Kurt Zeigler has some great thoughts about this, snatched from his great website:
For the complete list, here’s my list of trike advantages and disadvantages. Most but not all apply to recumbents in general. Leave a comment if you have more items for this list.
- Comfort – Even after a grueling day on the road, the most comfortable seat is on the trike.
- View – Instead of looking down at your front tire, your most natural position is looking outward and upward. If you enjoy clouds and birds, a ‘bent is pretty refreshing.
- Stability – High speed descents went from a white knuckle cramp-fest to a low stress blurr.
- Safety – The stability of a trike lets me focus on what’s around me instead of what’s directly in front of me and threatening to trip me up. Cattle grates, pot holes, debris, RR tracks become an annoyance instead of a crisis. On a trike, rear view mirrors actually work and give me excellent situational awareness in traffic. With two brakes in front, nothing stops faster than a tadpole trike and there is little chance of “going over the handlebars.” Motorists generally give me a wider berth, perhaps because I’m slightly wider and look much different from an upright bike. This makes it easier to take the lane when appropriate. A common complaint about tadpole trikes is that they are unsafe because they are too low to be seen by motorists. This is simply not true in my experience.
- Commuting – The comfort, stability, and safety advantages mentioned above all add up to a more enjoyable commute. Add to that the fact that starts and stops are super safe and convenient because you don’t have to un-clip and clip back in your pedals at every stop.
- Touring – Any weight disadvantage is lost when you start loading up the trike with gear. With conventional rear panniers and custom side panniers you can load at least as much gear as an upright bike, all without affecting the trike’s handling in any significant way. Climbs are more enjoyable because you can gear way down and spin up hills, going as slowly as you want (you won’t fall over or wobble even if you stop). Descents are more enjoyable because even fully loaded you can bomb down hills with much more stability. And after weeks on the road, when roadies start developing all manner of ailments “down there,” your ass and groin area will feel the same as it did on day one.
- Winter – The stability of a trike makes slick winter roads a ton of fun instead of a ton of stress.
- Fun – Riding a trike feels different from riding a bike but is at least as much fun.
- Climbing speed – addressed in my Triking page.
- Form factor – harder to maneuver through doorways, won’t fit in a rack on a bus or train, etc. Even the ultra foldable trikes like the Trice series are a challenge to transport as luggage on a plane.
- The geek factor – Yep, you look different riding a ‘bent. If conformity is your thing, run away. Most people do and I’m becoming convinced this is one of the biggest reasons. That and Lance doesn’t ride one. On the other hand if you like to draw attention to yourself, might I suggest a ‘bent with a Trets, guitar, and little girl attached.
- Cost – Right again. ‘Bents are expensive, though in a similar tier as high-end road or mountain bikes. But look at what you get. And it’s perhaps never more true than with recumbents; you get what you pay for.
- Weight – My Trice Q weighs in at about 36 pounds naked. Some trikes are down in the thirties. Heavy, but not much of an issue for loaded touring considering beefy touring bikes aren’t much lighter, and the weight variance between a good packing day and a bad one is probably greater than the variance between a ‘bent and a sleek upright. And for commuting, who cares?
- Racing – Unless you’re racing other ‘bents or limit yourself to flat or downhill courses, stick with an upright.
- Off road – There are trikes designed for use like a mountain bike. Seems to me like an actual mountain bike would be a better bet. I’m talking single track here– trikes do fine on decent dirt and gravel roads. The stability helps here, but the extra wheel and three wheel tracks vs. one starts to become an issue if the gravel/mud/whatever gets deep. You can lose traction going up steep, slick surfaces because on a trike you have less weight on the drive wheel.
- Stability – How can this be in both lists? Everything has its limits. The trike’s is that if you fly outside the envelope, you can flip it. You have to be trying pretty hard to do this and it’s easily avoidable. But flipping a trike could ruin your day. To put this in perspective, I can bomb down curvy mountain roads at 45 MPH and not reach the limit, with much less trepidation than on an upright bike.
- Wheel track. You’ve got three instead of one. This can be a problem in deep gravel or extremely rough roads. It also makes it more difficult to keep your tires away from obstacles though the stability afforded by three tracks dramatically reduces the need.
- Visibility. The common perception that trikes are too low to be seen is generally not true in my experience. There is one situation that warrants mention however. Cars that are parked right up to the edge of an intersection can make it difficult to see oncoming cross traffic. In these situations I ease out slowly to peer around the obstruction before commiting to crossing the intersection. With a little extra caution this concern is easily mitigated.