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Recumbent Trikes by Design

Two wheels in front or two wheels in back?

Tadpoles have two wheels in front Deltas have two wheels in back.

Where 2 wheel bikes including recumbent's have definitions applied trikes don't seem to have much more definition then Delta or Tadpole. Some ex maples of how bikes are defined:

  • Road Bike - for high speed road riding
  • Mountain - equipped with knobby tires and sometimes suspension for off road & trail riding
  • Comfort - usually a single speed (Fixie) with a wide seat for jogging speed cruising on flat surfaces
  • Hybrid - mostly a Mountain Bike with 2" wide street tires
  • Fat Bike - similar to a Hybrid with lower gearing and ultra wide tires & rims for beach sand
  • BMX - originally a kid sized Mountain Bike, also used for acrobatics at all ages
  • Long Wheel Base Recumbent - allows the seat closer to the ground for improved aerodynamics
  • Short Wheelbase Recumbent - higher seat that provides much better balance at low speeds
  • Crank Forward - kind of a hybrid between a standard Diamond Frame bike and a Recumbent

Each class of bike is designed for a specific style of riding. Trike riders generally fit into one or more of the following styles:

  • Sport - higher speed, agile turning more performance then ride comfort or cargo capacity
  • Touring - some performance capability is sacrificed for ride comfort and cargo capacity - vital for extended riding
  • Cruiser - Comfort is most important

Two Wheels Behind - The Delta Way

Delta style is a great fit for those who want both a taller seat and stability as they put more of the rider's weight closer to the pair of wheels that provide stability. Moreover a Delta can be equipped with more cargo capacity such as groceries. as the weight is spread mostly between the pair of rear wheels. The seat pan is typically 18-20" above the ground not all that much lower then a typical desk chair making them easy to get on & off. The rider also has a less obstructed view from items such as parked cars.

Most Delta's can be equipped with a differential that allows drive to both rear wheels giving them better traction in slippery conditions such as snow, mud or gravel. That's particularly important for those who ride in on soft underfoot conditions with steep grades.

Delta Trikes typically fit the Cruiser style best being easy to get on & off and with two wheels in the rear have a smoother ride.

In most cases where a rider would attach a trailer for extended touring a Delta can often carry the same load without a trailer.

Delta Trikes currently represent what some might consider "undiscovered territory" in regards to veloway speed. Where most designers have concentrated on Tadpoles it remains to be seen what can be done with a Delta.

There have been a few low slung Delta models built like this Rans Trizard. Rans discontinued the Trizard due to slow sales. They still weren't quite as fast as most Tadpoles and had one little flaw with the riders elbows sometimes rubbing the rear wheels.

To some extent one of the key features for a Delta comes from the ease of rider mounting & dismounting. Lowering the seat somewhat defeats that benefit.

Also notice the brakes are on the rear of a Delta as opposed to the front of a Tadpole.

Most Deltas come standard with one wheel drive although many have an option to drive both rear wheels through a differential.

Delta's also may come with Under Seat Steering or traditional bicycle handlebar steering.

Two Wheels Ahead - The Tadpole Way

Tadpole Trikes provide a more sporting ride quality for those who want to go a little faster. With the rider well behind the front tires the seat has to be lower to remain stable enough. Generally Tadpole seats are positioned between 6-16" above the ground. Tadpoles also have some limits on how far the wheels can steer until hitting the rider's legs so to turn one around takes every bit of two lanes of road.

Lower seats reduce the aerodynamic drag which is pretty important above speeds of 10 MPH. Having two front tires also gives the steering much more grip that a performance oriented rider will appreciate.

Here are some simple ways to compare the two:

  • It takes roughly the same rider energy to average about 10 MPH on a Tadpole as it does to average 8 MPH on a Delta
  • The Delta will inherently provide a softer ride as the bumps most felt are distributed mostly between two wheels rather then one wheel
  • Tadpoles ride more like a go-kart
  • Deltas ride more like a bike that doesn't require any balance
  • It is fairly easy to convert a pair of Deltas into a tandem
  • Delta has a turning circle of roughly 2/3's that of a Tadpole

There are commercially available Tadpoles designed to specifically meet the 3 basic riding styles.

Sport models have low reclined seats for agility and speed. Comfort is not an option. Its not uncommon for Sport riders to have some fun chasing down a roadie for a short sprint race while they're out riding. Sport riders tend to have the most passion for their machines and account less then 25% of all the Tadpoles sold. Later Sport models use 700 rear wheels in part because the faster road bikes have focused development on wheels & tires in the 700 size.

Touring models are more like Luxury-Sport models in that they add comfort, ground clearance, less seat recline, and an easy way to add a cargo rack. Lighter weight models are rigid (non-suspension) frames while some models have suspension. Suspension adds weight and some aerodynamic drag although it also makes long distance touring far more comfortable. Later Touring models have shifted to 26" rear wheels in part due to perceived speed improvement and for an appeal factor among some riders. Touring trikes are versatile as seen by the tires many riders will fit them with; racing style road tires, intermediate tires with flat resistance, or balloon tires.

Cruiser models tend to have even more upright seats with an even higher seat pan. In most cases Cruisers are fitted with balloon tires for comfort.