Fundamentals

 

Why Ride A Trike?

Comfort, Performance, and Safety

Like any recumbent, the trike shares many advantages over regular diamond frame bikes. On the top of my list are comfort, performance and safety. In addition to these recumbent trikes offers superior carrying capacity and low speed stability -- you don't have to put your feet down when you stop.

Comfort


Neutral Body Posture

The neutral body posture was developed from studies performed in Skylab in the early 70's (See NASA MSIS). The figure above depicts the posture of a relaxed human body in a microgravity environment. The study led to a craze in "Zero Gravity" reclining chairs in the later part of that decade. Nevertheless the study shows that human beings find the neutral body posture comfortable, and it just so happens that if you rotate the above image about 50 anti-clockwise, you end up in the recumbent riding position. Little wonder that riders find recumbents so comfortable. I am constantly getting wise cracks about whether I have ever fallen asleep riding. My eye line faces forward so I take in more scenery, and my arms and hands are more comfortable because they are no longer supporting any weight. After a long ride I my get tired, but never saddle sore like before.

Performance

Recumbents generally have less frontal area, so produce less aerodynamic drag. On a level surface with no head wind, a mountain bike can be expected to reach 16kmh with 160 Watts of effort. By comparison, a short wheel base recumbent will reach 20kmh under the same conditions. Add a head wind and the recumbent has a significant advantage. My own experience confirms this, the average scalar wind where I live is 7 mps. When I ride, more often than not there is a head wind, and even though pushing against the gusts is hard, I take some pleasure in knowing its harder for the mountan bike riders I pass along the way.

Safety

The visibility of approaching vehicles from both the riders and the motorists point is a concern for all cyclists. Recumbent riders look forward, rather than down, as the case for riders of regular diamond frame bikes, so recumbent cyclists make greater eye contact with motorists. Recumbent riders also report that 'rubber necking' is common, which increases perceived safety because riders feel at least they are being noticed by motorists. Recumbent riders do however find it harder to look back over their shoulders, so rear view mirrors are common accessories on helmets or handle bars.

Fundamentally riding in a feet forward reclined position is safer. The most obvious reason is that the rider can place both feet on the ground, even if the bike is in motion. In the unfortunate occasion of an accident the recumbent rider tends to skid or slide feet first, rather than being ejected head first over the handle bars. The lower center of gravity provides greater stopping power, and in a skid, the two wheeled recumbent rider has less distance to fall. A properly designed trike offers even greater safety to the rider, because the trike will skid rather than flip when taken beyond its safe handling margin.

The low seat height of a trike can be frightening in heavy traffic, particularly on freight corridors with many large trucks, like my local port road. However as long as you have a flag, and make your trike visible, this fear I think is mostly imagined. In my experience, motorists are more likely to slow down and wait for a passing opportunity when I ride my trike. When I ride my mountain bike motorists rarely slow down, and will pass me regardless of how unsafe it is, cutting me off if need be. I have also heard that motorists tend to give bikes and trikes with farings, a wider birth.

Carrying Capacity


Henk van Eerden - Python Delta Trike

Trikes, particularly delta trikes offer superior carrying capacity. I think the above image, posted by Henk van Eerden say it all. Imagine trying to carry two dozen glass bottles of beer on a bike.

Low Speed Stability

Trike riders call it winching, choosing the lowest gear and slowly cranking you way up a step hill. On a regular bike you might have to get of for a breather, then walk, but on a trike you can stop at any time, take a rest, then keep going. Trikes also have better acceleration from a standing stop at traffic lights or a stop sign -- because your feet can stay clipped in -- as soon as you need to move you can apply full power.

Medical Necessity

Although I didn't know it at the time, 15 years of being a software developer has left me with aggravated nerves in my wrists. This underlying condition combined with daily cycling developed into full blown Carpal Tunnel Syndrome. Now if I ride my mountain bike more than about 10 minutes, my hands start to tingle. If I ride every day, the palms of my hands burn all the time and my sleep is disrupted. I get woken up with pins and needles shooting down my arms to the tips of my fingers.


Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

My doctor said I needed to give up cycling for good, but I much prefer cycling to other forms of exercise, so I wasn't prepared to stop. After a bit of research I came to realize that all I needed was a completely different bike. That's what started this whole quest to find a form of human powered transport for daily commuting that didn't agrivate my hands. Along the way I have discovered that many individuals have turned to recumbents for similar reasons. Some recovering from injuries, other with medical conditions like sciatica and back pain. Regardless of the reasons, the superior comfort offered to cyclists by the recumbent riding position has provided the solution.

Fun

For all the attention I receive riding down the esplanade, you would think I was driving an expensive sports car. As far as bang for the buck goes, I gave up the sports car years ago, but my trike is just as much fun at only a tiny fraction of the cost.