Please help me pick out a bike for myself
February 24, 2013 7:05 PM   Subscribe

I'm looking for a three wheel bike for various reasons, but I'm getting conflicting advice, so I'd like even more advice.

Okay, background... I'm 46, female, 240 lbs, 50 of which I've put on over the last year due to recently developed hypothyroidism. I have asthma, fibromyalgia, and a host of other maladies. I also have a dog that needs to run but I can't run because I have arthritic knees and a bad back. Bad knees and a bad back are the main things that have kept me from riding a bicycle (it hurts like hell whenever I try) so on the advice of others I'm looking for three wheeled bike.

Now, because of the asthma, etc., I'm not looking for a speed bike or anything like that. My goal isn't to become a bike enthusiast or train for a marathon. I just want to cruise gently down the street and let my dog run beside me.

Because of my bad back and knees, some friends have recommended a recumbent bike like this one or this one. However, they seem to be very low to the ground, and I'd feel very strange on the road with them.

Someone also recommended a tricycle like this one which is more bicycle height and looks more to the style of cruising. I just don't know if it will help with the back/knee thing purely because it's a three-wheeler. I'm sure not having to balance will be a great help with my back, but will it help with my knees?

We went to a few bike shops here in town (Albuquerque) and three wheel bikes are rare it seems. We found one bike shop who had the recumbent bikes but not cruiser style. The recumbent bikes the shop carried were slightly different and way more expensive than the ones I linked above and the salesman was a little rushed when we talked to him. He recommended the cruiser style bike. I'm looking for more advice.
posted by patheral to Health & Fitness (13 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Recumbent trikes are amazing. There are a variety of styles, tadpole is 2 wheels up front, one in back, and delta is 2 wheels in back, one up front.

An amazing resource for all things recumbent is and the forums.

I ride a tadpole style recumbent trike as my primary transportation and love it. Unless you're going to a recumbent specific store, frankly, the salespeople are likely to recommend anything OTHER than recumbents. :/

Delta trikes sit up higher than tadpoles, so that might be more your style.

As far as the health issues, a trike would be PERFECT for pretty much all of those. I have a variety of weird health things, and my mom has MS, and she also has a tadpole trike. She can ride further than I can! Though my cop out is that she lives in a flat area, I live in a hilly one. :)

One benefit to trikes that can not be understated is that you do not have to put any energy into balancing. There is VERY little risk of falling over (generally only if you take corners too fast), so you don't have to put a foot down at stops or get up to speed quickly in traffic.

I could go on all day about this (recumbent trikes are sort of a passion of mine), feel free to memail me if you want more info, and definitely check out the bentrider forums!
posted by HermitDog at 7:19 PM on February 24, 2013 [1 favorite]

I briefly had knee problems on my first recumbent. The pedals on a recumbent don't need to be as far away from your body as they do on an upright, so it was an easy fix. Also with recumbents you're supposed to use an easier gear than on equivalent terrain on an upright. If you know both of these, you'll be at least as comfortable as on an upright.

Recumbents are mainly uncommon due to bike racing politics.

It's true what they say about recumbents; once you get used to one, there's no going back. Which would you rather sit on for an hour every day? I feel more physically comfortable in a lounge chair that doesn't have me hunched over, and I ride more because of it.
posted by aniola at 7:56 PM on February 24, 2013

I bought that exact Schwinn tricycle online last year thinking it would be fun to ride. It wasn't. In fact, I felt a lot less steady on the tricycle than I did on my regular bike. It wobbled a lot and the thing felt like it was going to topple over on every uneven surface or bump in the road I hit. I ended up selling it on Craigslist.

Ymmv though, I have a friend with a costlier tricycle and she swears by it. Definitely take one for a spin before buying one.
posted by Sal and Richard at 8:59 PM on February 24, 2013

Best answer: Seconding both HermitDog and aniola. I build and ride recumbents, and I've spent a lot of time studying the various designs, both on paper and on the road. I'll try to break this answer up into sections:

1) Recumbent vs. Upright trike
Most upright trikes are poorly designed. The drivetrain saps your energy by diverting it along the axle. The arrangement of the wheels (one in front, two in back) tends to be tippy, and when combined with an upright's high center of gravity I find myself feeling like I'm about to fall over if the road is crowned*. The main issue, though, is how your weight is distributed: On an upright bike that fits you well, your weight will be distributed evenly between the your feet, your seat, and your arms. Cruising around slowly on an upright trike, you'll tend to put little weight on your feet, and more of your weight will be on your seat. This gets very uncomfortable over time. Recumbent seats are designed to hold the full weight of your body comfortably, and the seating position takes a strain off your arms and shoulders, too.

2) But recumbents are so low!
Yeah, that's a very common reaction, especially to trikes, which place you lower than many two-wheeled 'bents. Delta (one wheel in front) trikes tend to be higher, and of the existing tadpole (two wheels in front) trikes, the TerraTrike Rover that you linked to is one of the highest. Generally, they put your head at about the same level as a person in a car. You can't see over cars as you can on an upright, but I don't find it to be a problem. On my lowest recumbent I have a flag for visibility, but cars usually notice me, and I think drivers give recumbents a wide berth because most of them have no clue what they're passing. If at all possible, take lots of test rides and get a feel for it.

3) Which recumbent?
Tadpole (two in front) trikes are more stable, and currently more popular, than deltas. The TerraTrike Rover is supposedly an excellent introductory trike. Ultimately, though, you should ride some trikes. Nothing else will give you a feel for what you like. If possible, visit a shop that specializes in recumbents to look at all their models and discuss things with an expert. It looks like the nearest recumbent specialist is either Angletech in Colorado Springs or Sun Cyclery in Phoenix, and the only trike dealer in Albuquerque is Two Wheel Drive. Test ride every trike they have, for as long as they'll let you. Also, the Bent Rider Online Forums that HermitDog recommended are pretty welcoming, and if you ask in the general discussion or trike sections, there are probably folks in your area who will happily let you try their trikes.

4) Your dog! - scroll down for trike dog harnesses. May or may not be of use to you. I just enjoy the idea. (-:

In short: I'd recommend a recumbent. Would advise against upright trike. Test ride. Test ride some more. Check out the Bentrider Online forums. Test ride more. Pick whatever feels best!

*On a "crowned" road, the center is raised and the road slopes down toward either sidewalk. This isn't an issue for bikes, but on trikes it's noticeable - more so the higher your weight is.
posted by sibilatorix at 9:06 PM on February 24, 2013

[[ I also have back problems, and have thought about this quite a bit. I am also an avid cyclist and I teach people to fix bikes and for the past two summers my wife and I have gone on bike tours.]]
In my hometown, which has a similar population to your own, there was very little useful information about unconventional bikes. I went to a specialty bike shop that only had tandems and recumbents and [recumbent] trikes in a town a few hours away from where I live. It was amazing! I test rode a bunch of crazy contraptions that I never even knew existed, and the most fun I had was on one of these which I tried really hard to tip. Going fast downhill and then whipping around a corner managed to raise me onto two wheels, but I didn't go over, which is a maneuver that I wouldn't try in a car, normally.

If you can find a specialty shop within a few hours from you, I would highly recommend it. There is nothing like a test ride to see how things fit your body and whether they would actually help you be more comfortable.

You do NOT want that schwinn trike. It looks comfy but it is not [for me] and you will clip things with your back wheel which will tip you over.
posted by Acari at 9:52 PM on February 24, 2013 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: A question about recumbent trikes thought, is it a bit tricky getting off and on them since they're lower to the ground, but have a higher step-over than the upright style trike? Or is that something one gets used to quickly? I'm worried that might be hard on the back/knees... I'm sorry that I don't know the right terminology, it's been a long time since I've ridden a bike.
posted by patheral at 10:05 PM on February 24, 2013

I've never heard of problems with mounting and dismounting. I doubt you'd have any problem, though. You have a seat to sit on while you swing a leg over (should you need it), and the handlebars/wheels/frame/seat are usually plenty sturdy if you need to push with your arms.
posted by sibilatorix at 10:49 PM on February 24, 2013

Best answer: Recumbent trikes are becoming very popular for older or disabled people who still want to get around. Many of them are good for plus-sized riders. I agree that a delta trike fits your needs best. This recumbent store in Texas has some well-written articles on selecting a recumbent tricycle and learning to ride one. They also have some good material about recumbent bikes (two-wheelers).
posted by Harvey Kilobit at 1:34 AM on February 25, 2013

Best answer: I would disagree with sibilatorix about the stability of tadpole trikes. I think the delta trike design is more stable because your weight is in the same place as the two back wheels. Tadpole trikes often tend to also be low-riders, and so their stability is more because a low trike hugs the ground than it is about the design.

Recumbent riding in general is better for your knees than upright riding. It's about selecting a gear and spinning your legs, not exerting force down your leg and across your knee. Recumbents typically have a plethora of gears and you do a lot of quick shifting as your speed changes. You wouldn't want to mash down hard even if your knees were fine, because you are braced between the pedals and the seat; excess force won't lift your body, like it would on an ordinary bike. The physical ability to develop in recumbent riding is endurance, not strength.

Also from that trike shop I linked to above -- a series of articles by a dapper elderly fellow about his tricycle riding tips:
  1. This is your brain on trikes
  2. Three-wheel safety
  3. Trikes in traffic
  4. Seeing and being seen
I would agree with the other responders who suggested visiting a specialist recumbent shop and letting them work with you to find one you are comfortable with and enjoy.
posted by Harvey Kilobit at 2:05 AM on February 25, 2013

There is an in between option. Web search "crank forward bike". This design has the handlebars high, the cranks forward from traditional bikes, and most of the rider weight supported by a large, comfy saddle. The main intention of this design is increased comfort while riding low enough to place both feet on the ground upon stopping, without being as low as a recumbent. It seems a good solution for people with balance problems. Check brands Electra and Day 6 for selections that won't be too expensive.
posted by No Shmoobles at 6:09 AM on February 25, 2013

Best answer: is it a bit tricky getting off and on them since they're lower to the ground

Yes. It totally is. I think you get used to it [and a big part of that is trusting that you'll land where you need to], but it is like sitting down in a very low couch, which is sometimes awkward and sometimes hard on your knees/back.
That is not true of all trikes, though, so actually riding one is important for yet one more reason.

The rover you linked to is much higher than any of the trikes I tried, so I am hopeful that it will be easy for you to mount/dismount.

I think the delta trike design is more stable because your weight is in the same place as the two back wheels

This doesn't work out as you turn while moving forward since the vector normal to your acceleration [ie: the direction you would be going at any given moment if friction stopped working on your tires] is always going to be pointing roughly to one of the wheels in a tadpole, or to an empty space in a delta. This is especially relevant if you need to suddenly brake while turning.
[On a two wheeled bike you lean and this force is directed tangentially down to the pavement through both wheels, but in a trike your wheels stay more or less perpendicular to the ground whether you are going straight or turning.]

Web search "crank forward bike"

These are also sometimes called "semi-recumbent" and you should definitely check them out, too!
posted by Acari at 10:59 AM on February 25, 2013

You might also look at this upright recumbent, the Sun EZ-Sport. It's not a trike but it sits you up high enough to see traffic AND it's low enough that your feet will be on the ground easily when you stop. I have an older model of this bike and I love it.
posted by CathyG at 6:19 AM on February 26, 2013

Response by poster: Thanks, y'all for the advice. I'll probably stick with trikes because my balance ain't what it used to be. I rode a bike for a minute or three a year or two ago and I was quite wobbly. I'm sure I haven't improved since. My honey and I are going to check out the store that carries the rover this weekend, and we'll try it out. If that's not up to par, we'll make a road trip of it and head out of state for the others. This isn't something we're heading into lightly. Those puppies are expensive!
posted by patheral at 10:11 AM on February 26, 2013

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