Electric Tricycle?!?
October 28, 2009 9:16 AM   Subscribe

Does anyone out there have any recommendations for stable and easy winter commuting involving ~15 minutes transportation (with a bike or a car) on a busy road and a big hill? Electric tricycle? Do you think it would be less likely to slide-out than a bike? Recumbent bike? Looking for others in a similar situation.

I have a commute that is really short, in fact, with parking it takes the same time to bike to my office as it does to drive (to a college campus). No matter what, 15 minutes. The car is such overkill, I'm looking for a better solution.

I live in Iowa, and the winters are bad. I used to ride my bike in the winter (in Sweden), but I fell multiple times and I am discouraged about doing it here - I have a lasting elbow injury from those falls. Although, I never tried cleated tires (or whatever they are called)...

I am looking for a 100% stable option and I am thinking a tricycle might be the answer. Am I right in thinking it won't slide-out on ice? However, there is a big hill on my very short commute, and I don't think it is trike-friendly. So, I am thinking electric tricycle. Anyone own one? Any recommendations? Or, let me know if you have a better solution.

My budget is under $2000. I'm willing to spend for a great solution that is both winter-stable and hill-ready. It has to look enough like a bike that I can park it in the bike parking right by my office OR I could get a motorcycle parking permit. I'm also willing to look like a dork riding it. Any options that offer additional cold-weather protection a plus. Thanks for your help.
posted by Eringatang to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (21 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
You can get winter studded tyres for bicycles. Not living in an icy area I've no idea how good they are though.
posted by pharm at 9:29 AM on October 28, 2009

Have you tired studded bike tires? What kind of bike did you previously try this with? I'd recommend a mountain bike with studded tires. Scooter/moped/electric bike/motorcycle/trike is going to have the same traction problems in winter as the bicycle unless you get snow tires or studded tires.
posted by captaincrouton at 9:30 AM on October 28, 2009

As a lifelong New Englander: You might want to try renting a tricycle when it snows before buying one. Maybe you're supernaturally tolerant of cold, but moving at any speed above walking (sometimes even at walking speed) when it's very cold out is really, really unpleasant. Even worse is when there's a couple inches of slushy snow.

If I were you, I'd use the car for the three months or so when it's very cold and snowy, and come up with a creative solution for the rest of the year. I'm really into walking/not using cars... except in winter. Then I'm a-ok with driving.
posted by oinopaponton at 9:38 AM on October 28, 2009

In my experience recumbent bicycles are almost impossible to ride on ice. A recumbent tricycle might work nicely. I've never ridden one more than a mile or so and not on ice but I think a tadpole design (one drive wheel in the back, two wheels in front) would work nicely. They are geared such that hills are not a problem. The Sun EZ-3 is a heavy, less expensive and less well built example of what I'm taking about. Catrike have some very nice lightweight well built options right above $2,000.
posted by ChrisHartley at 9:42 AM on October 28, 2009

I cannot attest to Iowa, but in Boston - biking was decent during the winter, even big hills.

There is nothing - nothing that is 100% stable during the winter, asides from possibly a snowcat or a tank and neither of those get the gas mileage nor pose the minimal environmental impact you seem to be looking for.

My experience with biking in the winter meant a commitment to low gear, additional time, and a strong desire to carrying my bike over my head and run with it when things got rough. Cars don't have good control in snow either, streets are generally plowed inconsistently (especially going into a winter where states and towns have big budget shortfalls), and ultimately currently working snow plows don't care that a cyclist is on the road.

Everything slides on ice. Cars, trikes, and bikes. I've never bailed from a recumbant bikes, or thrown one over a snowbank to avoid a snowplow, so I can't comment on their effectiveness. A trike just makes me think of more gearing and surfaces to clean of salt and water *every day* and more weight to carry over my head while running through an unplowed or impassable area of road.

The closest you'll get to 100% stable which does not involve driving is walking. Skiing might also be an option, though...

Get a facemask, and a set of ski goggles, a good helmet and safety lights for both the day and night riding. After 2 minutes of biking on the coldest day of the year you'll be supprised how warm you are in the winter.

P.S. Some drivers may swerve AT you for biking in the winter...
posted by Nanukthedog at 9:42 AM on October 28, 2009

Given that you live in a place where there is real winter, I'd suggest against a bike during those months. Is there no public transit or a car pool you could join for the winter months?

Studded tires on a bicycle will help but they are not foolproof and falling on frozen ground hurts even more than not frozen ground. Plus, biking in freezing temps can be brutally unfun and even bad for your lungs to be inhaling such cold air.
posted by fenriq at 9:43 AM on October 28, 2009

The Icebike website may be useful, especially if all the (perhaps completely sane and reasonable) naysayers in this thread are getting you down. Lots of equipment and technique recommendations, as well as inspiring stories and pictures.
posted by ChrisHartley at 10:09 AM on October 28, 2009

I used studded tires on my hybrid bike last winter on my commute, which take me over some icy hills in Maine. I never fell or came close to it. Here is a good page that explains about studded bicycle tires (it is also where I purchased my tires).

A tricycle would be more stable in terms of tipping over, but that won't help you from sliding around on ice.

Definitely get some good lights and a face mask!
posted by mikepop at 10:36 AM on October 28, 2009 [1 favorite]

Biking in freezing temps can be totally fun. Your lungs will find it difficult at first, but will adapt. But you've biked in the Swedish winter, so you know that already.

I think what's missing for he equation here is how well your area maintains the roads on your way to work. Will they dump salt everywhere? Plow the snow over to the shoulder and block your way? Not do anything?

If the way is clear, cold and dry weather isn't much of an issue. With a mountain bike-style bike with knobby or studded tires, an inch of fresh snow is easy to bike through, and compacted snow is no big deal to bike over at a moderate speed. Wet snow, cold rain, and slush are no fun, but actually not that slippery (except for metal grates, manhole covers, etc.). But even with fenders, you're going to get wet and dirty, so it's often not worth it. The real problems are ice, black ice, freezing rain, and thick snow. Studded tires might help with the ice, but I've never tried them.

Tricycles and recumbents just aren't as maneuverable as regular bikes. You can't lean as well, use your body to alter your center of gravity, pop a small wheelie to get over an obstacle, etc. There's a reason you don't see many BMX recumbents. Trikes and large recumbents are also harder to carry or throw in someone's trunk.

Biking over something slippery can be harrowing. Some tips:

-Don't white-knuckle it. Keep your body, especially your grip, firm but not tensed.
-Keep your weight over your rear wheel for more stability. The wheel with the weight on it is the one more likely to slip. A slip with your rear wheel is recoverable. A slip with your front wheel usually means you're going down.
-Stay the course. Straight and stopping is usually a better option then a tight turn and slipping. Plan ahead for hazards.
-Pump the brakes if need to slow or stop. Otherwise keep pedaling with even strokes.
-Practice. Find a grassy area and try to make your rear wheel skid in the snow. Even take a couple of slow-speed falls so you learn how--try to catch your fall with your flat forearms, not your outstretched arms.

Bike as much as you can with the equipment you have now, and winterize your bike and buy more gear gradually as you see how the conditions turn out. Chicago Bike Winter has a few pages of tips. But get some tire chains for your car if it really gets icy, and a good par of hiking boots, and you'll have a couple of other options for the wet or icy days.
posted by hydrophonic at 10:41 AM on October 28, 2009

I've biked year-round in the midwest (and now Denver) for a few years now. Actually, I just biked to work in about 4-5 inches of snow. A couple things that have worked well for me, stability-wise:

A fixed-gear bike, geared low. It allows you to slow your legs down and slow more gradually, like a manual car downshifting.

Wide tires, somewhat under-inflated

Full fenders.

Take up a lane. Don't feel pressured to ride on the side of the road where it's all just muck and ice and slush. Ride where the road is clear, even if it means getting in traffic's grill (so to speak).

Be slow and careful. Watch for sliding cars.
posted by craven_morhead at 11:39 AM on October 28, 2009

Okay, thanks for all the advice. The cold weather is not a problem for my body, just my commute. I walk to work in the winter all the time. I also biked quite a bit *in Swedish Winter* until I fell a few times, on my mountain bike. The cold doesn't bother me and I'm used to doing fast-moving things in the freezing cold. I guess I will start with the studded tires on a bike, but I still feel like a tricycle would be more stable, and the electric ones look fun, so if anyone has any experience riding one please let me know.
Thanks again!
posted by Eringatang at 12:05 PM on October 28, 2009

The Greenway Tricycle has "good traction in wet or icy conditions." There is a picture on that page of winter riding. There is a a two wheel drive option that "provides superb traction in snow and deep or steep dirt/gravel." A new one is over your budget though.
posted by oceano at 1:28 PM on October 28, 2009

Oh oceano...they look perfect...and I get install power assist. I think I am in love. Have you tried one?
posted by Eringatang at 3:11 PM on October 28, 2009

Why would power assist be a good thing exactly?
posted by craven_morhead at 4:20 PM on October 28, 2009

As I said, it looks fun, and I have big hill to get over, four times a day, with cold-induced asthma.
posted by Eringatang at 5:48 PM on October 28, 2009

So, I guess I contradict myself: the cold weather does in fact bother my body, but I am stubborn.
posted by Eringatang at 5:49 PM on October 28, 2009

I have not tried one unfortunately... but I want one.
posted by oceano at 5:52 PM on October 28, 2009

I rode all last winter in Wisconsin on a touring bike outfitted with a studded tire in front. My commute is 11 miles. I only fell once after I switched to studs, and it was because I was trucking hard during a snowfall, and hit a 15 foot patch of black ice covered with an inch of fresh snow. The back tire fishtailed 2-3 times before I went down. Had I known the ice was there, I never would have fallen. Had I been running two studded tires, it's possible I never would have known about the ice at all, since I wouldn't have fallen.

With the low gear ratio I ran last winter, I felt like I was riding a monster truck around town. I'd strongly urge you to give it a chance.

Have you ever ridden a Tricycle before? I've got one rigged up for kicks that my daughter rides, and it's less stable than a bicycle - you can't ride in a straight line on sloped roads, and since there's no differential gear, turning feels hella dangerous. Plus it's heavy as hell.
posted by rocketman at 5:56 PM on October 28, 2009

In Minneapolis I once saw a giant, homemade quadri-cycle with a sheet plastic enclosure for the rider. It got the rider above regular car height and looked quite stable. No idea how to build such a thing though.
posted by miyabo at 7:30 PM on October 30, 2009

In Minneapolis I once saw a giant, homemade quadri-cycle with a sheet plastic enclosure for the rider.

Something like the Rhoadescar?
posted by apartment dweller at 4:52 AM on June 17, 2010

The Rhoadescar is similar to what I saw, but the one I saw got the rider quite elevated, almost like a horse-drawn carriage. Good link though!
posted by miyabo at 7:41 PM on June 17, 2010

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