on the front and back and secure them to the trailer's frame. On long rides, it's important that the bungee cords are equally strong, or the box ends up moving forward or backward.

For a supported bike tour with luggage-forwarding, we worried that the box would pop open during loading or unloading. We taped it closed with Gorilla tape, sometimes adding duct tape over the latches. (Gorilla tape also proved handy for patching a tire when we ran out of patch material and for reinforcing the rim-tape in one wheel when a tube developed a hole on the rim side and we couldn't find the source of the puncture.) Taping the box shut worked well: it didn't pop open during handling, and the tape was easy to remove. When using the box on the trailer, we rely on the Burley trailer's built-in straps to reinforce the latches.

The elegant and simple hitch is unfortunately unavailable in the United States. It comes from Weber in Germany and is hard to find even in other EU countries. There are several sizes, for different European children's and utility trailers and different configurations of bike attachments. The two sections are sold separately and are fairly expensive. We had the hitch on our trailer when we used it with our Kettwiesel trike, having gotten a set in Germany a few years ago. This restricted us to having the Kettwiesel in back whenever we wanted to use the trailer. When traveling with two Anuras, we wanted maximum flexibility in the configuration of the trikes. We picked up a pair of hitches for the Anuras in Copenhagen in the fall of 2009, after making rather complicated arrangements to have them shipped from Germany to a guy in Denmark who needed a bike part from the US that we could bring over for him.

The part of the hitch that attaches to the bike normally has an axle mount, but this can be removed for mounting directly to a central plate on the rear of a trike. Hase's trike coupler for the Kettwiesel has holes drilled for this purpose, but we had to have an attachment custom-made for the Anura. We've shown the modified Anura coupler/hitch to Ian Sims from Greenspeed and hope that there will be a factory-produced version in the future.

The trailer can be attached one-handed, though it is easier with two hands. Pushing a button allows a sleeve to rotate on the drawbar for the trailer. The sleeve slides over the hitch section that is mounted on the trike.

The system is similar to what is used on collapsible canes and adjustable crutches. There is also a security strap on the hitches as they are supplied, but we ended up not installing it, because of difficulty figuring out how to mount it.

A quick twist of the sleeve snaps the button out, and the trailer is securely hitched.

We have been very satisfied with the trailer and its current box. It does tempt us to pack a little more stuff than we really need, and its weight is burdensome on steep climbs, but it offers the best solution we have found for the need to have enough clothing, tools, and other supplies along on a tour.

The safety factor is considerable. Nobody wants to run over a big, old cooler. Cars and trucks pulled far to the side to go around us. The blinkie lights are easy to see from quite a distance and the white color is conspicuous. Our previous dull, blue box didn't seem nearly as protective.

At home, the insulated cooler is terrific for grocery shopping. I've had over 80 pounds of groceries in it. Picnics and tailgating will be fun with this rig; the drinks will stay cold, and the cup-holders will be convenient.

We have also thought of mounting a solar panel on top for re-charging electronic gear, but we'll probably wait for lower-priced and more efficient solar cells before trying that.

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