Electric bike company Rad Power Bikes announced this week their latest model will be a three-wheeled trike. The RadTrike is available for pre-order now for $2,499 and is set to ship mid-January.
The news has created a stir in the bike world because, well, let’s just say trikes occupy a strange place in the market. On one hand they’re awesome vehicles with a lot of advantages over a two-wheeled bike — especially for folks who have trouble balancing due to a disability, age, and so on. But on the other hand, they have never caught on as a mainstream product. They’re really hard to find and bike shops almost never carry them (likely because their showroom-footprint-to-profit-margin ratio isn’t all that great).
The feeling is that with the power of Rad’s reputation and marketing reach, trikes might finally get their due. And from the looks and features of the bike I’ve seen so far, it’s likely going to be a very popular model. I wonder though, will it break into Portland’s lineup?
The first person I wanted to hear from when I thought about this was Dan Kaufman. Dan pilots what is almost certainly Portland’s most famous trike. His “Disco Trike” has supported many bike events over the years with its on-board sound system. He currently rolls it out to weekly Black Lives Matter protest in north Portland and it was once the center of controversy when it was confiscated by the Portland Police Bureau during a protest in 2012 (it was returned one week later). Kaufman’s been riding the Disco Trike in Portland since 2006. When car-sharing firms pulled out of Portland in 2019, Kaufman added a battery-powered motor to it and now credits this boost in power for keeping him carfree. “Now I can get across town quicker, easy, and with gear,” he shared in an email to me this week.
Kaufman said he prefers his trike for its load-carrying capacity and because it allows him to ride very slowly, which is, “Great for parades and protests.”
He admits trikes are less efficient than two-wheelers, but believes there will always be a place for trikes — especially e-powered ones. He’s excited Rad is getting into the game because strapping a battery on a non-electric trike hasn’t worked perfectly. “It was just not built for the kind of speeds I can do now and it has meant beefing up the wheels and constantly tinkering with it,” Kaufman says. “Twice now I have broken the axle (once with disastrous results). I can’t count how many times the chain has fallen off. There is definitely a space for design-built e-trike for the consumer market. And if my latest upgrades don’t solve my issues I may be in the market.”
And Kaufman is a trike rider by choice. Imagine what having a high-quality, relatively affordable e-trike on the market will do for people with disabilities, or anyone who isn’t confident on a two-wheeled bike. That’s why the City of Portland just added an electric trike model from Worksman to their Adaptive Biketown rental fleet.
Benefits aside, it’s not as if trikes are without flaws. In addition to the performance shortcomings, one very knowledgeable source I talked to about them recently said they are only fun to ride on very flat paths and surfaces. Since every road has a crowned angle to shed rain water, having two rear wheels on the same axle puts the rider at a slight, yet annoyingly noticeable tilt.
Beyond that, if you’re willing to give up some speed and efficiency for riding ease, stability, and a massive cargo capacity, the RadTrike is worth checking out. And if you’re a bit self-conscious about losing style points, let folks like Dan Kaufman and Portland bike activist Serenity Ebert (pictured) disabuse you of that notion.
Smirks aside, it’s the belief of this media outlet that trikes have always been cool. They just haven’t always been available.
“Maybe some folks can’t picture themselves on one, but I think they are as fun as hell,” says Kaufman. “You just gotta rock the trike!”