Thoughts on Equipment

At this point in our trip (i.e. the end), I think we’ve been touring long enough to form definite opinions on the bicycle/tricycle/trailer equipment we are using. There are certainly pros and cons to each of our setups. Here are some thoughts:

Description of our Setups

I have been riding a Bike Friday Sat-R-Day recumbent bicycle (which they aren’t making any more), and towing the Bike Friday travel trailer that it packs in, with a small under-seat bag that I made. I keep my camera and a few other items in the under-seat bag (inside a zip-lock plastic bag if it’s raining), and my camping gear, clothes, etc. in dry-sacks inside the trailer.

Jennifer's bicycle

Jennifer's bicycle with the trailer and under-seat bag

Zach has been riding a HP Velotechnik Scorpion FX recumbent tricycle, with 4 Ortlieb waterproof panniers and two Terra Cycle FastBack bags on the boom. He keeps his camera, bike tools, and a few other items in the Terra Cycle bags, and everything else in the panniers.

Zach's tricycle with panniers and frame bags

Zach's tricycle with panniers and frame bags

Height

My bike puts my head about a foot (30 cm) higher than Zach’s trike puts his head, although I’m still probably a foot lower than an upright bike. Zach can’t see over the corn fields, fences, walls, etc. as well as I can, so I’ve had a better view of the scenery.

Width

Both of our setups are kind of wide, and Zach’s trike is a few inches wider than my trailer. This has been a bit of an issue a few times, such as riding through gates meant to prevent cars from using the bike paths (especially in Slovakia), and getting through doorways (night storage of bikes, getting onto ferries, etc.). Zach can pick up his bike and turn it sideways to be narrower, and has also managed to go under some of the gates, and I can lift or turn the trailer, but it’s a bit of an operation in either case. Zach has the advantage that the wide part of his setup is in the front, so he can see whether it’s going to fit or not, though after a few weeks of riding with my trailer, I do have a fairly good sense of where the wheels behind me will land.

Zach carrying his trike over a narrow ferry ramp

Zach carrying his trike over a narrow ferry ramp

Jennifer wondering whether the trailer will fit through a narrow gate

Jennifer wondering whether the trailer will fit through a narrow gate

Zach ducking under the sides of the gate

Zach ducking under the sides of the gate

Weight

We haven’t really weighed our setups, but they probably weigh about the same in total.

Stability

We’ve ridden on quite a bit more unpaved surfaces (gravel, dirt, etc.) here than we normally would at home, and also had to climb some hills. Zach’s trike is more stable than my two-wheeler, of course, so he’s better able to handle the instability from the surfaces and from going slowly. So I’ve had to get off my bike and push it much more than he has. Zach can take corners faster than I can, too, since he’s not in danger of falling over unless he really goes fast. On the other hand, Zach is more affected by non-level surfaces than I am. If the road is sloped sideways, his trike is sloped sideways, whereas I will stay vertical automatically on my two-wheeler.

Parking and Breaks

When we pause for a break, Zach can basically stop anywhere and his trike won’t ever fall over, and he can lock the brakes to keep it from rolling if the surface isn’t level. I have to either find something to lean my bike on (sometimes that’s Zach’s trike), or use the Click-Stand I got just before the trip, which involves getting the stand out of the under-seat bag, locking the brakes, and setting it up. The Click-Stand doesn’t work well on loose gravel, and Zach also has the advantage of having a nice place to sit for the break even if we didn’t find a bench (I can also sit on my bike, but have to balance it while sitting, so it’s not so relaxing). That was only rarely been an issue on this trip though — Europeans seem to love putting benches along cycle routes.

Jennifer's bicycle propped up with the Click-Stand

Jennifer's bicycle propped up with the Click-Stand

Packing for Transport

If you check out our packing posts, you’ll see that my bike packs up somewhat easier and ends up quite a bit smaller than Zach’s trike, for purposes of taking it on the plane. Zach will need to try to find a box in Frankfurt for the trip home, or at least some bubble wrap, whereas I am towing my bike’s box (the trailer is the travel case, and the trailer wheels and frame fit inside too).

Adjustability

I can move my seat forwards and backwards, and adjust the tilt, which has been useful for preventing knee pain. Also, if I ever wanted to let someone else use the bicycle, it could be adjusted for them (with limitations of course — for instance, Zach would need a larger frame). Zach’s trike has a fixed seat position, with an adjustable tilt. The boom the pedals are on can be adjusted in our out, but not by much without adding or removing links from the chain.

Gear Hauling

I suspected that my trailer might not be completely waterproof, so I packed everything that would matter if it got wet in lightweight dry sacks (not the kind made for kayaking, but the lightweight type made to hold up to rain rather than submersion). This turned out to be a good idea — when riding on rainy days, there has definitely been a little water in the trailer. Zach’s Ortlieb panniers are waterproof.

When I stop and plan to get something out of the trailer, I’ve found that I need to unhitch it (which is quick and easy, so not really a problem), because latching it generally tips over the bicycle if it’s still hitched. I also can’t get into my trailer while I’m still on the bike, whereas Zach can reach into the panniers in the front part of his rack quite easily, even while he’s riding. My under-seat bag was a good idea, for quick photos especially, and Zach’s Terra Cycle bags serve the same purpose.

I also had several problems with the trailer hitch — I don’t think the design is all that great for the kind of rough riding we ended up doing some of the time, or maybe just in general for a long trip. I may design a new hitch before I try traveling with the trailer again, or maybe just use panniers for the next trip, we’ll see (I have a rack I use at home).

Trailer with stickers

One advantage of the trailer: I was able to make a nice sticker collection during the trip

Pedals

Both of us are using Speedplay Frog Pedals, which we both generally like. However, we’ve both occasionally run into issues where mud, grit, etc. has clogged the attachment system, and we’ve had trouble clipping into the pedals. I also had to adjust one of the cleats that wasn’t clipping well once. But if you keep them clean and have them adjusted to the right angles, they are great (we’ve both been using them for many years on these and our past bikes).

Visibility

Being visible to cars is always a concern with bicycles, and especially so with recumbents, because you’re not as high. Soon after I bought my Bike Friday, I outfitted the seat back with a “safety vest” that I made — bright orange with a reflective triangle (see Click-Stand photo above). I’ve also added some reflective stickers to the trailer (the trailer itself is black, not the best color to stand out on a road), and I’ve also been collecting stickers from places we’ve visited (see photos above). When I’m at home, I ride with some orange/reflector safety leggings as well, to help my visibility from the front and sides, but I didn’t bring them on this trip.

Zach’s trike is a sea of black from the back (seat back and panniers), so I made him an orange mesh bag for his sleeping pad, which helps his rear visibility as well (see photos above).

We also wear bright jackets and jerseys while cycling, which is something we didn’t see much in other riders in Germany, Austria, and Switzerland — probably because they don’t spend much time riding with traffic. In Hungary and Slovakia, we noticed more people using safety vests on bicycles, which is a good idea given that you’re riding along with some pretty fast traffic at times!

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