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WizWheelzís Terra Trike (TT 3.3)

My Personal "Fountain of Youth"

By Jose A. Hernandez

 

Terra Trike PIC compliments of wizwheelz.com

Juan Ponce De Leon blew it!  He looked for his fountain of youth in the wrong place and at the wrong time. St. Augustine, Florida was the wrong place and the year 1533 was unquestionably the wrong time. Hastings, Michigan circa 1996 would have been much more appropriate. Had he waited until then and traveled 1165 miles farther inland, he would have been right on time to watch three guys named Jack Wiswell , Peter Dolan and Wayne Oom, as they struggled to build their first recumbent trike in Jackís garage. Of course, he would've been several hundred years old, but he could have learned that rejuvenation doesnít have to come from a fresh water stream. It can also come on three wheels.

To understand what this life force-giving company is made of, Iíll need you to set your clocks a couple of decades back. Though Wizwheelz, the "company", was born in 1996, the glue that cemented its future emerged in the form of a special friendship between Jack, Peter and Wayne while they attended the same high school in the 80ís. Their friendship survived their college years as Peter got his computer and MBA degree and Wayne received his engineering degree from the University of Michigan while Jack held on to his dream of starting a business for at least six years before Wizwheelz was born. The three of them attended a Christmas party in 1995 where "Jack sketched a trike idea on a cocktail napkin". By June of 1996, the decision to form a company was made and in only a few more months they had completed their corporation papers and their first prototype. The first production trike was sold in April of 1997. On or about January 1998 or two years after they were "officially" in business they were ready to employ a professional welder and started to work with Unlimited Fabrications Inc, a small, local company with a good reputation and track record.

The first years were tough. They had to wait until May of 1999 to get their first paycheck.

Wayne remembers that: "We started this company with $3,000 from our personal savings, a sketch of a crude trike frame, and virtually no idea how to run a company.  We welded the first frames together in Jack's garage.  None of us knew how to weld - and it showed :)  We truly started from scratch and bootstrapped through those first couple years.  Obviously we hadn't quit our day jobs yet.  :) We've certainly had our share of trials and struggles including hiring a weld shop that supplied us with junk that fell apart on the first test ride as well as having a seat manufacturer go out of business - taking with them our large deposit check and our materials.  There have been some frustrating times where it may have been easy to quit but our company motto has always been that failure is NOT an option."

An almost secret fact is that Iíve watched this company for quite a long time. I remember visiting their website on numerous occasions and asking questions via email about their very tantalizing trike. This is way before the so called `BentRider Online era. This is way before I even made my first web site (getbent.org). They did not know me from "Adam". Yet, each time I sent an email, I got a very prompt and very polite reply. I then noticed their commitment to improving their product. Each release was significantly better than its precursor and continuous improvements were a predictable pattern that started on their first trike and continues on the 3.3, their most recent version. (For a very detailed rendition of the TerraTrikeís Evolution, visit their excellent web site or just click HERE). I was impressed with this company then and I am impressed with this company now. Reportedly, Wizwheelz sales keep on growing year after year and they now ship trikes to at least 43 states and 5 foreign countries. They are truly an all American success story. So now, that you know the "rest of the Wizwheelz story", its time to take a close look at the trike itself.

TerraTrike 3.3

Terra Trike PIC compliments of wizwheelz.com

Our TerraTrike arrived via UPS in a box so small; I immediately feared it must have been shipped in a million pieces. I remember that the day I received the trike I was in the middle of one of the worst colds of my life. And I think that the fear of spending the rest of my life piecing the TerraTrike together must have gotten a hold of me, worsening my cold symptoms for and additional week. So the trike patiently waited in its box while I made every effort to control my psychosomatic handicap.

As soon as I built the necessary courage to risk it all and assemble the trike, I decided that I would play it safe and read the manual first. Reading assembly manuals has become a ritual that I must practice because of tradition. As far as Iím concerned, most manuals are written in Greek, Chinese or some arcane tongue and do me absolutely no good. Yet, for reasons that escape me, I insist on reading the darn manuals anyway. However, this time it was different. The TerraTrike manual was actually very well written and even humorous when appropriate. I immediately felt better and smiled when I read the following paragraph:

     Time Required For Assembly:

          Iím a bike mechanic 1.25 hours

          Iím mechanically inclined 2.00 hours

          I can change a light bulb 3.00 hours

          Whatís a wrench Take it to a bike shop!

I then consulted with my wife, Susan and she assured me that I have, on a numerous occasions, successfully changed a light bulb in less than three hours! Energized by her encouragement and a renewed sense of self-esteem I proceeded to take the trike components out of the box. Everything had been packed with tender loving care. All the parts were carefully wrapped and identified, just like the manual said. As I unwrapped each part, I couldnít help but notice the attention to detail. It was immediately obvious that the TerraTrike was indeed, a very refined product. I then started to worry about my ability to align the trikeís two front tires but it turned out that this was a very easy task, thanks to the manualís excellent instructions. 5 hours and 12 dumb mistakes later, I patted my self in the back as I proudly stared at and admired my incompletely assembled TerraTrike. Okay, so it took me a bit longer to perform a 95 percent assembly but considering Iím a mechanical moron of the worst kind, this was truly a significant achievement. It means most normal humans will have little or no trouble putting the TerraTrike together in the time specified by the manual. The good folks at Atlantic Bicycle would complete the rest of the assembly. I was not about to mess with the rear derailleur and brake adjustments. Yet, even in its 95% assembled form, the trike looked AWESOME. I confirmed my earlier suspicion that this was indeed a very well made product.

Feature Highlights

The TerraTrike is of course, a tadpole, which simply means it has two wheels up front, and a rear drive wheel. The first thing that jumps out at you is the trikeís very aerodynamic and stylish form, not too mention a beautiful bright yellow paint job that is fully compatible with its sporty and dynamic character. The mesh seat is light, thanks to its aluminum frame. I also found it to be pretty comfortable and highly adjustable.

The trike utilizes a fairly adjustable under the seat steering system to ensure comfort while its integral "Center point steering* and Ackerman adjustment*" help you slice through the air in a very straight line and enhances your ability to take a very sharp or fast turn. (*A technical explanation of these steering features is beyond the scope of this article but if you must know more, just visit their website). The steering system also features a set of DELRIN tie rod ends, so that rattling noises wonít spoil your riding fun and very sturdy hub mounts with 20 mm tubular axles. A total weight of 33.3 pounds and a triple crank is also included to augment the trikeís climbing ability.

Frame, Components & Drive Train

The trikeís 1 ĺ inch TIG Welded 4130 chrome-moly steel frame tubes are well hidden under a beautiful bright yellow powder coat. The frame was rigid enough to carry my 210-pound body over various surfaces without a single problem. I did notice a bit of flex in the boom area, but this is not inconsistent with other tadpoles in the market. 

The chain stays are strategically braced for stiffness as shown on this picture. The removable boom comes in three sizes and I found that it is VERY important to order the correct boom size. We ordered the medium size boom and that proved to be a mistake because I had to move the seat too far forward to reach the pedals and this resulted in a limited turning radius because the steering bar would bump against a seat while making a tight turn. The folks at Wizwheelz quickly recognized my mistake and sent me the small boom within a matter of days. As soon as I installed the correct boom for my size, I was able to move the seat back far enough to ensure my ability to turn on a dime.

 

Boom Size

X-Seam

Small

38 - 42

Medium

43 - 46

Long

47 - 50

The drive train components are not too shabby for a trike that costs hundreds of dollars less than its competition. The Sachs chain is kept in place by a couple of idlers as it snakes around and below the seat. This curvilinear chain path might in theory result in some power loss but if it does I sure didnít notice it. The transmission features  a triple crank set, time-tested Shimano Dura Ace shifters,  a set of Shimano Deore derailers and a 9-speed Shimano cassette which gives you a choice of 27 gears to climb or fly on the flats as needed. Unfortunately, fast climbing does not seem to be one of the trikeís "forte". There are gears to help you conquer all but the steepest climbs but I donít think youíll break any speed records in the process. The good news is that you can climb as slow as you want without fear of falling down and youíll probably more than make up for any "lost" time on the way down.

The Shimano Deore mechanical disc brakes provided more than adequate, predictable and silent stopping power, they also contribute to the trikeís sophisticated look.

Shifting proved to be flawless. The drive train was fairly quiet provided I was using the small or middle chainring. Unfortunately, the big chainring seemed to pull the chain against one of the idlerís aluminum stops (or bracket?) resulting in a somewhat distracting noise. My solution to this little problem was to increase the distance between the aluminum bracket and the idler.

The rear view mirror is strapped to the handlebars with a Velcro band. Although this is Okay as far as being a functional, lightweight and inexpensive alternative, I would have preferred a permanently mounted rear view mirror. The trikeís brake stop also come in the form of a 2nd Velcro strap. Again, this works but kind of cheapens an otherwise sophisticated looking trike. `BentRider was told that Wizwheelz is actively looking for a manufacturer that can make a "high-end, light weight lever with a pin stop." They are also looking for an alternative mirror so the Velcro straps are likely to go away in the near future.

The seat is highly adjustable but the process required to adjust the seat to pedal distance is somewhat cumbersome. However, the current system is as secure as it gets. This is also an area that has been targeted for improvement by Wizwheelz. Please note that it is NOT a big deal. Once you find your most comfortable position youíre not going to be making any additional adjustments. According to Wayne: "We are kind of between a rock and a hard place on this one.  Because of the lateral forces imposed on a Trike, the seat needs to be very tightly secured to the frame.  We've looked for years for a quick release mechanism that would allow us to get the secure connection we get from the bolt.  We may end up designing something of our own in the next version.  Rest assured we realize the issue, and we're working on it."

Handling & Performance

Some bikes make me feel athletic. Others make me feel strong, unique, in control, happy and free. While the TerraTrike stimulated most of those emotions in one way or another, the overpowering sense I got during my test rides was simply rejuvenation. It is almost as if the TerraTrike were a three wheeled fountain of youth which explains why I wrote all that gobbledygook about Ponce De Leon at the start of this article. Crazy as it may sound, this is just my way of sharing with you the thoughts and feelings that I associated with the TerraTrike. I actually did think of Ponce De Leon while I pedaled the TerraTrike.

Surely there must be a logical reason behind this crazy feeling. Perhaps I just love the phenomenal way this trike handles or the way it effortlessly cuts through the air. Maybe it is just that the trike is soooooo stable you can just lie back, relax and enjoy every turn in extreme comfort or the ability to look at the sky without fear of crashing. Or could it be that I am self conscious of the way I look on the TerraTrike. This trike is an efficient head turning device and being linked to something that looks so cool somehow inflates my ego and subliminally helps me get a level of recognition that I might secretly long for. Or maybe I just love thinking that I am now the coolest young-old fart in my neighborhood. Then again, it might simply be that riding the TerraTrike is the most fun Iíve had in a loooooong time.

The trike is also pretty darn fast. The standard high-pressure Metro tires take nothing away from the TerraTrikeís speed performance. As a matter of fact, Iíve done a few club rides in which I was amazed at how easily this 33 pounder can keep up with upright road bikes weighing a lot less and carrying skinnier and younger riders. On a recent club ride, I was able to maintain about 18.5 MPH for about 22 miles at which time I had to slow down to a more comfortable 16 MPH for an additional 20 miles. So, on the road, I seem to be a notch slower on the trike but then again, my road bike is a Wishbone RT, which happens to be one of the fastest bikes around.

Iím fairly comfortable riding the trike in our increasingly ridiculous South Florida traffic as long as Iím with a large group of cyclists. But I do worry about not being seen so I stick to bike paths and the sidewalks while Iím on my own. While Iím a bit slower on the road, I am SIGNIFICANTLY FASTER on a bike path. This is simply because the trike virtually eliminates any "road rash" worries. I can concentrate on spinning in confidence.

How stable is this trike? In two words, EXTREMELY SO. Yes, of course you can tip it but you really have to try very hard. You would have to ride the TerraTrike in the most reckless manner possible for one of those front wheels to leave the earth.

Conclusion

I just love this trike. Believe you me; I had to try very hard to be critical of some minor points. I think this trike is a winner and should definitely earn your consideration if you are in the market for a trike. There are other great trikes in the market that you should also consider. However, there is no question in my mind that the TerraTrike is a great value and is worth every penny.

 

Wizwheelz TerraTrike

Highs: Very well made, awesome looks - a head turner, comfort and great performance

Lows: Velcro straps are used for the mirror and brake stop

More Info: http://www.wizwheelz.com

 

 

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