Help me think up ways to soup up my tricycle riding experience.
January 21, 2008 1:34 PM   Subscribe

Help me think up ways to soup up my tricycle riding experience.

OK, don't laugh-- I'm a 24-year old girl who rides an adult tricycle (Actually, wait, go ahead and laugh, everyone else does!). I never learned to ride a real bike and so I would up purchasing a tricycle--Like this one, essentially: a Worksman 3-speed Port-o-Trike I've lovingly named Manny (folding, 20" wheels, etc.) . But I'm pretty out of shape and the extra weight of lugging around a tricycle + things in the basket mean that I only clock 7mph (though I have yet to ride that far in an hour, as I get pretty winded), and get pretty tired out a couple of miles into it. I know part of the solution is 'Ride the bike more, dummy', but here's my other quandry: I live in Phoenix, AZ. Right now it's beautiful and great riding weather, but in two months it will be time for shrubbery to set aflame again, and riding out there will make me want to keel over. I'd really like to improve my tricycle skills so I could theoretically go across town and be less dependent on a car.

Today I saw someone riding a tricycle with a canopy-- but I don't know if such things exist for bicyclists or what. Googling just turned up children's trikes' suggestions. What can I do to help make my tricycle a more awesome ride-- either by shading me from sun, or somehow souping it up to move faster, or some such thing. The ground's super-flat, but there's a lot of resistance pushing the sucker, especially when I'm stopping and starting. (The dealer said this is the way tricycles work. I wonder if he's right?) A canopy/sunscreen project (either bought or DIY) seems like it might be a great improvement. I kind of wish there was a way to get fancy and put an electric motor on the trike, but I don't really know if that's just a pipe dream. Maybe there's some kind of hack to lessen resistance on a bike though?

Conversely, suggest to me other good tips for not dehydrating and feeling weak/light-headed when the heat reaches triple digits and you're pedalling about. That sun is hot! I was tempted to get one of those water packs bicyclists use--a Camelbak?

Thanks everybody in advance. I know it's kind of a weird question!
posted by actionpact to Travel & Transportation (28 answers total)
I wonder if the canopy would increase wind resistance...

How about this - you'll be the talk of Tempe!
then again, it is 9500 Euros, so at that price you are better off getting a car...

More seriously, would a recumbent bicycle do the trick for you?
posted by bitteroldman at 1:49 PM on January 21, 2008

It's not weird question, it's just a very easy question. Ride more and get in shape. You'll make a lot of progress in the 2 months until summer hits. And then keep riding. Use sunscreen and drink a lot of water and other beverages and keep munching snacks if you ride more than an hour or so. Get a canopy if you want. If you want a better vehicle that's lighter in weight and easier to propel, then get one.

Just do it.
posted by JimN2TAW at 1:51 PM on January 21, 2008

For a really sweet ride you need an ice cream vendor attachment.
posted by iconomy at 1:54 PM on January 21, 2008

Thanks for the suggestions-- I should've mentioned I'm not in the market for a new tricycle-- especially not the recumbents, too pricey. (Though that velomobile is pretty awesome.) I guess I was just wondering if there were ways to improve the riding speed/resistance on something like this, since I don't know many people riding around on these things. Or if canopies even exist as separate accessories for bikes-- I'm pretty clueless. It seems like I'm going to just have to keep working at it and eventually I'll improve my stamina. Last summer was pretty brutal and I'd like not to have a repeat of it this time around :)
posted by actionpact at 1:57 PM on January 21, 2008

As a fellow 24-year-old bike-incompetent girl, I think you're awesome for getting the trike. I have only spent a few days in the awful sunny Arizona summer, but the key seems to be like piles of water, loose light clothing (probably long-sleeved, even though it sounds counter-intuitive), and a good hat that will stay on.

Otherwise, definitely work your hardest to go out and ride more. I'm a pretty off-and-on exerciser, but I can really feel the difference that diligence makes towards endurance. If you still don't feel awesome enough by the time the heat rolls in, get up early and ride in the morning before it gets too sun-beat-y, and then try again at sunset.
posted by that girl at 1:59 PM on January 21, 2008

I had a cruiser (no-speed) bike, and just purchased my first multi-speed bike last summer. I was absolutely shocked at how much easier it was. Are you making full use of your three gears? I rode around in the middle gear until my husband convinced me to play with the gears, and then it got tons easier.

Other than that, just keep with it. You can build up a lot of endurance for biking in two months. If you aren't satisfied, get a cheap exercise bike off Craigslist and bike indoors until you're happy with your endurance.

Although a canopy sounds like a neat idea, I could see it adding wind resistance and weight to your bike, which is not what you want right now.

Good luck!
posted by christinetheslp at 2:11 PM on January 21, 2008

My boyfriend's a 25-year-old trike rider. Going slow compared to the 2 wheelers seems to be normal. I guess you just need to learn to enjoy the slow ride! Less exertion will probably be better in the heat. And, I don't know how old the trike you have is, but I know there was a big difference in weight and therefore speed/ease of riding between the vintage Schwinn and the brand-new, smaller, lighter trike. So maybe save up for a new model if you're riding a huge old one (although it doesn't really sound like you are).

This wouldn't really help with speed, but he found someone to help make his older trike a chopper, and it's pretty much the coolest looking thing ever.

On preview, yeah, the multispeed models were better, too. (Seriously, this guy's gone through like 3 trikes in as many years).
posted by ruby.aftermath at 2:12 PM on January 21, 2008

Yes, seconding "that girl," you are awsome to be doing this. Sorry I left that out of my post.

I don't know the specific prices that're involved here, but I can assure you that if you retire a heavy trike and somehow acquire a lighter weight, more aerodynamic trike, your experience will radically improve. Every one of us confirms this with every upgrade we make.

You might ask the dealer if the gearing can be upgraded to make the pedaling easier, but I wouldn't hold out too much hope that it can be done.
posted by JimN2TAW at 2:16 PM on January 21, 2008

Thanks guys! I love my tricycle, believe me-- it's a newish model (I think 2 years old-- bought it used from a bike dealer for half of what the retail price was, so about $200), and I think I am using the gears right-- I usually start out in first, and then when I go faster I rack up to a higher speed to make it easier to move... But then again, this is my first 'bike' and I don't know much about bikes on the whole. (Recently I got a hole in the front tire and had no idea that bikes had inner tubes-- I just thought you'd replace the whole thing!) It's not really a heavy bike, but sometimes to get it started again I have to put both feet on a pedal, which really tends to irk the people driving that I am a slowpoke.

Practice definitely sounds like it'll make perfect-- I mostly just don't want to pass out whilst on the road. I had that nearly happen last September, and I would like to make the experience much less of a frightful one from now on :D
posted by actionpact at 2:27 PM on January 21, 2008

I'm not laughing, I'm jealous. That's a sweet ride for grocery runs.

Some suggestions:

1. Bike shorts with padding will make things a lot more comfortable. If you don't find them flattering you can get padded lycra undershorts to wear under another pair of sporty shorts. That and chamois butter will prevent chafing.

2. Shirts made of wicking material help the sweat evaporate.

3. Drink plenty of water. I wouldn't get a camelbak, but you should be able to carry a couple of bottles in your basket. There are water bottle cages that attach to your handlebars.

4. Handlebar tassles.

5. You could hit a pretty big boom box in that basket.

6. The only "hacks" to speed up a bike are reducing weight; reducing drag; keeping moving parts clean, lubricated, and well adjusted; and keeping tires properly inflated.

7. A canopy will add a lot of weight and drag. Get a helmet with a visor and some strong sunblock instead. Get lights and reflectors and ride at dusk and dawn.

8. If there's a lot of resistance, maybe your brakes need to be adjusted.

9. Keep riding. The only way you're going to go faster and further is to build up your strength. I guess you could add a motor, but now you're hauling that around and you might as well go back to your car. How about setting a goal of learning to ride a bike once you've built up your abilities? It's not that hard and there are classes for adults (although I don't know of any in Phoenix). You'll be able to go much faster on a bike, and the faster you go, the more the wind cools you off.
posted by hydrophonic at 2:33 PM on January 21, 2008

go ahead and laugh, everyone else does!
Actually, I think trikes are awesome.

there's a lot of resistance pushing the sucker, especially when I'm stopping and starting.
Have you had it tuned recently? It can make a world of difference. You've only got a three-speed, so you'll never break any land-speed records, but it shouldn't be that hard to ride. I see people in their 60's riding trikes and seeming doing fine. As noted above, you'll get used to it eventually, but why beat yourself up if a simple lube-n-tune will make the experience better? Ask friends, family and co-workers about reliable, reputable bikeshops in your area.

Today I saw someone riding a tricycle with a canopy...
Help me think up ways to soup up my tricycle riding experience.

After you've located a suitable bikeshop and gotten your trike tuned, ask them about add-ons and options available to your model.

The dealer said this is the way tricycles work. I wonder if he's right?
It's possible he's right, but he's certainly not helpful. Unless he's family I'd suggest never speaking to him again. Cross the street if you see him coming. If he follows you, brandish a crucifix and run.
posted by lekvar at 2:39 PM on January 21, 2008

Bear in mind that you're pushing the weight of another wheel and some extra frame, so bicycles aren't really a good benchmark for you.

Re your need to use both feet to take off: are you changing down before you come to a stop? You need to get in the habit of changing to a lower gear just before you stop, so that you can take off easily.

Re speed: I'm not sure that tricyles are meant to go really fast. How would you corner at speed? All the grown-up tricycles I've seen were old and meant for delivery vehicles.

I am glad you posted this: I am reminded of my Nana, a pioneer feminist and communist who in family legend rode her tricycle to meetings of the League of Women Voters. Your tricycle is old-school.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 2:47 PM on January 21, 2008

PS: smart-arsed onlookers who laughed at my Nana would have felt the wrong end of her umbrella.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 2:48 PM on January 21, 2008

"hit a boom box" is the new slang for "fit a boom box", doncha know.

Reading your comment above regarding needing both feet on one pedal to get started, I'd definitely get it checked out by a mechanic or a bikey friend. That's way too much effort and not a safe way to ride. If it's not a mechanical problem and you're using your gears correctly, then the bike is not geared properly for you.
posted by hydrophonic at 2:49 PM on January 21, 2008

Lots of good suggestions above. But they all mean nothing until you own this t-shirt.
posted by naomi at 2:58 PM on January 21, 2008

Keeping tires properly aired up with help reduce resistance. If the tires are supposed to have, say, 65 pounds pressure and they only have 25 pounds they won't look that different but they will have a tremendous lot more drag.

All tubes/tires leak a little air, so if you're not airing the tires up every week or two they WILL be low.

Also, especially with a trike, you would notice a difference if you replaced all three tires with high pressure slicks. If on a budget you could replace only the rear two tires--presumably more of the weight rests back there?

Something like a Primo Comet or Comp Pool are pretty reasonably priced. (Unless you're actually riding on single-track mountain biking trails--which you are obviously not with that trike--the tread on a bicycle tire isn't doing anything for you except slowing you down--and if you replace the treaded tires with something higher pressure and slicker, you'll be amazed how much that tread does slow you.)

But before doing that, just make a point to keep your current tires pumped up to the recommended maximum pressure. That will be printed on the side of the tire. You'll be amazed how much difference it can make.
posted by flug at 3:00 PM on January 21, 2008

I have a couple tips that might help you ride a bit longer, depending on your style and trike. Other than that, I know several casual trikers have posted about how much they like to hang a spinsock off the back seat. (Obviously that doesn't help efficiency, but it looks really cool to the kids, increases visibility, and at low speeds it probably doesn't make much difference in speed effect.)

Anyway, stay in the lowest gear for longer than you think you should. It's a common mistake for casual riders to think they have to push against substantial resistence to make the beastie go best. Work on spinning the crank, that is, the cadence. Higher spin rates are better for your knees and ultimately more efficient. It is not incorrect, for example, to make 90 revolutions per minute on the crank, even as a casual rider. Of course, if you're going downhill or you feel almost no resistance, then shift to a higher gear.

Also, pick up each wheel individually and spin it. Even on lower-end trikes/bikes, the wheel should continue for several revolutions before coming to a stop. If a wheel stops almost immediately, you probably have a wheel that's too tight, rubbing badly against a fender, or, if your trike uses caliper brakes, a brake that is rubbing or a misaligned wheel. These sorts of things can really rob your cycling of efficiency and make riding much slower and less enjoyable. Fortunately, for the most part they are all simple adjustments that either your dealer or a basic bicycle-experienced friend, relative, or neighbor can quickly fix.
posted by mdevore at 3:15 PM on January 21, 2008

Wow, thanks everybody-- this totally is helpful. I had no idea that there were different tires you could swap out for better speed-- I usually just keep them pumped to the middle of the recommended pressure, but will try doing them to the max. I'll start looking around for a reputable bike mechanic so I can get the ol' boy checked out/tuned up and see if they can advise me about any other improvements! (Hopefully I won't have to dismantle it and fit it in my compact car... it was fun getting it home, let me tell you.)

Glad to see there are plenty of fans of tricycles! They're really fun-- I think I just catch flak from people who think a twentysomething female should be on something with fewer wheels.

Does anybody have any good online resources to learn up on how to get better at tuning/maintaining bikes and such? As I mentioned, I'm pretty novice, so perhaps I can start picking up how to keep the trike in tip-top shape from now on, if not tune it myself one day.
posted by actionpact at 3:17 PM on January 21, 2008

I don't know where my brain is today - three posts for what I should have said in one. I just looked at the link where you show that ... surrey ... you're driving around.

You'll probably benefit from some changes not mentioned above when you visit your mechanic:

(1) the seat height should be adjusted for good leg extension which will give you more efficient pedaling--use your muscles' strength better; and

(2) get rid of those ridiculous antler-handlebars and get lower ones, maybe horizontal, that will put you in a lower-down aerodynamic position and, again, use your muscular strength more efficiently with less wind resistance against your torso;

...unless there's some mechanical reason why these can't be accomplished with your particular trike frame.

Good luck.
posted by JimN2TAW at 4:01 PM on January 21, 2008

Seconding everything JimN2TAW said, and pump those tires up! If you're using the type of seat that's in the picture, all of the shock-absorption is being handled by the seat, and needn't be handled by soft, squishy, not-fully-maxed out tires. Fully inflated tires will roll *much* more easily, especially wider tires.

I'd also recommend the Down Low Glow if you ride early in the morning or later at night
posted by Wild_Eep at 4:22 PM on January 21, 2008

Hopefully the man you saw was not wearing a black suit with white piping wearing a badge with the number 6 on it.

You should contact the store that sold you the trike to see if they can get you accessories - a number of bicycle catalogs should provide something.

You can get an electric motor for your trike but remember, when you're not using it, you'll be hauling the weight of the motor and battery too.

Because this is Arizona, you'll want to avoid a lot of hot sun, so I'd second the canopy. A small battery fan should help keep you cool as well as bottles of water. Buy a couple of good water bottles you can fill yourself and freeze them. They'll thaw on the road.

Second the wicking clothing.
posted by Kioki-Silver at 5:06 PM on January 21, 2008

Definitely get a CamelBak, like a 70+oz one. Places like Pricepoint, JensonUSA, Nashbar have cheap prices. While you're at it, buy some denture cleaners (effervent) to clean the pack. Seriously, it works. When you're done riding, empty out any water from the bladder (reservoir), pop 2 tablets in it, fill it with hot water, cap it, shake it a little, then let it sit for a few minutes before rinsing out.

If you don't have one already, a bell would be useful - it saves you from having to yell "On your left" on paths.

Also, you might consider getting your tires filled with Slime - it adds weight overall, but it prevents flats. (Mostly - I ran it for 2yrs on same tubes racing downhill mtbs).

And for gears, think of it like a car - the redline/time-to-change-gears on RPMs is when you're legs are spinning too fast to be comfortable.

Hope that helps! I can't stand the heat - I used to live in Las Vegas where I'd ride at 5AM or 7PM to avoid the brunt of it. Buy a lamp and reflectors if you do dusk riding though.
posted by fleeba at 7:03 PM on January 21, 2008

Cadence, tire pressure, thin tires, all key suggestions!

Maintenance wise, before paying for service, just try lifting and spinning each wheel. When a wheel stops, it should pendulum a bit (rock back and fourth). If it doesn't pendulum at all, something isn't adjusted right. If they do pendulum, your speed problem probably doesn't have anything to do with maintenance. If you want to take the inspection further, there are lots of old AskMes about buying old bikes, and all the suggestions apply to the tricycle as well.

A canopy will contribute substantial resistance, even at 7mph, and the resistance gets worse very, very fast (cube of speed) - doesn't seem worth it to me. Also, you create your own wind by moving.. When you stop, you will need shelter from the heat, but not so much when you are moving.

The whole tricycle thing is awesome, really, but.. Don't be freaked out about riding a bicycle. It feels daunting initially, but there is nothing hard about it at all!
posted by Chuckles at 9:49 PM on January 21, 2008

the redline/time-to-change-gears on RPMs is when you're legs are spinning too fast to be comfortable.

Well, I'm not sure comfort should be a gauge.. Beginners always spin too slowly, and that is probably because it feels right. I don't know any good rules of thumb that will teach you what ~100 RPM is though (other than a cadence sensor, obviously). And, I think the red line - the point at which you mustn't spin any faster for risk of damaging the engine - is when you can't hold your feet on the peddles anymore (or you lose control in some other way). As far as I know, spinning arbitrarily fast doesn't cause physical injury the way pushing too hard can.
posted by Chuckles at 10:00 PM on January 21, 2008

As far as I know, spinning arbitrarily fast doesn't cause physical injury the way pushing too hard can.
True. The more you spin, the more calories you burn too.
posted by fleeba at 11:08 PM on January 21, 2008

Oh, don't forget about QBike, it's an aggregator of prices for bike accessories from web-stores.
posted by Wild_Eep at 7:39 AM on January 22, 2008

JimN2TAW-- I should've specified that mine is 'like' that one but not exact. I didn't notice the way the handlebars were-- mine are as you describe-- lower. Also as I'm 5'11", I extend the seat by default :D I think the link I sent was for a young adult version of my tricycle-- but decent web photos are hard to come by for accuracy's sake....

Thanks everybody for the tips-- I really appreciate it. I tried the spinning trick and one wheel is just perfect-- but the back right wheel that moves the chain/gears has a lot of resistance. (The front one does too, but as mentioned it's flat and I need to replace that this weekend, so I don't think it is a great judge as is). Is that typical? Or should all three wheels spin fast and free? Come to think, typically when I do have to 'two-foot' the pedal, it's on the right side.... Maybe there's just an issue there.
posted by actionpact at 10:43 AM on January 22, 2008

Does the back wheel not spin freely in either direction? My trike is also driven by the back right wheel, but spinning the wheel will only engage the drive mechanism in one direction. It is true that the drive wheel will not spin "as" freely as the other two (consider it overhead at the simplest), but it should still be good for a few revolutions on a spin. Some delta trikes are driven by both back wheels, but I'm pretty sure that's not the case for your trike, as rear two-wheel drive is typically a high-end option.

When properly inflated and true, the front wheel should spin at least reasonably "fast and free".
posted by mdevore at 12:04 AM on January 23, 2008

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