Ultimate Guide to 3 Wheel Bicycles

So you’re thinking about getting a 3 wheel bicycle? Are you looking for a ride that provides more stability or perhaps you’ve got a hurt back and need something with more support? You’ve arrived at the right spot! This is the complete guide to 3 wheel bikes.

Technically a 3 wheel bicycle is called a “trike” or “tricycle.” What differentiates a tricycle from a bicycle is the additional wheel in the rear. One wheel on the front of the bike, and two in the back.

Trikes come in a variety of different designs, but most look similar to a basic 2 wheeled bicycle, but with modifications to the frame to allow for the third wheel.

The other type of 3 wheel bike is called a “Recumbent” bicycle which is designed with a chair-like seat for the rider to sit in. These recumbent 3-wheel bikes are lower to the ground than traditional bicycles. The biggest benefit of 3 wheel bicycles compared to the regular 2-wheeled bike is that they are easier to ride and have added stability.

Who are 3 wheel bicycles made for?

Many people think of three wheel bicycles as being made intentionally for younger children or older adults, but in reality they are great for people of all ages. The reason that many seniors (or children) ride tricycles is that they make bicycling more accessible compared to a regular bike.

The reason that a 3 wheel bicycle is more accessible is that the two rear wheels add extra stability, and they don’t require extra skill to ride. Children and some elderly adults can have a difficult time balancing which can be hard to do on a traditional 2 wheel bike.

Even if you’ve got the worst balance in the world, as long as you can stay seated upright you can ride a 3 wheel bike. The chance of falling off a tricycle is considerably less likely to happen than while riding a regular bicycle. No one wants to be injured while riding, and so for some, a tricycle is their way of pedaling while making sure they don’t get hurt. It’s very rare to see a tricycle or recumbent tipping over. It’s more common to see a bicycle with rider fall over sideways which I admit I’ve done on more than one occasion.

Recumbent trikes and tricycles can also be very useful for larger adults. If you weigh more than most people it can be uncomfortable and difficult to sit on a regular bicycle. Three wheeled bikes can accommodate more weight and allow heavier rides an easier time balancing. If you’re heavier than you want to be – a 3 wheel bike is a great way to exercise and lose weight.

Photo Cred: Eric Fischer

Are three wheel bikes safe to ride?

Three wheel bikes are safe to ride as long as you follow a few routine safety tips. With their extra stability you’re less likely to fall off or tip your tricycle, but there are a few safety procedures you should take to ensure you don’t crash or hurt yourself.

  1. Take Turns Slowly – Tricycles are not speed machines. If you’re in the market for a fast bicycle you shouldn’t be checking out 3 wheel bikes. Their size and design make them great for casual commutes and bike rides, but you shouldn’t be trying to break a land speed record with them. Recumbent bikes are easier to go fast, because of their low profile. All this to say – be careful while turning on a tricycle. Their extra wheel is perfect for providing stability, but not for taking sharp turns at fast speeds. One of the only ways you can flip a 3 wheel bike is by taking a sharp turn too fast. Their turning radius is wider than a traditional bike. I would recommend starting slowly on turns, and as you feel more confident and get a feel for your trike you can try taking the turns slightly faster.
  2. You’ve got a Big Rear – I love riding bikes. I visited New York City for a vacation, and rented a bike to pedal around the Big Apple. There were moments as I rode through Manhattan that traffic was nearly at a standstill. I decided that the best course of action would be to ride my bike through traffic threading between vehicles. While this was possible on a narrow bike, it would have been near impossible or much more difficult on a 3 wheel bike. While riding a tricycle or recumbent bike you must be aware that the front of your bike is narrower than your rear. While the front of the trike may be able to fit through a gap, the rear part of the bike can get stuck and cause you to crash. The more you ride a tricycle the more you’ll learn what spaces it can fit through and which gaps are too small for you to go through.
  3. Wear a Helmet – If you’re an adult you are entitled to make your own choices in life, but I would recommend wearing a helmet even while on a tricycle. No one expects to crash, and the likelihood that you fall off a 3 wheel bike is unlikely, but in the chance that you do find yourself in a crash you’ll be grateful that you had a helmet on your head. If you’ve got an old helmet it may be time to retire it and get a new one. You can read this article to know when a bike helmet is expired.

Pros & Cons of Three Wheel Bicycles

Stability – Stability is by far one of the greatest benefits of a 3 wheel bike. The extra rear wheel makes riding very easy, and takes the pressure off the rider to balance. A regular bicycle has to maintain a minimum speed or it will tip over unless the rider puts a foot down on the ground. You can pedal a 3 wheel bike at the pace of a snail and not worry about it tipping over. A person who has never ridden a bicycle would be able to quickly learn to pedal and handle a trike.

Climbing Uphills  – Climbing uphills on a 3 wheel bike is easier and harder than a regular bike. It’s easier in the fact that you can go very slow without worrying that your bike is going to tip over. You’re able to put a tricycle into a low gear and slowly pedal your way up the hill. The harder part of climbing uphill on a tricycle is that they usually weigh more than a traditional bike. You’ll be pedaling more weight uphill which will take more pedal power to get it to go up.

Cargo Space – Many 3 wheel bikes come with a basket or cage attached to the rear of the bike over back wheels. Some also come with a cargo cage on the front of the bike as well. Regardless, tricycles are perfect bicycles for carrying things while pedaling around town. If you’re looking for a tricycle to be used as your main transportation this is one of the benefits. You can pack these cages with work supplies or groceries or whatever you please. The wider wheel base of a 3 wheel bike allows you to carry heavy loads without sacrificing stability. Recumbent bikes don’t normally come installed with a basket or cargo cage, but you can install them if you’d like this on them. If you want information on how to install a cheap milk crate to your bike click here.

Rider’s Position – Tricycles generally let riders be an upright position. While a road bike forces the rider to lean over to keep their hands on the handlebars, a tricycle usually is setup so that you can keep your back straight. For those of you who suffer from back pain this can be one reason to choose a tricycle. With recumbent bikes the rider is positioned in a seated position as if they’re sitting in a chair. The only difference is that their legs will be straight forward. 

Size – Three wheel bicycles are generally larger compared to a regular bicycle. As we said earlier, this can make it hard to fit through narrow spaces while pedaling. You won’t see a tricycle squeezing its way through traffic. The positive is that for tricycles the size makes the rider more visible to other cyclists, pedestrians, and drivers in vehicles. Recumbent bikes can be more difficult to spot, because of their low profile. I have seen some recumbent cyclists make themselves more visible by installing a fiberglass rod with a flag on their bike to make sure people see them.

Handling – Turning a tricycle isn’t as easy, because of the wider rear. A regular bicycle has a small turning radius, while 3 wheel bikes usually need more space to turn. Recumbent tricycles can handle faster speeds compared to a basic tricycle.

Features of a 3 Wheel Bike

Frame – The frame is the bulk of the 3 wheel bike that gives it shape and connects all the parts together. Frames are made of either aluminum, steel, carbon fiber, or titanium. Frames must be sturdy enough to carry the weight of the rider, but also not weigh a million pounds. Frame builders want to strike a balance between durability, weight, and also price. 

Steel frames are usually on the cheaper side of the price scale, but are also quite heavy. They’ll be durable bikes that last a long time if maintained, but they aren’t easy to lift. Aluminum frames are also less expensive than most other frame materials. The difference between aluminum and steel frames is the weight. Aluminum is much lighter than steel, but sacrifices its strength. Aluminum isn’t as strong as steel. 

Carbon fiber frames are another option. They are incredibly strong, very light, and quite durable. The only downside is that they are more expensive than both steel and aluminum. 

Lastly, there are frames that are made of titanium. Titanium is strong as steel and very light. It’s praised as being somewhat flexible which helps with shock absorption. The only downside is that its expensive. 

Handlebars – Handlebars are what you’ll be holding onto to steer your 3 wheel bike. The handlebars on a tricycle will be one of the determining factors of your posture while riding. A tricycle with “chopper” handlebars that reach close to your chest will be easy to hold onto and keep you in an upright position. If handlebars are too far away it can force you to lean forward. There’s also different variants of handlebars for tricycles that primarily offer a particular style. Handlebars can be made out of the same materials as the frame (aluminum, steel, carbon fiber, and titanium). 

Recumbent bikes can come with actual handlebars while some come with two joystick looking grips for you to steer with.

Pedal – Most of the 3 wheel bicycles you purchase come with basic pedals. You could also install pedals that allow you to clip in. Pedals that allow you to clip in will make your pedaling more efficient and give you more power in your pedaling. Most people riding tricycles aren’t looking for power and speed though.

Another option is installing cages that you can fit your feet into if you want something that allows you to not only pedal on the down stroke, but also get pedal power every time you lift your feet.

Recumbent tricycles are more inclined to have cages or clipped pedals on them. Not are commuters using recumbent tricycles to get to work, but many use them for exercise. These may be serious cyclists who for various reasons can’t ride a bicycle anymore and have transitioned to a recumbent.

When you’re looking at purchasing a 3 wheel bike you should check out the pedals, and determine what type you’ll need for your needs. For many riders, the basic pedals are all that you’ll need.

Wheels – The wheel size is generally what determines the size of a tricycle. You’ll notice that tricycles are described as being 20” or 26” or something similar. This is the size of the tire, and the larger tires are for larger sized tricycles. The larger sizes usually correspond to the amount of weight they can hold as well. 

Seat – There are a variety of tricycle seats that are comfortable for different people. In the same way that some people enjoy a soft mattress while others sleep better on a firm mattress, the same could be said of tricycle seats. Some seats are narrower while others have a wider seat. There’s also varied levels of firmness and give within a seat. Get on your bicycle and give it a spin around the block. You’ll be able to quickly know whether you’re comfortable on your seat or not. The good news is that if your seat isn’t comfortable for you, you could always purchase a seat that is better suited to you. It should also be said that sometimes a bike seat just needs to be broken in. If you rarely ride bicycles it can be uncomfortable to sit on the tricycle until you get used to it over time.

Brakes – Brakes are super important! You wouldn’t want to find yourself going down a hill only to discover that your brakes don’t work. Tricycles are no different than other bicycles. Some 3 wheel bikes only have brakes on the rear tires while others have them for the front and back. This is the same for recumbent bikes as well. Some of the higher line of 3 wheel bikes offer disc brakes.

Extra Accessories – Different bike brands come with different accessories. Each company is different. These can include cargo baskets for carrying things while pedaling. It could also include lights for riding at night or a bell (check out these amazing bike bells!) to alert those around you of your presence. Fortunately, if the 3 wheel bike you purchase doesn’t come with a specific accessory most of them can be equipped if you purchase them separately.

The Different Types of 3 Wheel Bikes

Single speed Tricycles – These tricycles have one speed, because they only have a single gear. This means you can’t change gears depending on the terrain you’re pedaling on. A single speed tricycle is perfect for communities that have level ground. If you live in an area with lots of hills than I would advise staying away from a single speed. Their single speed makes them simple to use, and also easier to maintain. You don’t need to worry as much as maintaining a multi-speed bike. These are also a great option for beginner cyclists, because they won’t need to deal with the gears. Some people enjoy the simplicity of singlespeed tricycles, but they’re for a specific use.

Multi Speed Tricycles – Multi-speed tricycles have multiple gears that can be used to make it easier to ride in a variety of terrain. A lower gear will allow you to climb steeper hills while the higher gears will let you power through the flats with speed. The gearing can be external with a derailleur and drivetrain or have an internal gear hub. Multi-speed tricycles can vary from 3 to 8+ speed.

Recumbent Tricycle – A recumbent trike is a 3 wheeled pedaling machine that sits the rider in a reclined position. Most recumbent riders choose this bike design to allow their weight to be distributed over a larger area rather than all the weight pressed upon a tiny seat.

Electric Tricycles – With the rise in popularity of e-bikes, every type of bicycle is getting “electrified” these days. Electric tricycles have an electric motor and a rechargeable battery. These electric tricycles have a throttle so that you can have assistance while you pedal. This makes it easier for you to go farther distances on your tricycle and also overcome hills that must be climbed. These type of electric tricycles are great for everyone, but also for those with handicapped needs. These tricycles take up to 3.5 to 6 hours to charge.

Folding Tricycle – I couldn’t believe it until I saw it, but there’s also 3 wheel bikes that can be folded up! These foldable tricycles make it easier to store or carry around. Going on a vacation and want to bring your tricycle? There’s no way you could bring a normal 3 wheeled bike with you. But with a folding tricycle all you need to do is fold it up and put it in the car.

Are three wheel bikes good for Seniors?

My grandfather was active his entire life. He was a farmer in California who wasn’t one to stay still for very long. When he was in his eighties our family purchased a tricycle for him to ride around town. He was a big man even later in life, and this 3 wheel bike allowed him to exercise while also going around town. It gave him freedom to get around town, be outside, and keep healthy. While I don’t think tricycles are for everyone, it was definitely a gift that kept giving for my grandfather. I’d encourage seniors who want to be active to get a three wheel bike as it’ll allow them to exercise while also helping with balance to keep them safe.

How to Store a 3 Wheel Bicycle

You’ll need to make sure you have plenty of space in your garage for your 3 wheel bicycle. It’s much harder to hang them vertically on a wall unless you purchase a pulley system that can handle their weight. Most people keep them on the ground and preferably inside. Leaving them outside could cause them to corrode over time. If you have no choice, but to leave them outside you should look into investing in a bike cover.

Buyer’s Guide – 6 Questions to Answer Before Purchasing

What Terrain Will I be Riding in? – Think through where you plan on riding your 3 wheel bike. Will you be riding on primarily flat terrain? Are there lots of hills that will need to be climbed? Knowing what terrain you’ll be pedaling on can help you narrow down what kind of 3 wheel bike to get. A multi-speed tricycle will be better suited for areas with a variety of terrain. A single-speed tricycle is perfect if you’ll be riding in a flat area. Lastly, you may want an electric tricycle if you’d like an extra boost to help you while riding.

What’s your Budget? – Three wheel bikes can range from $ to $$$ depending on the features they come with. An electric tricycle will be significantly more expensive than a single speed trike. Usually folding tricycles are also more expensive than their non-folding counterparts. 

How much do you weigh? – Generally, tricycles can carry more weight than a regular bicycle, but they do have weight capacity. Some tricycles can carry up to 500 pounds of weight. Make sure that the tricycle you purchase can accommodate your weight AND any objects you would like to carry with you.

Will the 3 Wheel Bicycle come setup and ready to ride? – Most three wheel bicycles that are shipped to your home don’t come fully installed. You will need to either put the tricycle yourself by following the instructions or taking it to a local bike shop for them to setup. Obviously, if you buy a used 3 wheel bike it will likely already be ready for use.

Does it have the features you’re looking for? – Think through all the features of a tricycle. These are the features I’ve written about earlier in this article. Decided exactly which ones you want, and make sure the tricycle has them. It’s important to check, because not every 3 wheel bicycle is the same. For example – some come with a large padded seat and others with a narrow bike seat.

What type of 3 wheel bicycle do you want? – Folding, electric, recumbent, or traditional tricycle. Your own personal needs will be the deciding factor here.

Tricycle Size Chart

Tricycle SizeYour Height
20″5′ 3″ and Under
24″5′ 3″ and Over
26″5′ 6″ and Over

While browsing through tricycles and recumbent bikes you should read what the manufacturer says about sizing. Each brand of 3 wheel bike has a slightly different take on trike fitting.

3 of the Best Adult Tricycles on the Market

The Schwinn Meridian 26-Inch Adult Tricycle

The Schwinn Meridian is by far one of the more popular adult tricycles on the market. It offers a comfort ride for those of you looking for leisurely cruises around town or around the neighbor. It’s made of aluminum and comes in a variety of colors. It’s design allows the rider to sit upright with handlebars that can be positioned close to the rider.

The Schwinn Meridian comes in a 24-inch model as well for shorter riders. This is a great bike with one downside. It’s only a single speed. This is not the tricycle to use if you’re going to need to navigate through routes with lots of elevation. You’ve got a single gear, and won’t be able to change gears. It’s a simple mechanic that will make maintenance and riding simpler, but will make hills quite difficult.

Comes with a basket for carrying your goods, and a wider saddle for comfortable seating. Pick your favorite color from a variety of options.

Click Here to View the Schwinn Meridian Price on Amazon

Raleigh Bikes Tristar Multi-Speed Trike

Raleigh suggests this bike is best for those who are 5’2″ to 6’2″. The best part of this tricycle is that it has 3 gears in its internal hub system. This will help you find the right pedal resistance for you. Even with the gears it can be difficult to pedal uphill, because it does weigh 65 pounds in total.

This 3-wheel bicycle comes with a basket that can hold 45 lbs. of material. The fender is a nice touch to keep dirt or wet. Be prepared to take a couple hours setting the bike up from the moment it arrives in the box if you’re going to be doing it yourself.

See the Raleigh Adult 3 Wheel Bike on Amazon Here

Sun Tricycles

Sun is a company based out of Miami that make some killer tricycles. These things are top of the line, heavy duty, and stylish. The only problem is you have to purchase them from a dealer. If your local bike shop can get you one of these than you should definitely look into them. The downside is that they are expensive. You can check out the Sun Website for more info.

3 of the Best Recumbent Tricycles

TerraTrike Rover

The TerraTrike Rover is one of the kings of recumbent tricycles. If you’re looking for a really nice quality recumbent tricycle than look no further. It’s reliable, well built, and great for first and longtime recumbent users.

It has a strong frame that can carry up to 400 pounds which is more than most recumbent on the market. It’s frame is designed to make it easy to get on and off while giving a seat position that provides comfort and also efficient pedaling.

Watch the TerraTrike Rover in Action!

The TerraTrike has 8 speeds which make it easy for riding up hills and on the flats. It’s also equipped with disc brakes which are the provide excellent stopping power. It’s not the cheapest recumbent, but you’re buying a quality product that will stand the test of time.

More information on the TerraTrike Here

Mobo 3-Wheel Recumbent Bicycle Trike

The Mobo 3-Wheel Recumbent Tricycle is perfect for men and women who are anywhere between 4’0″ and 6’3″. This Recumbent has a sturdy steel frame, and is made for rides on flat to slightly sloped terrain.

What makes this Recumbent unique is that it comes with a reverse gear that will allow the rider to go backwards easily. It has a great center of gravity, and two dual “joysticks” for steering.

A great entry level recumbent tricycle for riders who are unable for whatever reason to ride on a traditional two wheeled bicycle. The downside of this bike is that it doesn’t have multiple gears for climbing hills. Great recumbent for casual riding, but not ideal for serious exercise enthusiasts.

Check out the Mobo Reversible Recumbent Trike at Amazon

Catrike Villager w/E-bike Motor

This bad boy is insane. It’s the Catrike Villager with E-Bike Technologies Motor and Battery. In common language it’s an electric recumbent trike. This e-bike recumbent is for those looking for a top shelf recumbent that has gives a little extra assistance while on the ride.

You can read all the details of this amazing e-trike here!

TerraTrike Traveler Folding Recumbent Trike

This TerraTrike recumbent trike is unique in that it completely folds up. One of the difficulties of recumbent bikes can be storage or transporting them. Within a few minutes this recumbent can be unfolded for a quick ride. See the video below for yourself. You can read more about this folding recumbent bike here.

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