Unless you have been stranded on desert island for the last couple of years I am certain you have noticed the popularity of recumbent trikes has been phenomenal. They allow people with physical limitations or balance issues to enjoy the benefits of getting out in the fresh air and riding with other cyclists. Then there are those of us who have no limitations, other than mental, who are totally fascinated by recumbent trikes as well. Call it the “Big Wheel Syndrome”. I was always envious of the little kids roaring up and down the sidewalks on their big wheel trikes because they appeared to be having so much fun. The fact that I was fully grown limited any participation. Whatever the reason, recumbent trikes are definitely “in”!
Recently, there have been two trends that have captured the attention of trike enthusiasts all over the world. The first trend has been focused on simplicity such direct steering and lightweight frame materials. The second trend has been the development and increasing numbers of recumbent trike tandems. I am not certain who built the first trike tandem but up until recently there were just a couple companies offering them. The most recent entry into unique niche is the American made TerraTrike Tandem from WizWheelz and we have had the opportunity to play with it for the last couple months.
Once the TerraTrike Tandem was delivered I took the time to take a walk around it and appreciate the craftsmanship and components. Yes, I truly had to walk around its 121.5 inch length and 35 inch width while it took up half of my two-car garage! The frame is constructed of large diameter 4130 TIG welded tubing and coated in a flashy metallic red with just a hint of gold flakes. Like the TerraTrike singles, the seat frames are separate from the main frame and are secured by a single bolt and a pair of adjustable seat struts.
The TerraTrike Tandem has under the seat bars and center point steering by way of tie rods to the spindles. All three 20 inch wheels are built by Velocity, with Shimano cable operated disk brakes on the front. The cranks are FSA Gossamer Tandem triple 32/44/55t and FSA ISIS bottom brackets. The drivetrain is a combination of Shimano Dura Ace, 105, and LX components while the cassette is the Shimano 11-32t, 9-speed. I did not measure how many miles of Sachs PC59 chain was required but it must be considerable. Alloy brake levers and Shimano bar end shifters complete the controls. Our tandem came with IRC Metro tires but the specs now call for Kenda Kwest recumbent tires. By now I am sure you realize that this is a proven package of components. Let’s see how they function as a whole.
Because the TerraTrike Tandem arrives at your doorstep fully assembled all you have to do is air up the tires, adjust the seats and bars before your first ride. Just setting up the chains alone could take hours so you have to be happy about that! Let me share something with you about tandem setup. After 34 years of riding all types of tandems I have learned that if you have a happy stoker you will be a very happy pilot. An unhappy stoker can make your life as the pilot quite miserable. So, you want to make sure your stokers position is properly adjusted first! Simply remove the single bolt that holds the seat to the frame and move the seat to the position that gives proper leg extension. Be careful to keep track of all the washers and replace them exactly where they were. You can make fine adjustments by the angle of the saddle as well. The last thing you do is set the angle of the rear bars to the most comfortable position and you will have a happy stoker!
As the pilot your set up procedure is nearly the same but even more crucial in terms of access to all the controls. You don’t want to be searching for shifters or brake levers when the going gets tough! A good sturdy mirror is important and many tandem pilots use either eyeglass or helmet mounted versions. With both you can sneak a glimpse at your stoker and see if there is a smile back there. The TerraTrike Tandem comes with a pair of simple platform type pedals which may be adequate for riding around the block but I suggest you install your favorite pedals. Mount a pair of bottle cages and you are ready to roll!
In one of our earlier issues we reviewed the 3.3 version of the TerraTrike single which we had an overall good impression. We did have some issues with the seat but I am pleased to tell you they have changed the shape just enough to make it much more comfortable. I was very thankful as I had rubbed a couple of raw spots on the back of my thighs and was not looking forward more raw meat! While sitting stationary all of the controls are easily reached and feel quite natural. The real test is out on the road.
My son, Seth and I navigated the TerraTrike Tandem out of the garage the street and we aimed it in a straight line before settling into the seats. There is a reason for this. A wheelbase of 92 inches and a total length of 121.5 inches does not allow for sudden slow speed maneuvers. In fact, we soon discovered that the sharpest turns require a 16 foot radius. We could not do a U turn within the width of our own street! Once seated, feet secure in our clipless pedals, and mirrors properly adjusted, we headed down the road. It was immediately evident that this tandem likes to accelerate even though it weighs in at 60 pounds. Before we got to our first turn I goosed the disk brakes a few times to scuff the rotors. Initially they feel solid but the stopping power increases as the glaze worn off the rotors. We both thought was great that neither of us had to remove out feet from the pedals at the stop sign we did not have to balance the trike. was surprised that it did not take much effort to make that first 90 degree turn even though it does require more real estate than our two wheeled tandem. You simply have to pull out ahead a little bit before you tighten your turn in order avoid running your stoker up against the curb. Keep your stoker happy!
After a couple of blocks and running through all of our gear range, which taps out at an anemic 102 inches, we caught up with a few of our fellow recumbent riders. Although it took a little bit more effort than a two wheeled tandem, we were able to keep up with them. The TerraTrike Tandem has a fairly sturdy feel to it even while under heavy pedaling and takes up the imperfections of the road quite well. We both thought the drivetrain to be a bit noisy but considering the length of chain and the number of idler wheels just to keep the tension I guess it isn’t that bad.
Nearly 7 miles into our ride and climbing our first short but steep hill we had a mishap. Halfway up a ramp two of our idler wheels decided they wanted to go their own way and flew off the tandem! This was bad! Here we were stopped in the middle of the hill, facing uphill, and trying not to roll back down! One of our friends held us in position as we dismounted and then we picked up the tandem to take it to the side of the trail. Once the wayward idlers were retrieved we discovered that they had been installed backwards and had no way keeping the rubber part of the wheel attached to the cartridge bearings. After reinstalling all of the idlers the proper way and re installing the chains we were off again. Starting off on a hill isn’t so bad on a trike but it definitely was not as fast as our two wheeler!
It did not take long to recover from our little mishap and soon we were wishing for bigger gears on the flat sections. This tandem likes to fly! Although our first ride did not take us into the mountains we did get up to 35 miles per hour on one short descent and the TerraTrike Tandem felt quite stable and tracked in a straight line. In fact, I prefer how the Tandem handles over the 3.3 and 3.4 single models. I felt their wheelbases to be on the short side and a bit skittish at speed. The 92 inch wheelbase of the TerraTrike Tandem definitely tames the beast.
During those initial rides we found that we had a difficult time navigating the entrances and exits of our bike path system. We had to dismount and carry the 60 pound behemoth through the access gates. This is no problem for a couple strong guys but may pose a problem for a child or small lady. We realized one more problem as we rode the bike trails. Quite often other riders would pay so much attention to us that they would veer off the trail. Fortunately no one was hurt!
Once we had become accustomed to working together on the TerraTrike Tandem we ventured off the trails in favor of a more challenging route. As I had previously mentioned, the Tandem gets up to speed quite well on the flats. When we began to gradually climb we felt no noticeable major frame flex but we were aware of the drivetrain noise. This was no problem as we rode into the first major climb as our labored breathing soon masked whatever noise came from the chains! We were in the last gear, crawling up the pass, and thankful we could concentrate on pedaling and not balancing! At 60 pounds you will never set any speed records on mountain climbs. At the summit we began to roll down the other side with apprehension as this was the first major descent of any distance more than a hundred yards. I have to admit that I did not let our speed get over 37 miles per hour because we had 4 miles to descend and I was not sure how the Tandem would handle. Because of its length it does have some delay in responding to slight control inputs and you can get into a sway situation if you are not careful. I decided that our maximum comfortable speed should be 35 miles per hour as I felt I had fairly good control and could favorably react to most situations. I think we both had dry mouths at the bottom of those long hills. Admittedly, we have descended those hills much faster on our two-wheeled tandems.
After riding the TerraTrike Tandem for a while I would like to share our impressions. The overall performance was quite good once I adapted to a very long trike. It rides quite smoothly, shifts and brakes well, and has relatively good comfort. Even though we never experienced any major frame flex we both felt that the seats had some minor side movement. Check your drivetrain often and carry the proper tools for repairs on the road. You will also want to have your wheels checked for proper spoke tension and make sure they are true, especially after you have some decent mileage on them. Here is perhaps the most important consideration before you purchase you own TerraTrike Tandem. You must have accurate X-seam measurements for both you and your stoker. There are 3 boom sizes available for the captain and 2 different sizes for the stoker.
If you order your Tandem with a boom that is too short you will be sitting on the support tube for the stokers cranks and that is not comfortable. Another thing to consider is how you might want to transport your trike tandem. It will fit into most vans and even in some of the minivans if you remove the rear wheel. You can even carry it on a roof rack but that requires two strong people to muscle it up there. If you and your riding partner would like to spend some quality time together and don’t worry about speed records the TerraTrike Tandem from WizWheelz could be a decent choice. There are other tandem trikes available that may give slightly better performance but at $3,999 and fully assembled to your door, the TerraTrike Tandem is a good value.