archival and resource material for human powered recumbent tricycles

Before you buy a trike … things to know:

The following useful article has been submitted by Glen Aldridge, our loyal Canadian Trike Asylum reader and fellow three-wheeled fanatic. Thanks Glen for the considerations!

Glen on CCTE

Glen Aldridge, riding the Oregon Coast on his Trident



by Glen Aldridge

Here are some points to consider before even riding or setting a price limit. There is more to choosing the right trike than meets the eye. Hope you find it useful. –

So you’ve got the Trike Bug…..

It happens, a LOT. You’ve seen Trike Riders riding around with that goofy grin on their faces like they just swallowed the proverbial canary. You’ve asked all the questions, dreamt up all the possible scenarios, convinced your significant other of all the benefits, scrounged your pennies, can’t wait till the good weather arrives & then you too can escape reality….at least for the weekend. So why then do so many used trikes come on the market at the end of Summer? Simple, like most things in life the reality is not always what the brochures promise. You will likely not end up looking like Tom Cruise, Pamela Anderson or Richard Simmons. (Thank God!) Although sticking with it you will have a very good chance of losing weight, improving your health, breathing & feeling of contentment. There is nothing worse than living an active life during your working years & suddenly finding yourself at a loss for things to do once you reach retirement & you just gotta get out of the house!

The other reason trikes come up for sale is because new buyers often buy the wrong machine. At first glance trikes look pretty much all the same. Two wheels in front, one wheel at back with a seat in between. Closer inspection however reveals the differences. Features, benefits, quality, design & of course cost. Buy the wrong machine & you are stuck with a trike that makes an expensive garden ornament & never gets ridden. There goes your enthusiasm & benefits from riding.

With the goal of helping you choose the right machine for your situation the rest of this entry will provide you with a good starting point for narrowing down your trike selection & hopefully keep you riding. The mistake many new owners make is to buy a model that they see someone else riding. They also buy what seems to be the most popular new model at the time. These can be fatal mistakes for your trike ownership satisfaction. Before you even look at different trike models you should go through this check list & tick off items that fit your lifestyle & living conditions. I hope you find this list useful & if I have missed anything of value please message me & I will certainly update the list.

Glen Aldridge 2015 Texada Tour 10

YOU – Overweight? Out of shape? Good health? Athletic? – This will determine the daily or weekly miles/kms. you will ride.

GOALS – Lose weight? Get healthy? New friends/activity? Ditch the car? – This will determine the type of riding you will do.

WHERE – Where you ride, hills, flats, Bad weather, traffic, Country roads, Bike trails, Off Road, To the store & back, commuting to & from work. – This will determine the type of gearing, seat height, type of tires you will need.

HOW – Will I get my trike to the trails or planned starting point? Does it need to go in the back of my car? Will I need a trailer for 2 trikes? Does the trike fold & fit in my trunk? Do I need a Transport Rack?

STORAGE – Where will I keep my trike when I am not riding it? Do I have to carry it up or down stairs? Will it fit in the closet? Do I have to carry it around corners in the hallway? Can I access it without having to move the contents of the garage or rec room?

MAINTENANCE – Although trikes & their components can be very reliable, they will still need periodic lubrication, adjustments & repairs. Are you able to do your own out on the road? What if you buy one of those mail order trikes & need parts or repairs? What if your local bike shop doesn’t want to or is not knowledgeable about trikes?

TIRES – I’m going to make this part easy for you. DON’T BUY CHEAP TIRES! By far the number one brand worldwide, supplied on more trikes than any other brand is Schwalbe. They make tires specifically for recumbent trikes but I am not convinced there are any added benefits. Schwalbe makes a lower cost line as well as their super premium must be lined with gold series. I have had excellent results with their ROAD CRUISER line using STOP FLAT tire liners. (4 seasons now & not one puncture!) You can of course use other tire brands & Kendas supplied on many lower cost trikes with the STOP FLAT liners may offer similar results. For my money though I’ll stay with what works & prefer to avoid the Chinese tires.

SEAT – There are essentially two types of seats for trikes. A woven mesh seat or a hardshell seat with foam padding. There are advantages & disadvantages to both. Mesh seats allow your body heat & perspiration to breathe through the seat mesh. Hardshell seats don’t breathe as well. You’ll appreciate this when riding in the hot sun. Hardshell seats offer better support & rigidity so you have a solid surface to press against when pedaling or cornering at speed. They tend to be a little less comfortable then mesh seats but mesh seats don’t offer as good support. It’s a trade off.

Glen Aldridge 2015 Texada Tour 6

Camping on a three day trike trip is loads of fun.

STEERING – Most trikes have underseat steering. This means that a tierod is connected to your handlebars, joining the two front wheels & runs underneath your seat to keep the wheels steering together. Some models have Above Seat Steering much like your traditional bicycle handlebars. Indirect steering provides a smoother steering feel while direct steering offers faster, twitchy, steering response. Either method works well but for high speed I would recommend Indirect Steering over the Direct Steering simply because you don’t want fast steering transitions at speed. There are a few other steering methods but they are quite rare.

GEARING – Trike & bicycle gearing is measured in GEAR INCHES. To have a suitable range of gears does not necessarily mean more is better. What you need is a low & high range that you can & will use. If you have ever winched a car out of the snow or a boat onto a trailer it’s easy to imagine ‘winching’ yourself up a steep hill on your trike. This would be your LOW GEAR INCHES. Alternatively, if you remember flying down a hill on a bicycle as a kid & you just couldn’t rotate your pedals any faster, this would be where you need your HIGH GEAR INCHES. The type of riding, road surfaces you ride on, hills, speeds, weight you are carrying all come into play to determine your gearing. For most road users you will want a LOW of around 12 -14 G.I. (Gear Inches) & a HIGH of about 100 G.I. If you are one hot dog away from a heart attack go even lower 8-12 G.I. The idea is to go slow & relax as opposed to a Mountain Biker who is off his seat & grinding away at his pedals to climb a hill. You won’t be fast but take in the scenery, listen to your music & stop & rest when needed. After all you’ve got the best seat in the house! You’ll see many opposing views regarding gearing but the simple truth is most of your gears are used in the middle ranges & contrary to popular myth the 80 or 90 available gears on some trikes are not usable by most riders because we don’t have the legs or muscle power for it. In case you were wondering the three chain rings on most trikes are set up so the small ring is your low range, the middle ring is your middle or flat road range & your big ring is your downhill or high speed ring. You do not start out in 1st. gear & change through to 27th.

SHIFTERS – Since you’ll be riding your trike all day, you’ll be making hundreds of shifts for the front chain rings & your rear wheel cluster. Your choice of shifters on trikes are pretty much limited to Bar End, Twist Grip & a few Paddle Shifters. Bar End shifters are more ergonomic than the others falling conveniently right at your thumb on the grips. The drawback to these is that they are easily knocked & consequently need to be re-set. Twist grip shifters are nice for keeping your cables & area around your handlebars free of clutter so they look nice & tidy. The drawback to Grip Shifters is your wrists can get a work out on a 10 hour ride. Paddle shifters are very convenient to use as the paddles are located on the inside of your Bar Grips. The Paddles are usually operated with your thumb & index finger to go up & down the gears. The downside to paddle shifters is they are quite bulky & not usually intended for trikes but they do offer an alternate means if you don’t get on well with Bar Ends or Twist Grips.

WHEELS – The size of your wheels will affect your ride comfort, your gearing, how close you are to the ground, what kind of surfaces you can ride on & how much weight you can carry. Some trikes are now available with a choice of smaller wheels all around or smaller wheels in front with a larger rear drive wheel. A common combination is 20 inch front wheels with a 26 inch rear wheel. A 20 inch drive wheel will give you a lower G.I. to aid in climbing hills. A 26 inch drive wheel will raise your LOW G.I. making it slightly harder to pedal those long climbs. The trade off is longer sustained high speed coasting so you are faster on the flats. If your cardio is on the weak side, if you get tired climbing a flight of stairs stay with 3 x 20 inch wheels. Your heart will thank me.

BRAKES – Since it is possible for you to hit speeds of 80kms/hr. (50 mph) you need brakes that are up to the task without overheating, fading or suddenly losing their hydraulic fluid. The standard in the trike industry has become Avid BB7’s. These are a cable operated disc brake. Avid BB5’s are also very good lacking a small adjustment feature over the 7’s. Sturmey Archer makes a very good cable operated drum brake that offers better braking in bad weather conditions. There is a weight penalty for the Sturmey’s though. I am not a believer in hydraulic brakes on trikes as they seem to develop many problems such as leaks. Shimano makes very good products & I am sure their hydraulic brakes are not an exception. Since Shimano’s are expensive, the BB5 or 7’s are more than adequate.

PEDALS – One of the peculiarities of trike retailers/manufacturers is that almost every model sold is with standard platform pedals & to get suitable pedals requires an additional cash outlay to obtain SPD (clip In pedals) and shoes. This is a safety issue so your feet don’t slip off the pedals at speed or from hitting a bump. There is an alternative though if you don’t want to spend another $150. right after spending $3000. for your trike. A company called RETROSPEC makes a very good Pedal Strap that is a few inches wide. These velcro on to your pedals & will hold your feet in place. Don’t worry you are not trapped in the pedal straps – a simple twist of your ankle & your foot is free.

ACCESSORIES – Now that you’ve narrowed your trike choices down you will most likely need accessories. Some manufacturers offer a fairly complete trike package off the showroom floor but these accessory items are not always the best quality or even suitable for your own needs. So keeping that in mind here is a list of items to consider. – Lock, alarm, lighting, fenders, safety flag, horn or bell, GPS, computer, rack, panniers, tool kit, flat repair kit, mirrors, accessory mounts, water bottle & cage, tire pump, tire guage, tire liners, wash, wax & lube & finally a rain or dust cover.

BUDGET – Now that you see what’s involved, making the right model choice is essential for your satisfaction. Trikes start at about $1000.u.s. for basic models quite suitable for around town, doing errands, going shopping etc, but you wouldn’t want to go on an extended tour with them since you wouldn’t be able to handle the hills with the standard gearing. At the other end of the spectrum are the high speed machines. Built low to the ground with high speed as their main goal. These trikes have high speed gearing, lightweight frames & components. Everything optimized to turn every ounce of energy into speed. Cost on these can run $6-7,000. or more. What’s in between? To get a decent trike will cost around $2500 – $3500. This is a trike you can live with, keep for years & end up being one of the best investments you ever make – IN YOURSELF.

What if I don’t want to invest that much right off? You have several alternatives – Rent a trike if you are lucky enough to have a dealer close to you, take a weekend long tour with a trike company, buy a used trike for $1000 – but remember you may be buying someone else’s headache, join a Trike group ride. Many owners have 2 or 3 trikes that they cannot part with & some will help set you up for a day ride with a group.

Glen Aldridge 2015 Texada Tour 5

Glen Aldridge on trike tour, a master triker who knows his stuff

8 responses

  1. Don

    Good article Glenn.

    Would highly suggest that people rent different models before making a purchase.
    It might be a good idea that they check out the year it was made. All they need to do
    is write down the serial number and contact the manufacture. This is especially true if buying a used model from a private sale. I would buy from a bike shop that sells trikes, usually a good indicator if they sell them they work on them and can do the maintenance as well. If someone is close to buying a used machine ask the seller if they can take it into a shop and have them check it out. Another item when buying a trike get it fitted by a professional, it may take a while but well worth it. If it’s a new or used trike ask plenty of questions…

    February 5, 2016 at 6:30 am

  2. Alonzo Savage

    Good one Glen, you’ve covered every angle pretty much. I recall my first try on a trike at Dtek in Little Thetford over here in the UK. I pedaled up and down the main street and stopped next to my car where I thought ‘I’m a bit low down for car drivers to see me’ NOT TRUE ,with my two long flags most drivers don’t know what the heck that thing in front is so they slow down and many are reluctant to overtake. This worry over cars is overplayed if you use flags and common sense. In all our trike riding years we have only had one irate woman driver pomping her horn at us. I’ve messed about with bicycles since childhood so the mechanical side is not a worry for me. My advice is get the right tools, see how it’s done via youtube and have a go.
    It is only when you decide to alter all the gearing that you will have anything like a difficult job.
    Puncture repairs are the same as an ordinary bike and you wont have any if you use Schwalbe Marathon Plus tyres. I’ve had ONE puncture in 8 years and that was my own fault when I cut a corner and caught the right angle of two kerbstones nipping my tyre. I put the trike on its side, fit a new tube (always carry a spare) and was on my way in 5 minutes. My advice is to try out a trike and if you are in the UK give Kevin a call at Dtek (look under ICE dealers for his number). Rather than sell me a trike there and then he told me to go away and weigh up the pros and cons of a trike v a standard bike which he had explained and it was maybe three months before I purchased my ICE ‘T’, it is the best by I have ever made in any scenario. I’ve modified it in many ways with advice from Kevin. He is known in UK trike circles as The Oracle so give him a call BEFORE you splash the cash. No I’m not his agent but I am more than happy to plug him as the most honest dealer I’ve ever met.
    Whatever you buy have fun and stay cool on you machine, after all you’ve got maybe 27 gears plus reverse and free air conditioning.

    February 5, 2016 at 6:43 am

  3. Kimball Rasmussen

    Great article.
    Another consideration on 20″ vs 26″ rear wheel: if you go with 20″ you only need to fuss with one size spare tube and tire. It also makes for a rear rack that goes over the top of the wheel without being inordinately tall with your load.
    That said, I just purchased an ICE VTX with 700c rear wheel. I recognize it is not suited for loaded touring. For me it was a replacement for a fast, carbon fiber road bike.

    February 5, 2016 at 8:43 am

  4. abycinnamon

    Great article. After buying my trike, I was surprise how easy it was for my foot to slip off the pedal (I had cages) when I was distracted – fortunately I wasn’t going fast enough to be injured. My next purchase was a pair of shoes with clips and new pedals.

    I’d also like to mention suspension. I didn’t realize how jarring it would be to go over rough roads – I road tested my trike in the city which is not where I live. I really wish I had gotten suspension – it’s not something you think about with a wedgie as you just stand up. But bad roads and wooden bridges and such really beat the crap out of a trike pilot on a trike with no suspension. It’s a lot more money, but if you aren’t on good roads, it’s very well spent.

    February 5, 2016 at 10:41 am

  5. Glen Aldridge

    Abbycinnamon, you have a couple of options to improve your ride. First try lowering your tire pressure. If you are coming from a Road Bike you may be used to running with around 100 lbs pressure in your tires. Simply lowering that to 60-70lbs on your trike will make a huge difference without increasing your risk of flats. You may find the handling actually improves by having a larger contact patch area without increasing your risk of flats. If too much pressure isn’t your problem try running with Schwalbe BIG APPLE tires. These will provide a suspension like effect but you have to make sure they will fit onto your rims & under your fender stays. Of course if terrible roads are your problem you just might have to join the ranks of Fatrike Owners. :)

    February 5, 2016 at 12:02 pm

  6. Great posting as I have been seeing, and talking to a lot of people who are interested in recumbents, and just don’t know where to start, but I believe this is the posting I’m going to refer them to as I don’t have all these answer in my traveling toolbox of answers, and this post touches base with all the relevant questions a person should know when going out to buy that first recumbent…! When I chose to ride a recumbent I waited a very long time, and just sat back on line reading all the do’s, and don’ts of buying a recumbent… I also was dealing with some personal issues such as an accident which left me pretty messed up to the point I had gone under the knife numbers times, and still see a doctor on a monthly bases for the rest of my life… OK..! Now that being said, I had to look for a bike I would be able to handle, and not a bike that would handle me, I need something that would not be a problem with my issues of equilibrium , and my spinal issues…! A two wheel diamond frame was totally out of the question, and a recumbent two wheeler was also not something I could do either, although it was dealing with my spinal issues I could not ride it because of my equilibrium issues, so I started to look at the delta, and tadpole recumbents, and although I felt as they covered all bases with my health issues.. The only thing now was my discussing the trike with my doctor, who by the way is a recumbent rider of around 12 yrs. I believe he had said, but he was still not happy with me riding at all really do to all my health constraints which he was quick to remind me, But then one day as I was surfing the internet I came across the Utah Trikes home page and started looking at some of the bikes they had to offer, and noticed that they built custom recumbents, so as I started going through pages of their online catalog, I come across their rendition of a quad, and I said to myself this has to be the recumbent for me, but I still was not totally convinced, Until one day I came across a youtube video of a guy wearing a Panama hat, and riding a recumbent quad frommm…? Utah Trikes where else…! So I watched the video, and I noticed how easily he peddled this quad, and then how he lifted it to park it against a tree, and I said well that sells it boy, if ever I saw a sales video in all my life but it was not a sales video but just a guy out riding his Utah Trikes Catrike Fat Cat Custom Quad, and I was hooked, I called the doctor and spoke to him gave him the addy to the video so he could view it, and the rest is all history…! Now that was really picking out a recumbent for my needs, and I ride almost every day, and I do not ever regret buying this quad, and I thank all my friends, and family for their help, and contributions in order to make my dream come true…! But still the break down to a recumbent, that Glen has submitted is a great rule of thumb in order to buy that recumbent of your dreams, and still make it a bike that you will be riding for some time to come, and not just a one season thing, it’s a great way to start buying a recumbent for yourself, so take heed of what this gentleman has to say, as it is going to make a real difference when you buy yours …! Thanks Glen…!

    February 5, 2016 at 1:51 pm

  7. Ron Nelson

    Excellent coverage in the article. It ticked off all (and more) of the points I would make to a friend inquiring about triking. It is sad but true that if someone buys in at the low end of the range it could be money wasted as some of the materials are subpar and it makes for the triking experience to be less enjoyable unless you like fixing stuff and doing work arounds. My own recommendation is to plan and spend about $3K on a low mileage used trike. Trikes that run new in the $5-6K range usually have the best designs/materials. The biggest problem is that the market is not large enough to make a lot of these cycles available in a given area, so due diligence and persistence is required.

    February 6, 2016 at 11:24 am

  8. Rob

    The best advise….try as many trikes as you can…they vary greatly

    February 12, 2016 at 2:31 pm