My New Love Affair With Three-Wheeled Bikes
I’ve ridden and loved bikes for 35 years, raced since I was ten, and idolized the greats like Greg Lemond, Bernard Hinault, and Andy Hampston. Cycling is in my blood, and to me it always meant two wheels—until now.
Sixteen months ago, I broke my arm. Everyone said it was a minor break, but the injury festered. The pain worsened, and doctors shook their heads. And then, almost a year to the day, I rebroke it trail running. I started going crazy: I couldn’t ride a regular bike, nor I could I run, do yoga, hunt, or fly-fish.
Then one day, in a moment of frustration, I started looking for recumbent, three-wheeled bikes that could handle dirt. For “serious” cyclists, a recumbent, or trike, is about as appealing as training wheels. I’d never considered riding one, but soon found the Terra Trike Rambler All-Terrain, a brand-new design that landed on my doorstep a few weeks later. And though I hadn’t ridden it yet, and though I’d been couch-bound, and though I had only a week until I left for a photography assignment in Jordan, I concocted a trikepacking tour of the backroads of New Mexico. Four days, three nights, and several hundred miles later, I was sold.
The Rambler takes all the good parts about cycling and leaves out the bad. (More on that below.) Just off the couch and on a two-wheel bike, I would never have been able to log as much time as I did and see so much country. The Rambler, however, gave me the freedom to get out and enjoy what I love. Which is why, though I’ll never completely divorce my bicycle, I foresee a lasting affair with the trike.
The only thing I enjoyed more than the trike on my tour was New Mexico’s haunting and historic landscape. The route passed countless 18th- and 19th-century adobe ruins that recall all the people who traveled these roads before me.
Trikes have lots of advantages over bikes. For bikepacking, the biggest plus is all the cargo space. Between the rack and two panniers I carried a tent, a sleeping bag and pad, cooking gear, several days’ worth of food, about a gallon of water, clothes for riding and chilling at camp, and even a book. And there was plenty of space for more.
More trike advantages: no chamois, no jersey, no helmet necessary (except when I was riding the pavement). No sore neck, no sore back, no sore butt, no sore hands. Riding no hands—no problem. No saddle sores. Easy to eat, drink, change clothes, and take picture while pedaling. You don’t have to take off the front wheels to change a flat. You can wear sun hats. There’s a parking brake, so the trike will never roll away. Drivers give you more space than they would if you were on a bike, pulling well into the other lane.
It’s difficult to express the sense of freedom and autonomy you get out riding the countryside alone. Waking to sunrise, rather than an alarm, makes you want to just keep riding forever.
I’ve participated in events like the Arizona Trail Race, but for me the speed and drive of those events neglects the rewards you get from moving at a methodical pace. When you’re touring, there’s always time for a leisurely coffee in the morning or a stop in the shade for lunch or a nap.
Unlike on a two-wheeled bike, it’s easier to look around and enjoy the view while riding a trike. It’s like a riverboat cruise where you are the paddle. Oh yeah, and my arm didn’t hurt.
There are disadvantages compared with a bike, too. The tops of your thighs, shins, and hands can scorch in the sun. Climbing is slow. Descending isn’t as fast as I’m used to, either. Washboards are brutal. It’s hard to hike-a-trike. And on the paved roads, which I mostly avoided, your low position makes you harder for motorists to see. But you do get that cool flag!
The great thing about touring in New Mexico is you never know what you’ll find or where. There’s unexpected sights and oddities around every corner that keep you wondering and laughing.
I’ve now ridden and pushed the limits of the Trike on all manner of terrain including paved roads, dirt roads, overgrown rutted two-track, singletrack, and even the occasional bushwhack. Riding with three wheels is a little different then riding with two, especially because choosing your line takes a little practice.