I last wrote about my experiences of learning to ride a recumbent bike and my reasons for doing that. Since then, and like any person wishing to know more, I’ve spent time on webpages reading and exploring ideas. This is all well and good but the more I looked the more I found myself drawn to the weird and wonderful world of trikes: three-wheeled cycles which are often known as HPV’s (Human Powered Vehicles).
I’ve only met one trike rider since my return to cycling and he was travelling all over the UK on an older model ICE creation. ICE stands for Inspired Cycle Engineering and they are based in Falmouth, Cornwall. Their reputation for building some of the best trikes in the world is upheld everywhere you care to look and it wasn’t long before I found myself wondering what they were like to ride. The man I met had a physical disability that prevented him riding a cycle. He loved his trike and covers thousands of miles on it each summer. I know of other riders who use trikes due to physical and cognitive disability but haven’t yet met anybody who rides one for the hell of it.
The disadvantages of trikes are similar to recumbent bikes. Your legs are worked differently and you have to allow time to readjust to a new way of using your musculature. However, they have one big advantage over two-wheeled recumbent cycles: you don’t have to balance which means that hill starts are easy This is something all the sites and reports I’ve read suggest can become impossible at certain gradients on their two-wheeled cousins, especially when loaded. The only real disadvantage over recumbent bikes would appear to be their weight although the ones I’ve been researching are a similar weight to my Santos Travelmasters. They are also wider which could limit access to certain trails. I should add that ICE trikes fold in half with a clever twist that leaves the rear wheel flat between the front pair. This helps transport and storage and can be done without lifting the trike at all by removing the seat and unclipping a quick release mechanism. It’s an example of brilliant design at work.
The majority of serious trike riders use what are known as tadpole trikes. They have two wheels at the front and one at the rear. They appear to climb better than delta trikes with one front wheel for whatever reason and have great stability downhills and around corners. These low to the ground machines offer the advantages of being more aerodynamic than their two-wheeled cousins but my thought was probably the same as yours now: how does anybody see you down there?
More reasearch followed and riders across the globe express the notion that drivers give them a wide berth as they appear so unusual. Obviously you would have to take care in major conurbations as you could disappear from the view of traffic ahead, from behind, and to those pulling out. Putting this aside as I don’t like cities I began to wonder how to get to ride one and find out for myself.
Talking to Michele I found that she was as inquisitive as I am. She said she felt drawn by the obvious comfort and the fact that you can stop anywhere and sit in a big comfy seat before setting off again when you felt like it. We decided to call ICE and see if we could pay a visit to their HQ in Falmouth, something I’m happy to say they were keen for us to do. We arranged a time and awaited the day which arrived quickly and with a great deal of rain.
It sluiced down on the way across Dartmoor and Bodmin Moor. We kept our fingers crossed that it would improve as the forecast suggested. Arriving at ICE as the sun began to break through we were met by one of the staff who showed us around the premises including the assembly area, offices, and storage. Shortly after that he took two trikes that I had shown interest in from the secure storage area and said “have a ride around the car park to get the hang of it”. He also showed us the clever fold that makes storage and transportation much easier than previously possible.
Michele and I were soon exploring these high-tech and beautifully engineered cycles. Getting in was easy and I found myself luxuriating in a big comfy mesh seat. Clipping into the pedals was also easy as you can do it prior to starting off. These trikes have no back brake as they are deemed dangerous by the ICE team but they do have a parking brake that is operated by a shifter that sits low on the bars. Clipped in and hand-brake off I was ready to roll. Hearing a call of “remember that you can lean back” as I rode off I did just that. We were away. Round and round we went enjoying the new sensations that bombarded us from what felt like an arm chair.
After ten minutes or so the chap who was taking care of us said “why don’t you take them out for a proper ride.” He had told me a good route to follow and placed some flags in the rear of the seats to increase our visibility on the road and off we went. The level of trust here was fabulous. we were just left to go and play. Michele was riding an Adventure model which is designed with a higher seat and ground clearance. The Adventure trike is designed to go anywhere, even though it has twenty inch wheels. It’s higher ground clearance makes it easier to get in and out of and it’s height means you can explore rough stuff as well.
I was riding a Sprint X with a 26″ rear wheel which I thought would add comfort. The Sprint is lower to the ground and this one had high pressure Schwalbe Kojak tyres on it for greater speed on the road and lots of extra shiny bits. We both rode up the initial steep hill away from the factory without stressing legs too much and found ourselves at the road at the top. Turning left we tentatively rode in the busy traffic, all of which gave us a wide berth. When Michele had enough we returned to ICE HQ and she retired for some sustenance. I turned around halfway down the last hill and set off for a longer ride that would include an even steeper and longer hill than the one at the industrial estate where we started from.
It definitely worked my quads differently but it wasn’t an issue, just something you have to adapt to. The gearing was low enough that I could spin away in great comfort. Once on the flat I seemed to fly along using the big chainring much more than I would on an upright bike. It was blowing a gale but being down low I didn’t notice it at all. The more I relaxed the more it made me grin and the further I wanted to go. I only did a few miles but the trike was stable downhill, intuitive and easy to steer/brake, and easy to change gear using the bar-end shifters. Most importantly it felt incredibly stable down the steep hill into Falmouth and around every corner. It was such fun to ride. Eventually I turned around and worked my way back to the top where I stopped to try a different and more upright seat position.
On returning to the factory I was smiling like a child at Christmas. Michele had gone inside so I asked if I could take the Adventure out. I adjusted the boom for my longer legs and set off once more up the hill. With three 20″ wheels I expected it to be bumpy but it wasn’t. With a higher seat, fat tyres, and a wider track it felt perfect straight away. As the seat was higher the pedals were relatively low and this suited my hips leaving them more open. I rode up the hill with ease as the gearing is lower due to the small wheels. The off-road RS and FS ( Rear suspension and full suspension) versions have even lower gearing which would be very useful for load hauling in hilly terrain.
I rode around and about playing in housing estates and storming along on the flat feeling as though this was my perfect trike. I adjusted the seat (there are four settings for seat angle) to see if that was what was making the difference but it wasn’t. The adventure fitted me better however you adjusted the bars (You can adjust width and angle) and seat. The turning circle was much tighter which would be useful on the road and off it. The ride wasn’t at all rough or jarring and I basically fell in love with it.
Cars continued to give me a wide berth and I gained confidence with every metre I pedaled. The comfort levels were those of a good sofa and nothing ached or felt strained whilst riding. One aspect I loved was the fact that I could pull over and stop, unclipping my pedals, and sit in complete comfort. By the time I returned to the office my manic grin said it all. We talked with the staff while sitting in the main office while drinking coffee. They were friendly and answered every question we asked with great interest.
Michele was also really excited by what she had learned and came away wanting a trike of her own. She had also found the handling, braking, and gear changing to be intuitive and loved the comfort that the trike provided. What surprised her was just how easy they are to ride and how much it got under her skin.
We drove home discussing ways to raise money and buy a pair of trikes, something neither of us expected to feel so strongly about prior to taking a test ride. I expected my legs to ache from the effort I had put into riding. I also expected my hip to inflame as it does every time I ride my upright bike but that never happened. I felt open and easy on the trike in a way I have never previously experienced while cycling.
Trikes may be a little slower up the hills but so what? It was such a positive experience and the hills would improve over time. Before this test I had wondered whether it would feel okay being on three wheels and not having to balance. I wondered if would detract from the experience of cycling. I also wondered about the efficiency of trikes in general and whether I would struggle to move at a reasonable pace. The outcome of test riding the ICE trikes was that none of these preconceptions held water. I felt just like I would when cycling along on Fly, just lower down, more comfortable, and extremely relaxed.
Sitting upright and looking forwards gave a great view of all around and allowed me to relax my shoulders and neck. The outcome of this is that I have no aches and pains despite the effort I made on the hills and the fact that I had never ridden a trike previously. In short I seriously think I’ve found something that I want to explore further. I can see myself riding a long way in great comfort and if that means a little less speed is involved I’m fine with that.
I am feeling the need to change the way I cycle if I am to continue to a grand old age. Multiple knee and shoulder operations, some serious injuries, and an accident that damaged my spine, are beginning to impinge on my everyday life. My body has been hammered by the things I have done and the ravages of many years of ill-health. By making this change now I hope to slow down the inevitable and keep riding the long distances that I love. To this end I have decided to keep Irene and sell Fly, my expedition bike. I have a strong emotional attachment to Irene. After all, she was the bike I rode round the UK.
Fly would cost around £3500 if she was to be built now. Complete with Santos Travelmaster Cro-Mo frame (19″/20″) that is specifically designed for the Rohloff hub She has Rohloff hub gears, Son dynamo, CSS rims, and a brand new drive chain/sprockets. I’m looking for offers in the region of £2000. If you know anybody who might be interested in owning this wonderful cycle please get in touch with me here or through my Facebook pages. I will be advertising her for sale on Ebay in the next couple of weeks.
P.S: We were so involved in our test that we forgot to take any pictures. That’s a shame but I’m sure we will be back at ICE in the not to distant future.