The Water Trolley

Note: The contents of this page were derived from this blog post. However, this page is kept up to date with my current setup and practices.

I spend two weekends per year working behind the scenes in support of two growing bicycling events. 🙂  My local bicycling club, the Peninsula Bicycling Association (PBA), hosts two major events each year, “Pedal for the Pig” in May and the “Surry Century” in September. I started driving a support vehicle (aka “SAG” vehicle) instead of cycling these events in 2012 as a way to serve the club. It became a tradition for me; I even served as SAG coordinator from 2013 to 2016. SAG vehicles patrol the roads to retrieve riders with mechanical failures or those whose day just isn’t going as well as they had hoped. SAG drivers used to shuttle water as needed as a secondary duty, which became more of a challenge over time as our events grew.

Management of the club’s 15 five-gallon water coolers was pretty informal until I took possession of them in 2014. The water/SAG dual-duty made for some long event days! More importantly, I discovered that delivering water AND acting as SAG driver posed a problem: Imagine needing to drive 10 miles in one direction to retrieve a stranded cyclist and then getting a call to learn that a rest stop 15 miles in another direction is about to run out of water. Waiting with a broken bike for a ride back to the park is a drag. But having dozens of riders stuck in the boonies without water is far worse, depending on one’s perspective. I switched my focus to only the water in 2016. No longer a SAG driver, I am also free to transport the water along the roads not traveled by cyclists, which means I can get between the rest stops a little faster by taking direct routes.

What is my process for making this work, especially with a compact car? As of 2019, PBA has 25 water coolers. I clean, bleach, rinse, and dry the coolers after each event. I inspect them thoroughly before each event when I’m preparing to fill-up. I load my “baby trailer” with 12 full water coolers the evening before the event, which are filled with a dedicated RV water hose and inline filter. Contrary to popular belief, these coolers are NOT watertight and will leak as water sloshes during transport. Therefore, the 13 remaining coolers ride empty inside the car and get filled on site (I travel with the hose and inline filter mentioned above). I augment the coolers with eight 5-gallon bottles that I use as transport containers during the day, which allows me to leave the water coolers at their rest stops. They all fit inside the rooftop cargo box.

Large amounts of ice have proven very popular on hot days. I use an “ice house” that dispenses freshly bagged ice near my home as well as a second ice house in Smithfield, VA, which is near the venues. Their ice cubes are loose and easily packed without leaving the bag. I have 150-qt and 125-qt ice chests that carry ~225 lbs of bagged ice on top of the water coolers in the trailer. In 2017, I added a pair of 100-qt rental ice chests so that I could take another 150 lbs of ice. I used to carry the rental coolers in the hatchback with the rear seats folded flat (see the photo below). I now carry them on a Yakima OffGrid cargo basket to save space inside the car. I can transport ~368 lbs of ice in these four ice chests (128 + 112 + 64 + 64). Once on site, I have the option to carry another 260 lbs by loading each of the 13 interior water coolers with 20 lbs of ice. Loading the interior coolers with ice instead of water minimizes the chances of getting anything wet is inside the car.

I usually leave my house before 5:00am, drop off coolers and ice at the first rest stop, then go to the venue to drop-off more ice and coolers before filling the empty coolers. I fill the transport bottles after I drop off the remaining water coolers and have room for them in the trailer. As rest stops close for the day, I move the leftover coolers to other locations to avoid shortages. Some events run more smoothly than others, but I haven’t run out of water since my first event in 2014. I had miscalculated one stop (before the transport bottles), but I managed to catch each rider along the route and fill their bottles on the road. The rest stops are usually over-watered these days, so I don’t expect anyone to run dry on my watch.

What’s the total strain on my little car? The load on the roof is less than 100 lbs since I transport only empty bottles in the cargo box, the interior water coolers (with ice) weigh ~325 lbs, and the trailer’s tongue is ~150 lbs. That’s well under the car’s GVWR. The 12 filled water coolers on the trailer total ~540 lbs. Adding that and ~350 lbs of ice to the weight of the trailer results in a total load of ~1450 lbs, which is below Volkswagen’s 1500-lb threshold for unbraked trailers.

My car has plenty of power and torque, an upgraded clutch, and powerful brakes. Therefore, this relatively light load is not over-stressing anything. A truck may have greater capacity, but I don’t need the full-time penalty of owning a truck for the part-time benefit of having one available. The car and trailer do a great job! The combination is also more maneuverable than a truck and still averages ~25 mpg throughout its typical 250-mile day of support driving during the event. Also, the trailer’s ultra-low deck makes loading and unloading a cinch. It’s probably the coolest water trolley I’ve ever used! See the album below for more photos. See this video for a walk-around of the setup.

“That’s Some High Quality H2O!” [/Bobby Boucher voice]


Here are my different setups, starting with the latest first and going backwards to the oldest…