Sizing Things Up / by Erin Wade

As I mentioned when I first wrote about my new Catrike Expedition, part of the reason that I went forward with getting the new machine was because MLW had expressed an interest in riding a trike as well. Like many people, she remembers enjoying riding bikes when she was younger, but finds the riding position - and especially the seating options - of a DF bike to be ...unforgiving.

If there had been any question that this was a desire in earnest, it was erased by the fact that, within a day or so of my setting up the Expedition, she was already out riding on the Pocket, using a pillow as a spacer to reach the pedals. This, of course, because the Pocket was still sized to me.

Any time a new person gets on a bike of any kind, things need to be adjusted. The seat and handlebars on a DF need to be raised or lowered, for example, to fit the height of the new rider. The same is true for a recumbent trike, but the process is different and, at least at first blush, a little more intimidating.

This is because, for many types of recumbent trike, re-sizing means re-setting the distance of the boom - the telescoping portion at the front of the trike that holds the pedals - and then either shortening or lengthening the chain.


The first part, I think, sounds pretty straightforward. The boom just slides in and out, and so it’s somewhat analogous to moving the seat on a DF bike. It’s that second part that gives a bit of mental pause: shortening or lengthening the chain.

I mean, all of us with any experience with bikes as a kid know what a chain is; it’s that thing that lets the pedals move the bike forward, and also the thing that catches our pants, gets grease on us, and periodically falls off, making us unable to move while our friends, not realizing our crisis, continue to ride away...


What we didn’t learn, most of us, was how to _do_ anything with the chain except oil it periodically and re-set it on the sprockets when it came off, incidentally cursing that oil for now being on our fingers. (I still remember the revelation I experienced when my dad showed me how to more readily re-set it by flipping the bike upside down - perhaps my first real-world lifehack).

This means that approaching that portion of the re-sizing seems a bit of an arcane, black art - a bit of sorcery known to the grizzled bike shop wizards of old, but a power which the novice knows not how to harness.

But: I’ve been resolved to learn how to do more things myself, my localest bike shop being 20 minutes away. And while MLW had devised her own solution for reaching the pedals, it seemed like it would probably be nicer for her to have it actually sized to fit her. So it set forth to tackle it on my own.

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The first thing I did was consult the folks at Utah Trikes on how to do this via their channel on YouTube. They actually have a very nicely done video that shows how to go through the process, including how to set the gears before doing so (tho you’ll want to watch it a couple of times, because that’s a brief aside several minutes in).

Then I marked the old spot on it for me with a sharpie, loosened up the quick releases on the boom, had MLW sit down on it, and went to slide the boom in and...

...nothing. Wouldn't move.

I’d been expecting it to slide right in, so I was a little surprised at the complete lack of movement. But, faced with an obstacle, I did what any red-blooded American male does:

I hit it.

By which I mean I smacked it at the front with the heel of my hand. This was successful, as far as it went, except it made my hand sore very quickly. I commented that maybe this would work better if I had a rubber mallet.

I made this comment standing five feet from my toolbox which, incidentally, had a rubber mallet sitting on the floor in front of it. So, of course, I continued to hit it with my hand. I point this out in part so that you will understand the grace and kindness my wife exhibited when she quietly said "you know, there’s a mallet right there" and completely refrained from appending "dumbass" to the end of that sentence.

Turns out the mallet worked at least as well as my hand, and with considerably less incidental discomfort. Who knew? (Yes - MLW knew, that’s who).

Once the boom length was set I... let it sit for a few days.

We’d set the length on a weeknight, and some time ago I learned to let new and longer projects wait until the weekend, when I have more time to struggle with them. Otherwise I become frustrated with the need to leave things partway completed - better to do it all at once. And given that I hadn’t changed a chain length before I didn’t know how long it was going to take me.

When I did sit down with it I first started with simply locating the master link on the chain. The chain on a recumbent trike is long - much longer than on a DF bike - and as I slowly worked my way through it I found myself wondering if I was simply cycling through the same sections of chain over and over again. I solved this by cleaning off a couple of links so I’d have a clear, shiny reference point (turns out there may be a benefit to not routinely cleaning your chain... kind of).

Once I located the link I started working on getting it apart. I did not have a master link tool, but I reasoned that it looked a lot like a set of needle nose pliers, and I certainly had those, so they would work just fine.


Well, no. After about five minutes of aborted attempts I decided that maybe it would be better just to ensure I had the right actual tools for the job, hopped in the car and headed out to my localest bike shop: Bike Works in Peru. The folks there were, as usual, very helpful. I explained what I was doing and they put together the items I needed and got me on my way. I was literally in and out in less than 15 minutes.

And what a difference the right tool makes! It literally took seconds to open the master link with the tool once I put it in play. This is a thing that I have had to learn over and over again across the course of my life - maybe this time it will stick (Narrator: It didn’t).

My experience with the chain tool was similar to that of the master link tool. It took a little longer to sort out just how to seat the chain and just far I would have to push the pin in in order to get it thru, but once I sorted that out it just came apart as designed.

As laid out in the video, I’d taken a picture of the position of the derailleur before I started moving things, pulled the two ends of the chain together until the derailleur position matched the picture, and put them back together. Bob’s your uncle - I was finished!

Well, I thought I was. I set up an improvised rope and pulley (using a garage rafter in lieu of the actually pulley) to get the rear wheel off the ground so I could cycle thru the gears. I was pretty pleased with this:

Rope and pulley

It worked a treat, and I began to spin through the gears on the big ring, pleased to see that it hit them all, and then again to see it on the middle ring. And it worked okay on the small ring, except that the chain was dangling slack in the top few gears. Which meant I hadn’t taken out enough chain.

In the area of true confessions, I’d taken my picture of the rear derailleur with the chain in a different position on the rear sprocket than they recommend in the Utah Trikes video. I’d realized this fairly early on, but I figured, you know, as long as it’s all in the same position at the end it’ll be fine, right?


So, again: no.

And now I didn’t have an accurate picture to use for reference. What I did have, tho, was another trike that I could set up with the gears in the same position and hopefully that would approximate the correct orientation for the derailleur. Which is why you see the orange Expedition sitting behind the Pocket here:

Expedition as reference

I got the gears on the Expedition into position and used that to eyeball the derailleur angle on the Pocket. Now I can’t honestly say whether it was a brilliant idea or just good fortune, but it actually worked (they say sometimes it’s better to be lucky than good)!

And there you have it - One Catrike Pocket, resized for My Lovely Wife. We also ordered her up a new flag to go with it, and she’s ready to hit the road.

Pocket Sized Up