Reckoning -Chariot CX1 vs Tout Terrain Singletrailer

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Bryn will be 4 years old in April – he’s been along on the majority of our adventures since his birth with many (evolving) means to carry him.  The trip to Spain (and then the UK) in May/June 2016 along with our Munda Biddi ride in November 2015 gave me ample opportunity to compare and contrast the two main options in child-carrying trailers for those that want to do ‘interesting things’*

*I’m fully aware that I define this differently to many (many) people

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We’re entering an age when he wants to do it by himself – at least some of the time. But if he doesn’t, then you need a trailer for napping and a safe place away from the elements

En fin, it depends on your priorities and what you want to do – neither the (now) Thule Chariot CX1 or the Tout Terrain Singletrailer is suited to everything.  We’ve been lucky enough to have long-term use of both trailers, in domestic (life-by-bicycle) and adventure (as-off-road-as-possible) circumstances.  To declare our potential ‘conflicts’ up-front – I bought a CX1 for us the Christmas before Bryn was born (2012 version), and Tout Terrain have given us long-term loan of a Singletrailer (in 2014) on the basis that we ship it back to them when Bryn’s outgrown it.  We have always found that using more than one carrying method works best – both for the adults and the child – at all ages.  So though they’re not reviewed in this post, the Yepp Mini and now Maxi have been part of the system since Bryn was 7-8 months old.

The 2017 Spain trip prompted me to write a large number of notes on the subject as we’d opted to use the CX1 rather than the Singletrailer for mostly logistic reasons – and I found it (the CX1) lacking with regard to handling such that it limited how and where I rode.  I cursed it more than it deserved given that it is more weather and insect-proof – and better carries non-child luggage.  We went a different way because of the trailer – we took ‘road-cuts’.

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We’ve learned that being able to offer a variety of transport options makes for smoother progress.

THULE CHARIOT CX1 (2-wheel)

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A rest-stop after a morning of rain and mud-soaked off-road riding in southern Spain. Despite direct positioning behind my back wheel, Bryn was warm and dry.

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Not bad :-)  A dry (too warm) child after a concerted attempt to drown him in spray-on clay mixed with pine needles and grass.  The closure does have a tendency to disengage itself when wet so we’ve added an extra tie-down strap (using the opposite tab to that in the left of the picture)

We bought our Chariot CX1 (pre-Thule) from Biketrailershop (US) in Dec 2012.  I soon swapped the stock tyres for  (wider) 20 x 2.1″ tyres (Schwalbe Big Apples).  We used the trailer (very carefully ‘driven’) with the Infant Sling from when Bryn was 1 week of age.  We have the ‘strolling’ front wheels that come with the trailer and the Jogging kit (single larger front wheel – that we’ve hardly ever used) as well as (obviously) the bike trailer kit with several Axle-mount cups so that all our bikes were ready to go.

The trailer is collapsible with the 2 wheels (20″) fitting inside. It’s 70cm wide and built with aluminium square-section frame construction  with plastic connectors. Our version has hub brakes (current version has disc brakes) in both wheels (with a single – lockable rear bar-mounted brake lever).  The official weight is 13.5kg without conversion kits. There’s an adjustable (for child weight) polymer spring that does a good job of gravel and minor bumps but isn’t up to bigger obstacles without very significant consideration from the rider – such that if a rock catches just one wheel there’s a risk of flipping the trailer.

The trailer connects to a bicycle via a non-drive-side axle mount (ball-socket – works on thru’ axles or w 170mm QR (supplied )) with arm (removable) from front quarter of trailer (where stroller wheels attach). The trailer runs off-centre from line of bike – to enable approach to kerb.  Our (and we assume all of them) assumes right-hand right-of-way meaning that it’s pretty easy to have the trailer mount the kerb if you don’t remember when cycling in a left-hand country (NZ/Aus/UK etc).

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Having tried multiple washers to space the socket away from the Rohloff gearbox I got Andy Peirce to make some single-piece spacers

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Two versions of the Andy Peirce Rohloff-CX1 mount spacer.  The left-hand one is for through-axle and due to the length of the axle plate (even the long one) can only be thick enough to clear the gear box itself.  The right-hand one is for QR skewers and is thick enough to clear both gear box and gear-box screw.

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What happened before the spacers.

There’s a rear storage compartment (collapsible) that takes a fair bit of luggage and two pockets inside the trailer itself that are more suited to small toys or snacks. There’s also a flat-pack mesh pocket at rear.  We have done air travel with the trailer checked-in as an infant or child stroller multiple times without difficulty (mostly Qantas and Emirates).  Ventilation and weatherproofing offer multiple options with fine insect proof mesh (mosquitos/midges upwards) on sides and front plus waterproof plastic too (removable on the side panels and roll-up at the front.  There’s also a 3/4 length shade option at the front.  The velcro on this ‘strips’ fairly easily and I added poppers to make it a bit more reliable.  There’s no passenger protection from rear wheel mud/water spatter unless full front panel down.  Front panel closure is tension dependant (see photo above) and as water allows stretch, the front panel has a tendency to spring open in the rain unless additional measures are used to keep it tied down.  As illustrated in some of the photos, spacers needed to allow ‘socket’ to clear Rohloff gear box (if you’re running one) – including the longer axle on through-axle Rohloff hubs. Child-securing is by a 5-point harness with a relatively reclined sitting position that makes sleeping on the move appear more comfortable than the Singletrailer.

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In urban mode where the trailer excels – our older pre-Thule Cx1 in ‘nap mode’ together with a Thule CX2 for comparison.  When we’re travelling we leave the majority of the ‘pusher’ handle behind to reduce weight and so it doesn’t catch on things.

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You can even mount it on a Greenspeed trike if you want.

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Very early times with the infant sling in place :-)

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You can end up in some pretty amazing places.

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This descent in southern Spain (admittedly the GR7 hiking route – part of Logan’s Altravesur Route) was utterly beyond the CX1.  I flipped Bryn (and the trailer) multiple times even while walking (thankfully he stayed asleep which is a tribute to the 5-point harness).  Hauling the Singletrailer would still have been hard, but it’s ability to track centrally and with just one wheel and markedly better suspension would have made life a lot easier and probably rideable.

TOUT-TERRAIN SINGLETRAILER

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Scottish ‘into the distance’

The Singletrailer was lent to us by Tout Terrain in Aug 2014 (on the understanding that it was to be returned when no longer used). Fairly early on I swapped the stock 1.9″ tyre for 2.1″.  After seeing Cass Gilbert using the 29-er Mount-arm, we swapped from 26″ to 29″ version in Oct 2015.  I also got the shock serviced in Dec 2015 after our Munda Biddi ride.

It’s built with a chromoly steel (welded) construction (45cm wide). The single wheel is removable, and there is adjustable travel suspension (with a 160 or 200mm manitou rear air-shock, ideally need to carry shock-pump, but I also managed to sufficiently inflate it with a Specialized MTB Airtool).  There’s a 5 point harness.

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The seat-post mount works really well to enable good trailer tracking behind the bike.  I carry a spare pin with split ring, and in doing so have never needed it, but I see easy potential to drop it into a drain or bog.  If the QR isn’t tightened enough the trailer tends to sag to one side.  Having the trailer-arm mounted this way precludes a seat-pack (a significant storage loss in our normal bike-packing set-up) and also rules-out a rear rack unless you only ride on the road.

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The trailer has a seat-post mount (different one for each diameter post) with the mount-arm (26″ and 29″ versions – 26″ version shown above) folding into trailer for transport (with wheel, shock and wheel arm).  The main ‘cage’ is not collapsible.  There are small storage pockets inside and and a removable pocket in front (mounted on arm to seat-post) but there’s only limited under seat storage.  There are significant ventilation/drainage perforations at lowest point of trailer body.  There’s a spatter/mud protection panel against spray from rear towing wheel which works regardless of whether trailer body open. The trailer side panels are clear plastic (with no ventilation options).  There is a clear plastic front panel and an inner mesh panel (both of which secure with Velcro and poppers).  The latter has very coarse mesh and is certainly not mosquito, midgie or small fly proof.  In contrast to the CX1, the trailer runs centrally behind bike and is narrower than currently conventional mountain bike bars so that once the length of the trailer is familiar, narrow trails are mostly rideable.  The sitting position more upright than CX-1. We have not (yet) attempted air travel with the Singletrailer – others report success as a ‘sporting item’. Total weight is reportedly 9.5kg. The parking support (function/efficacy dependant on seatpost clamp height) clips up under trailer body while not in use (THe support and its mount-point are both vulnerable to ‘grounding’ – our securing mount was lost-in-action during the Munda Biddi trip so we now lash it ‘up’ with a strap).

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The upright seating position means that there’s some pretty full-on head-lolling when asleep (Tout-Terrain sell ‘Isuro pillows’ to counter this).  Mud-spatter into the trailer from the rear wheel isn’t a direct issue, but water ingress through the drainage holes/mesh is with water pooling rather than draining after a day riding through (unavoidable) puddles. The very effective suspension meant that he slept through some pretty rough terrain that would have overturned the Chariot (or at least woken Bryn) if ridden rather than guided on foot.

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Riding standing up (at slower, smoother speeds with helmet on) was much enjoyed though the handling was noticeably affected by the raised centre of gravity in the trailer.

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Bryn happily read and slept through all the rocky/rough/technical ground we have ridden with the Singletrailer.

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Despite the potential to ship water into bottom of the trailer under the seat, the trailer maintains warmth very effectively when closed down (at least in dreich Scottish conditions)

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A navigational error lead to an extended bog-bash with prolonged hike-a-bike sections across Cairngorm peat with some deep drainage channels.  Not only was I able to ride as much as I would have done without the Singletrailer – I was able to haul the bike-trailer combination across some really challenging terrain.  This would have been completely impossible with the CX1.  We do now carry a small bothy shelter with us when there’s a risk of repeating these circumstances.  Bryn was toasty through-out this when in the trailer – but we couldn’t stop without getting really cold.

How would I conclude?

It depends…

If, during your family adventure,  you’re not going to ride true single-track and don’t mind a noticeable weight penalty in exchange for more luggage capacity, better weather and insect proofing along with ‘climate-control’ advantages, then the Thule Chariot CX1 edges ahead.

If you want a trailer that really follows where you ride on single-track off-road and  offers better comfort to passengers in a lighter package – but don’t mind more of a challenge packing ‘stuff’, poorer weather and insect-proofing along with greater stress getting it on an aeroplane; then pick the Tout Terrain Singletrailer.

For those whose families ‘live-by-bike’ like us, the advantages of the CX1 for urban use weigh significantly in its favour overall (unless you also want to tussock-hop or fun single-track)

If we were heading off now for an extended trip, I would go with the Singletrailer – but I would modify it – particularly for insect protection and change the ‘drainage’ so that it doesn’t take water on board from the trail (rather than from above).  Given enough warning I’d also modify the ‘cage’ to allow it to be collapsed for air travel and maybe improve the cross ventilation for tropical climes.

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Sometimes it’s going to come to ‘combined tactics’ – all part of the fun :-)