Learn about the types of recumbent bikes and recumbent trikes

Tadpole vs Delta

If there are two wheels in the back, it’s a Delta. If there are two wheels in the front, it’s a Tadpole. For both Delta and Tadpole –as with all recumbents- the rider sits in a mesh seat supporting the neck, back and seat and fully distributing body weight. For both types, the pedals are in front and the drive wheels are in the rear.

Deltas

Deltas’ long wheel-base and high seat position make them easier for the rider to mount and super-comfortable to ride –especially long distances. The extra-long wheelbase that makes them so comfortable to ride also makes them both heavier and increases the length –making them bulkier to transport in a car.

We stock fantastic Deltas from Hase, Greenspeed and Sun. Oh, and here’s a super-cool thing you can do with a Delta that you’ll NEVER do with a Tadpole: (insert video of Hase and Greenspeed). We have demo Deltas, so you can make an informed decision.

Tadpoles

There are nearly two-dozen Tadpole manufacturers –both small and large- in North America, Western and Eastern Europe and Asia. Most recumbent trikes are outfitted with the same disc brakes and drivetrains from SRAM, Shimano and Full Speed Ahead (“FSA”) that are standard on upright bikes. Almost universally, Tadpoles require 20” wheels in the front (also called 406) and either 20” or 26” (also called 559) for the single rear drive wheel.

Folding vs. Non-Folding

Trikes that fold are easier to transport and store. A folding trike will be every bit as strong as a non-folder but they tend to be slightly heavier and a bit more expensive. Pretty much all the manufacturers have added folders to their product lines.

A folder is not necessary for most riders –in fact, many non-folders will roll into the back of a station wagon or SUV with the back seats folded down or hang on a trailer-hitch-mounted trike rack. Recumbent racks to fit the receiver start at $400 (if you don’t already have one, a hitch receiver runs about $300 at U-Haul). A simpler, less-expensive solution is simply to set the trike on top of your car and secure it down with $10 worth of hardware store ratchet straps.

Wheel Size

0inches
easier pedaling, hill-climbing and faster acceleration
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higher top-speed, lower pedaling cadence
As noted above, Tadpoles’ front wheels are nearly always 20”. So, when we talk about wheel size, we’re referring to the rear drive wheel. Rears are 20” or 26” (or, less commonly, smaller 16” or larger 27”/700C). If you think of the drive train (the chain connecting the pedal-driven crank in the front and the drive wheel in the back) as a pulley system, the larger the rear wheel, the further you ride for each revolution of the pedals (gearing affects that too – we’ll get to that further down). All things being equal, then, you’d choose the smaller or larger drive wheel depending on whether you want to climb hills easier or power faster on flats. But, as we see in Gearing below, all things aren’t equal.

Gearing

Gearing enables you drive the rear wheel more or less per revolution of the crank. The exact gearing ratios are determined by the sizes of front crank rings and rear cassettes (or alternatively, the range on internally geared cranks and hubs). The good news is that we can demonstrate faster (harder) gearing configurations and slower (easier) ones –depending on what you want- right in the store.

Track

Track is simply the width between the two front wheels. Our narrowest trike, the Catrike Pocket, is under 29”. Our widest, the HP Scorpion Plus, is over 35”. A wider recumbent trike adds a bit of weight but it may be a more comfortable fit for those who’ve gained a few pounds since senior class photo. A wider track also supports a higher seat – the Scorpion Plus High Seat is the height of an office chair! The narrower trikes tend to be lower to the ground and faster.

Rider Height

On Tadpole trikes, the crank sits out on the end of an adjustable-length boom. It is that adjustment that allows riders with different leg lengths to fit on the same trike. Unsurprisingly, different brands and models accommodate different height ranges. The Catrike Pocket will accommodate riders under 5’. The Catrike Expedition with an extra-long boom installed will handle riders well above 6’ (We have a 6’7” shop employee riding an Expedition). The HP Scorpions have six different seats giving an extra level of height adjustability. AZUB allows movement of both boom and seat. Whatever your height, we can fit you comfortably on the recumbent trike of your choice.

Seat and Body Position

“Rider Height” differences described above are a bit of oversimplification. Identical-height riders can have different leg lengths and, logically, also different torso lengths – that’s where seat size and body position become important. Different brands solve this in different ways: while some riders like to be higher and more upright, others take advantage of trikes’ aerodynamic and mechanical properties by being low and flat. Different brands (and even different models within the same brand) allow for seat angle and height adjustments in various ways. Some are widely variable. Some are completely fixed and non-adjustable. Some seats are narrow. Some are wide. What’s most important is that these are very much preference items and you won’t know until you find a seat that fits you just right.

Rider Weight

Just as we’re different heights, we’re different sizes. The Catrike weight limit is 275 lbs. HP Scorpions, Greenspeed Magnum and Sun trikes can handle up to 400 lbs. If you want to get out on the road, we’ll get you on a trike that meets your needs!

Steering and handling

A well-fit trike allows you to easily reach the steering arms and comfortably control braking and shifting. The steering arms should allow ample turning radius (does us no good if we can only ride straight, does it?). Virtually all brands offer wide adjustability of steering arms – so, if a particular trike would be perfect but for the steering, there’s a pretty good chance we can fix that for you. The two basic steering types are either “direct” or “indirect”. With direct, the steering arms directly control the direction of the front wheels. With indirect, the steering arms are connected to the front wheels through linkage arms. We offer trikes with both types. Like virtually every other aspect of buying a trike, direct vs indirect is simply a question of rider preference. That said, we find most buyers don’t have a strong preference.

Suspension

Most brands offer models with suspension. Suspension – front or rear – adds comfort on bumpy roads. Front suspension can also improve handling. Suspension adds both weight and cost. There are often simple solutions – such as after-market Ventisit seat cushions – to consider before upgrading to suspension. We have suspension-equipped test Tadpole trikes from Catrike, HP Velotechnik, AZUB and Steintrikes as well as Deltas from Hase and Sun.

Budget

Recumbents are going to be more expensive than traditional upright bikes for a couple of significant reasons:

  • Recumbent builders are generally small, hand builders. Multinationals like Trek, Schwinn, Specialized and Cannondale manufacture more bikes on any given work day than most recumbent brands build in a YEAR! Giant Bicycle’s Taichung factory in Taiwan churns out 5000 frames a day for well-known brands like Scott and Trek. It’s impossible to imagine recumbent manufacturers creating that economy of scale.
  • Recumbent frames – especially trikes – also have a bit more “going on” than those upright frames.

This makes recumbents more expensive than an equivalent upright bike. For example, a pretty-good recreation riding trike from our shop will start at $1,500. Top-of-the-line suspension touring trikes can exceed $5,000. Most of our trikes sell in the $2,000 -$3,000 range.

Trikes on the showroom floor are priced as we receive them from the manufacturers. The two most common options that we encourage customers to budget for are fenders and rear rack. Fenders for the Pacific Northwest weather, run $125-$200 (brand specific). A rear rack to hang bags or panniers for a picnic or your grocery shopping runs $65-$205 (again, brand specific).

Financial Options

We shopped around for financing options, and we’ve found Unitus Credit Union to be one of the best. Unitus provides auto, boat and motorcycle loans to its members. So, their employees asked, “why not bikes?” The answer, for residents of Washington and Oregon, is great rates, near-zero processing costs and no pre-payment penalties.