Bike trailers are great for long trips, allowing you to bring along more gear and food than you could with just a cargo rack. They’re also an excellent way to take a young kid or a pet along for the ride if you’ve got the right one. That does leave us with compatibility to worry about.
Can bike trailers go on any bike?
You can use a bike trailer with most bikes, you’ll just need to attach it using a compatible method (e.g. seat post, rear axle, etc.). The main exception is children’s bikes, which should not be attached to trailers. In addition, specialized accessories like aero seat posts and dropper posts can limit compatibility.
Like many things bike related, it depends on your equipment. Let’s get right to it, and we’ll cover the following:
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Can You Attach a Bike Trailer to Any Bike?
Every adult-sized bike is capable of pulling a trailer, it’s just a matter of getting it attached. Not every bike can run with every trailer, but it’s rare to run into compatibility issues as long as you don’t have any exotic parts on your bike.
The biggest concern when it comes to compatibility is attachment style, so let’s dig into that in more detail.
3 Types of Trailer Attachment Mechanisms
Trailers attach to a few areas on the bike and picking the right one is important for comfort and safety. There are three main styles of attachment.
1. Seat Post
Seat post trailers have a loop that goes around your seat post.
Since the attachment is round, they may not work with some very specialized posts that are not round, which are meant to cut down on wind resistance during a ride.
For the rest of us, it makes a good attachment point. Many seat post hitch trailers are tool-less, allowing you to take them on and off easily when necessary.
Seat post attachments are a bit high off the ground, but they take the load off the rear axle of the bike. It’s the best attachment for heavy loads for that reason, as long as you’re using a trailer with two wheels.
When attached to a seat post, the trailer won’t follow perfectly behind your bike and they’re easier to tip than other attachment styles. They’re generally not a good idea if you’re going to be riding off-road, but in town, they’re a solid option.
Seat post adapters aren’t compatible with all dropper posts, so if you have one, then you should consider a different attachment type.
2. Rear Axle
Rear-axle connections attach with a bracket at the rear of the bike. They’re usually held in place with your bike’s skewer (i.e. the rod that goes through the wheel to attach it to the frame).
Attachment at the rear axle makes a trailer ride in-line with the bike, perfectly in-line on smaller one-wheel trailers. They’re able to handle rough terrain better than seat post trailers due to their lower center of gravity.
They’re compatible with the vast majority of bikes since the bracket attachment is usually directly on the rear wheel. One thing to keep in mind is that these trailers do produce more stress on the bike’s rear axle, especially in rough terrain where the trailer may end up twisting.
Chainstay attachments can be harder to find at times, but it’s an excellent way to attach your trailer.
If you’re unaware, the chainstay is the two bars between the center of your rear wheel and the frame on the bottom of your bike. This connection type brings the weight forward compared to a rear axle mount while maintaining a low center of gravity.
Their main advantage is that they’re able to handle heavier loads while not putting a lot of weight on the rear axle. Otherwise, they’ll ride much the same, perhaps a little bit easier if you pay careful attention to loading your trailer.
Bonus: Cargo Rack/Pannier Mount
While uncommon among commercial models, some DIY-inclined riders will place a bracket or mount for trailers on their cargo rack.
The main advantage is that it’s easy to improvise this kind of trailer, especially if you didn’t get the right hitch adapter for your bike with the trailer.
The disadvantage is that the rack or pannier isn’t a structural component of the bike. It’s just a needlessly risky way to do things.
That said, it beats truly hazardous improvised “hitches” such as hauling the trailer with a length of chain or bungee cord. It’s workable for a last resort as long as you’re not dealing with heavy loads.
Can You Pull a Bike Trailer with a Road Bike?
Most road bikes can pull a bike trailer without a problem. The main exception to this, are high-end racing and time trial bikes that have less conventional components, which may make it difficult (or impossible) to attach a trailer to the bike’s seatpost, axle, or chainstay.
Personally, I pulled a bike trailer on my Cannondale SR500 road bike for over 3,000 miles on my cross country trip a number of years ago. It worked great.
Road bikes can be well-suited for seat post trailer attachment since they’re mostly used on only smooth surfaces. On the other hand, if you’re riding in areas with a lot of potholes it’s not a bad idea to consider the extra stability of a chainstay or rear axle attachment. This may also be a better option if you have concerns about damaging your carbon seatpost.
Rear-axle trailers also aren’t a bad idea if you’re constantly in traffic. They generally have a narrower profile than trailers that attach to the seat post. For the bike trip I mentioned above, I used a model on my road bike that attached to the rear axle.
Can You Pull a Bike Trailer with a Mountain Bike?
The vast majority of mountain bikes can pull trailers. However, mountain bikes probably shouldn’t be used with a seat-post trailer, because seat-post trailers are not stable enough for rough terrain. Mountain bikes are also likely to have dropper posts, which can make using a seat post attaching trailer hard.
Trailers with chainstay attachments are ideal for mountain bikes, since rough terrain transfers more force from the trailer to the rear axle. That said, many people also ride with rear axle trailers on their mountain bikes without any issues.
What Kind of Bike is Best for Pulling Trailers?
The best type of bike for hauling a trailer is probably a touring bike, since they often have design features that were incorporated specifically for hauling trailers or panniers over long distances. If you don’t have a touring bike, then any hybrid mountain bike with low gearing could also work well.
After making sure that the you can get the trailer properly attached, gearing is the next most important thing to worry about when hauling a trailer. You need to be able to go low in order to accelerate at a decent rate with the trailer, and higher gearing just makes all that extra weight harder to pull.
If you have decent gearing for riding hills, you’ll probably be okay. When riding with a trailer you’ll experience a lot more inertia when taking off from a stand-still, so the same gearing for climbing can be used to help take off more quickly with a bike trailer.
Is a Bike Trailer Bad for Your Bike?
While a bike trailer will increase wear on your bike somewhat, you’d be hard-pressed to call them “bad” for your bike. You’re unlikely to experience any noticeable damage solely because you had a trailer attached.
The extra strain caused by a rear axle mount can be problematic, but only if you’re riding frequently and/or with very heavy loads. Keeping the weight to a reasonable amount can help to prevent any issues.
Of course, a solid crash can destroy a bike, and trailers can certainly cause them if you’re not cautious.
So, while it’s technically true that a trailer increases wear on your bike, the average rider is unlikely to see any problems caused by a trailer in any practical sense.