The traveller's trailer

Velo vision issue 36

We have an exclusive first review of the T1 trailer, an new development from Freeparable Design in Taiwan. It’s a trailer which converts to a suitcase – could it be the best of both?

The traveller’s trailer

Not available to end users as we go to press, but contact FreeParable to enquire. Trade enquiries are welcome.

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FreeParable Design is a small design company in Taiwan. Head designer Mr Weng and his colleague AK Chou were at the Eurobike show in early September, and after the show (where their trailer won Eurobike) they visited me briefly in York, before heading back to Taiwan. They left a prototype trailer with me for review.

It’s unusual that we review a product which isn’t actually available for people to buy, but the trailer is such a neat design, and the designers such evident enthusiasts, that I’m happy to oblige in this case. FreeParable are hoping that this review may spark interest and eventually orders from distributors in any country; the trailer can then be manufactured in batches to order. It’s hoped that the eventual retail price would be roughly around the US $ 499 mark (around £330, E300).

The traveller’s trailerThe T1 is a black fabric suitcase with a striking exoskeleton of aluminium tube in anodised grey. The case narrows at the end so that two small (pneumatic tyre) wheels, on adjustable supports, can tuck in alongside the bag. The drawbar can either tuck away against the frame, secured with a Velcro strap against a rubber block, or snap into place to act as a handle when ‘trolleying’ the case. In this unfolded position it also acts as the drawbar when the trailer’s behind a bike.

The traveller’s trailerThe trailer wheels can move through quite a range of adjustment, allowing you to alter the ride height when in trailer mode. You can also extend the wheels fully in suitcase mode- this provides a nice wide base so that the T1 stands up very securely. It does stand up with them tucked right in, too, but it’s more delicately balanced.

To use the T1 as a wheeled suitcase, simply undo the Velcro strap and swing the drawbar up – it’s spring-loaded to lock in place. The T1 can then be easily pulled or pushed along by the handle.

Build quality seems very good: zips are super heavy duty, and concealed by a flap when the trailer is closed. There’s also an inside pocket, comfortable lifting handle and a large reflective patch on the back.

The traveller’s trailerBefore you can tow the T1 behind a bike you’ll need to attach the hitch – this is a clever curved metal part which slips over the end of any 10mm axle (either solid, or using the extra-long quick-release supplied with it). Once you pop the loop on the drawbar into the hitch part, it’s locked in place using a simple rubber ‘gate’. A safety cord with spring hook acts as back-up.

Also included with the trailer is a flag (in two sections, so it fits inside the bag), instructions, and a useful cover for air travel or shipping. This is a black canvas bag with rigid plastic reinforcements for the wheel support mechanisms and the drawbar hinge area, and two wide webbing straps which buckle around the trailer top to bottom and side to side. Enveloped in this bag the T1 looks nothing like a bike trailer – it’s just a big suitcase with a cover.

The trailer itself weighs 6.5 kg, and load capacity in bike trailer mode is set at 30 kg.

The traveller’s trailerThe T1 had already endured a long-haul flight from Taiwan and a short hop from Germany to England by the time it reached us, and it still looked pristine. I used it for a number of trips too, with and without a folding bike, taking it on planes, trains, buses, trams and in the back of a car, all of which it handled with equanimity.

As a suitcase it really is very good. The wheels are so much bigger than the annoying little casters fitted to many suitcases, and they roll well even on rough or soft surfaces. The drawbar feels solid and secure, and it’s the work of moments to flip it up or down again as you get in and out of buses or trains. It seldom even got curious looks: it just appears to be a particularly robust bit of wheeled luggage. And with the cover bag on, it’s as anonymous as can be.

The flat top of the bag provides a useful platform onto which other things can be strapped, including a folded folding bike if you bring along an extra strap or two. Best do this when the trailer is full, as the bag is only semi-rigid. That said, at the ‘wheel’ end of the trailer the contents are very well protected by the aluminium frame – this might be a good place for anything delicate which you don’t want to get crushed.

The traveller’s trailerAs a bike trailer, the T1 runs low and narrow behind the bike. Like most trailers it rattles a touch when empty, but goes quiet with a little load on board. Even empty and aiming for bumps I couldn’t get it to roll over, despite the narrow track – it’s just so low to the ground. It can jolt a bit if a wheel drops into a pothole with a load on board, but with careful riding and reasonable roads this is very much a rarity.

The hitch is easy enough to use, and it leaves only a tiny bit of extra weight on the bike. With a towing vehicle with a 16” or 20” back wheel you can turn fairly sharply to either side; right turns are a bit more restricted with 26” back wheels, as the tyre hits the drawbar. But never a problem in normal riding once you’re aware of it.

The large reflective patch is a welcome addition for riding at night, and the rear rail of the aluminium frame is also a very handy location to fit some lights.

Overall the trailer very well in a variety of situations, on and off the bike.

The traveller’s trailerThe T1 is a very nice bit of kit to have around – it’s a stylish, baggage-handler-proof suitcase which you can easily wheel instead of carry. In fact it’s so good as a rather over-engineered suitcase that it might even appeal to customers who will never use its cycling functions.

It’s also a good-sized, well-behaved bike trailer. The small wheels roll surprisingly well, and by adjusting the ride height so that the weight is very low down, it’s remarkably stable. On rough roads a trailer with bigger wheels would be preferable, but I think you could even take it touring if you stick to mainly smooth surfaces.

Two existing trailers spring to mind as possible competitors for at least some aspects of the T1’s functionality. The Carryfreedom City, which we reviewed back in Issue 15, takes a slightly different approach, with a bag that needs to be removed before you can fold the trailer frame. The Cyclone trailer from Radical Design is another ‘stealth’ trailer which can be made to look like normal luggage by removeing the full size (20”) wheels and drawbar, and storing them inside the bag (see review in Issue 19). Neither offers quite the same mix of features as the T1, but both currently do have the major advantage of actually being available to buy.

I do hope that the T1 trailer becomes available to end users before long – it’s a clever, unique product which is well designed and functional. Let’s hope it will be successful, too!

Peter Eland

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