In Search of A Million Lifetime Miles: Breaking Into Three Wheels With The Greenspeed GT20
“This is a review I didn’t want to have to write, really, and there is a very good back story for that sentiment.”
Last summer I had a life-changing crash on my road bike that put me in the hospital for a week with a broken neck and included an 8-hour surgery to fuse the C1-3 vertebrae. All things considered, I’m lucky and blessed not to be in a wheelchair. I initially didn’t realize how serious my injuries were and actually let a good Samaritan give me a ride home from the crash site. But after lying on my bed for a few minutes – with no one else around at this point, I realized I was in big trouble and called 911 from my cell still in my back jersey pocket. The neurosurgeon was dumbfounded that I had been moved from the crash site, and hadn’t ended up paralyzed.
Originally, I had planned on returning to my road bike after recovery and physical therapy but the fusion surgery severely limited my head movement to such an extent that I couldn’t hold my head up for any length of time on a conventional road bike. And the decline in my right-left head movement was 50% less than normal (the C1-2 vertebrae control much of a person’s neck movement).
After 40-plus years of touring globally, regularly commuting, and racing in USCF I-II road events, and various ultra competitions like solo RAAM four times, it looked like my cycling days might be over. My personal goal of reaching a million lifetime miles was in jeopardy, even having completed close to 900,000 miles already. The number of days over the past decades that I didn’t do something cycling related is less than 30.
With the idea that I may never cycle again, I got a call from a friend in the industry who wondered if I would be interested in doing a review of a new model Greenspeed recumbent trike he had become familiar with. I hadn’t really thought too much about trikes as being a serious alternative to traditional road cycling, but I jumped at the chance to learn more.
A week later, I received delivery of the Greenspeed GT20, a new model for the Australian company, and my education of tricycles commenced. While most of my cycling has been on traditional road machines, tandems, or my folding Bike Friday for travel, I did have some experience with two-wheel recumbents from my days as a partner of Burley Design Cooperative (when they still produced recumbents and tandems out of Eugene, Oregon).
One of my Burley roles (besides sales) was working as a public relations liaison with various editors at a wide range of cycling publications – usually doing epic rides on a Burley tandem (such as the White Rim trail in Utah in one day). I even got an opportunity to ride on a Burley tandem at the Solvang Century over a decade ago. It was a great gig that included lots of travel to major cycling events like Ragbrai, Hotter ‘n Hell 100, recumbent/tandem rallies, and more, but my experience with trikes has been non-existent.
Upon receiving the GT20, I was pleasantly surprised that this machine was well made and designed – definitely not the beach-cruiser trike I had envisioned. Just as important, I was being given back a little bit of the freedom that all of us experience with our first rides on two (now three) wheels. It’s difficult to put a price on the feeling of the wind on your face when you move down the road under your own power. Many of us can recall how much our first bikes gave us the opportunity to explore and ‘escape’ the local neighborhood.
When I got on the GT20 for the first test ride, I felt like a kid again; and with every additional ride, my quality of life improved dramatically as I got back some of that freedom I thought I lost in the crash. The stability and comfort of Greenspeed’s GT20 recumbent trike was impressive right out of the box. I realize that many experienced recumbent riders already understand the advantages and comfort of a seated recumbent position, but for someone new to the trike category it offered me a shot at starting a new chapter in
my cycling career.
I wasn’t quite sure how folks in many of the cycling groups I previously rode with would ‘accept’ a trike as valid transportation or as a recreational vehicle. Even in my Burley days, when I would hit the road to promote our recumbents or tandems at various events, recumbents would often get a mixed reception from the ‘serious’ cycling crowd. I learned on many events that my presence on a recumbent wasn’t always welcome in some of the packs of riders, and because recumbents were considered ‘slow’ by some of the roadies with an attitude (you know the type), I delighted all the more in being able to keep up with many of the fastest packs. Even if begrudgingly by some, at that time, the Burley recumbent started to receive respect as the week progressed.
A Reasonable Alternative
Ever since my Burley days, I understood and appreciated the many reasons someone might opt for a recumbent cycling alternative – including health or comfort issues. Over the years, I’ve had to remind a few of my cycling friends on their high-zoot carbon fiber wonders and full ‘racing’ kit that while recumbents might look strange, we’re all part of the same cycling community. Some of ‘em never got or understood this message.
This philosophy towards all forms of cycling – as I step up on the proverbial soapbox – has never changed over my 45 plus years of riding. I truly believe that it’s important to have respect for all of the many varieties of cycle options available these days and everyone is considered a ‘cyclist’ in my book. I’d much prefer to ride in traffic with as many drivers as possible that also consider themselves cyclists. And now, it was my turn to experience the other side of this ‘alternative’ cycling spectrum.
I was a bit surprised – shocked actually – by the enthusiastic response of the general public to the GT20 trike. I’ve never been approached by so many strangers with questions or compliments about my ride as I had with the Greenspeed trike. Even my junior high school nephews, who can be pretty selective when it comes to what’s ‘cool’, saw my trike as ‘sick’, which I think is a good thing [Ed. It is]. It’s been a treat to be able to once again ride with my nephews during summer break.
“Over the years, I’ve had to remind a few of my cycling friends, on their high-zoot carbon fiber wonders and full ‘racing’ kit, that while recumbents might look strange, we’re all part of the same cycling community.”
But if you’ve been riding trikes or recumbents long enough, I’m probably not telling you anything new. With every new ride on the GT20, I also began to appreciate the quality build of the frame and commonsense component spec.
I travel a standard 40-plus mile loop near my home for most of my test/review rides as it allows me to compare the ride characteristics and performance of various bikes under similar conditions, including weather. Generally, I have the luxury of putting in 1,000 to 2,000 miles on any bike before putting together a review. I also take the opposite approach to some reviewers by not looking too closely at the spec or manufacturer’s promotional materials until I’ve finished my period of test rides.
Being new to this style of bike, I don’t have the years of experience many have, but that also allows me to come into a review like this with a clean slate, without any preconceived ideas or biases of what a trike should be.
Nuts and bolts
The weight of the Greenspeed G20 was impressively light (37 lbs) and stiff, no doubt due to the use of aluminum alloy 7005 tubing and a new frame design from Greenspeed. The weight is not bad for a trike that also easily folds. For some folks, a ‘stiff’ frame isn’t always a positive but as Greenspeed notes, “mechanical suspension (popular on many current trike designs) inevitably adds weight which you feel at the first stroke of the pedals.” It’s a design philosophy that I found spot-on for a high-performance machine like this. Being lean myself (Greenspeed touts the GT20 as a “leaner, meaner machine”), I appreciate having every bit of power that I put into a bike’s pedals not being wasted.
The GT20 doesn’t totally lack the comfort that some riders seek with mechanical suspension, using what Greenspeed terms ‘virtual suspension’: they spec custom (and recently redesigned) Scorcher 120 tires – helping to blunt some of the initial road shock from reaching the rider; a frame designed with a bit of built-in flex; and a seat laced with shock cord (and with the frame being anodized instead of being powder coated, the seat fabric moves more easily on the frame).
Having plenty of experience and miles riding on Burley’s recumbents many years ago, I was prepared for a sore backside, or what some call, ‘recumbent butt’. But after just a few rides, I found the seat incredibly comfortable with a break-in period of less than a week. I later learned that much of this comfort is intentional, and designed by a chiropractor with both lumbar and shoulder support.
For someone new to the trike scene, I found the ease of (quick release) adjustments with many aspects of the GT20 critical to my quick adaptation to a recumbent trike: seat angle and height takes seconds to dial in (making it very uncomplicated to try different positions for optimal performance), changing the frame size is a breeze (the boom clamp is an external clamp, rather than part of the frame) for a wide range of X-seams, even handlebar width can be customized.
The only adjustability issue I faced was with tightening the handlebar QR levers – they required a lot of leverage and force to close ‘em so that they wouldn’t move. I would imagine that with some easy modifications you could make the clamping surfaces grip better to minimize any kind of movement so as not to have to use extreme force to shut tightly.
I wish the Chain Gobbler ($149 option), a special device that automatically adjusts the chain length as the crank extension is moved in or out, was a stock component. Since I was ‘passing around’ the trike among various riders to play with, the Chain Gobbler was essential to keeping modifications easy, simple and quick. I’m not sure why anyone would want a trike like the G20 without this nifty feature. For dealers, of course, this is a no-brainer accessory for test rides.
Geometry and Handling
The GT20 is built around a completely new frame design from Greenspeed: a rectangular cross-section main tube and curved cross member with no welds. The one-piece curved crossed member is supposed to make mounting or dismounting easier, but at 61 years young, I’m still a bit of a klutz and found myself always a bit challenged getting into or out of the GT20.
Obviously, moving from a traditional road bike to a trike had me concerned with handling and steering control. I had nothing to worry about, as it turns out, with what Greenspeed terms their “Cross Over” steering. Unlike less sophisticated direct steering systems I would ride later (where the handlebars are an extension of the kingpins), the GT20 has a very small turning radius making the machine
Adding to my comfort with the new ride were many small details like the 5 degrees of wheel camber that helps to increase stability, while not increasing overall width. Being narrow, to begin with (overall width is just 31”), this camber feature makes it even easier to squeeze through particularly tight spaces (the tire – not the axle end – will be the first contact with any tight entryway).
One area that proved challenging to me as a new trike rider, was the proper braking technique for optimal slowing/stopping on fast descents without pulling the trike sharply to one side or the other. It probably wasn’t smart to bomb the downhills on my test loop before getting a full handle on the braking characteristics of the Greenspeed 90mm drum brakes. Greenspeed does say that the drum brakes “may take some time to bed in (to) give their best performance”. To be totally honest, my experience with disc or drum brakes is minimal It’s only been a recent development where disc brakes have become more popular on conventional road bikes.
Greenspeed opted for drum brakes over a disc spec for several reasons, including a “shoe size (that) is larger than the pads used in disc brakes, making them practically everlasting, the drums also give a cleaner appearance”. Greenspeed says that “most disc brakes are fiddly to adjust, the rotor can easily get bent, and the pads can have a short life, plus it can be difficult to remove the wheel”. As a side note, while testing other trike recumbents using disc brakes, I faced the same issue of proper braking technique so that the bike wouldn’t pull to one side or the other when having to brake sharply on a fast downhill.
I’ve always liked bar end shifters – especially for touring and world travels where durability and easy component maintenance are critical. No batteries to recharge or complex shifting levers to worry about with the GT20.
In my ‘former’ roadie life, anything under 11 speeds was considered ancient technology – especially if it wasn’t electronic. But the 8-speed Ultegra bar end shifters on the GT20 performed flawlessly for me with every shift, every mile, on my test loop over several months of use (the 165mm 56/42/28 front chainrings are matched to an 11/32 cassette on the rear). Greenspeed opted for a non-Shimano spec with their front derailleur MicroShift, figuring riders would appreciate needing only ½ the force to shift compared to, say, the Shimano Sora FD.
Over 40 years ago, I coined the term ‘credit card’ touring for an article I did for Bicycling Magazine. It’s an approach to ‘touring’ without all the weight of camping gear. Family, friends, or hotels serve as one’s nightly accommodations. The G20 would be a perfect application for this (as well as commuting or sports/recreational use). And for those international trips (or long domestic car trips), the frame is hinged for easy portability (rear half can be folded over the front, and will fit in most car trunks).
The Greenspeed luggage rack ($89) is made of 10mm tubular high tensile aluminum alloy (translation: they’re light) and is rated to carry 66lbs – far more than you’ll need for most ‘light’ touring. Other options to consider include the accessory clamp and post with mirror ($29), light mount ($25 each), front fenders (set $195), and headrest ($139).
I definitely needed the mirror option because of my limited neck/head movement (I also researched and tested various helmet and sunglass mirror options on the market but that’s another article). Living in Southern California, where it ‘never’ rains, makes fenders less of a priority – however, during my time in Oregon, group rides always required rear fenders as a courtesy to others in the pace-line. I didn’t get a chance to try Greenspeed’s headrest but it’s something that I would consider for any future trike purchase – especially for those of us dealing with major neck or back trauma issues.
The Value Proposition
The spec of the G20 is very reasonable and more than functional; and, matched to their new frame, a great value at $2,690. If I were to have someone design and build a custom trike that was lightweight, high-performance, and great for light touring, it would look a lot like the GT20.
Greenspeed says that the GT20 is a “carefully engineered, lightweight frame, (with) low rolling resistance tires, and an efficient drivetrain, (giving) exceptional performance; which make(s) this trike a real joy to ride, for commuting, touring, or just exercising and having fun”. I couldn’t have said it better.
Since I’ve used my standard road circuit for many test rides/reviews over the years (everything from 20” Bike Fridays to tandems), I have a pretty good record of times under varying conditions. For conventional group rides on my 15lb S-Works Tarmac (or other lightweight singles I’ve owned over the years), the loop has taken typically about an hour and a half. Riding solo generally added another 10 to 15 minutes (for me). The GT20 found me pushing 2 hours plus over the same loop (only once, under ideal conditions, did I ever come close to breaking the 2-hour barrier). The slower times are mostly a result of a rider (me) being new to trikes, and a weight difference of almost 20 to 25 lbs. But given the option of no riding versus being a bit slower, I’ll take the latter any day! Besides, I actually found the GT20 fun to ride and a nice change of pace from my former road days, something I hadn’t really expected.
This article was first published in Recumbent and Tandem Rider magazine.
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