A few weeks ago I borrowed an X3 to take for an extended test drive. No, not the BMW! I'm sure it's a jolly nice car and all, but I'm talking about the Greenspeed X3 sports recumbent trike with a nicely laid-back 30° seat recline and gently cambered front wheels.
Oh yes, I can't begin to describe how much fun this thing is to drive—you'll just have to try it for yourself.
I don't intend to review the X3 because it was the first time I've driven a 'bent of any description for more than about half an hour or so. Clearly I'm no expert on the subject, so this is more of a series of random observations about how riding the X3 differed from riding an upright.
- I took it up the 1-in-20 and I was just as fast (that is to say, slow) as I am on an upright. I've never claimed to be a hill climber, but the story that 'bents are poor on hills seems to be a bit of a myth. [Famous last words?]
- On the other hand, screaming down hills was heaps more fun—I cackled like an evil genius all the way down from Sassafras.
- It seems to be a bad idea to try to "sit-up" in a recumbent—I found it better to let myself settle into the seat.
- Central steering takes a bit of getting used to.
- After the years of being on an upright and my body just "knowing" how to shift, now I needed to think my way around corners. I expect this would become habit pretty quickly.
- Keeping a straight line (especially one-handed or when shifting position) can be a bit tricky, but keeping a soft grip of the handlebars goes a long way to fixing that. This is also probably just a habit that needs developing.
- Hard cornering
- Lesson 1: When cornering hard and/or fast, lean into the corner or you will roll it. Yes, even something as low and slick as the X3.
- Normally a slow learner, I only tipped it onto two wheels twice before I caught onto this. Duh! But then I started using it to my advantage…
- Fast cornering
- There is no risk of grounding a pedal, so I kept pedalling where I would freewheel on an upright. Add the low position, a bit of leaning, and superb Sturmey Archer drum brakes and that adds up to some very slick cornering (see also "Descending" above).
- I didn't specifically test the turning circle, I was more concerned that the X3 could get through various gates and railings, which it handled very well. There will always be a few gates that are too narrow, but they seem to becoming rarer these days.
- All sorts of low-speed manoeuvres are very easy because there's no need to maintain speed to keep balance.
- I've seen 'bent riders being bounced around and I've wondered how uncomfortable it must be. But the experience isn't particularly nasty or even unpleasant—at least the shock doesn't get transmitted via arms or bum to the neck. (Don't you hate those bumps?) The sling seat seems to help take up some of the shock as well.
- On my regular route, a bump that I thought might test it was one of the joins in the pontoon across Burnley Harbour (on the Yarra Trail—those who go that way will know it) but it was absolutely nothing to worry about. It seems that having an extra wheel helps to spread out the shock, if that makes sense?
- Road speed humps seem to be the worst, which makes sense.
- But in short, most bumps are not nearly as nasty as they look.
- The 'bent trike feels surprisingly good on gravel trails; the three point stability probably contributes here.
- Bad camber
- On bike paths bad camber is everywhere; you do notice it on an upright but on a trike it becomes personal—it makes cornering that bit harder.
- Tram tracks
- Rails in the road are a daily hazard for cyclists who venture into the City of Melbourne, and I was pretty gung-ho when tackling them on the trike. That was not such a good idea: I discovered that, even on a trike, tram lines can get you pretty seriously out of shape (but at least you're not going to get completely dumped on the ground, which is a good thing).
- It's true—you do look around and enjoy the scenery more when you're in a 'bent.
- A low position means that sometimes the view is not there to enjoy (e.g. I'm told that for much of the Bay Trail, a sea view is not available to 'bentists because you can't see over the foreshore wall).
- Although I didn't ride it in really heavy traffic, in places where I did mix with cars I didn't feel any more exposed than I would on an upright.
- Of course, sometimes it's harder to see the street than it would be on an upright (e.g. there's one particular place on my commute route where a railing on one side and bridge on the other obscured my view of a road crossing), but I just adjusted my riding style accordingly.
- Road position
- This was one of the hardest things to learn because my habits as an upright cyclist didn't always help. To stay where other road users can see you, you sometimes need to position yourself differently than you would on an upright. I found I was pulling up behind cars where I'd be visible on an upright but was too close on the 'bent. Again I think that would be a habit thing.
- I'm told that you use a slightly different muscle action on a 'bent, more like running than cycling. In any case, I found the lower end of the quads (right down near the top of the knee cap) got worked a bit more than I'm used to. This caused a bit of anxiety that the old knee problems are returning, but it was just muscle tiredness.
- Some people seem to feel it a bit across the stomach as well, but I don't notice it.
- I got a bit tired in the upper pecs as well, but I reckon this was due to gripping the handlebars too tightly and a lack of familiarity with the steering action.
I'm not really sure what more I can say except that when time came to return the X3 to its rightful owner, they had to prise my white-knuckled fingers off it. This is such a cool machine.
Ooooh, I'd really, really like to own an X3—do you think it's too late for me to put the hard word on Santa? (Hmm, I've probably been too naughty…)