Jockey wheels are probably the least regarded caravan item. They’re usually pretty basic in design and are generally seen as ‘throw-away’ items. However, this view is not quite accurate. Have a jockey wheel collapse as you manoeuvre your van in a remote area and you’ll suddenly find out how important they are.
Many caravan manufacturers tend to provide a basic jockey wheel, which can also be purchased for around $35 at some outlets or even $20 on the internet, but you get what you pay for.
TO SWIVEL OR NOT TO SWIVEL
Jockey wheels on swivel mounts seem a great idea but are known to have a lot of flex. Most also have a limited lifting capacity, as the post is mounted at a mid-point, so when they’re swung around to vertical they are limited to the available extension of the post. Removable wheels usually have up to three rings that slot into the mounting plate, giving you a more flexible range of extension.
Swivelling jockey wheels can also snag things, and tend to suffer from broken handles unless there is some method of securing them when rotated up clear of the ground.
If you are looking to replace the jockey wheel that came fitted to your caravan, aside from the price you will need to consider the length, tyre type, surfaces on which it will be used, lifting capacity, mounting, and the quality of bearing and build.
The lift lengths of a jockey wheel usually range from 200mm up to 250mm. Extra extension will expose the structure to additional leverage when fully extended, making the front of your van unstable.
The lifting capacity is very important. Most jockey wheels start with a rated loading of around 300-350kg, but heavy-duty units are available.
So let’s take a look at what’s on the market at the moment. This can’t be a review of every brand of jockey wheel out there – there are just too many of them – but let’s examine a few that offer some advantages and make caravanning easier.
The new BOS370 jockey wheel’s biggest selling point is that the bearings and gears are all sealed in a chamber to keep out dust, and the hard anodized gears, packed in grease, reduce the lifting load on the handle (and the person winding), permitting it to be raised and lowered with a cordless drill (18V recommended, depending on weight).
Just recently added is a grease nipple at the head of the shaft to enable you to grease the bearing thread and gearbox without dismantling the structure.
The BOS jockey wheel provides for interchangeable lower ends. Thus, you can fit for different surfaces a choice of configurations of standard or offset, single or double wheel brackets with nylon (not rubber) wheel(s) injected onto a solid polymer hub with roller bearings. Or you can fit a single or double offset pneumatic wheel(s) with a fully sealed bearing housing. These wheels are available by special order as solid foam-filled – with the addition of some weight – using the same process as the military so there is no fear of deflation.
The basic jockey wheel setup, with a single hard wheel, weighs less than 3kg. It comes fitted with a dust cap and removable crank handle. To that you add your choice of base plate (for soft surfaces) or wheel type, according to your needs, as well as any accessories that might interest you, such as extension piece(s) for the post (which are available in several lengths), for example, or special security-head screws for your clamp. Prices start at $145 for a basic unit with base plate and range up to $320 for the dual pneumatic option.
Fulton is an American brand that manufactures a range of jockey wheels, including the robust F2 (dual-wheel) and T2 (single-wheel) models, intended for the boating industry but also promoted as being suitable for caravans.
These are swivel jockey wheels, with a side crank handle (rather than the more common vertical axis handles) and gears sealed inside, with alloy inner and outer tubes and a hefty rating of 725kg. They have 460mm of travel and attach via 10.1mm mounting plates and bolts, which fit most trailers. A 15.2mm bolt-on option is available for bigger A-frames. They have special clips for securing the handle to the jockey wheel’s tube when towing.
The F2 has twin 170mm diameter wheels on a 135mm track for stability and manoeuvrability, which is great on flat surfaces but they do tend to follow contours on uneven surfaces.
Their adjustable swivel systems are claimed to be engineered so as to not require lubrication or maintenance. The pull-pin allows a quick swivel for lifting or travel. Fulton jockey wheels are available from marine retail outlets.
The RRP is $299 (T2).
ARK EXTREME OFFROAD
Ark is an Australian company that makes more than 50 different models of jockey wheels. In recent times, the company has engineered a new top-of-the-line jockey wheel for the toughest applications.
Ark says it redesigned the jockey wheel from the ground up, making it stronger, with a heavy-duty square shaft – giving it a 750kg static load rating – and heavy-duty swivel clamp with a four-bolt pivot point suitable for drawbars up to 150mm (6in). They made it more versatile, with four adjustable height positions, a 250mm extension at each setting – with a maximum height of 750mm – plus five different yoke lock positions.
Ark made it more manoeuvrable (on and offroad) via a special easy-pivot trailing yoke design that includes a variable yoke lock, and a dual wheel with sealed bearings and ‘offroad tread’. Finally, the company made it easier to stow and use via a (magnetic) removable side-winding handle.
The Ark Extreme Offroad Jockey Wheel is patent protected and available from outdoor and automotive retailers – either in store or by special order. The recommended retail price is $349.
The venerable Trail-A-Mate jack/jockey wheel is available in two configurations: a hydraulic and a manually-cranked version.
The hydraulic jack is operated by a lever at the top of the post. It can function as either a jack or a jockey wheel by changing the fitting on the bottom of the post from the supplied plate to a wheel.
In jockey wheel configuration, it clamps to the drawbar in a standard jockey wheel clamp, while in jack configuration, a side arm on the post does the lifting at the van’s jacking point. Many later-model caravans have such a point but most trailers and earlier caravans would have to have one welded to the chassis.
The lift can range from as low as 150mm up to as high as 500mm and it is rated up to 1000kg. Only a hard wheel is available for use with the Trail-A-Mate and there is no swivel mount available. The success of the unit, though, is dependent on the hydraulic jack built onto the top of the post and some care must be taken to prevent seal failure. The RRP of the hydraulic version is $408.
Al-Ko has a huge range of jockey wheels and related fittings, including its very useful Power Mover, which will assist in moving your van around and even up small inclines. It can be very helpful if you have to manoeuvre your van into a tight space.
The Power Mover is easy to use. Simply chock the wheels on the downhill side and engage the park brake, secure the Power Mover to your van and lower it to the painted line on the telescopic tube. Select the directional pawls, fit or engage the traction handle, carefully release the brake and rise and lower the traction handle for controlled, easy movement.
The Power Mover can safely move your caravan up a slight slope as the (two) pawls resist roll-back.
The full feature appeared in Caravan World #534 February 2015.