My girlfriend and I went on a bike tour through Northern England and Scotland last month. We had the opportunity to test out an Orbit touring tandem from JD Cycles. With somewhat complicated travel plans, we decided that the Carry Freedom City trailer would make for the easiest overall travel experience.
1: Fly into London for a day
2: Take a train to Northern England
3: Take our tandem tour from there to Glasgow
4: Ship the bike back to Northern England
5: Fly back from Glasgow to London for a few days
6: Fly back home
For our flight from Las Vegas to London, we packed the City trailer inside of an Ortlieb Big Zip. We first packed in the contents of the City bag (sleeping bags, pads and tent) as well as the City bag itself as padding around the bottom and sides of the bag. Then I folded the trailer up, handle in and wheels in, and slid it inside the bag. We were carrying the remainder of our gear, clothes, maps, toiletries, etc. in an Ortlieb RackPack XL. Additionally, we had a handlebar bag for valuables, tools, snacks and the like.
Once in London, we unpacked and put the City trailer together. The Ortlieb RackPack got strapped on top of the City utilizing the 2 cinching straps on either end. It was my job to push the City trailer around through the airport and the underground while Melanie toted the carry-ons. The City proved to be quite the agile hand cart for getting all of our gear through London. The only problem was when we hit the dreaded stairs and I had to carry the whole load. I was able to easily maneuver the City off and on escalators and ramp it over large lips off and on the trains. It performed like a rolling suitcase but actually much improved with its large pneumatic wheels.
After a night in London, we were off on the train to Leeds then Ilkley the home of JD Cycles. JD Cycles is the largest tandem shop in the UK with a wide selection from Santana, Ventana, Santos, Dawes and more. They also have their own “house” brand Orbit. Ruth and John at JD Cycles were kind enough to lend us one of their demo fleet, an Orbit Routier Tour, for our trip.
This 26″ wheeled tandem was setup very nicely for the rigors of touring along the National Cycle Network in the UK. The Tandem was outfitted with sturdy 42 spoke 26″ wheels. The upright handlebar positioning was well suited for the occasional rough roads and paths that we were on.
Getting set to go was simple as all we had to do was hook up the City Trailer and attach our Ortlieb Handlebar Bag to the front. Our route took us along the UK’s National Cycle Network. The NCN offers 10,000 miles of recommended cycle routes throughout the UK. The route consisted mainly of low-traffic paved roads but also utilized bicycling and walking specific paths. Most of the paths we’re paved though there were a few dirt and gravel section and even one section the first day that was a bit grassy and muddy.
Our tour took us first through the very hilly York Shire Dales in Northern England. Things flattened out for a few very pleasant days as we approached Scotland. The skies opened up for us on our first few days in Southern Scotland as we passed through Carlisle and Dumphries. The most remote part of our ride took us over several tough climbs before we arrived in Ayr and some very pleasant coastal riding. Things dried out on our final days as we wove our way towards Glasgow.
The City trailer was a great way to transport both of our gear behind the tandem. Knowing that we likely would be riding through quite a bit of rain, I treated the City’s bag with a polyurethane brush on coating. It worked great, keeping out the rain on quite a few wet days. For our bodies, we outfitted ourselves with Showers Pass rain wear from head to foot. The Elite 2.0 Jackets and Pants as well as hoods and booties kept us comfortable and dry despite quite a few wet days. The Showers Pass utilizes the eVent fabric which I really is both breathable and water repellent. The rain wear is designed and made by cyclists in Oregon who design the outerwear based on their own frequent wet weather riding.
Pulling the City behind our Orbit tandem turned us into quite the spectacle everywhere we went. School kids would always make the most noise as we came around the corner and we had many pleasant conversations with interested locals and cyclists along our route. Our favorite moment was when the Scottish owner of a candy store we stopped in referred to our wee trailer.
While the City performed remarkably well as far as pulling smoothly behind our tandem while carrying a large load and for our off the bike travel, we did have some issues with it flipping over. We would often navigate along sidewalks to avoid the busy roads and our route took us off and on quit a few cycle paths. With this, we often found ourselves going up or down curbs thereby discovering the City’s propensity to flip over. This was undoubtedly due in large part to our top heavy load configuration. The comparatively narrower profile of the City also had a part to play in this as did the angle and speed we were going over the corners at. I soon learned to temper my approach quite a bit and this largely solved the problem.
We upgraded the tires to the Schwalbe 12″ Big Apples and despite this, we still ended up getting 2 flats over the course of our 340 mile ride. This was a bit of a hassle as the City’s wheels use a nutted axle making the tube switch take a bit longer.
An additional unexpected challenge came up that would have been posed with any tandem/trailer combination. The excellent cycle paths that we riding on about 30% of the time had either gates or barriers mainly for keeping cars off the paths but also for herding passages and trains. While we were able to weave by the majority of the barriers, there were quite a few were we either had to drag the trailer around behind the bike or remove the trailer and sometimes even hoist the bike . The gates were generally easy enough to get through but their propensity in certain areas had a definite effect on our momentum.
It turned out to be a great bike tour followed up with 4 days of sight seeing in Glasgow and then London. For the varied tasks of traveling by plane, train, bus and tandem the Carry Freedom City offered a great balance of strengths, overall not too shabby for a wee trailer.