Monday, 21 April 2014

Trail-Gator Product Review

Last year, the first outdoor bicycle ride I went on, I borrowed my neighbour's bike and attached trail-a-bike. JahJ and I pedaled for hours, enjoying the sun poking in and out of the clouds. It was the best day of his life. Recently, he has seen other kids on trail-a-bikes, and pictures of tandems, and insisted on adding pedals to my Xtracycle so that he too could pedal. I empathized with him, but that wasn't enough. Of course, being his mother, I wanted to make his wish come true. I wanted to fly to the Netherlands with him to pick up a Follow-Me Tandem - since I dream big! Jose and I canvassed our local bike shops by phone, but no one had heard of this tandem coupling. We looked into buying it in Seattle, and even wrote an email to the manufacturer, pleading them to send us one in exchange for an extensive product review and marketing.

But my sweet son wanted to ride tandem with his parent last year. So we opted for the Trail-Gator instead of the trail-a-bike or Burley's Piccolo. Towing his bike, allowing him to choose whether or not to ride attached, really appealed to us. Of course, I'm sure we will have our share of disagreements as to when is a good time to ride solo, but that's the user-fee we'll pay.

Don't ask me why, but I bought the Trail-Gator three days before Jose's bike was available to be attached. Those were the longest three days of my life. I seemed like every hour on the hour JahJ would ask me to hook up his bike to his father's. To understate, this was frustrating. Tuesday did arrive! We got the wrenches, looked over the instructions and began putting it all together. An hour later, we set out for our maiden voyage. JahJ was on cloud nine! He chatted interminably while smiling ear to ear. He was on his dad's team, providing "boosters on" up the hills, coasting on the way down, sometimes taking a break from pedaling on the flat. Jose notes that JahJ does in fact hold his own, and can even move the two of them forward for some distance.

The Trail-Gator is very sturdy. It lifts the kid's front wheel off the ground by 3 to 5 inches and holds it there. Science, I guess. Jose does need to take his turns more widely than when biking alone as the tow bar does swivel laterally. We managed to get a bike rack on the adult bike that doesn't interfere with the Trail-Gator. Jose's panniers are high, so the TG doesn't clear them. We are going to rig something up so he can carry his panniers at will.


Since the TG doesn't come off as quickly as I expected, it wouldn't be something I'd do more than once per ride. There are two quick-releases with some nut-turning which amounts to two minutes. There is an attachment to prevent the kid bike from turning the handles, which pops on and off when intentional pressure is applied. Jose chose not to have the TG fold to attach to his bike to lug around, as proposed by the manufacturer. We think that it would be as cumbersome as other reviewers have attested. As of yet, we haven't had the need to detach the TG from the kid bike to let him roam. We heard a creaking sound when Jose rode with the kid bike without a kid on it. We don't know what that's about.

I appreciate that JahJ can pedal and can keep up the pace we set when we bike with a destination in mind. We are looking for ways to make his world bigger, biking on his own definitely helps. He is learning to signal to indicate where he intends to turn, right and left are becoming less abstract and he recognizes the roads and paths we use. He enjoys being part of the pedaling power and doesn't complain about the angle of his seat. It's been a week and the novelty hasn't worn off. We hope he can pedal on bike camping trips this summer - maybe we can have him haul some gear!

1 comment:

  1. Joseph here to add my point of view...

    - Despite the look of the angle of Eli'Jah's seat, he doesn't seem to slip off backwards and has not mentioned being tired of holding on after as long as a two-hour ride.

    - The mount on Eli'Jah's bike has to be *tightened* big time! If we are going slowly and turning sharply and he is leaning too far to one side, the mount will actually slip out of alignment. It's easy to leverage back into place, but I've instructed him to stop leaning when we are not pedaling. I'm going to put some old inner tube rubber between the mount and his bike to, hopefully, alleviate that minor problem.

    - Eli'Jah still does have the use of his brakes, so I have had to teach him to let me brake instead of him. At the beginning, he was keen to help me stop as we were slowing down and I would occasionally find myself two to three feet short of the stop line at an intersection. It never felt dangerous, though.

    - As I'm sure is the case with all tandem riding (this is my first time!), if Eli'Jah is pedaling hard and I am not, my balance is...different. I don't notice it if I am pedaling too or he is not. It must be some gyroscopic thing or simply the fact that he is putting pressure side-to-side as he is pedaling.

    - One interesting benefit to this setup is that when we are getting going after being stopped, Eli'Jah's eager pedaling makes it so I don't need to kick off as hard to balance. He just "boosts" me to balance and gives me lots of time to place my OCD feet perfectly on my pedals. It's kind of nice - Eunice says it feels like electric-assist.

    - Since I don't carry the Trail-Gator when Eli'Jah and I aren't using it, I really don't feel like I have any "annoying kid's bike attachment" part attached to my bike when I'm riding solo. That was really a nice, selfish benefit for me. The detached Trail-Gator stores so small - easily in Eunice's long panniers.

    - As Eunice mentioned, I'm going to drill into the Trail-Gator to jerry-rig a couple of DIY 10mm (3/8") aluminum pannier mounts close to Eli'Jah's front wheel so I can hang my two bags. On my own rear bike rack, the panniers are too tall to permit the wide turns with the Trail-Gator without the bar getting caught up. I could get shorter panniers, I guess, but I like the idea of having the option to carry my big, waterproof storage while still towing Eli'Jah. I can always acquire shorter panniers in addition for those epic bike camping trips I am trying to encourage Eunice to plan with me. ;) That would give me the ability to carry four bags and Eli'Jah and his own bike. Not bad if I can handle the hills...

    - It's fun. I have to admit it's really fun riding with Eli'Jah. I really like how we are a verbal team encouraging each other to "turn on the boosters" to get up the hills or to pass "Mommy and Nae-J's team."

    Highly recommended!