Sunday 14 June 2015

#Quaxing Lyrical : Part 1

For those who don't know, I have invested £60 in a trailer for my bicycle and as usual, I have been able to turn the mundane (come on, it is) into a learning experience.

This is the first of two posts about my trailer experiences - I will write the next one when I have used it for a while and when I have had time to look at some of the physical details in terms of the space needed to move around with a trailer. First, what is "quaxing"? Well, the word came into being as a result of comments made by councillor Dick Quax from Auckland, New Zealand who suggested that nobody would lug their shopping home on the train.

As is with these things and the Internet, they gain a life of their own and so was coined the definition;

Quax, [verb; past: quaxed, present: quaxing] — to shop, in the western world, by means of walking, cycling or public transit. 

My new trailer - articulating at the seat stem.
OK, a bit of fun and it gives a name to the mundane act of people getting around while carrying stuff with them. As it happens, I had been toying with the idea of getting a trailer for my bicycle, ostensibly to get Ranty Junior to cricket without having to take the car as our local park is a pain to, well park at (although for some away matches, it will still have to be by car). I didn't want to spend much money and so I plumped for a trailer by Veelar.  

The trailer consists of a metal frame which carries a 70 litre plastic box (which apparently can take 50kg) and is attached by an arm to a ball and socket arrangement via a tow-bar attached to the seat stem of the bicycle. The trailer has a folding stand, a cover and a pair of sturdy 16" wheels. I got mine from Amazon and it is sadly out of stock at the moment, but there are plenty of comparable products out there. 

I first took the trailer out a couple of weeks ago (my first every ride with a trailer) and it was immediately obvious that I had to change my riding style and the limitations of the local cycling infrastructure were thrown into sharper relief. Despite being attached at the seat stem, the trailer turned the bicycle into a mini-articulated vehicle and although I could still manage fairly tight turns, the trailer doesn't quite follow the same line. By that I mean that the rear of the trailer swings out ever so slightly more than the wheels (overhang) and the trailer tracks inside the path of the bicycle (cut-in) - an identical dynamic to that of an articulated lorry. The immediate issue is therefore tight turns where there are also posts to avoid - classic UK cycle track territory! In fact, why have we got tight turns on cycle tracks at all, they are awful for towing a trailer on and that must mean that mobility scooter users have a crap time too,

Ride quality shows up too. The difference between a hand-laid cycle track and machine-laid carriageway is all too apparent with the trailer bouncing along the former. Further evidence (if any where needed) that all cycle tracks should be machine-laid for the comfort of all users. Ramps are another problem. Giving way to each side road is a pain in terms of bumping down and up ramps and this is made so much worse by wretched kerb upstands which are also a nightmare for mobility scooter and wheelchair users as well as those pushing buggies. All together now - "may your kerbs be flush and ramps gentle".

On one of my trailer journeys, I have had to negotiate a staggered Toucan crossing. It is on my usual commute and at the best of times, I do try and time things so I can go around the island (only safe in one direction) to avoid the stagger. I can do the same with the trailer, but when going the other way (where one needs to use the island), I found that having to turn right and then left on the island to the second crossing, I couldn't actually reach the push-button without getting off. Again, a lesson in access for all.

The combination is of course longer than the bike itself!

One other piece of "infrastructure" I have encountered with my trailer is a series of "priority pinch points" along the next street to mine. There are islands in pairs where only one vehicle can pass through the middle and with alternating priority indicated by signs. The idea is that traffic flow along the street is calmed by the priorities. The ones near me have cycle bypasses which I can cope with normally, but the trailer is a different matter. The trailer is slightly narrower than my handlebars, but you don't want to get too close to the kerb and certainly, if your handlebars track over the kerb, you are in trouble with a trailer. The trouble is, some drivers didn't expect me to take the lane to come through, although I think they were more worried than me. For a hand-cyclist, these bypasses would be a no go area.

Door to door service with a biycle and trailer!
My final experience to cover in this post is parking. With many cycle hoops plopped on the footway, those at 90 degrees to the kerb are no good for a bicycle and trailer combo, unless you want to block the footway! Parking hoops parallel to the kerb were best, although one had to get onto the footway to park (again, a major issue for those who cannot do so). Where cycle parking is to be placed on the carriageway, anything at 90 degrees to the kerb is going to be useless (unless really deep) - something for the cycle parking designer to think about. I guess than in any run, put the first hoop in parallel so that the trailer-cyclist can pull left and park and leave plenty of space for the trailer - my set up is 2.8m long and 750mm wide! One other thing, you definitely need a stand when using a trailer, fortunately, my double leg type was a timely purchase a few months ago!

I have enjoyed my first few weeks of advanced quaxing and when looking at it financially, I have so far made 8 trips (i.e. in a single direction). This is 8 trips of under 2 miles avoided by car, but which would not be possible on foot. I could have used the bus (at £1.50 per journey - £12 so far), but I would be subject to a timetable and the bicycle is proper door to door stuff, including being able to park next to the cricket pitch! So, the point to leave you with this week is had the places I cycled with the trailer been properly designed for all, then my trailer exploits would have been second nature and this is another great example of the "beyond the bicycle" concept of inclusivity.

For further insights into cargo cycling, then this blog by Krister Isaksson is well worth a read. Thanks to Dmitri Fedortchenko of Move By Bike for the link.


  1. Hi Mr Ranty
    Excellent post about the positives and some downsides of using a trailer.
    Have had mine about 3yrs and love using to go to the tip
    best wishes

    1. How cool is that and with a Brompton!

      There is something about turning up to a retail park where people are queuing to drive in and breezing in and parking!

  2. Welcome to the world of trailers. I love mine, Here is a link to an article I wrote as part of my "Let's Go Dutch" series. This one is about shopping by bike. This includes taking my trailer to the grocery store and many other places. See:

    1. It does go to show that day to day life can be shifted around by bicycle - thanks for the link :D

  3. I can add Tandem Quaxing to this. We took the tandem to the garden centre with trailer to get straw for the guinea pigs. Lousy turning circle just like an artic. Great to see the bemused looks on drivers faces.

    1. :) Yes, trailers really do handle like a small truck!

  4. Trailers hitched at seat post level are inevitably less stable than those hitched at the level of the dropouts. You should experience the superior handling of e.g. a Bob Yak or Burley Flat Bed (Google Images your friend) before you complain too much about "truck-like" handling. The trade-off, I guess, is that hitching and unhitching is a little less convenient. Caddy-like trailers might have a certain utility if there's a significant walk element at either end of the trip, but I'm a *past* owner of both an old Columbus that hitched to the seat post and a Bike Hod for good reason. (And a current owner of both a Bob Yak and a Croozer Kid for 2 for different applications).

    1. Yes, with a heavy load the handling suffers a bit, but no big problem so far - plus a cheap price!