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Practical Advice on How to Choose an Electric Trike

by Bob Levin 18 Sep 2023 0 Comments

Understanding Electric Trikes: An Overview

Electric trikes, or e-trikes, combine the classic tricycle design with modern electric propulsion technology.  

Electric trikes are essentially tricycles equipped with an electric motor. This motor assists the rider, reducing the amount of manual effort required to pedal, or in some cases, propelling the trike entirely without pedaling. E-trikes come with a rechargeable battery that powers the motor. The degree of assistance can typically be adjusted, giving riders the flexibility to choose between a full workout, a leisurely cruise, or something in between.

The Growing Popularity of E-Trikes

Here's why they are becoming more prominent:

Reasons for increased adoption:

  1. Eco-Friendly: With the global shift towards more sustainable transportation methods, e-trikes present an environmentally friendly alternative to cars, especially for short-distance commutes.
  2. Health and Exercise: E-trikes provide an option for exercise, even for those who may have physical constraints, by allowing users to decide the degree of pedal assistance.
  3. Cost-Effective: E-trikes can be more affordable in the long run than maintaining a car, particularly for city dwellers who only need to travel short distances.

Statistics and trends: Although exact numbers may vary based on region and the latest studies, as of my last training cut-off in September 2021, there had been a noticeable uptick in e-trike sales in many parts of the world, particularly in urban areas.  

Key Features to Look For in an Electric Trike

Broad categories of considerations:

  1. Battery Life & Range: Consider how far and how often you'll be traveling. A larger battery capacity generally offers a longer range but may also add weight.
  2. Adjustability & Comfort: Ensure that the seat, handlebars, and other components are adjustable to fit your body type.  
  3. Weight Limit: Each trike will have a maximum weight limit that includes both the rider and any cargo.
  4. Cargo Capacity: If you plan on carrying groceries or other items, consider trikes with sturdy, spacious baskets or cargo platforms.
  5. Terrain Capabilities: Where will you be riding most often? Some e-trikes are designed for urban streets, while others can handle rougher terrains.
  6. Safety Features: Look for features like LED lights, mirrors, and bells. Also, consider the brake system – disc brakes, for instance, can offer more stopping power than traditional brakes.
  7. Motor Power: Depending on the terrain and your desired speed, you might prefer a more powerful motor.
  8. Price & Warranty: As with any investment, consider the price and what it includes.  

Whether for leisure, exercise, or as a primary mode of transportation, e-trikes offer a modern, eco-friendly, and enjoyable way to get around.

E-Trike Motor: Power and Performance

Motor types and classifications: E-trikes typically use hub motors or mid-drive motors:

  1. Hub Motor: This type of motor is placed in the center of a wheel, usually the rear. They are generally easier to install and replace. Hub motors are more discreet and can be quite powerful. However, they might not handle hilly terrain as well as mid-drive motors.
  2. Mid-Drive Motor: Positioned centrally on the trike and driving the crankshaft, these motors offer more torque and can provide a more bicycle-like experience. They perform better on steep inclines but can be more challenging to maintain.

Importance of motor power: Motor power, measured in watts (W), determines how much assistance you can get, especially on challenging terrains like hills. A more powerful motor can offer a higher top speed and better performance uphill. For flat terrains, a 250W to 350W motor is often sufficient, while hilly terrains might require 500W or more.

Battery Life and Range: How Far Can You Go?

Battery types:

  1. Lithium-ion (Li-ion): These are the most common type of batteries found in e-trikes due to their light weight, high energy density, and long life span.
  2. Lead-acid: Older and heavier than Li-ion, these batteries are less expensive but also have a shorter lifespan and are less efficient.
  3. Nickel-metal hydride (NiMH): Weighing more than Li-ion but less than lead-acid, NiMH batteries fall in between in terms of cost, weight, and efficiency.

Estimated ranges based on battery capacity: The range of an e-trike depends on battery capacity (measured in watt-hours or Wh), motor efficiency, rider weight, terrain, and pedal assistance level. On average:

  • A 250Wh battery might offer 15-30 miles.
  • A 400Wh battery can provide a range of 30-60 miles.
  • A 500Wh or larger battery can go 60+ miles. Keep in mind that these are general estimates, and actual ranges can vary.

Choosing the Right Wheel Size for Your E-Trike

Different wheel sizes and their implications:

  1. Small Wheels (16" - 20"): Offer quick acceleration, are lightweight, and can be more maneuverable.  
  2. Medium Wheels (24"): A middle ground, offering a balance between stability and maneuverability.
  3. Large Wheels (26" and above): Provide smoother rides over bumpy surfaces and better momentum once moving but can be less maneuverable in tight spaces.

Importance of Frame Materia:l 

  1. Steel: Durable and can absorb more shocks, making for a smoother ride. However, it's heavier than other materials.
  2. Aluminum: Lighter than steel and resistant to rust.  
  3. Carbon Fiber: Premium material, lightweight, and strong but can be expensive.

Suspension and Ride Comfort: Ensuring a Smooth Journey

Types of suspension:

  1. No Suspension: Some trikes come without any suspension, relying on cushioned seats and tire volume for comfort.
  2. Front Suspension: Absorbs shocks primarily from the front wheel, offering comfort especially when navigating bumps or small obstacles.
  3. Rear Suspension: Helps in absorbing shocks from the rear, beneficial if the trike has a cargo or if the rider prefers a smoother experience.
  4. Full Suspension (Front & Rear): Provides the smoothest ride by absorbing shocks from both the front and rear. Especially useful for rough terrains or those with back issues.

Benefits of each type:

  • No Suspension: Simpler design, often lighter, and requires less maintenance.
  • Front Suspension: Improves comfort for the upper body and arms, reducing fatigue on uneven roads.
  • Rear Suspension: Ensures that the ride remains smooth, especially when the trike is loaded with cargo.
  • Full Suspension: Maximizes comfort and control, making it suitable for various terrains and longer rides.

Foldable vs. Non-Foldable Electric Trikes

Pros and cons of each design:

Foldable Electric Trikes:

  • Pros:
    • Portability: Can be transported easily in cars or public transport.
    • Storage: Takes up less space, which is great for those with limited storage areas.
    • Versatility: Can be taken on trips or vacations easily.
  • Cons:
    • Weight: Folding mechanisms might add extra weight.
    • Complexity: More parts can mean more potential maintenance issues.
    • Cost: Often more expensive due to the additional folding mechanism.

Non-Foldable Electric Trikes:

  • Pros:
    • Sturdiness: Typically more robust and can carry heavier loads.
    • Simplicity: Fewer moving parts mean less potential for mechanical issues.
    • Cost: Generally less expensive than their foldable counterparts.
  • Cons:
    • Storage: Requires more space.
    • Transport: Not as easy to transport in a car or other vehicle.

E-Trikes for Seniors: Special Considerations

Features catered to the elderly:

  1. Low Step-Through Design: Allows seniors to mount and dismount the trike easily.
  2. Adjustable Seat Heights: Ensures a comfortable ride regardless of the rider's height.
  3. Upright Seating Position: This can reduce strain on the back and neck.
  4. Easily Accessible Controls: Controls and displays that are easy to see and operate are crucial for seniors.
  5. Stability Features: Wider wheelbases or additional stability wheels can prevent tipping.
  6. Powerful Brakes: Seniors require reliable braking for safety.

Benefits for senior citizens:

  1. Independence: E-trikes allow seniors to commute independently without relying on others.
  2. Exercise: Provides an opportunity for light exercise, enhancing cardiovascular health.
  3. Safety: The three-wheel design offers better stability than traditional bikes.
  4. Social Engagement: E-trikes can be a way for seniors to engage in community activities or group rides, fostering social connections.

Maintenance and Upkeep of Electric Trikes

Common maintenance needs:

  1. Battery Care: The battery is essential for e-trikes. Ensure it's charged, avoid letting it sit for extended periods at very low charge, and store in a cool, dry place.
  2. Tire Maintenance: Regularly check for appropriate inflation and watch for signs of wear or damage.
  3. Brake Checks: Brakes should be inspected often. Brake pads will wear out over time and need replacing.
  4. Drive System Maintenance: This includes the chain, belt, or any other drive mechanism. They should be cleaned, lubricated, and checked for tension.
  5. Electrical Connections: Ensure all electrical connections, including motor, controller, and display, are secure and free from dirt or moisture.
  6. Cleaning: Dust, mud, and moisture can affect performance and lifespan. Regular cleaning is essential.

Upkeep recommendations:

  1. Storage: Store the e-trike indoors or under a protective cover to protect from harsh weather.
  2. Routine Checks: Before every ride, do a quick inspection of the trike's key components.
  3. Annual Servicing: It's beneficial to have the trike professionally serviced once a year.
  4. Battery Replacement: Batteries have a lifespan, often around 3-5 years. Be prepared to replace it when performance starts to decline.

Comparing Electric Trikes vs. Electric Bikes

Similarities and differences: Similarities:

  1. Both are powered by electric motors.
  2. Both require battery charging.
  3. Pedal-assist and throttle modes are available on both.

Differences:

  1. Stability: E-trikes have three wheels, providing better balance.
  2. Weight: E-trikes are generally heavier.
  3. Flexibility: E-bikes are usually more agile.

Use-cases for each: Electric Trikes:

  1. Ideal for those who require added stability.
  2. Excellent for heavy loads or cargo.
  3. Suitable for riders with mobility issues.

Electric Bikes:

  1. For riders wanting a more bicycle-like experience.
  2. Better for hilly terrains due to lighter weight.
  3. Preferred by those who want faster speeds.

Test Riding: The Best Way to Make a Decision

Why testing is essential:

  1. Fit and Comfort: Ensures that the trike or bike fits your body shape and size.
  2. Handling: Gives a feel for how it maneuvers in real-world conditions.
  3. Performance Check: Allows testing of various features, including acceleration, brakes, and pedal-assist modes.

What to look for during a test ride:

  1. Comfort: Pay attention to the seating position, handlebar height, and overall ergonomics.
  2. Response: How quickly does the trike/bike respond to acceleration or braking?
  3. Noise: Some motors can be noisier than others.
  4. Balance: Especially important for e-trikes, how stable does it feel?

Customization Options: Making Your E-Trike Unique

Available customizations:

  1. Paint and Decals: Customize the color or add unique decals.
  2. Upgraded Components: Such as seats, handlebars, or even a more advanced display.
  3. Storage Additions: Including baskets, panniers, or cargo trailers.
  4. Lighting: Add enhanced or decorative lighting for night rides or personal flair.
  5. Special Tires: For specific terrains or looks.

Benefits of personalization:

  1. Aesthetic Appeal: Make your e-trike a reflection of your personality.
  2. Functionality: Customizations can enhance the utility of your e-trike, making it more suitable for your specific needs.
  3. Safety: Some customizations, like enhanced lighting, can make you more visible on the road.
  4. Resale Value: Well-thought-out customizations might enhance the resale value.

When choosing an e-trike, considering all these aspects – from maintenance and test rides to customizations – ensures you make an informed decision that you'll be happy with for years to come.

Adapting to Riding an Electric Trike: Tips for Newbies

Riding tips for beginners:

  1. Start Slow: Before delving into the power of the electric assist, familiarize yourself with the trike's basic mechanics. Begin on a flat, quiet area.
  2. Practice Balancing: While e-trikes are more stable than bikes, they can tip over if you turn too sharply. Practice making turns and get a feel for the trike's balance.
  3. Master the Controls: Understand how to switch between different levels of assistance, use the throttle (if available), and operate the display.
  4. Braking: Practice stopping, noting that e-trikes, due to their weight and the motor's force, might take longer to come to a complete stop.
  5. Use Mirrors: If your trike has mirrors, they're there for a reason. Always be aware of your surroundings.

Overcoming common challenges:

  1. Weight: E-trikes are heavier than regular trikes or bikes. While the electric assist helps with propulsion, be prepared for the added weight when maneuvering or stopping.
  2. Turning: As mentioned, turning sharply can tip the trike. Always slow down during turns.
  3. Parking: Due to their size and design, parking e-trikes can be challenging. Look for stable ground and use any locking mechanisms or kickstands provided.
  4. Battery Management: Remember to charge the battery and monitor its levels during rides to prevent being left without power.
  5. Weather: E-trikes can be affected by rain or wet conditions. If caught in the rain, be cautious, as the roads become slippery and braking distances increase.

Conclusion: Making an Informed Electric Trike Decision

Whether it's their enhanced stability, cargo capacity, or the simple joy of cruising with electric assist, e-trikes have carved a niche for themselves in the world of personal transport.

Summarizing key points:

  • E-trikes offer a unique blend of stability and power.
  • Maintenance, while essential, is straightforward, and many common bicycle upkeep practices apply.
  • Test riding is paramount in understanding what you're investing in.
  • Customization allows riders to make their trike truly their own, both in form and function.

Elevate your riding experience with Big Cat Bikes! Our team is eager to assist you anytime, whether it's through a visit to our store from 10 AM to 6 PM EST or a 24/7 response via phone at 631-285-2298 or email at vtg@bigcatusa.com. Step up your biking game — Visit our website or fill out the form to join the e-bike revolution today!

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