Trike Maintenance – Wheel Alignments

Sometimes I’m asked about maintenance on a trike, “what sort of maintenance do I need to do on my trike” type questions. The answer in many cases is, “it depends”. Not helpful.

The “depends” varies with the cycling conditions  Riding in fair weather will put fewer demands on the trike than the all weather (and all road) triker, and the ‘smell the roses’ rider will put different strains on the trike than the performance rider. Your trike manufacturer will have recommendations regarding maintenance, check their web pages or hand book….

It’s safe to say that our trikes are pretty robust and normal bicycle type maintenance will suffice. I would suggest a look around the trike every month to see if anything is loose/worn/rusting or crying out for attention. Maybe incorporate it with a regular clean?

The area that is radically different to – ahem – “normal” bikes is the steering. Trike steering has much more in common with…*cough*…cars. The one thing we must do is to make sure the front wheels agree on the direction we are going to go. Commonly termed wheel alignment, and even more commonly “toe in”, all we are really doing is making sure the wheels are parallel to each other when in the straight ahead position.

Trike with poor wheel alignment.
Not like this!

Poor wheel alignment will make the trike harder to pedal, wear out the tyres quickly, and make the handling of the trike unpredictable. It will not cause speed wobbles or make the trike pull to one side all the time. If a trike continually tries to turn in one direction, or has speed wobbles, there are other issues that need to be investigated!

So how to check alignment? It can be done with a tape measure but it’s difficult, not very accurate, and really needs 2 or more people. Some manufacturers suggest telescopic rods to check the distance between the wheel and frame, and between both wheels. Better but still awkward. I’ve even seen recommendations to remove the tyres to do an alignment properly….

Tools

We use a telescopic rod, a large carpenters square, spanners, and a purpose made alignment tool sized to suit the average trike’s track and setup for 20” diameter wheels. With this tool it is easy to read and set the toe-in to within ½ millimetre.

Alignment tools
Grubby floor and old tape is optional

To the procedure (Batman)…

Note, this is written with indirect steering and no suspension in mind, but the basic process is applicable to all tadpole trikes.

Setting it up

Somehow secure the handlebars in the straight ahead position. I use webbing tie down straps, and a large carpenters square to get the handlebars as near as possible straight ahead. Pump the tyres up nice and hard merely to minimise any difference in diameter.

Trike with handlebars secured
Carpenter square gives visual reference for handlebar position.

Measure from each wheel to the frame main tube and choose which one is closest to parallel to the frame. I normally choose the left wheel as then I don’t have to try and measure around chains and idlers. Using the telescopic rod, adjust the track rod until the wheel is as close as possible to parallel to the frame centre line. Tighten the adjustments then leave it alone!

Measuring from wheel to frame
Like this…

Put a bit of masking tape on the tread of each tyre, and mark on the tyre a reference point, a cross for instance. (This doesn’t have to be on the centreline as we’ll be using the same mark for measuring both the front and rear distances.)

Reference mark on tyre
X marks the spot

Place our special tool in front of the tyre, set the taped mark of the right tyre and the fixed pointer of the tool against each other and secure the tool in position with the rubber band.

Alignment trammel in front of trike
Like this!

Measure it

On the other wheel, rotate the wheel until the tape mark aligns with the ruler. Read off the measurement and record it. Let’s imagine it says 90mm. (Or in this case 74…)

Reference measurement
A sharper pencil would help

Take the tool off the tyre, now roll the trike forward (or back) ½ a wheel revolution. Slide the tool under the trike, and position it against the tyres again. The fixed pointer will be against the trikes left tyre this time. Line up the pointer and mark, and rubber band it in position, read off the measurement at the other wheel. Our imaginary reading for this wheel is 50mm.

Now the math! Subtract 50 from 90, divide the answer by 2, and add the result on to 50. In this case we get 70. That’s the measurement we want for the wheels to be parallel.

Here’s the really neat bit. Sit on your trike, and looking at the scale adjust the track rod (of the wheel we didn’t set straight ahead remember) and watch the measurement change. Set it at 70mm, (or maybe 70.5 to 71mm to give a touch of toe in), lock the adjustments and that’s done. (Make sure it didn’t change during the tightening up process 😊)

Final alignment measurement
Set and done.

Test it!

Take the tool off, make sure all the nuts are tight and go for a quick ride up and down the road. Leave the tape in place for this ride, if the alignment is poor it will show scuffing and tearing, but I’ll bet it looks just fine when you get back.

How often should it be checked? Not more than once a year, unless there is an incident or something starts to feel wrong.  Set it up right, from the start, and off you go!

Trike-ing my way to work.

(Mrs DT Recumbents dips her toe into the world of recumbent cycle commuting)

It’s been nearly 35 years since I was a cycling commuter.

Back then I was an active teenager whose only reliable means of transport was the bike.  I rode an inherited, fixed gear Malvern Star upright lady’s bike. As soon as I got a car, the bike pretty much got the flick.

Over the intervening years, hubby got me onto its successor, a Giant MTB, but I was never comfortable riding it. My neck and wrists hurt, my butt went numb, and when a kamikaze Magpie gave me such a fright that I fell off, that was pretty-much the end of my cycling, except for brief forays with my young kids.

Spring 2019 and I’m still quite active and have just hit the half century. Running and walking have been my primary choice in exercise for ages, but I’m about to go back to my summer job, 8km away, as a School Swimming Teacher. I won’t get time to run before work – I am NOT an early-morning person!  How to keep fit????

The Trike

Since we started DT Recumbents 2 years ago, I have tried a few of the recumbent bikes and trikes that have come through our business. While I can ride the Bacchetta Giro bike (the Bella didn’t adjust enough for my short legs), it wasn’t quite me.  I took the Performer Trike E and JC20 for a few longer spins, but they weren’t quite right either.

And then a friend left an older Greenspeed GT3 trike with us. Small size frame, 16” wheels, fixed seat and no head rest.

It was wonderful! Greenspeed GTS trike

Sporty looks, very efficient and agile performance and best of all, very comfortable to ride.  A bit of playing around with different length cranks and changing to a 2 speed front crank-set and I am now on the most comfortable cycle I have ever ridden. I will now voluntarily head off on a ride.

Getting Moving

The final block to making riding to work feasible for me, fell at just the right time. A new back road opened, meaning I could avoid the busy major road with unfriendly cycling allowances, and the major hill associated with it.

I did a weekend test run to the school pool and back. 25 mins each way! And on my sporty little trike I was able to do the 50 min/16 km test loop without being a total wreck at the end.  This would work!!

I got myself organised.   I made a couple of long sleeve cycle jerseys to go with my tights (sun protection for riding home at midday, late spring in sunny QLD); stole hubby’s old pannier bags; found a pair of cycle shoes, and I was all set to go.

The Trip

I thoroughly enjoyed the cycle commute (except for 1 day with 40-60kph head winds on the way home, and 1 idiot driver who decided that giving way didn’t apply to cycles.).  The majority of my trip was on either cycle lanes or footpath, with a couple of back roads here and there. Moreton Bay Regional Council have been slowly improving the cycle ways around Redcliffe, particularly near the waterfront.

Michelle on GT3 front viewAfter 6 weeks of riding 3-4 days/week, my legs were no longer shaking at the end of the steep hill leading up to the school. I had increased my average speed 1-2 kph, and did the whole term on less than 1 tank of petrol (vs filling up every 9 days or so).

The trike behaved beautifully. Uphill was sometimes a bit of a slog, but downhill I got up to 48 kph (I was never game to go that fast on an upright) and on the flats I could cruise at 25-27 kph.  Not bad for a 50 year old woman who had never been an avid cyclist.

Now the challenge is to keep that cycling fitness, which I discovered is really different to running/jogging fitness – those triathletes are really fit!!

Maybe a weekly trip to the café near school for a cuppa? A regular run along the Kippa Ring to Petrie rail-trail?

I’ll think of some excuse.

E-Kit Installation on GT20

Electric assist for bicycles is a growing market, but there are limited options for the recumbent cyclist.  There are few original equipment manufacturers (OEM) fitting e-assist to trikes, and the problems with importing the batteries (and in-country support) makes the OEM fit problematic in Australia.

Essentially we are left with the do-it-yourself option, whether a dealer does it or it is truly DIY!

The choice between a hub motor (a motor built into a wheel) or mid-drive (motor built into the bottom bracket and crankset) is a bit personal, though finding a hub motor with the right width for the trike’s rear wheel spacing and gear options can be a challenge.

E-Kit driveFor this fitment, we have chosen the Bafang BBS02 mid-drive, a well known brand with a number of re-sellers in Australia.  The BBS** series are available in a range of powers, from 250 watt to over 1 kilowatt.

Talking of power, a quick word on the legals is called for.  Electric Assist bicycles in Australia are limited to 200 watt power, unless the bike complies with European directive EN15194 and is certified as complying.  (Commonly termed a Pedelec, 250 watt max.)  Queensland is further limited to 25kmh with power assistance.  This rules out any DIY kit from complying with the 250 watt requirement as the certification applies to the whole bike….

We have chosen a 350watt version, and will be de-rating it via the software options available.  Why 350 watt?  Apparently the internal wiring is somewhat heavier than the 250 watt unit.

Bafang E-kitSo what’s in a kit?

The drive unit, display/controller, e-brake levers, speed sensor, and wiring harness.  We added a gear change sensor, separate brake switches in case we wanted to keep the OEM levers, a 130mm BCD chain ring adapter, and some extension cables.  Plus a 36 volt 10 amp hour battery.

Our installation is on the popular Greenspeed GT20 Recumbent Trike.  Note this is not a factory supported option.

Fitment is straight forward. The existing bottom crankset and bracket is removed and the BBS02 installed in their place. Brake levers are replaced, and the display and controller mounted.  By far the most time was spent on mounting the controller and display, followed by tidying up the wiring.

The e-kit added approximately 8kg to the weight of the trike.

E-kit Controller

One of the beauties of the Bafang kit is the ability to configure the software, one of the downsides is the ability to configure the software….  Some of the settings are not that intuitive, and it would be possible to fry the electronics within.

In case you’re wondering, no we did not 😊.

We’ve spent some time selecting values to optimise how the boost applies, levels, how it cuts out at the speed limit, and how it cuts power when pedaling stops.

E-kit drive right view

On the road the kit works quietly away providing a smooth and steady assistance.  Some of this is because of the 200 watt limit we’ve applied, but also the software settings selected.  The motor can be more or less aggressive in its response if desired.  Note too that the BBS** series are not torque sensing – they don’t care how hard you’re pedaling, just that the pedals are turning.  Pedals turning = boost applied.

Best results are gained by using the gears to keep pedaling in the 60 – 70 RPM range.  (At 90rpm you’re pedaling faster than the no load motor speed, and you probably don’t need e-assist!)

Electric assist is (another) subject that divides cyclists.  In my view, if the assist makes cycling possible/practical/enjoyable, then why not!

Links:

Qld legislation: https://www.legislation.qld.gov.au/view/html/inforce/current/sl-2009-0194#sec.353B353BPower-assisted bicycles—Act, sch 4, definition power-assisted bicycle

https://electricbike-blog.com/2015/06/26/a-hackers-guide-to-programming-the-bbs02/

Welcome!

Welcome to our blog!

In this we hope to encourage some discussion, thoughts, provide a little technical information, and of course let you know what we are doing.

Rough & Ready!!

Our (my?) journey into recumbents started 10 years ago – although it really began 25 years ago when I saw an advertisement for a Greenspeed trike – but that seed lay dormant until I accepted that upright bikes were getting uncomfortable.  The wonders of the internet opened my eyes to the various recumbent types, but being unable to find one locally to try I cut metal and created a bike.  Rough and ready, but hey, it worked.

Riding Performer
Performer High Racer

A purchase of a Performer bike followed, and the relegation of the upright bike to the back shed completed the transition to a recumbent cyclist.  Cycle commuting was the next progression, together with the inevitable purchase of another ‘bent.

A change in work circumstance and DT Recumbents was born.  Dragging my better half along with me, we soon had a selection of trikes and bikes for test rides, a website, and all manner of interesting people calling in to try this alternative way of cycling.

We’ll be writing about our recumbent experiences, as riders, fixers, sellers and probably spectators, with thoughts on the bikes and technology that cross our path.  With luck someone will find it interesting and useful.

First ride of rough bike
The start…

James M5
My current wheels
M5 Carbon High Racer.