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There are a few pictures on the internet of people towing canoes with bicycles, there are even complete solutions that you can purchase for the task. But what is really involved, what are the challenges and the solutions?

Related How to carry a bicycle in a canoe?

  • 1
    what about the other way around?! :) – ihadanny Aug 23 '15 at 13:06
  • 3
    @ihadanny This idea has fascinated me for a while - the idea of biking upstream towing a canoe/kayak, then somehow mounting the bike and trailer on the canoe/kayak to go back again - completely self-contained. – Digital Trauma Aug 25 '15 at 21:33
  • Is this trailer compatible with a bike that has a rear rack installed? – user9413 May 1 '16 at 19:34
  • @Bradley occasionally when breaking over a hill, the hitch bar will rub on the back tire, this would be a problem with a rear rack. There are low mount hitch options, or If your rack is strong enough, you could hitch to it. If not take the rack off. I promise you will be able to haul much more IN the canoe then you ever could ON the rear rack. – James Jenkins May 2 '16 at 13:59
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This answer is based on a 17-foot plastic Coleman canoe with an aluminium frame. The length and the plastic increase the challenges. I have over 100 miles experience now, with legs of 14 to 15 miles.

After much online research I purchased a Seattle Sports All Terrain Canoe Center Cart; there is an option that includes a tow bar to connect it to your bike, but that is for a max of 16 foot canoe. The Seattle sports hitch is a low mount hitch; most of the home made solutions you find on Google are high mount: see What are the safety concerns of a high vs a low mount trailer hitch?

Pretty much all the commercially available carts are designed with a couple of padded rest points that your canoe or kayak will rest on. This might be OK for short distances or with an empty hard-shell (fiberglass type) boat with nothing in it, but for a relatively soft plastic canoe, loaded with gear, traveling more then a mile or so, in warm (or hot) weather, the issues start to build up.

Problem one: a trailer hitch. See Trailer connection, off the shelf parts and proven performer, for my solution.

the hitch

Problem two: keep the canoe on the cart. The strap that comes with dolly is not going to work, I tried several variations and a single strap is problematic for any distance. Every time you hit a pothole the dolly moves a bit. Pretty soon the dolly has slid back and is partly sideways; your 3-foot wide canoe is making a 5-foot wide swath behind you. I tipped the canoe over on my first outing, brushing against a pole, had to stop every mile and recenter it.

Solution is four straps; the image shows 5, but the center strap turned out not to be required (and is more likely to wear (break) when you brush against things. Two straps pulling the dolly back and center, two straps pulling the dolly forward and center. I used 15-foot ratchet straps in the front, and wrapped around the trailer hitch before hooking to the seat. You don't need much pressure; it just needs to be snug.

Straps

Problem three:The plastic hull is resting on the padded bars of the cart; this was okay at first, but the warm weather and time started causing the canoe to be come deformed. I tried using a strap between the bars for the keel to rest on, but I started to notice the canoe rubbing on the cart wheels (and damaging the canoe).

Solution build a wood deck on the dolly. There is a space for the keel; now most of the weight is carried by the keel. The large flat area (shaped to minimize pressure points) provides balance and are helps to reshape the hull. It is easier to get and keep the boat centered on the cart. This added a couple of pounds, but it has been more then worth it. The canoe can't rub against the tires. I actually picked up about 2 miles per hour on the first outing with the wood deck.

Canoe on Dolly

Although not shown on any of the images above, I also used a bungee cord to support/lift the hitch a way up the seat post. Without it the hitch would occasionally drag on the rear tire.

Pulling the Canoe

Actually towing the canoe is not as bad as I had expected.

It is heavy, and the cart tires are relatively wide. Racing bikes have skinny tires for a reason: less friction. Here, I have all terrain tires on the bike and the canoe dolly. All of which means it is harder to go fast. It also means you go over rough terrain easier and have more control, so it is trade-off.

It is long, I mean really long. The national move yourself trailer rental company (US) does not even rent a trailer as long as the canoe. AND because the dolly is in the center of the canoe, it pivots in the center of the canoe when you turn. When taking a sharp corner the back of the canoe can swing out 8½ feet (nearly 3 meters): if you are on the center line of a road, and turn sharp, the canoe could hit a car parked on the side of the road. I recommend you practise turning, well away from things that might get damaged (e.g. in an empty parking lot).

With some practice, you can tow on roads without difficulty and on most areas of bike paths fine. Slow down for corners; get off and walk everything around narrow corners. Sometimes the bike must be carried or disconnected from the canoe to make it through tight corners or narrow areas.

My canoe is about 3 feet (1 meter) wide; many bike paths in the US have posts to prevent motor vehicles from going on the path, These seem to mostly have about 3½ to 4 feet of space between them so the canoe does fit. You will want to walk through while learning but now I am able to bike through about 95% of them. Get lined up well before you get to the posts and don't turn until the entire canoe is through (the tail will swing and hit a post).

Expect the canoe to rub in tight spots even if you are moving it by hand; bring extra straps to connect it to the dolly.

Use extreme cation when corning if there are people, cars or anything damageable around.

19

As requested, I'll give a run-down of why I am so happy with and constantly recommend the WIKE company's Woody Wagon Canoe Bicycle Trailer. I really like the DIY approach as well, but if you are going to buy something I think this is the one. I have owned one for three years now and in the summers use it several times a week. It was the only system I could find that was clearly made to carry a full-size canoe, not a kayak. Canoes have much deeper and wider hulls than kayaks and the WIKE system accounts for this. For reference, I own an outfitted 17' ABS whitewater canoe that weighs at least 80 pounds.

Here are the main things that I believe make WIKE's product stand out:

  • The hitch attaches to the seat post, not the rear hub. This keeps the bow of the canoe at a more sensible level. It is also less invasive to install on the bike.
  • The hitch has a rubbery piece which allows the tow bar to move in any direction. This makes riding the bike feel natural, even when pedalling out of the saddle.
  • The unique T-bar piece that attaches the hitch to the canoe. You can tell it was made for a canoe. It features foam paddling that hugs the bow deck and 2 straps: one that wraps underneath and one that wraps around the yoke.
  • It is quick to set up. This and this are videos of two children setting up the cart and the towing bar in a minute apiece.
  • It is lightweight. The tow bar and cart together weigh 13 lbs. It is easy for one person to carry the entire disassembled cart & tow bar. I have even carried the whole thing under one arm while riding my bike, but I do not reccomend this.
  • It can handle a boat of any length. You are only limited by practicality in terms of actually biking around.
  • The cart disassembles quickly. The wheels come off via a push button axle. So it is totally feasible to disassemble and reassemble the cart every time I use the canoe. Also, this makes it very convenient to store the entire system in the canoe while paddling, without taking up very much cargo space. (Along with a bike with quick release wheels this allows you to put in and take out at different places.)
  • The cart is clearly designed for canoes of a variety of widths. The cart has a metal frame covered in foam that hugs the canoe on either side and prevent it from touching the wheels. The width of the frame is widely adjustable.
  • It stores well. I live in a small apartment. When the cart is disassembled the whole system can be stored in a small closet.
  • All of the straps needed are permanently attached to the cart and tow bar. This makes it easy to keep track of it all and eases set up.
  • WIKE provides good customer service. My bike was stolen and I lost my hitch. It was easy to get the replacement part.

I swear I don't work for WIKE I am just a satisfied customer! Here is a picture of my set up:

WIKE Canoe Trailer

And here is a detail of the cart, from the WIKE website:

enter image description here

  • +1 great answer for the WIKE! How far do you tow at a stretch? Other than the hitch which you have already covered. An issue the ATC has is the factory tie strap is junk, you have to upgrade the straps. Even with upgraded straps at distances over one or two miles keeping the cart centered under the canoe is problematic. I see your straps simply go over the center. Also I see the the cart is a bit back from center, I assume this is because the canoe is too wide at the center, or have you moved it back for some handling/performance reason? – James Jenkins Nov 16 '15 at 11:19
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    I've ridden with this thing a max of about 10 km, but that just because I haven't had a reason to go farther. There's no issue with keeping the canoe centred because of those arms that hug the hull. (See the new picture I added of the cart.) It takes pot holes etc. without coming loose. I never really thought about where I put the cart, that spot just seemed right. I suppose if if was farther forward more of the canoe would jut out behind, making it more likely to hit things when turning. – mb7744 Nov 16 '15 at 18:25
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What if you want to tow your canoe with a recumbent tricycle? Well I have worked out a solution for that. After much thought and a posting the question Towing with a Recumbent Trike, Tadpole or Delta? I purchased a used Delta Trike (Sun EZ-3 SX).

I used the same dolly as I used for the bicycle solution as I wanted to have a bit of tongue weight in this configuration I moved the dolly back a bit behind center. In this configuration I was able to have my wife ride in the canoe as I peddled around the neighborhood. She sat on a pillow right over the dolly, no problems.

Trike towing Canoe

For the trailer tongue, I used quick connect, rubber C click thing (not sure of the name, found it in an Amish bike shop a while back) It slides inside of an 1 inch, square aluminium tube.

As you can just make out in the photo above the tube is only 4 feet long. I made V shaped blocks of wood and bolted them to the bar, the keel of the canoe sits in the V, and ratchet straps hold the bar to the canoe. In keeping with my mantra of being able to make repairs with off the shelf parts from any nearby hardware shop. Both the C thing, and the aluminium tube could be replaced with PVC as in this solution.

To give the aluminium tube more strength, I slid a piece of wood into it (snug fit, cut with table saw)

HitchImage1 HitchImage2

The biggest issue was the hitch (the part on the bike), Because of the lower center of gravity on the trike, and the delta design. There was just no way to use the bicycle solution. All the bike tube strong enough to connect the canoe to go side to side, rather than up and down.

3/4 inch PVC tube has an outside diameter of about 1 inch, which is the size the C thing wants to be attached to. To add strength I used a 3/4 inch oak dowel inside of the PVC. Liberal use of silicon calking to bond the Oak to the PVC and keep out water.

A short section of all thread, is used to make the lower connect (bottom of upside down T). Two U bolts are used to connect the long part of the tube above. The U bolts go Left to Right over the PVC tube. The U Bolt Plates go Up and Down, connecting the top and bottom U bolts. I used a piece of inner tube rubber around the bike parts to protect them from wear by the U bolts and Plates. This made the top of section where the hitch would rest with lots of rough areas, so I made a wooden washer out of some scrap and placed it between the C thing and the bike.

The PVC tube of the hitch actually only goes up about 12 inches from the bottom. The Oak dowel is about 6 inches longer than PVC. The top 3 feet of PVC is used as a flag pole and just slips down over the oak dowel that sticks up from the lower hitch section.

CloseUpOfHitch

Update after first trip

I did an 8 mile trip and everything went well, my trike only delivers power to the right rear wheel. The stock tires don't have much tread. This was a bit of an issue when starting on gravel, particularly at road crossings, I was having some tire spin. I have upgraded to a knobby tire for the drive wheel (leaving the stock tire on the left rear). I have not towed with the new tire yet, but it rides fine.

I will update this answer if more miles lead to a modified solution.

  • One suggestion would be to look for an upgrade to your rear axle on the trike, that offers a full differential function like a car. The reason its only driving one wheel is because that is mechanically simple. Power to both wheels means they have to spin at slightly different speeds when anything except straight ahead, and without that turning becomes much harder. – Criggie Mar 29 '18 at 8:34
  • I have lots more miles now, and it is working fine with the one knobby tire. Thanks for your suggestion, but I plan to stay like it is. – James Jenkins Mar 29 '18 at 13:20
5

Just wanted to add another in the category of a frame with wheels strapped to one part of the boat, and a hitch strapped to the bow.

I strongly recommend wheelchair wheels, the axles of which fit in a ½” or 12mm hole (depending on your country) and handle the side loads of a trailer without needing support on both sides of the wheel. Pneumatic tires give the best performance by a significant margin.

For the hitch, a sloppy fit between a bolt and a thick walled tube or pipe allows pivoting and a few degrees of roll (for turns) and pitch (for hills) without too much rattle.

enter image description here

enter image description here

enter image description here

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For anyone interested in building their own bike trailer:

Just wanted to add to this thread the following resource for cargo-hauling bicycle trailer design and basement/garage fabrication.

Note that this is not a canoe-specific link, but much of this is relevant to towing a canoe, kayak, or any other heavy object that demands reasonable performance from a trailer.

https://bikecart.pedalpeople.coop

  • This reads like spam. There is no mention of canoes on the link and the answer is only a link. – James Jenkins Jan 3 at 19:13
  • Hi mmcc! By any chance did you mean this to be an edit of your answer, and you wrote a new answer instead? Based on the way you wrote the other answer, that's what it looks like to me, though I obviously could be wrong! – Sue Jan 3 at 19:24
  • I feel bad that you're losing rep if it was just a mistake, especially since the first answer is so well researched and written. I'm not trying to tell you what to do, but I recommend putting this information into the other answer and deleting this. You might need to fix the direct shopping recommendation, but it's easier to do that in an answer people already like! Thanks! – Sue Jan 3 at 19:32
  • Thanks— I’m not sure that everyone who actually read this would necessarily come to the same conclusion. But, keeping spam off of this site must require a lot of effort so I’ll try to make it easier. Not worried about the reputation as doing so would utterly kill any value or enjoyment I may find in SE... – mmcc Jan 3 at 22:18
  • If you feel the information at the site linked really adds value then quote the most relevant part(s) of an important link, in case the target site is unreachable or goes permanently offline. You can read more about answer that say go look here, here – James Jenkins Jan 4 at 11:03

protected by Charlie Brumbaugh Jun 28 '18 at 16:18

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