The Optima Rider Recumbent Trike
Since I started riding recumbent bikes, I've been interested in recumbent tricycles, and had been considering buying one. Optima, a Dutch company, manufactures a wide range of recumbent bikes that have been well-reviewed. After reviewing the specs of the Optima Rider, and seeing the strength of the dollar relative to the franc, I decided that the Rider would meet my needs.
Because we planned our trip on very short notice, there was some doubt whether a Rider would be available for purchase. It happened that Optima had produced a Rider for a photo shoot that would be completed just prior to our arrival in France, so with less than a week to go before the trip started, we struck an agreement with Airodin to purchase the trike.
Unfortunately, due to a shipping problem, the trike didn't make it to our starting point, so the first day of the bike tour I had to ride a conventional bike (after the ride, I vividly recalled why I went recumbent in the first place.) Thanks to Claude's telephone searching and cajoling the manager of the shipping company, the trike was delivered to Claude on the afternoon of our first tour day and he brought it out to our B&B. After an hour or so of final assembly and set-up, the trike was ready to ride.
Basic specs of the Rider:
Note that this model of Rider differs from the one imported to the US by Yellowbike as it uses the SRAM 3-speed hub with 7 gear cassette (21 speed) rather than the front derailleur/crankset (24 speed). After I put more miles on the trike, I'll decide whether to upgrade to provide a wider gearing range. Options purchased were the rear cargo rack and front fenders (only fenders made by Optima will fit the front wheels.)
I added a set of Shimano 323 clipless pedals to improve pedaling efficiency - they also allow you to keep your feet on the pedals even when you're at a stop.
The Rider has a very low (seat height is 8 inches), reclined seating position. The seat is molded plastic with what appears to be carbon fiber reinforcement. An open cell foam pad that looks like a very porous sponge is attached to the seat with Velcro pads.
Ride comfort is excellent, thanks to the Ballistic shock absorber on the rear swing arm. Manholes and other road hazards could be straddled with the front wheels and the shock would soak up the bumps, for a very smooth ride. For me, the Rider is an ideal touring machine.
Like most recumbents, the Rider is not a speedy hill climber, particularly when you combine the trikes' rather beefy weight with my beefy weight and a bit of gear carried in panniers (the rear rack is rated for 50 pounds - we carried only about 20 lbs of day trip gear and tools). On flat terrain, it cruises pretty well - not having a computer on board for the tour, it's hard to tell for sure, but I think cruise speeds are comparable to my Vision R44. Downhill though, the Rider is a blast - combine the low seating position with speeds in the high 30's on a curvy downhill and you've got the perfect adrenaline machine.
So, what's the downside? Front tire wear was horrible. After around 150 miles, the Vredsteins are worn down almost to the casing. The wear appears even, so I didn't think it was due to an alignment problem. After I did the basic reassembly, I took the trike to Britton's Bike Shop for final tuning. The techs found toe-in to be excessive, which may be the culprit. Airodin says that the Vredstein is not the best tire for this trike, but they use them because they are inexpensive. They also note that high speeds and aggressive riding can contribute to excessive tire wear. I've ordered a pair of Schwalbe City Jet 406 X 1.25 to try. Hopefully, they will last longer. Another beef is the lack of braze-ons for a water bottle, so I'll have to go with a Camelback bladder in a rack bag, but that's not a major issue.
Bottom line, if you're going to Europe and are in the market for a trike, check out the Optima. European prices are approximately 1/2 the U.S. importer's price. It can be disassembled into a pretty small package or two - I had no problems with the airlines (Air France and American) accepting the box, though it was a pain to lug through Charles de Gaulle airport (and weighed 44 kg!), even with a luggage cart. One neat thing about bringing it home was that we discovered that there are no import duties on tricycles, so we didn't have to pay an import fee.