Published: Silent Sports, July 2002 Revised, January 2011
Author: Rolf Garthus, Hostel Shoppe
New generation of recumbent trikes aren't kid's stuff.
So why are recumbent trikes becoming so popular? Trikes combine the comfort and efficiency of a fast recumbent with total stability. These high performance trikes are built for long distance riding by demanding enthusiasts, but also fill the needs of recreational riders wanting to ride in comfort and many riders with special needs. There is no learning curve on a trike, because all you have to do is get on and go. No longer do people with balance problems have to settle for heavy, slow trikes that aren't much good for anything but an occasional ride around the block. There's also a big fun factor when you ride a trike. Just move the handlebars and lean into the turn like you would on a go-kart.
There are a number of advantages to hill climbing with a recumbent trike. On a two-wheeled bike there is a minimum speed needed to maintain balance. If you are not strong enough to maintain this speed on a steep hill, you either get off and walk or tip over. On a trike, you can use lower gears and go as slow as you like with complete stability - even stop, rest and restart on a steep hill if need be. Plus, you can increase your pedaling efficiency by using clipless pedals, and you don’t have to worry about doing the embarrassing "Laugh-In fall” at a stop sign while trying to get unclipped from the pedals.
One of the more dangerous biking situations is being passed by one vehicle while meeting another. You can escape these dangerous situations on a trike by simply riding onto the shoulder. It's easy to maintain control on soft, mushy shoulders due to the stability of three wheels. Sand or gravel on a corner or some obstacle in the road won't cause a crash on a trike.
Recumbent tricycles are available in two configurations: tadpole trikes (two wheels in front) and delta trikes (two wheels in back). Tadpole trikes tend to seat the rider lower and more aerodynamically, are lighter, and they usually have a wider gear range. The delta design seats the rider a little higher and allows the rider's heels to slide back under the leading edge of the seat, which makes sitting down and getting up very easy.
Transporting trikes can be a bit of a challenge depending on your vehicle. Vans, pickups and sport utility vehicles usually have room to easily carry trikes, and even some hatchback sedans also will work. Several receiver hitch trike racks are now available to carry one or two trikes, or even one trike and another bike. Folding trikes offer an even greater transport advantage, allowing you to pack a trike in a car trunk or even fit two of them into the back of a compact car, like the Toyota Prius, with room to spare for luggage. Folding trikes can be broken down even further using optional quick release kits, allowing you to pack them in a large suitcase or travel trunk for air travel. I.C.E., Greenspeed and HP Velotechnik make folding trikes.
The brands of trikes that I am most familiar with are I.C.E., Catrike, TerraTrike, Greenspeed, HP Velotechnik and Hase. Other brands are available, but I think these trikes offer superior workmanship, are well thought out and extremely dependable. In addition, these companies have all done a great job of accessorizing their trikes. Bags, mirrors, computers, lights, safety flags, fenders and more are available for virtually all these trikes.
Catrike (Paulo Camasmie) started building trikes in Florida in 1990. Since then Catrike has received 6 awards for Trike of the Year by readers of ‘BentRider Online. These lightweight, aluminum, American made trikes work flawlessly, are user friendly, look fantastic and are reasonably priced. Catrike owners are passionate about their trikes. We have Catrike customers that have toured extensively on their Catrike Expeditions and they can’t say enough about them.
ICE offers a great lineup of extremely well designed and elegant looking trikes. All their trikes fold, which eliminates the trike transportation problem. Riders can also choose between rigid, rear suspension and full suspension models, as well as models with different seat heights and rear wheel sizes. The handling is superb and the suspension is extremely well designed. We have a customer who says that he did a 110 mile ride on his I.C.E. trike in about the same time as he had done on his twowheeled bike.
TerraTrike (formerly WizWheelz) was founded in 1996 and has been producing quality trikes that are a blast to ride ever since. Their recent introduction of the Rover has taken the recreational end of the recumbent market by storm. However, you’re mistaken if you get the idea that sport and performance riders should look elsewhere. Serious trike riders, who aren’t interested in suspension and folding, should definitely check out TerraTrike. TerraTrike also offers a great economical tadpole trike tandem, which breaks down into two parts, using S&S couplers, for easy transport.
Greenspeed is legendary for its durability. The toughness of their trikes has been proven in heavily loaded tours around Australia. One of the older trike manufacturers on the market, Greenspeed has had ample time to debug their trikes and they have used this time wisely. Greenspeed also makes an elegant tandem trike, the Gtt2S. This tandem uses two S&S couplers to allow disassembly for transportation. The 39" wide wheelbase of this tandem adds a noticeable amount of stability in the corners. Greenspeed’s reputation was built around tadpole trikes, but they now offer a delta trike, the Anura, as well.
Hase is a German company that makes the lightest and best performing delta trikes that I have seen. A wide variety of gearing options are available, and riders can add an optional differential if extra traction is needed. Hase also makes a tandem hitch that allows two of their trikes to be linked together to make a tandem. The resulting tandem has true independent pedaling. Each rider has complete control of the gearing and braking. This allows tandem team members to pedal at different cadences and to pedal or coast at any time. Switching from two trikes to a tandem and back again is about a 30 second process.
HP Velotechnik started making recumbent bikes 16 years ago and added trikes to their line-up in 2006. The consumer response was extremely favorable. One test ride and you’ll know why German engineering is so highly acclaimed. Suspension, folding, mesh seat or molded seat: take your pick. These trikes have been higher priced than some, but HP Velotechnik’s introduction of the new Gekko for 2011 proves that you can have great engineering and folding at a reasonable price.
It’s fun to watch people take test rides on trikes. They sit on the trike, and inevitably a big grin begins to form. The gleam in their eyes is indicative of some long forgotten childhood experience being revisited. Customers that wouldn't think twice about trying a two-wheel recumbent bike will find that trikes offer a non-threatening alternative. We have them sit a trike and they start pedaling around the sales floor, and the next thing you know they are out on our test track and beyond. If you are thinking about trying recumbents, but are not too sure about the balance and handling, try a trike.
- Rolf Garthus