Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Equipment Roundup: The Trail-Gator

My son is at an age now where he's ready to start some real cycling. He has had a Specialized Hotrock bike for a couple years now (he's a big kid and outgrew tricycles pretty early in life), but he's always had some trouble with the pedalling action - trying to stand on one pedal and then not continuing the momentum to keep the other pedal coming around.

Well, we wanted to help him to get the feeling of riding the road even though his pedalling isn't superb yet, partcularly the balance factor of riding. Training wheels aren't the best way to do this, as many of you may know. They don't allow the rider to lean into turns and use their body to turn more than their hands.

And to that end, my wife and I were looking at various trailer-bikes - you know, those half-bikes that latch onto an adult's bike and basically turn your bike into a tandem. The rider in the rear can even "stoke" a bit - being pure power as you pedal up hills and the like.

But my son (who's slightly autistic, as many of you may know) loves his bike. And I was a bit concerned about him riding on something with which he's not familiar. I also didn't want to spend the money on a full trailer-bike.

Enter: The Trail-Gator.

Basically, as you can see from the picture, it's a tow-bar that attaches from your bike to the front of your child's bike. It suspends their front wheel off the ground, fixes their handlebars in place, and allows you to tow your child on their existing bike. The child therefore gets to know the feeling of riding their bike, which is key in learning to ride alone.

When not in use, it telescopes closed and attaches in place out of the way to the left of your rear wheel (via a small attachment that fits under your rear quick-release). And you can also get optional training wheels for the child's bike that flip out of the way when you're towing, and flip back down if you want to let them ride unassisted.

Installation of the Trail-Gator is pretty easy, though there are some steps that are variably difficult depending on the type of bikes you have. But the instructions are pretty easy to follow.

The pieces that attach the bar to your child's bike are difficult enough to install that you probably want to leave the piece on the child's bike and buy another optional one in case you have two kids you want to be able to tow (Or you could just buy another Trail-Gator, I suppose, if you have two bikes that can do the towing as well). The piece that attaches to your bike is less complex - just slipping over your seat post and tightening with a wrench. But for convenience, you can also buy extras of those as well.

Once you get the pieces attached firmly and tightly, the ride is very smooth. Yes, you feel it if your passenger leans too far to either side but that's a good training tool, in my opinion. The tow-er knows when the tow-ee is not taking a good position on the bike that way. And also, the tow-er knows if the child isn't pedalling properly. If the child is trying to pedal backward, especially if the child's bike has coaster brakes, you'll know it... trust me. I disable my son's handbrake during our rides, but I like knowing when he's not pedalling right so I can remind him.

This item's great for family rides to the park, getting your kids to school (and allowing them to have their own bikes at school for the ride home if necessary), and even for longer-duration rides. My family has done some charity rides with me pulling my son and my wife pulling my daughter in a trailer and it's worked great. He's comfortable on his own bike, and if he wants to do some solo riding it's easy to disconnect him and let him go a bit.

So I give the Trail-Gator an A plus. It's a simple item that works well and has good flexibility to be used in a number of different ways.

People, not speed.

8 comments:

  1. Thanks Jamie,
    I'm going to pass this along to my sister

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  2. Thanks! Happy to be of service. I think it's a great product.

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  3. We just got my son a Hot Rock yesterday and I wanted to get a trail gator too. But looking at his frame, the top tube and bottom tube are welded together well before the front tube. Does the trail gator hitch fit above the top and below the bottom tubes securely?

    Thanks - cris

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  4. My son's bike is a Specialized Hot Rock as well, and it fits just fine. The piece that attaches to the child's bike is adjustable to fit a number of frame configurations. The instructions show the various configurations as well so you'll know which will serve your needs the best.

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  5. My son's bike is solid between the top and bottom tube. Is it possible to connect somewhere else? Above the top tube possibly?

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  6. I think that wouldn't work real well, Denise, but you might try it out anyway - the connector piece for the kid's bike is pretty adjustable to fit a number of different sizes. You can always return it if it doesn't fit.

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  7. I feel a bit stupid with your description of how easy it is to attach, because I have hit a roadblock. I have the gator attached, but it's completely loose on the up and down motion. It needs to be in a solid position, doesn't it? So that my daughter's bike is held up off the ground? Do you have any suggestions? Thanks!

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  8. Is this on the front of your daughter's bike, or on the piece that connects to your bike? It should be firmly stiff and solid on the front of your daughter's bike, but there's a hinge piece on the connector to your own bike that will move up and down and left to right to allow you and her to turn smoothly.

    Your daughter's front tire should be off the ground an inch or two, I believe (I don't have the instructions right in front of me).

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