Ride Boldly!

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Sharing The Road with a Trailer-Pulling Human

Child 1 in trailerWe talk a lot about road-sharing as cyclists and cycling advocates. The three-foot rule, where it applies, is magical and good.

But things change a little when sharing with a cyclist pulling a trailer, much as sharing the highway with a U-Haul pulling Ford Escort changes highway behavior. This is an incomplete list of considerations motorists should embrace when they see someone hauling a child/dog/gear trailer:

  • Someone with a trailer has a strange turning radius. Depending on the contents of the trailer, trailers often have odd balance. Left turns are actually much easier than a right turn. If I am right turning, I am unlikely to be hugging the turn lane, especially if I must stop before turning. The closer to the curb I bring my bike, the more likely I am to tip my trailer, which helps no one.
  • Apply the three-foot rule to the widest part of the cyclist/equipment. Trailers, depending on variety, can range from 20″ – 40″ wide, which is wider than most pedal cranks (typically the widest part of the bike).
  • Realize that potholes and giant dead squirrels in the lane are more likely to cause trauma to a bike with trailer.
  • Realize that our ability to dodge and weave is going to be lower, for the same reason our turning radius is whack.
  • I may ride further from the curb, based on the width of my trailer wheels. Getting one of those in a curb ridge is unpretty.
  • Don’t lean out your window and yell GET A CAR at me. I have a car, thanks. My bike trailer does a far better job of getting my younger child to take a motion-induced nap.
  • If you are a fellow cyclist, be especially careful about wheel overlap. It applies to my trailer as well as to my bicycle’s wheels. Use caution while passing. I am a slow moving wide load.
  • If you are a fellow cyclist, stop making yuks at me about speed. I am towing 50+ pounds of child. My hamstrings feel this. Don’t be a doofus about it.

Obviously, motorists without consideration for cyclists aren’t going to be any kinder to a trailer. But those who show basic consideration don’t always realize the differences with a trailer. The turning radius thing is huge. Space to curb is also pretty significant.

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Author: julie

Julie Kosbab is an online marketing consultant and active transportation advocate living in Anoka County, Minnesota. She was one of Minnesota's only League of American Bicyclists Certified Instructors when certified in 2005. She is a past member of the National Bicycle Tour Directors Association. She has 2 children and 4 bicycles. Find her on Twitter as @betweenstations.

One Comment

  1. Good tips all. Note that state laws don’t specify a maximum width for bikes!

    One quibble: 3 foot laws are distance from the edge of the vehicle (usually the mirror) and the edge of the bike or rider — usually your handlebar or elbow, but as you note will probably be the trailer. Flash flags or similar can help people to judge that distance.

    Bummer about the ‘get a car’ harassment :-/