From Bike to Trike

By: 
Eli Post

 

 

This article is for folks who are encountering difficulty with traditional road bikes either for medical or age reasons. It is also for those who plan to get older.

 

I hesitate to play the age card, but this article makes no sense otherwise. I turn 84 this fall, an age when most wisely turn from biking to other forms of exercise. But biking has become an essential part of who I am. I could not give it up when options were available to continue riding. Call it whatever you choose – obsession, foolishness, determination, dedication – I found a way, and am looking forward to a continued opportunity to ride.

First, some background. About ten years back, my capacity to climb hills and do long rides started to decline. More recently, I’ve had trouble starting off on the bike. We take starting off for granted but it involves coordinating the terrain, and the gear you are in, while staying aware of nearby activity, other riders, pedestrians, or motor vehicles.I had a few spills when starting off. Fortunately, when you fall at zero mph, you usually don’t injure yourself, but I knew it was only a matter of time before I broke a bone, and that I had to move on.

The key word here is "move". I needed a way to keep riding. The solution was an electric trike. A “trike” in the bike industry is a recumbent with three wheels, more commonly with two up front and one in the back. With three wheels, the trike is stable at the start, and lets you push off with ease. The electric assist compensates for age-related muscle loss.

However, there were other issues that had to be resolved before I could make a purchase. They were, in no particular order:

  • The trike with electric assist weighs close to 50 pounds. I could not safely pick it up and place it in my car, so we had to design a ramp system to roll it in and out. This is no small chore and consumed endless research directly related to the configuration of my car. We settled on 8-foot ramps to get the trike to the trunk, and smaller curb ramps to gently roll it into the trunk. I cannot stress enough how much engineering went into the ramp effort. There was little to go on, and we were pioneers in this effort.
  • The brand is of course a central issue but it was compounded by the effect of the pandemic on supply. There was a 45-week delay on the brand of choice. My decision was made not only on brand quality and performance, but also on what was available.
  • Electric assist is still relatively new for biking, and there are many players in the market with little consumer feedback. As in any new industry, some will flourish, and others will vanish. Selecting a brand with little feedback required some risk taking. Also, you must consider how much power  you need now but also how much will you need a few years from now. It’s tough enough to determine your current power needs, but you must assume that your power needs will grow with time.
  • The accessories you become accustomed to on a road bike, are more difficult to install on a trike. Warning lights don’t easily attach, and you enter a new world to accommodate your needs. As an example, I use my cell phone for navigation, but there is no convenient handlebar to install the mount. Designing a system for this task is still a work in process.

 

My trike was ordered in early April, and the bike shop has a backlog for motor install. I am expecting delivery in May and might have more to report after riding it for a while. I have refrained from citing specifics on brand, bike store and the like, but am happy to share such information on request.

I want to thank my son Alex for all his help making this purchase a success. We were dealing with new options, and he diligently researched all aspects of this effort. I am impatient by nature, and on several occasions Alex saved me from rushing into a decision before we fully understood the consequences. Again, it is difficult to explain all the research that was required.

 

The top photo shows ramps into the trunk of the (hatchback) car. The bottom photo shows curb ramps to allow a gentle trike transition while in the car. This is an engineering feat akin to the moon landing.

This article was edited by Tim Wilson.

 

 

 

 

Comments

Phillip Stern's picture

Great article, Eli. My dad rides a Catrike. Seven years ago, I rented an identical catrike so we could do an 80-mile ride on his 80th birthday. It was a blast! Such a fun trike to ride. I hope in 10 or 15 years when I’m looking to buy an electric trike the technology has improved so I don’t face the obstacles you encountered.