Utah Trike's TerraTrike Commuter
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I love to ride my trikes and I really love the TerraTrike platform. One of our guiding principles at Utah Trikes, is that no two individual riders are the same, so why should their trikes be the same. As part of a custom shop, I spend a lot of time helping trikers decide which trike, and which components will be best for their riding needs. I’ve spent a lot of time testing and riding with different components, upgrades and accessories, so I’ve got a pretty good idea of what works well in different situations.
It may seem strange for the guy that prototyped The Commuter to be the one that actually reviews it. Since, that is the case, I am writing this “review” as more of a walkthrough of this trike to aide you in understanding why I chose these components, and help you decide if this is the trike for you.
My idea with The TerraTrike Commuter, was to create a trike specifically for the more-than-casual rider that would be using the trike as a daily commuter, touring vehicle, and a general car replacement. With this in mind, I wanted a trike that was designed for dealing with traffic and city streets, but would also be able to handle whatever was thrown at it. Speed is important, but ease of use, comfort, and reliability are main considerations.
I really like internal hubs, and this has been one of our most popular upgrades. With that in mind I wanted to create a model that came stock with our most popular hub upgrades. I wanted to take it even further than that though, and make sure that everything about this trike would be “made for the road.” We’ve tested each component in the shop and with thousands of miles on the road.
When I first started talking to WizWheelz about The Commuter, it was obvious that we would want to use their aluminum frame, based on the TerraTrike Race (now known as the TerraTrike Sport Pro). This frame is made in the USA from 6061 Aluminum and then heat treated for strength. This proven frame has a high degree of adjustability both for the seat and the boom and is incredibly strong.
The Commuter uses the proven TerraTrike kingpin design and linkage steering. This arrangement facilitates the Ackerman steering control that provides positive tire contact with the road, and reduces tire scrub. The linkage tierods connect from the kingpin to the handlebar assembly. The handlebar is thereby isolated from road vibrations reducing hand fatigue. The leverage action makes steering easy and requires minimal effort.
To make sure that the steering motion is fluid, we take the time to fit and lubricate each pivot point. Bushings are individually reamed if necessary to appropriate the perfect fit.
We consider proper alignment to be a very important performance aspect of each trike we build. We start by aligning the handlebar to center and then, each wheel gets aligned by using the appropriate tierod. We recommend a toe-in setting of 0-1.5mm. Toe-in is usually only needed to compensate for slop in the steering system. As long as everything is fitted properly, there should be no measurable slop.
The Commuter has right and left independent disc brakes. We use 160mm rotors and Avid BB5 disc calipers that can be upgraded to the Avid BB7 or Juicy 7 brakes if desired. The advantage to having control over each brake individually is the ability to use the brakes in high speed cornering. For the left brake lever we use a Promax locking brake lever to serve as a parking brake. This is a great convenience for the rider that will be using their trike as a commute vehicle and doesn’t want to mess with a rubber band or strap.
In the front of The Commuter we use a pair of stock WizWheelz aluminum wheels as a starting point. These wheels are lightweight and machine made. With The Commuter, we take the extra step of hand truing each wheel and adjusting the tension of each spoke as needed. This extra step ensures that your wheels stay aligned better and will stay true longer.
In the rear we have contracted with one of the premiere wheel builders in the USA and have our wheels hand built around the Shimano Nexus hub. Since much of the turning force and load bearing capacity of the trike is absorbed by the rear wheel, we searched hard for a wheel that would be strong enough and yet still lightweight. After much testing, we finally decided on the Sun City Lite 20x1.75 wheel. This wheel is super strong and is perfectly matched for the Marathon Plus 20x1.75 tire.
There is nothing worse than getting a flat when you are commuting to work. Getting a flat at any other time is not much better though. I’ve been working with Schwalbe for quite some time, and have road tested almost all their recumbent tires myself. For high-mileage reliability there is only one tire that we considered and that is the Schwalbe Marathon Plus.
To help prevent tube flats, we start by replacing the stock rubber tire liners on the front wheels and fit Schwalbe Rim Liners to all three wheels. We then fit the Marathon Plus tires using Schwalbe Easy Fit Mounting Liquid to ensure no damage to the tire or rim. Each tire is then inflated to max pressure and trueness is rechecked.
The Commuter uses two different sized tires to provide the ultimate ride and performance. In the front, we use the 20x1.35 Marathon Plus tires at 95 PSI. These skinnier tires provide a minimum rolling resistance, while still giving a comfortable ride and maximum flat protection. In the rear we use the 20x1.75 Marathon Plus tire at 70 PSI. This wider tire provides better traction while still having a low rolling resistance. The lower pressure in the rear combined with the increased volume of air in the larger tire provides just the right amount of rear suspension to ensure a comfortable ride on almost all roads. The pressure in the tires can be adjusted to fit the individual riders desired comfort level.
As part of the wheel set, we include a rear fender as standard equipment. This keeps the rear of your trike dry and clean, and your back and head from getting wet. As an option we can also outfit The Commuter with additional front fenders.
The most exciting feature of The Commuter is its drivetrain components. We combine two of our favorite internal hub solutions with our own custom idler kit to create an ultra-reliable, high-performance solution.
In the front, we have equipped The Commuter with the Schlumpf High Speed Drive. This two-speed transmission shifts with the heel and provides the gearing equivalent to a 27/68-tooth double crankset. The Schumpf HSD is much more reliable than a standard triple crankset and allows us to create a very clean chain line and avoids the danger of a large chainring in the front of the trike. While the majority of riders will spend most of their time in the overdrive gear (68T), the fixed gear mode (27T) ensures that you will never get stuck going up a hill. For more details read my review on the Schlumpf High Speed Drive.
In the rear, we have paired the Schlumpf HSD with the Shimano Nexus Inter8 Premium Red Band Hub (Nexus8). The Nexus8 is an extremely efficient hub with an internal 8-speed transmission. Shifting of the Nexus8 can be done while coasting, stopped, or pedaling under load. For the serious commuter, this is an extremely valuable feature. Riding in traffic is much easier because you can now stop at an intersection and then shift without having to worry about downshifting. If you have to make a sudden stop for any reason, there is nothing to worry about since you’ll never be stuck in a high gear.
For our stock configuration, we use a 19T sprocket on the Nexus8, which gives us a total gear range of 15-115 Gear Inches. There are 16 gear choices total, with a slight overlap going from the high to low settings on the Schlumpf HSD to more easily facilitate shifting. With the Schlumpf’s overdrive enabled, low gear on the Nexus8 is set at about 38 Gear Inches. This makes it the perfect gear for starting from a stop in most situations. The most efficient gear combination is when the Nexus8 is in 5th gear. This gear combination is 72 gear inches, which means most riders will be able to travel at 17-25MPH depending on your cadence. Top gear at 115GI will let most riders still pedal at about 41MPH. One of the nicest things about the Schlumpf/Nexus8 combination is that the gear range can be moved up or down fairly easily by just swapping out the rear sprocket for one of a different size. For more information on this read our Ultimate Gearing Modification Article.
The final aspect of The Commuter’s drivetrain is the custom idler arrangement. Instead of using the typical side-by-side TerraTrike idlers, we are using our custom High Performance Idler Kit. We worked closely with TerraCycle to create this kit and are proud to include it on The Commuter as stock equipment. This kit lends itself perfectly to The Commuter’s two-sprocket gearing. With the High Performance Idler Kit we are able to run the chain through only one power idler and in a straight line instead of angling the chain sideways. This has several advantages, including:
• Decreased drag
• Increased power to the rear wheel
• Ultra smooth and quiet
• Increased ground clearance
For more information read our dedicated page on the High Performance Idler Kit.
The final drivetrain consideration is the cranks and pedals. We include the standard Schlumpf 170mm crank arms, but also offer optional cranks as short as 152mm. While the 170mm cranks are the best for most people, the shorter cranks are made for those with shorter legs or trikers that just want to get a higher cadence. Attached to the crank arms are Shimano M520 SPD Clipless pedals. Clipless pedals are essential to getting the best performance from your trike, and are an important safety consideration. Just in case you don’t have your cycle shoes, we fit platform adapters to one side of the pedals.
If you are looking for a replacement for your car, whether for daily commuting, touring, or casual exercise, your ride needs to be comfortable. That’s one of the biggest reasons that people choose TerraTrikes as their ride of choice. The more comfortable you are, the more likely you’ll be to ride and the longer distances you’ll be able to travel. In keeping with TerraTrike tradition, The Commuter features an extremely comfortable mesh seat that has adjustable recline and fore/aft positioning. On the bottom of the seat there are four positions spaced at one-inch increments.
To further adjust for proper leg length the boom in the front has about eight inches of adjustable travel.
The seat’s recline angle can be adjusted 40-70 degrees. This is done by pulling the pins from the rear seat rods and lining up the holes to a new position. There are six positions total, so it’s pretty easy to dial in a comfortable angle. The recline angle will vary somewhat depending on which of the bottom four seat positions is used.
To further increase your riding comfort, we include our own adjustable lumbar support. Unlike some other seats that have a predetermined lumbar position, our simple pad can be moved where you need it most, or even removed. I even like to use it up by my shoulders for more upper back support. The choice is yours.
Being on the road for long periods of time means that you will inevitably need to deal with other cyclists, cars, people, and maybe even animals. While I feel comfortable dealing with traffic, I always assume that no one is paying attention. With that in mind, we’ve outfitted The Commuter with some important safety essentials as stock equipment.
Mirrycle Mirrors – We include two mirrors on The Commuter so you can better pay attention to your surroundings. These mirrors are great and provide a good-sized view area to monitor oncoming traffic.
Custom Flag – While we may not always ride with the flag on our trikes, it’s there when you want it. To mount the flag you simply poke the pole through the top of the seat frame. The flag comes with an extension pole, so it can be ran at a 4-6 foot height. The flag is made of a reflective material with tassels to increase visibility.
AirZound Horn – When dealing with traffic some drivers need more than a flag to bring you to their attention. The AirZound horn is a rechargeable air horn that sounds a near-deafening blast that gets noticed. I have found that the AirZound horn makes me feel much more confident on the road. We mount the AirZound on the right-hand Mirrycle mirror support bar, which places the horn’s button in an easy to reach position.
Optional Lights – We don’t include any light kits, because rider’s needs will vary a lot depending on how much casual riding you will do. A daytime commuter may just want a basic headlight and tail light combo, while a nighttime commuter may want to get the L&M Arc Light which rivals some car headlights.
While your personal on-the-road tool kit needs may vary, we’ve included the basics.
Pump – The Commuter comes with the Planet Bike Ozone Mini Pump, which includes a built-in pressure gauge. Although you probably will never need it to pump up the Marathon Plus tires, it is there in case you need it. The pump can also be used to recharge the AirZound horn.
Custom TerraTrike Tool Kit – This small kit includes most of the tools you’ll ever need for basic maintenance. It also includes some basic tire levers and a patch kit.
If you will be using your trike for more than just casual riding, eventually you’ll need to carry stuff. The commuting triker may need to bring a laptop, and the touring rider may need a tent and a few changes of clothes. So, for you we’ve included a great cargo package.
Custom TerraTrike Aluminum Rear Rack – A rack that fits perfectly on the back of a 20”-wheel-equipped trike is not something most bike shops carry. Our custom Aluminum Rack by WizWheelz is completely adjustable and can be lowered to rest just above the fender. The support bars attach to the rear seat stays and can be adjusted to accommodate any seat angle.
Cargo bags – Attached to the rack we include three Axiom cargo bags. On the top is the Magellan 7.5 Liter Trunk Bag, which makes the perfect day bag and storage for your tool kit. On the sides, the Cartier 20-Liter Pannier Bags are large enough to carry a set of clothes, laptop, and even some groceries. The Axiom bags are made from a highly reflective material to aide in visibility. We chose the Axiom bags because they are highly water resistant and have an excellent lifetime guarantee.
Like any mechanical device, The Commuter does require some maintenance. Most of the nuts and bolts use nylon lock nuts, so it is typically unnecessary to retighten tighten bolts.
Adjusting the cable for the Nexus8 is very easy and doesn’t require any guesswork. Just shift to 4th gear and turn the cable adjuster until the yellow marks on the hub line up.
The chain should be lubricated periodically. Since there is no derailleur, the chain is kept properly tensioned by adjusting the front boom, and our custom spacer.
The Schlumpf drive should be lubricated every 1000 or so miles with the included lubrication. Other than lubrication, the Schlumpf HSD requires no further maintenance. The Nexus8 hub will typically go 10,000 miles without any maintenance.
Wrapping it up
If you are looking for an everyday trike that you can put a lot of miles on, The Commuter is something we are sure you’ll be happy with. We feel that we’ve chosen a terrific set of components and accessories that are ideal for the serious triker. Comfortable and easy to ride, The TerraTrike Commuter IS made for the road.
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Ask your question or share your comments below:
Very interesting article. Thanks. I was especially interested in the Schlump/Nexus drive combo.
Posted by Mike
10/10/2009 09:25:08 AM
I Love trikers!their the most funnest thing anyone could have!I love the pink ones.my friend Laura has one!
Posted by skinny
10/16/2009 11:33:36 PM
I am an even 6 feet tall, but have about a 29 1/2 inch inseam. Does that make me a candidate for the 152mm crank arms?
Posted by Bud
02/12/2010 03:14:40 PM
Shorter cranks will allow you to keep a higher cadence. You would be comfortable with the 170s or 152s, it really depends on if you want to become a spinner.
Posted by Ashley
Would this work with the Alfine 11 or nuvinci 360? What is your view of the added cost/benefit analysis.
Posted by poppa jasper
10/30/2013 12:17:27 AM
The Terratrike commuter was a trike package that we put together about 5 years ago.
We can make similar packages on any of the newer trikes we offer now.
One of the key components is the use of the internal gearing which allows you to shift at any time and offers more convenience and less maintenance than a standard derailleur setup.
We have found the Schlumpf/Alfine8 combination to offer a very usable wide gear range. We have set many trikes up with the Alfine 11, but the added gear range is not substantial and the Alfine11 shifter is somewhat clumsy. The Nuvinci N360 is a very popular rear gearing solution and pairs very nicely with the Alfine 8 in overall range when combined with the Schlumpf HSD. The Nuvinci is slightly heavier and a bit less efficient than the Alfine, but makes up for that by allowing you to dial in your cadence and pedaling effort more precisely.
Posted by Ashley