Q&A

BENEFITS OF A RECUMBENT TRIKE

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People are curious. They ask questions. This is normal. However, for trike pilots, question asking forges ahead into an entirely new realm. If you ride a trike, you realize that nearly everywhere you stop forward motion, inquisitive people gather to learn all about your mode of transport. This is an outstanding opportunity for trikers to act as ambassadors for human-powered vehicles, and the tadpole trike in particular.

The KMX Venom

Many queries we hear over and over, since the uninitiated seem to mysteriously wonder about similar aspects of what they are seeing. Some questions are humorous to us, but serious to them. Some are basic and easy to answer, while others require us to draw upon facets of our own ideology. A few are even technical in nature, usually from men who are mechanically inclined.

How do you ride on freeways is a common one. Why are you riding this instead of driving a car, may be a more introspective probe into our environmental sensitivities. What are the mechanics of your steering is a typical gearhead query. It’s fun to see what will come up next.

Then, there are those who are seriously considering the purchase of their own trike. Their questions will be many, at a level far beyond the typical non-triking observer. Here is your chance to win over a convert to triangular locomotion. It is times like these where your knowledge will play an important role in the life of at least one other human. Will you present a fair and balanced picture of tricycles in general? Or will you tend to trumpet the virtues of the particular brand you ride?

The Catrike Expedition

And of course, we have folks who just got their own trike, see us out on the road, and grab the opportunity to pick our brains for all the information we have acquired in our experiences. From these people will come specific and technical questions that may stretch our own knowledge, depending on how mechanically inclined we may happen to be. Give these new trike pilots the straight scoop and you may have earned yourself a riding partner.

It all boils down to helping others understand what interests us. It’s the exciting part of humanity, where people help people. Whether it’s simply surface curiosity or leading to a noble environmental end, questions and answers play an important role in extending this alternative world of triangular locomotion, and it is in this spirit that this page exists. Here then are common, and not so common, probes into the realm of human-powered three wheels.

Newest questions appear at the bottom.

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NOTE: Your answers may vary. If you have another viewpoint, feel free to post a comment below. Most of this is not science after all, where strict answers may be a given. Even things like how to adjust a derailleur have more than one path to success. Also, if you have a question that is not answered here, post it below or email Trike Asylum, and we’ll see if we can provide an answer or solution for you.

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Q. How do you ride on freeways?

A. Interestingly, this is a common question that I have been asked numerous times. With today’s utter dependence on petroleum-powered vehicles, many folks have come to believe that only freeways will take them across the countryside. They depend on ultra-fast travel over huge roadways crowded with cars, totally isolated from the natural world. It has become their transportation paradigm to such an extreme that when they see a triker, they simply assume he rides on freeways. One man asked me this question three times during the same twenty-minute conversation, until his irritated wife knocked him stiffly on the shoulder and said, don’t you listen? He doesn’t ride on freeways! And that is the answer. There are thousands of backroads that will get us darn near everywhere we want to go, and in a manner where we see our world up close and personal in new and exciting ways. A few intrepid trike pilots will occasionally hop on a freeway shoulder in unusual circumstances, but it’s rare. I seek the serenity of the least traveled roadways I can find. The tire whine of cars is annoying.

Q. Aren’t you afraid you’ll get hit by a car? 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 and rides become pure joy.

Splitting lanes in traffic is NOT recommended.

Q. How do motorists usually react to people on tricycles?

A. The typical inexperienced thought on this topic is one that seems to be at odds with reality. While motorists may at times present a threat to trikers, they do so unintentionally and this is usually not the case, yet a few ideas are in order. Always watch automobiles with the frame of mind that none of the drivers see you! Pretend like you are invisible, and you will go a long way towards keeping yourself and trike intact. If they see you, they will more than likely afford you extra courtesy. My experience, and that of other well-traveled trike pilots I know, demonstrates that over the course of thousands of miles ridden, only a very minuscule minority of motorists will ever knowingly disrespect the philosophy and law of sharing the road with cyclists. By far, most drivers will demonstrate a noble level of humanity and honor your presence. Sooner or later though, you will probably encounter one of these cruel people, but it’s so infrequent as to be a non-issue when considering getting a trike or taking a ride. The worst things that have happened to me this past year are: 1) a driver waiting until her front bumper was even with my head while passing, and then laying on the horn, even though the road was wide open and straight with no other traffic, 2) a motorhome passenger in a very tight and blind mountain curve screaming thoughtless words at me, even though the driver was courteous and allowed plenty of room. That’s it! I’ve been passed by thousands of cars over hundreds of miles, in all types of terrain, and only those two incidents have occurred. Remain courteous yourself at all times, even in the face of these rude humans, for if you allow your temper to overcome your intellect by returning their discourtesy, it only sets the stage for the next cyclist that motorist sees, and he will only get worse and more bitter over time. These few drivers are troubled people, so please do not reinforce their antisocial behavior with any of your own! This is easy to do once you realize that over 99% of all motorists will treat you with a very high level of respect and courtesy. Be the change you want to see in the world – it’s an honorable philosophy in all facets of life! A quick side story to demonstrate: In my former law enforcement profession, I always treated offenders with respect, regardless of the situation. This took them off guard, as many of these street-wise criminals had never earned anyone’s legitimate respect. It didn’t compute that “the man” was treating them in an principled manner. As a result of my ideology, I experienced voluntary compliance in most dangerous scenarios, and was able to peacefully take felons into custody most of the time. Other “macho” cops were always getting into scrapes and putting everyone at risk due to their “tough guy” mentality, which also reinforced the criminals’ mindset that cops were out to get them. The negative cycle has to be broken somewhere, be it a wrongdoer or rude driver, and I aim to be the source of change!

Q. What are the most dangerous times on a trike? The safest?

A. There are situations that clearly demand strict attention while triking, and there are others where our minds can wander and enjoy the scenery without concern. What generally constitutes danger? The major issue above all others is an inattentive motorist powering a two or three ton hunk of steel down the road at very fast speeds, or a driver emerging from a side street or parking space! The vast majority of drivers have no idea how deadly their actions can be, and for many, driving becomes so mundane day in and day out that they often engage in self-distracting activities while behind the wheel. When triking through open country, where the road allows unobstructed views, motorists can readily observe the trike long before getting close to it, even if they’re talking on their cell phone. In this situation, the driver has plenty of time to assess what is being seen, and nearly always provides a wide margin of room when overtaking. Being seen in advance is the key to remaining safe (see next question). One of the most vulnerable times for a trike pilot is when negotiating a blind right curve in tight mountains. This is a narrow sharp curve that bends to the right, where little to no shoulder exists, and unless a following motorist sees you enter the blind right, he could come speeding around it and there you are. Much of the time, drivers will see you ride into the curve, and know in advance to slow down. If you are already engaged with traffic, this is a plus, as they know you’re in there. If a blind right is imminent, and traffic is way back, you may be advised to wait until they all pass, or if the amount of traffic is heavy, just make sure the lead car sees you enter the curve. Most drivers cut curves on the inside, further making blind rights in mountains a notorious issue. Left-hand curves are different. You can usually be seen, and drivers who cut the inside are doing so away from you. Other problem areas are on city streets, where parked cars obstruct everyone’s view. If you’re riding along a long line of parked cars, you may be well advised to “take your lane” as you are entitled to do in most states, keeping away from opening doors and quickly emerging cars. If things are really bad, I have been known to use the sidewalk! I will vigorously defend my usage to any police officer who might confront me, and I would rather be alive to explain my actions than dead or injured just to follow the letter of the law! One final thought here: Don’t argue with an errant motorist who thinks you have no right on “his” road – remain focused on the fun of the trike and all the other drivers who are always respectful. The problem lies with him, not you. Your pride is not worth endangering your well being. Let it go. Move on. Enjoy the ride! You will feel better for it.

This driver allows a wide margin, as do most.

Q. How do you make yourself visible to drivers?

A. There are a number of good solutions to this. First and foremost, try to remain visible where you ride. Don’t quickly dart in and out of tight little spots where motorists won’t see you. Wear bright yellow clothing, the day-glow variety if you have such a jacket or shirt. Have a bright large flag prominently displayed on a pole 6-8 feet off the pavement level. Place reflective fluorescent stickers on your trike. Put a brilliant flashing LED tail light clearly displayed to the rear. Use a bright headlight in darker conditions, whether it be a shaded mountain road or any road at night. A cycling friend of mine is color blind. He told me that the typical bright orange flags that really stand out to people with normal vision only appear a muddy brown to him. He further told me that, by comparison, brilliant yellow stands out very well to his eyes. This is good information to know, and but for his tip, I would have never considered such a possibility! Make sure bright yellow is in your flag and on your trike somewhere, such as yellow reflective material. More good news is that trikers have a clear advantage over bikers due to the trike’s bizarre appearance, which subconsciously calls upon people’s brains to figure out what it is they are seeing. Trikes demand identification by otherwise distracted drivers. I can guarantee you’ll get their attention!

Q. Do all motor vehicle laws apply to trike riders?

A. The rules of the road are usually the same. On your trike, always stop for stop signs. I have noticed over the years that the vast majority of bicyclists never stop at stop signs, including friends I have cycled with. Whatever their reasons, there is a very negative consequence that flows from disregarding stop signs or other traffic laws: Motorists observe cyclists who make the choice to disobey traffic laws, which does not bode well for the cycling image as a whole. Drivers of automobiles have the impression that cyclists are above the law. Then what happens when a cyclist is struck by a car? The injured cyclist will most likely cite some law that the motorist either disobeyed or disregarded. It’s a double standard. If you want to use the laws as a means to protect yourself as a cyclist, then you should certainly be obeying those same laws. If a motorist accidentally strikes a triker because the motorist failed to yield to the triker’s right to take a lane when there is no shoulder, how can the triker in good conscience cry fowl if the triker himself has been running stop signs for the past five years? I feel this principle should be applied to all traffic laws that affect tricyclists. Follow the laws you expect motorists to follow for your protection. It leaves a good impression in the minds of drivers who see a tricyclist dutifully stop at all stop signs. Be an ambassador for all trike pilots out there, so when a driver who watched you follow the law sees the next triker, he will feel that people on trikes do what is right. Besides, on a trike, where your feet are attached to the pedals and you have three wheels, there is no need to undo the cleat and put a foot down, which is probably one reason why bicyclists rarely obey the law.

Christian Breier’s Pirol trike on a Yukon trek – photo by David Cambon

Q. What do I look for when choosing a new trike?

A. One big clue to choosing a good trike that will last many years is to look at which ones are selling consistently well. If a company is producing inferior trikes, sooner or later their business will dry up. They can only cheap-out for so long before the word gets out. With today’s internet forum groups on cycling and trikes, the word of an inferior trike will spread like wildfire, and people will stop buying from that company. Buy from one of the known reliable companies that stands behind its products with excellent customer service. The preferable method to choosing a trike is to go to dealers and actually ride the ones you are considering. If you live in a very large city, this is possible, but not guaranteed because trikes still are hard to find relative to bikes. If you live in a small town like me, you’ll likely have zero opportunity to ride them first, and so must rely heavily on what you can learn online and from other riders. If you do have the opportunity to personally examine a trike, look first at the welds. If the welds are sloppy looking at all, with gaps, unevenness, and weld splatter, keep looking. Stay away from companies with poor weld quality. Welds from a top quality company are virtually flawless (refer to the “Tricycle Discussion” page for more weld info and photos). Also study the paint quality. It should be smooth, glossy, and give the appearance of depth. Assuming you find two or three companies that meet your standards, tell them what your main use of the trike will be, and see which of their models they recommend. If you do that with three companies, you should end up with three different trikes to choose from, which will be made easier if you can at all see them in person. A few things to look for: 1) Can I get into and out of the trike easily for my physical abilities? 2) Is the gearing suitable for the terrain I’ll be spending most of my time riding? 3) Is the seat comfortable enough for me? (hard to tell if you can’t take it on a long ride). 4) Are the handlebars well placed for my body structure? 5) What is the warranty? Three years? Lifetime? 6) What do other owners of the trike report on internet forums regarding customer service after the sale? 7) Are the welds and paint impeccable? 8) Are most parts commonly found at bike shops for easy replacement? 9) If having the trike shipped to you, does it come preassembled, or do you have to have a fair degree of mechanical savvy to put it together? 10) Is there a return or exchange policy if you didn’t get a chance to see if first, and end up not liking it?

Look for high quality workmanship on a trike.

Q. What’s the nature of your handicap?

A. Yes, this is a legitimate question I have been asked when sitting on the trike writing in my journal. The elder woman meant no harm with the question. She was truly curious to learn about my condition, and why I was confined to the trike. I enjoy having fun with folks, so I smiled, set down my small journal, stood up, walked away from the trike, and jumped into the air as high as I could. She watched in awe. Then, I told her that my physical body was fine, and if there is any handicapping condition, it’s purely in my mind (as I pointed to my head). We both had a good laugh over it. This is another reason why motorists give trikes a wide berth most of the time. They often assume the trike pilot is physically disabled. This works in our favor. I like every advantage I can get. I’m out there to have fun, while happy to know that my physical body is getting stronger with each mile I pedal. During my days of car ownership, I received no physical conditioning while going from place to place at high rates of speed.

Q. Why don’t you just drive a car like everyone else?

A. I tried that for 42 years once, but by age 57 made a personal decision to finally relinquish ownership to increase my fitness and longevity potential, while at the same time no longer poisoning the air in my wake when traveling. Besides that, trikes are just so much fun that I could no longer resist plunging headlong into this alternative world of getting places. There are drawbacks to using a trike instead of a car, but with time, my mind adapts, and in the long run, I am better off for the decision (and so is the natural world in which I exist). It’s all a matter of priorities. As I age, things that were important before come to the forefront, and I make choices that bring my spirit peace. I prefer to live in greater harmony with the planet. I no longer want to use over 4500 pounds of steel simply to move my 160 pound body where I want to go. I move myself with my myself. Trike ownership and use are but one facet of my developing personality.

I’m not like everyone else … rather be on a trike!

Q. What happens if it rains?

A. There is a saying that there is no such thing as bad weather, only bad preparation. Personally, I enjoy stormy days every bit as much as clear days, especially here on the coast, where storm watching is a popular pastime. Bad weather is not in my vocabulary, but wet weather is. I have waterproof clothing that I wear on the trike during times of rain, which makes it a non-issue. If I get caught out on a ride without my rain gear, I realize that this is my world and the rain is a gift to my living body – I will dry out. I live in the present and appreciate every moment, even if water is on my face. In reality, my body is waterproof as it comes from nature. It’s only my clothing that would even be an issue in rain. People run through the rain as if it will hurt them, or as if others will think less of them if they are wet. We wash our clothing in water every week … and it drys. Riding nude would be a simple answer of course, except for the chill of the air and the sound of the police officer taking me into custody.

For consistently rainy conditions, try the Veltop.

Q. Are you worried about being assaulted  on a cross country trek? After all, it’s just you and a tricycle out on the road. What about carrying a gun?

A. There is a lot of fear  rampant throughout our human society. People do get attacked, have their belongings stolen, and are victims of other antisocial crimes. If one listens daily to the news on television or radio, two media sources that focus most of their airtime on all that is negative in the world as a means of feeding our perverse fascination with evil, then it is no surprise when folks think that a trike rider is in imminent danger. A triker has no heavy steel doors to lock as a barrier. Many trikers sleep in tents. Therefore, they must be vulnerable. I have triked hundreds of miles to date, and know other trike pilots who have ridden thousands. We all sleep on the ground wherever we can find a quiet stealth camp. Our experience does not support a world overflowing with violence and a need for fear. Here’s one way I look at this: Let’s say Mr. Thug is lurking in the bushes and sees me pedal by or setting camp. Mr. Thug is a tough guy, preying on opportunity and vulnerability. What brainpower he has, is likely enough to convey to him that just maybe I may be tougher than he is. After all, here’s a guy riding all alone on a tricycle across the countryside, so he must be pretty darn sure of himself, able to take care of himself, or even crazier than Mr. Thug. Thus, our hoodlum simply looks for easier prey elsewhere. I used to always carry a gun as part of my career. Nowadays, as a trike pilot, I cannot afford the extra weight in my gear, not to mention that I believe it’s totally unnecessary. And think about this: Nearly all that we as humans worry about never even comes to pass, so what did the worry get us? Nothing but a shortened life due to measurably increased cortisol and adrenaline levels, both of which have been proven to be detrimental to health when not occurring in serious “fight or flight” scenarios. Regarding the gun again, guns have only one purpose, and that is to kill a living creature of some sort, be it human or not. For the remainder of my days, I prefer not to kill. There is too much beauty in this world to waste my time fretting over those ever elusive “what if” thoughts.

Q. Is it necessary to wear a helmet on a trike?

A. I used to ride a motorcycle for many years, and a helmet saved my head on more than one occasion. Not because I was hit by a car, but due to my own riding errors or happenstance. I can honestly say were it not for my helmet in those days, I might not even be here writing this these days! I trike both with and without a helmet. Most of the time I wear one, yet while touring Death Valley National Park in 2009 on my trike, I chose to wear my foreign legion styled hat, which is very comfortable and completely shades my head and face. I wore this hat out there because traffic is nearly nonexistent, and visibility extends for miles. It’s wide open desert. On a trike, my right front tire is often near the road’s edge when things get narrow, and one little mistake might cause the trike to plummet over the side in the mountains. The helmet calms any fears that my head would come apart at the seams on such a crash. People have said to me that there is no need for a helmet because if a car hits you, you’re toast anyway. Well, my experience has shown that nearly all cars give me more room than I really need most of the time, and they are very aware of my presence. Notice the photograph of an ICE Q trike that was rear-ended by a car, where the pilot escaped with only minor injuries. So this all-or-nothing mentality simply doesn’t stand the test of illuminated logic. True, if a trike encounters a huge rock, pothole, or nasty bump, the rider won’t fall and crack his head like a bicyclist might, but all things considered, I’ll take my cool looking helmet … especially since it’s so comfortable that I can’t even tell it’s on my head. In their owner’s manual, the wise folks at ICE Trikes in England talk about helmet  safety. Here is what they say about it: “If you have a cheap head, buy a cheap helmet!” ‘Nuff said …

This is one Q that has clearly seen better days!

Q. Is it important to use shoes with cleats?

A. For around the local region in dry weather, I generally wear open toed Shimano sandals with a cleat that locks my feet to the pedals, much like a ski binding. Simply by twisting my foot to the side, the binding easily releases. With a trike, it is imperative that you be attached to the pedals in some fashion, because if a foot slips off a pedal at speed, like on a downhill at 40 miles per hour, your leg can be swept back under the trike’s cross member, potentially breaking the bone. I initially rode using Power Grip straps on normal platform pedals so that I could wear my hiking shoes, but this proved to be a big mistake on my trip to Death Valley. The soft soles of the shoes, combined with the pressure of the strap and the location of the foot on the pedal, led to crushed nerves and blood vessels, which in turn caused two numb toes on each foot, inflamed Achilles tendons, and took several months to heal. Experience is life’s best teacher! I now have Shimano double-sided clipless pedals (the type with the cleats), and I have a pair of Lake mountain bike shoes for cold or wet weather. The Lakes have a very stiff Vibram sole, and come in a wide configuration. This allows me to walk fairly comfortably compared to solid fiberglass soled mountain bike (mtb) shoes. I need the extra width since I have two extra long toes on my left foot, and the extra toe box room allows for more movement and less irritation. The shoes are a half size larger than my standard hiking boot. They also are the only mtb shoe other than Sidi available in a wide version, and they are less than half the price of the Sidi brand. My Shimano sandals give my toes plenty of freedom to move and breathe. It may sound odd, but choosing the right footwear can prove to be the most difficult triking decision. You definitely want a shoe with cleats, and the sole should be extremely stiff to protect your foot.

Q. Why are pedals with a cleat called clipless? Seems illogical.

A. Clip pedals are the kind that have a strap over the top of the foot that keeps the foot from moving forward off the pedal of a bicycle. Cleated pedals might better be called strapless pedals, as the clipless name leads to confusion for some people. In any event, it’s just a matter of naming, nothing more. Pedals with straps work well for bicyclists, whose feet are over the tops of the pedals as they ride, but they are definitely not recommended for tricyclists, whose feet are are behind the pedals. This is why the cleats are important. They keep your feet against the pedal at all times, and on a trike, you don’t even have to put your foot down while stopped. The cleats allow your leg more rest because you don’t have to consciously hold it up against the pedal, as you would if you just used standard platform pedals. The terminology is only important when talking to other cyclists so that everyone has a common frame of reference.

Shimano double-sided clipless pedal

Q. What do you think of neck rests? Some trikes don’t  have them.

A. I wouldn’t ride without one after using it on a long trip and long day rides. During times of pedaling up steep long hills or mountain passes, it’s very comfortable to rest my neck against the padded support. It gives me two options. Get tired of one, switch to the other. When aggressively pedaling on the flat, or on a downhill, my head is nearly always off the rest, in a vertical position.

Q. Is suspension on a trike worth the extra cost?

A. Without a doubt! Not all roadways are smooth and comfortable. In fact, most have irregularities of some nature, such as in the form of a rough and pebbly surface that jitters a triker quite a bit. If you are traveling miles on an old road of this type, you’ll quickly discover that the more cushion between your  body and the road the better. I have ridden many roads that vibrate the trike, even though I have rear suspension. My trike manufacturer is now offering a front suspension package, which would definitely help even more. To get an idea, imagine taking the shocks and springs off your car, having the axles locked up solid against the frame. Even with the larger cushier tires on a car, and its nice thick seats, you would not find it acceptable in the slightest. Or imagine a motorcycle with no suspension. How well would that sell? Just because bicycles didn’t have suspension for most of their history, trike manufacturers initially felt it wasn’t necessary, but the difference with a bike is that you can stand up and let your leg muscles absorb the shock if necessary. On a trike, standing is not an option. You’re going to feel every bump and irregularity that sweeps by underneath you. Larger balloon styled tires help, but not enough. More trike builders are opting for a suspension package these days. Sure, it costs more, but if you are going to use your trike for more than just local trips to the store, then it’s worth every penny.

Q. Can a trike flip over in a curve?

A. Anyone who flips a recumbent tadpole trike over in a curve is probably not using good common sense, as it’s very difficult to do, and requires exceeding the trike’s outstanding cornering abilities by a good margin. Tadpole trikes are inherently very stable while cornering on twisting roads, and this extreme stability is one major factor that makes them so much fun to ride. My ICE Q is a narrow track version, about 4 inches narrower than standard trikes, and even it handles so well in curves that I feel like I’m in a Corvette at speed (I used to have two Vettes). On a trike that is the more common 31 inches wide across the front wheels, this ability to stick to the road in an upright manner is further enhanced. The two front wheels on a trike act as outriggers, countering the force vector that attempts to keep the vehicle going straight. The wider the wheels, the better the ability to take fast turns. On a delta trike, the kind with two wheels in the rear and only one in the front, this legendary cornering is not an option, and speed must be kept slower, else the delta can flip forward and to the outside. Tadpole trikes, like the kind on this website, are plenty of fun at speeds that pump plenty of adrenaline, so exceeding the design limits in a corner is not necessary to get a rush.

A view from the cockpit in a city

Q. How much do trikes cost?

A. There is quite a spread. It all depends on what you expect from your trike. Prices for new trikes range from $799 to over $11,000. Basic workhorse trikes for around town and short trips can fill the bill well for many people. They are strong, will last a lifetime if cared for, and deliver loads of fun in the process. One even comes with a lifetime warranty! If you are fortunate enough to locate one of these basic trikes that someone is selling having decided to get a fancier model, you may well get into triking for as little as $500. If you plan on taking extended tours, loaded with all your supplies in panniers, you’ll likely want more than the basic models provide. Suspension comes to mind right off, so the roads will be smoothed out for your bones and brain. Of course, suspension costs more. Fenders are also a must for long trips, where riding in rain or mud would prove mighty unpleasant with goop being thrown up all over you. Of course, fenders cost more too. Once you start adding these things, the prices go up. Add in accessories like lighting and … well, you get the picture. If you’re a person who seeks the latest and greatest show stopper, and insists on having a thoroughbred stallion that can outpace all other trikes, then you will be paying plenty more guaranteed. Prices climb quickly into the thousands. Generally speaking though, you can get an outstanding and time-tested trike for somewhere in the $2,000 to $3,000 dollar range. My trike new was at that upper limit, or slightly over, but with accessories, it topped out hundreds of dollars more. It’s very easy to end up investing four grand into a quality trike once it’s set up to your liking. I bought mine slightly used from the original owner, and even with a purchase price of $1800 for a like-new trike, I effortlessly brought up my total investment another $2,000 once all accessories were figured in. Of course, I had readied the rig for a cross-country journey, so I needed more goodies than just a local rider might find handy. I became well versed at justifying (don’t we all with a new toy?).

Q. If you could have any trike, what would it be?

A. Well, considering the immense selection of great trikes out there (see the “Company Model Gallery” page), this could be a difficult question to answer. However, since I have been studying them for so long now, I feel fairly confident with an answer. Back in 2008, when I began my initial investigations into a human-powered vehicle, trikes were part of the mix. I visited as many websites as I could find, read many reviews on cycling forums, and talked to a few other guys with experience. My time line for acquisition was cut short when I had to get a trike for  a long trip to talk about one of my books. As luck would have it, which is unusual for me, a local fellow was selling his ICE Qnt, and already knowing of the company’s stellar reputation, I snatched it up immediately. As it turns out, the Q has exceeded all my expectations, and is a trike in which I have complete confidence. For the long touring trek, loaded with supplies, this machine does a fantastic job. It is low and fast even loaded, but riding around locally without all the panniers, it’s even faster and more fun. I doubt I will be choosing to change over to any other trike any time soon, or at all for that matter. I am completely satisfied. Now, let’s say I somehow came into a life situation where money was no object, it would be a blast to have two trikes. The Q would be for longer loaded rides, while also serving the purpose of adrenaline pumping speed riding around town. But my second trike would serve the distinct purpose of transporting me into the rugged outback, places where pavement is never found, so ground clearance and suspension are required aspects. There are several trikes that could fill this niche, like the ICE Adventure,  KMX Karts Cobra, the famous Beserker, Pirol’s all terrain marvel, or the lesser known Kerrel SK-3 mountain trike. The decision is made difficult because any one of these machines would do well, so, short of riding each one, I can’t make a final call right here. From what I know now, the Berserker or Pirol would be on my shortlist though.

Pirol all-terrain suspended trike

Berserker off-road suspended trike

Q. Why do some trikes have extra large rear wheels?

A. The larger rear wheels are put on trikes that are intended for faster speeds. The larger the diameter of the rear drive wheel, the faster the trike can go, all other factors remaining equal. Imagine a trike with a rear wheel diameter of only 12 inches. For every revolution of the wheel, not much forward distance is covered. The wheel has to turn many more times to get the trike a mile down the road than a much larger wheel, thus more pedaling is required, leading to more rider fatigue. That tiny wheel would be spinning like crazy, but it would be a great choice for climbing up very steep grades. In contrast, imagine a rear wheel with a diameter of 48 inches, four times that of the 12 incher. For every revolution of the larger wheel, the trike will go farther down the road, but it will require more strength from the rider to turn it. If the ground is flat with only mild hills, this setup is perfect, and will allow for high speeds with every turn of the cranks. Of course, these extremes are not possible, as the 12 inch wheel would cause the rear derailleur to self destruct immediately by dragging on the ground, and a 48 inch wheel would cause all sorts of insurmountable issues, but the principle is the same. Trikes with 20 inch rear wheels (common) climb hills and mountains with less effort, while trikes with 26 inch rear wheels have greater potential for speed on the flat. This is not to say that 20 inch trikes are slow. Put the proper high end chainrings on the front and it will scream. This would also negatively affect its hill climbing ability. Conversely, smaller chainrings on a trike with a 26 inch rear wheel will increase its climbing potential. Decide how you will use your trike most of the time to determine questions of gearing.

The Catrike 700: 16″ wheels front, 700C rear

Q. Is there an advantage to having all three wheels the same size?

A. Yes. You only have to carry one size of spare tube or tire, instead of two sizes, and if touring, storage space and load weight are at a premium. If you use the heavy duty thornproof inner tubes, which are much heavier and require more storage space than normal tubes, you’ll appreciate the difference. Further, if all three wheels are the same size, that usually means they are 20 inches, which translates into better hill climbing ability when compared to a larger rear drive wheel.

Q. Will my trike get stolen when I’m shopping in a store?

A. The potential for theft is ever present with cultures of humans, unfortunately. Bicycles seem to be stolen regularly if they aren’t locked. Any thief can quickly hop on an unsecured bike and easily pedal away in seconds. Just as trikes have a clear advantage when it comes to being seen by motorists on the highway, they also have an advantage regarding theft. Trikes are just plain weird, and most people have no idea what they are. Thieves prey upon opportunity. Bikes can be readily sold for profit. Few people want to buy a trike. What would a thief do with it? He likely has no desire to actually ride it. He won’t find someone to sell it to. A trike cannot easily be picked up and carried away due to its awkward configuration, and a thief won’t know how to steer it if he chose to ride it away. And if you have small clipless pedals installed, a thief couldn’t ride it far even if he was motivated to do so. If he tried, he might break his leg when his foot falls off the pedal and is struck by the frame cross member. Additionally, trikes get a lot of attention from normal people, so a thief will not choose to steal something that many people are looking at. Can your trike get stolen? Sure. Is it likely? Not really, especially if you’re careful where you park it. Either park it in the busiest spot you can find, like near the entrance of the store, or hide it around back where no one will find it. Of course, the drawback to option two is that a thief, if he saw you put it there, has no witnesses when he rides off. On my Death Valley journey, I would park right in front of markets like Albertsons. No one ever messed with anything. I eventually stopped putting the locking cable on it. Here’s my take on this whole issue: The trike is only a material possession. If someone needs it that bad, I’ll adjust. It will give me a reason to get a new one anyway. And think about this: since trikes are so darn rare, it will be mighty hard for a thief to conceal it from the cops if he tries to use it or sell it. Considering the low potential for theft, I just stopped worrying about it. 

Q. I sat on my brother’s trike and it’s too low for me. Do they make higher ones?

A. Yes. Your brother’s trike is probably suited more for speed and fast cornering, where lowness is a desirable quality. You can get trikes nowadays with seat height that is the same as a standard office chair, making it easy for even disabled folks to get into and out of. TerraTrike makes the Rover, with a very high seat. Catrike makes the Villager. ICE makes the Adventure. Greenspeed makes a special attachment that allows physically challenged people to lean on two handles as they sit down or stand up. Look around. You will find one that is suited to your needs.

Q. I’ve thought about a quad instead of a trike. What do you think?

A. Before I purchased my trike, my thoughts were the same as yours. I liked the idea of two wheel drive because I envisioned occasionally riding on dirt roads. However, I decided on the trike for one main reason. When you are turning, for example, from a steep driveway onto a street that has a different angle, a trike can make the transition easily because the rear wheel is free to move laterally at any angle. On a quadcycle, as the front two wheels get cocked at the odd angle, one of the rear tires will raise off the ground, thereby putting a huge amount of stress on the welds and frame. Cars get around this problem with four-wheel suspension, and even then, you can sometimes hear a car creak at extreme angle interfaces. A quadcycle, such as one sold by Utah Trikes as an upgrade from the TerraTrike Path for example, has no suspension to absorb this transition, so a wheel lifts up. Three of the wheels are on the pavement (like a trike), but one is in the air. Eventually, if you encounter this type of angular differential often, tiny cracks may develop in the welds or frame, especially if you are touring with loaded panniers. A company used to make quadcycles with long throw suspension, which would mitigate this issue, but it was not a big seller due to its high price, and so it’s no longer available.

The Quad, from Utah Trikes

Q. Why do you ride a tricycle?

A. I ride a tricycle due to personal health and environmental beliefs, as well as to experience the many wonderful sensations while pedaling along through the countryside. I have been what most folks would call a health nut ever since high school. I really enjoy living and functioning at full capacity, and I wish to extend this for as many years as I naturally can. Life is short enough given the best of longevity circumstances, so my goal is to live my time in this body to the fullest, which to me means taking immaculate care of the machine that surrounds and carries my mind. I do this through eating only that which will benefit the body, remaining as physically active as I can, maintaining a serene mental outlook on all things that transpire around me, and getting 8-10 hours of sleep every night. Riding a tricycle accomplishes at least two of those objectives: First, it provides my body plenty of high quality exercise in addition to my regular weight training and walking regimens. Second, riding a trike allows my mind to enter a very happy state, as the legs rhythmically turn the cranks that move me forward across the terrain, and as I get to closely observe the most minuscule details of the natural world, such as flowers, trees, and insects while I pass by at their level. I am a naturalist at heart, so being this close is rewarding for me. On the trike, I see aspects of the surrounding world that motorists would never know. I hear hundreds of little birds sing. I talk to little critters that stare inquisitively at my strange vehicle and me. I feel the freedom of the hawk soaring right above me, the small flock of geese that glides closely above the river next to the road, and the horses that run along side in their pasture, keeping pace with my motion. Animals are as curious, or more so, about trikers than people. This is a beautiful interaction with other species that I never received in a car. And since the trike is virtually silent, it allows rapid stealth entry into remote areas where wild animals appear in abundance. Only in my hiking and backpacking have I enjoyed such camaraderie. Taking day rides of 20 to 50 miles locally really burns the calories too, and in a manner so much more fun than going to a gym and riding a stationary recumbent while watching the horrors of the human world unfold on CNN. And that’s the beauty of it … I get loads of exercise that extends my lifespan while at the same time my mind enters a relaxed mode that further extends it by allowing stress to melt away. And if that’s not enough, I am traveling using vegetables and grains as my fuel instead of oil. When I return from a trike ride, I am refreshed in many ways, my appetite for healthy foods is high, and the rest of the day couldn’t be better. Wow, all this from a tricycle! How can anyone get so much from such a minimal monetary outlay? Get a trike and the world is beautiful!

Q. Can disabled people ride trikes?

A. Depending on the nature of the disability, yes. I am aware of quite a number of folks with various disabling conditions that ride trikes. In fact, some of them used to be bicyclists who experience balancing issues, so the trike is perfect because there is no need to balance. You can’t fall over. Interestingly, the original tricycle was reportedly invented in 1680 by a German man who wanted to remain mobile after his lower body began losing its power to walk normally. His trike had hand cranks that allowed him to pedal using his arms instead of legs. Such trikes are still available today. If you search the internet about trikes, you will come across many fascinating stories of disable people and how they use their trikes. The positive aspect of this is that a fully functional person can go for trike rides with partially non-functional people. They can have fun together during a stimulating physical activity, in a manner not possible any other way. Trikes can be the great equalizer. Just think … if you have a disabled, but motivated, parent, trikes might be an entertaining and uplifting way to enjoy each other’s company while getting lots of exercise, not to mention the emotional bonding that will result.

A disabled man on a hand crank trike

Q. What’s the best way to avoid getting flat tires?

A. Well, that’s a good question, as bicyclists are always complaining of flats on a regular basis, and most tricyclists follow right along. Based on my own experience, and that of others using similar methods to avoid flats as myself, I have what I consider an iron-clad model of flat-free riding that you too can implement. The last thing I ever want to be saddled with is changing a flat tire out on the open road. Now, most might consider this to simply be an inconvenience where a half hour of your nice day is spent on the road’s shoulder doing the work (assuming you have a spare tube, patch material, and tools). Well, it may not be that simple! On my cross-country trip last year to Death Valley from the Oregon coast, I found myself in a frigid midnight mountain scenario where my survival could have easily come into question. It was a twenty-hour ride through the night over a snowbound mountain pass. As long as I kept pedaling up the mountain, hypothermia was successfully held at bay. Stopping forward motion was not a wise option. Suppose I had a flat up there? I can tell you that there would have been no way I could have changed a tire and tube in those conditions, which would have meant an emergency bivouac to get me through the night. And the next day the temperature never exceeded 35 degrees even though the sun was shining. Sound like good flat fixing conditions? So, I take my tire setup VERY seriously! Here is what I do, even though some people have told me it’s overkill. I run EarthGuard shields on the inside of my tires, which puts a thick layer of tough plastic material between the tire and tube, thick enough that it will stop some pointed objects from penetrating into the tube. I don’t stop there however. I also run Kenda Q-Tubes, inner tubes that are clearly superior to ordinary bicycle tubes in that they are much thicker, tougher, and heavier. These tubes are touted as thorn proof. Then, I take one added precaution on top of these two solutions. My absolute tire of choice is the Schwalbe Marathon-Plus, a super heavy-duty tire that is a real bear to change due to its inflexibility, but once on, provides unparalleled peace of mind. When comparing a normal trike tire in one hand to the Schwalbe Marathon-Plus in the other, this superiority will become quite obvious! The Schwalbe has an extra thick tread portion that even a thumbtack or goathead thorn cannot penetrate. These tires are expensive, but well worth the added initial investment in my opinion. On my trip, I also rode through a field of dreaded goatheads (read about it in my Silent Passage tale), which embedded at least 100 of these large nasty thorn conglomerates in each of my trike’s three tires and the two trailer tires. Long story short, the standard Kenda Kwest tires and ordinary tubes on the trailer failed, even with EarthGuards, but the trike’s setup as described above came through with flying colors. This was a notably dramatic revelation as to the critical importance of tires, tubes, and liners. During that journey, I also rode on a number of gravel and rocky roads with thousands of sharp little rocks, so I am exceptionally impressed with the Schwalbe tires. Even now, months after the trip, the trike tires are still holding full air. Schwalbe also makes other iterations of the Marathon, so be sure to specify the “Plus” type. This is all a matter of personal preference of course, but for me, the answer is crystal clear.

This is what happens with standard tire/tube options.

Q. What is the best shifting mechanism: bar end or twist grip?

A. Again, personal opinions vary on this, so there is no hard and fast answer. I have the twist grip variety on my ICE Q trike. I have only used bar end on one short ride. My answer here will not provide a balanced viewpoint since I cannot speak to using bar end on long rides or trips. Would I trade my twist grips for bar ends? No, I am very satisfied with what I have, which is primarily due to the manner in which I keep my hands on the bars while riding. Much of the time, I prefer keeping my hands low on the grips, where only my thumbs and index fingers are encircling the bottom of the grip, as it’s more relaxing on long stretches (this all varies depending on your particular trike of course). Even with this hand placement, I can still shift since the twist portion of the grip is at the bottom. If I had bar end shift levers, which mount at the top of the grip, I would have to always be moving my hands up the grip to make my shifts. Yes, it sounds lame I suppose, but it works for me. Not only that, but I have mirrors mounted at the top of each grip, where the bar ends would go, so bar ends would necessitate remounting my mirrors on the fenders, which I could do, but they provide a more stable image mounted on the grips, as the plastic fenders are jarred around quite a bit on rough roads. Had my Q come with bar ends, I would have adapted just fine, so this opinion may be worth exactly what you paid for it.

Q. What is your opinion on crank arm length for trikers?

A. I draw this answer both from speaking with many savvy cycling shop mechanics, other riders, and my own personal experience. My trike came with 170 millimeter crank arms. They worked fine for me. I am about six feet tall, with a 34 inch inseam. For my trek last year, where I pulled a heavy trailer of supplies, I wanted lower gearing than the Campagnolo 30-42-52 provided, and I was unable to find chainrings the size I needed with the same bolt circle diameter (BCD). So, after much searching, I ended up with a Sugino 24-36-50 crankset with 152 mm crank arms. The chainrings were perfect for that trip, and at the time I put the setup on the Q, I figured the 152 mm arms would work fine too. Being on my learning curve during a short training period then, I was unaware of some things. With shorter crank arms, the cadence, or revolutions per minute (RPM) is higher. I had to turn the cranks quicker to achieve the same outcome that 170 crank arms would have given. To visualize this, compare an absurd example: If your crank arms were only 2 inches long, how many RPM would you have to turn to equal the traveled distance if you had crank arms that were 10 inches long? This led to greater foot stress in my situation, which was aggravated by the fact that I was wearing Merrill soft-sole hiking boots held on the pedals with Power Grip straps instead of real cycling shoes with SPD cleats. Live and learn. Anyway, with shorter cranks, you have less torque, or turning power, on each revolution. It takes many shorter and less powerful turns to equal longer cranks, which require fewer and more powerful turns. Without exception, cycling experts have advised me since the trip that the shorter 152 mm cranks are usually for people with much shorter legs than I have, or for people who prefer to keep up a much higher cadence while pedaling for some reason. I know one handicapped fellow who uses very short crank arms (less than 140 mm) for his personal medical condition, so this is clearly a point that varies person to person. The debate whether shorter crank arms place less stress on the knees in aggressive speed runs or steep uphills might be answered differently by different people. I am now back to 170 mm arms on my SRAM TruVativ Touro 26-39-52 crankset, and for  me, this is the sustainable solution. I am also now using Shimano double-sided SPD pedals with Lake mountain bike shoes. Yes, one long trip teaches a person quite a bit about their misguided choices! Life is an adventure, and I find this learning fascinating. Experience is the best teacher.

Q. What kind of helmet do you use?

A. I wear a Specialized brand, primarily because that is the only company my local bike shop carries, and I live a long way from any major town. He does have a large selection within the Specialized brand though, and it took me two visits of about 30 minutes each to determine which one fit the best. I based it on how it felt on my head. The one I chose felt like I was wearing nothing at all, that’s how well it fit. The other helmets by the same company were all slightly not perfect for my head structure. I preferred other colors than what I got, but fit has to be the prime directive when choosing a helmet. So, I have a silver and blue helmet, even though a red and black would have been awesome with my trike. Bummer! Never buy a helmet you cannot first try on. They are not all created equal.

The Specialized Instinct helmet

Q. What kind of cycling shoes do you wear?

A. I wear Lake MX-165 mountain bike shoes some of the time, and Shimano open-toed road shoes the rest of the time. If it’s a sunny warm day and I’m going to be on pavement, I like the toe freedom and airiness afforded by the Shimano sandals. I have two toes on my left foot that are genetically longer than normal, and regular sized shoes cause irritation on the ends, so the sandals are perfect. After much internet forum reading on regular cycling shoes, I chose the Lake MX-165 mtb shoes due to their consistently outstanding reviews by scores of riders. Other than the Sidi mtb shoe, which is over twice the price, Lakes are the only ones that come in a wide version, which was perfect for my situation where I need extra room in the toebox. I like my local bike shop’s Specialized shoes, but, like most cycling shoes, are too narrow for my feet. I also ordered a size up in the Lake MX-165 mtb shoes to give my two toes even more room. Some riders were saying that the Lakes run a tad small, so I didn’t want to take a chance because I had to order them without trying them on first (not a good idea unless you are really sure). As it turned out, the shoes are perfect! My research paid off. I got the Euro size 44 (size 10 American) in the wide version. My toes have plenty of room now. The tops are ventilated also, which provides air to the toes and keeps my feet from overheating on warm days. The nice thing about the Lake shoes over the Shimano sandals is that I have placed Specialized BG insoles into them, along with foot shims, both items that correct my tendency to move my knees inward on each power stroke, which places undue stress on the knee joint. Over 80% of cyclists experience this problem statistically, and I discovered it when I studied photos of me on the trike after my trip. I have written more specifically to this insole issue on the “Steve’s ICE Q” page of this website. The Lake shoes have three Velcro straps that close them, with normal shoe laces underneath. I removed the laces however, as many riders have been doing. They don’t seem to be necessary, and they get caught in the Velcro, which tears up the laces anyway. The Lakes have thick and sturdy Vibram lugged soles, which allows me to walk in the woods during a ride, although Specialized advises that with the special insole and shim, walking should be minimized. Apparently, what works perfectly for riding does not make for proper walking mechanics.

Lake MX165 mountain bike shoes

Q. How do you carry enough water for long trips?

A. This used to worry me initially, especially when I was preparing for my overland desert journey last year. I have a FastBack 4.0 hydration pack strapped behind the seat on the left side. Inside is a Camelbak Omega reservoir that holds 100 ounces of water, which is a little over 3 liters. A tube allows me to sip water as I ride. Also, on the front frame member of the trike, I have mounted two 24 ounce water bottles, upping the total onboard water to 148 ounces, which is over 4.5 liters. On that desert trip, I also pulled a trailer, with an additional 5 liters, giving me close to 10 liters of water. Since water weighs more than 2 pounds per liter, all this wet stuff was weighing me down. What I learned on the trip was that I never needed to access the trailer water out on the road, as I always came to another water source for refilling before my 148 ounces on the trike ran out, but all that extra water gave me great peace of mind as I lugged it up many mountain passes. So, with the elimination of the trailer for all future trips, I have thought about the “what if” scenario. On the right back side of my seat, I now have another FastBack 4.0 hydration pack, which works as a storage area most of the time, but if I determine that extra water is ever needed, I can put another Camelbak reservoir in it, bringing my total trike water cache up to 248 ounces, or just under 8 liters of water.  I also carry a Swiss-made Katadyn water purification bottle, which allows me to dip into a lake, stream, or pond to get water if necessary (haven’t used it yet though). Water while triking is critical for remaining at full physical efficiency, keeping the blood thin and moving. Dehydration causes all kinds of issues, which are not pretty. Drink often. Pee a lot!

The Camelbak 100 ounce Omega Reservoir

Q. What are the signs of dehydration?

A. Symptoms to be watchful for include: headache, visual illusion of snow, lowered blood pressure, dizziness, fainting, delirium, tongue swelling, unconsciousness, and death. Once two percent of our water volume has been lost, these effects begin to manifest themselves, first with thirst, then with loss of appetite and the feeling of dry skin. Our heart rate may increase and fatigue may come very quickly. If we cry, there may be no tears. This all leads to an increase in body temperature due to lack of sweating. At five percent water loss, our arms and legs may begin tingling and we may feel queasy. When we pass the ten-percent mark, our muscles will become convulsive and uncontrollable, which could lead to falling down. Our skin will wither and our eyesight will begin going dim. If we hit the fifteen percent water loss mark, we are about to become the next triker to visit that great triking park in the sky. Once this process of dehydration starts, it becomes increasingly difficult to even realize that we are being consumed by it, and without a second trike pilot nearby to see this dangerous dynamic, we may be unable to help ourselves. This is clearly a medical emergency, so remain ever vigilant please. Make sure your trike has ample water, even if you are only going for a three hour tour … remember Gilligan’s Island!

Drink a lot … it’s only water!

Q. What about dogs? You’re at their eye level!

A. There are many frightened people in this world, so fearful of  criminals that they do things like allow an aggressive and untethered dog  to have free reign on their property and the nearby neighborhood to keep the bad guys at bay. Therefore,  innocent pedestrians and cyclists end up paying the price of high anxiety and personal injury on a regular basis. Dogs spook most trikers at first. They may even continue to vex more experienced riders. I feel it depends on the action taken when a dog begins his aggression against you. Yes, I am at a dog’s eye level, but just as car drivers can’t figure  out what I am on the road, it is my experience that dogs suffer the same mental short circuiting. Dogs seem unable to categorize what I am in their database. Many will simply run up  and remain about six feet away, as though I have some Star Trek type force field around me. They see plenty of bikers, and go for the ankles, but most have never seen a triker. What do I do? Well, that depends on my speed. If I have a good head of steam going, and can easily outrun the aggressive animal with some extra effort, I will do so, but this is often not the case. So, if contact appears imminent, I stop  and remain still, not looking at the attacker. This throws dogs off guard, as it is not expected. Whether the dog simply wants the fun of the chase, or is out to maim, the animal expects the prey (me) to flee its aggression. By not doing so, it sends a clear message to the simple minded beast that I may be more dangerous to it than it is to me (which actually is true). I avoid looking it in the eyes, and just stare straight ahead. After a short moment of confusion, these unattended and loose animals simply lose interest and go away. Once, I actually tried turning the trike towards the dog and heading straight towards it, which caused the mean animal to immediately stop and run away. I would not recommend this option though, in the unlikely event you come across a dog that truly is intent on having you for lunch, unless you know how to dispatch such an animal to doggy heaven (or hell, as the case may be). I have successfully used this aggressive approach many times in the past when I used to jog before sunup, and it worked every time. Once the dog realized that it was now the prey, it quickly ran away, remembering not to mess with me again. For most folks though, I would encourage you to stop the trike, sit motionless with your arms folded across your chest, and either stare straight ahead or close your eyes. I have also seen this method work on the beach, where a lone lady was assailed by a pack of four large growling dogs, one of which was a German Shepard. She simply stood motionless, eyes closed, and arms folded across her chest. All four vicious animals quickly left her for the next hapless beach walker. If you have a dog incident where you can identify the residence from which the animal came, please report it to local law enforcement authorities, as the dog owners are in clear violation of human safety laws. This will also help the next pedestrian or cyclist who happens by the house, and make it so you will not be afraid to trike that way again.

Q. How long will a chain last on a tricycle?

A. There isn’t much written about this question, as the vast majority of cyclists ride bicycles. There is an abundance of information and advice on how long bicycle chains will last before they need to be replaced. Over time and many miles, chains will begin to gradually grow longer, as the little connectors of the links wear. As the chain “stretches” it may not mesh well with the chainrings or cogs, causing premature wear of these parts, along with sloppy shifting, and a greater likelihood of jumping off the teeth during a shift. The theory goes that if you start a fresh chain with new cogs, rear derailleur, and chainrings, they will hopefully all wear together and continue to function well in their ever deteriorating states, but what if you install a new crankset? Do you automatically install a new chain, which can be pricey because trikes need 12 to 13 feet of chain, and this will set you back at least $75. If you research chain longevity in books and online, you will find that the average recommended time for replacement on a bicycle is in the neighborhood of 1,000 to 1,500 miles. Some cyclists recommend a new chain every 800 miles, while others say you can push it to 2,000 miles if you’re lucky. This is a large spread of mileage, but is it relevant to tricycles? No, it is not. Why? Because a trike chain is  much longer than a bike chain, by at least a factor of two, depending on the trike’s drivetrain length. This translates into much greater chain life on trikes because each link is passing over the metal chainring, cog, and jockey wheel teeth probably less than half the amount of time per mile as the links on a bike, and this is where the wear occurs. The longer the trike’s drivetrain length, the more links in the chain, and the more mileage one can expect before replacement is necessary. Experienced trike pilots will tell you that it is not unusual for a well cared for trike chain to last 5,000 to 6,000 miles. Some claim even more, in the neighborhood of 7,500 miles. Park Tools makes an inexpensive and simple to use device that measures chain wear, and let’s you know in an instant if your chain is in need of replacement. My ICE Q chain has over 3,000 miles on it to date, so when I just installed a new SRAM crankset, I wondered if I needed a new chain to be safe. When I measured it with the Park Tool device, it showed no measurable wear, but if I were to use bicycle guidelines as my benchmark, my chain has twice the recommended mileage life on it, and should have been replaced. This is all good news for trikers, especially those who prefer to ride rather than tinker.

Q. As a new trike rider, will my body adjust quickly?

A. Any time you begin a new exercise regimen with the body, a “break in” period is necessary, as the activity will place new points of physiological stress on the muscles, bones, and connecting tissues. If you begin a weight training workout for the first time, you will be incredibly sore for a while, especially if you have never done it before. The same is true with triking. You are calling upon your body to adapt to a new set of circumstances that it has not experienced prior, even if you are a regular bicyclist. Sitting and pedaling in a recumbent tadpole trike, while unbelievably comfortable for long distances, still requires the initial physical adjustment period, which, happily, comes and goes within a couple of weeks of frequent riding. A humorously termed condition called Recumbent Butt is a notable issue you will encounter, where the bones that support you while sitting become uncomfortable, requiring you to wiggle around in the seat and change position as much as you are able to relieve the dull feeling. This goes away with time, and before you know it, you will be pedaling without any unusual complaints from your posterior. You may also feel some tingling or slight numbness in your toes initially. If you use cleats and very stiff soled shoes that are well fitted for your feet, this too disappears. On your rides for the first weeks, if this occurs, just stop, get up, and walk around for a minute or two, which causes the sensation to go away. Don’t make the mistake I did and wear normal shoes with pedal straps, as it can quickly lead to crushed foot nerves and restricted blood flow if you are riding really long distances, which will cause prolonged toe numbness that you will not enjoy at all. Make sure to wear regular cycling shoes that attach to special cleated pedals, shoes that have ultra stiff soles. This should prevent the nerves and blood vessels in your feet from becoming damaged. I learned this the hard way, and it has taken roughly six months for my feet to regain full feeling after my Death Valley trip. Soft soled shoes allow your feet to forcefully wrap around the pedals during thousands of revolutions each day, which leads to this crushing damage. Knees can also be a point of contention for new trike pilots. Unlike a bicycle, where the rider can stand up to get more torque on hills, thereby releasing some knee pressure, on a tricycle the rider cannot stand up, so it is very easy for an inexperienced person to place a damaging amount of stress on the knees under an extreme load. This can occur when you are closing in on the top of a hill, and rather than shifting down to relieve the stress, you opt to keep hammering up in a higher gear. After all, it’s only a few more yards. Well, in those yards, your knees can succumb to pain in an instant, and you have little to no warning until it actually happens. Then, you may need several weeks of rest for them to recover properly. This type of pain often manifests itself under the lower portion of the knee cap. During your trike break-in period, always take it easy, and shift to lower gears if ever in doubt! Your knees may also initially complain if they are angling inward on each power stroke. This is not readily noticeable, because if you attempt to observe it as you ride, you may subconsciously keep your thighs vertical. I found out this was happening to me only by studying many photographs that a photographer had taken with his telephoto lens as I was riding towards him (see masthead photograph on this website, where my powered leg is angling in towards the center of the trike). I now have special insoles designed to correct this, along with special shims under the insole to angle my foot outwards. Assuming you are not experiencing an issue of improper leg alignment, and also assuming you are riding gently in the proper gears, your knees should adapt and strengthen without complaint. Other areas like hip joints, neck, and Achilles tendons will all come up to speed with sensible riding during the first months. Often, these issues will crop up for new riders who are intent on going as fast as they can all the time, which places unsustainable stress on the body, or for new riders who take off cross country for many days before the body really has become properly adapted. Take your time. Don’t be in a hurry. Listen to your body, no matter how small the pain. If it hurts at all, back off! Give it time. Better to do this and keep riding, than to tough it out and end up off your trike for a few days, weeks, or even worse, months.

A happy couple on Greenspeed trikes

Q. With 27 speeds, how will I ever know which one to use?

A. In practice, that number is really much smaller, as quite a few speeds overlap. I’d say that you only have to become familiar with about 19 speeds, because the other 8 are never used, or done so without thinking. When your chain is on the small chainring on the front crankset, it is because you are climbing a steep hill and need low gearing. During this time, the chain is on the largest of the rear sprockets (or cogs), behind your seat. As the hill becomes less steep, you begin shifting the rear cassette to smaller cogs to pick up speed. Once you get the chain on the middle of the rear cassette (watch the little indicator on your right-hand shifter), this is usually the time to shift up to the middle chainring on the front crankset, by using your left-hand shifter. The middle of the three chainrings is the one you will use most of the time. Once on this chainring, which you can readily observe by looking between your feet, you have 9 gearing options on the rear cassette. These will get you up many gradual hills and also provide a satisfying level of speed on flat ground. If you are on a long level road and want to go faster, or are on a decline, you may choose to shift up to your largest chainring for top speed potential. Here, you have 5 usable speeds, and when you get the chain to the smallest of the rear cogs, you’ll really be flying along and having a blast. So, what happened to those other 8 speeds? Well, 4 are lost while on your small front chainring, and the other 4 are lost while on your large front chainring. This is because they occur at positions that place the chain in greater stress during the lower and upper gearing ranges, and are best utilized by entering the middle chainring for the full spread of 9 speeds. As examples: If you are using the smallest front chainring, and have the rear cassette on the smallest rear cog, the chain becomes so droopy that the rear derailleur has to pull all the way to its rear position to take up the slack. This position is never necessary in reality because you can attain similar gearing on the middle chainring. Conversely, if you are on the largest front chainring, and have the rear cassette on the largest rear cog, then the chain becomes so tight that the rear derailleur is flexed all the way forward to allow the chain to go around the big sprockets. If your chain is too short, you may not even be able to shift the front crankset into this position at all. When adjusting chain length, the rule of thumb is to make the length so that each of these extremes can be handled if the rider accidentally enters into the unnecessary front/rear combination, but this requires a longer chain, which means more slop overall. A few riders will keep their chain short on purpose because they know they will never shift onto the “big/big” combination. This reduces weight since fewer metal links are in the chain, reduces movement of the rear derailleur spring, and keeps the chain tighter. On bicycles, we are always told never to enter these 8 “forbidden” speed combinations because the chain is being flexed laterally to an extreme, since the large/large sprockets are at opposite lateral sides of the chain run, as are the small/small sprockets. With a short bicycle chain, this will lead to rapid wear on the chain. With a trike, this is not so much the issue though, as the chain is about 12.5 feet long, and passes through a fixed idler pulley, which equalizes this phenomenon anyway. On trikes, these 8 speeds are merely duplicates of what can be attained on the middle chainring without the chain stress, so that is why we stay out of them.

The SRAM X-9 twist grip shifter

Q. How do you keep gearing positions straight in your mind?

A. I have twist grip shifters, which are indexed so that when shifting there is a noticeable click when the cable has moved the chain to the new chainring or cog (assuming it is adjusted well). On each shifter is also a visual indicator, a red bar that hovers over numbers, allowing me to just look at where I am in the shifting scheme. On the left shifter, which controls the chain on the front crankset, are the numbers 1, 2, and 3. The 1 is the smallest chainring, the 2 the middle chainring, and the 3 is the largest chainring. These can all be confirmed visually from the seat. So, the 1 is where I want the left shift indicator to be if I’m pedaling up a steep and/or long hill or mountain pass. The 2 is for most all-around riding, which includes mild and/or short hills, and the 3 is for going fast on the flat or downhill. On the right shifter, which controls the chain on the rear cassette, are the numbers 1-9. The 1 is the largest cog (or sprocket), and the numbers gradually increase to the 9, which is the smallest cog. These cannot be confirmed with your eyes, as the cogs are behind the seat, out of sight, so the shift indicator comes in mighty handy. As with the left shift indicator, the 1 is where I want the right shift indicator to be if I’m pedaling up a steep and/or long hill. Essentially, on both shift indicators, the smaller numbers mean easier pedaling, more revolutions per minute, less stress on the knees, and slower speeds for hills. On both shift indicators, the larger numbers mean harder pedaling, fewer revolutions per minute, more stress on the knees if not careful, and faster speeds for flat or downhills. I keep things straight in my mind on long trips by assigning a naming scheme to it all. On the left shifter, which controls the front chainrings, I call the three positions L, M, and H respectively (low, middle, high), and then I use a numeric name for the right shifter, which controls the rear cassette. For examples: While climbing a pass, I may be in L1, which means the front small chainring is in use along with the rear large cog, and translates into one tough uphill. As the grade begins to level out, and I feel less resistance to my pedaling, I will shift up to L2, L3, L4, and maybe L5, at which point I will twist the left shifter to move the chain onto the middle chainring. Now, I am in M5, and if that is too hard to sustain, I will shift the right hand grip down to M4 through M1, whatever is necessary to handle the grade and keep the stress off my knees. As the grade gives way to the flat road ahead, I will activate the right hand shifter again, moving on up to M5 through M9, keeping a good cadence and increasing speed. Once I hit M9, my speed has increased quite a bit, and if I reach a point where I’m spinning out at M9 (meaning I am going faster than I can spin the pedals), then I now shift the left side so that the chain moves onto the largest front chainring, or the H position in my terminology. Once in the H position, I may well have to immediately shift the rear cassette (right shifter) down a few notches to maintain a sustainable cadence that does not put too much stress on my knees. H5 is my lowest H option, for reasons discussed in the preceding question, and as I pick up speed on the flat, or the grade begins to decline in front of me, I shift up through the gears to a maximum of H9, which indicates that I am really moving along at a quick clip. Sometimes, in anticipation of shifting from M to H, I will bring the rear cassette down a couple of notches just before moving to the H up front, knowing that moving directly into the H9 position will require too high a stress level on the knees. Essentially, I keep things straight in my mind using this method, which actually becomes totally transparent after a while, and as natural as breathing, so eventually you don’t even think about the nomenclature. I have the following options: L1-5, M1-9, and H5-9. The following are NOT options: L6-9 and H1-4.

Rear 9 speed cassette on an ICE Q

Q. How difficult is it to maintain a trike yourself?

A. This depends largely upon your personal motivation to do so. Trikes are simple machines designed to transport humans using their own power. There are no sophisticated and toxic engines, batteries, or fuel delivery systems, nor are there thousands of pounds of machinery that require thousands of dollars worth of tools and extensive personal knowledge to adjust and fix. Even if you opt to have your local bicycle shop do all the work for you, the expenses will still be only a mere minuscule fraction of what people invest in regular automobile maintenance. The big difference with a trike is that an ordinary person can do the work at home using simple tools in a short time. All it requires is a modicum of mechanical savvy, a good bicycle maintenance book, inexpensive tools, and the desire to become intimately familiar with your trike. One huge benefit that results from doing your own maintenance and modification work is that if something goes amiss in the field during a long ride, you will have a firm knowledge of what needs to be done, and chances are you can probably do it right there on your ride with your on-board emergency tool stash. When folks have others always do the work, they have little to no idea of what to do if something goes wrong, breaks, or needs adjustment while on a ride. The good news is that the rugged nature of trikes, in addition to their mechanical simplicity, make for a vehicle that rarely needs any emergency care while riding. Things that do go wrong generally begin to get worse over time, and you will probably realize something needs tending to long in advance. To maintain your own trike at home requires that you dedicate the necessary time to study how your HPV (human powered vehicle) fits together and how the basic mechanical parts interact to make forward motion possible. It’s pretty simple really. There is a frame that holds the few basic parts together. On the frame are mounted three wheels. Two wheels steer by the means of a handlebar. The third wheel is powered by you through an integrated system, typically comprised of a chain, 12 sprockets, 2 pedals, and 2 derailleurs. Your entire drive train is all right there in front of you, and all easily accessible at any time. Nothing is hidden. Nothing requires expensive computers for diagnosis. Nothing is beyond your ability to fix right at home if you are willing to learn elementary skills and patiently put them into practice. For folks who are not mechanically inclined, this could prove somewhat challenging, but through perseverance, the pride that comes from doing your own work is indescribable. Perhaps the biggest impediment for most people would be the perceived time commitment of initially coming up to speed with things. True enough, doing your own trike mechanical work involves the learning curve, but once past that, it quickly becomes second nature, and often takes less time to do a particular job than the time needed to get your car to the mechanic, explain the problem, go home, pick it up when finished, and pay the immense bill. I enjoy keeping my own trike maintained, tuned, and modified as necessary. It feels good to know I did the work. I like keeping my money in my wallet too. I have met with small pockets of frustration at times, like when I learned to adjust a front derailleur after installation of a new front crankset, but I finally succeeded with my own mind and hands, and it’s a fantastic feeling. Most folks just stick with the trike as it comes stock from the factory, so even doing stuff like derailleur adjustment is rarely necessary. Most people don’t change out cranksets or bottom brackets, so these skills may never be needed. If you are unsure of all this, just start out doing the most basic of tasks, like cleaning your chain and lubricating it. Perhaps give your brakes a little adjustment. Start out small, and if you find yourself intrigued to learn more, then move forward onto the next step. Get yourself a good reference manual if you really want to learn it all, something like Bicycle Maintenance & Repair by Todd Downs. Even though it’s written for bicycles, most of what’s in the book also is applicable to tricycles. For $21.99, you can have the world of tricycle mechanics at your fingertips, and then you can venture out to the garage and begin tinkering, one little bit at a time, until you realize that, hey, this isn’t so hard after all!

Q. Do you actually enjoy doing your own trike work?

A. I have come to enjoy it with familiarity. Any new task at first can seem daunting, and often human reaction is to avoid the unknown, to let someone else deal with it. I have stayed the course of being my own mechanic, and it is paying dividends. The time spent down in the garage, wrenching on the trike, is a relaxing diversion from the intricacies of our troubled world. I can get totally lost in my work, as I try to bring riding perfection to the three wheeled rig. You may well find that it has meditative qualities that your mind will eventually seek. My model of living is to aim for self sufficiency in measured amounts, to keep my own wheels functioning well with my own hands. If the petroleum based infrastructure of modern civilization ever grinds to a halt, I’ll still be merrily rolling down the road, so yes, I enjoy the personal empowerment and inner satisfaction that comes with doing my own work. If you’re one of those people like Bones, the Star Trek doctor who always told Captain James T. Kirk back in the 1960s: “I’m a doctor, not a mechanic”, then go ahead and pay to have the work done. You can still have your trike tuned up for less than $75 at your local bike shop … try that with a car!

Q. Are “flatless” inner tubes any good?

A. I have seen these tubes at my local True Value store, where they carry a small array of bicycle items at really reasonable prices. They have 20-inch flatless tubes that I could install in my own tires. These tubes are a spongy, semi-solid, and tough material that require no air to use. A small cap is placed over the valve stem hole in the wheel, as you never need to add air. A large nail can literally be forced all the way through the tire and tube and nothing will go flat. With these tubes, flat tires are impossible because nothing is holding air. Basically, you just install them in your tires, and you’re done, until the day you finally wear out your tire treads after a few thousand miles and need new tires. If you hate flats, these tubes may be just the ticket to a flat-free world. The tubes are obviously heavier than standard flimsy cycling tubes that go flat if they run over a goathead, and they are also heavier than the extra heavy duty flat resistant Q-Tubes I use. So, it is perhaps a trade off of sorts. Is the extra weight worth the peace of mind that you’ll never again suffer from a flat tire, even if a screwdriver is forced all the way through the tire? I have been tempted to give them a try so that I could speak from experience, but since I have so much invested in my current setup, which has never had a flat yet, I figure I’ll just wait and see how it all goes. As long as I remain flatless with the setup I’ve described in a previous question, I’ll stay with it. As the saying goes, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” If you try these tubes, please leave a comment on this blog for others to read.

Q. Are fenders on a trike necessary?

A. In my book they certainly are! For one thing, if I ride through a puddle, on a dirty road, or through the rain, I would rather all that water and grime from the road not land on me and the trike. I recently cleaned up my trike after the trek to and through Death Valley, and when I took my front wheels off to make sure the little bolts that hold the fender on were tight, all the dirt that had accumulated on the insides of the fenders was clearly evident. I cleaned it off with a chamois. Fenders provide a big advantage for trikers who want to remain clear of road gunge. If you don’t have a rear fender, then all that muck is thrown onto the rear of your seat and your side panniers if you have any. Lack of front fenders will allow the gunge to land on your arms, which are next to and right behind the tires. There is also another advantage of having the two front fenders: A triker’s hands are right next to the front tires while riding, and any unthinking movement of a hand laterally towards the outside will land your hand smack dab onto the fast-moving tread. If you’re clipping along at high speed on a downhill, those tires are spinning mighty fast! I feel the fenders are a safety advantage in this instance. Maybe this question might help decide about fenders: Would you drive a car or motorcycle without fenders? The same logic applies.

Q. How would you rate trike comfort compared to bikes?

A. I have ridden bikes on and off during my life, but not for any seriously long distances, so I am not one to discuss bicycle comfort issues from a personal standpoint. However, I have friends who ride traditional bicycles for longer mileages, and apparently there are some known issues that plague all bikers, so much so that Erik Moen, a physical therapist and nationally known expert on the treatment of bicycle injuries, writes articles about how to overcome common bicycle related comfort issues and injuries. I will quote briefly from his 2009 article, Follow the “Big Three” to Ride Comfortably. Erik begins by saying: “Love riding your bike, but your bike is killing you? Many people shrug off riding discomforts as part of the sport. However, cycling should be done in reasonable comfort. Most bicycling-related pain comes from sustaining a certain position or posture for a long period of time and excessive pressure at the ‘big three’ contact points: the handlebars, the saddle, and the pedals.” Regarding the saddle aspect, Erik goes on to say: “Saddle discomfort can result in pain and numbness in the pelvic region and lower back and create poor pedaling techniques and reach issues.” Erik indicates that special padded shorts should be worn, along with special gloves designed to absorb shock that would normally affect the wrists. He also stresses the importance of proper pedal/shoe aspects to avoid foot pain and numbness. After discussing a number of other solutions to make bicycling something that may be done in comfort, Erik talks about one very important method that will help pedal long distances: “One way to improve comfort on a long ride is to take frequent posture breaks. You should frequently stand up and move in ways that are different than your regular riding position. Sit up, stretch your neck, move your arms around and stretch your legs. Take posture breaks every twenty to thirty minutes.” Now, comparing this to trikes brings up some notable differences, upon which I can comment from personal experience. When on rides of 40 to 50 miles with traditional bicyclists, I have heard of their discomfort in the pelvic, wrist, and neck regions of their bodies. On my trike, these discomforts do not exist. There is no focused or uncomfortable pressure in my posterior region. My wrists never are the slightest bit painful because there is no weight bearing upon them. Neck strain is nonexistent in a recumbent position, not to mention that I can also rest my head against the neck rest support if desired. After a recent 50 mile ride with only one rest break, a biker asked me: “And you don’t have any of these problems on your recumbent trike?” When I said that I did not, he just shook his head in disbelief, having come to see traditional discomforts as normal cycling phenomena that he either lived with or did not cycle at all. The one major aspect of long distance cycling that is similar between bikes and recumbent tadpole trikes is that of shoe/pedal interface, where Erik Moen comments: “Good cycling shoes are one way to help improve the comfort of your feet. A semi-rigid to rigid shoe helps lessen irregular strain.” He goes on to talk about cleated pedals and their importance. I emphatically agree with Erik regarding the shoe/pedal interface. Please refer to the next question for more on the feet. So, comparing traditional bike comfort to recumbent tadpole trike comfort discloses a colossal gulf between the two. With traditional bikes, many strategies must be routinely practiced to even come close to achieving a modicum of comfort on the long haul, while with recumbent tadpole trikes, after a short initial adjustment period when first beginning to ride one, comfort is rarely, if ever, an issue. It comes naturally from the design of the machine, and how your body interfaces with it. There are no great pressure points like on a bike. You do not lean on your wrists at all. You do not have the significant pressure of a thin saddle pushing relentlessly into your pelvic area (which some studies are now associating with male and female cancer risk). Your neck is in a natural position rather than a muscularly strained one of holding your head up and back to see where you’re going. Your body weight is not coming to bear upon your feet at all, thereby lessening the potential of foot injuries such as crushed nerves and compressed blood vessels, which can lead to protracted numbness that may take months to heal. Yes, these issues may be greatly mitigated with studied solutions on a bike, yet on the recumbent tadpole trike, they present little to no negative consequence to most trikers.

Skeletal, muscular, and soft tissue pain and injury can occur while riding conventional bicycles, as unnatural pressure points afflict the body. That intrusion into the pelvic region appears far less comfortable than a recumbent tadpole trike, not to mention the strain of holding the head back to see ahead.

Q. How important is the shoe/pedal interface for trikers?

A. This interface is a critical concern for any tricyclist who hopes to ride in comfort without foot pain and injury on long rides or tours. It is one facet of cycling that shares certain aspects of concern with traditional bicyclists. Even though a triker is not placing direct body weight pressure upon his feet while pedaling as a bicyclist does, the thousands of revolutions still can still take their toll on the fragile foot structure as the miles roll by if certain considerations are not implemented. I speak from unfortunate experience on this topic, and will offer what happened to me as a means of supporting the stiff sole/cleated pedal solution. For many rides that exceeded 1,000 miles during the course of several weeks, leading up to and including a cross-country trike ride I took, I used standard platform pedals, soft soled day-hiker shoes, and a pedal strap option for keeping my feet on the pedals (on a recumbent tadpole trike, it is absolutely essential to be connected to the pedals for safety reasons). The “hot spots” I felt on my feet, which only diminished if I stopped and walked around for a minute or two every once in a while, were not merely pains that anyone must endure while first learning to trike, but rather indicators that I was placing dangerous pressure upon the nerves, blood vessels, and intricate bone structure of my feet. And, to make things even worse, the Power Grip straps, which did their job by placing pressure upon the foot to keep it on the pedal, were further decreasing natural blood flow. These things I did not realize until later, when it became apparent that even after days of rest with no triking, the numbness had become a regular part of my foot life. It took several months of rest and informal rehabilitation (daily flexing and moving of the feet and toes) before a return to normal feeling occurred. My online study revealed that during the untold thousands of pedal revolutions with my soft soled shoes, my feet were attempting to wrap themselves around the pedal, a very unnatural type of foot flexure when compared to walking or running. This led to what some medical writers termed crushed nerves and blood vessels, which resulted in an ever increasing numbness of the insides of the two toes next to my big toes on each foot. In February 2010, during my rehab phase, I purchased special heavy-duty Lake mountain biking shoes with extremely stiff Vibram soles and SPD cleats. I also acquired a pair of Shimano double-sided  SPD pedals, and once I returned to triking with this new shoe/pedal combination, I have noticed no adverse affects such as those that plagued me with my prior setup. Inside the shoes, I also have Specialized BG footbeds and shims, which further mitigate any crushed nerve or blood vessel potential. Now, I ride 50 miles with absolutely no numbness or pressure that would require getting off the trike for a rest. Personal experience has shown me that how our feet connect to the pedals is probably the single most important health and comfort aspect of triking, something definitely not to be ignored or taken lightly if we are going to ride more than just around town. This is one place where spending a little extra money initially will pay huge dividends, both in personal comfort and not having to pay for the right options the second time around. Take the time and research this potentially overlooked facet of being a trike pilot. It will serve you well!

Q. Are there advantages of a bike over a trike?

A. Yes there are, however these must be weighed carefully. Traditional bikes can typically ascend hills and mountain passes quicker than trikes because the rider can stand on the pedals and use body weight to keep the pace. Trikes can be ridden quickly up hills too, but the potential for knee pain and injury is higher because the rider’s pelvic region is firmly held in place by the recumbent seat, so there is no natural “give” to the body like on a bike, where knee pressure is relieved. If a trike pilot hammers up a hill with too much gusto, the knees take full force of the action. I have done this myself, and the knees do complain, sometimes for a few days afterward if the pressure was intense enough. This is a wake-up call to protect the knees, for if they are seriously injured, then trike riding will cease. It is worth going slower to save the knees on mountain hills, something a trike can do well since there are three wheels and no balance or weaving issues with which to contend. So, bikes have a clear speed advantage on challenging uphills when it comes to knee health and longevity. Of course, on the downhills, trikes will smoke bikes (there is always a counter-point). Another advantage of traditional bikes is the greater musculature involvement of the body during the ride, which leads to overall strength and conditioning advantages over a trike. On a bike, it’s not just the legs and hip region that benefit from muscular growth. The upper body is also called heavily into play, whereas the upper body of a trike pilot remains relatively passive by comparison. On a bike, the act of leaning on the wrists recruits the triceps (upper rear arms), the pectorals (chest), the anterior and lateral deltoids (shoulders), and all the stabilization muscles of the torso, not to mention the musculature of the neck. On challenging uphill runs, where the bike rider will be standing while pedaling, he will also heavily engage the biceps (upper front arms), the forearm musculature, posterior deltoids, and the huge muscle masses of the back, starting from the trapezius and working all the way down to the spinal erectors. Beyond bodily advantages, bikes can also fit through really narrow places, which can be preferable at times. Trikes are wider, some as wide as three feet. One thing I like about my ICE Qnt is that the width needed to pass between barriers of any kind is roughly 29 inches, which comes in handy now and then. Bikes take less storage room. They are lighter in weight. Entry level bikes cost less generally than entry level trikes because there are fewer parts and one less wheel and tire. Riders of traditional bikes can readily put them on city commuter trains and buses because officials have made concessions to bicyclists, whereas a tricyclist may be denied access because the trike will not fit into the mass transit vehicle. Some cyclists have opted for a midway solution to all this, by acquiring a bicycle with a recumbent seat, thereby retaining some of the traditional bike’s advantages, but also gaining the clear comfort advantage afforded by a recumbent cycle. A recumbent bicyclist does not attain all the upper body fitness advantages that are gained on a traditional bike, but still gets more than a triker if the bicyclist’s handlebars are traditionally mounted in front and above the seat. A recumbent bike with under-seat handlebars is similar to a trike, although the body English needed to stabilize and balance a recumbent bike will recruit a greater upper body muscle involvement than realized on a trike, where balance and stabilization are not issues. It all boils down to personal preference and individual needs. Some disabled people, for example, may not be able to balance a bike, so a trike may fit their needs nicely. Do what brings you the most pleasure while improving your fitness and maintaining a healthier planetary environment.

Q. What was it like when you first rode a trike?

A. With regards to my first delta trike, which had two wheels in the rear and one drive wheel in the front, I do not recall, since this first ride occurred in about my third year of life during the early 1950s, and my brain was not laying down any retrievable long term memories at that time. Only old photos taken by my parents would allow me to even speculate. It did appear however that I enjoyed the activity, as I engaged in it quite regularly. With regards to my first tadpole trike ride, I recall it vividly, as it happened in early 2009, a time when my mature brain was firmly etching memory paths that are easily called back to life. My local cycling guru, Matt Jensen, who owned a stable of cycles, including a titanium recumbent bike and a Catrike 700 speed machine, allowed me a few minutes on his 700. Due to our similar heights, I was able to sit in the cockpit and have the pedals at the right place for my leg length. Immediately, the seating position was incredible, reminding me of sitting in a high tech race car. The handlebar position was low and natural. I was reclined back to 27 degrees off the horizontal, with my feet higher than my hips. A small neck rest allowed a very aerodynamic profile. My rear end was only inches from the ground. Just sitting in Matt’s trike was an awesome experience, but then once I began pedaling around the neighborhood, it all came together like a fine Swiss watch. The trike was fast, fun, and incredibly exhilarating! The turns were stable and sharp due to my low positioning. The smile on my face was so wide that it might have strained the skin had I not pulled back into the driveway when I did to discuss how I liked the feelings on a trike. I couldn’t stop talking about the unique aspects that bicyclists will never know. Just this first short ride convinced me that I had to have one of these vehicles of my own. The realization that I could go long distances in extreme comfort was obvious, and the amazing fun factor ratcheted it all up another several levels. Ride anywhere comfortably, while at the same time have a whale of a good time and increase personal fitness levels. Wow, it was a win-win-win situation in my book! My first ride most assuredly hooked me. I had at last found the automobile replacement vehicle that I had been seeking.

Q. What is the best food bar to carry for concentrated calories and top nutrition?

A. For many years on my outback adventures, I have eaten Bear Valley MealPack high energy concentrated food bars. They pack the best nutrition and maximum calories into a small item that is easy to carry and stores well for long periods. Comparing Clif Bars to MealPack Bars: Clif Bars have around 230 calories per bar, 10 grams of protein, and are usually very sweet. They also leave me very hungry. Clif bars retail anywhere from $1.39 per bar, all the way up to $1.70 per bar, depending on where you get them. Sometimes you can find Clif Bars on sale at 99 cents. On the other hand, Bear Valley MealPack bars have 400-440 calories (depending on which of four types you choose), 17 grams of protein, and are not what one would call sweet, as they are a real food bar. Bear Valley MealPack bars usually do not leave me feeling hungry. They retail for $1.59 per bar, but you can order direct from the company for substantially less if you order in bulk (4 dozen will get you a great price, and you can get a dozen of each flavor). Essentially, you get far more nutrition and “go power” from Bear Valley MealPack bars than from Clif Bars, and usually for quite a bit less money. It is a small company near Berkeley, California, and they are very cordial and helpful on the telephone. These bars are also available at REI, but you will definitely pay more ($1.50). 1-800-323-0042

Q. Is there any way to see trikes in action? I live in a small rural town far from any dealers, and no one here rides a trike.

A. Yes. If you have a moderately fast internet connection, you have four options: 1) Visit the “Trike Video Gallery” page on this very website, which displays a number of YouTube movies of trikes in action (it will still work with dial-up telephone line connections, but you must be patient while the video loads). 2) Visit YouTube directly, and search out additional movies about trikes using the search box. 3) Visit various manufacturer websites, a few of which have video clips specifically of their own brand of trikes. 4) Visit the Utah Trikes video page, where you will find 48 additional movies covering a wide range of trike topics … and if you like what you see, you can just go ahead and order your own trike right there, as Utah Trikes stocks many popular brands they can ship right to your front door. Sweet!

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23 Responses to Q&A

  1. William says:

    Hello, can you tell me if the front wheels have quick release? I have seen trailers where you push on the centre and the wheel comes off.
    Is this an option on trikes or standard?
    Thank you

  2. Steve says:

    Hello William,

    Some front trike wheels are quick release and some are not. On my ICE Q, I have standard bolts that require wrenches to remove the wheel, but ICE makes a quick release kit I can put on this trike if I wanted to. I have no problem with the system I have, and just carry the two wrenches I need in my tool kit. You will have to check with each manufacturer to learn which of their models have QR front wheel setups, or the option to install QR, as there is no certain answer to your question that can be applied across the spectrum of trikes.

    Steve

  3. Alonzo Savage (Alphonsodondoogleberry) says:

    Q. How would you rate trike comfort compared to bikes?
    It’s a qestion I’ve been asked quite a lot by regular cyclists and my answer is based upon my own experiance.
    Six year ago I had cancer in my prostate ( the bit that gets squashed on a bicycle saddle). After radical surgery to remove my prostate I was keen to raise money for the local cancer charity. I rode my bike (yes, I was a regular cyclist in those days) around a 30 mile course and by the finish I was shattered, sore and completely done in.
    Then I bought a trike, an ICE ‘T’, which I love to ride when the weather is fit. Two years on from my operation I rode my trike for the same charity, again 30 miles but this time with a bit of a headwind. At the finish I was barely out of breath and my average speed was very similar. This lack of breathlessness is now a common occurance. As far as hills are concerned well I just get up them at a slower pace and enjoy the views.
    Trike it you’ll like it. No you’ll absolutely love it.

  4. David Massey says:

    I notice you really did not answer the question as to whether you carry a gun or not. If I was carrying one I would not tell anyone about it. I’ll make my own assumptions.

  5. Steve Greene says:

    I stopped carrying devices with the sole purpose of destroying life many years ago, several years after retiring from law enforcement work. Besides the fact that guns are not in harmony with my prime directives, which are to respect life and share peace, such a piece of gear would add too much weight to the trike, slow me down, increase my food bill to make up for the added caloric burn, and take up space I need for items that are actually important for a productive trek.

  6. David Massey says:

    Message received and understood. I think your time on the road has already erased what is still lodged in my mind as fear. Sounds like something I will have to overcome. Thanks!

  7. Hi Steve, love the trick double water bottle holder on the front of your trike. Where did you get it?

  8. Steve Greene says:

    Hi Lance,
    It is a custom home-made holder, from a strip of aluminum. Pretty easy to construct, actually. Give it a try, as two bottles up front are definitely a plus in hot weather!
    Steve

  9. aditya says:

    piz give the suspension components details like caster, camber, kingpin angles, max bump ,scrub radius

  10. Hello Aditya, To answer your question would require a specific model of a specific brand of trike as the object of discussion. These engineering details, while certainly essential for a superior product manufacture, are not aspects of triking I consider. Any reputable brand of tadpole trike, those that have stood the test of time out on the open road, will have long since mastered such design facets as suspension components details like caster, camber, kingpin angles, max bump, and scrub radius – thus, I don’t worry about it. If you are thinking of a particular trike, perhaps one of our engineering-oriented readers might be able to shed some light on your query. steve

  11. Linda McPhee says:

    This is an awesome site, I’ve learned such a lot. I have a question. I’m planning my first trike trip and am wondering if I should carry the same set of tools that I used to carry when I toured by bicycle. Is there any kind of specialized nuts, or bolts or anything that would need a different type or size of tool?
    Thanks
    Linda

  12. Steve Greene says:

    Hi Linda,

    Yes, carry the same tools, but if your trike has some specialized nut or bolt that requires a unique tool, be sure to bring it too. The way to find this out is to sit down with your trike and standard tool set, and just go from the front to rear and make sure you have the tool necessary to do anything on it. All trikes are different, so it is an individual thing. For example, some trikes have quick-release front wheels, requiring no tools to remove – my ICE needs two wrenches to remove my front wheels, so I carry them. If your tool set can undo and redo anything on your trike, you’re good to go! Spend as long as it takes one day prior to leaving to discover what you need to know – you don’t want any surprises out on the road.

    steve

  13. Tim says:

    Hello everyone,
    Can anyone tell me about a light for the flag on my trike? Like you I’m worried about being seen riding in the city. I’ve looked all over the internet and am having a hard time finding what I’m looking for.
    Any help would be appreciated.
    Thanks
    Rider in PDX

  14. Steve Greene says:

    You might be interested in the Arizona Whip antenna. Or, there are special lights that attach to any flagpole – quite common – call any bike shop or look online. I know that Hostel Shoppe carries those lights, called Frog Lights I think.

  15. Alonzo Savage (Trike rebel) says:

    Trike touring and camping has taken a hold of me. I do find however that my body doesn’t adapt well to 38mm thick mats which are only 21″ wide. Which mat can you recommend in the light of your travels Steve? I plan to get a new sleeping bag that will be 2lbs lighter than my present one so can get a mat that is a bit, but not too much heavier. I set comfort ahead of speed knowing the extra weight will slow me down but I will at least be able to have a sound nights sleep.

    Alonzo

  16. steve greene says:

    I use the ThermaRest NeoAir Fast ‘n Light. Two inches of pure air pillow delight, which folds or rolls down to any little shape you wish it to be. I have slept on concrete with this air mattress, and it is just a comfy as sleeping on softer surfaces like grass. These are pricey, but well worth every penny!

    >

  17. Dennis says:

    Hi Steve, You might be interested to know that I have 5,300+ miles, and counting, on my Greenspeed X-3’s original chain. These miles have, with one exception of 50 miles, been accrued within 20 miles of my home (bummer). I realize how stupid it would be to travel further with this chain than my wife and Honda Ridgeline can reach. However, it does demonstrate the potential for chain life.

  18. Trike Hobo says:

    Thanks Dennis! Chains on trikes last considerably longer than on traditional bikes if they are well cared for and not neglected. This holds true for most recumbents due to the longer length of chain, being in the neighborhood of 12+ feet, probably double that of most diamond framed bicycles. What this means is that each link passes over the teeth of the sprockets and rings half the times during a given mileage as does each link on a diamond frame bicycle. This translates into longer chain life, regardless of whether a person properly cares for the chain or not.

    You may well find that if you are giving your chain tender loving care on a regular basis that it may serve you for more than twice the mileage that you currently have. Much depends on the riding conditions of course (dirt, mud, salt air, rain, etc). Give it a good inspection with a magnifying glass every six months to a year, which will bring to light nasty little things like rust, which may not be readily visible to the naked eye. Get a device that measures chain wear at your local bicycle shop so that you will have an idea when it is reaching its final months and miles.

    On my last overland trike journey down the Pacific Coast of Oregon and California, a single link on my chain exploded on a very steep hill, where I was mashing the pedals even in low/low gear to make it to the top. Later inspection revealed severe rust and excessive wear – essentially a chain that had exceeded its reliable life span, one that I should have changed prior to that trip, but just figured, “Oh, I can get one more long haul trek out of it.” Well, I was wrong … again. Bummer. I think rust was my primary enemy in that occurrence, with high mileage being culprit number two (on second thought, my neglegence of lubricating the chani well was culprit #1 – I got lazy). See ya’ …

    steve

  19. Tim says:

    Hi Steve,
    I live in Oregon and visit the coast often. I would like to take a trike trip down the coast camping along the way. Motor vehicles find it so hard to see and share the road with bikes let alone trikes. Is there a time during daylight hours that you found to be the best for low traffic? Does this even enter into your plans for that days ride? What about time of year? I spend Sept/Oct in Florence this past year and it was amazing (with the exception for the afternoon wind.

    Tim

  20. Trike Hobo says:

    Howdy Tim,

    Well, the best news is that trikes are WAY safer than bikes out on any road, which includes Highway 101. So far, I’ve never had any negative incident on the Coast Highway, and have found all traffic, even huge motorhomes during the summer, to be very courteous and law abiding regarding sharing the road. You can read in my writings (this website and my Overland Triker book) all the reasons why trikes are so safe if you have not already done so. This positive traffic compliance extended all the way south to Morro Bay, California this past fall, even on the super narrow and “spooky” curves through the redwoods that many cyclists really hate. If you follow all the tips I talk about, I suspect you will find similar results. The same drivers who “find it so hard to see and share the road with bikes” are wonderful from this triker’s eyes.

    Most of this is simply a matter of personal perception. We all create our own relative realities, and if we are soaked in fear (as I was the first trike trip I took in 2009), we imagine death lies around the next curve in the road every time we hear an engine approaching. The only path (for most folks anyway) away from this is on-the-road experience over time. I was so indoctrinated by many people back in ’09 about the folly of what I was doing that I actually started believing it to the point that I nearly lost my nerve to even try it. Well, five years later and tons of miles on all types of roads, I’m still here. On trips now, the fear factor is not an aspect of my consideration anymore. I can be loaded with fear and not enjoy the trip, or I can let it go, and enjoy those same miles instead of dread them. Absolute reality (that which is actually so regardless of human thought) is the same whether we create internal relative realities (reality how an individual mind is primed to believe) or not. Might as well enjoy the ride!

    The best time to ride the Oregon Coast is September traditionally. This is because the weather has the highest likelihood of being really perfect! Earlier can bring occasional rains, and later starts to get a bit chilled by comparison. If traffic is part of the decision mix, then a conundrum is faced, because the best month for riding the coast is also when motorhomes are cruising the same road. Many families with children have returned home after Labor Day, so some traffic is off the road though. If October works up to be an unusually warm month, that could be even better from a traffic standpoint because many of the elder motorhomers have long headed home.

    Clearly, the BEST time to ride Highway 101 (for anyone wishing to see as few motor vehicles as possible) is during the winter, where the only cars are local drivers, far and few between. And if you happen to get a series of sunny days, it’s like having your own private highway along the ocean! Of course, there is a downside (isn’t there always?) to winter coastal riding: Unlike summer tourist traffic that is poking along enjoying the ocean (which is GOOD for trikers), winter traffic is crazy locals who drive like bats out of hell (but they still afford all the room necessary to make it home that night). Oh yeah, if rains begin early, you could also get wet the later you wait.

    As with all roads, the earlier in the day you ride a particular section, the less traffic on that section. However, a caveat: Sometimes traffic is a good thing, especially if you are riding through really tight curves on a section of road with little or no shoulders (as between Yachats and Florence – the tightest area on the coast highway). With sufficient traffic, there is always a car seeing you pedal into blind right curves, so they know you are in there, and as each one slows to pass, it slows those yet coming up to the curve. With very little traffic, you can be in a blind right curve and no one saw you go in, which means that the next car comes around the bend not knowing of your presence until it sees your flagging and trike. On downhill blind rights, you are going fast enough that it’s usually no big deal, but on uphill blind rights, I would prefer at least one motorist at the front to see me enter.

    What we are talking about here does not enter into my plans for day rides or coastal trips. I just go when I’m ready to ride. Trying to plan all this stuff out will drive a triker nuts, because if you do enough riding, you will always be in what more timid riders will refer to as “dangerous” situations every day. There is no way around it if you wish to tour! The good news about the Oregon Coast ride is that BY FAR the vast majority of those approximate 380 miles (depending on if you take the Tillamook scenic diversion, for example) is super wide and easy shoulders that even a first-time timid triker would find a piece of cake. Of course, it helps if you are riding with another triker who has done all this before, as you will gain confidence from that rider, and a shared adventure is never as scary as a solo one.

    That afternoon wind you mention is more of a factor than automobile traffic. This is why most cyclists ride from north to south, allowing the wind to work in their favor and push them along and up the hills. There are some steep grades on the Coast Highway, which, until on a trike, you never knew were so darn long and steep! Wind can work for you sometimes.

    This August, I’ll be pedaling north (against the wind – bummer) from Florence to Fort Stevens State Park west of Astoria for the 16th annual Recumbent Retreat (http://recumbentretreat.org/). I’ll probably leave on the 11th, leaving four days up (an easy pace), enjoy the three days of activities, and then pedal back south again (usually with the wind) to Florence after it’s over. Should be a lot of fun, especially on my new trike (as yet unproven on the overland journey circuit). If you are going to be there, look me up and say hi!

    steve

  21. Tim says:

    Thanks Steve.

  22. Randy says:

    Re crank length. It has minimal if any impact on pedaling cadence. You needed a higher cadence because you had a smaller chain ring (52 vs 50) One revolution of the cranks results in one revolution of the chain ring and the same distance covered. Longer cranks does give more leverage so you might be able to push a bigger gear with 175mm cranks than you could with 165 mm cranks and that might affect cadence. The deciding factor ultimately is the length of your legs. I have a 29 inch in seam and 165 mm cranks fit me well. If I were to put 175’s on, I would need to push the boom in so I could reach the pedal at its forward-most position. This would result in my leg being bent more than 90 degrees both due to the shorter x-seam setting on the trike and because of the longer cranks

  23. Randy says:

    One additional point, every revolution of the pedals results in your feet moving in a circle with a radius approximately equal to the crank length. This means that with 175 mm cranks, your feet move about 1099 mm where as with 165 mm cranks, the distance your feet move is only about 1036 mm . So, if we assume a cadence of 75 rpm, for example, your feet move about 4725 mm farther every minute. This may also effect cadence but may be offset by the leverage factor.

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