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Safety, Convenience, and Speed
If you want an alternative to a car for short trips, then try a good tricycle, such as some of those listed on the previous page, and consider adding Speed-Drive to increase speed. For even more speed add front and rear fairings (coverings) and a hub motor with regenerative braking. For more safety, add a seat belt and a roll bar with day running lights. Consider wearing a motorcycle helmet if you are going to go over 20 mph.
Trikes come in two basic designs. Trikes with two wheels in back are called a delta design (left) and trikes with two wheels in front are called a tadpole design (right). Tadpole trikes are typically designed for speed so they usually place the rider close to the ground for better aerodynamics and to help avoid tipping in fast turns. However, this design also tends to cause the trike to wobble when pedaling fast.
The delta trike design with two wheels in back is usually for comfort and toughness. It should require fewer adjustments because the double wheels do not have be used for steering. In addition, these trikes are usually much easier to enter and exit because the seat is higher and the double wheels are not in the way of sitting down. If the seat is higher on the delta trike, it makes the rider more visible to drivers. Further, the delta trikes have usually been designed for hauling groceries and other large or heavy packages because of the larger space behind the seat and the greater weight carrying capacity with the double wheels in back. The delta trikes have usually been made much heavier than tadpole trikes (to haul more weight) and have gears that support power at slow speeds. They are rarely designed for speed and they often have a long wheelbase design, making transport more difficult.
A commuter trike should combine the best of each basic design. The seat should be able to go higher and more upright in traffic and then go lower and more reclined for going down steeper hills or away from traffic. The bike should be narrow (two feet wide or less) to allow safe use on bike paths and in traffic. The cycle should have gearing that will allow it to go 20 to 30mph (at one pedal turn per second) in traffic or for long stretches away from traffic. The cycle should have a seat high enough to allow the rider to repeatedly enter and exit comfortably and the wheels should not be an obstruction. It should be small enough to be carried in a car or on a standard bike carrier. The cycle should weigh less than 35 pounds (for hills) or should have a supplemental electric motor to help with hills.
A motor-generator can also provide a burst of speed when needed and allow the rider to stay up with some city traffic. An example of a hub motor system that includes regenerative braking is the Birkestrand. With regenerative braking, the hub motor-generator can charge the batteries whenever the brakes are applied or by pedaling while waiting at lights. (The system, including motor-generator, batteries, controller, and recharger, weighs around 15 pounds and costs around 500 dollars.) If a motor is added, it is best done at the time of purchase so that the trike manufacturer ensures proper fitting of components. Adding a motor-generator with regenerative braking to the trikes gives the design on the left an advantage for neighborhood commuting.
Front and rear coverings (fairings) can increase the aerodynamics of the trikes, which is important because 80 percent of the power (at 20 miles per hour) is used to overcome drag. The fairings can greatly improve the speed obtained with moderate pedaling. If fairings are planned, they are best applied as part of the purchase so that the manufacturer installs fittings for them in the correct places. A rear fairing that can double as a covered grocery bag carrier would be ideal. A bodystocking can provide aerodynamics, as well as protection from rain and cold, at the cost of convenience when entering and leaving the cycle. Custom coverings can also be constructed from kite material, such as fiberglass poles and ripstop nylon.
For long trips, camping, convenience, and environmental friendliness, solar panels ($700 for 100 watts, 24 volts) could be attached to the top of the rear fairing for quick (2-hour) charging of the battery pack or charging an additional battery pack. Alternatively, a light weight, flexible solar panel ($400 for 32 watts, 24 volts) could be fitted to the windshield to provide more of a trickle-charge. (Care must be taken to ensure that the controller for the solar panel fits the particular type of battery pack. In addition, batteries create heat when they are being used or charged, so they should not be in an enclosed space during those times or they could be damaged from overheating.)
A roll bar extending over the rider's head can provide visibility between cars and also house front and rear LED lights. Swift Ultra is the only trike listing a roll bar option. For protection from rain, a removable, clear plastic cover could be fitted between the roll bar and the nose cone. The plastic could be coated with a rain repellent to maintain high visibility during rain without windshield wipers. The removable cover would also be desirable for longer trips to increase aerodynamics and reduce drag.
If the trike is going to be used for carrying heavy loads or large loads on a regular basis, a trailer should be considered, such as the CycleTote with automatic disk brakes. A trailer can make shopping or camping much more convenient.
To complete the concept trike, scoop can be placed in the windshield to direct air to your face if you are going to maintain over 20 miles per hour. An electrostatic air filter could be located in the scoop to reduce the pollution from autos. In the summer, the filter could be sprayed with water to provide evaporative cooling.
So, which trike makes the best alternative for a car for short trips?
If cost is most important, consider the 34 pound Venice Beach ($1,275) with the 52 inch front gear. It is light, compact, easy to enter and exit (with the over the seat steering option), comfortable, and reasonably fast.
If convenience is most important, consider the JustTwoBikes Raven with Speed-Drive ($2,950). It is only 24" wide (for bike paths), can be disassembled easily (for transporting), has good cargo room in back, and is easy to enter and exit. It also has a front wheel drive for quietness and easy maintenance. A less expensive trike that has good carrying capacity and is easy to enter and exit is the Triumf with Speed-Drive ($1,750). If just the narrow width (for bike paths) is important, consider the MR Components Swift Ultra ($1,750). (The Ultra is also very light, good for climbing hills.)
If cost and convenience are both important, try the Venice Beach since it has a seat the height of a standard chair and an has an "over the seat steering" option for easy entries and exits. It is also light weight and compact for carrying up stairs.
If comfort is most important, try the Lepus ($2,500). It is one of the few recumbents with a rear suspension. The Lepus also has many convenience features, such as ease of entry, good cargo carrying capacity, and good transportability (it folds). If cost, convenience, and comfort are all important, then try the Venice Beach because it has a foam padded seat in addition to its low cost and good convenience features.
If safety in city traffic is most important, consider the JustTwoBikes Raven with Speed-Drive again. The narrow width may be important for competing with traffic or using a bike path safely. In addition, the adjustable seat should allow the rider to be upright enough to be visible to drivers. The trike includes disk brakes and the front end moves independently of the back two wheels for leaning into turns at higher speeds.
If speed is most important, consider the MR Components Swift Ultra with Speed-Drive ($2,750). In addition to having a wide gear range, it is one of the lightest bikes--for more speed going up hills. It is also narrow and small for easier transporting than most trikes.
The most ideal trike for you depends on how you will use it. If you are going to use your cycle mostly in neighborhoods where you compete with cars or use bike paths, then the JustTwoBikes Raven with Speed-Drive makes sense because it is narrow and you can sit somewhat upright. If you are going to travel long distances with little traffic or with steep hills, then the Greenspeed or Swift Ultra make sense because of aerodynamics, low weight and high gears. If you want to be able to take your trike on a plane from time to time, then both the Raven and the Greenspeed can fit in a suitcase. If you will need to take your cycle up stairs each day, then weight and width are important. The Raven (narrow width), Greenspeed (low weight), or MR Components Ultra (narrow width and low weight) might do for stairs. If you need your cycle for carrying groceries or camping gear, then the Raven, Haluzak Triumf, Titan, Speedster, Penninger, Kettwiesel, or Lepus with Speed-Drive would work--or you could get a trailer for your cycle.
If you need your cycle partly for busy city driving and partly for long country stretches, then you might be wise to select one of the safest city options with narrow width and more upright position, such as the Raven with Speed-Drive. If you need it partly for long, flat stretches and partly for steep hills, then you might be wise to pick one of the lightest cycles with good aerodynamics, such as the MR Components Ultra. If you need your cycle for hilly city driving, then you need to select the lightest cycle and be sure to use a roll bar with lights for visibility. If you want to ride tandem some of the time and solo some of the time, then consider getting two Kettwiesels because they can be combined into one tandem bike and then quick released for solo.
If you are going to use an electric motor for supplemental power, which is highly recommended, then the ten pounds difference between trikes should not be a factor in climbing hills. If you are going to use a motor, then the Raven with Speed-Drive makes a good choice because it is easy to enter and exit, is narrow for city use, can allow upright posture in the city and aerodynamic posture in the country, can be disassembled easily for transport in a car or plane, can carry cargo, can be carried up stairs and through doorways, and has a reasonable gear range.
To summarize, an ideal trike has several important features. It should have a seat that can be positioned up and down, depending on whether speed or visibility is most important; seat angle should also be adjustable. The double wheels should be 24" wide to allow safe use of bike paths and to handle heavy traffic. (However, if the trike has a delta design and does not tilt in front to make faster turns safely, then a wider track is probably preferrable.) It should fit in a standard car trunk. It should have a rear suspension for comfort. It should have a front wheel drive for quietness and easy maintenance. It should have a wide gear range with the assistance of Speed-Drive, allowing it to keep up with neighborhood traffic when necessary. It should weigh less than 35 pounds for climbing hills. (Weight can sometimes be reduced inexpensively by using a lighter seat or tires.) It should be able to handle a couple of bags of groceries. It should be convenient to enter and exit. It should include fenders, rearview mirror, a chainguard (including leg protector), and mountings for lights, rollbar, seatbelt, front fairing, rear fairing or carrier, and water bottle. Such a trike will certainly cost over $3,000. In addition, the trike should have an electrical motor just to assist with steeper hills and to get out of the way of traffic at key times.
The trike that currently comes closest to an ideal commuter trike that might serve as a replacement for a second car is a Raven, equipped with a Birkestrand hub motor, a Schlumpf Speed-Drive, a Rohloff Speedhub, a rollbar, a seatbelt, fenders, a chain cover, lights, front and rear fairings, and a grocery carrier. If JustTwoBikes were willing to customize their trike in this way, the cost would be over $5,000 and the weight would be over 70 pounds. The Woods trike has a better design (34 pounds, 18 inches wide, delta design, front wheel drive, standard bike components, tilting front that can be locked in vertical position, solid seat, full front and rear suspension, and cheap), but you would have to build it yourself or have someone build it for you.
Last, and not least, a minimalist version of an ideal commuter trike should be available for under $1,000. The closest to an ideal minimalist commuter trike, really a replacement for your bike instead of replacing a second car, is the 34 pound version of the Venice Beach with a 52 inch chain ring for $1,275 (direct from the manufacturer).
A recumbent trike handles differently from a standard upright bike and different recumbents handle differently from each other. "Try it before you buy it" is a wise step in the process. A test ride should help you decide if a recumbent trike with a supplemental motor is for you. Further, replacing parts and making adjustments may be difficult without a local dealer. (Of the trikes discussed above, most do not have a strong national network of dealers in the USA.) To find recumbent bike and trike dealers in your area, try the list of dealers by People Movers. Perhaps a local recumbent trike dealer would be willing to handle service and repairs, even if the trike you select is not one of their brands.
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