Facing my Demons: Two-wheel Versus Three-wheel Recumbents
by Howard Veit
During 2013, my main ride was my ICE Vortex+ recumbent trike. I completed 14 centuries, twelve of which were on the trike and the rest on my Rans X-Stream two-wheeler. My total mileage for the year was 10,300, about 8,000 of which, were on my trike.
In 2014, I haven’t been motivated to ride the centuries each month, but my mileage thus far is similar to 2013, and I am on track for another 10,000 mile year. At the beginning of this year, I started to ride the two-wheeler more. The greater speed of the XStream seduced me. The X-Stream is a very comfortable ride over long distances, especially in open country riding. There was a period during the first part of the year when I was convinced that most of my 2014 riding would be on the X-Stream. I even bought a new set of carbon tubular racing wheels. The ride is fantastic with the new wheels, and I am typically 1.5 to 2.5 mph faster on souped up XStream compared to my ‘fast’ trike, the Vortex+.
While on my two-wheeler I would sometimes talk to myself about my recumbents. “Why do I ride the trike when I am so much faster on the Rans?” I would say to myself. I would also say silly things like, “Howard, you are not old enough to ride trikes. Why don’t you get out there with the fast guys?”
After a few days of exclusive two-wheel riding in early February, I decided to get back on the trike. It was a cold, windy day at our home in Florida and it felt good being back on the trike. With the trike, keeping balance with strong side winds is not a problem. When riding with lots of traffic whizzing by, side winds can be a bit unnerving. On that day, being a little bit slower was not a problem. And, I was having fun, despite the weather.
I have a friend who I ride with in Florida who rides a two-wheel highracer and likes to go fast. When I ride with him I most always take the X-Stream and really enjoy racing along one of Florida’s trails with my buddy.
When I am back riding alone, I most always choose the trike. Why? For one thing, speed is less important to me than enjoying the ride, and the trike is more fun. But, to be honest, explaining the most important reason forces me to make a confession. My most important priority these days is safety, and I consider the trike to be a much safer ride. When I am climbing steep grades, I can relax and not worry about losing my balance and having an accident.
In 2007, I was climbing a not-so-steep grade in North Georgia. I lost my concentration, was in the wrong gear, started to slow down too much, panicked, and fell over. The crash to the pavement resulted in a broken hip, broken femur and close to a year of physical and mental rehabilitation. I was riding a high racer with my pedals about 7 inches higher than my seat height, which made it difficult for me to recover my balance while falling. If I had been on a trike, no problem.
So, many times since the accident when I go out for a ride I think about safety and accidents, and I choose the trike. The experts say that after an accident such as mine, one should confront fears by not shying away from situations similar to the conditions of the accident. I have taken that to heart, and after the accident have gone out on two wheels and climbed very steep grades, often, even thought it was scary at first. In fact, the year after the accident, I entered Florida’s Horrible Hundred ride on my two-wheeler at the time, a Rans Titanium V-Rex. There are several steep climbs on this ride, including Sugarloaf Mountain (see photo to the left), which I ascended with relative ease on the Ti-Rex. Yes, I conquered my fear, but nevertheless, there is still a little voice inside my head that keeps whispering to me, “Take the trike. You will not have to worry about having another falling accident!”
The bottom line is that little voice often wins. Doesn’t bother me though, because the trike is so much fun to ride. I am no speed slacker on the trike. I can usually keep up with any other bike when I ride in groups. Plus, when I ride in the North Georgia mountains, I look forward to the climbs, and the steeper the better. I do get dropped by some two wheelers on the steepest climbs, but what the heck, ascending those mountains on my trike is a worry-free blast. Descending at high speeds is no longer a ‘white knuckle’ experience, and even though I have to be careful not to flip the trike on fast descents, going down curvy mountains on the trike is a wonderful ‘go cart’ experience.
The safety issue isn’t all about climbing and descending mountains. A more frequent issue is riding in traffic, although I admit to trying to ride away from cars and trucks as much as possible. In Florida, where I live part of the year, my daily ride is usually along Gulf of Mexico Drive on Longboat Key. There is a bike lane, but it is not wide, and during the snow bird season there are lots of cars, service vehicles, ambulances, speeding police vehicles, etc. I live along Gulf of Mexico Drive, so it is easy to just ride out of my garage on do the 20 mile loop around Longboat Key. Since there is usually lots of traffic, I have flashing lights front and rear regardless of whether I ride the trike or the XStream. I feel safer on the trike. Not only is stopping and starting more effortless on the trike since I do not have to unclip after braking, I feel much more in control on the trike. With my flashers and my flag, visibility is not an issue, in fact it seems that vehicles give me more space while they are passing than when I ride the two-wheeler.
The other day I was riding along on my trike and a woman was parked in a driveway waiting to enter Gulf of Mexico Drive. Since she was stopped, and I had the right-of-way I kept going at a moderate speed. Just as I approached the driver wasn’t looking at the bike lane, and when she saw the car lane clear she moved out and almost hit me. I had to swerve quickly to avoid the collision. She braked as I swerved and an accident was avoided. If I had been on two wheels, there is a good chance I would have fallen over onto the road. With the trike, I kept my balance and was able to maneuver to avoid being hit and then back onto the bike path.
The fun and safety factors keep me on my trike more frequently than my two-wheeler. I will continue to ride two wheels in certain situations, but my first choice is the trike. Going forward, I will always be keeping my purchasing eyes open for trikes that are better and faster, although it is hard for me to imagine a better trike than the ICE Vortex+.
The memories of my 2007 accident are a big factor in my trike preference, but my riding choice go way beyond that. I can train hard and ride hard on my trike. When I am top condition, being on a trike does not seem to impact that much when I am competitive situations, which these days seem less and less frequent. The trike seems to offer me most everything I need. So, I can have my cake and eat it too. I can have fun, ride fast, and stay relatively safe.
Pros of Cons of Long Distance Riding on a Recumbent Trike
I have now completed a few centuries on my ICE Vortex+ recumbent trike. I believe that a trike built for speed (or maybe just comfort) is an excellent way to do these longer distance rides. With six full centuries (100 miles) completed in 2013, here is my assessment of the pros and cons of using the trike as a long distance machine.
Comfort – I was mostly very comfortable throughout the ride. I find that a very laid back, aerodynamic position to be ideal for many hours in the saddle. The only real pressure point that caused some discomfort was my feet. More on this in the ‘cons’ section. I also like the fact that after the fatigue inevitably settles in, I don’t have to ‘worry’ about balance. I can focus on pedaling and let the hills come as they may. Also, I love the ICE carbon seat.
Attention – This may seem like a silly one. However, I was the only trike that I am aware of on this ride, and one of the very few on the other rides. What does this mean? People at rest stops, especially kids, expressed amazed interest in my trike. Conversations were started, and I had lots of fun explaining the joys of triking. This didn’t help my finishing time, but it sure added to the joy of the ride. One guy, on a highracer, told me he was thinking of trading for a Catrike 700 because it looked like he would enjoy riding the trike more. I didn’t reinforce his comment, but I thought it was interesting.
Fun – The fun factor of riding a trike has been discussed in other threads. I may be slower on the trike, but a Century on a trike is more fun that a Century on two wheels. That is, admittedly, a very personal observation, but a real one to me. Those that are aiming for the fastest possible times to the finish will likely not agree, but if your goal is to get to the end and really enjoy the ride, the trike is a very good option.
Speed – Despite a rather slow finish yesterday, I believe as I continue to focus on training for distance on my Vortex+, I will be able to achieve very respectable finishing times. Respectable is in the eyes of the beholder, but I am confident that I can achieve my personal stretch goals on a trike. Training for continual performance improvement on my trike is fun and very satisfying. My stretch goals, however, have more to do with distance than speed, but both are factors. I am convinced that the more I train on a trike, the faster and farther I will be able to go.
Speed – In my opinion, the trike will never be as fast as a two wheeler, all other things being equal. For 100 miles, I am between 30 – 60 minutes slower on a trike. That is very personal, and each individual’s experience may vary. A trike is not the answer for those whose primary objective is to get to the finish line as fast as possible.
Socialization – It is hard to ride with others and carry on a conversation. On a trike, I tend to be a loner, especially on long distance rides.
Foot pain – Yesterday, after about 70 miles my foot pain kicked in from all the pressure of pedaling. This is a constant problem, and seems to be worse on any trike than it was on two wheels. Who knows why.
Visibility – This may be more of a psychological issue that a real one. But, I still feel the need to weight my trike down with flashing lights, and to decrease my aerodynamics with a flag, even on an organized ride through low traffic rural areas. I never know in advance exactly what the conditions will be, so I load up with safety/visibility devices. These slow me down a bit, and may even be annoying (the bright Dinotte flashing lights) to other riders.
The bottom line is that I love doing long distances on the Vortex+. I am sure that other performance trikes like the Cat700 can provide the same enjoyment and satisfaction.
* * *
Here is the review I posted on Bentrider Online for my one year old Inspired Cycling Engineering recumbent trike. Following the review, are several comments added by my friends on Bentrider.
I unpacked my Vortex+, purchased from PowerOn Cycling, on April 1, 2012, so the time is right for a one year anniversary report. I received the machine three weeks after the order. PowerOn provided excellent service. The price today is about $5550. I paid a little less a year ago. I admit upfront that I love this trike, and think it is worth every penny. I rarely go for a ride that I don’t get thumbs up and “cool bike” salutations, especially now that I have added the Renn Disc. Nevertheless, I will attempt objectivity.
Last winter, when I was considering the purchase, I compared the Vortex+ against the Catrike 700. Test rode both and posted a thread requesting input from my BROL friends. There were ample opinions supporting each trike. I chose the Vortex because a) I have owned ICE trikes in the past and liked them all. ICE service is outstanding. b) The Vortex has a hardshell seat, which I prefer. c) I prefer ICE’s indirect steering setups over Catrike’s direct steering.
Overall, the Vortex gives the rider all the well-documented advantages of a trike plus a high level of performance. This is not a particularly versatile trike, however. I doubt whether I would use it as a tourer, commuter or shopper. Carrying stuff is a challenge, however, I have added Radical Low Racer bags to carry the bare essentials for long rides. Here is my assessment:
Comfort – In my year of ownership, I have ridden seven centuries, and several other metric length rides. I had no serious comfort issues, but two things should be noted. First, the hardshell seat plus the rigid frame, both positive performance characteristics, offer much ‘road feel’, to put it mildly. The Vortex ride is not for everyone. One of my Metric Centuries was over some very rough roads, and I suffered a bit. The rough roads also slowed me down. At the time, I was running Schwalbe Durano tires on the front and a Schwalbe Ultremo ZX on the back, all pumped up to 115 psi. Others have reported a better Vortex ride using wider, softer tires like the Kojaks. I haven’t tried this.
Six weeks or so ago, I switched the Duranos to Ultremo ZX 406 front tires. I notice no difference in ride quality, but a noticeable increase in speed. However, my 406 Ultremos started shedding threads on the sidewall after about 1200 miles. The tires were replaced under warranty by Schwalbe. The jury is still out regarding which front tires I will use. The Ultremos are expensive. I have been pleased with the performance and the durability of the Ultremo 700 tires. I have been getting about 2000 miles, which is acceptable for a performance tire.
The other comfort issue is the seat. To me, the seat is ideal, but I had to add some extra foam strategically in just the right places to achieve maximum comfort. This took me about a month of riding to get just right. Now, I finish long rides with no seat problems. The Vortex+ carbon fiber seat, properly custom-cushioned, is the best recumbent seat I have used.
Speed – Speed is always a tough issue to discuss. I am a medium speed (71 yo) rider averaging 13.5-16.5 mph on most rides. My best century speed on the Vortex+ has been 14.5 mph. My goal is to continually increase my speed through improved equipment, and, most of all, harder training. This week, I added a Renn rear disc wheel purchased at Vite Bikes. It is too early to tell whether this enhancement will aid my speed, but I did achieve my personal best trike century using the Renn disc. Some argue that if you ride at speeds less than 20 mph, the disc wheel is a waste. We shall see.
My speed on the Vortex+ is roughly 1.5 mph slower than on two wheel performance bents. I hope to close this gap. I have added the disc wheel, short cranks, and triple 50/39/27 Q-Rings, but, otherwise, the components are stock. I believe that the Vortex+ offers speed comparable to the Catrike 700, and other top performance trikes.
Frame flex at speed seems minimal for a steel framed trike. I have noticed almost none in the boom, and a little bit on the rear triangle. The frame alignment and front wheel toe-in have remained perfectly fixed since day one.
The seat has an adjustable setting (25-32 degrees) which I keep close to its maximum recline.
Safety – Like most trikes, especially laid back performance models, visibility, and thus safety, is an issue. My performance compromises, except when riding traffic-free bike trails, are bright Dinotte flashing headlight and taillight whenever there is traffic. I also run a flag. I know the flag provides aero drag, and the lights add weight. I also run a mirror on both sides of the handlebar. Safety First!
I am sure there are things I have forgotten to include, but in summary:
Pros – Performance, Comfort, Aesthetics/Bling, ICE Service
Cons – Price, Ride Quality (for some), Lack of Versatility