Because the rider is sitting with legs outstretched instead of in the more upright position of a regular bike, the cardiovascular benefits aren't quite as good, says Ben Hurley, professor of kinesiology at the University of Maryland's School of Public Health. But that's a trade-off many riders are willing to make for a ride that's easier on the knees and neck.
Aid to aging joints
Another advantage trikes have over upright or recumbent two-wheelers is that they can be adapted to people with disabilities. The most common adjustable feature on a trike is a higher seat, says Peter Stull, owner of the Bicycle Man in Alfred Station, N.Y. "If a seat is 10 inches off the ground, it's difficult if someone has arthritis in the knees. Eighteen inches is better."
David Jaffe, 63, was looking for a change after he found the road bike he had ridden for years was making his knees hurt. He saw someone riding a recumbent trike and was intrigued. When he tried one, he found it was comfortable and very maneuverable. "Your right hand is on the shifter all the time, so you can change gears comfortably," he says. "Everything is ergonomically well done."
Jaffe chose a Catrike Villager, even though the $1,600 price tag was higher than others he looked at, because at 34 pounds it was lighter and he could put it into the trunk of his Honda Fit.
Accommodating riders with disabilities
Larry Smith, a retired policeman and current breadmaker, was diagnosed with Parkinson's 20 years ago but was still able to ride a regular bike — until he fell off a couple of times. "One thing that goes with Parkinson's is balance," says Smith of Vermillion, S.D.
A couple of years ago he found out about recumbent trikes, bought one from his local bike shop and has been pedaling ever since. His doctor is very supportive; vigorous exercise can help keep Parkinson's at bay.
Smith rides every day, including a 65-mile ride from Sioux Falls to Vermillion in June to raise awareness of Parkinson's. Several hundred people will join him on the ride, and some family members are making a documentary about it.