Or perhaps instead a quick overview of my bike train:
This season so far, I have a Soma Double Cross 'cross bike, pulling a Burley Picolo, pulling a Burley D'Lite trailer. Taking it from the rear:
The Burley trailer is something I bought third hand from Larry H. at work several years ago. It's seen some miles: the seat is starting to fail (look closely at the center), and one of the snaps has snapped off. It's also far from waterproof anymore. I've thought about either ordering a repair kit or buying another used trailer for parts, but this will probably be the last summer that the twins can both fit in the trailer. After this year, it may get mostly used for camping loads and groceries, so I'm hoping it can hang in there another six months.
Next up is the Picolo:
This is new for me this year. Compare this to my previous trailer bike, a Giant Halfwheeler that attached to the seat post:
(setup from last summer) Many bike geeks greatly prefer the Picolo because it mounts to a special rack, rather than the seat post. This is supposed to greatly reduce the input loads from the trailer bike to the front bike. But the Picolo has been out of production for several years, and was thus sought after by those bike geek dads. When I saw this one float across my local Craigslist, I jumped on it, even though it was missing the special rack that I later had to special order. The verdict: it is in fact more stable than the seat post mount type, but the trailer bike rider can still put a decent amount of torque into the system if he wants to. Especially big, burly lads like Henry. I'm happy with my purchase, but I'm not sure it's worth the $350 cost of new version vs. a typical $150 trailer bike.
The Picolo, by the way, has six speeds to the Giant's one. So far, this has been no benefit: Henry only has the hand strength to move the twist shifter over the few smallest gears, and on the very smallest gear, the chain line is so bad it causes the chain to consistently derail off the front sprocket. I ended up setting the limit screws to block this. Also, the Picolo doesn't have a water bottle mount like the Giant, so I need to rig something up here.
And then there are my wheels:
A 60cm Soma Double Cross, built from the frame up (as virtually all my bikes are).
I run kind of unusual gearing: a 38/26 front with an 11/34 9 speed rear. That gives me a decent, wide range cruising gear, with a useful bailout gear for steep hills. When dragging these kids around, it doesn't take much for a hill to be "steep." Probably, a 22/32/42 would be even more useful, but I like the double rings. Flat pedals let me ride in sandals or whatever I have on.
A key item for pulling a trailer bike is wide handlebars (drop bars, in my experience, are always too narrow). These are On One Marys, flipped, with Sram twist shifters. I'm not sure why, but I really like this combination. Comfortable, looks good, easy shifting. Somehow, the flipped Mary works to make up for short top tube of the Soma.
If our adventures every go really late (or into the fall), I have a dyno light up front. It's just a cheap Sanyo hub I bought used with a $35 Avenir light, but it's a surprisingly effective setup. Certainly it's good enough for riding dark multi use paths. The fork is a Nashbar carbon model from my parts bin. A good steel fork would be better for attaching racks and panniers, but my steel fork is happily nested on my Surly Cross Check.
So here's my checklist of what makes a good family truckster:
- a reasonably stiff frame with moderate trail. The Rawland that's shown above wasn't good in either regard: it was downright sketchy with a rear load input. Fun to ride unloaded, though.
- wide bars for leverage, at least 24"/60cm. My Marys are about 650mm, and they're great.
- wide range gearing with easy shifting. I love single speeds more than most, but even in flat Dublin, I find myself shifting on grades that are imperceptible to anyone not towing 150 pounds. You're shifting a lot!
- fat tires, because you can't always dodge stuff
- fenders, because kids like to hit puddles. So of course you need lots of eyelets then to install your fenders (and racks more than likely)
- flat pedals, because, c'mon, you're not riding for your PR, and it's fun to feel the wind in your toes.
- good brakes, because you're stopping a big load. V brakes are fine, though (discs are also nice)
- good standover clearance, because you're straddling the bike flat footed while your stoker gets ready.
If you're thinking this sounds like any run of the mill hybrid... you're right. Hmm, maybe I'll have to think about one of those myself!
But, you say, you're really curious about how the Soma stacks up against the Surly? Stay tuned my comrades!