Trike Types

A trike, short for tricycle, is a three-wheeled vehicle that has been around for centuries and serves various purposes across a range of age groups. Trikes, also known as tri-cycles or three-wheelers, have an indelible mark in the realm of cycling. While their playful design might suggest they are solely children’s toys, tricycles have a much broader application, serving adults and seniors as reliable, stable modes of transportation, or as unique sport and recreational vehicles. Not confined to a single design or purpose, trikes can be as diverse as the people who ride them.

As common features, most trikes are heavier than bicycles and are more stable, especially at low speeds. It is often also more comfortable to ride a trike compared to a bike.

 They come in several types, with each offering distinctive features and advantages. The subsequent sections will delve into two specific types of trikes, the Tadpole and Delta tricycles, shedding light on their unique characteristics, their advantages, and their fascinating charm.

Delta vs. Tadpole Trikes

Tadpole and Delta trikes are pretty different, but it’s all about the wheels. A Tadpole trike has two wheels up front and one in the back. It’s low to the ground and has a nice balance, which makes it great for zipping around, especially when turning corners. Because it’s so streamlined, you can also go pretty fast on it, which is a plus for long rides or races.

On the other hand, a Delta trike has one wheel in the front and two in the back. It’s great if you need to carry stuff because it usually has more space for loads. Plus, it’s a bit easier to handle at slower speeds. Some folks also like it because you sit higher, which lets you see better in busy areas or traffic.

Both Tadpole and Delta trikes are more stable than a regular two-wheeled bike, which is a big reason people like them. But which one you prefer depends on what you want out of your ride. 

Recumbent, Semi-Recumbent, and Upright Trikes

Recumbent trikes are designed with a laid-back riding position, where the rider’s legs extend forward rather than downward. This design prioritizes comfort, reducing strain on the back and buttocks. The seating is similar to sitting in a chair with a backrest, providing support for the whole body. These trikes can be of either Tadpole or Delta configuration.

Semi-recumbent trikes feature a slightly more upright position than fully recumbent trikes, but still offer a more relaxed seating posture than traditional upright trikes. Semi-recumbents combine the back support of recumbents with a higher seat for better visibility. Like recumbents, semi-recumbents can also be Tadpole or Delta designs.

Upright trikes, as the name implies, allow riders to sit in an upright position, similar to traditional bicycles. These trikes offer the rider an excellent view of the surroundings and are typically easy to mount and dismount. They are often Delta trikes but can occasionally be found in Tadpole designs.

Folding vs. Fixed Trikes

Folding trikes are designed for easy storage and transport. They feature a hinge point in the frame that allows them to be folded into a compact size. This attribute makes them a popular choice for those with limited storage space or who travel frequently with their tricycle. However, this functionality can sometimes lead to a slightly higher weight due to the additional hardware needed for the folding mechanism.

Fixed trikes, on the other hand, have a solid, one-piece frame that does not fold. They typically offer a sturdier ride and can be lighter since they do not require the extra folding hardware. Fixed trikes are often more robust and require less maintenance, as there are fewer moving parts in the frame. But they do require more storage space, and transporting them can be more challenging.

Both folding and fixed trikes can come in any of the previously mentioned styles – Tadpole, Delta, Recumbent, Semi-Recumbent, and Upright. The choice between folding and fixed often depends on practical considerations like storage space and portability requirements.

Electric-Assisted, Human Powered, and Motor-Trikes

Electric-assisted trikes, also known as e-trikes, have an electric motor to help the rider pedal. This can make it easier to climb hills or go longer distances, reducing the physical effort required. However, these trikes are heavier due to the motor and battery, and they also need to be charged regularly.

Human-powered trikes rely solely on the rider’s physical effort to pedal and move. These are the traditional type of tricycle and are typically lighter than electric-assisted trikes, as they lack a motor and battery. The level of physical effort required will be higher, especially on hilly terrain or over long distances.

Motor-trikes fall into the motorcycle category and are powered by a gasoline engine, rather than a pedaling rider. They can reach higher speeds and don’t require physical effort to ride, but they do require a motorcycle license to operate in many areas. These are significantly heavier and louder than the other types of trikes, and they also have higher fuel and maintenance costs.

Mid-Drive vs. Hub-Drive Electric Motor Trikes

Mid-drive electric motor trikes have the motor positioned centrally, often near the pedals. This central location provides a balanced distribution of weight and more efficient power transmission, making mid-drive systems a preferred choice for hilly terrains and heavy loads. They usually offer a more natural cycling feeling, as the motor assistance is integrated with the rider’s pedaling. Examples of renowned mid-drive electric motor brands include Bosch, which offers power ratings ranging from 250 to 750 watts, and Shimano, whose STEPS system also delivers power in the same range.

Hub-drive electric motor trikes, on the other hand, place the motor in the hub of one of the wheels, typically the rear for Delta trikes and one of the front wheels for Tadpole trikes. These systems can be simpler, lighter, and more affordable than mid-drive systems. Hub motors operate independently of the pedals, providing assistance directly to the wheel, which can result in quicker acceleration. Prominent hub-drive electric motor brands include Bafang and Go SwissDrive, with power ratings typically falling in the range of 250 to 500 watts.

Direct vs. Indirect Steering

Direct steering, as the name suggests, involves a direct connection between the handlebars and the front wheels. This means the rider’s input translates immediately into wheel movement, which can give a sense of more precise control and faster response. Direct steering is commonly found on Tadpole trikes, where the rider grips handles next to each wheel and pushes or pulls them to steer.

Indirect steering, in contrast, uses a system of linkages to connect the handlebars to the front wheels. This type of steering can provide a smoother, less twitchy ride, especially at high speeds. It can also allow for a more relaxed arm and hand position, as the handlebars can be located closer to the rider and higher up. Indirect steering is often found on both Tadpole and Delta trikes.

Trike Covers: Velomobile, Removable Canopy, Removable Front-Cover, and Naked Trike

Trike covers play a vital role in protecting the rider from various elements and can also enhance the trike’s performance. Four main types of covers exist: Velomobile, removable canopy, removable front-cover, and the naked trike.

A Velomobile is a human-powered vehicle, usually a recumbent trike, enclosed for aerodynamic advantage and protection from weather and collisions. The cover encompasses the entire trike and often incorporates clear sections or windows for visibility. Velomobiles can reach high speeds due to their aerodynamic shape, and they offer the highest level of protection against weather. However, they can be heavier and less maneuverable than other trike types.

Removable canopies are more versatile and can be added or removed as needed. They primarily serve to protect the rider from sun and rain, and they usually don’t enclose the entire trike. The canopy is typically made of fabric or other lightweight material and attaches to the trike with brackets. While not as aerodynamic or protective as a full velomobile shell, a removable canopy offers a good compromise between protection and convenience.

Removable front-covers are designed to protect the rider from wind and debris. They are typically made of clear plastic or other transparent materials and can be added or removed as the conditions dictate. These covers can significantly improve comfort on windy or cold days, but they do not provide the full-body protection of a velomobile or the sun and rain protection of a canopy.

Finally, naked trikes are those without any cover at all. This is the most common form of trike and provides the most natural cycling experience. Riding a naked trike offers the greatest visibility and the easiest access to controls, but it also exposes the rider to the weather and other environmental elements.

Whether a rider prefers a fully enclosed velomobile, a removable canopy or front-cover, or a naked trike, will depend on factors such as the typical weather conditions they ride in, their desire for protection against the elements, and their need for speed and aerodynamics. Each type of cover, or lack thereof, provides a different balance of protection, performance, and convenience.

Trike Suspension: None, Front Wheel(s), Rear Wheel(s), All Wheels

Trike suspension systems play a crucial role in ride comfort and handling. They can absorb bumps and shocks, provide better control, and reduce rider fatigue, particularly on uneven terrain. The four main types of suspension setups on trikes are: none, front wheel(s), rear wheel(s), and all wheels.

Trikes with no suspension rely on the tires and the flexibility of the frame to absorb shocks. These are typically lighter and simpler, requiring less maintenance, but they can provide a harsher ride on rough surfaces.

Front wheel suspension is commonly found on Tadpole trikes. It can significantly improve comfort and control when riding over uneven surfaces, especially given that the rider’s weight is often biased towards the front. However, it does add some weight and complexity.

Rear wheel suspension is more common on Delta trikes, where the single rear wheel carries a large part of the load. It can improve comfort and traction, especially when carrying heavy loads or riding uphill. Like front suspension, it adds weight and complexity to the trike.

All-wheel suspension, as the name suggests, provides suspension on all three wheels. This offers the smoothest ride and the best control over uneven surfaces, making it ideal for off-road riding or long-distance touring. However, it’s the heaviest and most complex option, and it requires more maintenance.

The choice of suspension system depends on a variety of factors, including the typical riding conditions, the desire for comfort versus simplicity, and the need for control and traction under different load conditions. Each setup has its strengths and compromises, and what works best can vary greatly depending on the rider’s specific needs and preferences.

Chain vs. Belt Drive Systems

In the world of trikes, two primary types of drive systems exist: chain drives and belt drives.

Chain drives are the most common system found on trikes. They consist of a metal chain connecting the front crankset to the rear wheel or wheels. Chain drives are durable, efficient, and can transmit a high amount of torque, which makes them suitable for a variety of terrains and loads. However, they do require regular maintenance, such as lubrication and cleaning, to ensure smooth operation and longevity.

Belt drives, on the other hand, use a rubber belt instead of a metal chain. They are becoming increasingly popular due to their low-maintenance nature and quiet operation. Belt drives do not require lubrication and are resistant to dirt and weather conditions, which makes them a clean and reliable option. However, they are typically more expensive than chain drives, and they may not transmit as much torque, making them less suited to heavy loads or steep climbs.

Fixed vs. Tilting or Leaning Trikes

Trikes can either be fixed or have a tilting or leaning mechanism, which significantly impacts the way they handle.

Fixed trikes have a rigid frame that keeps all three wheels on the ground at all times. This design provides excellent stability, especially at low speeds and when stopped. Fixed trikes are simple and often more affordable, but they can feel less natural to bicycle riders, especially in turns where they don’t lean into the curve.

Tilting or leaning trikes, on the other hand, allow the rider and possibly the whole trike to lean into turns, similar to a regular bicycle. This leaning mechanism can make the trike feel more agile and responsive, providing a more engaging ride. It also helps counteract the centrifugal force when cornering, improving stability at higher speeds. However, tilting trikes are more complex, often more expensive, and can require more skill to ride.

Both fixed and tilting trikes have their unique benefits. Fixed trikes are typically more user-friendly and cost-effective, making them a good choice for casual riding and beginners. On the other hand, tilting trikes offer a dynamic riding experience that can be more enjoyable for experienced riders and those seeking a bicycle-like feeling. The choice between the two ultimately depends on the rider’s skill level, comfort, and the desired riding experience.

Standard vs. Specialty Trikes

While standard trikes serve as a versatile platform for general cycling needs, specialty trikes have designs and features that cater to specific uses.

Cargo trikes are designed with large storage spaces to carry goods. They’re an environmentally-friendly alternative for delivering goods in urban settings or for carrying shopping or picnic supplies.

Drift trikes are built for sliding sideways and doing tricks, usually featuring slick rear wheels and a high power-to-weight ratio.

Flying trikes, used in paramotoring, combine a trike chassis with a powered paraglider, allowing for short take-off and landing abilities for aerial adventures.

Trikes for coffee, ice cream, or other food vending are fitted with insulated containers or other necessary equipment, providing a mobile business platform for street vending.

Rickshaws, often pedal-powered, are a form of human-powered transport for carrying passengers. They are widely used in some countries as a means of urban transport.

Mountain trikes are built to handle off-road trails, typically featuring robust construction, all-wheel suspension, and fat tires for traction on rough terrain.

Trikes for small children are common and usually have simple designs, providing a stable platform for kids learning to cycle.

Tandem trikes allow two riders to pedal together. They come in various configurations, with one rider sitting behind the other or side by side.

DJ trikes are often equipped with sound systems and DJ equipment, providing mobile entertainment for events or street performances.

Trikes with trailers have a tow hitch for attaching a trailer, allowing for extra cargo capacity or for carrying children or pets.

Each specialty trike offers unique features catered to specific needs, expanding the versatility and functionality of the traditional tricycle design.

Trike Trailers: Functionality and Variations

Trike trailers can significantly expand the utility of tricycles, allowing for the transport of a variety of loads beyond the trike’s inherent capacity. Trailers connect to the trike via a hitch, often located at the rear axle or frame of the trike. A coupler may be used for this connection, providing a secure and adjustable link between the trike and the trailer.

The addition of a trailer does impose extra stress on the drivetrain – whether chain or belt – and the rider, as they must exert more energy to pull the added weight. If the trike is electric-assist, the motor may also experience increased demand, potentially reducing battery range.

There are several types of trike trailers, each designed for a specific purpose. Children’s trailers are built with safety and comfort in mind, often featuring seats with harnesses, a sturdy frame, and a weatherproof cover. Dog trailers are similar but might include features like leash hooks and more ventilation.

Cargo trailers offer extra space for transporting goods, ideal for shopping trips, moving items, or touring. Food trailers can be outfitted with necessary equipment for vending, similar to specialty food trikes.

There are even caravan trailers designed for camping or long-distance touring, offering basic sleeping accommodation and storage space. These trailers are much larger and require a robust hitching system to ensure safety and stability.

In all cases, it’s important to ensure the trike and its rider can handle the additional weight and stress of pulling a trailer. A balance must be struck between load capacity and ease of pedaling to ensure a comfortable and efficient ride.