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All About Bikes
for Parents of Visually Impaired Children
by Richard Holloway
Too much to read? This article is not short but if you'll scroll through it you'll find many photos
which may be of interest and which may also provide an idea of where to stop and read first!
Scroll down to read this article & see more photos
or jump directly to a section with a link below
Conventional Bikes vs. Recumbents
Common Bike Designs: Touring, Mountain, Hybrid
Suspension: Solid, Hardtail, Full
Child Carriers & Child Trailers
Tandems: Conventional & Specialized
"Active Trailers"; Trail-a-Bikes, Tag-Alongs and Similar Solutions
Passive Trailers for Kids & Utility Trailers
More Unique Tandem Bikes: Child Sized, Side-by-Side, Back-to-Back, etc.
Trikes for Kids
Trikes for Adults
Tandem Trikes and Convertible Trikes
Special Needs Setups including Wheelchair / Bike Tandem Combinations
Quad Bikes: 4 wheels for 1, 2, 3, and passengers
Truly Long Bikes: Inline options for 3, 4, 5, and even 6 passengers
Kiddie Cranks, S & S Couplers, and various unique bikes
The Biggest of the Big-- 7 & 8 passenger solutions
Hauling Solutions-- how do you get the bike where you want to ride it?
Answers to common questions
The final word
I may not know all there is to know about bikes, but I have ridden and enjoyed them for many years. I especially like unique bikes, trikes, quad bikes, and other unusual contraptions which many of our members may not be especially familiar with. Something I want to point out before I head too far down this path is I'm not a professional bike person or in the business of selling bikes, etc. While I believe that I may have some bike information that you won't run across every day, certainly you'll want do some research beyond the information provided on this site before you invest a pile of hard-earned cash on a cycle of your own.
As with all information on the GOPBC site, please use our bike pages as a general guide to help stimulate thought and generate ideas. A very real problem with exotic bikes (including most tandem bikes and other non-traditional bikes) is that there is just not a great place to go and look at them in showroom fashion or to find much information about many of these nifty items at all. There are a few specialty shops around the country that have a good variety of unique products but there is none of which I am aware which really covers all the kinds of unique cycles you'll find shown in this article.
Should you decide to buy one, your Local Bike Shop or "LBS" as you'll often see it abbreviated can probably help maintain most of these bikes and get many parts for them. Having a good relationship with a local bike shop is important for specialty biking. "Mega" bike shops are going to generally be less motivated to help you than a local shop because they generally are interested in high-volume sales of cookie-cutter products as opposed to low volume custom built items. Know however that some items are quite a bit more expensive at your LBS than at a high-volume store such as Performance Bicycle.
The focus of this page is to start from the beginning with a wide variety of bikes and similar "HPV's" (Human Powered Vehicles) and give you an overview of some of what is available. If you want more info on something in particular, don't hesitate to ask. I may or may not have more information on a given topic but I'll do what I can to help.
Please send questions or comments to my email address: firstname.lastname@example.org
Before we begin to discuss bikes I want to mention a little about safety. When I last checked, it seems like Georgia state laws required all riders under 16 to wear a helmet. Speaking for myself, I don't need any law to be certain that everyone I ride with wears a helmet on the road or trail whether 6, 16 or 60 years old. If you think you're not going to go fast enough to have a crash so you don't need a helmet, think about someone in a car hitting you while you're hardly moving. The Bicycle Helmet Safety Institute's web site is a good place to learn more about this topic.
Wear appropriate safety gear and for goodness sake, obey the rules of the road. If you're in traffic, be courteous to cars and leave a good impression with them. Many drivers hate dealing with people on bikes because of the few cyclists who think they can cut off cars or pass them on the right side of a row stopped at a traffic light, etc. Traffic lights and stop signs also apply to bikes and cyclists can even get citations for running them. As cyclists, we want and need respect and courtesy from those in motor vehicles. The best way to get that from them is to start by offering that respect to them as well.
Which Helmet For Your Child?
Some young children are not inclined towards helmets and need encouragement to wear them, especially at first. One way to encourage them to wear helmets is to make them a bit more fun. Pretty pictures are used to keep many children wearing their helmets. The problem is that most of these helmets feel the same-- like smooth plastic, so a visually impaired or blind child probably isn't going to be terribly inspired by the images. If this is an issue for your child, look into helmets like the ones below with shapes of interest. Target and Wal Mart have both recently offered similar models which appear to meet appropriate safety specifications. (Below, smooth and tactile helmet examples.)
When Not To Wear A Helmet
We should not overlook this point. Helmets are a critical piece of biking safety gear, but they need to come off when your child gets off the bike and goes to play. There have been situations where at least one child has actually been accidentally killed because of wearing a helmet on a playground. Playground equipment clearances assume a certain size range for children's heads. A helmet makes your child's head effectively larger while it is being worn so that it can actually get stuck in some otherwise safe play equipment (like when sliding under something when their body clears but their head in a helmet is too big to pass through the gap). More information on this is available on the Bicycle Helmet Safety Institute site at: http://www.bhsi.org/playgrou.htm
Babies and Bikes
One other topic of caution/concern: It is generally accepted that very small children should not ride bikes. Many experts agree that children under about one year old are much more prone to injury, especially of their brains and necks, from flopping & bouncing around on a bike. I have seen tiny kids on bikes and they may do just fine, but why take the chance? Generally, it is recommended that children less than a year old should simply not be riding on bikes or in bike trailers. Please check with your pediatrician if you are not certain your child is ready to ride and remember that once they are old enough they need head protection weather on the bike or in a trailer. This is a complicated topic and there are lengthy articles available on the matter. For one such article, please see the following link: http://www.bhsi.org/tiny.htm
All Kinds of Bikes...
Okay, enough preliminaries, so here we go-- the following is a brief overview of a great many kinds of cycles, most of which may have some impact on decisions for biking with visually impaired children (and adults). I hope you find it useful. The first bikes you'll see (for single passengers) may not make sense for the context of this article but as you read on this information will fall into place.
DF vs. 'Bent
What is a DF Bike?
If you're web surfing and reading about bikes, you may run across the abbreviation "DF" fairly often. DF is short for "Diamond Frame" and that just means a plain old bike. The diamond portion is referring to the diamond shape common to a typical bike's frame. On a DF, you'll be sitting on some type of saddle that goes between your legs. They are also called by a number of other terms, the most accurately descriptive of which is probably "wedgie". (Enough said about that.) These are obviously the most common sort of bike and generally offer the most choices for lower cost biking.
What is a 'Bent Bike?
'Bent is short for Recumbent and both terms are pretty common for such cycles. "Recumbent" is a pretty loose description for a variety of styles where the rider sits in more of a conventional position-- like you would sit if driving a car for example. On a recumbent, you don't straddle a saddle, you sit in it a seat to ride. You may be sitting upright, laying reclined so far that you're nearly flat on your back, or anywhere between the two, but all of those would still be called recumbent biking positions.
Comfort is nearly always the reason to choose recumbent. There are tradeoffs however, especially on two-wheeled versions because recumbents are generally less stable on take-off from a stop and there is a learning curve for riding one-- at lest for those of us who grew up on conventional (diamond frame) bikes.
Primarily two reasons-- These are what most of us are used to and they are generally cheaper, or at least many models of DF designs start off in a lower price range.
Different Bike Designs
Touring Bikes / Road Bikes
Touring bikes have smooth road tires and usually little in the way of suspension. Some would say no suspension at all, but one could probably toss some old-style spring suspensions into the touring class. Touring frames are not intended for off-road use. Especially on higher-end bikes, you're paying a lot extra to save a couple of pounds or even a few ounces. "Road Bikes" is a term that sometimes to implies a more specialized, lightweight, higher-end touring style bike. This is probably a distinction in which most family bike riders will not be especially interested. (Some modern Road Bikes often use a lot of very expensive carbon fiber, for example.)
Mountain Bikes / Downhill Bikes
Ruggedized frame designs and knobby tires are the key factors that make a bike into a Mountain Bike. These often have shock-absorbing suspension systems, but not always (more on that below), and such suspensions may be front-only or front and rear. Rear suspension lockouts are fairly common options for full-suspension bikes, to make them more versatile. "Downhill Bikes" are made to be extremely strong to run downhill and off road. They are not intended for climbing so no consideration is made as far as weight and keeping these light weight. Think of them as Ruggedized Mountain Bikes-- these are not what you need for general family fun, but you may run across the term, so there you have it.
Basically a mountain bike with street tires though these can also be setup to look more like a road bike. The hybrid above has front suspension as well. These offer smoother rides, if less efficient operation for a performance-oriented rider. This is a popular choice for touring and if you want to tour and mountain bike easily, all you need is a spare pair of wheels with alternative tires to switch modes in a matter of minutes. Alternatively, for occasional changes, you can just swap the tires but that is a bit more time consuming when you do change modes.
Whether we're talking about Conventional (DF) or Recumbent bikes there are multiple flavors of suspension setups:
Solid (no suspension)
A plain old bike; no suspension at all. With these, the only thing between a bump and your behind are the tire which can compress and soften an impact and the seat itself. Suspension seat posts can also be added to give a little more cushion.
Just like it sounds, no suspension in the rear but something up front. This can vary from a 1950's style spring setup to higher tech springs, hydraulic shocks and air-shock type setups. Some hardtail riders also use suspension seat posts to soften things a bit for the rear of the bike.
Full Suspension (three of a great many designs shown above)
Just like it sounds, suspension front and rear. The higher the price, the fancier it generally gets. These are great for off-road use and make a paved road far smoother. Trade-offs come up with full-suspension because pedaling effort can increase a lot as you load and unload the softer rear suspension setups, especially when you're riding up a big hill for example. There's a fix for that too however as higher-end bikes have rear suspension lockouts that make these act as either full-suspension or a hardtail on demand. Setting a rear suspension to maximum firmness can also achieve a result similar to locking out the rear shock setup.
Seat Post Suspension (above: unusual post design shown with saddle-- left, typical post without saddle mounted-- right)
Mentioned above as well, these have been around for a long time though not as long as some spring-using saddles. These are an alternative (or supplemental) way to smooth out a road and increase comfort. Many road racers will swear by a hard-as-a-rock leather saddle and painfully thin and tight riding shorts on a bike with no suspension and skinny tires inflated to 100 psi or more, but for most of us, comfort is the key issue. That's why there are items like suspension seat posts sold with so many lower cost bikes. They are a cheap way to add a fair amount of additional comfort.
Comfort Saddles & Saddle Pads
There are many designs of bike seats. Many are designed to relocate pressure from certain pressure-sensitive areas of the body. Some target men's anatomy, some women's. Softer seats offer more comfort but a slower ride due to increased friction. Apart from a softer saddle and a suspension post, some riders also like gel seat covers. These can shift around and slow you down at times, but they can also do a great deal to soften bumps in the road. Probably the most effective solution of all for ride comfort is to go with a recumbent bike. The reason for this is rather simple-- a recumbent spreads the pressure of your body weight from a small area between your legs to the majority of your backside, just like most chairs do.
Padded Riding Shorts
In conjunction with any other comfort-related measures these can help smooth out the ride especially if you're riding on a non-recumbent bike. Special padded underwear are also available. These underwear turn most any shorts into padded bike shorts. You should also be aware that some bike shorts are not of that tight figure-revealing design that probably comes to mind when someone mentions bike shorts. There are baggy bike shorts which have snug padded liners under the loose fitting outer shorts. There are also lubricants (like BodyGlide and Chamois Butt'r) to use to keep riding apparel as comfortable as possible, reducing chafing and so forth. If you make the right selections, nobody will be able to see that you're wearing special pants but you'll still gain many of the benefits of the comfortable designs.
How Many Riders Per Cycle?
Single Seat Bikes
Now we're getting into details that really begin to apply to parents of a visually impaired child. If you're riding with a visually impaired partner you'll need a multi-seat bike, right? Well, it depends. Single seat bikes can haul a small child in a carrier either in back where a rack is often mounted or even in front of the driver (but behind the handle bars). They can also tow a trailer that can carry a child or two or pull a "tag-along" or "trail-a-bike" style of hybrid bicycle device. More on these later, but suffice to say they can make a one person bike into a sort of tandem or even a triple bike with handle bars and pedals for all riders.
Passengers / Co-Riders-- Extra seats on a your bike?
As mentioned above, with the right gear you can use a single passenger bike to carry one or two passengers or co-riders depending on your setup. These to add more load and wear-and-tear to a bike so cheaper bikes will wear out faster under the higher demand of such accessories. More information is provided about these later in this article. (Front and rear carrier options shown below.)
Can be mounted in front or behind the driver. You could probably do both if you tried but that would likely be an unsafe idea-- it would be too complicated for my taste in any case-- think of using one of these only for safety reasons and even then remember that it will effect how you have to ride.
Some multi-passenger bikes also use optional child carrier seats, trailers, etc. (One triple shown later in this article has a tandem trailer which puts five people on that particular combined bike/trailer combination). (Click here to jump to more on that setup.) Single trailers are more commonly used and child seats are also used from time to time. Of coarse these fit even single passenger bikes and provide a very affordable option to get a little passenger in motion on a big bike (from about $100). Remember that for safety reasons small riders should be old enough to safely support their own heads.
Traditional Tandems & Recumbent Tandems (above left-- a conventional "DF" tandem with one unusual feature, a softride beam seat post for the "stoker" or rear rider, above right-- a BikeE Tandem. The BikeE products are striking with their unusual straight beam design, Some people like them a lot but they went out of business after some problems including certain design issues where some steering mechanisms began to separate in some situations. Clearly you would want to be careful about making a BikeE purchase at this point.)
We've all seen a "bicycle built for two". They can be found for a couple hundred dollars at discount stores (some Wal Mart locations stock them for example) but such setups will feel less stable and hold up much less well than their $1000-and-up counterparts. There are two riders on one bike with these. The "captain" generally sits up front and steers. The "stoker" just pedals. Front and rear cranks are connected with a timing chain and in most cases the are locked in sync so that front and rear cranks (pedals) turn at the exact same speed. (There are unusual "freewheel" setups where front and rear passengers are not required to stay in cadence.)
Love Bike (a "reverse tandem")
A type of shorter tandem with the captain in the rear. With this setup, both front and rear passengers can feel the steering. It is designed for a grownup to sit in back and a small person to sit up front. You can also take your sweetheart for a ride with this bike, but it is best suited to smaller (child-sized) front passengers and a great way to give the feel of biking to a blind or visually impaired child because of this unique setup. I have a fairly lengthy article posted on this site about Love Bikes. (Additional photos are also posted on that page.) Click here to jump to that article.
Other "Reverse Tandems":
There are other tandem setups for a rear captain. Some of these use linkage to move the steering wheel behind the front passenger. (As opposed to a "Love Bike" setup where the handlebars wrap around the front passenger to allow the rear seated captain to steer.) Some of these designs are really cool, but this defeats much of the purpose of putting the captain in the rear of a tandem as far as giving the full bike experience to a visually impaired child. The good thing would be that you'd still sit behind your young passenger so you could supervise him or her more effectively. I suspect that a sighted passenger would get an extra thrill from seeing the world rushing at them with no obstructions in their view from a front-riding-captain but that is less likely to be a huge selling point for a visually impaired (or certainly a completely blind) front passenger.
'Bent Tandems (in this case a Seavo by Rans)
Just as the name implies this is a recumbent tandem. In this case we're talking about a conventional inline positioning of recumbent seats. Note that with recubents there are different types of steering. The bike above uses a traditional handlebar location but many others use under-seat steering, or "USS".
Active Passenger Trailers
There are two primary kinds of passenger trailers. Let's call them "active" and "passive". An active trailer is one where the passenger participates in the activity of riding actively, like on the numerous Trail-A-Bikes and similar solutions. Passive passenger trailers tend to move little kids more like cargo. Like a child seat, these may work to get your child down the road, but active solutions have the better chance of keeping your child's interest for the longest time while cycling. Taking that theory to the next step, some experts feel that putting a child directly onto a traditional tandem makes them feel even more like pedaling because their feet are forced to keep moving so long as their feet are attached to the pedals and the captain is pedaling. (If a child has his or her own "freewheel", he or she can stop pedaling at will and there is little the captain can do to inspire them to start again once the child gets tired.)
Conventional Bike with a "Trail-A-Bike" attached
As mentioned above, a variety of trailer-style bikes can be towed from typical bikes (or even tandems), adding an extra seat (or two with some special models, see below). Each trailer passenger has pedals and a handle bar. These come in several different flavors. All are basically comprised of rear wheels (only), fixed handle bars, and a frame. The design is diamond-frame-like (so they have conventional seats). Most of these attach to a seat post hitch. Some (such as the Burley Piccolo) hook to a rear rack instead. I like these pretty well and I do own one, but be cautioned that they make your bike less stable, especially if your rear passenger leans from side-to-side excessively. They do also have weight restrictions which should be adhered to carefully.
Adams Trail-A-Bike (basic)
Much like a basic single bike with no front wheel-- no suspension, no shifter-- a basic trailer-- just hook it up and go.
Adams Trail-A-Bike (folding)
A basic style that folds up for easier transport. The good part is they save space. The trade off is higher cost and a bit less stability when in use.
Adams Trail-A-Bike (shifter)
Basic design with multiple gears offer riders more chance to help with the pedaling and a chance to learn how bike gears are operated. (Note the cable in the photo, for the shifter.) Differnt gear options also mean that children can help more on hills once they master their gear shifting. Remember that when your trail-a-bike rider stops pedaling, the power to move them has to come from the captain (or any other remaining riders on a larger bike setup)!
Adams Trail-A-Bike (shocker)
This is a trail-a-bike with a shock on it and it also shifts gears. Since these are rear-wheel-only "bikes" (the "front" wheel of these is the rear wheel of the tow bike) it means that the front "suspension" is whatever is on the back of the tow bike. Pull a shocker behind a full suspension bike and all passengers have full suspension.
Adams Trail-A-Bike (tandem trailer)
These are out of production now because of safety concerns. But wait, don't panic-- the concern is using them over-weight. (I was told this directly by Adams when I contacted them directly.) My understanding is that for two small passengers they are considered safe. If memory serves, the two small passengers should not exceed 80 pounds total, but obviously check with the manufacturer before you ride. Note that the tandem model shifts but has solid suspension.
Tag-Along (shown attached to a bike above)
Another popular brand of "Trail-A-Bike" design is the Tag-Along. These are a well known brand but they offer fewer styles of trailers than does Adams.
Burley Piccolo (shown above)
There are several other kinds of these trailers. Burleys stand out because of their unique mounting system which mounts the trailer to a rack, not to the rear-most seat post.
Pashley Add-1 Trailer (above)
Made in the UK they may be hard to find in the US, but they look really stable at a glance. The single-wheeled solutions like an Adams tend to flop back-and-forth if your child leans very far to either side but this design would clearly minimize such shifting.
Trail Gator Tow Bar and fold up training wheels
This is one of several different tow bars that can convert a typical kid's bike onto a trailer. I have read good things about them but am not personally sold because I see too many points for flex and movement. I'd be interested to hear (and post) feedback from anyone who has actually used one. Companion fold-up training wheels are also offered. The wheels make sense if you're bound to try out one of these.
Passive Passenger Trailers
Alternative Trailers (above left is the Burley Bee above right is the Burley D'Lite)
Burley is one of the better known (if more expensive) makers of the low-to-the-ground child trailer. These come in one and two passenger styles and there are many options and various weight ratings. They are often used to carry smaller children but would keep your child somewhat isolated from what you are doing up front-- perhaps not the ideal option if you want to immerse a visually impaired child in the biking experience.
Unique Specialized Trailers
This appears to be a three child, inline trailer. I wish I hade more information on this. I have seen a similar model for only two children. If I find more information (or someone supplies it) I'll be happy to add that here.
Many utility trailers are available. These are great to have and you may want to use these on family or group rides but please do not use these for passengers. Only passenger-rated trailers should be used to carry children. Using a passenger trailer for cargo (within weight specifications) is generally acceptable but cargo trailers carrying passengers are simply not safe.
Probably best known for their famous one-wheeled utility trailers, BOB stands for "Beast of Burden". Current models are available with and without a spring suspension. (The YAK has solid suspesnsion while the IBEX has a 3"-maximum-travel shock system.) Great for cargo and the single wheel in the center is ideally suited for single-track riding, however these are not for passenger use.
What is single track riding?
Off-road riding is called "single-track" riding when trails are wide enough for just one biker at a time. Because you are dealing with a tight pathway there may even be times that only one wheel can pass through some of the trail, and certainly it would be hard to navigate effectively knowing that you have to maintain left & right trailer wheel tracks as well as your normal bike wheels. Keep that in mind in reference to the BOB Trailers shown above. To ride a narrow path your best off having a rig with all wheels in-line. Note also that a BOB while quite stable with the low ground clearance may also limit what you can clear as far as rocks and so forth as compared with using panniers (saddle bags) on your bike. As with everything else there are trade offs-- capacity and stability will compete with one another for example. Your turning radius will also increase substantially with either a longer bike or a bike and trailer combination.
BOB for kids
With the above said about BOB trailers not being for kids, BOB did apparently make child trailers at one time and they can still be found used (or so I have read). I've never seen one but I understand they are solid so used ones might be found in good condition now and then. I have seen the BOB line of strollers which appear quite solid. You can find these at REI among other places. (To see some of these, just go to the REI site and enter "BOB" for the search string.) Just remember, child trailers (properly used) are fine for kids but never use cargo trailers for passengers.
All kinds of Tandem Bikes
Tandems have a huge price range, from a couple hundred dollars to many thousands of dollars. They come in road and mountain configurations. There are solid suspension, front-only suspension or "hardtail", and full suspension designs. Some have unique beam seat posts which flex to smooth things out. Riders may be inline, side-by-side, etc. There are just too many types to try and detail them all here. Just assume that if they make it in a single bike, you can probably get it in a tandem for the right price. If you have already read this whole page, you may recall a diamond frame vs. recumbent discussion. Tandems come in both of these and there are even a few with both on the same bike-- in particular there is a rear-captain model with a DF rear and a recumbent front design (see photo below.)
The longer and more heavily loaded a bike gets, the more careful you must be with that bike. Overloaded bikes are easier to wreck and more prone to component failure. With that said, some riders are comfortable riding with child carriers or trailers on their tandems, so that is another possible solution to keep in mind.
Kiddie tandems (above, a rather unusual 16" tandem with training wheels)
Not only are there lots of tandems for adults and ways to put children on adult tandems, there are a few child-only tandems floating around as well. If your child has little or no vision and you just don't feel safe putting him or her in control of steering a bike you might track one of these down. Of coarse to benefit very much with these you'll need a trusted sibling or friend to sit in the captain's (front) seat.
You have to see this to believe it. They must offer a wild ride in the back but I suspect that even if the price is not an issue this would not be a great choice for a visually impaired rider-- it would be really hard to speak with rear passenger on one of these and the thrill of watching the world pass you going "the wrong direction" would not be a big selling point. Still, this is pretty unusual and it might meet a particular need or desire for someone. Clearly, this idea is interesting enough to have brought about the design of at least two bikes of this general design and in fact I have heard there is an annual ride somewhere for these tandems exclusively. If it comes through my town I want to go and watch that one for certain!
A fun idea but be certain that you can take it on any trails or paths in which you are interested before you buy one. Some paths (such as the Silver Comet in north Georgia and also the paths in Callaway Gardens near the southern Georgia-Alabama border) have posts to keep cars from entering paths which also make it hard to get certain cycling setups on these paths. In the models above, the yellow model (left) is clearly a singular design. The unit in the center appears to be one of several made which actually bolt two bikes together ("Diamond Frames" in this case). On the right is a pair of EZ1's shown with a kit to make a pair of these into a side-by-side tandem.
All About Trikes!
An obvious idea but there are many choices. Some seats are harder to stay on, while others keep you well situated (see the pink Schwinn above, left). It is harder to brace against slipping out of a seat if you can't see what's ahead when you ride, so some trikes are going to frustrate a visually impaired child more easily than others.
"Trike on a Stick"
If either a child or a parent are concerned about crashing a trike because of vision (or other) concerns, and before any child is physically ready to pedal on his or her own, this design offers a parent a lot of control in many situations. Some designs let the "stick" be removed when desired and the trike becomes just a regular trike. Note that the models above both appear to have a hand brake for the rider and the larger (red) model appears to have a brake for the pusher too.
Grown Up Trikes (they're not just for grandparents)
I had no idea that "big person trikes" were anything more than a way for a retired person in Florida to enjoy the outdoors while heading to the store for groceries for the longest time. (The photo above on the left is what I always thought of as far as adult trikes.) Now I own a Greenspeed recumbent trike that I bought while in my 30's. It is a joy to ride! (See photo below, right.) There are many trike styles from which to choose:
Delta vs. Tadpole Trikes (above, Penninger "Delta" on left, Greenspeed "Tadpole" on right)
You'll generally see two distinctions in trikes. A delta has one wheel in front and two in back, like a traditional kid's trike. Tadpoles are the reverse-- two in front and one in back. Deltas come in DF-like upright designs and recumbent designs. Tadpoles, as far as I know, are all recumbents (the design would seem to require that), but there are many different angles for tadpole design's riders. Upright designs offer more comfort, while flatter ones are faster (due to less wind drag). Both of the above examples are "USS" or under seat steering-- a term used for recumbent two wheelers as well. For comparison, the "Grown Up Trike" in the previous section is conventional, not USS.
Greenspeed Tadpole (with a child seat)
Yes, you see there really is a reason why I got into trike discussions on a page for visually impaired cycling. To begin with, you can carry passengers on some trike setups. Greenspeeds are generally accepted as the "standard" of tadpole type recumbents. They are made in Australia but marketed pretty thoroughly in the US. Georgia has a dealer right on the Silver Comet trail, called the Silver Comet Depot. You'll find a rather nice selection of recumbent trikes from at least three companies and a half-dozen or more recumbent bike brands carried there. As far as I know they have the best selection of such unique items anywhere in Metro Atlanta. (If you know of other good sources for these in the Atlanta area or elsewhere in Georgia, email me and I'll post that information on this site.)
Folding Trikes (Greenspeed GT3 ready to ride on left, folded for transport on right)
Adult trikes are big and being wide, they can be hard to transport. One work-around for this is a folding trike like Greenspeed GT-3 or GT-5. Folded, these carry in many smaller cars with relative ease. (see below)
Another alternative is to carry a non-folded trike on top of a car (shown below). That makes setups faster but these are big enough that they are a bit hard to put on the car and remove without help. Also, the forward crank setup means that at least with tadpoles you have something of a dangerous weapon that would happily gouge up your car on the front of this rig should happen to meet your paint, windows, etc. as you load it.
A few stock models are available but these are often custom made. People who are into these often want custom options and they are costly enough that those who make and sell them don't want to have a great many of them sitting around in inventory. A couple of examples follow:
Transportable Greenspeed Tandem
If the Greenspeed GT3 (above) looks like a great idea to ease transportation of a trike, imagine how important it is to have a plan to transport a tandem tadpole. Here's one solution:
The seats don't match because these are from two different trikes, but these are the same Greenspeed Tandem model shown ready to use and ready to transport.
Greenspeed Solo/Tandem Convertible Trike (the custom model shown below actually has a custom canoe rack if you can believe that!)
There are tandems trikes which convert to a single and back to a tandem whenever you like. These are quite pricey, but they are cheaper than buying a Greenspeed tandem and a single and they take up less storage & transportation space. The pictures tell the story about this one for certain. This particular trike is probably the best documented Tandem Tadpole I have ever seen, but if you go to any of the Greenspeed sites the model is hardly mentioned. I looked into buying one of these one-or-two-person Greenspeeds and I could only find one dealer in the whole USA who knew they existed. Greenspeed will custom make a trike for you to your specifications if you really want one, so don't give up if a dealer is unaware of some special configuration. In fact if you need to reach someone at Greenspeed directly, email me and I can send you some contact information. Greenspeed is based in Australia but routiney deals with US customers so don't let that make you avoid dealing with the company. I have found them to be more than willing to help me with issues surrounding my own Greenspeed in the past. For more details about the particular trike below, the proud owner has an extensive web page which I hope he keeps posted for a long time: http://tricolour.net/gtvs6.html (this is the same design as shown above but with a custom rack demonstrated:)
Now add a trailer to a tandem and it looks like one of these:
Greenspeed Tandem with a Trailer
Yes, there are tricycle-friendly trailers; some look more like chariots than bike accessories.
One or Two Passenger conventional trailers might also be used-- like the Burleys which can mount to a rear rack on a tricycle. A word of caution though, carefully test stability when adding big accessories (including trailers) to a tricycle. Greenspeed specialists warn that some setups can make your trike unstable and "tippy"...
Conventional Tandem Trike Alternatives
Piggyback Tandem Trikes (note bracket detail, above right)
Setups like this one from Penninger Cycles let you couple a pair of Delta tandems or use them separately. Basically, you pop off the rear trike's front wheel and quick couple the front fork of the rear trike to the rear of the front trike with a special bracket. To date it seems that nobody has figured out how to do this with tadpoles though since you can't lift both steering wheels and tow a trike on just it's back wheel.
Lower Cost Trikes
The biggest downside to most of these specialty items is cost. (Storage & transportation may also be close second & third concerns.) None of the trikes currently available anywhere are what one would really call inexpensive, but American Tricruiser offers some of the least expensive trikes I have found so far. I have not ridden them but I'd suggest they are worth looking into if you decide you may want to buy a trike. I do not expect they are quite up to Greenspeed quality but they may cost you far less than a new Greenspeed so if they meet your needs they might be a realistic option...
Special Needs Setups
Special Needs Trikes (above, a custom designed Greenspeed tandem handcycle)
Sometimes a trike seat can be rigged for riding-only (no pedaling) and there are also hand-powered options. With fewer balance issues, trikes can be configured for some unique special needs setups. These are sometimes single-rider models or a tandem may have one conventional pedal rig and one alternative setup. Once you enter this arena you can get most anything that your checkbook can tolerate. I have also seen trikes that you basically "row" to work on upper body strength even if the rider is capable of pedaling a conventional crank setup and one that combines pedaling and rowing on the same vehicle for the same rider (if I can find a picture I'll try and add one here later).
Other Special Needs Setups
Above is an idea that is brand new to me-- a wheelchair/bike tandem combination. Several of these are posted on the londonrecumbents.com web site. They rent and sell these, they'll probably ship one to the US if needed, and there are likely similar pieces made in the US as well. Custom fabricators might also be helpful with designing a similar setup. Note that the rear "bike" portion can detach and the chair can function as a standard chair once separated. You can also find more information about these products (Rollfiets and a variety of Hoenig's other products) here: http://www.hoening.com/
Some of the special needs bikes and trikes go beyond the scope of this web page but if you want still more information, try a google search for "handcycle" or "tandem handcycle". Most of what you find is going to be single handcycles with such searches but many of those sources may have custom tandem options, etc.
For more information in handcycles you might also check with the following sites:
http://www.spinlife.com/ then enter "handcycle" in their search dialog
Also, the following site also has a number of links to numerous other handcycle sites and other special needs information:
If three wheels are not enough you might want to add another:
I like the "Rhodes Car" a lot. This is basically a 4-wheeled bike. The one above seats four with two powering the unit up front and two in back who just ride with their feet on a foot rest. Such a rig can weigh a couple hundred pounds or more and takes up a full garage bay to store inside. I have hauled one in a 5' x 8' utility trailer-- they are too large to fit in even a full sized Suburban, though I suspect you might squeeze one into a full-sized long-bed pickup. My point here is to remember logistics before you run and buy one of these though they really are neat!
Rhoades Car, 1-passenger (above)
Rhoades Car, 2-passenger (above)
Rhoades Car, 4-passenger (above)
Electric assist motors are available for the Rhodes Cars and several other cycling products. Some bike trails prohibit auxiliary motors. Some prohibit only gas motors. Some jurisdictions feel that a motorized bicycle is a motor cycle and some don't. It is good to know these exist but please do your research when it comes to power assistance before you go and buy such an item.
ZEM (Zero Emission Machine, from Switzerland)
Another attractive choice is the ZEM. These have a more modern look than a Rhodes. Both choices are expensive.
Still More Trikes and Quads
Believe it or not there are quite a few players in the big cycle business. Several more varieties are listed below and even more can be found by following the list of links on the following link: http://www.bhsi.org/fourwhel.htm
Once we're looking at really big bikes we should not overlook longer "tandems". "Tandem" always seems the wrong name for these to me but that term is commonplace for long multi-passenger bikes.
Triple / Triplet / Three Person Tandem (above a solid suspension triplet)
I always think of tandem as being for two people but you'll run across the term being applied to many different cycles for two or more people. I'm not nearly as interested in being "right" about the term as I am about being able to find things with a Google (or other web) search. Use the term you like best, but know that all of these may help when searching on-line.
Here's a Mountain Triplet. Note the heavier looking frame (probably aluminum) and the front suspension fork:
Inline 'Bent Triplet (above)
Here's a rare find indeed. Inline Tandem Recumbents are quite rare but anything longer than that is virtually unheard of. This model appears to be conventionally steered (not USS, or Under Seat Steered).
Triplet without a cause?
There must be an interesting explanation for this bike (shown below).
Unfortunately, I ran across the photo with no associated story.
Perhaps some sort of wacky bike contest?
Three Plus Two
Here's a triplet with a tandem trailer (below). Note the dual rear wheels which would probably be more stable than an Adams tandem trailer.
Quad (two examples above)
"Quad" can imply a 4-wheel bike or a bike for four people. Of coarse the "Rhodes Car" name from earlier in this page doesn't make me think of a cycle either, but that's what it is called, and again, knowing the right names helps a lot for web searching.
Quad Plus One
Here's a Quad with an extra seat for a small one in the back (below). Note that the rear passenger while sitting behind the frame and over a wheel seems to actually have his own pedals. That looks like an impressive bit of custom work. Still, the purist may argue this is not a true "quint", so I'll call it a "quad plus one". (Note the excellent jerseys as well!)
If you're thinking that bikes in the realm of quads are a very new concept the following pre-1930 photo may be of interest to you:
If you don't want to count the quad plus one (two photos above) as a quint, here's one (immediately above) about which you cannot argue. There's another quint shown below under "S & S total versatility" which can be configured as a 2, 3, 4, or 5 passenger bike. Click here to jump down to that bike.
Sex / Hex (above)
You may run across both names-- take your pick. Once you get into the 6-person bike arena you are getting into really serious money. Make no sharp turns with this setup! Note that all four rear riders appear to be using kiddie cranks (more on those below). I think this particular bike breaks into thirds for transport-- at least it looks like the one I saw that does so. Such a configuration can also be designed to assemble into a quad with the center section removed. For more info on couplers, see the S&S info with the quint below as well as the single/tandem Greenspeed trike above.
Kiddie Cranks (see below)
Here are detail photos of cranks similar to what are being used above to adapt crank height to small riders on the bike for six above. The blue setup looks fairly typical. The red setup is unique and looks more permanent than generally advised. (The cranks are usually clamped to the frame, not bolted through so that when outgrown they can be adjusted or removed.)
S & S couplers
These can make all the difference for transportation with multiple-rider bike configurations. Some tandems with these couplers can even be broken down to fly in a suitcase on an airplane. These can be used to make a six person bike that breaks into thirds and can be reconfigured as a 4 person by leaving out the center section. Another setup (pictured below) allows the same bike to be used for 2, 3, 4, or 5 riders. Greenspeed uses these to make their 1 or 2 person trike as well... Is there a down side? Yes, they are quite expensive! For more information on S & S couplers and links to a great many photos of bikes with S & S setups go to: http://www.sandsmachine.com/
S & S total versatility (see below)
The cost of the following setup would be very high, but this custom bike can be rigged as a tandem, triplet, quad, or quint. All you need to do is couple or uncouple the right number of frame segments, add or drop the right amount of bike chain (generally done with special quick links), and make a few other small adjustments and you're ready to ride!
Other Interesting Things
Glider Recumbent (custom built by Gary Hale)
Here's an interesting twist. There are alternatives to pedaling as such while still using your feet for power. Note how the struts connect the conventional cranks to the forward glider assembly.
While you move the glider above by pushing your feet forward, you "row" a Row Bike-- like rowing a boat with both arms going together. There are 2-wheel and 4-wheel designs (see below).
Standing 4-Wheeler (see below)
Here's an unusual item from gokidusa.biz. Certainly, it looks more stable than a 2-wheel toy like a "Razor" or similar item:
Fairings (right side of photo first photo and on the front of the bike on right-- the clear structures are sometimes hard to see)
More common to motorcycles, fairings are sometimes added to bikes as well. These help the bikes slip through the wind more easily. If you have too much wind on the front passenger of a tandem, a fairing might be the solution for your problem. They also help you run a bit faster and save a some of your pedaling energy even at lower speeds.
Tandem Talk & Tandem Com
If you like the idea of a multi-passenger cycle but are frustrated by not being able to talk with your other rider (or riders), check out the Tandem Talk and Tandem Com systems. These are two of the more popular solutions to let riders talk more easily to one another. Similar designs for motorcycles might also be adaptable, but would likely be larger, heavier, and consume a lot more power.
The Really Big Stuff
Conference Bike (for seven riders, above)
Too expensive and too large for most individuals to own, I have this on my wish list for GOPBC and NFB events. All riders face center and one person steers. Storage and transportation become serious concerns with these.
The Octos (for eight riders, see below)
This was apparently the first version of the Conference Bike above. The down side of this design is mainly that the driver is less involved with the rest of the riders because he faces away from the other seven people on the vehicle. (The matching costumes were likely an extra cost option.)
How to haul big bikes
Even typical bikes can be hard to carry around. Once you go beyond standard sized bikes, things can get quite complicated. There are a few rigs made to haul tandems pretty well. beyond that it is pretty much custom-building time. Both fancier and more basic solutions both seem to get the bikes where they need to go (see below).
A Few More Questions...
Why such a wide price range?
Lower end bikes are generally available as conventional (diamond frame) setups in lots of single-rider configurations as are a few tandem models. Quality control of these bikes is marginal and the "component group" is very basic (in other words, they use cheap parts on them). That means that the components which make the bike operate, like gears and shifters and brake parts are often the least expensive ones that the maker can get away with putting on the bike. As an example, a nice Shimano Nexus (internally geared) rear hub will cost you around $200 for the part alone. Put it in a wheel and add a shifter and you're up to about $300 minimum. If you want a whole bike for $100 or $200, you're not going to get one with a Nexus setup. Likewise with most other components of higher quality. Additionally, mass produced bike frames made in Taiwan are going to be much less expensive than hand made "one-off" frames made in the USA.
Steel? Aluminum? Carbon Fiber?
What sort of material is best for frames and forks and other parts on a bike? Every situation is different, but if you're a casual rider you'll probably want to avoid carbon fiber. While very strong, carbon fiber is extremely expensive and it can crack and fail if not treated gently. Steel is the most forgiving but the heaviest. Aluminum is a good choice to save some weight but is more expensive in most cases and will fatigue and crack in many cases when used more roughly, where steel will have no problems unless severly abused.
How Big is "Too Big"?
We discussed earlier the fact that it can be hard to carry the larger bikes. Another factor is to determine where you're going to ride a cycle. If you live in Metro Atlanta you may know about the Silver Comet trail for example. I love that trail, but be aware that wide vehicles like the Rhoades Car simply won't fit on the trail. You might be able to get it on the trail in some locations, but you cannot clear the crossing points of main roads without removing the metal posts they pull out to get service vehicles onto the trail and I can assure you this would be strongly discouraged. Besides, how would other bikers pass you-- you'd take up too much of the path's width, so select side-by-side cycles with this limitation in mind. Also remember that longer setups-- even "single track" configurations (just one passenger wide) are potentially hard to turn around on trails. If you normally make U-Turns all over a trail like the Silver Comet to come and go, you'll quickly learn with a longer setup that you are going to have to plan on wider places to maneuver turns and such.
Should I Buy Something "Used"?
Perhaps. If you can find a suitable machine that is used and at a decent price, get it. Here is the rub-- none of these exotic bikes are readily available used and if the used bike needs work that may complicate matters as well. There are a few specialty sites that have some of these posted now and then. There are also specialty items like these listed on ebay at times. My thought is that it cannot hurt to look. A word of ebay caution though. These are often expensive items, so these are sometimes listed as bogus listings on ebay where someone just keeps your money and vanishes. Know who you're dealing with and be careful! One other concern is shipping. Most of these big bikes cost hundreds of dollars to ship. Picking these up in person is often your best bet and that may also avoid certain dangers with sending a lot of money for something you have never seen in person. Also, shipping a big thing like an exotic bike can easily get a frame bent and that can become a major hassle, insurance-covered or not-- After all, where will you find a replacement if a used exotic is damaged? And if you need to repair an exotic frame who will you be comfortable with making such a repair on your costly cycle?
In the big picture, the information above has just covered the "basics" of cycling information at best. Here are some additional sources for bike information that I find interesting.
Recumbent Buyer's Guide This site has a lengthy list of recumbents. If you go to the link and select "view the bikes" with no other selections, you get a list of about 200 different recumbent bikes with brief descriptions and photos. (http://www.recumbents.com/recumbents.asp)
Harris Cyclery Lots of interesting info here but you have to hunt around to find a lot of it. (http://sheldonbrown.com/harris/index.html)
'Bent Rider OnLine A great source for all sorts of recumbent info, want ads, message boards, etc. (http://www.bentrideronline.com/)
Also remember that a plain old Google search can return enough bike information to last a lifetime of reading-- at last check a Google search for "bike" returned 171 Million hits, and "bicycle" found 81.7 Million returns.
The final word.
In conclusion, while some of the setups above are a little outrageous, they may help you have just the idea you need for your particular situation. Custom builders can make whatever you need for a price but I think many of us can also take ideas simply strike us here and apply them to a ready-made solution to some degree for a bit of improved usability in our particular cases. You may also find that from all the ideas listed (and others you may find elsewhere) there is a solution for a great deal of needs that is already ready and available for purchase somewhere even as you're reading this.
As I mentioned before, your questions are welcome as are comments & corrections. If you have something that you want me to add to this list, send it to me and if it makes sense to put it here I'll do just that. The information above has been collected for a long time and from many sources. I hope it may be helpful to some of our members (and guests) to have this many cycling ideas assembled into one place.
Email the author, Richard Holloway
Richard Holloway is the vice-president of the GOPBC and parent
of a blind daughter, Kendra, age 3-1/2 at the time of this writing.