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Wednesday, May 6th 2009


Four Wheels Good – Three Wheels Different

Our regular contributor Gordon Koppang from Lethbridge, Alberta recently sold his Rhoades Car 4W1P single seater and purchased a Catrike Villager tadpole-style tricycle (two wheels in the front, one in the back). Gordon lives "car-free", so the Villager is his only vehicle. He recently put together some thoughts on his new trike versus the Rhoades Car for us.

Four Wheels Good – Three Wheels Different

By Gordon Koppang

I continue to be impressed at how beautifully made the Villager is. I love the fact that they sorted out the front end: built the proper Ackerman angle into the steering geometry and it is also “self-centering.” That means the bike will track straight when I take my hands off the bars. It also means the bumps and irregularities in the road will not throw the bike off its line.

I love the fact that, at 32 lbs, the Villager is light enough and small enough that I can easily take it on the elevator. It sleeps in my living room snug as a bug!

Things I don’t like:

To squeeze maximum gear range out of a 9-speed, they fitted the Villager with an 11-32 cassette. To get the chain around that 32-tooth sprocket, you need a long-cage dérailleur. But long-cage dérailleurs and 20-inch wheels are a bad mix. In bottom gear the dérailleur arm is less than an inch off the dirt. I can’t ride in the coulees with that!

Aluminum is light-weight, but it’s so stiff that it gives the bike a harsh ride and very abrupt handling. Scott’s brother is an old formula Vee race driver. He said right away, “When your frame is stiff it passes all the “give” on to the wheels. So the wheels “wind-up” over a bump, then spring back – making for abrupt handling and sometimes nasty surprises.

A tricycle is a tricycle is a tricycle. Clobbering my way through bumps and turns never gave me a lick of trouble with the Rhoades Car, but doing that on the Villager will dump me out! When turning with a trike, inertia is not your friend! The Villager has a great, very tight – turning circle, but add a bit of speed and a bump to a sharp turn and the Villager just rolls over like a kayak in a swimming pool. It’s not a fault, it’s just physics and I need to re-calibrate my brain.

The Villager actually requires some skill to ride. The direct steering requires a light touch. Don’t yank the bars; nudge them. Maybe I’m getting the hang of this three-wheeler, though, today I went around a corner on two wheels and landed upright!

I am definitely much faster on the Villager than I was on the Rhoades Car. The difference comes down to weight: about 90 pounds for the RC and around 30 pounds for the Villager. I get to all my familiar destinations faster than before and with less effort. To burn the same number of calories with the Villager than I used to burn riding the RC, I’ll have to run all my errands three times over!

The Villager is intended to serve as a town bike, as the name implies. I chose it because it has a higher seat height and more ground clearance than most other tadpole trikes. Only the ICE-T has a 12.5-inch seat height and similar ground clearance – but the ICE-T costs about $1,000 more than the Villager's US$1550 retail price. The Villager has a more upright seat angle than most tadpoles, and I like that. The pedals are mounted only a smidgen higher than the seat, so you don’t get that “ankles-over-ass” seating position that some all-out speed trikes force you into.

Over time I will upgrade the gearing and replace the stock 1.5-inch tires with 1.95s or even 2.0s if the rims will permit it. Interestingly, Schwalbe makes a studded tire that fits the Villager!

The big test will come when Scott and I strike out for Cardston. Town bike or not, the Villager is a far better choice for long out-of-town rides than the 4W1P ever could have been.

The other news here in Lethbridge: my friend Scott is now Car Free! His 1985 VW Sirocco needed to be replaced, so it was time for a new car, or time for “no car”. Since he cycles everywhere, even in winter, it just didn’t make sense to spend a huge pile of money on a new car only to have it sit idle most of the time. So instead of spending a pile of money on a new car, Scott will treat himself to a new trike- probably something from the TerraTrike line. Of course, I still hope that he’ll go nuts and buy a Hase KettWiesel!

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