Trike Transporting - Getting on Top of Things / by Erin Wade

One of the questions that comes up pretty regularly with respect to living with a recumbent trike is how to transport it from place to place for riding. For myself that’s usually a pretty simple question to answer - I put it in the back of my Honda Fit:

Trike in Fit

In fact, this is such a routine thing that, much of the time my Honda functions as a rolling garage for the Catrike. I think it’s fair to say that it spends more time in the car than it does stored in any other location.

But the reality is that this doesn’t work for everyone, and it doesn’t work for every situation. I’m a long-term fan of hatchbacks - I like little cars with good gas mileage and very flexible interior arrangements that allow for the carrying of (relatively) large volumes of stuff when the need calls. My Honda Fit is just the latest in a line of cars that includes a 1991 Dodge Colt, a 1995 Honda Civic Si, and a 2006 Mini Cooper S.

Like them as much as I do, the fact is that, as flexible as these cars are, flexibility is still a study in compromise: Do you want to haul stuff inside, or people? You can’t do both.

This came up as a need for us in preparation for Thanksgiving. We were heading up to spend the holiday with family in the Driftless Area of Wisconsin. This type of trip is a multiple bonus, given both the opportunity to spend time with family, and to spend it in an area with a beautiful state park and bike trail system (everyone celebrates Black Friday in their own way...).

I initially came up with what I considered a simple, straightforward solution to the problem, but the kids unreasonably objected to making the two and half-hour drive riding on the roof, so I was going to have to come up with another answer for my trike.

Perhaps the most common solution for this issue is to move up. I first purchased a roof rack for the 1995 Civic, and I’ve used variations of that roof rack on every car since. When I was riding upright bikes routinely this was a fairly simple solution to work with - Yakima (the brand I happen to have) offers multiple solutions for upright bikes of various designs and styles. This was a good arrangement for one bike and, even on a fairly small car like the Civic or the Mini, you can comfortably fit two or three bikes on top.

mini and kid with bikes

Thing is, while I do already have the roof rack set to fit my current car, and have used it for carrying other things they don’t have ready-made solutions for recumbent trikes. This means that, like storage solutions, we are left rolling our own.

What I arrived at was using a variation of what I already had. The upright mounts I was accustomed to using with my system are Yakima Copperheads. These were a relatively low cost fork-mount style of bike holder which included a trough-style wheel tray with a ratcheting wheel strap for the rear wheel. My plan was to use the ratchet straps for all three wheels of the trike.

I had two of the mounts already, but obviously I would need a third. The Copperheads appear to no longer be made by Yakima (I bought the rack back in the 1990’s, so they are a couple of years old at this point), but they can be found elsewhere. eBay was my solution in this case, and in fact I was able to find just the trays and ratchet straps (since I did not need the fork mounts). The trays I found happened to come in a set of two, which would turn out to be handy...

My first attempt at this was to put up the two Copperhead mounts intact - e.g. with the fork mount mounted to the front bar, and to put one of the trays from eBay in the middle for the rear wheel.

Unfortunately, what I found was that this arrangement did not allow enough length for the trike - I couldn't move the ratchet straps for the front wheels far enough forward to get the rear wheel strapped in. A more planful person would possibly have measured first to learn this without completely assembling it, but then I was also cited repeatedly in grade school for failing to read directions before starting on the assignment...

So - as I mentioned, that additional tray came in handy. I had to disassemble one of the Copperheads by taking the fork mount off, and that gave me three trays to mount flat across the bars. I did measure out the space between the front wheels and between the fronts and the centerline to figure out where to place the trays relative to one another. Once put together, this arrangement allowed for enough room, lengthwise, for all three wheels to be tightened down with the wheel straps.

On the roof - profile

trike on roof - rear view

The sharp-eyed viewer will note that the trike is not centered over the roof of the car. This was on purpose. I put it as far to the driver’s side as I could to make it easier to get the trike up on the roof. At about 33lbs my Pocket is not especially heavy, but it is awkward, and it’s necessary not just to get it up there, but also to line all three wheels up with the trays. I didn’t want to also have to reach across several inches of roofline while doing this.

This secured the trike down well on the rack, and I did a short test run to make sure it would stay up there at highway speed. However, while that was successful, I was going to be on the road for longer than a short run, and I was going to be out on an interstate highway for much of the trip. I wanted to supplement the wheel straps to better ensure the safety of the trike.

My inclination was to use nylon ratchet straps. I have a fair number of these and I use them pretty regularly. They work well. I decided to try them out with a test run by taking the trike with me on an extended drive.

The good of it is that nylon ratchet straps absolutely held the trike down well. However, at speed the nylon straps began to vibrate in the wind in with a sonorous thrumming that translated down into the rack to which it was attached, and from the rack into the roof to which it was attached. I ended up taking them off part way home. It was too much, and that was on a 40-minute ride. Two and a half hours of that would have been pure torture.

The following day I swapped out the nylon ratchet straps for heavy-duty black rubber bungee straps and made another trial run. This was much more successful, and this was the solution I employed for the trip.

Rubber bungee front

front bungee hook close-up

rear bungee

Another thing that I realized was that the trike was strapped down, but it wasn’t locked in any way. The Copperhead mounts had locks built into the fork mounts, but those weren’t in play here. An enterprising theif with a little time opportunity could unstrap it and make away with it. I solved this by using my bike lock to tether it to the roof rack. This also presented as a potential additional fail-safe if the other straps all failed.

Bike lock

All told, the trip was successful. The trike got to and from Wisconsin intact and unharmed. Wind noise was higher on the way up, but not awful. On the way back it was considerably windier, and thus considerably noisier.

Which is to say that, by "successful", I mean that this worked for what was intended, and I think it would work well enough for around-town types of transport when needed. But I also took it off the following morning and will be returning the trike to its customary mobile garage placement inside the car.

Why? Well, on that trip back, it was not not just noisier due to the wind, but as we entered the last leg of the trip home over the open prairie of Illinois it was, frankly, loud enough to make the radio or any conversation hard to hear. What’s more, the wind gusts periodically made the little car lose speed despite cruise control (e.g. set at 70mph, but occasionally dropping itself to 65 as it struggled to maintain speed). This is not a difficulty the car has ever had without the rack on top. As you might expect, mileage drops when using a roof rack as well. In addition, on this trip home it was not just windy, but it was raining. Raining on my trike. This part - which is always a risk of carrying your machines outside the vehicle - I do not love. Which is ultimately why they usually ride inside the car.

An additional note here: the car I’m using for this is a 2009 Honda Fit with over 300,000 miles on it. It’s been chewed on by my dog (seriously) and has been through a hailstorm, among other things. I was completely unconcerned about what would happen to the paint as a result of multiple attempts to get the trike up there, attaching and unattaching straps above it, and so on. I’d think twice about this on a vehicle where one cared about its appearance.

TL:DR

The roof-rack setup that I put together here worked well enough for the purpose for which it was assembled - transporting the trike while also carrying people in the back seat. However, I’d regard it as a secondary solution to be used when other options aren’t available.

The Good:

  • Allows for carrying a trike and multiple people with a smaller car.
  • Inexpensive solution if you already have a roof rack.
  • Additional parts needed for rack can be found on eBay.
  • The world can see that you have a recumbent trike!

The Bad:

  • Trike is awkward to get up on to roof - if you cannot lift your trike over your head this is not an option.
  • Trike is exposed to the elements.
  • The world can see that you have a recumbent trike - need to find a supplementary locking system.
  • Wind noise and effects on driving and mileage.
  • Also, did I mention wind noise?