Back on the Road Again – This Time with the First Avenue Trike Recumbent
In Issue 146 of BICYCLIST, I began my trike recumbent education. There was a very good reason for my going back to ‘school’: a broken neck from a bicycle accident, and fused C1-3 vertebrae. If I wanted to continue my passion with cycling, it was time to start a new chapter with a new ride.
I gained a fair amount of experience and knowledge with traditional two-wheel recumbents and tandems from my days as a partner at Burley Design Cooperative, back when they still manufactured them. But as for recumbent trikes, that was a whole other ‘course’ of study.
Acclimating to Trikes
In the last issue, I wrote that I considered myself fortunate to get the opportunity to ride, test, and review a collection of models covering the full recumbent trike spectrum. As most of you reading this know already, it can be a huge challenge to find a recumbent trike dealer in your area (or even within hundreds of miles) with any kind of inventory to take test rides. And when it comes to experience or knowledge with trikes, the situation with most conventional IBD’s is a desert environment of guidance. That means most folks wanting to explore the category have to depend heavily on ad copy, internet searches and forums; as well as friends that happen to ride ‘bents. And reviews like this one.
So far, my trike education has been with what are called “tadpole” models that have two front wheels for steering and one rear drive wheel (there’s probably an interesting back story to where and how that designation came to be but that will have to wait for another time). The popularity and main selling points of this design include: stability (a particularly important feature to someone like myself with a fused spine – or anyone with health issues), a smaller frame profile, a sportier ride experience, and a lighter weight.
According to the folks at Avenue Trikes, “we design rugged trikes then price them for casual riders”. Their blueprint for the First Avenue model was to build into the trike features that you would appreciate as you become more experienced; or, as Avenue Trikes puts it, a “more serious rider”. With a MSRP of $1,495 I think you’ll find, like I did, that this trike is an excellent value for someone exploring the recumbent trike market without looking to spend a huge initial outlay to get started.
In an effort to provide quality – and fair – test ride data, especially when comparing a single category like trikes, I use a favorite loop of mine here in Southern California that consists of 40 to 50 miles of mixed road terrain: everything from lots of flats to rolling hills, and even a few sustained climbs. I’ll do this loop a minimum of 30 times, under varying weather conditions, to get a truly complete feel for the good, bad, and ugly of any bike I’m reviewing.
If finding a shop with trikes for test rides is difficult, at least the majority of the trike companies configure their bikes with easy adjustability for a proper initial fit and, later, as you become a more experienced trike aficionado, being able to fine-tune your ride. The First Avenue is no exception. The pedal boom took only minutes to size correctly, accomplished simply with an allen wrench. No tools were required to adjust the recline angle of the seat or set the frame up for correct leg length.
First Impressions of First Avenue Trikes
The seat and frame both adjust to fit riders from 5’2” to 6’6” (or, in recumbent geek, the X-Seam range is 34”- 46”); so being 5’9” I had no size or fit issues. And weighing just over 130lbs got me well under the 300lb max rider weight limit set by the company. A nice bonus is that the seat is not only effortless to adjust it’s a snap to remove completely, also without tools – making it a convenient package for travel. Another ‘stock’ feature of any trike I’ve ridden so far has been the somewhat prerequisite flag mount, which the First Avenue comes with.
My first ‘comfort’ impressions while making these initial adjustments, and doing a quick perfunctory ‘parking lot’ test ride were favorable. Many test miles later, this first take would prove to be spot-on. The 14” high seat has an easy reach to the handlebars, which makes getting on and off the First Avenue an uncomplicated effort. The seat width comes in around 16.5” as we measured. Of course, along with stability, easy in-out of the riding cockpit is a key feature many first-time trike shoppers seek out.
And speaking of stability, the First Avenue’s intelligent geometry enhances this key element of any trike that’s going to be a dependable and safe ride: the BB height of the frame is 12.5”, providing 6” of ground clearance – matched to a 40” wheel base and 31.5” wheel track. Other, more subtle, components that work together to assist with this overall ride experience include the 20” x 1.75” tires; while soaking up some of the road shock, they also easily handled potholes and cracks in the road much better than my former ‘skinny’ 700c road tires. Kingpins that turn on a ball bearing headset, make maneuverability and steering smooth and seamless under a wide range of road conditions.
I logged some painless early miles to get me up to speed with the handling characteristics of the trike before putting in some serious road miles. First up in this process was experimenting with the Promax DSK-310 mechanical disc brakes featured on the First Avenue. My learning curve with disc brakes (in a tadpole trike package), in all honesty, is still an on-going process as I adjust to a different way of braking from my former ‘roadie’ life.
I’m adapting to a whole new set of handling characteristics and technique when it comes to having all the braking action take place with two front wheels – particularly when it comes to applying equal braking pressure to each front wheel to avoid that unnerving, squirrelly drifting that can happen if one wheel gets more braking action than the other. Bottom line: the disc brakes accomplish the goal of smooth and solid stopping power but, for some new to the trike scene, there might be a learning curve for proper use.
Adapting to a New Ride
After 45-plus years of racing (including many solo RAAMs and U.S.C.F. road events), commuting, touring, and recreational riding – the majority of miles all being on a classic road machine – my learning curve might actually be longer than many with this kind of ‘hard-wired’ cycling background. Like most things in life, trike recumbent braking is all about experience according to many of my new trike friends in the know – especially when making an emergency stop or ‘bombing’ a fast downhill.
The First Avenue disc brakes are matched to aluminum brake levers with a convenient parking brake mechanism that will come in handy when you decide to slow down to make a stop at the local Starbucks for your morning cup of Joe with friends.
My first experience with Gripshift-style shifters was some 30 or 40 years ago when the first generation was introduced back in the early dinosaur age of bike components. At the time, they were competing against Shimano and their revolutionary ‘click’ shifting for the road bike market. Gripshift, in their original configuration, were installed at the ends of a road bike’s handlebar drops (were bar-ends also could be mounted). They were clunky, heavy, and bulky – and that’s being diplomatic.
Fortunately, the design and function of this shifter style has improved dramatically over the past 40 years. The First Avenue 24 speed SRAM Gripshifters had a very natural, intuitive feel matched with crisp – and smooth – gear changes across the full range; it’s almost as if the shifters were made for a trike like this. No learning curve involved here!
Up front, the SRAM shifters handled the ‘mandatory’ trike triple front derailleur (30/42/52 chainrings) flawlessly while the same could be said for the rear SRAM X-5 eight speed rear derailleur (11×32). This combination provides a gear range of 19” to 95” – more than adequate I found for my varied test terrain, and I’m pretty confident you’ll come to the same conclusion.
I previously used a crankset that was slightly longer than the 170mm that is stock on this trike. But that really didn’t seem to be a serious issue as I only noted it while reading through the spec sheet on the trike, not while riding. As a side note, when it comes to fit and sizing of a trike, many of the parameters you might have been used to with your previous ride(s) get tossed out the proverbial window – you’re not really comparing apples to apples anymore.
This sizing aspect of trike recumbents just reinforces the importance of the previously mentioned easy adjustability. I’m finding that, over time and as you become more experienced and stronger, it’s important to fine-tune the fit and your position occasionally. The First Avenue gives you this on-going ability with features offering a minimum of time or hassle(s) to implement.
After several hundred miles of riding, the first and most important aspect of the First Avenue was that it didn’t take several hundred miles of riding to feel comfortable on the machine. Especially for those new to the trike scene, the First Avenue is going to be a great introduction to the world of trikes and what they have to offer when a conventional road bike is no longer a viable option – or, maybe, you just want to get back into riding with a stable, safe platform after many years off your former machine.
This is a trike that requires little, if any, break-in saddle time. Well, I should correct that point a bit as any recumbent (trike or two wheel) is going to use different muscle groups (legs, back, and butt) than maybe what you’ve been using in the past. Under hard pedaling, most new riders to the recumbent world find that the most noticeable difference is a pain in the butt – literally.
“This isn’t a trike you have to worry about being gentle with – it’ll take any and all abuse you can throw at it.”
If you ask anyone about their first dozen or so rides on a recumbent, they’ll be quick to tell you to prepare for ‘recumbent butt’ as your posterior adapts to the seated position while pedaling. But it’s part of the introduction to the world of trikes that most riders – myself included – adjust(ed) to pretty quickly.
Since you’ll also be using your back for pedaling leverage at times (like hills), you’ll appreciate the breathable, mesh seat cover with removable padding on the First Avenue. I ended up experimenting with different styles and firmness of foam padding materials to achieve the most comfortable seated position I could find. But the stock seat padding for the casual category of rider should more than handle the job of keeping you comfortable as you roll the miles under.
It seems like there are as many different handlebar configurations in the trike marketplace as there are models. The handlebar design of the First Avenue, like the bike as a whole when it comes to handling, is natural enough that you won’t find yourself in over your head from the very first ride. The learning curve – there’s that term again – is short. Very short.
Numbers that will Matter
Initially, in your daily riding, these numbers probably won’t mean much to you, but after months of use – sometimes in close quarters – you’ll begin to appreciate the very reasonable 12’ turning circle and 6’ turning radius. The First Avenue provides answers to many of the small details often overlooked in this price range – details that otherwise would start to annoy or hinder your enjoyment of a trike over time if not resolved.
There is one ‘elephant’ in the room regarding the one important spec that I haven’t yet mentioned: at 47lbs this isn’t going to be the lightest trike you can purchase. That’s the trade-off for using a chromoly frame to achieve a great value (we did mention the $1,495 MSRP price tag didn’t we?); and the material does provide Avenue Trikes the ability to tout their “rugged” frame claim. This isn’t a trike you have to worry about being gentle with – it’ll take any and all abuse you can throw at it.
I still found the performance characteristics of pedaling efficiency and handling to be comparable to other lighter models (including aluminum) … it’s just that it’s going to take a bit more effort and time on the climbs when pushing 50lbs versus more expensive models weighing 10lbs less (of course, your wallet is also going to be a lot lighter with some of these alternatives). And my former ‘race’ road ride, coming in at 15 lbs, isn’t really a fair starting point for weight comparison to the trike category.
On the flats, the weight of the trike wasn’t a huge issue but I did notice a definite slowing down when it came to the extended climbs on my test circuit. Again, more than a few trike friends commented that a recumbent is often going to require the rider to ‘spin’ more to maintain speed and efficiency no matter what the weight or build material is. This can be a skill that takes a bit of time to master.
If you want to save a few pounds (both with your trike and wallet) you’ll need to opt for an aluminum frame pushing $1,000 – or more. But if you fall into the ‘casual’ category that Avenue Bikes designed this recumbent for, save your money. This is especially true if most of your riding is going to be on flatter terrain, you’re looking to explore the trike market for the first time, or have a significant other that you’ll have to justify purchasing a new toy to. This will be a purchase easy to justify!
As the industry joke goes, you have many color choices with the First Avenue – as long as it’s blue (their term, actually, for the deep blue color is “Reflex Blue”). Transporting the First Avenue should be a breeze and uncomplicated for most of your road trips after you take the seat off (easy to do, as noted earlier), making the height 25” (otherwise, the total height is 29”). Total length is 66” (depending on rider height or seat recline), and, as noted earlier, width is 34”.
If you live in wet environments like the Northwest, consider the rear fender ($23.95). For commuting, shopping, or other basic errands, the aluminum rear rack is a must ($64.95). They offer a water bottle cage ($10.95) but your local bike shop also offers plenty of options with this common accessory as well.
I’ve become a huge fan of mirrors for cycling since breaking my neck. I actually prefer two: one on the bike and another on the helmet or sunglasses. You can’t go wrong with their Mirrycle Mirror at $18.95. Avenue Trikes offer an economical and simple wireless computer option with sensor mount for $41.95; if you need just the sensor mount alone, that’s $9.95. Other ‘custom’ accessory options include a rack top bag ($59.95) and utility panniers (pair) at $51.95 – great for the commuter or a quick dash to the grocery store.
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