How to raise consciousness with a bike trailer billboard

If you bike, a bike trailer is a remarkable accessory. I use one to get around with my son, who I’ve hauled just about everywhere I’ve gone since he was a baby.

But when he’s pedaling on his own, trailer on will still be my default configuration. Trailers carry things that you want to go with you and (unless risk of theft is too high for you) keep them safe enough that you don’t have to take everything with you when you make a stop. You can even hitch trailers together, which is fun.

Another virtue of a trailer is that you can reach a lot people with a worthy message—just by going about your business—with a bike trailer billboard. This kind of thing may be out of the ordinary for you. But really—if you don’t mind me saying so—one should have something important to say and put some energy into saying it. Tolerance is one thing, but an excess of silence has helped enable ecosystem and climate catastrophe, among many other terrible harms. A bike trailer billboard is not, of course, a substitute for supporting positive change by participating in a social movement. But it is something helpful, and crafty and fun.

This how-to is based on a 2004-2006 Burley Encore two-seat trailer, but even if you don’t have one of those, it should get you going on achieving a similar result with whatever trailer you have.

A few criteria

We’d like the bike trailer billboard:

  • To be super visible (it’s a billboard)
  • Not to flutter around in the wind (my prototype sailed about and it was really annoying)
  • Open and flip up and over the top of the trailer for hands-free, full access to rear storage
  • Be extremely quick and easy to open and close, so that going by bike is as functional as can be
  • Flaps should not cover billboard when open

The banner

The message part of the billboard is a weatherproof banner. 2′ by 2′ is the perfect size for the Burley Encore. Every online banner shop seems to offer custom sizes, so you can match the size of your trailer to maximize visibility. Don’t make it bigger than the trailer, unless you want a consciousness-raising parachute. Make sure to order metal grommets in the corners.

I used bannerbuzz.com, but although the experience was fine in general, I won’t recommend them. Their website had every indication that my banner would be made and shipped from a not-too-far-away state. In fact, it was made in Ahmedabad, India, and traveled to New Delhi, Leipzig, Brussels, Cincinnati, San Jose, San Francisco, and then Portland. A click heard (half-way) around the world.

Attaching the banner

There are three parts to getting the banner on the trailer in an enjoyable way.

Banner spine and fasteners

The banner is more manageable and readable with a rigid top, so I fastened it to a narrow piece of oak trim as a spine. I used a staple gun for this. The spine also makes it easy to tuck open flaps behind the banner so it remains readable.

I attached a length of 3mm utility cord to the grommets in each upper corner of the banner using the awesome bowline knot. This cord or similar is perfect.

To stop cord ends from fraying without a hot knife, wrap painters or electrical tape around the rope, cut through the middle of the tape with a safety razor, singe the ends with a flame, and remove the tape.

To each of the lower grommets, I attached a loop using a fisherman’s bend.

These four fastening lines attach the banner to the trailer.

Mounting bar

We need something just so on the trailer that the top of the banner can attach to. For my Burley, I used another length of the oak trim, boring a hole at each end. The mounting bar is long enough that the fastening lines at the top of the banner pull outward when attached to the holes in the bar. This prevents the banner from swinging.

I attached the mounting bar to the trailer with two zip ties.

I attached each upper fastening line by going through the hole, wrapping several times, and tucking the working end again through the hole. This generates a remarkable amount of friction and holds quite fast, as long as the hole is sized so that the working end is a little snug, which prevents the cord from unwinding and losing its grip.

Closure posts

Finally, we need something to which to attach the fastening loops at the bottom of the banner. For my Burley, I made a couple of Frankenstein Monster posts to slip them around. Each is made from a screw, a sleeve (to prevent the cord from abrading on the threads of the screw), and a fender washer (to keep the loop in place and make it super easy to put the loop on and take it off).

Make a bike trailer billboard

Even for a campaigner-type like me, I sometimes feel a little conspicuous broadcasting a message everywhere my trailer goes. But it feels good saying something important to say. And—assuming your message is resonant—people will let you know that they appreciate it. Try it!

An open letter to those who haven’t faced climate change

It is very likely that the climate change situation is profoundly worse than you think.

Read the letter

An open letter to parents about protecting your children from climate change

Really, the most important thing you can do as a parent is to look, eyes wide open, and respond.

Read the letter

Selected publications

Spitzer, S. A systemic approach to occupational and environmental healthInternational Journal of Occupational and Environmental Health. 2005; 11: 444-54.

Spitzer, S. Hiking For PhotographersThe Luminous Landscape. July 2014.

Schafer, K., Reeves, M., Spitzer, S., and Kegley, S. Chemical Trespass: Pesticides in Our Bodies and Corporate Accountability. Pesticide Action Network. May 2004.

Spitzer, S. Effectively Using Hiking Poles: The Gas-Brake-Coast MethodBackpackingLight. July 2011.

Spitzer, S. RIE Principles for Parenting in Nature. Free Forest School Blog. January 2018.