by Kurt Ziegler
Sometime this spring I’ll pass the 20,000 mile mark on my 2008 Trice Q recumbent trike (now the HDQ). Chump change for some, but to me a lot of miles. Between daily, four-season commuting; weekend sport rides and overnight tours; occasional week-long commercial tours; and one epic 5 1/2 month, 4,500 mile tandem ride across the U.S.; this trike has seen a lot of action. I thought it would be interesting to document how the trike has held up through all of this.
If Auntie Helen’s link above isn’t enough, I need look no further than my own brother to be reminded that 20,000 miles isn’t a singular achievement. Mark’s 2008 ICE Q has about the same number of miles on it. His wife’s QNT is probably not far behind. Our miles were logged on very different roads with some minor overlap on the occasional tour together. With a couple minor and one glaring exception, I can say that Mark’s maintenance issues closely mirror my own. It’s like having HAL’s twin 9000 computer back on Earth to validate any issues that crop up on far-flung, otherworldly adventures, though it’s not obvious which of us is on a trip to Jupiter and which is the control back on Earth. In any case I’m relieved to report that the One Glaring Exception didn’t lead to a crisis of conscience and the eventual failure of the mission.
One Glaring Exception
Let’s get this out of the way at the outset. The one big maintenance item that Mark didn’t experience, and the reason I now refer to my Q as an HDQ, is the failure of the cruciform at the 18,000 mile mark. I was cruising along a local Boise bike path on my lunch hour when I suddenly veered off to the right and stopped abruptly in some brush beside the path. It was anticlimactic, really. It seems to me that sudden and catastrophic frame failure should lead to, well, some sort of catastrophe. At least a good story. Suddenly veering left, into an oncoming 18-wheeler, instinctively and instantly tapping into my years of trike experience to quickly lower my seat back while compensating for the skewed steering, carefully guiding the trike between the wheels of the massive truck as it rumbles overhead, my helmet just grazing the bottom of the truck’s grinding differential, dislodging a single drop of oil that falls onto my cheek as the truck speeds away. Yeah. No. I drug my trike out of the brush, called my wife, and she had me back at work in time for my 1:30 staff meeting.
ICE’s response was even less climactic. “Do you want to replace it with an Adventure HD or a Sprint cruciform?” I’ll admit I was disappointed they didn’t offer to replace the cruciform for free. But the replacement price is pretty reasonable all things considered, and they sold it to me for half that price. It wasn’t under any sort of warranty, the current 10-year frame warranty didn’t exist in the Q days. And I’m not kind to my trikes. In particular, the self-supported trip across the US carrying camping gear for two and pulling my daughter in a recumbent tagalong couldn’t have been easy on the frame. In the end I was happy and impressed that an out of production trike could be resurrected by replacing a significant portion of the frame with a part that is currently in production and reasonably priced. It’s a sign of good engineering design when a company can simultaneously lead the industry in innovation and maintain compatibility with previous lines of the product.
I hemmed and hawed about which to replace it with—Adventure HD or Sprint. In the end I chose the HD because it was the same frame width—I could use my existing steering pushrods—and it sat higher, a good choice I thought for my wife. When she inherits this trike and I purchase the trike I really want—a highly modified Sprint. I had the new cruciform within a week of deciding. And so was born the HDQ.
About the time I finished the tour across the US I began noticing a chattering noise while turning. This was easy to track down to the rod ends on the steering push rods. They had a significant amount of play, easily demonstrated by moving the front of the wheels toward and then away from each other. I assumed the play was the result of wear in the metal rod ends so I lifted the seals and packed the joints with grease. This helped for a short while, then I was back to the chatter. So I replaced the ball ends and, to my surprise, there was still about the same amount of play, and they still chattered. Even more surprising was that my brother’s Q had similar play but no chatter. Hmm. Come to think of it, I’d never noticed my trike’s chatter before finishing the big US ride.
In the course of swapping the rod ends with new, ICE mistakenly sent me a set of the new IGUS rod ends and told me to just keep them. These things inherently have less play so eventually I put them on the Q. That change completely eliminated the play as well as the chatter. I’m a big fan of the IGUS rod ends. Another example of continuous improvement from ICE.
But what was really going on here? How did Mark’s trike avoid the chatter with the same amount of play I had? I have a theory. I didn’t realize this at the time, but my cruciform had been slowly bending before it eventually broke. I know this because for a significant period prior I had struggled with excessive front tire wear. And about a week prior I began wondering why the heels of my shoes seemed to scrape pavement more easily than before. A more astute rider would have picked up on that last one but nah, I just kept riding. As the right cross of the cruciform bent, it significantly altered the steering geometry. I can’t quite explain it, but my guess is that the change also caused the play in the rod ends to begin expressing itself as chatter.
When I was preparing for our ride across the US, I disassembled and inspected the entire trike. All except for two components: The bushings in the rear suspension pivot (more on that later) and the idler. Over the years I had been remiss in not cracking the M8 bolt that holds the idler to the frame. It had seized. In a past life as owner, pilot, and mechanic of a small private airplane, I had much experience in stuck bolts. At one point I fancied myself a bit of an expert on the subject, but I was no match for this thing. After eventually stripping the head of the bolt and breaking off an easy-out, I took the cruciform to a local metal shop and let them have at it. I was horrified when the mechanic pulled out a welding torch and heated up the frame around the stuck bolt. But it worked, without overly damaging the threads in the frame boss. I cleaned up the resulting mess, buffed it out with sandpaper and steel wool, and repainted the damaged area with a poor approximation of the original red. It didn’t matter, it was impossible to see behind the idler, chain, cables, etc.
I know what you’re thinking. No wonder the cruciform eventually failed. But the failure was on the cross-tube leading to the right wheel, which isn’t particularly close to the idler and the area that was heated. But who knows. I now have a new cruciform. I loosen the idler bolt periodically, which is counter-intuitive because that bolt has thread locker on it. I guess I should re-apply thread locker every time I crack it but I’m too lazy for that. I don’t care, I’d rather have the idler fall off than go through another stuck bolt crisis.
One of the reasons I was hell bent on getting the idler off is that I had a new one in the wings. My second least favorite thing about a stock ICE trike is the lack of a toothed power-side idler. Maybe it’s just lingering trauma from the day I was stranded with two halves of a homemade idler after the chain sawed through it, but I much prefer running the chain against a beefy, toothed cog. When I upgraded my wife’s TerraTrike Cruiser to a TerraCycle toothed idler, drivetrain noise reduced dramatically. I didn’t notice as much noise reduction when I upgraded my Q, but the Q started out a lot quieter than the Cruiser. I’m currently obsessing over the sizeable drivetrain noise caused by the HDQ’s chain tubes, and chain management in general. For the Sprint I’m considering upgrading to a TerraCycle dual power/return idler in the front and a single return idler in the rear, and eliminating all of the chain tube.
Noise again. Everywhere. Making me insane. Some of it was the aforementioned chattering of the rod ends but I eventually fixed that. This noise persisted. Perhaps you’ve noticed that I’m pretty intolerant of any noise on my trike that isn’t accounted for. Some might say obsessive. Crazed. Missing a few cards in the deck. Hub pawl clicking? I’d prefer not to hear it but I can tolerate it because I know what causes it. Random squeaking? Did you see Gene Hackman in The Conversation? Near the end of the movie? Yeah, that’s me.
So I did what Gene Hackman would do. I disassembled the entire trike looking for the bug, er, noise. And I had a really hard time locating the source. I began to think the source was in my head, channeling Hackman again, and I didn’t like what that implied. Thankfully my HAL 9000, aka Mark, confirmed the same thing on his trike. Eventually we figured out the culprit was the rear suspension pivot. More precisely, the bushings therein.
We also discovered that we could silence the noise by dousing the pivot with WD-40 penetrating lubricant. It was mid-winter when this problem hit its peak for me and I wasn’t too interested in going all Hackman on it again in an unheated garage. So I went with this solution until it became so bad that I was doing the treatment daily. There was also significant side-to-side play in the rear frame section that didn’t formerly exist. At that point I did what I should have done much sooner—I called ICE. A week later I had a new set of bushings in hand. At some point I’ll post the process of replacing them, and the results.
The wheels are probably my least favorite component of a stock ICE trike. They work well enough, but to me they don’t match the level of design and craftsmanship in other parts of the trike. I guess I’m a bit of a wheel snob—my original plan for the Q was to buy a frameset and build up my own wheels. Due to an ordering mishap, however, I wound up with a complete trike and not enough time to fix it before a big ride. So I decided to give the stock wheels and drivetrain a try.
After 20,000 miles my chain and rear cluster were shot and I encountered the sticker shock of replacing a Capreo cassette. I’ve documented elsewhere my dislike of Capreo so I won’t repeat it all here, but the upshot is that I can spend a quarter as much money on a superior cassette, and solve the 20” drive wheel gearing problem in a better way. I initially put on an old wheel I had lying around with a hub that would take a standard cassette. Eventually I built up a wheel using a Shimano XTR hub and Sun CR-18 rim and never looked back until I embarked on the Di2 project. The wheel has worked flawlessly for about 15,000 miles now.
At about 6500 miles I replaced both front wheels with my own using the original ICE hubs and new CR-18 rims because the old wheels were breaking spokes. I’d never experienced a broken spoke in a 20” wheel before, including my own wheels in five or so years running a different trike. And I haven’t since. Capreo aside, I have no issue with ICE hubs. The difference is most likely the rim. For a 7 gram penalty, the Sun CR-18 rim provides double-wall construction and eyelets, which should make it significantly stronger compared with the Alex rim ICE uses. Another difference is hand vs. machine-built. I like to think I can achieve more uniform spoke tension and more precise truing than a machine. That is the conventional wisdom, though it’s not obvious to me why a machine couldn’t create a higher quality wheel than a human. It is quite possibly a myth perpetuated by control freaks who want to rationalize their time investment. As for me, I’ll keep building my own wheels because I enjoy the process and it has so far produced more reliable wheels than I can buy from ICE. And it makes it easier to experiment with different hubs.
Update: As if in response to the gloating about my wheels, I broke a spoke on the left front about a week after writing those words. So much for wheelbuilder of the year. At about 13,000 miles I did beat the machine at least. For now I replaced the broken spoke but I’ll probably rebuild both front wheels before embarking on anything beyond local commutes. The rim and hub look OK, and my tensioning technique has improved since building those wheels. The spoke broke at the nipple which rekindles the concern I had after building my very first wheel—cross-3 spoking on a 20” wheel yields pretty extreme angles between the rim and spoke. Because the nipple can’t bend, the spoke takes a sharp bend right at the edge of the nipple. Might be time to try cross-2, like my original ICE front wheels. I’m guessing they figured this all out long ago.
One quick curiosity about the Alex rim: I (and others) have found it very difficult to get a tire to seat uniformly on it. Pop on the tire, pump it up, and one part of the tire will bulge out of round from the rim. I wind up greasing the tire with copious amounts of soap to try to get it to even out, but often even that doesn’t work very well. I’ve never seen this problem with the CR-18 rim and a variety of tires, though it can be harder than some to get the tire onto the rim.
I’ve replaced a lot of chains and cassettes throughout the life of the HDQ. I found that after dutifully replacing the chain when it reached the outer limits of acceptable wear, the .75 mark on my Park Chain Wear Indicator, the chain would skip in the smallest one or two cogs of the rear cassette. Replacing the cassette with new solved the skipping problem. So I fell into a pattern of always replacing them together, and gradually moved to using the cheapest rear cassette I could find. At around $25 for the SRAM PG-9050 it wasn’t too bad.
The biggest surprise is how little life I seem to get out of a chain compared with other people I talk to. The best I’ve seen is 5500 miles, which is pretty good but also an anomaly. It was the chain I started with on my ride across the US. The next best is about 3800 miles and the worst is 2000 miles. I achieved 5500 miles in part because I just wasn’t paying attention to chain wear. I replaced it (and the cassette) when we were suddenly unable to climb the hills in the Appalachians because the chain would constantly skip in any gear.
I’ve found that cleaning and re-lubing the chain every 200 miles with an external chain cleaner like this one helps quite a bit. But I see worse chain life than a guy I know who makes a point of _never_ lubing his chain. I do sometimes mash instead of spin but I can’t believe that makes a huge difference in chain life. Maybe ignoring chain wear is how cyclists achieve long chain life. Maybe I’ve been duped into following the manufacturer’s suggested interval for chain replacement. It’s obvious to me that the chain and cassette wear together in such a way that replacing only one of the two can actually make matters worse. So I’m experimenting with a new formula: stop measuring chain wear and ride until I notice shift performance degrading or gears skipping. Then replace the chain and the cassette together. We’ll see how that works.
In general I love my Sturmey Archer drum brakes. They’re clean, compact, and much less fiddly than disc brakes I’ve used in the past. They don’t have quite the stopping power of mechanical disc brakes but I can still pop the rear wheel with them—what more do you need? I’d say modulation is about on par with my old Avid BB7 mechanical disc brakes: acceptable but nothing compared to hydraulics. In the first few years they also seemed quieter than my Avids, but that has changed. After maybe my big cross-country trip, at about the 15K mark, they’ve become quite noisy. They’ve also developed an annoying habit of locking in the “on” state. What’s particularly bad is when the brake locks only briefly, long enough for the cable to become loose and the end to come out of the keeper at the caliper. No more brake. Both the squeaking and locking are very intermittent, seem humidity-dependent, and can be temporarily solved by cleaning the drum with automotive disc brake cleaner. It’s probably time to replace the inner brake assembly even though the pads look fine.
Mesh seats wear out. I was surprised how much time I got on the original. I was also surprised how far I pushed it—my butt was getting pretty close to the frame before I finally installed the new seat that I had waiting in my garage. As usual, ICE didn’t waste an opportunity for improvement. While the new seat fits my old frame perfectly, it’s a much more useful design. It has a small zippered, waterproof storage area near the top, big enough for wallet, snack, gloves, lights, tube repair kit, etc. It has little “wings” on the edges right above the waist that provide some support and help to keep your body on the seat during turns. It has a decent amount of reflective material near the top and a nicely embroidered ICE logo. And the straps that hold the seat to the frame have Velcro to keep the ends from flapping around—much more tidy than the old o-rings used for this purpose.
Old Seat versus New Seat
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In almost 7 years and 20,000 miles I’ve gone through a fair number of components.
|Component||Qty Replaced||Unit Cost||Total Cost|
|Right 9-speed shifter||2||$30||$60|
|Left 3-speed shifter||1||$30||$30|
|Shift cable set||2||$30||$60|
|Brake cable set||2||$30||$60|
|Bushings (with labor)||1||$90||$90|
If this post isn’t complete enough for you, click here for the HDQ’s maintenance record in excruciating detail. You knew this was coming, right?
To the next Twenty Thousand
Reviewing the entire maintenance history of the HDQ, I was surprised how much work I’ve done on the trike. I don’t remember it this way. What I remember is many happy, carefree miles of riding. Grand adventures. Regular exercise. A saner, more relaxing, more fulfilling way to get to work. Of course this type of maintenance isn’t unique to recumbents or trikes—conventional upright bikes have many of the same issues. It’s the tradeoff between simple/light/human powered and– a car. Some just delegate the work to their LBS and move on. Other’s do the work themselves and annoyingly document every gory detail. As much as I enjoy pushing the limits of reliability, comfort, and utility, I stop short of re-creating a rolling, spewing coffin. The tradeoff is worth a little tinkering once in a while.
As for the HDQ, it begs the existential questions that have plagued trikers through the ages: At what point is a modified trike no longer the same trike– do I have 20,000 miles on an HDQ or 18,000 miles on a Q and 2,000 miles on a Frankentrike? What, exactly, constitutes the identity of my trike? Where is its soul? Does it dream in color?
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Okay, that pretty much wraps it up for now!