Update on 25th February: I am a complete idiot who didn’t know the difference between 130mm and 135mm dropouts, and didn’t read the instructions closely enough to realise that I shouldn’t have been using the spacers or the nut. It’s a great trailer and I will write another post as soon as possible, making it clear what an idiot I have been. In the meantime, you might enjoy this email I sent Topeak’s UK importer’s excellent customer service team, explaining my error and grovelling for it:
It is with my most humble abashed face on that I write to tell you that the Topeak Journey trailer fixing is actually a very clever system that works well, and that my problems with it were entirely of my own making. I hadn’t read the instructions closely enough, and didn’t realise that my dropouts are the 130mm variety which, consequently, don’t need the spacers and the nut was, therefore, entirely surplus to requirements, as the instructions actually make clear. I enjoyed a five minute explanation from Jason at TAV Cycles, whose day was brightened no end by being able to explain to me what an idiot I had been. Therefore, it doesn’t require a spanner to remove the brackets, just an allen key, which I always have with me anyway and, if you’re not a total idiot, it is no more difficult to remove and replace the trailer brackets than it would be with a quick release. I blush.
I am busy today, but I will try to update my blog before the end of the weekend, explaining my stupidity and expressing my satisfaction with the trailer (not that anyone reads my blog). I did twenty five miles with it attached yesterday, including the journey to TAV’s. It rides like a dream, and I am now very happy with my purchase.
I am very sorry for having bothered you with my idiotic misapprehensions. Your faith in the product can be fully restored.
Thank you for your attention and patience with me.
I teach ‘in the community’, which is a posh way to say that I have to supply my own transport and carry all my stuff with me. Besides being sceptical about the legality of an employer requiring you to supply your own transport, I am not willing to run a second car when I have two good legs to serve me. So, when I got this job, I bought myself a bicycle trailer, and it has done me very proud.
As you can see, it is looking rather ragged now. It cost me £150, but I think it is from a European supplier, because it has gone up to around £250 now, which is still a great improvement on what is supposed to be the industry standard, although how Bob justify their prices, I cannot tell. Also, although I am not complaining, it is only made of box aluminium and the coating is terrible. Single wheeled trailers will get scratched up, as they stick out from the bike slightly and are heavier than the bike, so that when you lean it against a wall, the trailer bears the brunt.
Its great design strength is its hitching system, which uses a quick release skewer with connection knobs on, that the trailer arms fit over. A sprung-lever then locks into place to hold the trailer firmly on the knobs (feel free to respond in an adolescent manner). Its weakness, if weakness it is, is that it was cheap, and its price showed in the materials and in certain details, such as how the mudguard attached (although it didn’t help that a twatmobile driver ran over my back wheel at a roundabout this winter, cracking the mudguard beyond repair).
After four years, then, it was time to think about replacing it as the wheel’s bearings are shot, and I don’t have any faith in the corroded frame lasting another winter. I wouldn’t have minded buying another of the same, except for the rise in price, which made me think that, if I was going to spend £250 on a trailer, I had other choices. My favourite bike shop, TAV Cycles in Ryde, had a Topeak Journey Trailer in the window, and a lovely looking thing it was. After a bit of internet browsing, I was enthused, and when the repairs my bike needed (new headset, new driveset) came to far less than I was expecting, thanks to TAV’s excellent service, I bought one.
“Where will you ride next?” they ask, and the answer is, not too far from a bike shop.
The problem is that the much vaunted “Quick release” system, while it cleverly eases the difficulty of attaching and detaching the trailer from the bike, relies upon a bracket system that is, speaking charitably, a bit of a bodge.
The circular lugs to which the trailer attaches are on brackets which attach to a screwed skewer, rather than a quick release skewer. This requires a lot of pressure and very precise placing to get it strong enough to take the weight of a fully loaded trailer. With a quick release skewer, this is easy, as you place and then close, but with this, you have to place it, stick an allen key in one end and an 8mm spanner on the other, and tighten it all while keeping the skewer, which is bearing the weight of both brackets, the wheel and your bike (unless you’re in a workshop with a clamp) perfectly in place.
My first attempt was inadequate, and the nylock (single use only) nut that secures the skewer on the non-geared side of the bike failed while I was in Newport, bending the skewer and dropping the trailer arm. Fortunately, I was pushing at the time, not cycling, or I would have come to a very abrupt and messy halt. I went to Hurst’s and they let me use a vice to straighten the skewer, and I bought another nylock nut and tried to repair the set up, but to no avail. I had to call Amanda and ask her to come and get me, thankful, not for the first time, that we had bought a bike rack for our little car.
On Wednesday, feeling a bit deflated, I took the bike and trailer back to TAV. James fixed the threads on the skewer which, thankfully, hadn’t torn up the threading on the receiving bracket. He also, incidentally, fitted a longer gear cable and cable outer to my rear derailleur, to give the trailer arm more clearance: a useful mod for a bike that will be towing any trailer, not just this design. The trailer is now,at least, usable: I did sixteen miles with a full day’s work kit on Thursday and it behaved beautifully.
However, there is one huge problem. With the mileage I do, I do get punctures: even if you use a puncture-resistant solution like Stan’s, you’ll eventually hit hawthorn or a nail, creating something beyond its ability to seal. I don’t like them, but I can deal with them, and QR wheel skewers make them pretty straightforward to remedy. Wheel out, tyre off, replace tube, pump, wheel back in. I still swear, but at least I’m moving again. With the Topeak setup, you’re looking at a major piece of engineering to get the wheel off, and you have to keep track of a couple of fairly small, but mechanically crucial, washers, and then go through the process of reinstalling the brackets and skewers when you’ve finished. In the dark, on a rainy night, after a full day, I really do not fancy my chances of getting that right.
I should point out that I do not blame TAV’s. This looks like a quality piece of kit, and unless you have quite wide experience of using a trailer, you’re unlikely to see the problem. I didn’t, and I’ve been using one for four years. None of the reviews on the internet that I’ve seen point out this weakness, but it can’t just be me: this is supposed to be a trailer designed for wilderness adventure: it has to be fixable on the road, or trail.
I’ve sent Topeak’s UK importer an email, saying that I’m not happy. I’ve also ordered an extra long QR skewer from Halo, which I am going to try to fit. I think there might just be room to get a QR handle between the lug and the end of the chainstay. The problem I anticipate is that the hole in the bracket on the receiving side is threaded, and I worry that this might be a necessary support for the bracket: it is held in place by the threads, rather than simply by inward pressure, which is what a QR relies upon. James at TAV’s has done a quick Google search and is looking forward to having a go at setting it up, so at least I will have the pleasure of hanging out in my favourite bike shop for a while.
I’ll update as things progress. For now, it’s a lovely day, so I’m going for a ride.