Thursday, August 19, 2010

Product Reviews (Part 2 - the trikes)

Why tour by trike tandem?

We came to touring relatively late. I had never managed a "century" (100-mile) ride in my first half century, and never tried a multi-day ride until 2001. As "mature" riders, we give comfort and safety a high priority.

A tandem configuration that lets two cyclists in their 60th year or beyond actually enjoy riding 1000+ miles in just over two weeks deserves even younger riders' consideration.

Other touring options we have tried;

Regular upright bikes:
I just couldn't ride far enough. My longest ride was about 100 kilometers, and there was no way I would get up and ride the next day.

Upright tandem:
We had three different upright tandems in the 1990's. They worked fine for one-day rides, and for taking the kids to school, but we couldn't coordinate our riding styles well enough to try a long ride. We wouldn't have dared to load up couple weeks' worth of luggage and tackle a hill on one of them.

Recumbent tandem:
In 2000, we bought a RANS Screamer recumbent tandem, and in the spring of 2001 we rode it 500 miles through Austria and into Hungary. A terrific bike! Its downfall (literally) was on climbs with switchbacks. With all our luggage, we couldn't keep it going fast enough to make the turns, and we didn't always agree on when to give up. It's a "noble climb" when you get off and push the bike up the hill, but we got tired of noble climbs.

One advantage of the Screamer over our later trikes: you can take it apart and put it in the trunk of a Camry. Reassembly (after some practice) takes less than a half hour.

It's very comfortable and easy enough to ride that I can put casual cyclists on the back seat and take them for a spin. Non-cyclists and elderly folks are another matter, and it takes a while to become comfortable being the captain (riding on the front).

In 2003, we toured across northern Germany and the Netherlands in Cab-Bike velomobiles and shipped them home, where we have used them for foul-weather commuting and for grocery shopping. We have done very little touring with them in the US, mostly day rides to which we traveled by van. They do stay dry in the rain, and they easily transport large amounts of luggage. They are heavy on uphill climbs, and it's hard to communicate between riders. Later models have made tire-changing easier, but ours have rear tires that we would rather never change out on the road.

Other velomobiles are better-suited to really long-distance tours.

At an annual rally in Germany, riders come hundreds of kilometers pedaling Quest velomobiles, reaching speeds of over fifty miles per hour and easily exceeding a hundred miles per day. A group of a couple dozen European velomobilists is planning a cross-country American tour from the Pacific to the Atlantic in 2011. We can imagine upgrading to lighter, faster velomobiles with more accessible wheels and joining them -- but I don't think it will happen.

Tadpole trikes (two wheels in front and one behind):
We've rented a variety of tadpole trikes for multi-day tours in the Netherlands and Austria. They are a blast! They accept normal panniers and trailers, so that luggage is not much of a problem. They don't fall over. When we tried riding with traffic in the US, however, we felt too low and inconspicuous. (In Europe, we were on bike paths or lightly-traveled country roads where drivers expect bikes.) We really prefer to ride tandem, and tadpole trikes don't tandemize. For solo riders touring on trails, a tadpole trike may be ideal. Availability and prices are favorable, and the drivetrain is relatively "normal" and uncomplicated, because it can use a standard rear bicycle wheel.

Tadpole tandem trike:
We've admired these and taken a couple test rides, and we were very tempted to buy one. Storage and transport of such a large trike were intimidating, and we hesitated. -- and then we found an ideal answer to our touring needs -- the delta trike tandem.

Delta tandems

Hase in Germany pioneered the delta tandem. We encountered trains of five or six of their Kettwiesel trikes being used to transport visitors to the Spezi bike show in 2003 and fell in love with them. (For pictures of a train of 93 Hase trikes, click here.)

Take the single front wheel off a delta trike and drop the fork into a coupler on the back of another trike to make a tandem.  Repeat until you have enough seats for everyone who wants to ride along.  The trike train or delta tandem has several advantages over two-wheeled tandems. It's very hard to tip over. Each rider has a separate drivetrain, so there are no disputes about which gear or cadence to use. Going uphill, you don't need to maintain a minimum speed to stay upright; you can even stop and restart.

Compared with most tadpole trikes, most delta trikes are not as low, so it's easier to get up from the seat.  The higher seat gives the deltas a bigger profile on the road;  I feel safer and more visible on the delta. It's very hard to "tandemize" tadpole trikes, so if two riders of different skill levels want to stay together, deltas have a big advantage.

Compared with a committed tadpole tandem trike, a train of two or more delta tandems turns in a shorter distance, has more drive-wheels (two to four, or more, rather than just one) for better traction, stores in much less space, and offers the greater versatility of converting instantly into independent trikes.  Separate drivetrains allow each rider to coast or to pedal in his or her preferred gear and cadence, something that is difficult to impossible to arrange on a shared drivetrain.  Switching which trike is in front allows different-sized riders to trade "captain" and "stoker" roles in less than a minute;  changing may not even be possible on a tadpole tandem trike. 

We started with a delta trike tandem hybrid of an Anura from Greenspeed and a Kettwiesel from Hase. We were in the right place at the right time to buy one of the late prototypes for the Anura, and we happened upon a used Kettwiesel at a good price a few months later. We bought couplers for both of them, so that we could ride tandem with either trike in front. Delta trikes "play well with others." If your delta trike has a hitch on the back, you can link just about any other delta trike on behind.

Our first Anura wasn't set up to pull our trailer, so the Kettwiesel had to be on the back for touring. This is a good configuration for stability on descents, but we wanted more flexibility. Neither of us likes to be in back all the time.

Greenspeed Anura

We rode our 1000-mile tour in 2010 with two Greenspeed Anura trikes. Why two Anuras, rather than two Kettwiesels? Why not stay with the combination of an Anura and a Kettwiesel, on which we had already ridden three long tours?

--The two trikes use different wheel sizes, and we were devoting more space than we liked to tires and tubes. Besides the spare tubes and tires, we carry the front wheel for the rear trike along with us, in case we want to ride separately or switch who's in front. With the Anura, the back trike's 16-inch wheel can fit into our luggage; the 20-inch wheel on the Kettwiesel has to be strapped on top.

--Motels in the Midwestern United States are very accommodating about allowing trikes into the rooms, but the Kettwiesel won't always fit through the door. After tipping it to one side, then another, taking off a wheel, and finally deciding to give up and park it outside, you start to think about reserving the "Kett" for camping trips. (European doors are based on the meter standard, and US doors tend to be about three inches or 11 centimeters narrower, because they are based on a one-yard standard. If you could know in advance whether the Kettwiesel would fit, it wouldn't be so bad. More likely, though, you come to a motel after a long ride, with rain expected overnight, and it really looks as if the thing ought to fit some way or another -- but it doesn't, and then you have to drag it back outside -- and good luck finding someplace to lock it up.)

--Our Kett is driven by just the right rear wheel; a differential is available on newer Kettwiesels, but the additional cost is high. On the Anura, the differential comes as standard equipment. One-wheel drive makes a trike vulnerable to slipping or outright failure on sand or gravel, particularly on highway shoulders where sand may accumulate just where the Kettwiesel's right rear tire needs to get traction. Two Anura trikes linked together makes a 4-wheel-drive vehicle. Just imagine what you can get through! (Obviously, two Kettwiesels with differentials would have the same advantages, but the cost is pretty high.)

--Luggage space on our Kettwiesel is limited, and the bag that fits it is not waterproof. (Newer Ketts may be better.) The Anura can accept a standard pannier on its optional rear rack, and there's room for a small standard RANS-style seat-back bag above it (or one large seat-back bag without a pannier). Linking another trike on behind limits the size and configuration of the front trike's luggage; we found that we didn't lose as much space and flexibility if we used two Anuras.

Why not two Kettwiesels?

We are very happy touring with two Anuras, but we realize that two Kettwiesels might be the ideal choice for many tandem teams.

--Some people strongly prefer the mesh seats; they shed rain better than the RANS seats.

--If the same trike will always be on the front, the front one can add substantial luggage capacity by carrying front panniers, which are readily available for the Kettwiesel.

--In the US, Anuras are much less expensive than Kettwiesels, but European buyers won't find much difference.

--Spare tires and tubes for the 20-inch wheels on the Kettwiesel are easier to find than 16's.

--The wider track and cambered rear wheels on the Kettwiesel make it more resistant to tipping than the Anura. (I've never tipped either of them, but riding solo I can lift a wheel on the Anura, and I can't on the Kettwiesel.)

Other delta trikes

There are other delta trikes besides the Greenspeed Anura and the Hase Kettwiesel. (Hase itself has the Lepus). Lightfoot offers the Greenway and other trikes, which can be tandemized using their hitch adapter. Sun EZ-3, USX, and some (but not all) of Sun's newer models don't have factory-supplied hitches, but there is a source for after-market couplers for them (Van-Guard Machine, Inc.). Discontinued trikes such as the Penninger may be available on the used market. For the most part, these aren't long-distance touring trikes. If you can't lift it to waist level, you probably don't want to ride it more than 10 or 20 miles, but it could still be an economical choice for riding to the store or taking fun day trips.

Anura experiences and evaluation

We found the two Anura trikes to be very comfortable for long-distance riding. Most of our riding days were over 100 kilometers, and one day was over 100 miles. We had some foot pain and toe numbness, but otherwise our bodies tolerated the rides very well.

Our biggest problem was with the tires. We went through four tires and lost count of inner tubes and patches. The original-equipment Scorcher tires were very smooth-riding and fast, but we came home and bought a "six-pack" of Schwalbe Marathons after the tour. Highway riding with trikes in our area requires really good sidewall protection, because the shoulders are scarcely wider than the trike. At the edges of the road and the shoulder, rough edges can scrape the tires if they drop or ride up over the side. Debris can cause punctures. Broken glass, roadkill, potholes, -- there are a lot of hazards, and the tires have to be very sturdy to deal with them.

Mechanically, we had no trouble except for one axle that was wearing prematurely. This seems to have been due to a problem with a wheel bearing. We met up with Ian Sims, the manufacturer, at the Midwest Recumbent Rally in Stevens Point. He brought replacement bearings and a new axle and took the worn ones back to Australia to evaluate. This seems to have been an isolated problem.

Steering, braking, and shifting all functioned just the way they were supposed to.

These trikes were fun to ride. People smile or even break out laughing when they see them. They're a real ice-breaker for conversations.

They are also easy! We gave lots of people test-rides. We could put total neophytes on the back trike. Kids had a great time, even if they could barely reach the pedals. Even on the front trike, there's not much you can do wrong, so we didn't have any worries letting folks try them out.

Couples with one passionate rider and one couch-potato can ride a delta tandem and not have to worry about staying together. Tandem teams that can't agree who rides in front can just switch off. "Mashers" and "Spinners" can ride together without fighting over cadence. Families can hook on more trikes and have the fun of a triple, quad, or quint (or more) tandem without the rapidly escalating difficulty of riding the longer two-wheelers.

You spent that much money on a bike???

Well, yes.

And how much money do people spend on snowmobiles and jet-skis that require gas, trailers, and expensive maintenance and can be ridden only when there is enough snow/open water? How much do they spend on cruises, beach vacations, gambling, jewelry, plastic surgery, and smoking?  How much do they spend on weight-loss products and programs that don't work?

At the risk of sounding defensive -- aw heck, just plain getting defensive about it -- our bike/trike habit has paid off with better health, lots of enjoyment, and -- well, just look at the "before and after" photos below (from 2005 and 2010). Cycling has been good for us. Having bikes and trikes that we really enjoy riding has been good for us. Having trikes that can be ridden on ice without falling over has kept us exercising during the winter. Having bikes and trikes that carry our stuff in waterproof containers out of reach of our heels has kept us commuting to work and getting exercise without cutting into our time for other activities. Having velomobiles and owning bike trailers with enough room for all of our groceries has turned our shopping trips into opportunities for exercise. And having a really great touring set-up has let us become long-distance cyclists despite all the reasons (cancer, orthopedic issues, etc.) we could be sitting in our rocking chairs instead.


Ken said...

Interesting setup! Since you rode the St. Paul Classic, I wonder if you might be at the Minneapolis Bike Tour on Sunday. I would love to take a closer look. (It seems to be difficult to find tandem setups of any kind at bike shops in the Twin Cities.)


Mary said...

Hi Ken,

We will be at the Minneapolis Bike Tour, riding a trike tandem. (It should be easy to spot us.)

We usually bike down on Saturday morning to sign in for the ride. If we do, we're likely to have the trailer with us, since it's also handy to the Farmer's Market. We will ride to and from the start on Sunday and will be on the long route.