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I am seriously considering getting a recumbent trike, probably one in a tadpole configuration, and was weighting up how much time I would save during my commute when compared to my normal bike.

Currently, I ride Giant Cypress and my speed averages about 22kmh on my commute. My commute is about 16kms, one way, and is over a mixture of forest trails and asphalt bike paths.

I am also thinking about using the recumbent bike over the winter months as well.

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I would expect that a recumbent will not be as comfortable on forest trails. –  Mac Sep 5 '11 at 22:59
Some say recumbent's are faster on flat ground than a road bike, opinions vary. I think you get more power to the pedals on them than an upright....answers.yahoo.com/question/index?qid=20101024210914AAihb2Z –  Moab Sep 6 '11 at 3:14
One would think that, but bent riders I've talked to say that bents are at a disadvantage on uphills, which doesn't make sense if you can apply more power. –  Daniel R Hicks Sep 6 '11 at 11:08
When riding an upright bike I stand up when over bumps. I'm sure my legs provide a lot more suspension than any bike suspension. So I assume (although I have no first hand experience) that it'd be bumpier on a recumbent. Might be worth a new question. –  Mac Sep 6 '11 at 21:04
I suggest looking at velomobiles. If you can afford it and one will work on your route, that will solve both the speed and winter problems. –  Mσᶎ Sep 26 '13 at 22:09

9 Answers 9

up vote 15 down vote accepted

All other things being equal (which admittedly, they never are), a recumbent trike will be slower. It has more frontal area, more rolling resistance, and more weight.

I don't have a recumbent bike, but I do have a conventional racing bike and a recumbent trike (a very low-slung tadpole, not a delta). On a frequently-ridden 37-mile loop, my average speed on my racing bike is about 15.5 mph, average on the trike is 14.3 mph. So at the speeds and distances you're riding, the net time difference won't be that great.

All that said, the trike is a lot of fun.

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+1 - the fun factor is definitely one of the aspects I am looking towards :-) It also sounds like that to go any faster, a fairing of some sort is needed. Thanks! –  tehnyit Sep 6 '11 at 13:55

World human powered bike speed records are indeed on recumbent bicycles. But they are very long, flat roads where a rider can move through 60 gears (30 speed chain, and a 3 speed internal hub). They also have larger wind screens.

I have ridden both, and just flat cruising the recumbent will be faster, but hills, corners, and stops are the great equalizer. Every time you slow down or stop, things will seem to balance out on your total times.

So go for what is comfortable, easy to lock up on your commute, and not a hazard to others. I assume bing on a shared bike path the tadpole trike will be harder to pass and be passed safely.

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I have real concerns about the options on passing other bikes. On my commute, I ride across a bridge where the bike paths is, lets say, optimsed for upright bikes. Sometimes, there are motorised scooters coming in the opposite direction. There is no way of passing safely and at speed in this situation. –  tehnyit Mar 26 '12 at 22:17
Actually, world speed record bikes usually have 9 gears - no front derailleur. Starting off involves the launch crew pushing, then some wobbling. –  Mσᶎ Sep 26 '13 at 22:08

Bike speed is primarily limited by wind resistance, and a major factor for wind resistance is "frontal area". I would guess that most trikes have more frontal area than your standard upright bike, so it's unlikely that you'd see a speed improvement.

But maybe someone else can point to some actual test data.

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Here are some actual test data: bentrideronline.com/messageboard/… These data show that a (tadpole) trike (the Vortex) has roughly the same CdA as a rider on a standard road bike with hands on the brake hoods -- that is, more aero drag than a rider on a TT bike or in the drops on a road bike, but less than a rider with hands on the bar tops, or on a MTB or a city bike. However, this particular trike has much higher rolling resistance. –  R. Chung Apr 16 '12 at 22:15
I should clarify that among trikes, the ICE Vortex is considered to be fairly low, reclined, and aerodynamic; this means that the "typical" trike will have higher CdA than measured for the Vortex. –  R. Chung Apr 16 '12 at 23:07

I own a Catrike 700 and also owned a high end upright road bicycle with CF tubular rims, etc. and a Powertap wheel. The Powertap wheel can be mounted on the trike to capture heart rate, wattage, speed, etc. I've ridden the trike over 200 miles and focused on fitting for half that distance (crank length, Q factor, seating position, arm placement, etc.) to optimize performance.

The trike overall is slower. It's a barge on climbs (33 lbs vs 16 lbs for my bike) and rolling resistance of extra bearing set and contact patch for third wheel cannot be ignored. My position is among the most aggressive at 25 degrees and coast down also speaks volumes - close to 100 feet more coast down on the bike than the trike, but on the bike I really made myself small, tucked in knees, elbows, leaned over uncomfortably, but the frontal area really shrunk. On the trike you're stuck where you are. The only time the trike really shined was on the descent. 40+ mph down moderate hills was easy, whereas on the bike it was next to impossible. Just remember you have to climb back up some time. I bought the trike due to a dissolving hip joint, otherwise I would have kept my bike.

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Recumbents can be faster. As was previously mentioned, all of the land speed records for human powered vehicles were set with fully faired recumbents (velomobiles).

But what will really make the difference is the rider.

Consider this rider you've never heard of, Andy Wilkinson. In 1990 he broke the record for fastest bicycle trip from Lands End to John O'Groats, 874 miles (1,407 km), at 45 hours 2 minutes 19 seconds, on a bicycle. In 1996 he did the same trip again, this time in a fully faired recumbent, and broke his own record, coming in at 41 hours 4 minutes 22 seconds. (This number is unofficial because it didn't take place on a two wheeled bicycle, but no one else has yet beaten this time...)

On that ride he occasionally exceeded 75 mph (120 km/h) on descents. And that was a nearly 20 year old machine. The typical top end recumbent of today is much more technologically advanced, and is usually partially faired.

2014 Windcheetah HyperSport

Recumbents also do very well in time trials and ultramarathon events such as the Race Across America.

But how will it do for your commute?

Not all recumbents are designed for road racing, of course. The things you want to look for which will improve your ride both on roads and forest trails in all weather include:

  • A larger rear wheel
  • Rear suspension (or all-wheel suspension, rare)
  • High ground clearance
  • The ability to mount fatter tires
  • Fenders (which also fit around the tires!)

Some current (2015 model year) possibilities include:

The Gekko from HP Velotechnik uses a 26 inch rear wheel to help with obstacles you might run over on the road or even forest trails. It also has an electric option. It also has higher ground clearance, to make it easier to clear obstacles.

Similarly the Catrike Expedition has higher ground clearance and a 26 inch wheel. This trike is often called the SUV of trikes. Or the Road which has a 20 inch rear wheel but also includes rear suspension.

The ICE Adventure 26 also has a 26 inch wheel and has high ground clearance; the seat is also much higher than many other trikes. It also includes rear suspension and has a front suspension option.

There are also other trikes for primarily off-road use, such as HPV's Enduro. And a modified ICE Sprint was used to ride to the South Pole, beating two bicycle riders. I suspect your forest trails are not quite so demanding as to make these reasonable for your commute, though.

I would suggest that you find a local bike (trike?) shop which specializes in recumbents, or perhaps several shops, and take them for test rides. Unless you have a very large recumbent dealer nearby, they may not have the exact model you are looking for in stock, so you may find yourself riding a similar model. Be prepared to travel if you want to test ride the perfect recumbent.

Finally, back to your original question. To ask it accurately, you must ask whether you will be faster on a recumbent trike! The answer is, maybe. Once you get your recumbent legs, which may take a month or two, you should be at about the same overall speed, give or take a km/h or two.

Whether you can go faster, well, that's entirely up to you. I expect you will find that the experience of riding the recumbent is so much more comfortable that you won't miss an extra minute or two - or just might even want to ride more!

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I just purchased a tadpole TerraTrike Tour II Elite and I can't say enough about this particular design, make and model. I made myself keep going today, and was able to do 25.2 miles... my first time on the local bike path. What an exhilarating experience! I ended up at this page as I was curious if riding my tadpole is suppose to be easier than riding a conventional speed bike. A seasoned cyclist I met on the bike path commented that tadpoles are not faster. I know at one point she zoomed right by me, but then again, she is an avid bike rider... I am still green, just starting out.

Thinking it through, it seemed at first that the Tadpole would be faster, but then when I considered that there's drag from two front wheels and a wider mass in the front of the tadpole, it almost seems to me as the effort to ride either would be about equal, all things considered.

One thing that's for certain is that the tadpole is far more comfortable for a middle-aged gal like me. I also enjoy being able to see clearly what's in front of me without straining my neck. There's 27 speeds, so going up hills seems much easier, but when cruising on the open trail the higher gears are much more of a physical workout than the 18 speed I use to ride.

I highly recommend this model of tadpole. TerraTrike Rocks!!!

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I own a Trice Q and several other bikes...

The answer to your question is "it depends".

With a 70 km/h wind straight in your face (according to the weather office), the trike will certainly go faster. At least it will go forward. On that particular day I overtook a guy on an electric bicycle. He was the only cyclist going in that direction...

50 km/h wind in your face feels about like a 6-8% slope, that is, it takes some effort, but it's not too bad. Try that on a race bike, good luck.

Lateral wind, don't care about that.

Wind from the rear provides a small boost.

If there is no wind, the trike is slower than a touring bike, and even slower uphill.

However I can ride 8 hours without destroying my butt, comfort is a plus...

If you intend to ride on trails, don't forget that recumbent trikes have a very very low chain which will pick up a lot of crap, and you'll spend way too much time cleaning it.

A 2 wheel recumbent with suspension could be a better choice. Or just keep your bike...

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It all comes down aerodymanics (less wind resistence) which is why recumbents were banned from the UCI. Check out http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Recumbent_bicycle for more info.

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In the winter, on sand, slush and icy roads, 3 wheels are safer and thus can be ridden faster than the upright. Plus I've seen mini-windsheilds on cat-trikes that are quite popular around here.

Riding comfort (your rear) will be better on the recumbent.

In good weather the recumbent will, all things being equal,be a little slower than the upright, but the all-weather aspects of commuting sounds like a real plus to me.

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