A tricycle (image from Stephen Muir)
A tricycle (image from Stephen Muir)
The advantage of a tricycle is obvious: it does not have to be balanced and is simply steered as one steers a car. This advantage becomes important whenever it becomes difficult to balance a bicycle: at low speed and especially when stopped.

On a steep hill on a tricycle you can go as slow as you like without wobbling and take a rest any time simply by holding on the brakes. So anyone who:

  • has balance problems;
  • cannot go as quickly uphill as they used to;
  • has difficulty starting and stopping or mounting and dismounting a bicycle

may find a tricycle suits them better.

The disadvantage of a tricycle is that the extra wheel and supporting framework adds a little weight and drag compared to a bicycle of identical quality. And since tricycles are manufactured in far smaller quantities, they are far more expensive – although the price difference becomes less significant at the top end of the market, where bicycles are also a bespoke item.

A low centre of gravity, paradoxically, makes a bicycle harder to balance, so recumbent tricycles are relatively popular. A tricycle may have two (steered) wheels at the front and one behind, or one in front and two behind, and the recumbent world has given us a couple of useful terms for these formats: 'tadpole' and 'delta'.

A tadpole has more complex arrangements for steering and a delta for driving. In general, it’s easier to steer than to drive a pair of wheels and many traditional, upright, delta trikes dodge the issue by driving only the near side wheel.

Trike configiuration That generally works okay in Britain, since the push from that wheel counteracts a tendency to turn down the camber toward the left (the steering geometry of tricycles is different from bicycles – less trail – so as to minimise this), but adds to the effort of steering in countries that drive on the right and is impracticable for climbing steep hills. Here, there is so little weight on the front wheel that the strong one-sided driving force required to keep moving makes it hop and slide to the right. So if you want a trike so that you can take your time on steep hills, you want two-wheel drive or a tadpole.

Whilst it is almost impossible to tip over most recumbent trikes, the traditional upright (like a safety bike) variety may be upset on an uneven surface or by going around a corner fast without leaning in. To minimise that risk, the centre of gravity should be closer to the pair of wheels than the single one. For that, combined with a few other reasons, recumbent trikes are usually tadpoles and uprights deltas.

Although any kind of tricycle is simplicity itself to steer, traditional upright ones have a tricky reputation. That’s because from the rider's point of view, this machine looks and feels so much like a bicycle. Those two rear wheels are out of sight and out of mind, so the rider can hardly stop himself trying to balance this bike-like thing by 'steering into the lean'. The road slopes toward the roadside ditch, so that’s the way he promptly goes – to the amusement of all except himself and the owner of the machine!

Anyone who’s never ridden a bicycle has no problem, but experienced bicyclists have a lot to unlearn. The only way some can suppress their lean-steer reflexes is to pedal something completely different. An upright trike in tadpole format usually avoids the bicycle-like problem. This configuration however, can tip over more easily, so anyone who has this problem should most seriously consider a recumbent trike. These are superbly stable and have a cockpit that's totally unlike that of a bicycle!

Laid back trike coinfigurationTricycles require a good surface. You don’t want to be tilted this way and that and it won't be easy to find three parallel, smooth tracks through a network of potholes! So whilst there may be such things as mtb-styled tricycles, they’re not for really rough-stuff. Most tricycles are made for racing, touring or everyday transport purposes on roads and good cycle paths.

Britain, oddly for a non-cycling nation, is rather a tricycling country. We have the only known Tricycle Association and several renowned manufacturers of tricycles. Biggest by far is in the Stratford-on-Avon firm of Pashley Cycles, which used to produce a great many different models of tricycles for use in factories and commercial deliveries, in addition to family and individual transport.

Their three-wheeled range is somewhat reduced but still includes the classic 'stop me and buy one'; a traditional chain-drive child's tricycle; and couple of other useful models. Longstaff Cycles in Staffordshire and Trykit in Oxfordshire are two of the foremost constructors of traditional lightweight racing and touring tricycles in the world.

If you prefer an upright tricycle in tadpole format, there's Roman Road Cycles in Wales. We also have a couple of firms making recumbent tricycles: ICE (Trice) and AVD (Windcheetah) and there are many dealers for imported models such as Greenspeed, Kettwiesel … see their adverts in 'Cycle' magazine.

Share this article

  • Patron: Her Majesty The Queen
  • President: Jon Snow
  • Chief Executive: Paul Tuohy
  • Cycling UK is a trading name of Cyclists’ Touring Club (CTC) a company limited by guarantee, registered in England no: 25185. Registered as a charity in England and Wales charity no: 1147607 and in Scotland charity no: SC042541. Registered office: Parklands, Railton Road, Guildford, Surrey GU2 9JX.

Copyright © CTC 2016

Terms and Conditions