What is that strange trike? Is it as fast as it looks? Is it more comfortable than a bike? Are they safe? Where can I get one? People stop me regularly on the street or trail to ask these and many other questions. So I am taking a break from trail descriptions to give some answers to the curious.
That strange thing is a recumbent trike. Most recumbent trikes are tadpoles, with two wheels in front and one in the back. (A delta is the opposite.) The front wheels steer like a car. Most now have 27 speeds. Velomobiles are recumbent trikes with an outer shell.
Recumbent trikes are very fast because of their aerodynamics and gearing. Recumbents have been banned since 1934 by the International Cycling Union from all races because they were always winning. Recumbent trikes are not quite as fast as upright racing bikes, but faster on the downhill and slower on the uphill. I can pedal 25 mph on the flat, and am nearly 70 years old. My downhill tops is 40 from Mt Rainier, but more daring friends have attained 60 on mountain descents. The 24 hour world distance record for any human powered vehicle was accomplished in a recumbent trike velomobile--more than 700 miles, and the world speed record for a bicycle was done on a two-wheel recumbent--82 mph.
Recumbent trikes are much more comfortable than traditional bikes, especially in the neck, seat, and wrists. The head is in a natural position rather than at a sharp angle to the spine; seating is like in a lounge chair instead of a narrow wedge; and no weight rests on the wrists while riding. And as with other cycles, comfort can be further enhanced with shocks and fatter tires.
In many ways, a recumbent trike is much safer than a regular bike. You can't fall off, you never go over the handlebars, and your head is low and behind rather than above your feet. People of all ages and levels of strength ride recumbent trikes. Some of my friends with developmental or physical disabilities thrive on these machines. One riding partner can barely walk with a cane, but can ride his trike 40 miles at a stretch. Many with back injuries or balance issues switch from upright bike to recumbent. Still, most people switch to a recumbent trike simply because they are fun to ride.
A concern some have is that low stance. Can drivers see them? But when you think about it, you wouldn't run over a cement block in the road. You wouldn't hit a three-foot tall child along the side of the street. Recumbent trikes do have some volume, and are not hard to see, especially with a flag and blinkie.
Still, in certain circumstances, recumbent trikes are vulnerable. You have to be especially aware of opening doors on parked cars and vehicles making right turns into you. Of course, these are hazards for typical bicycles, too. A good set of mirrors and defensive riding make this a very safe sport, and the especially cautious stick to the extensive trail network in our region.
Recumbent trikes can be ordered from many bike shops, including Mountain Ski and Bike here in Enumclaw. To see a huge selection of them, your best bet is Angle Lake Cyclery on highway 99 near SeaTac airport. Used ones are usually for sale on Craig's List or bentrideronline.com. These websites are also good places to sell a bent if you want to upgrade (or lose interest.)
For more information about the leading brands sold in the Pacific Northwest, check out the manufacturer websites:
I.C.E. (Great Britain)
The reason most people choose a recumbent trike is the sheer joy of riding, whether it is a high speed descent, slalom-like turning, or effortless touring, all a few inches off the ground. It is like driving a 1950s sports car--without needing gas.