Burley Flatbed bike trailer long-term review

In Cycling, Equipment, Norfolk
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I make no apology for my vocal loathing of cars. They ruin everything, everywhere, all the time. The catastrophic contribution of their production and use to the climate emergency is but the tip of a monolithic iceberg of ills that they inflict upon our ailing planet, and human culture and society. This very much includes trendy, taxpayer-subsidised electric vehicles (EVs). Even among the most cringeworthy and myopic support pieces for this corrupt and murderous industry admit that EVs presently offer around a modest 30% CO2 reduction in the UK, which is cancelled out by the vile SUV fad.

When we moved ‘home’ to rural Norfolk from Italy in late 2018, we had no intention of buying a motor vehicle. By the following spring, we were over using buses (in the limited cases they existed) for transporting items that exceeded pannier and rack capacity and I bought a Burley Flatbed bike cargo trailer for around £190 (thru axle, flag and tyre upgrade not included). There are several good technical reviews of the product (GearLab’s is comparative and BikeRadar’s is for an older version but remains relevant) but this post is more from the viewpoint of how well it performs as a tool to facilitate a car-free lifestyle.

The Museo Mestieri in Bicicletta (the museum of professions on a bicycle) in Gubbio, Umbria beautifully demonstrates how not so long ago, before consumer capitalists cleverly persuaded us to trade our physical and mental wellbeing, our public space and our natural heritage for a pernicious myth sold on convenience and individual freedom, heavily loaded bikes were the workhorses of mobile professionals. Such is the pervasiveness of modern car culture that both friends and strangers routinely express disbelief and pity when encountering our loaded trailer. We’ve often tried, when declining offers of motorised ‘assistance’, to convince incredulous acquaintances that riding a bike is a pleasurable transportation choice we make gladly and freely, including when hauling gear behind us (perhaps even more so, with an added sense of satisfaction). This post attempts to supplement the drier, descriptive elements of a review with a sense of that trailer-assisted fun and utility.

Scenic shopping.

Burley Flatbed summary

  • Weight: 7kg
  • Wheels: 16″/41cm alloy (two-wheel, packable design with push button quick release); common to Brompton and many kids’ bikes with readily available tubes and multiple tyre options
  • Recommended maximum capacity: 45kg (around 108 standard cans of beans/128 330ml cans of beer; weight of tow bar at hitch should not exceed 9kg). Some users report greatly exceeding this without issue
  • Modular design with spares and upgrades available
  • Flexi-hitch rated at 3-5 years’ lifetime
  • UK price (April 2021) around £203-270; shop around!

Pros

  • Very lightweight yet strong, with huge capacity.
  • Great pulling characteristics and effective, easy to operate ‘Flexi-hitch’ that allows the bike to be laid down and manoeuvred independently.
  • Enormous flexibility offered by the open design and modular upgrades; even more so with some of the creative hacks found around the internet. E-bikes make this an even more attractive prospect.
  • Easily foldable for travel; push-button wheel removal couldn’t be simpler or more convenient.
  • All components are replaceable. The spares we’ve required (Burley thru axle, replacement wheel dust cap and spare Flexi-hitch) have been readily available in the UK.

Cons

  • Stock 16/1.75 Hang Zhou Rubber Factory tyres offer minimal puncture protection. Although some reviewers have reported having no issues, I’d recommend upgrading them in urban, thorny and flinty environments (after experiencing a flat with a full load).
  • Not supplied with a flag; I bought one online and fastened its holder with cable ties. This is only an issue for on-road use but some kind of pre-engineered attachment point would be a useful addition to the kit.
  • Vinyl floor is obviously more prone to puncture than (much) heavier steel and plastic designs. We’ve had no issues with using a layer of cardboard for protection.

I run two sets of flashing rear lights (one on the bike) along with the flag. There’s a noticeable positive difference in driver behaviour, certainly compared to when riding a road bike in leisure mode, with the trailer attached, although the most dedicated local motorised fools will still drive at you head-on and close pass, particularly on narrow lanes.

Observations in use

Towing the unladen trailer on well inflated tyres is barely noticeable and it tracks well (indeed, a child can pull it). A bike obviously handles differently with any loaded trailer. The conservative recommended speed limits are 15mph (24km/h) on “smooth, straight roads” and 5mph (8km/h) “when turning or on uneven roads”. I’ve reached downhill speeds of 25mph+ with heavy loads and experienced no issues at all. I guess I’d be more cautious if I still had the cantilever brakes of my previous utility bike. However, hydraulic discs stop the rig fine. Bouncing and noise are minimal over rough rural lanes. We’ve not used it off-road (but many have).

If money were no object, I’d also buy a single wheel ‘adventure’ style trailer for dragging lighter shopping loads on the singletrack sections of the Marriott’s Way and some of the rougher local lanes that resemble doubletrack. As it is, I make do by riding the bike over the central strip of mud and flint to allow the trailer to track either side or, on less extreme sections, bounce one trailer wheel along the rough stuff. Another option, which retains the capacity and flexibility of the flatbed design, is Burley’s 16+ wheel kit. The 16+ rims have an internal width of around 40mm (double that of the 20mm standard wheels) to accommodate fat tyres.

I can understand one school of thought that says flatbed trailers should be avoided for bikepacking due to the temptation to (over)load them to capacity. However, in the context of an expedition with the need for, for example, packrafting, scientific or climbing kit, or when basecamp equipment is needed, I wouldn’t hesitate to take the Burley Flatbed, assuming that singletrack and hike-a-bike would feature minimally.

The two-wheel, open design, optional kits and high capacity make this a supremely flexible tool for hauling just about any stuff you can persuade to stay on board. Although Burley produces a dedicated cargo net, I feel that good old broken inner tubes are a more flexible and secure means of keeping loads in place. I use a sheet of spare ripstop nylon left over from DIY tool roll production as a rain and spray cover. Looking through Amazon user reviews and Burley’s own website reveals that the Flatbed has been used to shift, among other things, bales of hay, doors, canoes, skis, a quartered caribou and hunting kit, and beach chairs, and it has been hitched to a penny farthing. I particularly love these accounts of using a fat bike to pull a dog and firewood and doing likewise through snow with the fat tyre and ski kits.

There is a trade-off between the minimal weight and the choice of vinyl as the floor material (and the usual compromise between mass and price). Two models for sale on Amazon at less than half the cost of the Burley have steel construction and weigh an impractical sounding 17 and 18kg. The cheaper Aosom Wanderer, with its plastic bottom and steel tubing, weighs almost 14kg. Our precaution of placing a flat, thick piece of cardboard over the bed has been effective so far, albeit somewhat inelegant. We often store it muddy and wet, with a cursory shake on the following use to remove the worst of the dirt. Elsewhere, I’ve seen mixed reviews ranging from easily punctured to virtually indestructible. It seems that, with appropriate care, it can deal with heavy duty use.

Weight isn’t just an issue in terms of rider fatigue — trailers put torque through dropouts, causing stress and, potentially, sliding axles. I haven’t experienced this with my beefy MTB-style dropouts but quick release users may be more likely to do so. Burley states that the balance point minimises torque at the hitch. Although the two-wheel chassis is inherently stable, without the need to balance loads that comes with a single-wheel model, I do try to load the heaviest items over the axle in order to minimise the weight on the tow bar.

Aluminium, plastic and vinyl construction means that only significant loads make a major difference to bike handling. When empty, it’s easy to forget it’s there.

The standard steel hitch is supplied with the trailer but a pricey replacement Burley thru axle is required to mount it. Quick releases with tight or hooded drop outs, and bolt-on axles that are too short for the nut to be reinstalled, need the appropriately sized hitch adaptor. Standard QR and drop out set-ups don’t require any additional parts.
Towbar-trailer attachment with clips secured with cord so they can’t be lost.
My SCUBA kit loaded ready for the 20 mile trip to the service shop.
Hauling dive kit across North Norfolk.
What do you do when your partner needs to ride the Brompton to pick up her other bike? You piggyback it home on the trailer.
Trip to the recycling centre with a load of cardboard and box full of old inner tubes and tyres. What would normally be a chore becomes a chilled out rural pleasure ride.
Our regular shopping tour of 30+ miles around some of Norfolk’s loveliest countryside emerged during the UK’s first COVID-19 lockdown. We get as much as possible from farm outlets and independent groceries, topping up in supermarkets for what we can’t find elsewhere.
Binham Abbey, on the shopping route.
Chip shop lunch on Wells Quay with groceries in tow.
Bungees and a spare sheet of ripstop nylon for improvised load retention and mud-proofing.
Another shopping trip, another church

4 Comments

  1. This was a great article and I like how you framed it in your introduction (not review but a repudiation of car culture and people being ‘shocked’ at bikes with cargo). I have a Burley travoy, which is a super innovative two wheel cart that attaches to the seatpost and comes off to wheel around in grocery stores. I absolutely love it, and when I bike home in NYC with it, car [drivers] give you more room because they somehow ‘respect’ you more; they’ll try to kill you less because you’re not “just” riding a bike for pleasure. Fucking drivers. Anyway, I’ve been looking for something that can carry bigger boxes or longer items, and the open sides of the Flatbed, via the Travoy, has been calling me. Owning two bike trailers feels like really consumptive, so I have to evaluate how to do this! I have QR, but have mounted Pitlocks on the ends. I assume I could still use this as long as there are X mm available to mount, right? Thanks again for this!

    • Hi, thanks for your comments. Yeah, I was as restrained as I could bear to be regarding the arseholes who evaluate your legitimacy as a road user based on some internal index, in which having fun puts you at the bottom of the pile, before deciding to what extent to terrify you and endanger your life.

      I hear you on consumption and I’m currently selling numerous possessions. I justify cycling expenditure to myself based on utility – like I have a road bike for speedy, lightweight travel, an ‘everything else’ bike and would like to add a full suspension MTB for gnarly, technical mountain bikepacking that would normally mean pushing. Perhaps multiple trailers can also be justified since they replace something much worse? We’ve rarely needed to hire a car since having the Burley.

      My hunch on the QR skewers is also that the mount would fit in the Xmm between the Pitlock and dropout, but you may want to double check with Burley. They were helpful and responsive to my info requests for this article.

  2. I’m looking for a trailer, and your review was very helpful. It’s a bit hillier where I live so it’ll probably be a bit more work for me than in Norfolk. I need to find out about the through axle though, my bike doesn’t have drop outs.

    It’s funny about the disbelief/pity thing, on the industrial estate where I work there aren’t many lunch options but about 700m from work there’s a good sandwich shop and 90% of my colleagues drive that 700m or so. I prefer to walk it, it’s a nice walk, but people seem to think it’s somehow some huge hardship and not an enjoyable short bit of outdoors time and keep offering me lifts (which I politely decline). It’s like it doesn’t occur to people there are methods other than driving to go a few hundred yards.

    • Hi Dylan, I’m glad the review was useful. I can source you a Thru Axle if you’re struggling, although, depending on your spec, some sizes won’t be back in stock with the supplier until August-October.

      I hear you on the perception thing. I went to a gathering near Lowestoft last weekend, taking the train from Norwich and then biking the 6 miles or so to/from the venue. I just couldn’t get my friends to understand, as I again declined offers of lifts back to Norwich, that I actually enjoy the fresh air, exercise and scenic experience of riding and that, although it was quite hot, I was in no rush and would be fine!

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