Frances Cycles and the Farfarer Trailer
We were pretty intrigued by the Farfarer Trailer when we first heard about it a couple months ago, so we stopped in to Frances Cycles in Santa Cruz to meet its maker, Joshua Muir. Read on for our conversation with Joshua, along with a selection of photos of his shop, the trailer, and his bikes…
Out of all the bike trailers I’ve seen over the years, the Farfarer by Frances Cycles is probably the most intriguing. First off, instead of having a platform or covered compartment, it has a tubular metal frame that suspends a well-designed hammock to store gear. This keeps it rather simple, and very lightweight—under 10 pounds, in fact. It also has a separate, straightforward hitch system that slides onto the seat post with an acetal hitch bushing, keeping it snug and allowing rotation. On top of that, a lateral thru-bolt connects the trailer to the hitch and secures with a C-clip, making it easy to remove.
While I haven’t ridden with the Farfarer, I’ve read reports that it’s great for rough and rowdy riding. According to Frances Cycles, the long, curved tubes give the Farfarer a bit of compliance to prevent bouncing. Additionally, the laterally rotating thru-bolt hitch provides the ability for the complete trailer to flip up and over the bike and rest on the handlebars. This allows it to easily be carried across creeks, or shouldered for portage.
The Farfarer’s simplicity also makes it easier to pack for travel than other trailers out there. It features two mid-point couplers on the long tubes to allow the trailer to break down and ship in a 36 x 16 x 7″ (91 x 41 x 18cm) box, or, according to Frances, pack into a normal bike box with a bicycle.
While the Farfarer has been around for a while—and apparently tested on some rather arduous journeys—it was recently re-worked by Frances Cycles owner and frame builder, Joshua Muir. We had a chance to meet Joshua at his shop in Santa Cruz, California, where we asked him a few questions about Frances Cycles and the Farfarer Trailer.
How did you get started building bicycles?
My fascination with bicycles started as a young teenager, first with BMX (freestyle and paper route riding) and then I discovered road bikes and going places on a bike. So many of the steps toward fabricating steel bikes start with a person. My Dad took me touring at 10; I got turned on to building up bikes by Clyde at the Top Wheel in Merced, who built up a Faggin with me for very little money and taught me how to do it; Josh Thayer turned me on to mitering and brazing tubes together and then riding what you built. It’s a long road of discovering the next layer of technology and technique to create a reasonable process to achieve consistent results. As I said, it fascinates me.
I’m lucky I get to do what I want; I’m fortunate to have a shop and people to make things for. That doesn’t mean it’s easy, but I know I do it because I want to.
There’s quite the community of bicycle makers and fabricators here in Santa Cruz. How has this shaped your work and ideas?
I’m a scavenger of materials, ideas, adventures. I got a Bontrager Racelight working at the Bike Co-op when I was 20. I put flared drops, slick tires, and a rack on it. That was the year Bontrager went out of business, and I went to the auction/clear-out at the cannery. I got some small fixturing bits and a few tubes that I didn’t have any idea what to do with. A friend bought a box of 3/4″ x .028″ True Temper tubes, the ones with the flared end to sleeve to the wishbone. The box languished in the redwoods somewhere but eventually I discovered it and made my first Smallhaul cargo bike with an old Argos road bike and those tubes and took my dog Soupy on tour in Big Sur and elsewhere. Paul Sadoff at Rock Lobster and Rick Hunter are big influences as well. Paul is generous with his technique and time—I still wish I’d take him up on some TIG lessons. There are still stashes of Bontrager tubes, braze-ons, and bits out there and I’m lucky that some of them find their way to me. Just about every bike (and trailer) that I make has a bit of Bontrager on it.
When, where, and why did you take your first bike tour?
My Dad worked in Washington, D.C., for a while, and when I was 10 he took my brother and me for a ride on the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal: four days, 200 miles or something. I rode a Nishiki Mixte that we bought for $10 at a local shop and fixed up. I still love mixtes. Highlights include saddle sores, sleeping bags on handlebars, my dad riding with an external frame backpack with the heaviest old gear possible, and him riding directly across my back after I crashed in front of him.
Quentin Lindh originally conceived the Farfarer Trailer back in 2005. Can you tell us how you got involved, what drew you to it, and how it’s changed since the original design?
Somewhere around 2004 the Bike Church received a couple boxes of “Wilder” 1 1/8″ threadless stems and along with the arced aluminum tubes from a windsurf boom. Those became to basis of the first “Farfarer” that Quentin built. That trailer went so many places (I found it at a friend’s garage sale last year, so it’s still around). I watched Quentin drag it all over California and I pulled it up to Tahoe and back on all sorts of terrain, so I knew it worked well.
Most of the changes I have made are refinements, and the original layout is pretty much intact. I cut new dropouts, added some bends to the rear end, added braze-ons, designed the rack, put in flag and fender mounts. Vince Waring makes the bags and occasionally tweaks the design with minor improvements.
For which types of terrain and riding are the Farfarer best suited?
The Farfarer performs well on all terrain. Being a single-wheeled trailer, it tracks tight behind the bike and handles narrow, winding trails or city streets well. The long frame flexes vertically, so it dampens big bumps and rough roads. The key factor to the trailer’s performance is the load and where it is placed: weight that is placed low in the bag doesn’t have much leverage over you and your bike as you cant side to side to climb a hill. As the mass and height of the load increases, it gets harder to swing it back and forth.
What’s the weight of the Farfarer (without the fender and rack)?
The Farfarer trailer with stock wheel/tire, ready to ride (no fender/rack), weighs 10 pounds (4.5kg). The rack weighs 9.5oz (272g) and the fender is 3.75oz (105g)
How much of a load can it carry, in terms of weight and volume?
Weight capacity has more to do with performance than structural strain. Handling gets worse above 50 lbs, but where the weight is placed is more important than how much. I have put over 100 lbs in mine. Volume inside of the load bag is roughly 20 gallons (75 liters).
Have any interesting stories about trips folks have taken with the Farfarer?
I love to see all the things people do with the Farfarer: musical tours (Australia), surf trips (Australia, California, Mexico, Central America), and life-long cyclists who find they can do more on their bikes with the extra cargo capacity.
What are your favorite local trails or dirt-roads around the Santa Cruz area?
I have always loved long dirt rides, and as I’ve gotten older I have become less tolerant of trafficked roads. Riding with cars isn’t that pleasant and I have lost friends and been swiped myself by a car doing 50+. So, I’m lucky to be here in Santa Cruz, where I can ride from home and find myself in the woods with hardly a road. My favorite road or trail is one that’s new to me and far enough out that I have that feeling of adventure or exploring or working hard. These days my riding is mostly utilitarian—taking the kid to school, getting parts to paint, the mundane everyday errand—but all these errands are a ride, and once I’m on the bike, it feels pretty good.
The Farfarer Trailer starts at $550.00, which includes the tire, tube, QR wheel, load-bag, hitch, and bushing. You can also order add-ons such as a Surf Rack, rain fly, fender, and additional bushings in several sizes. Visit FrancesCycles.com for complete details. Also, make sure to watch this video showing the Farfarer in action.