Australian CYCLIST - This road test was published in the June - July issue, 1998. Australian Cyclist is published by the Bicycle Federation of Australia,

Reprinted with permission. Click on pictures for larger pictures.


Environmentally sound amphetamine?!

by Michael Linke

One of the world's best known recumbent cycle makers is Australia's Greenspeed, run by Ian Sims in Ferntree Gully, Victoria. Ian has been making recumbents since 1990, after leaving his former job at ICI. Needing some cheap transport but not completely comfortable on his son's mountain bike, he built a two-wheeled recumbent which made him feel less like he could go flying over the handlebar, but it wasn't until he saw a photograph of an English-made three-wheeler that he was truly inspired. At last he had found a human-powered vehicle which allowed the rider to relax, forget about hunching over or keeping balanced, and get on with cycling.

He immediately made his own, with modifications and improvements and rode it in the 1990 Great Victorian Bike Ride. Orders came in soon after, and The Greenspeed Touring Trike was launched. While Greenspeed makes a range of recumbents, from basic two-wheelers to hand-cranked machines for disabled people, the best seller is the touring trike. The factory can barely keep up with demand; there are currently 60 trikes on order.

Recumbents suffer from a lot of stigma. To the uninitiated, they appear difficult to control, unstable, and because they are lower to the ground than an upright, less likely to be seen in traffic. Yet, after touring on the Greenspeed for only a couple of days, it became clear that none of these concerns is real.

What emerges is that the Greenspeed is probably the best thing a touring cyclist can wish for.

There are many reasons for this appraisal. The first is that it does away with a conventional saddle. While there are a lot of good sadd1es around, it doesn't matter how thick the gel padding or how well moulded the leather is... Given the choice between sitting for four hours or more on a recliner-rocker or straddling a broom handle, the decision is an easy one. The difference between an upright bicycle and a recumbent is that marked. The touring trike's "saddle" is made of a plastic coated fabric mesh, stretched between steel uprights, and tied together with an elastic shock cord. It is firm, but has some give which is useful for shock absorption.

Then there's the elimination of stress on the rider's hands, arms, back and shoulders. The trike's 'handlebar" is a bullhorn pivoting beneath the saddle. This means that the grips allow the rider's arms and bands to be in a close-to-relaxed position. With the Greenspeed, there's the added advantage that your hands aren't bearing your upper body weight.

 The Greenspeed offers great stability when heavily laden. Although all the luggage is carried on the rear rack this does not cause balance problems as it might on an upright bicycle. During a tour on the Great Ocean Road, the test trike was a load which would fill normal front and rear panniers on the rear only, and the most noticeable effect on handing was that it became less bouncy on corrugations. The special Bunyip Recumbent Pannier Bags are cavernous and come in Bunyip's trademark durable green canvas with gold webbing. They cost $250.

The gearing on the current model touring trike is just right. At 65 km/h down Laver's Hill on the Great Ocean Road, there was still more kick left in top gear. Yet the 8 km/h crawl to get to the top never seemed like an impossible struggle, just slow, patient winching. There's plenty to choose 'inn' between the extremes too. The trike achieves this range with a Sachs triple chainwheel set (52/42/32t) and 3 x 7 rear hub, which has three internal gears and a seven-speed cassette. This yields a whopping 63 gear combinations, though many of these overlap.

The bar end shifters for the cassette and chain wheels are about the only Shimano components. The system offers either indexed or friction gear shifting by turning a dial. This is useful if the indexing goes out of alignment and it's not convenient to make the adjustment-like when the Philips screwdriver is at the bottom of a pannier. The hub-gear shifter was the only component which didn't always give an accurate idea of the gear selected.

As the internal gears are best changed while not pedaling or back- pedaling, it takes a bit of practice to use them effectively. But this attribute of the internal gears can be a godsend when you have forgotten to change to a low combination before stopping at a red light.

I had reservations about the length of the chain when I first saw the trike. It spans most of the frame's length, and I imagined it would stretch and derail more than an upright bicycle's chain. I was reassured about the benefits of a longer chain by some other Greenspeed riders (Val & Eric) whom I met coincidentally while out riding. They had toured 25,000 kilometres without breaking a chain, a feat that most upright cyclists they met along the way could not match. It could be that Sachs make damn good chains, or that each link passes wear points less often, or a combination of the two. The rider is protected from chain grease by two lengths of poly-tube that cover the chain from the saddle to the chainwheels. I waited for these to wear or jam, with the chain continually rubbing against them, but they looked identical either side of 500 km of riding.

Out on the road
Coming at you!
Val and Eric
Val & Eric
The steering on the trike is incredibly responsive. The handlebar is connected to two aluminium rods, either side of the centre pivot, which crossover and connect to pivot points on the diagonally opposite front wheels. This makes for fast, tight cornering, and once fear of flying out of the saddle is overcome, it's like driving a bobsled. The steering set-up is also extremely safe, as severe pot-holes or road debris don't wrench at the handlebar, even at speed.
One problem with the steering emerges when pushing the trike over terrain too rough to ride. One particularly sandy & track in Otway National Park presented enormous difficulty as, when pushing from behind, you can't reach the handlebar. The Trike steers sideways, and begins to tip over. Yet riding into a patch of deep sand on an otherwise firm track is nowhere near as dramatic as it can be on an upright bike. The touring trike is equipped with a Sachs VT 5000 drum brake on each front wheel. They are a little spongy compared with good rim brakes, but this makes it more difficult to lock the wheels. Consequently, they make for safe braking that won't throw the rider out of the saddle or put the Trike into a skid. At low speeds, one brake will stop the trike effectively, though the pull on the steering means quick high speed stops require both brakes to be applied together. A nice feature is BMX freestyle levers with a lock button, effectively making the drums into "hand" brakes.

The size of the Greenspeed can take some getting used to. The test trike was 190 cm long by 86 cm wide by 77 cm to the top of the saddle, and weighs around 20 kg with a pannier rack fitted. While not much wider than a bicycle's handlebar, the widest point (the front wheels) is at the same level as many common obstructions. With only a few centimetres on either side, cycling between bollards for the first time may be unnerving. It does fit into Victoria's suburban and country trains quite easily, though getting it in and out of the house is another thing. Air travel would be a real challenge, however many of the latest Greenspeeds in the factory are fitted with a coupling system developed in the US. The simple threaded joiners make it easy to pack the frame into a bag or box.

The Touring Trike's length can be adjusted for different riders by loosening two bolts on the frame's main tube, just below the cranks. The cranks and chainwheels are mounted on a separate tube that slides inside the main one. The procedure is fairly straightforward, but it involves shortening or lengthening the chain depending on the desired length.

Visibility was never a problem in open-road touring. Car drivers tend to slow down for a look and give a friendly wave, which was a pleasant surprise. The standard Greenspeed orange flag is comforting, and the Bunyip panniers have high-visibility yellow and reflective patches.

The Greenspeed Touring Trike demands that cycle-touring orthodoxy challenged. It is designed to carry heavy loads, keep the rider comfortable, and at the same time cover a lot of ground. The trike is stable, stylish and a guaranteed conversation-starter at any camp ground.

The touring trike is available in different sizes, and a range of other Greenspeed models are also including tandem trikes.

Taking the family
Greenspeed now also sells the Burley d'Lite child trailer. This two-wheeled, waterproof aluminium-framed trailer can carry around 45 kilograms, and has harnesses for two children. It has two flexible, see through shields, one of clear plastic, and the other an insect-proof mesh. It attaches at the bottom triangle of any bicycle, and fits to the Greenspeed in a few minutes.

Pic 2
Road to...
GTR with trailer
GTR with Trailer
Michael Linke was guest editor for three issues of Cyclist in 1995. He now edits ReNew magazine, which focuses on domestic applications of renewable energy and other sustainable technologies.

Reynolds 531 frame tubing 11,13,15,18,21,24,30 cassette

Araya 20x175 rims Shimano PDM323 pedals

Tioga Comp Pool tyres Sachs derailleurs

Sapim Race spokes and nipples GoreTex Ride-On cables throughout

Sachs VT 5000 drum brakes

Sachs 52/42/32 crankset, 170 mm (Many specs can be altered to suit the

Sachs "3x7" rear hub customer's size and preferences)


Pluses + + +

+ Excellent handling

+ High quality components

+ 63 gears!

+ Stable and comfortable

Minuses - - -

- Price: $4,400 (!)

- Difficult to push when not in saddle (e.g. on rough terrain)

RCN #51
GTS, May 1999