Tuesday, September 29, 2009

In a Trice

I promised a report on my brief demo ride in my brother's Trice tadpole trike, so here it is.

Pedaling down at hubcap level really changes the balance of power in the car-bike equation.  Anyone riding these on the street has a great big pair in their comfy chair.

I did enjoy playing in the trike.  In a perfect world we would be able to get around in all sorts of human-powered vehicles without having to worry about what behemoth was going to crush us like an unnoticed insect.

On the plus side, you don't have to worry about keeping your balance at stop lights.  Once you reorient your style to accommodate the recumbent position you can work on smooth acceleration through the gears instead of a standing sprint to get clear of the intersection.

I only rode the trike in and around a parking lot.  The rest of the time I rode my conventional bike and observed my brother in various traffic situations.  We never ventured onto a very busy road, but it was late afternoon, so we had some commuter motor traffic working around us.

I kept waiting for a motorist to get angry or impatient.  The trike takes up a lot more lane than an upright bike.  Motorists seemed reluctant to pass even on clear, straight sections where we would prefer they get it over with.  It occurred to me that the trike gives the impression that it might be adaptive equipment for someone with a disability.  As miffed as a driver might be that someone with a disability had chosen to go play in traffic, no one wanted to be such a baby seal clubber as to honk or yell at the poor rider churning doggedly along, belly-up and vulnerable.

In a sense, my brother does have a disability.  He dumped his conventional bike early in the summer (or late in the spring, I forget which) and broke his elbow.  He can manage the recumbent trike long before he would be able to support himself properly on an upright bike. Devoted pedaler that he is, he used this as an excuse to pursue his interest in less commonplace pedal-powered vehicles.

I borrowed my brother's SPD sandals because the crank position on the trike requires secure attachment of the feet.  If you were to drop a foot at speed you would get seriously shredded.  Step-in pedals make more sense than straps alone because your feet are hanging from the elevated crank.  Slotted cleats would work, but I only prefer those for my regular bikes because they allow me to use different shoes I would not wear when riding a recumbent.  Secure foot attachment isn't a problem at stops because you don't need to get a foot out to prop yourself up.

Around 1981 I started sketching a fully-faired recumbent for commuting.  It was going to be a fully-enclosed torpedo,  but with a narrow track.  I was still thinking of the usual bicycle habitat rather than something that would unabashedly take a lane.  Living in Annapolis. Maryland, working for a sail loft, I shifted the design to a boat because I fancied my  chances better on the water than the street.  The project died for lack of funding. I was broke.  It didn't strike me as a business venture that would eventually pay for itself.

Fully enclosed, one of these trikes would make a dandy all-weather commuter.  The bodywork would help with visibility and lane presence.  You would still be vulnerable in a crash, as any small vehicle is, but such a vehicle could make a good car replacement.

The cellist tries the Trice.

Something about scampering around on the trike made me smile.  It may be an ingenious piece of design, but it's also just a little wacky.  With a fixed gear option you could even have reverse gear.  When I bogged down on a hill because I got mixed up with the shifting I used the hill to help me make a three-point turn so I could roll back down to the flats.  Playing the contours of the parking lot I could make other small-radius maneuvers.  I don't know what the traffic mix would be like with large numbers of recumbents thrown in.  Visibility is a huge issue, especially for overtaking vehicles.  On the plus side, if the speeds matched up right you could definitely pass clear beneath a tractor-trailer.

Imagine this scene in a movie: the recumbent rider slides under the big trailer and hooks into some downward-projecting piece of it.  Towed along out of sight, the pedaler is protected from attack.  At the appropriate time the rider releases the hook and slingshots out to A) a massive jump B) a white-knuckle downhill C) a sliding stop while motor vehicles collide in a spectacular fireball D) the possibilities are endless.

I should come up with a screenplay for each of the great scenes I've imagined over the years.  That's the bitch: I only ever imagine a scene or two.  They never go with any of the other scenes.  I guess that doesn't matter in an action film.  Just keep the chases and explosions rolling, with an occasional sex scene to provide a window from which to jump into the next action sequence.


Grendel said...

"The trike takes up a lot more lane than an upright bike."

Measure across the the handle bars of your conventional bike. Add an inch or two to account for the width of your hands. Now measure across the trikes wheels. The difference will be around 3-4 inches. Is this really "a lot more lane"?

cafiend said...

I should have said it carries its width lower.

Putting the trike with its outside wheel on the edge of the pavement leaves the rest of it in the lane whereas an upright two-wheeler can theoretically teeter on the edge momentarily (or longer if necessary) to negotiate a squeeze. The upright cyclist can lean and wiggle in ways the low-rider can't.

Steve A said...

The trike looks more like a vehicle so gets treated more like one by default. A cyclist on a conventional bike has more stereotypes to overcome to "earn" his road place. I'm not saying it's totally logical, but it's true.

cafiend said...

Steve A, do you have any statistical or scientific backing for this position? I ask not to be a dick but to establish the foundation of this next phase of analysis.

The trike is very small and often very slow. In many contexts when we see a person in a configuration like this they are using an adaptive device.

Either or both of the impressions we are postulating could have an effect here. I just wondered if you knew of any studies that might shed light on the motorist psyche in this case.

Steve A said...

When on a regular bike, motorists give me better treatment when I ride as if I'm on a grossly underpowered motorcycle. I don't think they particularly LIKE it, but they give me a wide berth all the same. Recently there was a "demonstration" by bicyclists about how much space cars wasted. They found they were treated like any other traffic. I'll look for the article.

Steve A said...

One example is at http://www.roanoke.com/news/roanoke/wb/214689

Particularly read how the other trafffic treated the protestors.

cafiend said...

Fascinating. The test would need to be repeated many times to see whether motorist behavior remained tolerant.

I would bet that if enough low-speed human powered vehicles took their place in the lane and slowed traffic on a regular basis motorist groups would mount coordinated opposition. The less evolved among them might take direct action on the street. More dangerous would be legislative action requiring a strong counter-lobby from cyclists.

Steve A said...

Isn't that scenario pretty much what happened with conventional bikes and the "Far to the Right" laws?

As for individual motorist tolerance, in my experience, motorists grow MORE tolerant toward it with repeat experience. They very quickly learn how to safely pass a cyclist operating as a slow vehicle and then think nothing of it. All of the hostile reactions I've experienced are from motorists I never encountered before. The BEST behaved motorists seem to be those driving vehicles with 18 wheels or with cement mixers on the back. Professionalism shows itself, though it seems odd that I should feel more comfy with cement trucks than with econoboxes...

cafiend said...

I have observed what you say, Steve. Touring on the Pacific coast of the US I kept hearing cyclists curse the logging trucks. I had no problem with them. It was the giant RVs that kept sporting with my life. However, the exceptions are dramatic. When trucks misbehave it leaves a lasting impression. Perhaps my continued survival is a tribute to the experience and skill on both sides. Or maybe I've been damn lucky.

Likewise, my regular motorized companions of all sizes on the commuting route seem to recognize me and work well around me. In an area with a small year-round population, many of them know me or at least know something of the web of gossip and legend that surrounds every resident of a small town.

As I wrote about coordinated motorist efforts to curtail cycling I did think how history repeats itself in that regard. The price of freedom is eternal lobbying.

greatpumpkin said...

Owner's comment: Nice report. You got a lot out of a short ride. Your commentators and you seem to be covering most points of the trike width vs bike width discussion. Indeed that was one of my main concerns about getting one--would I find it too wide to use on some of the routes I ride? It's more subjective than actual. I've ridden it on many of my usual rides (though not on the commute into DC that I was riding in 2007-08 as I don't currently work there) and it's been fine. Sitting so low does feel weird and vulnerable. It does slow way down on hills (though this improves with practice). However, there are some situations it handles better than a bicycle. Ideally I would use whichever vehicle suited the ride I intended to make. It will be interesting to try two wheels again when my arm permits it. I don't yet know how much of my riding will be on two wheels or three when I have the choice of either. It's all an experiment so far.

Jim Carroll, CRNA said...

I have a trike which I bought when my sense of balance took a long time coming back after an accident and a series of surgeries. Prior to that i had a LWB recumbent bicycle.

I like the trike, but then I'm blessed to live in the birthplace of the rail-to-trail. It is possible to ride a century with about three blocks of "sharing the road".

Interestingly, I bought the trike used from a guy who moved from a rural to an urban setting and was leery of riding it in traffic to commute.

And I gave the LWB to my brother who I know will ride and love it as it deserves to be ridden and loved.

I wish cars would notice bicycles.

But -- if wishes were horses, we'd be riding around piles of horse dung.