Impressions of My Catrike 5.5.9, a Few Weeks Into It. Spoiler: It’s a BLAST!!
My friends at Red Rock Bicycle Co. were accommodating enough to become an authorized Catrike dealer so I could selfishly order one of these recumbent trikes for myself. I suspect they were about to become a dealer without my prodding, but hey. Astute merchandizers as these folks are, they could see that many of you riders would also be interested in adding one of these to your collection. Scott Gates-Hadwick and Lukas Brinkerhoff were especially helpful in getting the ball rolling, and my old training buddy Zac Hardy did a very professional build of this contraption…and it truly is “a contraption.”My particular choice was a Catrike 5.5.9. It features a SRAM triple drivetrain, it conveniently folds compactly for storage and/or transportation, it has a full comfortable foam/mesh seat, a pair of 20” front wheels, a single 26” rear wheel, and dual disc brakes up front. With a bottle cage, pedals, and my Garmin, it’s almost exactly 40 lbs. The seating position is virtually identical to the position in my recently-departed ‘19 Corvette Z06; low to the ground, legs extended, and in a comfortable reclining position. So far, I’ve found the ergonomics pretty much flawless, other than the short tube for the computer mount could be ¼” longer. But now I am nitpicking. And what a bargain! The entire trike (I have to remember to stop calling it a bike) retails for the same price as the Campagnolo Bora Ultra 50 tubular wheelset I have on one of my Tarmacs; $3,350.
My first tooling-around ride in the Red Rock parking lot was disconcerting; far more radical than the difference between a mountain bike and a road bike. I spazzed around for five minutes before we folded it up and I drove home. Incidentally, a trike can be as long as 84”, so having one that folds is very convenient. (Catrike claims the 5.5.9 can be folded in 30 seconds, but it takes me around 3 minutes. With experience, I expect this time to come down to a scant 168 seconds.)
Once I got home, I stole a pair of Speedplay Zeros off one of my Tarmacs with my trusty Park pedal wrench, (New Speedplays mount with an 8mm Allen), and installed them on the 5.5.9. My riding adjustment to the analog tadpole trike was linear, and took less than three miles before I felt at ease. And what fun! The next day, I did 10 miles, and I’m increasing my miles; 120 in the past week; and I no longer have to stop every 5 miles to stretch my aching back like I was doing on my road bikes. I am now able to torque big gears, but my legs are still adapting. Most of you have ridden a recumbent stationary bike (as opposed to a “stationery” bike, which would be stupidly made of paper) in a gym or hotel exercise room, and the position is about the same. Feeling comfortable comes fast, but the leg muscles will take a few months to catch up.
Steering feel requires some getting used to, as it is very fast “direct” geometry. Other trikes use “indirect” geometry which isn’t as sporty, but stability is generally better with indirect steering. Low speed steering is actually somewhat heavy, but the faster you go, the lighter the steering gets. I’ve adapted to the somewhat sensitive steering feel above 25 mph. One must remember to relax and not input much into the bars at higher speeds, because movement is instantaneous. A light grip on the bars is a must. I’m comfortable over 30 mph now, but the first few downhills…well, let’s say they got my attention. I now feel very stable and safe.
Braking is excellent with the dual front discs on the 20” wheels. You do have to remember to apply the brakes on both wheels at the same pressure in order to keep the trike moving straight. Using either the left brake or the right brake is not recommended, unless you’re doing “Hey, y’all!! Hold my beer and watch this!!” stunts. Equal pressure on both brakes is required in almost all braking scenarios.
Pros and Cons
First, the good news, and it’s mostly all good. This trike is far easier and safer to balance, and if you somehow manage to bonehead roll it, you’re closer to the ground. I’ve been throwing mine into corners as if it’s a Miata. Leaning into the turn seems to help, and I feel like I’m Sterling Moss in an open-cockpit vintage racer. With a low center of gravity, an extra wheel for more grip, and precise steering, handling is a dream. I mentioned in my first trike article that a trike is also a solution for older riders who want to avoid crashes, or are, like me, having some balance issues. And I can only describe hustling along at 22 mph pounding a big gear on the flats as pure joy.
With all the good news, there are a few considerations that could be seen as negative. At 40 lbs., regardless of a triple crankset, these things don’t climb very fast. I’ve been settling into spinning a small gear on 7% grades and being content with 7 mph, or less. You can always make up for lost time or practice your bridging skills on the flats and downhills. Overall, compared to the same ride on a Tarmac, my Catrike is a few average mph slower, and most of that speed is scrubbed off on the climbs.
Storage might be an issue. These things take up space, and you probably won’t want to fold your trike after every ride. As I stated earlier, trikes can be a full 7’ long, and a folding one at least gives you storing and transport options. My folded 5.5.9 fits into my compact Mercedes GLA 45 AMG better than my road bikes do, and with room to spare.
There is a foreboding phrase associated with trikes that’s called “leg suck,” and you don’t want it to happen to you. This is when a foot comes out or off of a pedal and gets dragged under the bike. Even at 10 mph, this could end in injury. Personally, I would never ride a trike without using pedals that allow me to securely clip in. Some people use running shoes and straps, and that’s just tempting disaster. Clip in, and you will never experience leg suck, unless you happen to frequent weird online dating sites. (If you think I’m talking about you…I probably am.)
Visibility, due to the low height of trikes, is also an issue. Motorists can be less likely to see you, and that’s a problem. My Catrike came with one of those nerdy flags you see, and for the first two days, I refused to use it. After giving it some thought, I now use the high flag, two Serfas taillights, a flashing LED on my helmet, and an auxiliary left-side white front LED. I suppose using lights and a flag are considered a currently-trending “personal choice.” My personal choice is to be seen.
I should remind you that trikes are also available with suspensions, battery-assist, and various wheel/tire options. The Catrike line is very comprehensive in addition to being priced reasonably, and they have as good a reputation as anyone making trikes. And they’re made in the USA, in Florida.
In case it isn’t abundantly clear yet, I wholeheartedly recommend that you look into buying a trike. Piloting one is an absolute HOOT! Life is short; let’s have fun!
*By Paul Scarpelli