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 Aldridge, riding the Oregon Coast on his Trident
BEFORE YOU BUY A TRIKE!
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.
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.
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 on trike tour, a master triker who knows his stuff