About once a month I meet three friends, Peter, Mike and Hilary, who are also members of the Veteran-Cycle Club, for lunch. We live far enough apart (Wales, Gloucestershire, Somerset, and in my case, Dorset) that we rarely see each other outside these get-togethers, which usually take place at Peter’s home in Somerset, being more or less equidistant for the rest of us.
I was aware that Peter had acquired a rare 1952 Hobbs of Barbican racing tricycle as a hedge against the time when he can no longer ride a bicycle, but having been pretty well incapacitated for six weeks by a bad crash on one of my bikes, I hadn’t had the opportunity to see it until our lunch meeting yesterday.
It’s a beautiful machine, but having briefly experienced racing tricycles on two previous occasions, I knew that it would be just like them: an abomination. “Just a minute,” I hear you say, “surely three wheels are more stable than two!” Well they might be on a child’s tricycle, where the distance between the two rear wheels is wide in proportion to the rest of the machine, and the centre of gravity is low, but on an adult racing tricycle, this wheelbase is proportionately narrow, to allow the trike to be brought in through the front door of the average house, and the centre of gravity is high, especially with 14.5 stone (about 93kg) of rider perched high up on the saddle.
Combine this with narrow, high-pressure tyres, and the result is something which wiggles and jiggles and pitches and yaws over every slight unevenness in the road surface. As for potholes: experienced tricyclist Mike (who took the photos) said, “With three wheels, you have four chances of hitting every pothole!” Avoid it with the front wheel, and one of the rear ones will almost certainly hit it.
To digress for a moment, Mike frequently rides a tricycle, and also frequently wears sunglasses while doing so. On one occasion, a woman asked how he got on with riding it. The idiosyncrasies were explained to her, and one of Mike’s friends saw fit to add, “And not only that, he’s blind.” The woman said, “How does he find his way around while riding it then?” to which the reply was, “By sense of smell!” Since then, Mike carries a white stick strapped to his saddlebag, and on suitable occasions, will ride along slowly, tapping the road in front of his trike with the stick.
Back to the riding experience. If potholes aren’t enough to deter, then road camber should finish the job. On a heavily-cambered road, such as a country lane, the trike simply wants to head straight for the kerb, and particularly for those accustomed to a bicycle, turning the bars to compensate instead of leaning the machine seems wrong, and the whole contraption feels as if it’s going to turn over. Putting a foot down to steady it, as you would on a bicycle, is a bad idea, resulting in the rear axle repeatedly striking the back of your leg with some force as the beast continues toward the road edge.
20 yards was enough for me, before, with a cry of “Mummy, make it stop!” I performed a quick dismount, and relinquished custody, remarkably unscathed.
Even an experienced rider can never really relax while riding a trike; it’s just waiting for an unguarded moment to strike. To quote Peter, who had had no previous experience before he bought this monstrosity, “Took it out yesterday, I thought ‘this is too easy, what’s all the fuss about.’ And 200 yards later, the bloody thing dumped me into a garden wall! $%^&***.”
Still, I have confidence that Peter will become an accomplished rider with practice. I was once told that a proper trike rider has a beard, wild, staring eyes, and a touch of insanity. The wild, staring eyes will no doubt come in due course.