Dear Umbra,

I want to reduce my carbon footprint. I already take a commuter train to work, but the station is down a steep hill from my house, so I drive the first mile or so in the morning and back up the hill at night. The train station has lock-ups for cycles and I’m interested in that — but I have a disability that affects my whole right side, arm, foot, leg. I’m not able to stay balanced on a conventional two-wheeled bike but have seen specialty adult-sized tricycles around town — mostly pedicabs for tourists. Do you know where I can find a lightweight, adult-sized tricycle or someone who can custom make one for me?

SMA
Kensington, Calif.

Dearest SMA,

Something new every day, that’s what we learn. There are plenty of adult tricycles to choose from — one thing I learned today. I’d never seen one, but they’re popular enough to be carried by Wal-Mart — my other surprise. Like most holier-than-thou Wal-Mart haters, I’ve only set foot in one Wal-Mart (15 years ago; I bought a little photo album for quite a reasonable price). According to the internet, Wal-Mart carries at least two adult trikes, including a foldable one. These look great for folks who need stability and cargo space.

When you feel like a third wheel.

A few short weeks ago, during the onset of Bicycle Obsession, we discussed European cargo bikes. Adult tricycles belong in the same family. They’re sturdy, with big seats — sometimes even chairs in lieu of seats — and usually a big wire basket between the two back wheels. Also like European cargo bikes, I think trikes are designed for flatter terrain. One Schwinn trike is single-speed, another is three-speed; Worksman makes a three-speed with a full chair-style seat; and Freedom Concepts makes a seven-speed. (I found all of these on an “adult tricycle” internet search, and there are others out there; a few are available for delivery.)

How can you transform a bike designed for flatter, low-key riding into one that you can ride up a steepish hill? I have a few ideas, but you should also talk with an actual bike mechanic about your hill, your physical abilities, and whether my ideas or other modifications will actually result in a workable situation.

One option you might want to look into is modifying whatever trike you’re interested in by adding more gears. Gears control how easy or hard it is to pedal the bicycle. Three speeds don’t give much range of pedaling ease, but more gears would. However, there may not be space to add the needed chain rings that would give you more gears. In that case, you might consider adult “training wheels”, which might work for your needs, and would get around the problem of a three-speed trike. Instead of the trike, you would buy a regular mountain bike with lots of gears, and attach these extra wheels for balance. Bike Rack, the company selling the training wheels, has a wide range of parts and bikes for atypical cyclists such as yourself.

Here’s my other suggestion: toe clips, which are the little baskets that attach to the pedals. They keep your foot on the pedal, but more importantly they maximize muscular effort of your leg. Without toe clips, your foot only powers the bike on the downstroke. If your foot is attached to the pedal, it can continue to turn the gears during the upstroke as well, because it will pull up on the clip and lift the pedal. Clip-in shoes are the step beyond toe clips: special shoes the rider clicks in to special pedals. They attach very tightly and maximize pedaling efficiency, but it can be a hassle to wear special shoes and hard to get the hang of clipping in and out in a hurry.

If you do get a trike, look into toe clips, but be aware of the attendant safety hazards. A rider needs to be able to quickly slip a foot out of the clip if the need arises, and it’s dangerous to have clips attached and let them drag along the ground, as they may snag on random items.

I have high hopes that you’ll be able to find a good solid trike and easily adapt it. You and your styling ride are going to be the talk of the commuter train.

Spokily,
Umbra