Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Promoting - Trailer Beginning

Yesterday I went and picked up the rental trailer. It's a 7x16, one that I thought was too small when I walked into a similar size trailer. I ordered the 8.5x20 because that extra 18 inches of width really make a difference. When I briefly polled people I know they told me that 4 feet of trailer won't make a huge difference once I am used to pulling the trailer around. After driving with the 7x16 I realize that the 8.5x20 will take a bit more to drive. It's okay, it's just that I'll be much more engrossed with driving than anything else when hauling "the trailer".

I also got a brake controller installed. It's a Primus IQ. With some scary stuff I've seen posted by bikeforum folks as well as tips from local trailer knowledgable people I decided I should really understand how the controller works, how to adjust it. Basically it mimics your own braking action, boosting brake power based on the weight of the trailer relative to the tow vehicle.

Brake controller.

With the low trailer weight (expected to be under 4000 lbs fully loaded, versus 5500 lbs for the tow vehicle), there's no boost, just an initial "brake power" adjustment. You have to do this so your controller is properly adjusted with factors like tire wear/traction, brake wear, load size, etc.

The brake controller is a big help if the trailer starts to sway back and forth. By applying just the trailer brakes you can (allegedly) bring the trailer back in line. Without trailer brakes you coast (don't brake as it makes it worse!) and hope the trailer doesn't pull you off the road before the trailer stops swaying.

I was nervous about the whole hook up to the trailer thing (backing up until you're not just next to something but the hitch is underneath it??), the starting and stopping, the width, and basically everything around hauling the trailer. With a second person it's not a big deal. By myself? I suppose I'll find out one day, but someone told me that you get used to it after a few times.

Backed up to the trailer. Note the jack is down on the trailer - it's not hooked up yet.
The guy helping me out is getting a different bar as the one I have is the wrong height.

I got to the trailer place okay, they did the paperwork quickly, hooked up the trailer pretty efficiently, and with a final check of the lights I was off. For reference it's a 3000 pound trailer, steel frame, double axle (3500 pound capacity axles so 7000 pound capacity trailer). The Expedition is rated to tow 8900 pounds.

Trailers need to be loaded with 60% of the weight in front and 40% in back. Too much weight in the back and the thing sways. Too much weight up front and it pulls the tow vehicle down by the hitch. The trailer should be basically level, with perhaps an inch or so of droop on the tow vehicle. With an empty trailer this was a moot point, but I am very aware of these basic concepts.

I first fiddled with the brake boost level, setting it to 6.0 (0.0 to 9.0 range), per something I read in the instructions. I could feel the tires locking up as I slowed. I set it to 4.3 (it was set at that from the factory). The trailer seemed to push the Expedition at the next light. Then I set it to something like 5.4 and it seemed to work out. On loose stuff like sand the tires lock a bit but on regular pavement it seems fine.

I missed a turn. I wasn't comfortable trying to turn the whole rig around, especially not at rush hour, so I did a huge detour, touring all sorts of very narrow roads, getting used to the way the trailer felt. Each time I slowed I'd feel a bit of a push as the 3000 pound trailer tried to keep going. When I accelerated away from stoplights the 3000 pound drag felt like I had the parking brake on.

After a good 30-45 minutes I finally got to the highway. I was a bit afraid of the speeds since I'd only hit about 50 mph on the backroads, and that seemed plenty fast.

With a kind driver letting me in I merged onto the highway. I immediately wished for a 55 mph speed limit, not the 65 limit at that bit of I-91. I stayed in the right lane, doing about 55-60 mph. There were some parallels to the video game and bike racing training/practice I've had over the years. No sudden or significant steering movements - the trailer merely amplifies anything dramatic you do with the steering wheel or brakes. It was sort of like I was steering the whole rig with the Expedition's rear tires. Doing nutty things with the front tires wouldn't be good.

I had to keep an eye out on the trailer wheels since the left wheels constantly flirted with either the yellow line or the lane stripes. The right wheels sat almost on the white line or on the edge of the snow banks (for local roads). I just barely missed a bunch of garbage cans - with all the snow folks put their garbage cans on the road. Now I realize just what that does to the wider vehicles.

I also thought about the impossibility of passing a cyclist driving this rig. It would be dangerous on a narrow road because the trailer doesn't allow for quick, succinct movements, something that you sometimes need when passing a cyclist.

I also thought of the difficulty of passing a group of cyclists. Forget about one rider, what about 20, double wide. No way. I'd need 300-400 yards of straight and level road if the group was going 25 mph, and if they were going fast, like on a downhill, I'm pretty sure I wouldn't be able to pass safely without a good mile of clear road ahead of me.

I filed this away for future reference. I know now that if there's a landscaping truck and trailer behind me that I'm going to move as far over as possible and, once on a straight, slow down so the truck/trailer can get past me quickly.

I finally made it to the house area. One road has the narrowest roads allowed by law (I learned this at a local meeting held in part by the DOT). With snow on the right shoulder the left wheels sat just next to the yellow line while the right side tires skimmed the snow. Still someone coming down the hill was literally over the yellow line. The car swerved to get into their own lane. Again, something for future reference. A little daydreaming could be disastrous if there's a trailer around.

I walked slowly into the house, leaning on the kitchen counter, such that the Missus asked me if I was okay. The drive home had been extremely stressful, with absolute and total focus on my part. I realized that this was probably what a new racer would feel during a race. I got shelled so fast in my first race that I never had to deal with a group, just the few guys that got shelled with me. Later, though, I'd go into races so nervous that I wouldn't blink that much - my eyes were dry at the end of races.

I had a few thoughts after I relaxed a bit.

First, power is very useful when towing. The 300 hp 365 ft-lbs engine seems pretty weak when towing the 3000 lbs trailer. I can't imagine doubling that load, to 6000 lbs, and I certainly couldn't imagine tripling that load to 8900 lbs. Now I understand the appeal of diesel (power down low, almost double the mileage) and why all the tow accessory places also sell drivetrain mods to increase power (exhaust, chips, intake, etc).

Second, I want more mirrors. The big mirrors on the Expedition seemed pretty small when hauling the trailer. I have add ons - I was worried that the 8.5 wide trailer would obscure stuff behind me. It will, but that's okay. I know now that it's the side stuff you really want to see.

Third, I want to do some practice brake runs to fine tune the controller. I'll probably note the controller numbers for a given load. I don't know the weight of everything I have but I know some weights, I can guess on others, and at the very least I could make lists of typical load outs and the settings that work for them.

Fourth, folks with heavy vehicles, whether trailers or not, need more space. Trailers need more room because the drivers cannot make sudden changes in direction without substantially risking a crash. As a driver of a normal car or as a rider I have to keep this in mind.

Fifth, I may be upgrading the tires on the trailer to something that matches the Expedition. This way the trailer will handle predictably even on, say, snow, or in water, etc. Reducing the risk of sliding (like the trailer sliding to the curb due to the crown of the road) would really ease my mind. It'll be a bit, first I have to get the actual trailer.

Of course all this is secondary to the primary purpose for the trailer - a solid, somewhat wind proof structure to house registration and, for other races, the finish line camera stuff as well. That's the goal with the new trailer that has yet to arrive. For now we're going to make do with the rental.

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