Homeless in Vancouver: A break in my bike trailer maintenance

A few evenings ago, one of the two tubes that make up the hitch arm of my bicycle trailer broke all the way through. It was an accident waiting to happen, predestined by the design of the bike trailer.

The hitch arm is what allows the bicycle to connect to and pull the trailer. A break in that arm could be very serious. Thanks to salad tongs and hose clamps, it wasn’t a big deal.

Salad tongs are great for splinting broken tubes

The break in the tube (in yellow) is visible from this angle.
Stanley Q. Woodvine

The same metal salad tongs that you use to dish out tossed salad can be invaluable when it comes to doing field repairs on a bicycle trailer you found after someone tossed it in the garbage.

Metal salad tongs are stamped out of cheap, thin steel. The kind useful for bicycle trailer repairs are stamped with a slight curvature around their length for stiffness (like long strips of a cylinder). This means they perfectly fit the curve of tubing that bike trailer frames are made from. And they’re thin enough that you can break off pieces by repeated bending.

My bicycle trailer repair kit includes as many hose clamps as I can get my hands on and one or two pairs of salad tongs. If you’re going on a cycling trip with a trailer, I say don’t leave home without them.

The hole problem with bicycle trailers

Commercially made bike trailers are almost never welded together. The usually one-inch diameter hollow aluminum tubing is bolted together. The locations of the bolt holes—any holes—are the weakest parts of the frame and the most likely places where the frame will break.

When I fished my current bike trailer out of a Dumpster last year, I saw that the hitch arm had a hole right where it connected to the trailer—a smaller diameter tube was mated into the hitch arm tube at a right angle.

A lot of force is focused on that point of the hitch arm and it isn’t the best place to drill a hole. Sooner or later it would break at that point, I thought, and I braced it as firmly as I could.

The tube didn’t break at that point but it seems to have allowed enough flex that the tube cracked a few inches away against the front edge of the steel wire trailer box.

D'oh!

Luckily the hitch arm is made from two tubes and only one of them broke.

Splinting over the tube break on two sides with pieces of salad tong should restore rigidity and some of the lost strength to the top tube and prevent it from breaking further. But while it should stabilize the damage, it certainly doesn’t fix it.

I will still need to replace the entire hitch arm, which I was planning to do anyway.

Now I will try to wait a few days just to see how good a job the salad tongs do.

In the beginning, God created salad tongs?

Tongs can do more than serve salads and fix bike trailers; they can prove the existence of God, according to a Jewish religious text of the third century, common era.

Because a blacksmith needs to use a pair of tongs in order to fashion a new pair of tongs, the Pirkei Avot reasons that God had to have been there to provide humankind with its first pair of tongs—right before the big cheese rested in the Seventh Day.

Best not to think that through too carefully.

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