One wheel or two?
Of course, it depends on your application. If you're looking into taking one of your kids, or a pet, on a short jaunt around your local area, or even doing some grocery shopping, then a two wheeler is a good choice. But for versatility and compactness, on or off-road, then the one wheeled trailer should be a the logical choice.
My main reasoning behind that statement is that the single wheel trailer tracks directly behind the rear wheel of the bike, and very well too. When riding at the edge of road pavement, the cyclist does not have to worry about the position of the trailer wheel(s). With a two wheeled trailer there is a distinct possibility that the inside wheel will be off the pavement and into some "rough stuff." Or one has to travel further into the roadway to avoid such a scenario. When riding off-road, the two wheeler would also be difficult to manoeuvre where there are deep ruts etc.
The single wheel trailer also has a lower (depending on load) and narrower profile than the two wheeler and hence tends to be more aerodynamic.
Notwithstanding, many people do tour with two wheeled trailers and have great success. The two wheeled trailers have a very light tongue weight, as most of the weight of the contents of the trailer, is distributed over the axle of the trailer itself, thereby applying very little static stress to the rear wheel/spokes of the bike. The single wheel trailer, if properly loaded, will probably have half the weight of the load on the rear axle of the bike. That's still better than having all the weight of the load on the rear wheel, as is the case when using just rear panniers on a light framed/wheeled bike.
Most bicycles can pull a trailer, but if towing a loaded trailer is to be a regular occurrence, or for extended touring, then a bicycle with a stiff rear triangle and/or frame would be the most suitable. Lighter framed bikes will tend to flex more when greater loads are being pulled, resulting in a shimmying of the bike, especially at speed. The same principle holds true for travel with panniers, a stiffer framed bike is much more capable of dealing with the stresses, that heavier loads deliver, during the various manoeuvres required when riding.
Furthermore, the rear wheel of the bike also needs to be of strong construction - heavier gauge spokes and a strong rim - as any pedalling pressure transmits torque to the hub and spokes of a rear wheel. Pulling or hauling extra weight increases this torque and can result in broken spokes on inadequately built wheels.
Burley are a well known manufacturer of two wheeled trailers - amongst other products - and have a few different models. The Nomad with its 100lb capacity seems to be their competition to the immensely popular BOB YAK, and is a very innovative trailer. The ability to be able fold up and pack the trailer into a nice package makes this a very viable unit for the touring cyclist who may have to travel partly via air or rail.
Bob Trailers have the YAK and a suspension version of the YAk, named IBEX. Both are single wheeled trailers and have a 70lb carrying capacity. The trailers can have the tongue inverted, the fender and wheel removed for compact packaging; not a big hardship for travel by air, rail etc.
Croozer Designs are just another one of many other trailer builders that have sprung up over recent years. The reason that I included this particular brand is that it also folds flat for transport, is very reasonable priced and has decent reviews. As with the two wheeled Burley, the Croozer is a good design not just for touring, but also many other errands that require some cargo space when cycling.
Tony's Trailers is a local builder here in BC, Canada (in fact, not much distant from where I live!). Hugely innovative trailers are on the website and Tony's abilities and ideas are quite remarkable, especially his Nomad which is essentially a "tent on wheels!" His site is full of his inventions and he can build custom trailers to suit all needs.
I recently purchased a two wheeled Burley Nomad and am very pleased with the good features of stability, low tongue weight and 100lb carrying capacity. Notwithstanding, I do find the width of the trailer to be a bit bothersome in some instances, e.g. narrow passageways or doorways. And without some care, I do see the possibility of the inside wheel either bumping into a high curb, or running off onto a rough shoulder.One more shortcoming of the Burley is that it does not come with fenders, and neither are they an option! As I live and ride mostly in the Pacific Northwest, rain spray is a big issue, so I suppose that I'll have to fashion something up on my own (Click here for my solution)!
I did own a BOB YAK and I really liked the way that it tracked behind my rear wheel around pot holes and other hazards. Also, I could track closer to the curb than I could with a two wheeler. And I like the way that my gear bag - from the trailer - lifted out as one piece and fitted nicely into my tent's vestibule. The trailer was a little bit finicky for parking, but in my opinion, a great rig all the same - especially for touring.
As I don't tour with a trailer any more (to any great extent), I do find the two-wheeled stability of the Burley Nomad much more convenient than the BOB for local errands and grocery shopping etc. Both trailers accept a large Rubbermaid container, which is very convenient for keeping items dry in inclement weather.
Ultimately, each person must evaluate their own needs and decide on which option suits them, their "towing vehicle" and equipment best.
There are a myriad of choices when it comes to panniers and also racks. Usually, you tend to get what you pay for, and for the most part, this holds true. Better designs, materials and features cost more money.
Reading other cyclists' opinions on Internet newsgroups and lists, such as "Bicycletouring on Google Groups ", can give one insight on the many features of different products. Also, most companies now have a presence on the Web, so viewing suitable products and acquiring specifications can be done from the comfort of home. But it's still nice to be able to touch, feel and inspect at a store! Unfortunately, depending on your location, a decent bike shop might not be in the offing. In fact, many of today's bike shops are full of mountain bikes, and do not have a lot to offer in the way of touring bikes or equipment. Notwithstanding, I support my local bike shop (LBS) as much as possible and am fortunate in that it has a good selection of parts and accessories, together with competent and knowledgeable staff. Often as not, a decent LBS can order anything that you may require and that they, perhaps, don't stock.
The panniers that I use are some of the Serratus brand that are made by Mountain Equipment Co-Op (MEC). MEC have some very good cycling equipment and accessories for very reasonable prices. It only costs C$5.00 for a lifetime membership and they have wonderful catalogues combined with on-line and mail order service. Unfortunately as of 2004, MEC dropped the Serratus brand of products - in fact, MEC were the owners of Serratus manufacturing and sole distributors; hence Serratus products are no longer available.
However after quite a hiatus, Serratus pannier copies arrived at the MEC stores under the brand name of MEC. In fact, the whole Serratus line of panniers seem to have been duplicated and are now available in their stores with quality and variety remaining the same as before - even the waterproof Aqua-Not panniers are available too.
I had a pair of their 36 litre (pair) rear panniers and a pair of their 15 litre (single) front panniers, both pairs were made with Cordura material and coated inside. Combined with a dry sack on the rear rack and a handlebar bag, all of my gear fitted into this combination. I found the panniers to be very water resistant, but I still had to pack everything in plastic bags, just in case, and also use rain covers. The mounting system on the panniers is excellent and I never had a problem with it in thousands of miles of touring. My "Aqua-Not" MEC handlebar bag has an easy and convenient quick release mounting system and is completely waterproof. I may sound like an advertisement for the company, but frankly, I just like their products, and prices!
In late 2005 I decided to upgrade my pannier setup somewhat by researching waterproof panniers. My Cordura panniers work admirably, but for extended tours I seem to find that I spend a lot of time removing and replacing pannier rain covers - I guess that I seem to travel in a lot of rainy locales, or does the rain just follow me around? Anyway, as I mentioned above, Serratus were no more and that's too bad because their "Aqua-Not" waterproof panniers would have been my first choice. Of course, without straining myself too much I could easily determine that Ortlieb are hugely popular as waterproof, durable, virtually bomb-proof pannier and their attachment systems are excellently engineered - there again, what German equipment isn't! Yes, they are a little pricey, but I'm sure from all the testimonials that I have read that they will be completely waterproof and provide superb service over many future years of touring.
I opted for the "Bike Packer Plus" for the rear pair and "Front Roller Plus" for the front pair.
Here's a photo of my set-up
Other pannier favourites of touring cyclists are...
Ortlieb Panniers - made in Germany - an excellent brand, and one of the most touted. They are hard wearing and waterproof, serious panniers. I upgraded to these!
Arkel - OD - made in Canada - OD stands for over-designed and the panniers certainly are well thought out designs with lots of features not found in other brands. I believe that the company will customise bags to your specific needs too.
MEC - made in Vietnam (Aqua-Not line made in Thailand) - MEC now has other manufacturers making copies based on the tried and tested designs of long time favourite panniers and bags that were the Serratus brand - quality is excellent and the prices are very reasonable.
Vaude Panniers - made in Germany - are also very popular and have a full range of panniers for all situations.
Robert Beckman Designs - made in the USA - Beckman hand builds panniers, racks and touring bikes, if you can afford to wait for quite a while, the goods are apparently top notch.
...To mention just a few.
Here are some of my findings and pros/cons of touring with trailers and panniers...
I used a BOB (loaded with approx. 30-35 lbs.) for the first time during the year 2000, for short and long trips. I also used two small panniers (load for both approx. 10 lbs.), one for food and the other for raingear, tools, spares and other items that I wanted to access quickly rather than rummaging in the large BOB bag. Having the front panniers greatly stabilised the steering and made the bike feel much more stable. I tried a short tour with just rear panniers and the BOB, but found no advantage to having the panniers on the rear - the steering also felt very light and twitchy.
Prior to trying the BOB trailer, I have always toured with two small front panniers, two larger rear panniers and a dry bag on top of the rear rack.
The BOB seems to make the bike more aerodynamic in general than with bulky panniers. Climbing hills? More effort seems to be required when towing a trailer. After all, it does weigh 12 lbs and delivers the rolling resistance of one more wheel.
Motorists appear to give more space when passing a bike with a trailer.
The manual for the trailer states to only connect and disconnect the trailer empty, but I found it OK to connect/disconnect even loaded, although I do have a good kickstand on the bike, without which would make the job very difficult.
Parking the bike and trailer needs some extra attention if using a kickstand. The weight of my handlebar bag tends to make the front fork turn inwards, which makes the whole bike pivot on the kickstand and the trailer and bike will try and jack-knife. A real pain. I solved this problem by simply hooking a bungee cord to the front wheel from the rear rack, to keep the fork straight, the wheel from turning, and inline with the rest of the bike - simple!
Speeding down hills with panniers is more stable than with a trailer; although keeping the weight on the BOB low and evenly distributed will tend to eliminate any fish-tailing at high speed.
Loading a trailer appropriately, lets the trailer wheel share the load with the bike's rear wheel, thereby lessening the load on the bike's rear wheel and possibly reducing the risk of potential spoke breakage.
Note: There has been a lot discussion within the touring list community regarding spoke breakage when using a BOB trailer. However there are many factors to consider when a cyclist reports a broken spoke. e.g. Was the wheel suitable? Was the wheel built accurately? How old was the wheel? How far has the wheel travelled? Was the trailer overloaded? Was the trailer loaded appropriately? Does the bike have a stiff rear triangle? What is the rider's riding style? etc.
At present, there seems to be little evidence that spoke breakage is more widespread for bike wheels that tow single wheel (BOB) trailers than spoke breakage to other wheels that are utilised for cargo carrying or pulling.]
Improperly loaded panniers do put more weight directly on the wheels.
The bike is not as compact with a trailer as with just panniers.
The trailer would be one more obstacle (extra baggage) when travelling by airline or other common carriers.
The bike is easier to take on a short side trip by parking the trailer somewhere safe.
You can carry more stuff with a trailer, a bad temptation! Keep it light.
Packing gear each morning is much quicker and easier when using a trailer.
The trailer's bag is not as easily accessible, or as organised, as panniers.
You can flip the BOB upside down and use it for a table!
If going to remote locations, using a trailer would require you to carry another spare tube and perhaps tire? - Unless your bike wheels happen to be the same size!
Your touring partners will not be happy with you, when they they discover that there is no benefit to trying to draft you and your trailer, especially if you have been drafting their trailer unencumbered bikes!
When touring with others, it is also difficult to converse with a rider in front if they have a trailer - the length of the trailer often puts them out of reach for reasonable conversation.
Riding alongside a touring partner with a trailer is often not possible on roads with narrow shoulders due to the extra width required by the trailer.
At first, I was very undecided about trailers - as they do require a learning curve. And although I'm comfortable with towing a trailer, most of my future touring will be with panniers - Ultimately, a personal preference decision! Nonetheless, I do use a Burley Nomad trailer extensively for shopping expeditions around town where packing panniers with many groceries etc. is impractical. I bungee a large Rubbermaid container/tote into the bed for this purpose.
Consequently, I did leave the BOB trailer at home for my twelve week cross-Canada trip in 2002 and used my panniers. Reasoning? Less weight, ease of mobility, and it was less of problem packing for the return flight home.
In retrospect, I know that it was a good choice!