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So this is probably a terrible idea, but I was looking at recumbent tadpoles recently and it just clicked. I would have two brake levers but three wheels. I would need to have to...

1.) Calibrate the two front brakes off of a single lever which I suspect would be maddening

2.) Only brake using the back wheel and one front wheel (turning when braking sounds like a bad idea)

3.) Forgo braking on the rear wheel since on bikes the front wheel does most braking. I suspect this is similar for trikes. I would instead be able to actuate the brakes on the left wheel with the left lever, right wheel with the right lever etc...

So, the question is, what is the general brake setup for tadpole trikes?

  • A pulley system could probably work on the front wheels off a single lever. After all, cantilever brakes split the force between 2 cables without much trouble. – Chris H Apr 25 '16 at 20:01
  • Hydraulics would be ideal for this, but a loss of pressure would kill both brakes. Ideally you'd want dual circuit like a car has. – Criggie Apr 25 '16 at 20:15
  • A description of a "tadpole" would be helpful in the question for those unfamiliar with the term. In this case, a tadpole is a style of three wheeled recumbent with dual steerable wheels in the front. – Johnny Apr 25 '16 at 20:38
  • A brake on the rear wheel of a short wheelbase tadpole is almost useless. On a bike most of the braking power comes from the front wheel, even though at rest more than half the weight is on the rear wheel. That situation is exaggerated for a tadpole, and it takes hardly any braking for the rear wheel to lock up. Obviously for a tandem of loaded touring trike that's not the case. But many single-rider trikes don't have a rear brake at all, and many brake the two front wheels independently.All the ones I've owned have been like that. – Móż Apr 25 '16 at 21:34
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    I've seen tadpoles that have independent disc brakes on the front wheels in the way that they can be used to assist steering. The rear brake is conventional rim brake to be used only as a parking brake via a modified downtube shift-lever. – Carel Apr 26 '16 at 8:00
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Most are set up with one lever that works two brakes at the same time. There are lots of different styles, such as this one for example.

enter image description here enter image description here You can see that it has 2 ferrules instead of 1, most commonly used on dual disc brakes. There are other models that differ somewhat visually but the idea is the same. Many Trike levers also have a push button locking mechanism that functions like a parking brake so that it cant roll while engaged.

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    Those are newer. Also fairly standard for a long time with BMX brake cables. Same way brakes on most child carriers are run to both wheels. – Deleted User Apr 25 '16 at 18:53
  • I have one on my Delta trike. Not that hard to get working together either. – Willeke Apr 25 '16 at 22:12
  • I'm pretty sure that this setup is rare, rather than common, at least among tadpoles. – Michael Hampton May 2 '16 at 1:08
  • Many of those levers actually have a balance beam inside, so that they apply equal force rather than equal pull as long as the two brakes are at least roughly balanced. – Móż Jun 18 '16 at 11:59
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Typically, you do not brake all three wheels of a recumbent tadpole trike, but only the front wheels, at least when the trike is in motion.

Most high end tadpole recumbents use two brake levers which independently control the brakes on the corresponding front wheel. They may optionally have a third brake on the rear wheel which is used as an emergency or parking brake.

From the ICE owner's manual:

The front brakes are controlled with brake levers on the handlebars of your trike. The left lever operates the brake on the left wheel, and the right lever operates the brake on the right wheel. To brake, squeeze both brake levers at the same time with even pressure. Some specially adapted trikes may have a different lever setup.

Catrike brakes work the same way.

The Catrike has front brakes only, since in a breaking situation 90% of the weight is transferred to the front of the trike. The front brakes are also independent, meaning that you can break the right wheel only, or the left wheel only. Therefore, especially in high speed or downhill situations, it is mandatory that you pull both brakes at the same time and with the same intensity. If you elect however, to brake only with one brake, this could cause the trike to steer out of your path and cause serious injury or death.

The same for HP Velotechnik trikes:

In the standard assembly, both front wheel brakes are operated separately: The left brake lever operates the left front brake, the right brake lever operates the right front brake.

If your tricycle is equipped with a rear brake or a parking brake, use this brake only as an emergency brake in the unlikely event of a failure of the front brakes.

As do Greenspeed trikes:

Remember braking in a corner with only the inside brake will not slow you down as it is unweighted and will lock up. Try and use both brakes in an emergency situation. We have heard stories of people cornering at speed with their drink bottle in one hand, having to brake mid-corner, and finding they have very little brakes to slow them down.

Even lower-end recumbent trikes use the same method.

TerraTrike works this way:

To stop, squeeze both brake levers smoothly and with equal pressure. Each brake lever activates the corresponding brake on the front wheels. You will experience brake steer if you brake with only one side or unevenly. It is possible to tip the trike forward by stopping too fast.


I have actually seen a single lever which controls both brakes, only on one line of tadpole trikes: the Windcheetah line. These use a control yoke for steering, rather than handlebars, and as a consequence must have only one brake lever. And you'll see these on velomobiles which also use a steering yoke.

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    Can you clarify how this answers the question of braking three wheels with two levers? Your answer doesn't appear to mention that at all. – Móż May 2 '16 at 2:02
  • @BlamBlamBlam In normal operation there is no brake on the rear wheel. Even if one is present, it should not normally be used for braking. – Michael Hampton May 2 '16 at 2:23
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    @BlamBlamBlam What are you talking about? This is all an answer to the question! – Michael Hampton May 2 '16 at 3:12
  • None of that explains how you brake three wheels with two levers, which is the actual question. You have answered a different question, something like "how do commercially available trikes brake when they have three wheels but only two brake levers". – Móż May 2 '16 at 3:26
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    @BlamBlamBlam People accept wrong and incomplete answers all the time. Nothing to be done about it but write a better answer and hope they come back and read it eventually. Anyway, this answer already explains thoroughly why the other is wrong or incomplete, and unlike the other answer this one is thoroughly sourced and documented, so I have no idea why you made that statement; it appears absurd on its face. – Michael Hampton May 2 '16 at 3:51
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I have a three wheel recumbent with a dual front brake lever which controls both brakes at the same time with equal force, then the left lever is for the rear brake that uses a cantilever brake system. Hard braking I use the all three. My trike is electric and I wasn't going to face down in the road in case I had to stop at 40 mph. This set-up works great for me and I have never in 9 years had a wreck or been sent over the front wheels during a power stop. Wouldn't mind putting on hydraulics in the front but haven't seen a dual system that can split the two line to the front disc brakes. G

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I found a link to this thread from a related search.

I bought an electric fat trike from China.

Attached is a photo of how the Chinese engage the rear brakes on a trike. One cable from the lever, then the two cables are joined at the lower frame.

enter image description here

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