Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Freedom on a Trike

The moment I start cranking, feelings of liberation, glee, freedom overpowered my multiple sclerosis. MS, what MS? And then in the next moment, feelings of terror and dread took over. For the first time I was “pedaling” a hand-powered adult trike. The breeze of speed weaved its way through the vents of my bike helmet, its strap still crusty with five-year-old sweat from my last ride on a two-wheeled bicycle. All was right with the world. Until, that is, I reached cruising speed, when I realized that I had overlooked one minor item. How to stop this particular hand-powered adult trike.

“Um, where the hell are the brakes?!” I called back to Jackie, a physical therapist at the US Veteran’s Administration. The VA was hosting a day of adaptive cycling for disabled veterans and others with disabilities and I was giddy to get the opportunity. Before riding I had noticed that a few of the other cycles had hand brakes connected to the hand crank, but this trike was, by all appearances, brake free. A hand-guided, hand-powered missile traveling at, well, subsonic speeds of 7-9 mph.
 
“Just turn the hand crank backward,” she hollered. “And be careful not to accidentally do that when you coast or you’ll stop.”

Crisis averted.

For the afternoon I got to test four trikes in total, two hand-powered and two foot-powered. Each had their plusses and minuses, and can best be described in terms of far faster, far larger, gasoline-powered motor vehicles.

The Convertible Sports Car. All of the foot-powered trikes out for demonstration were set up with two wheels in front and one in the rear (a “tadpole” design). My first ride of the day was on a silver Catrike Villager, and it felt like driving an open-air sports car. With my wonky legs, it wasn’t a drag racer (alas, no leg-powered bike of mine would ever burn rubber at the strip), but it was quick and snappy and hella fun. Turns were immediate and stable while the seating was comfortable—low, but not too low. Operating the trike, with the steering by your hips, felt natural. I breezed the mile down the trail on my fresh legs to the designated turnaround point and wanted to blow by the volunteers to keep exploring. But since the event was billed as a day to experiment with different trikes, not to abscond with them, I pulled a U and headed back.

The School Bus. The first hand trike I tried, a generic version, was an upright model with a tall bench seat that was decidedly old school, which is probably why it felt like driving a school bus. Not that I’ve ever driven a school bus, but I’ve got a pretty good idea that one lumbers along like this trike. With two wheels in back and one wheel in front (a “delta” design), you crank and steer at the same time. Going in reverse slowed or stopped the cycle, triggering a large stop sign to swing out and red lights to start flashing. Or at least so it seemed—the trike felt heavy. Hills were challenging, requiring a good bit of effort to climb even in the easiest gears … and even more attention to descend. Being so upright was not very stable and braking while turning didn’t feel natural at all.
 
The SUV. The Terra Trike Rambler wanted to be a sporty SUV (think BMW or Infiniti), versatile with a bit of panache. Alas, it felt a bit more pedestrian on this test ride. The higher seating position, a trademark of Terra Trikes, should have made entry and egress rather easy, but that would be wrong. The distance from the axle (which you have to stand in front of to mount the bike) to the seat is considerable, so you fall into the seat rather than lower into the seat. The higher seating position also meant sacrifices in handling. It just felt a bit clumsy and not quite up to the Catrike (fair enough, the Catrike is at least a third pricier). Because clip-less pedals were not available that day for the Rambler, folks had to use ace bandages (“the duct tape of physical therapists!”) to wrap my feet to the pedals. And being attached to the pedals is rather important. If a foot slides off, it could slide under the trike. If your foot slides under the trike, odds are rather high it’s going to hurt. A lot. Consider clip-less pedals mandatory for all foot-powered trikes.

The Muscle Car. I far preferred this lower slung hand trike, the Top End Force 2 from Invacare, to my school bus. Although it had a larger turning radius and it was more challenging to wriggle out of the seat, the speed of the trike was addicting. These brakes were on the crank, so they spun with your arms, making them more intuitive to use. But with this V8, I rarely braked, flooring it instead. The trike didn’t feel especially spry or nimble, but it was fast and liked the open throttle. To get up to speed, I spooled through the many gears—which, it should be noted, is a bit awkward, since shifting is done on the center shaft, meaning that you have to remove one hand from the crank (which is also where you steer). Once I reached cruising altitude (a muscle car that flies!), Jackie informed me that it was time to stow my tray table and return my seat to its upright position. Doh! I didn’t want the afternoon to end.

The entire experience was fabulous. Jackie and others at the VA (thanks Michelle!) ensured the event went smoothly, and the volunteers were more than up to the task. I’ve got to give a shout out in particular to Charlie, owner of Albuquerque’s Two Wheel Drive (http://twowheeldrive.com/). To my knowledge, his shop sells more trikes in New Mexico than any other cycling store, and Charlie knows his stuff. Note, most of the photos you see here are courtesy of Alexander Tran, another volunteer. (www.alexanderphotographyNM.com).

What’s next? An exclusive test of an innovative adult trike: the new e2, a joint effort from Edge Recumbents (http://edgerecumbents.com/e2/) and Evolve Trikes (http://www.evolvetrikes.com/). I have been waiting for a few years for this tadpole three-wheeled bicycle to hit the market, closely following its Australian design and development. The first e2 tricycles are being shipping in June 2014 from Edge’s Tennessee facility. With the quickest fold and most compact design (and a planned future power assist option!), will this new foldable recumbent trike be the best for those with a disability like multiple sclerosis? With a prototype being shipped to my front door in the coming weeks, I’ll soon have a much better idea.

19 comments:

Anonymous said...

Fantastic Dave!!!!!!!!

AMF

Dave Bexfield said...

A little motivation from a friend, who happens to bike a great deal and has MS and goes by the acronym AMF, didn't hurt.

Christine said...

This was an awesome post at just the right time. I have a Recumbent, trike, Stationary Bike and was looking at getting a bike to ride on the street, like a normal bike. There are so many different styles to choose from.

Christine Haamscher

Dave Bexfield said...

Christine, my bike friends would be jealous of your stable. After a regular bike, I'd suggest looking into a mountain bike and then maybe a snow bike. Those look fun!

Veronica said...

Loved this! Yup, it's a great feeling to be moving at a clip greater than a snail, isn't it??? Reminds me of a note from one of my BikeMS donors my first year back on the bike which said "Congratulations on your Ride of Freedom"... Yipee for you, Biker Dude Dave!

Angela said...

I've been trying hard to figure out a way to get a really great tricycle because I want to do a triathlon, but know that keeping my balance on my own two feet is problematic, and a trike is the only thing that will work.

Do they need more beta testers? LOL!

Anonymous said...

I have balance and problems with one leg I've had good success with my recumbent Sun TriClassic.

Good luck, David

Dave Bexfield said...

Thanks Veronica! Biker Dude Dave, I like the sound of that. :)

Dave Bexfield said...

Angela, alas the e2 is already sold out through August, but there are three prototypes in the world (not for sale) available for testing and I am fortunate to have the opportunity to try one. If you lived in New Mexico, I'd let you test it with me!

Dave Bexfield said...

Anon, I do like the TriClassic (super easy entry/egress), but at 56 lbs, that delta is challenging to transport. The bike trail near my home is fantastic, but you need to drive to the trailhead, so portability is essential for me.

Lyla said...

Portability is first on my must-have list too. Then I think the next criteria is ease of egress. I can usually point and plop myself down pretty accurately, but getting up is a whole different story. :-)

Dave Bexfield said...

Lyla, I agree, egress is key. There are bars that can be added to most bikes that can make getting off of the seat easier, mounted next to each wheel, but I don't know if they can be installed on this particular bike (and maintain folding).

My Odd Sock said...

These bikes look like something from a Mad Max movie.
Far different from my old banana-
seat Schwinn!
Surprised you didn't put playing cards in the spokes.
Looks fun as I haven't ridden a bike in years.
Thanks for sharing.

Dave Bexfield said...

MOS, I had a Ross Barracuda with a center gear shift (just like a car!). I also had a purple chopper with flames on the seat. I discovered, sadly, that choppers--with that tiny front wheel--are easy to crash. I rode it with knee pads, severely damaging the coolness factor, which is probably the whole reason I bought that thing. $32.50. Saved for a year.

Marina said...

I love my new trike! I think its a great option for MSers who have issues with a 2 wheel bike. It took all the anxiety out of cycling and gave me back and activity I loved. You don't get a lot back with MS, you mostly lose things, so that part was great :)

Dave Bexfield said...

Marina, fantastic! I only hope more MSers discover opportunities to rekindle their active passions. There are so many ways to adapt.

dkpjournal said...

There are many hills where I live.I have walking difficulties and balance problems. A trike would be good but not sure that I could handle all the hills. I might need an assist. Have you tried any of the electric trikes out there? You can pedal like a regular bike, but there is power assist if you need it. Thanks

Dave Bexfield said...

dkpjournal, the e2 that I mention is being planned for electric assist. There is also one by Horizon Trikes and another by Outrider USA. But they are pricey (and heavy, so no lifting): http://activemsers.wssnoc.net/showthread.php?t=1609

Dave Bexfield said...

This Anon comment was deleted for some reason by Blogger, so reposting.
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Enjoyed this article about adult trikes. I just purchased a Jorvik Adult Trike from England. It is a 6 speed Trike. It really moves easily even on small inclines. Have owned it for less than one week. It certainly took some practice to adapt from a 2 wheel bike to an adult trike. But, after a few trips up and down my driveway. Riding into my flowers and rose bushes I got the hanG of it. I have used daily and put about 6 miles a day on the trike. I take it out in the morning, early afternoon and late afternoon. 2 mile rides each time. Don't hesitate to ride a trike especially with MS and balance concerns. You will not regret it at all.