20 April 2009

2 wheels good, 3 wheels better

For years now, I’ve been curious about recumbent trikes. It turns out that Austin has a recumbent store, Easy Street Recumbents, and they had a mini show today. We went along and took a look.

I tried out three trikes: the Catrike Villager, the TerraTrike Path, and the Scarab 2026.

The Catrike was first. Setting off I was immediately struck by how comfortable it was compared to a regular bike, probably because of the relatively upright seating. The shortish wheelbase made it feel maneuverable, but I wasn’t a fan of the direct steering system. Like a classic racing bike, it didn’t take much movement of the steering to turn the bike. Unlike a racer, the controls felt somewhat stiff–probably deliberately so–and didn’t move far.

I rode a racer for years, but I never liked the steering. When I went back to a mountain bike, the feel of the handlebars gave me a sense of relief. So while the Catrike steering didn’t really rock my world, that’s likely just a matter of personal taste. The gear system worked well, and overall the bike felt zippy and fun. There was another big surprise when I got off and lifted the bike back into its parking spot–it was very light, much lighter than I expected.

Next I tried the TerraTrike Path. This time the steering was more like a mountain bike or regular roadster, so I felt more in control. The downside this time was the gearshift, which was horrible. The trike has a Sturmey-Archer 3 speed hub, with gears shifted via a rotary control on the grip. Unfortunately, the tandard rotary shifter used was designed for conventional handlebars, where you’d naturally end up gripping it with thumb and first finger; when it’s on the TerraTrike, the twist ring is at the bottom of the grip, making it difficult to move. Apart from that–which would probably be easy enough to fix by switching to some kind of lever or trigger shifter–the TerraTrike was awesome.

Then I tried the Scarab. This was quite similar to the TerraTrike, but with a derailleur, like the Catrike–in fact, both seem to use SRAM shifters. The steering is like the TerraTrike, but mounted lower. It had a more robust yet somehow less pleasing feel. However, like the Catrike, this trike had no gearshift problems, and it was a blast overall.

So, three great trikes, all pretty affordable, but with different design tradeoffs. (I wonder if a Shimano Nexus and some Jtek bar-end shifters wouldn’t be the ultimate solution?)

We also tried the TerraTrike recumbent tandem, because how often do you get a chance to do that? It was a totally awesome experience, and I can see that it would make for great shared exercise time, as you can have a conversation with your partner. Of course, the turning circle is positively car-like…

Which brings me on to the big issues that don’t really have anything to do with the trikes per se. The first is storage. I think it would be possible to fit a single trike in the garage as well as the car, if I tidied up and put some shelves in rather than leaving junk on the floor. However, getting the trike in and out would require removing the car first. I guess not having a two-car garage like a Real American does have a downside after all.

The second issue is the one I grapple with when considering most big purchases: would I actually use the product enough to make it worth buying? I tend to assume I won’t, but I was wrong about the elliptical machine. That said, I’m definitely not buying a trike in the immediate future. But now that I’ve experienced one, I may mull over the idea more seriously.

© mathew 2017