If you find conventional bikes too uncomfortable, you can always go with a recumbent. And if you want added stability, then a recumbent trike may be more to your liking. I just finished spending a couple of weeks trying out one of the speediest models available, the Catrike 700, and gosh – the thing is a hoot!
Although there are a few lighter recumbent trikes in existence, they're typically boutique-made out of carbon fiber in small batches, and are stunningly expensive. By contrast, the aluminum-framed Catrike 700 is readily purchasable in stores and online, and while it certainly ain't cheap, it's not purely a millionaire's toy, either.
It's also consistently among the top results when you Google "fastest recumbent trike."
Some of its key specs include an SRAM 3 x 10 drivetrain with 30/39/52 chainrings, an 11/36 cassette and a GX rear derailleur; Schwalbe Durano tires; a rearview mirror and safety flag; platform/clipless SPD-compatible pedals; a quick-release telescoping front boom that can be adjusted to the size of the rider; and Avid BB7-S MTN mechanical disc brakes. Among the new features for this year's model are a Zipp 700c thru-axle rear wheel with a parking brake, FSA hollow carbon fiber cranks, and an improved ergonomic seat.
While the trike's weight is listed at 34 lb (15.4 kg), our test model tipped the scales at an even 37 lb (16.7 kg). It can accommodate riders weighing up to 275 lb (125 kg).
As is the case with most other recumbents, this thing is very comfortable. Instead of having a narrow saddle wedged up into your crotch, you recline in the mesh seat, with a neck rest supporting your head. Even on extended rides, there won't be any pain or numbness in your butt/nether regions, nor in your neck, lower back, or the palms of your hands. The front wheels are quite close to the hand levers, though, so care needs to be taken not to buzz your fingers on the tires when grabbing for the levers mid-ride.
And yep, this trike in particular is quite peppy on the flats and downhills. This comes thanks mainly to its aerodynamic riding position, paired with the slick high-pressure/low-friction tires, the high gearing, and the lightweight disc-profile drive wheel in the back.
Really, potential finger-buzzing aside, I came up with next to nothing in the way of criticisms of the Catrike 700. If you've never ridden a recumbent trike before, though, there are some things you should know about them in general.
First of all, unless you're riding a suspension-equipped model (which do exist, but are typically heavier and pricier), you're going to feel every little bump in the road. You can't stand part-way up like you can on an upright bike, letting your bent legs act as shock absorbers. Adding to this drawback is the fact that whereas bicycles just have a single wheel line, trikes have three wheel lines, meaning they can potentially hit three times as many potholes, etc.
Additionally, recumbent trikes do indeed sit pretty low, making it difficult for riders to survey the road around them – I found myself very carefully creeping into intersections on the 700, leaning forward to make sure cars weren't coming. For their part, drivers may also not notice such a low-sitting vehicle (even with its safety flag), particularly if they're driving along beside it – defensive riding is a must.
And finally, the things aren't that great going uphill. Some people state that by being able to brace themselves against the seat's backrest, recumbent riders can push harder on the pedals than they could on an upright. While this may be true, there's also something to be said for being able to stand up and deliver your body weight to the pedals – I certainly missed being able to do so when going up familiar hills on the 700.
There is one upside, though … no matter how much you may slow down when hill-climbing on a recumbent trike, you'll never lose your balance and have to put a foot down.
All in all, if you're OK with the limitations of trikes overall, and are looking for something that's comfy yet fast, the Catrike 700 is an excellent choice. It's available in a choice of eight frame colors, and has a suggested retail price of US$3,950. So no, Catrike isn't exactly giving the things away, but if you compare the price to that of high-end mountain and road bikes, you'll see that it's not unreasonable.
And if you want to see how far one person can go in customizing their 700, check out what Jim Artis has done with his.
New Atlas would like to thank Alberta Catrike dealer Bentley Cycle for assembling and delivering the Catrike 700 used in this review.
Product page: Catrike 700
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