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We're going on a trip to a cabin in the woods and we're all bringing our bikes to do things like ride the 7 miles into town or just around the cabin in nature. We have a friend coming who is not super well versed on riding a "2-wheeler", so we're considering renting her an adult trike. I've had my eye on a 3-speed 24/26 inch (I'm assuming that means the back wheels are 26 and the front wheel is 24?). Not that we're going to be in full sprint mode, but will this allow her to keep up with the rest of us on "standard" 2-wheel (mostly mountain or gravel) bikes over mostly flat, all paved surfaces or will she find it very difficult to do so on that trike? Or maybe the better question is will be be constantly circling back to keep her in the pack?

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    Are we talking large, heavy upright trike or fast recumbent trike?
    – Michael
    Commented Jun 22 at 5:07
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    Unless she is so old that any fall is life threatening or has balance issues or is otherwise disabled, I'd also try to convince her to try a comfortable bike with a rather upright sitting position. On paved ground without lots of traffic almost everybody can ride at a leisurely pace. Commented Jun 23 at 6:42
  • I HAD mostly been looking at upright trikes, but am now convinced recumbent is the way (and I was lucky enough to find one that was reasonably priced).
    – Daveh0
    Commented Jun 24 at 10:35
  • My hopes are that this trike experience will give her the confidence to eventually move on to a standard 2-wheeler in the near future (maybe by next trip), but there's just no way she'll do it now... she almost bailed on the trip because the biking aspect was really freaking her out,.. hence my quest to find her the right bike.
    – Daveh0
    Commented Jun 24 at 10:40
  • She might be one of the people who really take to recumbent riding. People who have never done it don't realize the fun of it. Which is part of why I suggest all of the group try it.
    – Willeke
    Commented Jun 30 at 6:10

4 Answers 4

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It is mostly not about the bike or trike, it is about the experience of the riders, their power and how easy they adjust.
Without motor help a trike is usually slower than a bike, due to higher rolling resistance and the rental ones are not the race ready fast ones.
In the case of your friend it is very likely the rider as well as the cycle will be slower, making it doubly hard to keep up.

Instead of circling back, the faster rider(s) should stay with or behind the slower ones.

Rather than a sit up standard trike I would look into renting a recumbent e-trike, as those are more stable and with the motor will be able to keep up even when the person on it has little muscle power.

You will likely still allow for a slower speed, as it takes time to build up the confidence.

Better still, rent the same kind of trike for each of you and share a novel experience.

I ride recumbent trikes (non powered ones) and have friends who have e-versions. You can get them to go on their side but it is not hard to ride in such a way that it does not happen.

Go for having fun together, not for most of the group to ride their usual bikes and for one to struggle to keep up.

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  • Your answer seems a little incongruent: You start with "It is mostly not about the bike or trike.." and continue with "a trike is usually slower than a bike". Which one is it now? ;-) Commented Jun 23 at 6:38
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    A fast rider is still faster on a slower bike than a slow rider on the same bike, and by same ability the rider on the trike will be slower than a rider on a bike with comparable wheel size, gearing, tires and so on.
    – Willeke
    Commented Jun 23 at 8:17
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    I think in this particular case, with a woman who is not a confident bicyclist, it's more like "the tricycle will make a slow rider even slower". Commented Jun 23 at 10:01
  • @Willeke After reading everyone's answers, it's pretty clear to me that she'll keep up better, have to exert herself less, will be safer and will feel more stable/comfortable (and thus have more fun) on a recumbent, so that's where I'm headed. Thanks for helping me get there.
    – Daveh0
    Commented Jun 24 at 10:44
  • @Daveh0, can you please tell us how it worked out after the trip. And accept the answer which helped you most.
    – Willeke
    Commented Jul 2 at 18:35
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They probably won’t be able to keep up, unless you slow down to let them keep up. And while that may not be as fun for you, it’s likely to be more fun than having to circle back, and it will be far more fun for them than watching you circle back. Possibly let your friend on the trike take point as a way to help you match your speed to theirs (speaking from experience group riding with friends who are much less versed in cycling, this helps a lot).

As far as the why:

  • Most traditional trikes (that is, one wheel in front, two in the back, front wheel steers) corner much much slower than a regular bicycle. They have to because they can’t counter-steer and tilt to corner.
  • The effective gear-range on most three-speed drivetrains is typically no more than 200% from lowest to highest, compared to 400-600% being normal for a modern MTB or gravel bike. Given this and the typical alignment of gearing between such drivetrains:
    • You will have significantly more low gears to work with than the trike will, and will thus have a much easier time handling slopes.
    • You will have a few higher high gears than the trike will, and will thus have a higher effective top speed.
    • You will also have much much smaller steps between gears than the trike will, meaning you will be able to better optimize your gearing for efficiency, and thus will probably have better effective stamina than the person on the trike (that is, you’ll be less tired after the same time riding).
  • Independent of the drivetrain, the trike will weigh more and will have higher rolling resistance, meaning it will take more effort to get it moving and keep it moving.
  • Given your description in the question, it sounds like this friend may not cycle much, if at all. If that is the case, it will also functionally limit their effective speed, either because of biophysics reasons (they’re not used to cycling, so their body isn’t as effective at it as a regular cyclists would be) or because of psychological reasons (they’re not used to cycling, so they’ll likely be more nervous about going fast, and thus limit their top speed).
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    +1 for letting the trike take point. Excellent idea!
    – NL_Derek
    Commented Jun 22 at 20:17
  • Agree, we'll definitely have her ride point. And thanks for the straight up "no she won't be able to keep up" answer. With all the answers and comments, I'm convinced to put her on a recumbent instead.
    – Daveh0
    Commented Jun 24 at 10:49
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I have limited experience riding trikes, and by the time I tried one, I was already a well versed cyclist on several modalities, including semi-competitive downhill, and recreative MTB, road cycling and also worked in parcel delivery by bike.

Initially I found "disturbing" that I could not balance the contraption on side slopes. For example, one of the trikes I used was precisely a cargo trike used for delivery, So, sometimes I had to maneuver it on sidewalks to place it near driveways and car entry ramps. Any time the trike was "sideways" with respect to the slope, it felt like I was going to fall to the side, since the whole contraption would tilt. Sometimes I'd rather dismount and push the trike past the ramps until it was on the flat again.

I think that unless the routes you are planing to use with your friend are well designed for trike or accessibility use (I'm thinking Wheelchairs), the person would feel not so stable. When you combine slopes with direction change you find that side slope appears. This is something that rarely affects 2-wheel riders.

Another factor is that the width of the trike may make it tricky to maneuver on tight spots, or around fences, entry spots, etc. That is something to consider with respect of the infrastructure on the place you are planing to use it. Some places have ample paths and the entry points have enough space, in other cases, they intentionally place restrictive items, for example to avoid or discourage the use of motorized quads, ATV, or similar. Those places are hard to navigate on a wide tricycle.

Third, as already mentioned in previous answers, 3 wheels means more rolling resistance and more weight. The trike I mentioned was sometimes used in "group rides" with the delivery company I was working with. It was very hard to keep up with the 2-wheelers. It was even hard for experienced riders on the trike to keep up with novice or non sports oriented riders. Among the group there where people of many different backgrounds, including competitive riders and proficient bike mechanics, so, everything that could be done the the trike in order to make it roll better was done. (Tire pressure, maintenance, adjustments). Also, it can be said that many members of the group knew how to put power into the pedals and even for them, keeping up meant getting a fairly good "workout" while the others weren't sweating even the slightest.

What I'm trying to say is that A trike is just going to exacerbate the difference between the inexperienced rider and the others, So, no matter if you actually end up renting the trike of convincing your friend to use a bicycle, It is upon the other riders to keep a reasonable pace and act according to the experience level of that person.

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  • I would expect part of the issue with the delivery time to be the gearing. They often seem very low geared, so in trying to keep up the rider would have to spin very fast, as well as doing so against the resistance
    – Chris H
    Commented Jun 22 at 7:29
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    Yup I can see now how the trike is not the fix-all for situation. Ive decided to go with a recumbent for her to mitigate some of the problems the upright trike introduces. And we'll all just go at her pace... we're not in any rush to get anywhere.
    – Daveh0
    Commented Jun 24 at 10:52
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It doesn't matter whether the terrain is mostly flat/hilly or paved/unpaved.

What matters is tight curves.

For example, on a curvy mountain road, if riding downhill, a trike will no way keep up with 2-wheelers. The reason being that it has to go very slow in the curves. Otherwise it will crash to the side, not being in balance.

The ability to lean to curves is a massive benefit of 2-wheelers that no trike has. Especially if the trike has two rear wheels and one front wheel instead of having one rear wheel and two front wheels, it's very unstable in curves.

On a completely flat terrain, though, this won't be as much an issue, since on flat terrain, bicycle speeds are typically 25 - 30 km/h so curves won't be taken at very high speeds.

Since standard wheels are 28 inch, finding good quality low rolling resistance tires for 24/26 inch wheels could be tricky, but this is not a major problem as the biggest resistance is air resistance. If the trike doesn't have drop handlebars and has to keep up with gravel bikes, it'll be hard, but then again if there are mountain bikes too, they have even bigger issues due to rolling and air resistance.

Trikes are obviously heavier when riding uphill, so in very hilly terrain they don't only lose in tight downhill curves, but they also lose when riding uphill, but this isn't a major issue and the typical variation in cyclist weight is probably larger than the difference of weight between trike and bike.

I think the trike won't be such a good idea however, if someone doesn't have experience riding bikes, and you think trike is going to solve all issues, it might turn out to be very dangerous in fast tight curves. Maintaining balance on a trike is harder, not easier than maintaining balance on a bike. On a trike you never know when you are on the edge of stability, about to crash to the side.

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  • Not that we'll doing any rides that REQUIRE fast tight curves or anything like that, but I've read enough answers and comments to be convinced that on an upright trike, she's going to feel REALLY off balance for a lot of the time and probably WILL BE off balance enough to make to make things less than safe for her. I'm going to put her in a recumbent trike, which I know is not without ITS own issues, but I believe it is the best option of all the imperfect options available. I think putting in some miles on a recumbent trike will give her the confidence and safety to really enjoy our rides.
    – Daveh0
    Commented Jun 24 at 11:00

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