“Do you prefer panniers or a trailer when traveling by bike?”
That’s a question I’ve been asked time and time again over the past few years. Unfortunately, because my previous experiences with long distance bicycle touring have all involved the use of panniers, I’ve been more than a bit bias when answering this question in the past.
But then, not too long ago, I got my hands on a BOB Ibex bicycle trailer and put it to the test. For the past month-and-a-half I’ve been cycling every single day, pulling this incredible piece of equipment behind me on my bike. I’ve ridden with trailers for a single day or two in the past, but this has been my first experience pulling a trailer for such an extended period of time.
The following are my thoughts and impressions of the BOB Ibex bicycle trailer:
The trailer featured in this article is the BOB Ibex Plus
(The “Plus” indicates that the trailer comes with the dry SAK)
When my BOB Ibex bicycle trailer first arrived via FedEx, I picked it up and carried it into my living room. “Wow, this thing is heavy,” I thought to myself. I proceeded to cut open the box and remove the trailer from its packaging. “Hmm, it’s really well made,” I continued.
At first glance I was impressed by the power and strength of the trailer. The BOB Ibex weighs about 20 pounds (9 kg) and features a single rear suspension wheel designed to take on the roughest road/trail conditions. Inside the trailer sits a bright yellow, waterproof dry SAK, used to store your goods and gear while the trailer is in motion. “Impressive” I thought to myself.
As I worked to assemble the trailer, two small tasks had to be accomplished. The first of which was to attach the trailer fork to the pivot tube using the 6mm pivot bolt and lock nut. “Hmm, this bolt doesn’t look very strong,” I remember thinking. “I hope the nut doesn’t come loose while I’m riding.” (It never did.)
Then I encountered my first little bug. In order to install the pivot bolt, you need two 10mm wrenches. Now, luckily I was at home and happened to have access to two wrenches of that size, but when I’m out on the road and traveling by bike, I don’t want to be carrying two of anything. If that bolt were to come loose and needed tightening, I would have to be carrying two 10mm wrenches with me… and when weight is a concern (as it always is when traveling by bike), two of anything is less than ideal.
Once the fork had been attached, I went to work on connecting the rear wheel and shock axle to the main body of the trailer. You do so by inserting the pivot axle’s left brushing through the left side of the shock tower opening and then aligning the right brushing with the right shock tower opening (It sounds complicated, but it was really quite easy). Once that’s in place, you insert the pivot bolt and tighten it down with a washer and nut. Here again you need two 10mm wrenches.
Once the bottom portion of the axle is attached to the shock tower, you need to attach the upper portion of the suspension system to the tower. This is done with a short axle bolt and Allen screw combination. Here, you are required to use two 4mm Allen wrenches to tighten the bolt into place. Once again, the need to have two Allen wrenches of the same size is of some concern to me as a traveling cyclist. That extra Allen wrench is just one more thing I would have to pack and carry around with me.
After that’s done, the trailer is pretty much assembled. Add the wheel reflectors, stick in the flag, drop the dry SAK into place… and you’re all set to go! Total set up time: About 15 minutes. Now all you have to do is attach the trailer to your bike.
In order to attach the trailer to your bicycle, you need to replace the rear quick release on your bike with the special BOB quick release provided with the purchase of your trailer.
This special quick release is wider than the standard quick release on your bicycle because it contains bobbins on which the trailer hooks will ultimately attach and lock into place.
Once the BOB quick release is in position simply lift the fork of the trailer and align the slots of the bobbins with the slots in the fork hooks. Then (and this is important), insert the locking pins into the hole on the front edge of the hook, rotate the pin upward, and lock the pin into place using the button head post located on the back side of the hook. The pin should lock into place, thereby ensuring that the trailer is indeed attached to your bicycle. Without these pins in place, your trailer could detach from your bicycle and cause a severe accident! The BOB manual insists that you “inspect pins for proper installation every time you ride.”
Once that’s complete, you’re ready to hit the street!
On The Road:
I was impressed as how easy the BOB Ibex was to set up and attach to my bike. I was even more impressed by the quality of the trailer and happy to see that attaching and detaching the trailer from the bicycle was a fairly easy task. Now I had to hit the streets and see how the trailer handled.
My first mile with the Ibex in tow was quite surprising. I expected there to be some odd sensations as my body and my bicycle adjusted to the use of the lagging trailer. But to my surprise, the handling of my bike was not much different than the handling of the bike when the trailer was not attached. I barely noticed it was there!
Reading other online reviews of the BOB trailers, I had been warned that because the trailer only had one wheel, there might be some rocking back and forth as the weight of the trailer shifted from side to side. But it became quickly apparent to me that the people writing these reviews didn’t know that they were talking about! I doubt they had ever even used the trailer for themselves. I’m guessing their reviews were based more on hypotheses than on actual experience. There was no shifting of weight from side to side. There were no times when the trailer caused me to lose my balance. Instead, the trailer followed in a straight line behind my bike, perfectly balanced the whole time through.
As I became more comfortable with the trailer I stepped it up a notch. To test the trailer’s rear suspension, I hopped a six-inch curb. No problem. The trailer followed the bike and leapt up onto the concrete sidewalk without a glitch.
Then I hit the trails. There’s a narrow, rocky, single-track trail not far from my home and it was my next testing ground for the Ibex. As I pedaled off-road and traversed a mile or two on this winding rocky path, I was instantly impressed by the trailer’s suspension. On steep uphills I could tell I was pulling something behind me, but the resistance wasn’t nearly as strong as I imagined it would be. Instead of bouncing over rocks like a bull in the rodeo, the trailer flowed more like a skier through thick powder, bouncing and gliding over the obstacles it came into contact with. The trailer’s rear suspension did an exceptional job at absorbing the blows of steep drops and big rocks. On flat twisting trails, the bike performed as though the trailer weren’t even there. On sharp curves, I was able to navigate quite normally on most occasions, but did have to put my feet down on a couple especially sharp hooks in the trail.
Back out on the paved streets, I went for speed. The BOB owner’s manual warns that you shouldn’t exceed 25 miles per hour (40 kph), so I wanted to push the trailer to its limit and see what happened. On a steep downhill on the other side of town, I exceeded 30 miles an hour and the trailer followed obediently. There was no wobble or loss of control, but after a few seconds I slowed down and resumed a normal rate of speed. I thought to myself, “It’s good to know that you can travel more than 25 mph with the trailer in tow, but honestly, I wouldn’t want to do it for an extended length of time. And frankly, I don’t think I would exceed that speed very many times on a bike tour anyway.”
Returning home a few minutes later, I added more weight to the trailer. The owner’s manual warns that the trailer is designed to carry no more than 70 pounds (32 kilograms), so I weighed out the trailer to exactly that… and hit the road again!
It took a bit more muscle to get rolling this time, but once I was in the saddle and out on the street, I almost forgot how much weight I was carrying. Again, over rough terrain and rocks, the trailer performed quite well. Smooth and quiet. But then I hit a long uphill road. Instantly I felt the trailer pulling me backwards. I was able to reach the top of the hill, but the weight of the trailer had been working against me the entire time. As I reached the top of the hill I tried to think back to what it felt like to climb step hills with a full set of panniers. “A hill of this size would be a struggle no matter what,” I thought. “When you are carrying that much weight, whether it’s in a set of panniers or in a trailer, it’s going to be a struggle. But for steep hills such as this, I think panniers are the clear winner.”
Overall, the handling of the BOB Ibex while on the bike is the best I have ever seen in a bicycle trailer. Having ridden with numerous two wheel trailers in the past, I now see the benefits of BOB’s single wheel design. It’s smooth, less resistant than two wheel trailers, and is the only type of trailer that is going to be able to withstand heavy use on narrow single-track trails.
Off The Bike:
On the way back home I stopped by the local bike shop to get their impressions of the trailer I had in tow. As I pulled up in front of the shop, I hopped the curb and looked for a place to park my rig.
Now usually, when visiting the local bike shop, I simply lean my bike up against a small blank wall outside the shop doors. But with a trailer adding an additional 4.5 feet (140 cm) to the length of my bike, there was nowhere to park!
The BOB owner’s manual suggests a parking position, in which you angle the trailer and handlebars at 90 degrees to the bike, but when I did this, the bike and trailer took up the entire sidewalk and those passing by on foot were annoyed when they had to step out into the street in order to get past.
I finally found a wall about 60 feet away that was long enough to lean the entire bike and trailer up against. There was nothing to lock the bike or trailer to, so I ran inside the bike shop as quickly as possible and then returned to the rig a few seconds later.
“Hmm…” I thought to myself. “Parking this thing could really be a problem.”
When traveling with panniers, the length of your bike is never really an issue. In fact, that’s one of the major benefits of traveling with panniers. It’s easy to park just about anywhere! But here I was, trying to park this one-wheeled trailer for the first time and I was really having some problems.
“What do you do if there is no wall, fence, or picnic table nearby onto which you can lean your bike?”
If space is a major consideration (as it was in this case where my bike in the recommended parking position took up the entire sidewalk), you can always detach the trailer from the bicycle – thus solving the parking/space issue, but it’s one more thing to do and one more task to take you away from the enjoyment of your ride.
After 45 days of using the Ibex, parking and packing the trailer has become a bit easier. I’ve learned what kind of angle the bike needs to rest at and what type of conditions there need to be in order for me to detach the trailer from the bike if necessary. In the end, the parking of the BOB bicycle trailer is just one of those things you have to practice and get better at as time progresses.
If I Were To Change Anything About The BOB Ibex:
– I would get rid of the need for two 10mm wrenches and two 4mm Allen wrenches when assembling the trailer. As a traveling cyclist, I’d prefer to use only a single Allen wrench for any repair I might need to make to my equipment.
– I would also make it easier to park the bike when there is no wall, fence, or picnic table in the area. This is where the one wheel design hurts the overall performance of the trailer. Two wheel trailers stand up on their own, but without something to lean the trailer against (or an open space large enough to support the bike and trailer in its “parking position,” there are some small problems.) I’m not exactly sure how to correct this situation, but when traveling by bicycle, packing and unpacking your bike is a constant part of your day. If getting in and out of your gear is a nuisance, your whole day becomes aggravating and the likelihood of you completing your tour drastically decreases.
– Finally, I would like to see the dry SAK available in other colors. I understand that the bright yellow color is designed for the safety of the rider when riding in traffic, but for someone like myself who would use the trailer off-road more than on it, I’d prefer to see a dry sack available in black, green, or gray (a color more suited for stealth camping and life outside the neon yellow stereotype associated with most hardcore bicyclists).
Over the past 45 days I’ve been using my BOB Ibex bicycle trailer while riding to work, running errands, picking up groceries, traversing the local single tracks and everything in between. Overall, I’m terribly impressed by the quality and design of the trailer. It’s built tough, has an excellent design for on road and off-road riding, and is by far the best bicycle trailer I have ever used. With its single wheel design, rigid construction, and suspension system designed for the roughest of road conditions, the BOB Ibex is the ideal touring trailer.
Photos By: Jayman