There is little to match the sense of freedom experienced from travelling ultralight, especially if your aspirations take you off road. But there are also times when more stowage space in needed, whether that be for hauling winter gear, several days of food, or to help share the workload with a riding partner.
I’ve just got my hands on a Tout Terrain Mule to try out – a high end, offroad trailer designed for just that in mind. And when I say high end, that’s certainly what I mean. The price tag? A cool 669 Euros, as ridden. I haven’t toured with a single wheel trailer for some time, though on past travels I’ve run the whole gamut of the trailer world, including BOB’s Yak and Ibex, the Weber Monoporter and the Extrawheel.
Tout Terrain build some lovely, steel touring bikes, easily recognised by their seamlessly integrated rear racks. Their modern designs embrace technology, with disc-specific frames and even air shock suspension – aspects that may disturb more traditional bike-tourists. Their products also include the nifty ‘Plug‘, a device that nests in the stem, transforming your peddling toils into juice for an ipod or USB-powered device, as well as a very high end, suspended child trailer.
You can read all the spes of the Mule elsewhere, so this is just a quick rundown on what’s caught my eye… Realworld feedback will follow soon.
A different animal
The steel-framed Mule stands out from the other animals for a few reasons.
Firstly, it attaches to the seat post rather than the dropouts of the frame. Lifting the coupling point on a single wheel trailer and bringing it towards the middle of the bike reduces the sense of ‘fighting’ your cargo, both when tackling rough terrain, or simply when wheeling the bike around. First impressions are that it tugs less than the likes of the BOB Yak, with a noticeably tighter turning circle, which is handy for U-turns. On the downside, the forward position of the pivot point means the trailer tracks differently, cutting corners, which can be an issue in twisty singletrack or when weaving in and out of traffic.
The Mule also uses a 20in wheel over the Yak’s 16in, which roles better and catches less on rocks and steps. At the same time, the adjustable air suspension controls dampening, so the trailer doesn’t pogo up and down after each bump. There’s a downside here too – you’ll need to carry an air shock pump to adjust the pressure, and the shock will need to be serviced every once in a while.
Trailers can be awkward to deal with when you’re riding solo. The Mule also includes a built in stand, making loading and unloading your gear at the bookends of the day significantly easier. It’s handy too when pulling over to take a photo.
Trailer v Panniers
I’m not going to slog out all the advantages and disadvantages of a trailer versus panniers. Some people love them, others hate them. So here’s an overview, from a personal perspective.
For the kind of riding I enjoy, the main benefit to a single wheel trailer is the ability to carry more kit (cold weather gear/food/camera stuff), without loading up the suspension fork with front panniers, or piling everything up at the back of the bike and throwing off the weight distribution.
Of course, this applies to people who want to run a suspension fork in the first place. I seek out challenging dirt tracks, so suspension suits the way I travel. Plenty of tourers prefer a bike with a rigid fork, in which case front panniers work perfectly well. As an aside, a trailer can be a good solution for anyone with a frameset that doesn’t feature rack mounts – like a full suspension bike.
I like the idea of unhitching the trailer and having a relatively light, unimcumbered mountain bike, ready to hit the local trails. By using the trailer in harmony with a framebag and expandable seat pack, I effectively have a long range and short range tourer rolled in one.
Trailers catch the eye and the imagination, and can often be a great ice-breaker with locals – as long as you don’t mind fielding the same questions. Again and again.
Lastly, spreading the weight over a third wheel means noticeably less wear and tear to your wheels and tyres. Although it takes a short time to familiarise yourself with the side to side ‘tug’ of a trailer, overall, the bike feels lighter and more agile off road.
Briefly, downsides include a hefty weight penalty; in the case of the Mule, this is close to 8kg, as it came sent to me (with the kickstand and the liner). You’ll recoup a surprising amount of this heft with savings from the racks and panniers you won’t need to fit, but it’s still heavier. If you travel light and need only to pack two medium-weight panniers, it’s hard to justify the extra payload.
There’s also the logistical issues of getting the trailer to the start and end point of your ride, and the extra complications of dealing with a longer bike – whether that be riding in the city, parking up your bike on the street, or negotiating your way to the 3rd floor of a guesthouse. When it comes to travel, trailers tend to be regarded with suspicion, particularly on planes, trains and boats – which can translate into extra transportation fees and headaches.
Single wheel trailer can be awkward to hitch when travelling solo – though this is something the Mule addresses.
And lastly, that third wheel converts into extra rolling resistance too.
The only real way to get a feel for the Mule is to use it – take it away camping, ride it in the city, and put it on a train. Which is what I intend to do…