Mailing List

Subscribe to my highly unannoying monthly mailing list:

Matt's Music Blog

Friday, July 15, 2011

Bicycle Trailer for Double Bass & Amp

Update March 2013: This has become by far the most popular post on my blog (1229 views to date), so I edited it a bit, and added some new information, since I've now been using the trailer for almost two years. I and my trailer were recently featured on the Dandy Horse Magazine Blog


First I Had To Get The Nerve To Try It...

The idea of transporting my double bass and amp by bicycle was first proposed to me by my older brother Malcolm.  Everyone in my family is very pro-bike, believing it to be the solution to many of our society's most pressing problems: air pollution, global warming, lack of exercise, depleting oil reserves, traffic congestion, depression, etc.  Additionally, there are many other, more self-interested reasons for biking, such as avoiding traffic & parking hassles (especially abundant here in Toronto) and the cost of car ownership. However, my brother sticks out as a bicycle fanatic even among a family of bicycle fanatics, having spent two years biking around Eurasia pulling all his worldly possessions behind him in a "Bob" trailer.  Perhaps because of this, I remained wary of hauling my beloved instrument around Toronto's streets by pedal power.

However, about a month ago I was jamming with my buddy Chris Butcher, and he told me there was already another bass player doing this in Toronto.  I later heard about a second.  Once I realized that it was working for someone else, determined to give it a try.

Then I Did Some Internet Research...

I began searching the internet to see if there were examples of bike-based bass transportation that I could study before designing my own. Indeed there were! Check out this Portland band who did an entire west coast tour transporting themselves and all their gear - including a double bass - by bike. Apparently in Copenhagen, where bikes are much more supported by city bylaws and civic planning, and have therefore become much more a part of the culture, it is the norm for bassists to get around using cargo tricycle style bikes. (Of course here in Toronto, thanks to our astonishingly and infuriatingly stupid new mayor, Rob Ford, we have just decided to actually remove several bike lanes, at a cost of over $200 000.)

My main concern in the trailer design was the safety of my instrument; also, I wanted a trailer that would haul my amp and any other gear I might need for a gig.  Those cargo-tricycles start at well over $1000 here in Canada, and go up from there. For these reasons, I ruled out the cargo-tricycle idea.  My search turned up some other unsuitable designs. (Searching for "bike bass trailer" turned up a lot of bikes rigged to pull huge sub-woofers.)  Notable was John Teske's "Haulin' Bass Project".  A bassist/composer out of Seattle, he used a Kickstarter campaign to raise $1000 to have a bass trailer custom built for him, attracting considerable media attention along the way.  I found another design I thought might work, but I felt I could do better still.  I decided I would buy a flatbed trailer and then customize it to suit my bass.

I was originally going to buy the Surly Bill Trailer, but decided against it when I found this would cost something like $1500 in Canada.  Then I thought I would get the Bikes at Work 64A, which would cost something like $650 after shipping.  Finally I found a company from Guelph Ontario - Wicycles - which sells a DIY custom trailer kit for only $129, with $10 shipping in Canada. If you are going to make a WIKE DIY trailer, I would also recommend checking out this post and this post, both WIKE trailers built by other bloggers.

Then I Came Up With A Design, Ordered Some Stuff Online, and Started Building!

Above is my "blueprint" design. The amp fits snugly into a wood frame, and is secured by a strap.  The bass is held on three sides by aluminum poles.  The neck lies on top of the amp.  Two more straps secure the bass at the body and the neck. (I wish I had made the strap for the neck closer to the point where the neck contacts the amp; I think this would put less strain on the neck.)

This image shows in more detail how the amp is secured. You can also see a bit of the 1"-thick foam padding for the bass in the bottom right-hand corner.
The kit shipped to me in one business day. It was actually extremely easy to put together. Their YouTube video shows the entire assembly in under 11 minutes, and it didn't take me much longer. (Although their website states the contrary, my kit included all the 1/4" x 1 3/4" bolts and lock nuts.) I was able to purchase some of the 1" square aluminum tubing from Home Depot, but they only carry tubing up to 4 feet long.  For this trailer I needed up to 6 feet.  So, I ordered the longer pieces from Metal Supermarket, a chain across North America. They cut everything to my specifications for free, and had next-day delivery for only $10.  If you can, get tubing with 1/16" thick walls. 1/8" is excessive and will only add weight to your trailer.  I also ordered a large sheet of 1/8" thick aluminum for the base. I wanted something stiff to attach things to, but again this was probably excessive and definitely added weight. 1/16" aluminum or 1/2" plywood would probably have been fine. At first I put the wheels at the balance point, which is near the front of the trailer.  However, this caused the back of the trailer to scrape along the ground, so I had to move the wheels further back.

After several afternoons pondering, sawing, drilling, and making trips to the hardware store, here what I created!


Here is an approximate tally of the costs involved in building the trailer:
Wike DIY Trailer Kit: $140
Metal from Metal Supermarkets: $220
Reflectors & flags from MEC: $35
Misc stuff from hardware store
(bolts, handles, short tubing, lumber, replacing broken drill bit...):
$80
Approximate total: $475


A Few Tweaks and Notes...

At first I thought the hitch was a weak point of the Wike Trailer.  Both the Surly and Bikes-At-Work trailers had tougher-looking hitches.  I added a safety to the hitch (I think a safety was supposed to be included, but wasn't in my kit), so that if it breaks in traffic, I should be able to ride the whole thing long enough to get out of trouble. However, after two years of use, the hitch is holding up well and I am much more confident in it. I have wiped out while towing this trailer on one occasion (slipped on streetcar tracks in the rain) and the flexible hitch kept the trailer upright and my gear safe, even as I hit the pavement.

This shows how I attached the flags by drilling a hole at the
bottom of each side pole for the bottom of the flag pole to go
into, and then drilling two holes at the top of the side poles,
 passing a zip tie through those holes, and then making a loop
that the flag poles can slide through.
The only real way I think I my bass could be damaged while transporting it by bike is if it were hit by a car, so I added reflective stickers, a flashing light, and a flag.  A few months later I added two more flags (for a total of three) as well as lights on either side. However some drivers just don't look out for bicyclists, even bicyclists hauling trailers with a million flashing lights, so I make sure to keep my head up and look out for cars, especially at night.

This shows the anchors and spring-loaded clip-ons.  I colour-coded
the anchors and clips so I know which straps go where.
I decided to use cambuckle straps; if you use these, it is important to get ones with spring-loaded clips on the end, to ensure they don't giggle free of the anchors en route. However, even when I have forgotten to tighten the straps before leaving, the aluminum poles have still kept it firmly in the trailer.

Initially I thought that if it rained, I would cover the bass and amp with a blue tarp.  In practice I found the tarp very cumbersome to work with while loading/unloading the gear in the rain.  I have since purchased a heavy-duty snowmobile cover at Walmart for $60, which has a drawstring to draw it tight around the bass, and packs easily into an included stuff bag.  The amp would be covered with a garbage bag.  I haven't had the opportunity to try this, but I'm optimistic that it should be pretty manageable, and sufficiently protect the bass in mild weather.  If the roads are wet at all, it is also important to have a rear fender, otherwise you get the bass case all dirty because your back wheel sprays it with mud.

I would estimate that the trailer, amp, and bass, weigh about 80 pounds combined. When I'm going on flat ground, it isn't too hard - I've gotten up to speeds of 25 kph. However, going up hill is a tough slog, especially if it goes on for more then a block. Of course, downhill is a treat!


Using The Trailer - Two Years and Counting!


I've now been using this trailer for almost two years.  I've used it year round in Toronto, Canada - which means I've even hauled it through the snow.  It has become my preferred mode of transporting my bass (although I do still use public transport or car sharing when they are more practical).  I feel very confident that my bass is safe while it is being transported - usually it doesn't even go out of tune. Also, it is just very convenient - it only takes about 15 minutes to load, I can breeze past traffic, and I don't have to worry about parking or catching a cab.

Cheaper/Simpler Alternatives

I'm really hoping another bass player will follow my lead, and build a trailer like mine.  So far no one has, but please let me know if you do! If anyone in the Toronto area would like a trailer like this but doesn't feel like they're up to the task of building it, I'd be happy to build one for you for the cost of materials + $25/hour.

There are also some other cheaper and simpler alternatives if you don't need to haul things as large as a double bass. Wike also makes a number of pre-assembled cargo trailers, starting at just $99 that might work for electric bassists, guitarists, or anyone with similar loads smaller than a double bass.  Check out this trailer for hauling a drum kit (Max Senitt tells me he bikes his drums to gigs using a trailer occasionally). Or, check out this YouTube video that explains how to use a hand-truck as a trailer by connecting it to your pannier rack with an old bike tube (you should be able to get a used tube for free from any bike shop).  I borrowed my dad's bike and hand-truck while I was home in Edmonton, and used this set up to get to two gigs in the Edmonton Jazz Festival with my Eminence semi-acoustic bass and a small amp. It worked very well.

Backstage at the Edmonton Jazz Festival - the rest of the band had to park blocks away!
Got to go now... I have to load my trailer up for another gig!

Back to my main site, www.mattroberts.ca

10 comments:

  1. Hi Matt. I actually was looking at the same DIY kit for a bass trailer as well. I have one question about your design. Are you ok with the neck and upper bout only being supported by the amp? Other than that your design looks like what I was planning on doing.

    Matt

    ReplyDelete
  2. I'm totally fine with having the upper bout and neck only supported by the amp. The amp contacts the bass right at the point where the neck joins the body, which is quite strong. The only thing I might consider is moving the neck strap towards the back a bit more so that it also contacts the bass at about the same place as the amp does; I feel like with the current location it is bending the neck a bit because it contacts the neck at a point where it is actually suspended above the amp.

    After using this trailer for a year, I am very confident it is safe for the bass. The bass usually doesn't even go out of tune during transport! The only changes I have made is adding clips so the straps can't become unhooked during transport, and adding extra flags and lights to make me feel safer in traffic.

    Good luck, let me know if you have any other questions!

    ReplyDelete
  3. This is great. I play electric bass and recently built a rig to haul my gear.
    keep on rocking

    ReplyDelete
  4. Also, how has the snowmobile cover been working? Where do you store it during a gig?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The snowmobile cover works pretty well. It came with a sack that it can be stuffed into when not in use, so I just stuff it into the sack and store it where ever I'm storing all my other gear during the gig.

      Delete
  5. This comment has been removed by the author.

    ReplyDelete
  6. Hi there! I solved the issue buying a special bike, called NIHOLA 4.0

    I have some pics on my Website - text is fully German but you can use easily Google Translator ;)

    http://www.kontraboss.at/2016/08/31/double-bass-trailer-der-kontraboss-transporter/

    of course, this bike isn't cheap but it looks like a safe solution.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I did look at that solution, but ultimately I didn't go for it because 1) it is very expensive and 2) it didn't allow me to carry my amp as well as my bass. But glad it worked for you! I hear this style of transporting a bass is very popular in Copenhagen.

      Delete
  7. Dogs with four bones and swan are porn.Dogs lives under 5 years and grow up just during 6 months.Dogs lives with collect dirt every secound and secounds and just once give out dogs during under 5 years.

    ReplyDelete
  8. This is actually the reverse of the truth and anyone using the amplifier to get the sound to the audience rather than the PA system is going to get very bad sound results. Check my blog

    ReplyDelete