Although packing light is always a goal to strive for, most long distance tourers haul a more generous payload, for one reason or another. The slant of this review is geared towards those people, especially on overseas, dirt road tours. Riding 29ers…
Ok, so first – despite how much I like them - I have to admit that 29ers (big wheel mountain bikes) don’t make complete sense for heavily-laden, dirt road touring in many parts of the world.
All things being equal, 700c rims are inherently less robust than their smaller, 26in counterparts. There’s a limited choice of touring-worthy rims to choose from and you’ll be lucky if you find a replacement outside the States, Europe or Australasia. More importantly, dirt road touring tyres – and by this I mean high volume rubber, with extra sidewall strength and a long lasting tread – are few and far between. Schwalbe’s Marathon Dureme is about the most suitable model I’ve found so far, and even that could do with more volume.
Don’t get me wrong. I love 29ers for lightweight bikepacking: big wheels roll smoothly without the need for suspension, shrinking the largest of rocks into more manageable sizes. A rigid 29er is both efficient to ride and incredibly capable off road.
Of course, there’s lots of variables – rider weight, the way you ride, what you carry. But for overseas travel, it boils down to the fact that 26in parts are found the world over – and 700c spares aren’t.
However, if a 29er is the bike you have – or the one you enjoy riding the most – there are ways round this.
You can start by speccing a suitable rim – Velocity Cliffhangers, Rigida Sputniks and Sun Rhyno Lites are all recommended – and having it built and trued professionally. You can pack as light as you can, carry a spare tyre and hope for the best. It’s very unlikely that a rim will fail but if it does, a 26in wheel will at least allow you to limp your way along until a replacement can be sent out. In Central America or Asia, you might even track down an alternative wheel size that’s close enough to keep you rolling – like the 28×1 1/2s that come on single speed Flying Pigeons and Heros.
Carrying an extra wheel
Alternatively, there’s the Extrawheel Voyager, which does two things. Like all trailers, it shifts weight – and thus wear and tear - away from your bike. This opens up the opportunity to run a lighter setup without fretting over all important tyres and wheels. Unlike other brands, however, its wheel also serves perfectly as a spare, in regions of the world where a replacement would be impossible to find. Granted a failed rim is an unlikely, worst case scenario. But the longer and more remote the tour, the more opportunity there is for a mechanical failure to potentially jeopardise your trip.
I’m not going to argue the relative merits of trailers over panniers – opinions are divided. Certainly, trailers have their quirks and take time to get used to. Yet as much as I’d advocate packing light, there are times when you may prefer to be able to haul more weight – for a remote tour where extra food or water is needed, or to help a partner out.
There’s also the inclusiveness of trailers. They transform almost any bike into a touring machine – a possible solution if you only have one bicycle to hand, or you want to combine your tour with mountain biking local trails on a light and lively bike.
Overall, the Extrawheel handles well. There’s little side to side tug when riding out of the saddle, it tracks neatly behind the bike, and its big wheel skips confidently over rocks and roots. Panniers make access to cargo straightforward, though it’s worth packing weight low and evenly, as this impacts the way the trailer handles. Similarly, I found a small amount of weight on the handlebars, like a bar bag, helps to stabilise steering and reduce some low-frequency wobbles when pedalling. On steep, loose climb, it pays to concentrate on keeping the back of the bike weighted, to stop the rear wheel slipping out. As with most trailers, the Voyager suits sitting and spinning, rather than honking dramatically from side to side.
It’s worth pointing out that although the Extrawheel feels stable and settled at speed, it doesn’t feel nearly as planted as a seat-post mounted trailer trailer – like the pricier Tout Terrain Mule I’ve been touring with recently. It does, however, benefits from being considerably more compact, making it easier to weave around town – and deal with off the bike. The trailer is rated to a massive 30kg in payload. For day to day touring I wouldn’t burden it with anything like that amount, especially if headeding off road. But it’s good to know the capability is there if you really need it – hauling extra water, for instance.
Like most trailers, the Extrawheel takes some time getting used to. After a couple of outings, it’s starts to feel more comfortable and predictable – as you react and adapt to its quirks.
The Extrawheel moves weight away from your bike, decreasing wear and tear on your wheels and tyres. Similarly, running three wheels allows you to rotate tyres more often (it’s the back tyre on your bike that takes the brunt of the action), so you can eek more life out of them.
At 3.6kg as tested, it’s light – and you can offset the need to carry a spare tyre and a rear rackm bringing it down to around 2.3kg. It’s simple too – there’s not a lot to go wrong.
It’s ideal for anyone who wants to ride their standard hardtail mountain bike, without buying a new wheelset or making modifications to the frame.
It tracks nicely behind you. It’s compact enough that the turning circle is tight and it won’t get in the way too much.
It’s fun to ride offroad. The bike feels lively and easy to bunnyhop. The big wheel rolls well over obstacles and doesn’t hook up on on curbs.
The compact size makes it easy to load on a train or bus, or store in a guesthouse.
The trailer can be broken down in size and stashed in a bag. With a big enough bike box, there should be room for a third wheel in there too.
Carrying a spare wheel could get you out of a fix when you most need it…
Despite all the extra hardware, the Voyager only actually provides two large panniers worth of space – 40-50L – compared to other more capacious trailers, which typically offer 80L. If this isn’t enough, you’ll still need to run a rack on your bike too – or team it with a saddle bag or seat pack, from the likes of Porcelain Rocket or Revelate.
The load’s positioned relatively low, which is worth taking into account if you’re planning a rocky, rutted tours. This may affect pannier choice too, as some are shaped deeper than others.
Tents with longer poles don’t always fit in panniers. Unlike a traditional rear rack and panniers, there’s no platform to strap a tent to. I haven’t tried it, but this top rack could be a solution.
If loaded to its full rated capacity – 30kg – it can adversely affect steering, and I wouldn’t recommend it with that kind of payload if you’re riding off road.
Unlike many other single wheel trailers, the Extrawheel doesn’t double up well for utility uses back home – after all, it’s effectively the same as carrying two of panniers on a rear rack. Trailers with a larger loading bay – like the Mule, Yak or Farfarer – are more versatile, and easier to pack too.
Typically, the Extrawheel weighs under 4kg, depending on the wheel/tyre combo you run. You can offset the need to carry a spare tyre against this – knocking off an extra 500-800g, and potentially a rear rack on your bike – another 700g.
There are 3 fork mounts to choose from, accommodating 26in, 29er or ‘snow’ tyres. The 29er fork has room for ‘standard’ 700c tyres and mudguards.
The Extrawheel uses a 130mm space hub, the same as your front wheel.
Made in Poland, the Extrawheel costs $250 in the US, plus $50 dollars for a wheel – 26in or 700c. It’s 215 Euros in Europe, plus 14 Euros for a wheel. There’s all kinds of fork/wheel/mudguard/pannier combinations you can choose from, so you only need buy what works for you. For longer tours, I’d recommend sourcing your own wheel, with the same hub/rim/spoke combo as your bike for versatility.
The Extrawheel is something of an anomaly. For a trailer, its load capacity is limited – in many cases, it makes more sense to simply fit a rear rack and panniers, especially for more road-orientated touring, or for those who pack light. As compact as it is compared to other trailers, it’s still an extra piece of hardware to deal with, for a relatively small amount of added capacity.
This said, the Extrawheel moves valuable weight away from the rear wheel, without the weight penalty incurred by many other trailers. If you enjoy mountain biking as much as touring, it offers the opportunity of travelling with a light bike that’s fun to ride – which is particularly welcome on mountain biking sidetrips. For anyone touring with 700c wheels, there’s also the warm, fuzzy, peace-of-mind feeling of knowing you’re self sufficient, wherever you are in the world. If space is tight, I’d recommend adding in a lightweight seat pack, from the likes of Porcelain Rocket or Revelate, for another 10 litres of stowage.
For real expedition types, the Extrawheel also adds capacity on those remote, long distance tours – again, spreading heavy cargo over a third wheel – and giving you the option of running a suspension fork without needing to load it with weight. Seeing as you’re going to the trouble of pulling a trailer, it makes great sense that you can cannibalise parts of it too.
Lastly, I can see the Extrawheel’s compact length working particularly well for tandem tours, where space can be a real premium. I bumped into a couple touring with one in Ecuador, who’d chosen it for that very reason.
Thanks to Josh at the Biketrailershop for loaning me this trailer to try out. And Gary and Nancy for feedback and posing in pictures (-:
You can read a long term review of touring with an Extrawheel here.