Friday, October 21, 2011
The great build configuration by Utah Trikes left me wonderfully content... for about a week. It was about that time that the economy-level drivetrain components and tires left me yearning for better ride quality and crisper shifting (the trike came configured with very modest level SRAM X-3 components which shift a bit imprecisely). With a few flicks of an allen wrench (and turns of a cassette lockring tool, chain whip, channel lock, wire cutter, and even a few squirts of hairspray to slide grips on and off), the Rover was now sporting a 9-speed rear cassette, Deore rear derailleur and SLX trigger shifters.
Soon after, the cheap no-name low-pressure tires were replaced with a trio of beastly Maxxis Hookworm tires better capable of handing the suburban jungle in which we reside. Better shifting? Check. Better ride? Check. Ahh, content again... sort of.
A few minor tweaks ensued. Bolted on a rear rack for the pannier bags, added a bike computer and added a chainring guard (the ICE Trice Chainring Guard fit wonderfully). As I mentioned in previous posts, I'm a big fan of shorter cranks on recumbent bikes, so I swapped the front crankset for a Sugino XD600 152mm triple crankset.
Amid the modifications, I had noticed there was a great deal of room ahead of the 20" rear wheel. Poking around online I also found other Rover builds that were sporting rear wheels up to 26". This was just too much of a temptation not to be attempted. As there is no rear brake needed on a tadpole trike (the left and right brake levers typically work the left and right wheel brakes rather than front and rear), the swap was an easy one. There isn't much clearance for a large volume tire, but a 26 x 1.5" fit in the frame spacing without any trouble.
The FreeRadical installation was really quite simple on the Rover and the only truly invasive part of the project was drilling a mounting hole in the Rover's frame just ahead of the rear wheel.
The system attaches in three locations - the two rear wheel dropouts and one point where the chainstays typically attach to the bottom bracket (and where a kickstand typically would be mounted) on a traditional diamond frame bike. The location of the anchor point on the FreeRadical lined up almost perfectly with the point the chain stays attach to the main square tube frame of the Rover and simply had to be anchored to the frame in some way. I decided the most secure (yet still reversible) mounting method would be using a bolt passed through the FreeRadical and both sides of the square frame tube.
To maximally distribute the load the Xtracycle system would exert on the frame, I used one of the brackets that came with the FreeRadical kit. Two of these brackets can be used to sandwich the chainstays on a diamond frame, but one of them did a spectacular job of distributing the load forces and protecting the Rover's frame.
The front of the FreeRadical is designed to rest on top of the chainstay brackets (or kickstand bracket), but on the Rover this caused the Xtracycle platform to slope as well as raise the overall height of the Rover's rear assembly. Because of these issues I chose to mount the FreeRadical underneath the frame instead. To make sure the hardware would be equal to the task, I went down to my local hardware store and bought a nice heavy-duty Grade 8 bolt and thick washer to bear the load.
Strange noises quelled, I returned to the streets for some additional testing. The new configuration proved very functional and usable with a few caveats. For one, the rear shifting was not as precise as it had been prior to the conversion. I attribute this to the many mm of additional shift cable needed to reach the rear derailleur. A higher grade low-friction cable would most likely improve the shifting performance and return it to its former crisp shifting glory. The second thing I found a bit unsettling was in the feel under heavy loaded conditions. I have used the FreeRadical systems on upright bikes as a seating area for my 80-ish pound child. Xtracycle makes a great seat cushion and foot-shaped floorboards for the FreeRadical which make it a very stable and efficient child carrier. When my son mounted up on the back of the converted Rover I noticed a distinct amount of torsional frame flex. As we cornered and he shifted his weight while riding I continued to notice the frame flexion. As the Rover has a strong square-tube frame, it was not overly concerning from a structural perspective, but definitely added a bit of an odd feel to the ride. Also, the center of gravity became markedly higher with a rear rider and necessitated greatly reduced cornering speeds. With this type of behavior, I limited two-rider trips to short jaunts to the park rather than longer commutes in higher speed situations.
Overall the design and versatility of the TerraTrike Rover has proved admirable. While it will never compete with the likes of its low-slung ultra-reclined brethren (think Catrike 700) from a performance perspective, it is by far the easiest to climb on for a bit of fitness, a ride around the neighborhood or a short commute. Its seating position make it both more visible to automobile traffic and easier to see "out" of to enjoy the scenery and maintain situational awareness of traffic around you. It really is the trike most of us SHOULD be riding even though many of us envision ourselves aboard performance trikes rocketing down the road cheating the wind and passing the roadies in their pacelines. It all goes back to the saying that the best bike/trike is the one you actually USE; and the TerraTrike Rover is definitely in that category.
UPDATE (10/21/2011): While a cargotrike was my idea of the ultimate configuration of a Rover, my better half found she didn't agree. Her typical trips didn't require the extensive cargo-carrying capacity of the FreeRadical, and thus the longer turning radius and increased weight were unmerited. As I already had an Xtracycle-equipped bike that I used for errand-running and child-carrying, we had little need of a second similarly-equipped machine. We have since removed the FreeRadical kit, returning the Rover to its shorter and more maneuverable configuration, while the standard rear rack still affords a wealth of carrying space with trunk bags and panniers. Once again the old adage applies as the current configuration is the one that will be the most used.