Game Changer

I have too many bikes.  Said no cyclist, ever.  – Unknown

We’ve got bikes!  We actually have a lot of bikes.  And that’s awesome.

Not many college students are going to appear on campus with their own road bikes and sets of cycling gear.  The cost of a decent and durable entry-level road bike, shoes, helmet, pump, and supporting gear could very easily top $1,000.  To encourage students to join our rides, I need to make it as easy as possible for them to join the adventures.  One of the ways to remove barriers to participation is to have a fleet of bicycles available for students to use for training and the long-distance rides.

People come in different shapes and so do road bikes.  Our collection of bikes includes a variety of frame sizes from 52 to 60 cm.  We also have bikes designed for women with shorter top tubes, endurance bicycles that position the rider more upright, and race bicycles stretch the rider out longer and lower for a more aerodynamic cycling position.  When students begin to train for an upcoming ride, we find the best bike for each rider.  We’ve been fortunate to have friends support our program by donating bikes and purchasing bikes for us.  I’ve contributed four bikes to the team and we’ve been able to negotiate some good deals through bike shops, pawn shops, and through ebay and Craigslist.

We have also built up a collection of cycling shoes that students wear for their time on the team and then pass on to new team members.  From BRAT5 on, we have been an SPD team–all of the bikes that we use on the rides have SPD pedals.  In instances where team members have to share bicycles, the uniform pedal types permit students to take turns on a bicycle with little more than a seat height adjustment.

Until recently, organizing group training rides could be a very complicated ordeal.  Our campus is not usually a good place to start and finish training rides.  The streets can be  crowded and require us to ride in the right lane on the roads.  To get to a safe starting place on the edge of town, it requires us to rack up our bikes and drive to our starting point.

With Abilene being such a windy place to live and ride, our routes are usually determined by wind direction and speed.  Many times, we plan one-way rides with the wind and take along a support vehicle to drive us back to campus.  Rides to Albany (30 miles), Cross Plains (40 miles), Ballinger (50 miles), and Haskell (50 miles) are all good rides and give us options when the wind is blowing from the southwest, west, north, or south respectively.

Since BRAT4, we’ve had four-bike racks that attach to the receiver hitches on the support vehicles.  The four-bike racks are fine for training rides with four or fewer cyclists.  If five people participate in a training ride, we would have to take two support vehicles or have one person drive the support vehicle with the four bikes on the road.  For the fifth person to ride, he or she would have to share a bike with one of the other cyclists–who would then have to drive the support vehicle.  When team members are different heights and sizes, the combinations of people who could share bikes and take turns cycling and driving can become very complicated.  Those of us who have our own bikes are usually reluctant to share our expensive and fine-tuned machines with rookies who are learning and usually rough on derailleurs and gearing.  As they begin riding with SPD pedals, they sometimes fall over when coming to a stop.  Every training ride is a logistical puzzle to figure out who will ride which bike and how we will transport them to and from campus.

What we needed was a trailer.  We needed one that could transport at least eight bikes plus all of the gear that team members would need for our BRAT adventures.  By chance, all of our BRAT rides have included between six and ten participants.  An eight-bike trailer could support the bikes and gear for a Suburban full of team members.  Eight people can pack into a Suburban, but little room would be left for clothes and supplies.

On two rides, we attached a car-top luggage carrier to one of the vehicles and used that space to pack sleeping bags, pillows, inflatable mattresses, and small bags.  Once packed, we didn’t want to open the carrier until the end of the day.  As we developed ideas for a multi-bike trailer that could help us on training rides and our BRAT adventures, we realized that we needed the ability to easily load and unload a bunch of bikes AND haul the gear of all the cyclists plus equipment for the team (e.g., tools, pumps, tires and tubes, etc.).

After connecting with a wonderful and very supportive HSU alumnus, who is an ultra-endurance cyclist, we had funds for purchasing a trailer.  Unfortunately, we didn’t find existing designs for what we needed.  After months of researching and thinking about what we needed, we came up with a perfect solution.  Having a good friend who has a family owned trailer business about a mile from campus really made things easy.  I took him our ideas and needs and he was able to custom design and build a trailer for us.

Video of BRAT Trailer After Recent BRAM Ride

As seen in the video, the trailer has closed-in walls that protect storage tubs that can roll up and off the tailgate ramp for easy loading and unloading.  Packed end-to-end across the width of the trailer, we can carry ten storage tubs on the trailer.  Packed end-to-end longwise in the trailer, we can haul nine tubs.  Each tub is big enough for clothes (casual, sleeping, and cycling clothes), sleeping bag, pillows, towels, shoes, and toiletries.  The tubs are water tight and have handles and wheels that allow for easy moving.  They take the place of suitcases and other forms of luggage.  Each team member gets one tub for their personal belongings and remaining tubs are used for air mattresses, pumps, tools, and other gear.  Everything fits.

Attached to the top of the trailer are two cross-bars with added attachments to receive and secure two Swagman four-bike racks.  Receiver hitch additions on one end and support brackets on the other end of the cross bars keeps the racks securely on the trailer.  The racks can be removed from the trailer and attached to support vehicles if needed.  Bikes can be chained to the rack and left on the trailer overnight as well as the tubs, which would be very difficult to remove from the trailer when the bikes are on the racks and the tailgate locked, when moving them into overnight lodging is prohibitive.

The trailer has been a game-changer for us.  We can now accommodate more people bikes, and gear on our rides.  The trailer also creates a bigger presence on the road with our support vehicle.  We have extra hazard lights on the back of the trailer to make us even more visible to approaching traffic.  Being able to easily load and haul the gear and supplies without taking up space in the support vehicles is tremendously valuable.  A second support vehicle with a four-bike rack would allow us to take as many as twelve bikes and support a team of 12-14 participants.  The adaptability of the trailer to carry both bike racks or remove and attach them directly to one or two support vehicles makes small group rides easy to do.  We can also use the trailer to haul camping supplies, team-building gear and games, food, and kayaks–all things that we use for our Outdoor Leadership classes.  But that is another story.

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