Recumbent tricycles combine the comfort of a laid-back ride with the inherent stability of three-wheel design. While store-bought recumbent trikes start at £1,300 and go way up, much of that cost represents the labour involved in building one. The amateur enthusiast with a basic knowledge of cycle design, welding, metalworking and geometry can custom design an eye-catching trike sure to provide many hours of enjoyment. Those who have taken the plunge have generally found the building process alone has hooked them on the sport.
- Skill level:
Things you need
- Metal tubing
- Oxyacetylene torch
- Bicycle wheels
- Bicycle chains
- Caliper brakes
Select the metal to make your frame. This is much like choosing a wine, a matter of opinion and taste. Carbon steel, aluminium and chromium mollybendium are the three materials most often used. Each has its proponents and drawbacks. Carbon steel is the one most often used, since it is the cheapest and easiest to weld, but it is also the heaviest. Aluminium is lighter but more expensive and requires more welding skill. Chromium mollybendium is sort of the inbetweener in terms of cost, weight and welding difficulty.
Place the single wheel in front and two in back to reduce cost, weight and design difficulty. However, two-front-and-one-back systems have better handling; their steering systems are the same sort of caster or camber configurations used in automobiles. One wheel in front designs are akin to bicycle steering.
Lower the centre of gravity and distributing more weight to the front wheel or wheels to improve a trike's handling. However, too little weight on the rear wheel or wheels can cause braking problems and slippage in hard cornering. Generally, the shorter the wheelbase, the more load will be on the front, but the longer the wheelbase, the smoother the ride. A 70-to-30 front-to-back wheel ratio is ideal, but there is less need to worry about ratios the lower to the ground the seat is placed. Of course, visibility and comfort need to be considered in seat placement.
Widen the wheel track to make a trike more stable and steerable. Consider, though, how much space the vehicle will take up on the road, and aim for a total width a bit under three feet. A simple bicycle handlebar system will steer a one-wheel-front trike. Two-wheel-front trikes require caster or camber configurations that require knowledge of kingpin forces and contact points.
Find the proper mix of weight distribution, centre of gravity, wheelbase, wheel track, steering system and frame configuration to design the frame. Keep chain and seat stays on a horizontal plane.
Make the wheels larger to make the ride smoother, but the larger wheels will add weight. Generally used are 20- to 26-inch BMX wheels. In a single-wheel-back system, a smaller rear wheel will provide added strength.
Select seating for comfort, efficiency and style. Rigid seats deliver power more efficiently, but mesh seats are considered more comfortable, while some people choose to go wild with great flaring thrones. Lastly, many of a recumbent trike's components, such as chains, derailers and brakes are most simply comprised from standard bicycle parts.
Tips and warnings
- More experienced riders can opt for shorter wheelbases that provide quicker handling, but less stability. Beginners should start with 42-inch wheelbases or more.
- After your first recumbent trike, try something exotic like rear wheel steering or lean steering.
- Always take the proper precautions when welding. Wear safety gear and weld in a well-ventilated location.
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