archival and resource material for human powered recumbent tricycles

Trip Tip – Visibility & Safety

Trikes are very low to the ground. This is the first and most concerning fact that the vast majority of potential and first-time trike owners ponder as they consider riding a recumbent tadpole trike in automobile traffic or on an overland journey cross country. The internalized fear of being struck by an inattentive or preoccupied motorist is very real, and often highly exaggerated, in the minds of newcomers to the triking realm. After all, they hear of bicyclists being struck, maimed, and killed from time to time, and realize that they sit much higher than a trike, thus deducing that tricyclists don’t stand a snowball’s chance in hell of surviving for very long. Additionally, well-meaning friends and family go to great lengths to warn potential trikers of all the horrible dangers, thereby further instilling a solid foundation of fright in the yet inexperienced mind.

Are the fears and dangers real? While the fears most certainly are, the dangers are another story. Consider this: Anything the human mind is fed a steady stream of eventually becomes routine, to the point that it is filed away in the back of the mind and rarely given much thought. Such is the plight of the average motorist with regards to bicyclists – they see so many bicycles every day while driving that it’s almost as if the cyclists are invisible. Add to this the fact that most bicyclists have traditionally worn standard clothing that is not really visible in traffic, along with the fact that they have rarely attached bright flagging to their bikes, and you have a recipe for disaster. But tricycles are so low, you say! True enough, they are, yet trikes have some factors in their favor that make them far safer on roadways than bikes.

First of all, few petroleum powered motorists have rarely, if ever, seen a tadpole tricycle while driving. They don’t even know what they are seeing, and this is the key to a triker’s survival. Motorists, even those illegally talking on cell phones, are jolted into a high state of awareness when they see a tadpole trike ahead on the road because they are attempting to identify the strange object, which is typically misidentified initially as a handicapped person in a new type of wheelchair (yet another advantage – who wants to strike a disadvantaged human?). Cell phone users end up mentioning the triker to the party with whom they are talking, further highlighting the issue. It’s hard for motorists to hit a tricycle when they are intently staring right at the darn thing! Another key factor that makes us safer is that we appear very wide to motorists, so they nearly always give tricycles much more room as they pass. This is commonly exaggerated, and motorists will frequently pass tadpole tricycles as if they are another car.

Of course, visibility is yet another key factor, so if you add a flagpole with bright colored day-glow flagging, and if you wear high visibility clothing and use bright colored panniers and flashing taillights, chances are extremely high that your trips will proceed without negative incident. Sure, a rare rude motorist who arrogantly believes cyclists of any type have no right to use paved roads may honk the horn illegally or crudely bellow a moronic grunt your direction, but at least the empathetically unconscious driver sees you; it’s his (or her) issue, not yours, as most governments have a “share the road” rule that governs highway usage. The bottom line is this: While there is always a chance of unfortunate mishap, and no one can guarantee your safety 100% of the time, the collective experience of the triking community is that the threat posed by petroleum powered humans is most always imagined. That is to say, it’s mostly in your mind. This epiphany will evolve over time as you gain experience out on the open road.

The biggest genuine issue with automobiles is the annoying tire whine as they speed by – you get tired of hearing it while riding through towns. Fortunately, once out in the wide open country, the sound of rubber is replaced with the wonderful sounds of nature! That freedom is what we live for!

2 responses

  1. Dan Brown

    Very interesting comments on safty. People new to any kind of biking have the same fears.
    I’ve done a lot of biking but had a stroke and can no longer balance, really the craps. Like to start riding a trike, would like to know what is the lightest one made.
    There’s a lot of good looking trikes on the web but they weigh in at 30 to 45 lbs. Is there anything out there of less weight ?

    July 8, 2011 at 9:21 pm

  2. dilys

    Much the same applies to my two wheeled ‘bent as well. The low riding position makes you unusual and, therefore, seen.
    In city traffic, however, I prefer my upright, bright gear, good lungs and an air horn.

    July 8, 2011 at 11:27 pm