The Ultimate Guide: How to Attach a Bike Trailer to Any Bike [With Photos & Videos]

The Ultimate Guide: How to Attach a Bike Trailer to Any Bike [With Photos & Videos]

Hitches, Trailers, and Hardware... oh my!

Welcome to the world of bike trailers, where precision meets practicality and fun! Whether you're a cycling novice or a seasoned rider, understanding how to install your bike hitch and gaining a better understanding of your cycling equipment is an essential part of owning a bike trailer for kids or cargo. Let's delve into the details of connecting a bike trailer to various axle and bicycle types – from quick-release to thru axles, and mountain bikes to e-bikes – with the finesse of a seasoned pro.

Axles and Dropouts Decoded

Before we can get to riding, there are a few components that you've gotta know about.

Standard Axle Styles

Quick-release axles: Efficient and common. Also shortened to QR, sometimes called a QR skewer as well. Typically, there are no tools needed to install a hitch onto this style of axle.

 Example of a standard quick-release bicycle axle.

Bolt-on axles: Sturdy and secured with nuts. Will require at least 1 wrench to remove left-side axle nut. Often has thicker axle diameter of 10-15mm. 

Example of a standard bolt (sometimes called 'solid') axle.

Thru axles: Robust, threaded into the frame. Increasingly more popular due to updated styles of bikes and new manufacturing processes. Overall more durable than QR or bolt axles, but less compatible with bicycle hitches. Adapters are necessary in order to use a bike trailer on a bike with a rear thru-axle.

Example of a thru-axle. There are many different styles.

Quick Tip: For Thru axles, you will need a specialized adapter. We highly recommend Robert Axle Project - they specialize in thru-axle replacements and adapters specifically for use with bicycle trailers. Check them out here.

Dropout Dynamics

Standard dropouts: Conventional, flat area around the axle. 

 Example of a flat dropout with a solid bolt axle.

Hooded dropouts: Distinctive, featuring a metal hood, and potentially requiring spacers or washers added to the axle to get the perfect hitch alignment.

Example of hooded dropout with thru-axle.

Psssttt...: Most bikes boast standard dropouts, ensuring a straightforward hitching process. For cyclists with hooded dropouts, consultation with the people who made the bike (or axle) for compatible spacers is a great idea. Generally a washer is enough to get the hitch to clear the dropout, but be sure to check with your local bike shop or bike manufacturer. 

Familiarize yourself with these essentials to ensure you're on the right track, and we'll keep going!

The Hitching Process: Demystified

 Essential Tools (all included with your WIKE Trailer!)

- Tow bar/tow arm

- Tow bar bracket

- Bike trailer hitch/coupler

- Hitch/coupler pins

- Safety strap

Time to Get Hitched

Installed WIKE Bicycle Trailer Hitch onto a Quick-Release axle and flat dropout.

The time it will take as well as the process you follow here will depend on the bike you have, the dropout, the style of axle, and your overall skill level. Generally, installing your bike hitch shouldn't take more than 5 minutes. 

How to install your bike hitch on to a Quick-Release Axle

Tools Required:

  • Bike Hitch

1. Lift the quick-release lever and unscrew the nut

Removing a Quick Release axle. 

(Note: if you've never gotten up close and personal with a QR axle, or are just beginning to learn about bicycle parts, you will notice springs on either side of the skewer - you don't want to lose these, just ensure they stay on the axle (they're important for your bike, to maintain spacing + tension). 

2. Thread the Skewer Through the Hitch/Coupler

Your WIKE bike hitch is designed with a 12mm hole with some notches around it. This is the hole you will insert the axle skewer onto, and the notches help to grab onto the dropout to ensure the hitch doesn't slip while you're using the trailer. Ensure the hitch flanges are facing away from the bike, and pointed towards the rear, like this:

 Adjusting a bicycle hitch on a quick-release skewer.

3. Ensure alignment and a snug fit.

Once you've put the hitch on the skewer, re-attach the bolt and tighten only enough so that the hitch isn't swinging around the skewer, but enough that the hitch can still be moved. This will allow you to easier adjust where the hitch sits, and you can ensure that your trailer will ride level. 

Test out the position + tightness of the hitch with your trailer attached before cycling with it - attach your trailer to the newly installed hitch by inserting the red trailer hitch into the bike hitch, attach with the tablock pin, and see what adjustments need to be made.

Your hitch should not move or swivel when the trailer is attached. The trailer should ride as level as possible on bike wheels sized 20" - 29"/700cc. Tall bikes will require a little more attention to the angle of the hitch to ensure optimal pulling. 

How to Install your Bike Hitch onto a Bolt Axle

Tools required:

  • a wrench, sized to remove the right side nut from your bike's rear wheel
  • the bike hitch

1. Remove the nut from the right side of your bike's axle using the wrench. 

You may need a second wrench to adjust the nut on the left side, in the event that your axle is not long enough on the right side.

Bike hitch being inserted onto a bolt axle.

2. Insert hitch onto right side of rear wheel's axle

WIKE's bike hitch is made of steel, and is designed with a 12mm diameter hole to insert the axle into. If your axle is 12mm or wider, you can reliably drill out the axle hole in the hitch to widen it up to 15mm. If your bike has a bolt axle over 15mm, it is not recommended to drill the hitch, but rather use an aftermarket coupling (not available through WIKE). We suggest reaching out to a custom welder, machine shop, or a bike shop with customization capabilities; or online.

3. Ensure alignment and a snug fit

Like the QR axle, you must tighten the hitch enough to prevent it from swinging around, but leave it loose enough to make minor adjustments.

Tightening nut on bolt axle to install bicycle hitch.

Attach your trailer to the hitch and play around with the angle in which it sits. The hitch should sit flush to the dropout (or flush with a spacer on a hooded dropout). Once you are satisfied with the hitch placement, tighten the nut on the axle and you are ready to rock and roll!


    How to install your Bike Hitch onto a Thru-Axle

    IMPORTANT NOTE: you will require an after-market axle adapter for all types of thru-axle. We highly recommend Robert Axle Project

    Thru-axles are the industry preference for high-quality, hardworking bicycles. They are generally only found on newer models of bicycle, and are becoming an increasingly popular feature for e-bikes.

    Tools required:

    • Thru-Axle adapter 
    • Allan/Hex key, sized for your thru-axle
    • Wrench for thru-axle replacement/adapter
    • bike hitch 

    1. Prepare your bike + the thru axle

    Take a moment to compare your new thru-axle to your old one. Ensure the thread pitch matches, and that it's within about 2mm (+/-) in length. Adjust the length using any provided spacers or washers.

    2. Install the Thru-Axle

    • Apply a touch of grease to the exterior threads and shaft of your new thru-axle.
    • Gently insert the thru-axle through the frame and rear wheel, hand-tightening until it snugs up the frame to the hub. Check that it tightens before running out of threads. If not, pause and reach out to the manufacturer.
    • Using a 5mm hex key torque wrench, snug it up to 12 Nm. Be mindful not to over-tighten.

    3. Adding the Hitch

    1. Slide the bike hitch onto the threaded stud, usually on the disc brake side of the thru-axle (left side of rear wheel).
    2. With a 5mm hex wrench and a 17mm wrench, secure the hitch against the axle, tightening to 12 Nm. Keep the axle from over-tightening using the hex key.

    Note: Always consult the manufacturer's instructions for installation advice for thru-axles. Before hitting the road, test the hitches' position and tightness with your trailer attached. Ensure your trailer rides level, especially on bikes with larger wheels. If adjustments are needed, attach the trailer, insert the red trailer hitch into the bike hitch, secure with the tablock pin, and fine-tune for optimal performance. A secure hitch ensures a smooth and level ride.


    Safety Synchronicity: Tips for a Secure Hitch & a Safe Bike Trailer Adventure

    Safety Tip 1: Check the Hitch Before Each Ride Initially

    Master the nuances of your hitch for a confident and safe ride.

    Safety Tip 2: Renew the Hitch Every 4 Years

     A prudent practice for sustained safety and durability.

    Safety Tip 3: Always Use a Secondary Safety Strap 

    Your WIKE trailer's towbar comes with a safety strap attached already. Loop this around your bike frame once the trailer is attached to the hitch for extra security and safety. 

    Example of safety strap installation onto bicycle frame; loop around frame and re-attach to towbar.

    In the event of a hitch failure, the safety strap's job is to keep the trailer attached to your bike long enough to safely come to a stop. This may cause the towbar to bust a few spokes, but this is far more ideal than a trailer with children detaching and veering off into traffic. A bike spoke is nothing in comparison to keeping your precious cargo safe, comfortable, and secure. 

    Bike Hitch Installation Troubleshooting Tips

    Even though we try to make the installation process as easy and pain-free as possible, it's important to consider various factors that can hinder your progress.

    Let's explore potential issues and solutions associated with different bicycle axles:

    Quick-Release Axle:

    • Skewer Length: Quick-release axles are common, but ensure the skewer is long enough to accommodate the added thickness of the bike trailer hitch. If it falls short, consider getting a longer skewer from a local bike shop. Adjust the skewer to engage with at least 5 complete threads.

    Bolt-On Axle:

    • Nut and Bolt Dynamics: Bolt-on axles lack the convenience of quick-release mechanisms. Ensure you have the necessary tools, such as a wrench, to securely loosen the left-side nut for hitch attachment.
    • Similar to QR axles, ensure you have enough left over axle to securely re-attach the nut - about 5 full turns of the nut. 

    Thru Axle:

    • Triple check: your thread pitch, axle length, and hitch hole diameter
    • Size Discrepancies: Thru axles, especially those exceeding 12 mm, may not fit through the standard hitch attachment hole of typical bike trailers. To address this, use adapters sized correctly for the axle's diameter, length, and thread pitch. Reference the bike's manual or use an axle identification tool for precise measurements.


    • Hooded Dropout Clearance: Bicycles with hooded dropouts, featuring a metal hood over the axle hole, may require additional clearance for attaching the bike trailer hitch. Consult the axle or bicycle manufacturer for recommendations on how/where to obtain spacers to create the necessary clearance on bikes with hooded dropouts. 

    Universal Considerations:

    • Trailer Compatibility: While most bike trailers are designed with quick-release axles in mind, compatibility may vary. Ensure alignment between your specific trailer model and your bike's axle type. Consult the bike trailer manufacturer for detailed compatibility information, including potential adjustments or additional accessories needed for a seamless fit.

    Understanding these considerations based on your bicycle's axle type and dropout design will empower you to navigate the hitch installation process confidently and effectively. Always refer to the specific instructions provided by both the bike and trailer manufacturers for the most accurate guidance.

    Still not sure? WIKE's Got Your Back!

    While these instructions are the compass for most trailers, manufacturers often hold the keys to model-specific nuances. If your trailer is a WIKE (that's us!) give us a call or send us an email today so that we can lend a hand.  Let the hitching journey commence! 🚴‍♂️💼


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