Moving to a Recumbent Trike

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Contents

Introduction

After a back injury a while ago, I could no longer ride an upright bike. Cycling has been a part of my life for far longer than I care to remember, so not cycling didn't seem like a viable option without first exhausting all possibilities. Eventually, in April 2006, I bought a Greenspeed GT3, and I'm back riding again. And loving it! :}

I found going to the recumbent trike a very interesting experience - it was different from an upright bike in so many ways, many of them good, some not so good, and lots of them just different. Riding a 'bent is much more different than I expected.

This page is an attempt to articulate some of these differences.

Background - How I Ride

When reading this, keep in mind that I'm probably not your average cyclist. As well as the back problems I suffer from a condition known medically as Shagged Knee Syndrome, so I ride relatively slowly and spin the pedals pretty fast (100 - 105 rpm).

Before the Greenspeed I rode an unsuspended mountain bike converted from commuting and touring. I had pretty slow tyres on it (Conti Top Touring), so my normal average on an unladen ride was between 20 and 24 km/hr.

Background - What I bought

The Greenspeed GT3 is what's known as a tadpole trike - 2 wheels at the front, which steer, and a fixed wheel behind. It's Greenspeed's entry level model, and cost A$2,950 base price.

I got a few options added as well, which brought the price to somewhere around A$3,700 (including delivery):
  • 165 mm cranks
  • SRAM Dual Drive - combines a 9-speed 11-28 cassette with a 3-speed geared hub. This gives me a grand total of 81 gears, with a range of 12 - 103 inches. Perfect for those with dodgy knees...
  • Front mudguards
  • Rear rack
  • Computer mount
  • Second mirror.

Sitting position

Greenspeed's phrase is, "Lie back and put your feet up!", while I prefer to think of it as a deckchair for the adventurous.

There's no doubt that it's much more comfortable than an upright. Your weight is spread over a much larger area, there's nothing to chafe, and there's no weight on your hands or arms. I no longer have to wear padded gloves, and I don't get a sore neck or shoulders. My bum stills get a little uncomfortable after about 30-45 minutes, probably because I'm not used to sitting back on it for so long, but it doesn't ever get particularly bad.

Although my back hasn't been symptom-free on the trike, it hasn't been bad at all. I use a lumbar support (although the support from the seat is pretty good), and I stop to stretch from time to time. After a year of owning the trike, I've built up to rides of about 50 km, without any bad effects on my back.

Because I'm looking up rather than down, I tend to notice a lot more than I did on the upright. This is particularly so when I get tired - on the bicycle I tended not to look up more than was necessary.

Sitting so low to the ground is both a blessing and a curse. You can't see as well in traffic, and you're closer to all the exhaust fumes. The flip-side is that I notice amusing bumper stickers much more. It's also not so great when pulling out of a T intersection with restricted visibility; in practice it's no worse than in a car, but you feel more exposed because all your body is poked out ahead into the intersection as you try to see if anything's coming.

Speed

I spent quite a while researching this before buying the 'bent, and found all sorts of different views. My impressions are are that the trike is:

  • Much slower uphill
  • About 8% slower on the flat
  • Significantly faster downhill
  • Not affected quite so much by headwinds
  • Not affected so much by panniers (since they're more sheltered behind me).

I'm still a long way from getting all my fitness back, so the jury's still out on this one. I suspect that the trike has slightly lower wind resistance but slightly more rolling resistance, so the overall effect will depend on how fast you normally ride. I'm currently only averaging about 18 - 20 km/hr (!), so the rolling resistance wins out.

Handling

I don't want to say this too loudly, 'cos anything this much fun just has to be illegal... The GT3 is incredibly invigorating to ride - every time I go around a corner at more than 15 km/hr, you can guarantee that I'll be grinning inanely for the next 5 minutes. It's like nothing so much as a go-kart, low to the ground and with very direct steering. You can even play around and get the inside wheel off the ground if you want ;} No, Mum, I didn't really mean that...

That direct steering takes a little getting used to, though, particularly going fast downhill. The steering on a bicycle tends to get more stable with speed, but that doesn't happen with the trike. I also find that it tends to pull to one side or another under braking if you're not braking evenly with both brakes - there's no tug on the handlebars or anything, but it still veers a little.

I also notice some minor sway when I pedal, although this may be due to my fast cadence and perhaps not-so-smooth style. It's a little disconcerting initially, but you soon get used to it. It doesn't affect the handling at all - it's just a slightly strange feeling.

There's no suspension, and the 16 inch wheels don't have a lot of give in them, so you definitely feel the bumps more. And on a recumbent you can't just hoist your bum off the saddle to take the shock in your legs, or jump it over kerbs or potholes. Others have dropped the rear tyre pressure to mitigate this, but I haven't found it much of a problem.

The GT3 has Sturmey Archer hub brakes, while the GT5 has disks. I tossed up getting disks for a while, but backed out because they're more complex and make the beast a little wider. The hub brakes feel about as powerful as old cantilevers to me - good enough, but not as powerful as V-brakes.

Gearing

On a recumbent you can't get out of the saddle to stomp up a hill, so if you're kneeologically challenged like me you need LOOOOOW gears. I had a 19 inch low on my mountain bike, while the low on the trike is 12 inches. I know, it sounds ridiculous, but it's absolutely perfect for me - I think the gearing is brilliant on the Greenspeed!

One of the nice things is that the trike has an idler cog under the seat. This means that you can use any cog with any chainring, and don't have to worry about chain angle. And the bar-end shifters are great, since they sit between thumb and forefinger for perfect control. If you've ever tried to use them on touring bikes (with your ring and little fingers), these are much better.

But the crowning glory, for me at least, is the SRAM Dual Drive. Not only does it give a truly wonderful gear range, but it's a ridiculously easy way of getting the same effect as dropping down a couple of gears. As well as when grinding up steep hills, I use it quite a bit when I have to stop at intersections (since you don't have to be pedalling to change), and when you find short steeper sections on gentle hills. It's much easier to change than the front derailleur.

The efficency of the Dual Drive isn't noticeably worse in first or third, either. I normally leave it in second, which is direct drive. Also, it's nice to have 1 less piece of Shimano gear on the bike. The only issues I've seen are:

  • You don't have a quick-release for the back hub
  • My right-hand pannier can press the release lever on the changer. I'll have to tweak the pannier a bit to prevent that.

The other thing to be aware of is the ground clearance under a medium-cage derailleur - there really isn't much at all. I'm not sure that I'll be venturing onto gravel roads on the GT3.

Width

The trike is about 800mm wide, which can be something of a challenge on narrow bike paths. Fortunately, it's also supremely controllable, so you can steer it exactly where you want it without any of the body language required on 2 wheels. The width can also be an issue in stabling the beast - I've only got just enough room for the trike next to the car in my garage, and that with the wheels turned as much as possible (which makes it a little narrower).

Miscellaneous

  • The way the GT3 folds is just great. They say it takes 5 minutes to fold it, but I'd imagine that with the right tool to hand and a little practice 2 minutes would be more than adequate. It's very well designed indeed
  • Mounting my computer was a bit of a challenge, mainly because all the sensor clamps are made to fit on skinny bike tubes, not drainpipes. I ended up making my own brackets
  • There are only braze-ons for a single bottle cage. You could add another to the boom, but I think I'll make something to hang a bladder behind the seat
  • The trike comes with one of those wavy fibreglass flagpoles with an orange flag. Being so low to the ground, you need it...
  • I've always liked using a handlebar bag, but there doesn't seem to be any equivalent that will work on a trike. I always take a pannier instead
  • For touring, you pretty much have to fit everything into rear panniers. I was a great fan of using a low-rider front rack as well on an upright bike, but those front bags will just gather dust now. However, you can put pretty large rear bags on, because there's no issue of size 11 shoes hitting the pannier on the back stroke
  • I haven't sorted out a good lock yet. The only place you can securely lock the frame is by going around just one of the seat stays, below the mudguard bridge
  • The GT3 comes with a Mirrycle mirror, and I got a second one for the other side. Probably the worst name for a mirror, definitely the best mirror I've used - no vibration at all.

Other Information

There's another similar page I found called Bike Upright Versus Recumbent, which has a good rundown of the different issues. It, however, isn't specifically about trikes.

And In Conclusion...

... I love the trike to bits! It's less practical around town than a bicycle, but it's loads of fun. It's worked out better than I expected, so I'm a happy cyclist again. And let me tell you, that's much better than being a happy non-cyclist ;}

Update - What I Think After More Than Four Years

After nearly 4 1/2 years owning this recumbent, I still love it to bits! All the things I described above are still valid, but the one new thing I've learnt in those years is how wonderful Greenspeed is to deal with.

I've had 2 problems with the recumbent - breaking spokes on the front wheels, and a broken frame hinge. Both times I got in touch with Greenspeed, and despite the fact that the trike was well out of its warranty period they fixed the problem for free. Their solution for the spoke breakage was a spoking pattern I've never seen before (and I normally build my own wheels, so I've seen a few), and it's worked a treat. As for the hinge, they replaced it with an uprated version and then powder coated the frame again, all with no charge.

So, I can't sing Greenspeed's praises loud enough - not only are their recumbents really good, but they're a company that inspires confidence. 'Nuff said.