Rick Shaw, as Sora refers to her Burley Tail Wagon (get it, rickshaw?), has certainly taken a beating during our four months on tour. We have traveled over every sort of surface imaginable: smooth pavement, not-so-smooth pavement, gravel, pebble-lined trails, rocky and rooted dirt roads, forest service roads, large cobblestone roads and small cobblestone roads (these are the worst), tire-sucking muddy paths, mountain biking trails, wheel-sinking sand, chunky clay. It’s leaped over angled curbs and hopped over potholes flying downhill in Bosnia.
Rick Shaw rattles more than when we first began our journey and the sun has toned its sunflower yellow coat to are more muted lemonade tone, but the Tail Wagon still holds strong. At one point, our left wheel quick release loosened and the wheel began riding rather askew. This occurrence served as a reminder to perform regular maintenance on the trailer as well as our bikes. With easy to reach bolts, it’s easy to manage.
We’ve put this thing through the ringer and know it inside out. In this review, we tell you what we love about our Burley Tail Wagon and what we would love to see in the future.
What We Love
The Stroller Attachment
Upon learning that we could beat the airline baggage checking system by checking Sora’s trailer at the gate as a stroller for free, we opted to add the stroller attachments (front wheel and push handle bar) at the last minute. After debating whether or not to send them back to the US after arriving in Oslo, our starting point, we decided to keep them. Dave was worried about wind resistance and weight of the attachments, while I pushed to hang on to them, just in case they proved essential.
In my opinion, they have earned their keep by offering many uses throughout our endeavor, beginning at our departure from SeaTac airport in Seattle, WA. We booted Sora from her, ahem, stroller and filled it with our carry-on baggage – much more easy to lug around panniers this way! On rainy nights, we stuff it full with our bags and push it under our tent vestibule to keep our bags dry. When Sora had emergency surgery in Germany to remove a cancerous tumor on her paw, she couldn’t walk for several weeks. So we pushed her around Berlin in a stroller, just like we would a baby. We affectionately referred to her as “Baby Borba.” We felt a bit ridiculous transporting Sora around like a purse puppy, but we had no other option, and we were so grateful to have the ability to convert the trailer to a stroller.
Oh! And we use the handlebar as a drying rack. We purchased magnets and clip our wet clothes to the rail while they dry in the breeze from our ride.
The interior space of the Tail Wagon accommodates Sora more than sufficiently. Her bed fits perfectly, providing a cushy pad for her to rest. Weighing around 42 lbs, Sora can comfortably stand up and turn around mid ride. She tends to curl up in the back of the trailer (the end closest to the bike), which allows ample room up front where we store her food, leash, bowls, supplies, and sometimes her humans’ excess grocery items. She especially loves when we keep bread back there.
The trailer comes with three large handy cargo pockets, which we stuff to the brim with Sora’s gear. Made of mesh, they allow for wet items like her water bowl or compact dog towel to dry while we ride. The interior pockets, which lie below the main cover securely hold the gear, while the outside pocket could use a velcro or snap attachment for added protection. I’ve done pick up duty a few times throughout the trip so far.
With a lift of the canvas cover and a tug at the bright red clamps, the Tail Wagon easily breaks down into a small size, allowing us to stuff it inside small apartments, elevators, and through narrow staircases and doors. With Europe’s more compact spaces, we sometimes need to remove one wheel in order to squeeze by, but in general our trailer easily fits nearly anywhere.
Long-term, international bicycle travel with a dog requires constant schlepping of gear up and over stairs, into trains, onto subways, and through tight doorways. Weighing 23.5 pounds, Dave might notice the extra weight while he rides with Sora inside, but when I assist with lifting over stairs, whether attached to the bike or not, it’s easy to maneuver and heave and heft up and over when we need navigate such circumstances.
Breathability & Airflow
The roll up rain covers and mesh windows on the top, rear, and sides allow for plenty of airflow. Further, the rear panel unbuckles and flips up to provide maximum airflow and for Sora to cool off more quickly on hot days.
Some sort of short collar attachment inside the trailer would be a nice addition. We never ride with the rear panel up for fear of her jumping out mid-ride. A secure seat belt of sorts would offer her parents more assurance.
Secure Closure Straps
Quick and easy to fasten, the hair tie-like side closure straps securely fasten the trailer closed. Nearly every day, I balance my heavy bike while I ruffle around in the trailer, either to close it, get Sora out, or grab her water bottle. The closure straps allows me to easily do what I need to for Sora while minimizing my own risk of falling.
We have had two instances, once with Sora, and another time with our Old Man Maxwell, where they have somehow managed to Houdini their way out of the trailer. Sora tumbled out somewhere in Sweden when her silly humans left a full water dish inside to spill all over her and Maxwell pushed the eject button after deciding he was too hot at a red light on a busy road in Portland.
Luckily, both dogs survived the spill. Perhaps a velcro or magnetic closure in the middle might offer added security in the future.
We love the spoked alloy wheels. Just like a standard bike wheel, the hub and spoke system is a proven technology that can handle the wear and tear. Plus, if we snap a spoke, we don’t have to replace the entire wheel, just the one spoke. Some trailers use plastic wheels, so if you have an accident or the wheel cracks, the whole wheel is kaput. An alloy wheel won’t break in half and leave you stranded on the side of the road. We swapped the inexpensive original tires for the indestructible Marathon Schwalbe (16” X 1.75”), which have yet to puncture.
We We Would Love to See
While the trailer features two zippered rain covers in the front and back, we don’t feel that the water resistant cover offers enough rain protection.To mitigate this problem, we brought along an old tent footprint to drape over the inside of the crossbar and secure it to the trailer cover with magnets. This way, water doesn’t spray in from the street into the mesh side windows or soak through the material.
Unlike Burley’s child trailers, the Tail Wagon offers no sun protection. While cycle touring, we spend anywhere from four to nine hours directly under the baking sun. This is a major flaw in the design, as dogs don’t sweat like humans, so the wind Sora feels doesn’t do much to cool her off.
Similar to our hack rain cover, we brought along a white pillow case, which we drape over the crossbar in a similar fashion. To protect Sora from the morning and evening sun, we magnet a towel or other clothing item to the side to block the sun.
Tail Light Adapter/Space
Again, Burley offers a light bracket attachment for the child trailers, but not for the pup mobile. Since we spend a lot of time cycling beside cars on busy roads with zero shoulder, we ride with our rear tail lights at all times.
We’ve tried to attach a rear red blinky light to the outside cargo pocket, but the material is not strong enough to hold a light. Even a strip of material specifically for a rear light would work.
Stroller Attachment Design
Part of our debate about keeping the stroller attachment centered around the handlebar. It’s bulky and there’s nowhere to put it to allow minimal wind resistance, so we put it in backward. This has worked fairly well, though the poles stuck in the beginning, since they were in incorrectly and now that we have four months under our belt, the poles rattle since parts have loosened over time.
Once more, if Burley designed the Tail Wagon similar to the child trailers, we’d sure appreciate it. With the child trailers, the adjustable ergonomic handlebars fold into the trailer for optimal wind resistance and easy storage. At a minimum, the stroller handle bar should be designed to break down into multiple pieces, rather than remain one large part.
As mentioned earlier, we have taken this thing over every surface imaginable, and while it’s still in great condition, we are certain that shocks would not only provide a more comfortable ride for Sora, but would also lessen the impact from many of the bumpy, uneven, potholed surfaces we traverse.
Guess what? The child trailers have ‘em. See what we’re getting at here, Burley?
The emergency cable that connects the trailer to the bike in case the hitch detaches does not work well with disc brakes. The cable length is either too short or too long. In our case, when Dave attaches the cable to his Surly Long Haul Trucker, it rubs against his brake rotor, which can tear the fabric or cause an accident on account of the friction.
To mitigate this, Dave twists and wraps and weaves the cord to the exact tightness that works for his bike. It took us 20 minutes in the Swedish cold to figure out a solution. Something adjustable would work best for our particular situation.
We ride rain or shine and on those wet days, both the rear wheels of the trailer and Dave’s rear wheel spray mud and debris into the trailer, which, were it not for our handy dandy footprint contraption, would render Sora and her abode a mess. By the end of a rainy ride, the sides and rear cover are coated in mud and dirt and we think fenders would be a great option to add to the Tail Wagon.
Overall, we love our Burley Tail Wagon and would recommend it to anyone looking to take their pup along on their bike, whether for a tour like ours or a jaunt to the park for a picnic. It has more than served our needs during our tour and has proven its durability. With some changes, we think the Tail Wagon could become even better!