You're ready to roll with your little ones but with hundreds of bike trailers on the market today, which will work best for your family? We researched 40 top models and picked 8 of the best to test side-by-side for more than 500 miles. For three months, we rode these trailers on every surface and with every combination of passengers and cargo to find out which ones provide the comfiest ride for both bikers and passengers, offer the most versatility, and won't make you curse your morning commute. We know bike trailers inside and out, so let our expert analysis and our hundreds of miles of testing help you find the perfect fit for your family, your lifestyle, and your budget.
Updated June 2017
Just in time for all of your summer adventures, we've updated our review to bring you the top performers on the market today. New to the coveted Editors' Choice award, we introduce the Burley D'Lite. The Burley Bee wins our Best Buy award for the second year in a row, and the new Thule Chariot Cross takes home a Top Pick award. Equipped with our expert testers' knowledge of bike trailers and which models bring what to the table, let us say, happy biking!
If we had to pick one bike trailer for our families, the Burley D'Lite would be it. The D'Lite is our Editors' Choice because it was at or near the top of the pack for every metric we tested, and we can't think of a single application where it wouldn't excel. Its safety features are the best on the market, with a comprehensive roll cage, UV-repellent windows, substantial ventilation and a secure, padded five-point harness. We loved Burley's hitch mechanism because it makes it easy to connect the trailer to the bike and provides a stable, lurch-free towing experience. Our passenger testers were "d'lited" with the D'Lite's comfy seats, smooth ride quality, and ample interior storage pockets. The D'Lite is outstandingly versatile — not only do its seats lie flat to accommodate dogs, oversized cargo and anything else you want to tow, but it has optional strolling, jogging and cross country ski kits for multisport families. If you're in the market for a trailer that does everything well and most things best, look no further than the D'Lite.
If you're hunting for a high-quality, user-friendly bike trailer that won't sting your wallet, we recommend our Best Bang for the Buck, the Burley Bee. With an MSRP of $299, the Bee is less than half the price of our Editors' Choice award winner, the Burley D'Lite, but it has many of the same great safety features and is just as simple to set up, attach and tow. The Bee is the lightest trailer we tested but has the largest cargo space, so it's a great option for commutes or running errands around town. The passenger experience in the Bee is pretty basic, with unpadded seats and no suspension, and this is a single-function trailer with no strolling or multisport conversion kits available. If you already have a stroller or a jogger, or if you're looking for a nimble, fun and relatively inexpensive entry into biking with kids, the Burley Bee is a great buy.
The Thule Chariot Cross may have been knocked off the Editors' Choice pedestal by the Burley D'Lite, but make no mistake: This is an outstanding bike trailer with a range of ability and a thoughtfulness of design that will keep any family satisfied. Due to its high weight — the only trailer we tested to break 30 pounds — and its attention to passenger comfort, we think the Chariot Cross is best-suited for athletes who will be taking kids out on long rides and who have the iron legs required to pull it up hills. Athletic families will also love the included strolling wheels and available jogging and cross country skiing kits that Thule offers. If you have an active family and are looking for a trailer that will bring you quality time with your young ones while sticking to your training plan, the Thule Chariot Cross is the one for you.
In 2014, we selected four of the most popular bike trailers for kids available and tested them side-by-side over the course of a year. Now, we've updated that review by testing the latest versions of those trailers, as well as four additional models that we selected by researching 40 of the top products on the market. For three months, we rode with these trailers daily, performed objective tests and recorded our subjective observations to score each product across five distinct rating metrics so we could report on their best uses. We weighted each metric according to our understanding of its contribution to the kid-towing experience, then used our weighted ratings to score each trailer on a scale from 1-100, as shown above.
Trailer testing is a rough job, but somebody has to do it. Here, our passenger tester is stoked to go for a ride in the Burley Bee.
The right bike trailer for your family isn't necessarily the one at the top of the chart. Below, we'll analyze the performance of our test group in each metric and discuss why we think certain products stood out. If there's one metric that's more important to you than others, start there. If you're looking for a detailed review of one particular product, you can read our individual reviews by clicking on the product name in the chart above.
Almost any parent would agree that making sure kids are the safest possible in the outdoors is a top priority, so we considered passenger protection to be our most important rating metric. All of the trailers we tested meet the minimum requirements set by the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM), but some go above and beyond those standards. We took factors like the fullness of the roll cage, the overall quality of construction, harness effectiveness, sun protection and ventilation into account in this category.
Towing children under one year of age in a bike trailer is not recommended, and in some states it's illegal. According to our friends at BabyGearLab and pediatrician Dr. Spurrier, children younger than one simply do not have the neck strength to take part in running or biking activities. Babies under one year are at too tender of a stage in brain development to handle the inevitable jostling that comes from being towed in a bike trailer. Even at 12 months and older, children should always wear a properly fitting helmet while riding in a trailer, and the trailer should at a minimum meet the standards set by the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM -as do all the products we tested).
We performed tests and observed our (appropriately aged) passenger testers to determine which trailer offers the smoothest ride, and we noted other safety features as described above. However, we do not recommend even the smoothest ride in the safest trailer for children younger than one, and we never recommend towing a child that's not wearing a well-fitted helmet.
Even in a super-secure trailer like the Thule Chariot Cross, children being towed should be at least one year old and should always be wearing a helmet.
Our top-scoring product for protection was our Editors' Choice Award winner, the Burley D'Lite. The D'Lite features a full aluminum roll cage, including extra framing to protect against side impacts, with a handlebar that folds down during rides to provide even more top-side protection. It has UPF 30 windows and an adjustable sun shade, and it's well-ventilated for rides on hot days. The Thule Chariots both gave the D'Lite a run for its money in this category but scored just slightly lower because their frames didn't include side-impact protection. The Weehoo weeGo and the Burley Bee had well-developed roll cages combined with secure harnesses, and both earned 8 out of 10s; both of these models are certainly deserving of their score for their safety standouts.
While protection and safety are two important topics to consider, the need for protective elements varies with the type of rides you plan on doing. For hauling kids short distances over smooth secondary roads to the neighborhood park, some may consider it overkill to insist on a full roll cage. The trailers that scored lowest in this category, the Allen Sports Steel, the InStep Take 2 and the Thule Cadence, have all met ASTM requirements and can still be great options for less rugged applications.
The interiors of our Editor's Choice, the Burley D'Lite, and our Top Pick for Athletes, the Thule Chariot Cross. The D'Lite has extra aluminum framing along its sides, which the Chariot Cross lacks.
Ease of Use
Biking with your kids is all kinds of fun, so we're assuming you're going to be pulling the trailer out and using it often. Since many people don't have the luxury, space wise, of keeping their trailer permanently attached to a bike, a good trailer should be easy to assemble, store, set up, attach to a bike and break down. We considered each of these steps for all of the trailers we tested and did timed trials where we could to score each product on overall ease of use.
Most of the trailers took about 20-30 minutes to go from inside their packaging to assembled and attached to a bike. The quickest trailer, the Burley Bee, took just 12 minutes, and the slowest, the Thule Chariot Cross, took 40 minutes. Since full assembly is usually a one-time event, we didn't weigh this metric too heavily, but in general, we found that the more "deluxe" model trailers took longer to assemble than the basic ones.
Assembling and setting up the Burley D'Lite requires squeezing the two halves of the frame together. While this required some muscle at first, by the end of the testing period we could do it with one hand.
The setup process, which we defined as taking the trailer from folded with wheels on to attached and ready to ride, was a major focus of our testing in this category. Parents and caretakers of trailer-aged children will find that a product that comes together smoothly and quickly and can be attached without drama is worth its weight in gold, especially when little ones are raring to go. The Thule Chariots have the most user-friendly frame designs and were outstanding performers in this category, with setup times of just 28 seconds for the Cross and 29 seconds for the Lite. For comparison, the Burley D'Lite took 52 seconds to set up and the Burley Bee took 48 seconds. While the Chariots were speedy to set up, we occasionally had to pull hard enough on one of the hitch components during attachment that we knocked the bike over, startling our young passenger testers. This was rare, but it never happened with the Burley models, which featured our favorite hassle-free hitch.
The Thule Chariots have the easiest frames to set up and break down in our test group. Set up requires two quick snaps to lock the frame into place, and breakdown is accomplished with the push of a button, as shown. A small indicator panel, shown as red in this photo, clicks over to green when the frame is properly secured, giving parents peace of mind.
All of the products we tested will increase your energy expenditure when compared to riding a bicycle without a child in tow. However, we did find significant differences in how each model felt to pull. Weight was a big factor in this category, as was feedback from the trailer to the bike. We also considered how much noise each trailer made while in use, how easy they were to tow off-road and on uneven terrain, and how well we could maneuver the bike-and-trailer rig around obstacles while walking it. Our Best Buy Award winner, the Burley Bee, was a clear favorite in the overall biker experience category, followed by our Editors' Choice, the Burley D'Lite. We analyze why below.
All else being equal, a lighter trailer is easier to tow. At a mere 20 pounds, the Burley Bee was the lightest product we tested, and that's a big part of why it cleaned up in this category. Thule's basic trailer model, the Cadence, was the second-lightest trailer at 22 pounds. The Burley D'Lite was on the heavy side at 28.4 lbs, and the Thule Chariot Cross was the heaviest trailer we tested at 32 pounds. Users will quickly see their legs sculpted to exquisite marble by the Cross, which is part of the reason we named it our Top Pick for Athletes.
At just 20 pounds, the Burley Bee was the lightest trailer in our test group. That low weight and its aerodynamic design made this the easiest trailer to tow.
We paid close attention to any feedback motion we detected from the trailer to the bike, like lurching, shuddering/vibrating or lateral pulling, since these movements can make the cyclist feel unstable and can tire legs out quickly, especially while climbing. The Burley D'Lite and the Burley Bee were outstanding in this area, transferring virtually no movement to the bike. This is mostly due to the superior Burley hitch design, which attaches the tow arm to the hitch adaptor with a single super-secure connection point and allows for no back-and-forth play. The Thule trailers, the Chariot Cross, Chariot Lite and Cadence, all use a ball-and-socket hitch connection, and we noticed some lurching while testing each of these models since the ball has a little bit of wiggle room in the socket. The other trailers we tested all have springs in their tow arms, and this design also transferred significant motion to the bike.
The ball-and-socket hitch design of the Thule trailers allowed for some back-and-forth play in the hitch, which created a lurching feeling while riding.
We found some trailers to be easy to tow off-road, while others were not well-suited for this purpose. The Burley D'Lite and the Thule Chariot Cross were top performers in this category due to their adjustable suspension systems, which absorbed a lot of the lumps and bumps of trail riding. None of the other trailers we tested had suspensions, and we found that the lighter trailers like the Burley Bee and the Thule Cadence tended to feel pretty bouncy on trails, even when towing passengers. Most of the trailers we tested had 20" wheels with pneumatic tires, and those big wheels rolled over gravel trails relatively easily and helped to smooth out the ride. Exceptions are the Allen Sports Steel and the InStep Take 2, which both have 16" tires. Towing these trailers over uneven terrain required more effort and made for a bumpier ride.
The 20" wheel of the Burley Bee (left) and the 16" wheels of the Allen Sports Steel (center) and InStep Take 2 (right). Towing 16"-wheeled trailers over rough roads was tough on bikers and passengers.
While most of the time we spend with bike trailers is spent, well, biking, it's essential for a bike-and-trailer rig to be maneuverable as it's being walked along a sidewalk or navigated to a bike rack. We evaluated the trailers' walkability by weaving them through tricky-yet-typical urban infrastructure, as well as around the cars and gates typical of suburban detached homes. The Thule Chariots were standouts in this area — their hitches allow for maximal rotation, and their tow arms are sharply bent, which keeps the front of the trailer close to the bike while allowing for quick turns. The worst performer here was the Weehoo weeGo, which has a very long and relatively straight tow arm that makes it very difficult to navigate tight spaces.
If your kids aren't happy in the trailer, chances are you're not going to get much use out of it, so we took a close look at the way passengers experience each of the products we tested. We evaluated how easy it is for kids to get in and out, how comfortable the seat and harness are, how much space passengers have, how smooth the ride is both on- and off-road and how well passengers are protected from the elements. The Thule Chariot Cross was outstanding in this category and earned a perfect 10 for passenger experience, with our Editors' Choice, the Burley D'Lite, coming in a close second.
All of the trailers we tested are stable enough when attached to a bike that kids can climb in and out on their own, but each of them approaches this design issue differently. The lower front panels of the Burley D'Lite, Burley Bee and Allen Sports Steel can be unclipped so that little legs can easily step up into the trailer. However, the sharply slanting floors of the Burley models make it a harder for kids to find their footing. The Thule Chariots and the Cadence are relatively low to the ground, so while their front panels are fixed, they're easy for even young kids to climb in to. The Weehoo weeGo is the only trailer that provides a flat footwell that's reinforced with rubber, so while it's harder to get into, kids will find firmer footing once they are in.
Our passenger testers appreciated being able to step easily in and out of the Allen Sports Steel.
Once passengers are in the trailer, comfort is key. The Thule Chariot Cross and the Burley D'Lite shine in this area, with strategically padded seats and harnesses, so that little bodies won't get sore or chafed, even on long rides. Most of the other trailers, including the Burley Bee and the Thule Cadence, have unpadded bench-style seats and unpadded harnesses. A well-adjusted harness — one that holds the child in place but doesn't crush them — is essential for a comfortable ride, and we found the five-point systems in the Thule Chariots to be the easiest to adjust.
Our passenger testers appreciated the snug five-point harness and extra shoulder room in the D'Lite.
One reason the Thule Chariot Cross edged out the competition in the passenger experience category was its impressive adjustable seat feature. Both seats in the Cross can lean back independently of each other, so if one of your passengers is ready for a snooze and the other one wants to sit up and see the world, you don't have to compromise. The Burley D'Lite's seat back is adjustable, but only as a full unit, so if one kid reclines, the other one does, too. The individually adjustable seats of the Cross are probably most useful for users who plan on doing long rides.
Not only do the seats in the Chariot Cross recline, but they can be adjusted separately -- chariot, indeed! This feature is especially useful on the long training rides of the endurance athlete, but it's pretty great for snooze cruises around the block, too.
A note about helmets and head position
As we've mentioned, all manufacturers recommend that passengers wear a helmet while riding in a trailer, and we agree. In our initial research and from our own experience, we found that many parents were disappointed that trailers didn't seem designed to accommodate helmets. For example, the seat backs tended to be relatively straight all the way up so that a bulky helmet would push a kid's head forward uncomfortably. Manufacturers seem to have taken note of this, and in most of the models we tested, our passengers maintained a comfortable head and neck position with a helmet on. Some seat backs, like the ones in the Burley D'Lite and the Burley Bee, have expandable pleats behind the passenger's head specifically to make space for a helmet. Some trailers, like the Thule Chariots, have a more reclined overall seat position so that a helmet isn't pushing the head forward. In general, this was less of an issue than we thought it would be.
Even though the Thule Chariot Lite doesn't have pleats behind the passenger's head, she still maintains a comfortable head and neck position.
If you plan on doing substantial off-road riding, some trailers are better than others at providing a smooth ride over rocks and dirt. What's good for bikers is good for passengers in this area, and we found that the adjustable suspension systems in the Burley D'Lite and the Thule Chariot Cross absorbed a lot of the bumps in the trail and made them a passenger favorite on gravel roads. None of the other models we tested had built-in suspension, and we found that we had to slow way down and ride cautiously to avoid bouncing our passengers around in the non-suspended trailers. If you're going to be doing extensive off-road riding, investing in a trailer with a suspension system is a good idea for both you and your passengers.
20" wheels and an adjustable suspension system make the D'Lite easy to tow and comfortable for passengers.
Several tests were done to evaluate bike trailer suspensions. We simulated riding with a 6-9-month-old child (minimum manufacturer-recommended age for bike trailer passengers) by loading a single twenty-pound dummy into the trailer. We used a hardtail mountain bike for all testing and conditions were virtually identical for each trailer.
We conducted two tests; one was a visual assessment of shock absorption, the other was a quantitative measurement of acceleration over a series of bumps on asphalt.
For the visual test, we mounted a rear-facing camera to the seat post, which had a clear view of the test dummy in each bike trailer. We towed the trailers over a series of bumps at controlled speeds while filming the test dummy. After doing this several times for each trailer, we evaluated the footage and noted differences. The amount of jostling was much lower in trailers with suspensions than those without suspensions. We've shown the results of our visual test in the video below.
To measure suspension performance, we mounted an iPhone with an accelerometer app to the test dummy and towed the trailers over several prominent bumps at identical speeds. The primary purpose of this trial was to obtain quantitative results that we could compare with the results of our visual test. The test also demonstrates how the jostling in a bike trailer has the potential to affect a 6-9-month-old. Our friends at BabyGearLab, including pediatrician Dr. Spurrier, do not recommend towing a child less than one year of age, as children younger than one often do not have the adequate neck strength for such biking activities. We chose the weight (of our test baby) to simulate the worst case scenario.
This chart highlights the performance of each contender in our peak acceleration tests, which we conducted using an iPhone and accelerometer app. These results are an indication of how jostled our dummy baby was during testing; lower numbers are better.
Does the single most obvious feature differentiating $300 and $1000 bike trailers deliver measurable benefits?
Yes, bike trailer suspensions do provide measurable benefits in shock absorption and ride smoothness.
Do suspension differences between low-end and high-end trailers matter? How much?
Yes, suspension differences between low and high-end trailers do matter. Three of the bike trailers we tested have passive suspensions (springs), while the rest do not. There is a very noticeable difference between the trailers that have suspensions (Thule Chariot Cross, Burley, D'Lite, and Thule Chariot Lite) versus the ones that do not. The peak acceleration of our test dummy was typically more than two times greater in trailers that did not have suspensions.
Do some brands offer better suspension than others?
The Thule Chariot Cross has a much more supple suspension than both the Burley D'Lite and the Thule Chariot Lite. The difference is noticeable but not too significant. Any one of these three trailers offers a far better ride than a trailer with no suspension. The Thule Chariot Cross and Burley D'Lite both have adjustable suspensions, which enable users to adjust spring stiffness based upon passenger weight.
Is it worth spending more to get a better suspension?
Yes, we believe it is worth spending more to increase safety in the event of an unexpected pothole or bump in the road, especially if the passenger is on the younger end of the recommended age range. Aside from possible safety benefits, our testing showed that suspensions provide a smoother ride over marginally rough surfaces. Bike trailer suspensions should be treated as comfort features that have the potential to improve safety under certain conditions.
The safest choice, which is also our recommendation, is to wait until a child is one year of age before putting her/him in a bike trailer, as this is the only way to mitigate the risks associated with towing a child who is younger than this.
While the main focus of this review was analyzing how each product works for towing kids, we know that most users will end up going for at least a few spins with something else back there. Some parents discover that purchasing a bike trailer allows them to ditch their second car, so we evaluated each product for its ability to haul groceries, pets, and bulky items. We only analyzed bike towing capabilities, but we noted where conversion kits for other sports and activities are available. Our Editors' Choice Award winner, the Burley D'Lite, ticks all the boxes and came away with a perfect 10 in this category. We'll explain why below.
Since the focus of this review is kid towing, we weighted this category relatively lightly at just 10% of each product's final score. If you're looking for a trailer that's exclusively devoted to cargo, head on over to our cargo trailer review.
The D'Lite scored exceptionally well in this category for one big reason; it allows for the full use of its ample interior space because its seats can unclip from the top frame of the trailer to lie flat. The InStep Take 2 is the only other trailer with this feature, which opens up the possibilities for what you can haul. Do you have a huge box that needs delivering to the post office? A large dog who wants to go for a ride? An elaborate replica of Mission San Rafael built out of sugar cubes that needs to be delivered to your kid's classroom? The D'Lite and the Take 2's ability to break down the barrier between their cargo and passenger spaces means that they're more likely to be able to accommodate any of those needs than any of the other trailers we tested.
Canine tester Vossi could stretch out in the Burley D'Lite because its seat backs unclip from the trailer frame to lie flat, opening up a range of cargo hauling possibilities.
Most of the trailers in our test group consist of one large interior space, separated by the seat back into passenger and cargo areas. Exceptions to this are the Thule Chariots. The Chariot Cross has a back pouch with interior pockets, about the size of an average messenger bag, that's suspended behind the trailer and can be clipped up to the top frame bar when not in use. The Chariot Lite has one big open-topped pocket made of fabric and mesh that spans the back of the trailer. We found these cargo alternatives to be a mixed bag. They're smaller than the other trailers' cargo spaces, and they were an awkward fit for paper grocery bags or anything else that wants to sit on a flat surface. However, for things that need to be kept separate, like dirty gym clothes, or handy, like a purse, they were a great option.
The open-topped pocket at the back of the Thule Chariot Lite is a good option for keeping things separated from the trailer's interior, or for keeping them handy. However, it has no flat bottom, so hauling groceries or bulky items with this trailer was not ideal.
Even with passengers present, having an ample cargo space increases the versatility and utility of a trailer. With a 23 inch by 11.5-inch cargo area footprint, the humble Burley Bee was a surprise winner in this category. The InStep Take 2 was a close second at 23 inches by 11 inches, and the Burley D'Lite also impressed us with a 22.5 inch by 11-inch cargo footprint.
The D'Lite's cargo space is large and easily accessible, so it easily accommodates groceries and potables for mom and dad.
The Thule Chariots and the Weehoo weeGo come with stroller conversion kits included, and the Burley D'Lite has an optional strolling kit available for purchase. While we weren't evaluating strolling capabilities, testers did find it useful to have the option to convert once they reached their destination, especially those with younger kids. The Thule Chariot Cross and the Burley D'Lite also have optional jogging and cross-country skiing kits available for purchase. Again, we didn't evaluate these kits, but we rated these trailers higher in the versatility category because they give parents the option to purchase one outdoor kid mobile instead of a potential four.
Our Top Pick for Athletes, the Thule Chariot Cross.
There is no shortage of bike trailers on the market today, and finding the right one for your family will depend on where you want to ride, how often, and how much of an investment you're planning to make. For an all-round trailer that performs well in every category and offers an incredible value for its quality of construction, safety features and versatility, we don't think you can beat the Burley D'Lite. We think the rugged Thule Chariot Cross is the best bet for hard-core athletes in training, and the light and sturdy Burley Bee is a fantastic option for parents on a budget. Each of the trailers we tested has its strengths and weaknesses, and they cover the full rage of best applications, from occasional rides to the neighborhood park to epic treks up mountain roads. We put each product through a bevy of empirical tests and relative rankings, riding them mile after mile so we could bring you the analysis above. We hope this helps you to choose the trailer that will get your whole family rolling. We'll see you on the trails!