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What Is a Trike?

What is a trike?

An Introduction to Trikes

Whilst trikes may mean a three-wheeled bicycle to you, there are several different types available. Each type of trike has differences in the way it performs and the benefits it provides. 

The image shown above is a classic childrens trike, not interested in these? Keep reading. I’ll be covering recumbent trikes (deltas & tadpoles) and several other types!

In this short guide, I’ll also answer all of your trike related questions, including what is a trike? What are the different types of trike, and what benefits does a trike provide? 

Ready to become a trike expert? Let’s get into it.

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    What Is a Trike?

    A three-wheeled bicycle, or tricycle, is commonly referred to as a “trike.” Besides having three wheels rather than two, trikes sit their riders lower to the ground than a conventional bicycle, this provides a more comfortable riding position.

    Normally you can classify a trike into one of three categories, recumbent trikes, semi-recumbent trike and upright trikes. However, within these categories, there are trikes built for different tricycling disciplines.

    By the end of this guide, you’ll understand all of the different trike types and the benefits they offer.

    What is a Trike Used For?

    Trikes are traditionally used as a first bike for children thanks to their stable wheelbase. Many older cyclists also use a trike for recreational cycling, commuting, and a more comfortable transport method than a traditional two-wheeled bicycle. 

    Most trikes are used for personal transport, just the same way as you’d use a bicycle. However, more recently, specially outfitted trikes have become popular such as drifting trikes. 

    These trikes are a less viable method of transport and are instead used in drift triking.

    man riding a tadpole trike in forest with dog

    Drifting trikes are built differently than other types of trikes and have specialized wheels that allow them to slide and drift more easily.

    Drifting trikes have seen a rise in popularity, with companies who promote “adrenaline sports” such as RedBull offering sponsorships and funding events.

    Different Types of Trike Explained

    Most Popular Types of Trike

    freight trike riding with lots of cargo
    This freight trike is slightly overloaded. A larger vehicle may be needed if you have this much to carry!

    Alternative Trikes

    History of Trikes

    The tricycle’s invention traces back to the mid-to-late 17th century[1], when Stephan Farffler (a disabled man living in Germany) wanted to design a tool that would allow him to maintain his mobility. Stephan’s idea was to create a three-wheeled vehicle that hand cranks would power.

    Between its inception and the 1870s, the tricycle evolved in several different ways, from a three-wheeled vehicle powered by pedals to a vehicle with two small wheels in the rear and a larger drive wheel on the front.

    A picture of Stephan Farffler the man who invented the trike

    In 1877, a rotary chain tricycle appeared on the scene in England, and the Leicester Safety Tricycle Company patented the first front-steering tricycle in 1881[2].

    In the 1970s, drift trikes were invented by Marty Spellman, but their popularity didn’t spread outside of his city in California, USA, for many years. Drift trikes took off during the 2000s when alternative and extreme sports started being featured on television.

    Drift trikes were modified to have even lower seats, with extra-wide, smooth back tires made from plastic that allowed the rider to slide and drift through turns down steep, twisting mountain roads.

    The people who rode drift trikes often started out longboarding and used some of the same techniques, often standing up in the trike’s seat to make more extreme turns.

    How Have Trikes Progressed Over the Years?

    As the tricycle continued to evolve during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, it became more popular. The designs streamlined so that the wheels became more similar in size, and the drive-trains became more sophisticated.

    Today, e-trikes are becoming popular, which are trikes with an electric motor. This helps riders when they need to power up hills or haul heavy items.

    Drift trikes have become more mainstream and are now designed to be as adrenaline-inducing as possible, with some companies adding electric or even gas motors to their ranges.

    Drift triking now has a large following and is popular in cities with mountains or steep hills that riders slide and drift down at high speeds. Drift trikes may reach speeds of up to 50mph or more.

    Trike vs Bike - What are the Main Differences?

    drawing of trike and bike

    As we’ve established, the three wheels a trike uses make it much less prone to falling over than a bike. 

    Actually, because a trike has such a low centre of gravity, it’s actually a challenge to flip one!

    As I recently found out, handling corners on a conventional bicycle at high speed can easily result in injury.

    If you’ve been wondering, “what’s the difference between bicycles and tricycles?” a tricycle’s increased stability is one of the key differences.

    Bicycles don’t tend to be the best option for promoting good posture. Many cyclists with poorly fitting bikes will suffer from aches and pains.

    Furthermore, the upright riding position a bicycle offers puts much more strain on the upper body than a recumbent trike would. 

    Recumbent trikes don’t use a saddle like a bicycle, which means less pressure on your sensitive areas! Instead, they use a seat that spreads pressure over your buttocks and back, providing increased comfort, especially when travelling on rough terrain.

    Tadpole recumbent trikes have a wider turning circle than a delta trike. A delta trike’s front wheel can rotate nearly 90 degrees in either direction, making them highly manoeuvrable.

    A bicycle is almost as manoeuvrable as a delta trike, but since they aren’t as stable, you’re more likely to fall off when taking on sharp changes in direction.

    That being said, bicycles place their riders in an upright riding position. This means they’re able to shift and adjust their weight easily according to the upcoming terrain. 

    Because bicycles give cyclists the ability to shift their weight, they’re able to use this to their benefit on hilly terrain. 

    When standing up on a bicycle, the weight of the rider will assist with pedalling and help with the climb.

    Unless riding an upright trike, this is not possible with the majority of trikes. 

    However, trikes can travel slower uphill than a bicycle without needing to stop or dismount. If you get half way uphill on a trike and need a breather, put the brakes on and have a rest until you’re ready to get going. 

    With a bicycle you’d need to dismount when stopping on a hill, this makes trikes a better option for less fit riders, or those who simply like to stop and take in the views!

    As we’ve established, trikes tend to be much lower to the ground than bicycles. This presents a visibility issue. 

    Some cars that are higher off the ground may struggle to see you whilst riding your trike. Towards the end of the article, I address how you can easily overcome this issue.

    Tadpole vs Delta Trikes - Which Is Best For Me?

    Tadpole Trike - Pros & Cons

    Pros Cons
    Tadpole trikes normally have a lower centre of gravity, which positions the rider in the trike, rather than on the trike. Because they're normally lower to the ground tadpoles can be harder to get in and out of.
    Having two wheels at the front allows tadpoles to handle corners at fast speeds without much risk of tipping over. Because tadpoles have two front wheels often their turning circle is larger than a delta trike's.
    Because they're normally lower to the ground tadpoles tend to be faster due to reduced wind resistance.
    With the widest point of the bike ahead of you, it's easier to navigate through narrow spaces.

    Delta Trike - Pros & Cons

    Pros Cons
    The front wheel of a delta trike can normally rotate up to 80 degrees in either direction, giving them a super small turning circle. Delta recumbents trikes usually suffer from increased wind resistance due to their more upright riding position.
    A higher seating position makes getting on and off delta trikes easier. You can normally mount the trike from the side and turn once sat down. Deltas are less stable when turning corners because of their higher centre of gravity and single front wheel.
    Delta trikes have the ability to be linked together in tandem. Deltas tend to use a more complex drive system, which is slightly harder to maintain.

    From the pros & cons I’ve compiled not really possible to name which trike is “best”. Either trike has its benefits and is suitable for a different rider.

    As you’ll have seen above, tadpole trikes tend to be faster and provide increased stability in corners. In comparison, Deltas provides better manoeuvrability and are easier to get in and out of, making them a better choice for wheelchair users.

    This is a very brief overview of the benefits tadpoles, and deltas provide. I’d recommend trial-riding either trike before deciding which is more suitable for you!

    Who Should Use a Trike?

    People who may not be able to ride a normal bicycle for whatever reason may prefer using a trike because of how comfortable and stable they are.

    Trikes are also a great option for children and the elderly, who may be at a higher risk of falling.

    If you have to haul heavy goods, a trike may be a good option as well, since many feature large rear baskets. 

    Trikes are a suitable method of transport for riders of all ages!

    Who Shouldn't Use a Trike?

    If you enjoy cycling and value speed, agility, or the thrill of riding extreme off-road trails, a trike is probably not the best option.

    Whilst there are off-road trikes on the market, these aren’t designed to cope with large impacts, and you’re not able to shift your body weight as easily to cope with difficult terrain.

    What Competitions/Events are Trikes Used In?

    The most exciting competitions for trikes are “drifting” events, where trikes that are extremely low to the ground are fitted with wide, flat back wheels so that they can slide and drift through turns[3].

    These events take place on steep hills with lots of twists and turns in the road, allowing the rider to demonstrate their skill throughout the race.

    Apart from this, there are recumbent trike races that take place across the world. However, these are normally small contests because triking has a fairly small following.

    Pros & Cons of Riding a Trike

    I asked riders of recumbent bikes on reddit what they would highlight as the pros and cons of the alternative vehichle choice.

    Below I’ve compiled the most popular points:

    Pros of Riding a Trike

    Trikes tend to be much more comfortable than conventional bicycles, due to their wider, padded seats.
    Three wheels provide increased support and stability compared to a two-wheeled bike. This means riders won't normally have to worry about tipping over or pausing to take a break.
    Freight trikes provide a largo cargo area which is especially helpful for cycle couriers and those transporting/delivering goods by bike.
    Whilst riding a trike uphill it's easy to maintain a slow and steady pace without the risk of falling off.
    Trikes provide a great way for people with injuries or disabilities to exercise, commute and enjoy time outdoors.
    Because of their increased safety and stability, trikes are a great way for young children to get to grips with being on wheels.

    Cons of Riding a Trike

    If your foot slips off the pedal, your whole leg can get caught under the trike.
    Trikes are hard to transport, even folding trikes don't fold down into a small package.
    Trikes are expensive, especially e-trikes which can reach the price of a small car. This makes them inaccessible to many.
    Trikes struggle to compete with the speed of a bicycle on hills. Using a pedelec trike can be a good, yet expensive way to address this issue.
    Trikes can be harder to lock up whilst cycling due to a lack of trike friendly locking areas.

    Risks Associated with Trikes

    The risks associated with trikes are similar to the risks associated with any cycling activity. Collisions and falls are always a concern, especially because trikes typically have a very low centre of gravity, putting the rider lower to the ground and making them even less visible to motor vehicles and other riders.

    The best way to combat this is to make yourself as noticeable as possible, so some people add bright flags, lights, or other additions to their trikes to be seen.

    Otherwise, if you’re riding an upright trike at high speeds and you take a corner, it’s important to lean into the turn to keep all wheels in contact with the ground. Failure to do so could result in the trike flipping.

    If you’re riding an upright trike, you’ll be safer to take corners slow and steady!

    Environmental Impact of Using a Trike

    Trikes are great for the environment, especially when used instead of a motor vehicle. 

    Freight trikes that offer a large carrying capacity can be utilised by businesses that would otherwise require a van or car that would produce emissions. 

    Because trikes provide a way for injured and disabled riders to get outside and exercise, they promote appreciation for the outdoors. In turn, this will have a positive effect on our environment. 

    Does a Trike Require Anything to Keep Functioning?

    Trikes require the same general maintenance as bicycles. The tyres, chain, brakes, and rims should be checked regularly and may need cleaning and/or lubrication.

    Your trike’s air pressure should be checked before each ride. If your trike has an electric motor, it may require special maintenance as well; check your owner’s manual to see if there are special care instructions for the components or the battery.

    Removing dirt and grime your trike after every ride will help it stay in optimal working condition and will increase the lifespan of its components.

    Does the Trike Require a Special Area to be Ridden?

    Trikes don’t require special areas to be ridden unless you are participating in a drifting event, but you should take care to ride in suitable areas for non-motorised vehicles.

    Whenever possible, riding on trails and in bike lanes will lessen the risk of injury or collision with another vehicle. You can add high visibility flags (as seen in pictures above) and lights to your trike to be seen more easily.

    For drifting trikes, you should never practice drifting unless it is on a closed road. Sometimes people have a spotter at the bottom of their practice area on roads open to motor vehicle traffic and communicate via walkie-talkie or headset.

    Whilst precautions can be taken, this is not safe, and accidents can easily happen.

    What to Wear When Riding a Trike

    However safe they may be, I advise you to wear a helmet when riding a trike.

    Other than that, you won’t need to wear any special clothing when riding a trike unless you are riding a speciality trike, such as a drifting trike. Drifting trikers often wear gloves, long sleeves, long trousers, and closed-toed shoes, as well as optional shoe pads.

    I’d also recommend a pair of UV protection glasses, which will prevent objects from entering your eyes whilst riding, but also keep your eyes protected on sunny days.

    electric trike

    What Accessories are Recommended When Using a Trike?

    The most common accessories that trike owners choose to buy are often designed to enhance safety, such as:

    • Reflective flags & bibs
    • Mirrors
    • Front and rear lights
    • Seat bag for tools
    • Water bottle holders
    • Phone Mounts
    • Speedometers
    • GPS units

     

    People who drift trikes may additionally buy special gloves, pads, special shoe covers, and helmets with increased protection.

    Conclusion - What Is a Trike?

    So there you have it. If you were asking yourself what is a trike, hopefully, I’ve managed to answer that question! If you’ve still got unanswered trike-related questions, please leave them down in the comments section below and I’ll get back to you ASAP!

    Otherwise, why not check out some of my other bike guides whilst you’re here? I’ve put together complete guides for tandems, comfort bikes, e-bikes and many more. 

    If you decide to purchase a tandem, make sure you get yourself a top-quality bike lock to secure your investment. 

    Otherwise, lock it or lose it!

    Ciao for now.

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    Hello! My name’s James, I’m an avid cyclist and the lead editor of BikeLockWiki.

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