archival and resource material for human powered recumbent tricycles

Are tricycles dangerous in traffic?

Q. Aren’t you afraid you’ll get hit by a car when riding a trike? You’re so low!

A. When I was first considering the purchase of a human-powered trike, yes I was timid about this. And my first rides were measured carefully to begin on neighborhood streets, then moving onto the town’s main streets, and ultimately onto state highways (but not limited access freeways). It was a necessary progression to allow my mental fears time to mellow and eventually vaporize. The truth of the matter is much different than what the common person would initially consider. Trikes are clearly safer than bicycles, simply because the trike is such a bizarre looking vehicle that every driver sits up and immediately takes notice. Car drivers are so used to seeing bicycles everywhere that they take bikes for granted, often subconsciously dismissing the two wheeled vehicle, which is an invitation for collision. Trikers are guaranteed to be seen by motorists, who can’t figure out what they are witnessing on the roadway, especially if they have a vibrant flag attached to the seat. It is also not unusual for a motorist to believe a triker is physically handicapped, and consequently give the trike even more room. The flagging takes care of the low seat height issue. Realizing these realities requires time in the cockpit, but once the epiphany gels, fear melts away.

theoldtriker Bill Emmons

Bill Emmons has ridden enough to realize trikes are not to be feared.


14 responses

  1. armadillozack

    I agree..! When first riding my recumbent I was worried about cars coming up behind my left shoulder or directly behind when crossing from right to left hand turn… It would make me a bit nervous but it all goes away after you get a few miles under your belt…
    Armadillo Zack

    January 23, 2017 at 2:19 pm

  2. buckyboydog


    January 23, 2017 at 2:48 pm

  3. Flags! Rarely is it mentioned that in order to be a safety feature……….., they MUST be visible from the ‘rear’ at a distance sufficient to provide safe passage. Flags that trail nicely during travel may only appear from the rear as a vertical stick if seen at all, and motor vehicle drivers traveling at highway speeds will have less time to react than say in a reduced speed area.The colors would also stand out best against a contrasting colored background.

    Flag height is another area of debate; too high and if may become disassociated with the trike and too low may not even register as a flag at all. Perhaps a height that would resemble the lower hack of a hunched over DF rider would serve as a benchmark?

    Students of art would be quick to recognize that horizontal objects are ‘restful’, vertical as ‘strong’ but angled objects relate best to objects that are ‘active’ or ‘in motion’ (unlike natural surroundings). Perhaps an angled flag pole* would be safer (look ‘big’ and unusual) in some travels? I ‘lean’ toward *this theory! Thanks

    January 23, 2017 at 2:49 pm

  4. I totally agree with the article and with Ed’s comment. I am a stickler for good highly visible safety flags which flap around well helping them to be seen and I too think they can be too high or too low. So many tadpole riders have flags that are ineffective for one reason or another.

    January 23, 2017 at 3:05 pm

  5. Richard Dandridge

    Being a bike tourer, I sometimes have to push my bike up a steep hill or mountain or navigate through border guard narrow passage ways, etc. Has the trike ever been a problem for those situations. Thinking of a Catrike Expedition🤔

    January 23, 2017 at 4:32 pm

  6. daytriker

    There have been numerous studies about visibility & more importantly for cyclists, driver ‘blindness.; For this reason, I recommend a flag height of approximately 4ft. which puts the flag at the same line of sight for most drivers as well as using safe margin flags or wings which are common in European countries. Add on flashing front & rear lights & your only real concern is texting drivers.

    January 23, 2017 at 4:43 pm

  7. As a trike pilot, I have been hit twice now. Even with all of the specific safety items. I specifically point the finger at the motorists that don’t pay any attention to their surroundings. I’m in midst of trying to get my trike replaced because of the most recent accident.

    January 23, 2017 at 5:44 pm

  8. Cat one

    Using flags and having two mirrors would be good. Currently using three white flashing lights and a red flashing light attached on the back, all of which flash on at different times so it’s easily seen.
    It’s important not to forget who is approaching from the front, that’s why I use two flashing lights on the front. Very important EVERYONE should ride defensively and be aware of their surroundings.

    January 23, 2017 at 6:01 pm

  9. Well, I suffered a very serious accident while on a 2 wheel upright bicycle that left me crippled and unable to ride a normal upright 2 wheel bicycle, and now I have a recumbent Trike, that I just recently converted to an E-Trike, with full time lights, both head and tail lights, and felt then and still now rather vulnerable, even with a very prominent flag. I do believe that this does allow me to be very visible, but due to my rather low height, which doesn’t allow to me see other vehicles or hazards very well, especially if anything of even fairly low height is between me and any possible hazard.

    Yes, I do feel that the fairly uniqueness of a recumbent tricycle attracts more attention, and have noticed that many cars give me more consideration and room due to my uniqueness and slightly wider need for clearance, but due to my lack of ability to lay my trike down or even turn very sharp or quickly to avoid possible accidents due to my lack of flexibility with a trike to be somewhat more likely to have a serious accident now.

    Also I have noticed that a roads side steepness is quite the disadvantage for a tricycle due to the inability to ride upright like a normal 2 wheel bike, and one can feel many times to be quite side tippy, or even the feeling that one might tip over when fast cornering. I recently did tip my trike over while steering around a sharp corner and trying to avoid hitting a slight rise with one of my front wheels, and due to my rather crippled state had a very difficult time exiting and righting my Trike, especially with the additional weight of the motor hub and battery, and my inability to quickly exit and right the trike by myself.
    But in any case, the Trike has gotten me back on the road, which I enjoy immensely, but I really don’t feel that it is safer than a regular upright B

    January 23, 2017 at 6:12 pm

  10. Kelly

    After riding road bikes for fifty years, I switched to a recumbent trike a year and a half ago. My experience is that cars routinely give me a wider birth when passing. I think the novelty effect has a lot to do with it. I use a flag and also a 600 lumen white light flashing backwards behind me at oncoming traffic. In full day light a driver can see the flashing a half mile away.

    January 23, 2017 at 7:53 pm

  11. Alan Cragg

    I often get asked this, people assume that because the trike is so small and low that car drivers won’t see them!

    I ask them when was the last time they accidentally drove over a brick or bottle because they didn’t see it. I tell them that if they cannot see a 165 pound man on a Ducatti red trike with a Union Jack pennant then they probably should not be on the road.

    January 23, 2017 at 11:53 pm

  12. I’ve been riding an ICE Adventure recumbent trike for three and a half years after riding bicycles off and on for about 50 years. A trike’s low riding position does not cause me to fear being unseen by motorists. I ride with confidence and seriousness, signaling turns and obeying traffic regulations. If necessary, I “take the lane” even if that holds up traffic. I do not ride on the busiest streets during the day but I do so at night, when most streets are relatively quiet. During the day I use a flag: it’s the standard small ICE “flag,” whose top is six feet above the ground. I will consider lowering it to match the height of motorists’s eyeballs (thanks for the tip, daytriker!). Also attached to the flag pole are streamers made of surveyor’s tape. At night I dispense with the flag but use a Philips SafeRide headlight and three tail lights, one of which blinks at irregular intervals. My trike has a white reflector up front and two red ones in the back. I use two mirrors night and day. There is reflective tape on my helmet.

    99% of the time—night or day—motorists give me a wide berth when overtaking me. Is that due to the trike’s oddness or to my safety equipment or to the way I ride or to the quality of drivers or to the availability of space on the road to pass me? I don’t know, maybe all of the above. Of course all these factors mean little when a motorist is engrossed in something other than driving.

    About lights…I’ve read that some states forbid the use of flashing white lights up front and any white light on the rear.

    January 24, 2017 at 12:27 am


    I use two flags and two mirrors on my trike and yes on my first ever trial ride I was concerned about being too low to be seen by motorists. I still get asked about being so low on my trike but my answer is ‘How do you know which side of the road you are on when driving your car?’ There is usually a long worrying pause and a blank face on the questioner; Finally they give in and I say with a smile on my face ‘well there is usually a white line down the middle of the road and I’m not lower than that.’ Seriously though I have never had anything but positive reaction from drivers.
    In built up areas I make a point of getting out of the way of large vehicles by pulling over or mounting a kerb where possible and my action is always well received after all these wagons and vans are working vehicles. We should all share the road in a manner that is considerate to others.

    January 24, 2017 at 1:46 am

  14. trike hobo

    These days, now that my triangular vehicle is a 26 inch full fatty monster tricycle, I feel on a par with the car. Full sized fatrikes will offer the maximum visibility to motorists. We fatties are so weirdly bizarre that no one can miss us out there. I’m big, I’m orange, and if some mindless texting driver is coming up behind me, I can just pedal off the shoulder if necessary, and onto the virgin terrain due to the mega knobby tires and 17 inches of ground clearance. Yep, fatrikes do inspire a sense of well being (of course, I still never lower my guard, as I realize there may be some idiot out there who just might have my name printed on his car’s front bumper).

    BTW: Regarding flags and flag height, I now run two flags, one on each side of the seat, and they top out at 6 feet above the ground, high enough to be seen by drivers of most cars, and yet not so low that truckers might miss them, although I have found big rig truckers to be some of the most courteous of all drivers out on the open state highways. I use the current green ICE flags, which are minimalist flags, so even though they are brilliant, I prefer two, as the two poles on which they are mounted sway in varied directions from one another at any given time, so they present a visual contrast due to their independent swinging motions.

    To Richard Dandridge in answer to his question, I would say that true enough, trikes are not as easy to get through certain places, but they can usually be maneuvered to make it, just not as quickly as a bicycle. I’ve gotten my ICE Full Fat through some really tight stuff – it just takes some additional thought or creative tweaking to make it happen. And if worse comes to worst, trikes can be lifted over otherwise impassable obstacles. I would not let this deter me from acquiring a trike though, because trikes are so much FUN!!! Whee, I”m a kid again (of course, I never grew up in the first place, haha).

    See ya …

    January 24, 2017 at 1:46 pm