Saturday, December 31, 2011

The Official Comprehensive Catrike Speed Review

I published this initially on BROL since the readership is much higher. I'm reposting it here for the sake of adding a much needed resource to my existing blog (and in case BROL ever goes under). Here it goes:

- I gawked at the Catrike ever since I learned about it. I love the lines. Just looks beautiful compared to the other trikes I've seen. And when cost (used) falls into the equation, I never looked back at anything else.

- I like the culture. It's nice that Paulo gives the annual tour and there's a Catrike ride every year.

- There's also a fairly huge following which means there's support for any questions I might have. I'm more than willing to learn about stuff on my own, but it's nice to have someone who's gone through the same stuff. Why make it harder on myself than I have to?

- Since there are so many Catrike purchased, there's also many that are being sold on the used market which helps me out in terms of budget.

- Surely suspension would nice and so would an adjustable seat angle, but personally I can deal w/o either. The KMX has been heavy enough. At 45lbs, I wasn't looking for anything close to that in weight. A suspension trike would've been heavier than the 30lb Catrike Speed for sure - at least within my budget of $1,700.

- As far a the seat angle, the ultra reclined position doesn't bother me one bit. I did some comparisons (shown on my blog) of the Speed vs where I like my seat on the KMX and I recall it being fairly similar.

- It's small. I wanted something that would fit vertically in my garage. I have limited space and that was the most efficient way to store it. The one rule in my house is that if there isn't a place for it, we don't get it. It's also small in terms of width so it fits through doorways better than most other trikes in their fleet.

- I wanted something faster than my KMX. The Catrike wasn't an option initially when I first got into the bent world b/c of the cost. The KMX only cost me $700 used on Craigslist, so I wasn't complaining. I was hoping the Speed would live up to its name.

- I like the wheel size. I don't like the rear wheel being the same size as the fronts. The Speed was nice in that it fell into familiar territory. The KMX also has a 20" rear drive wheel with 16's up front (different mm, but close enough).

- Yes, it lives up to its name. Perhaps it's the weight or maybe I've just ridden the KMX Tornado so long that the 12lb weight difference is just so overwhelming. I literally feel the lower rolling resistance of the configuration. It's like night and day. There's absolutely no way to not notice the difference in performance of the trikes. At $1k for the KMX Tornado and $2,600 for the Speed, it comes at a price.

- The 42T middle chain ring feels like a climbing ring compared to my KMX which currently uses a 42T chain ring (stock is 40T) as the largest downhill chain ring! In other words, I typically climb steep hills with a 22T or a 32T chainring for less sloped hills on the (modded) KMX. I can climb the same hills on the Speed using the 42T middle ring!

- The climbing capabilities on this thing is amazing. I'm surprised there aren't any compromises to get the flat and downhill speed. I have yet to really use the smallest 30T chain ring on the Speed in real world riding. I've only tested it for the sake of seeing what it was like and checking that everything was working okay.

Ground Clearance:
If you're looking for lots of ground clearance, neither the Speed nor the KMX are for you. This thing is low - way low. If you have problems getting up and out of trikes, then look elsewhere. You'll hate this. Many owners already have an issue with the bottom of the frame scraping against speed bumps and other uneven ground. The owner of my aunt's trike bashed the idler somehow - yes, even with the Speed's idler protector. Easy to see that it can happen considering the limited ground clearance. The last owner of my trike opted to protect the underside with a tire tube. Precautions are made b/c it's really an issue for those that need more clearance for the type of riding they do or the environment in which they ride.

Maybe FFR can chime in on this, but I suspect their choice in using the KMX frame for their electric mods has a lot to do with the durability of the frame (warranty, quality and strength of a steel frame), but probably also b/c it's got a square section vs a round. Perhaps square is easier to mount electrical components (especially mid-drive systems). I won't pretend to know a lot about this. FFR can say a few words for clarification if they wish.

When my aunt bought a Catrike Speed not long ago, my uncle took it for a test ride and though the steering was broken - something was wrong with it. He didn't realize that the Speed was designed to be a bit "twitchy". It's all part of the sporty feel of the trike. Moving the handlebars a bit here or a bit there causes the trike to turn quite a bit. Although the stiffness I learned this weekend can somewhat be adjusted and the handlebars can also be adjusted, note that the trike itself is inherently "twitchy." It's just the way it is. Physics majors would probably be able to explain it better, but I'm sure it has something to do with the narrow dimension of the distance btw the two front wheels.

Although there's adjustment capabilities for the KMX, there's tons more for the Catrike. The distance the handlebars are from each other are somewhat fixed on the KMX. They can be pulled closer to the rider or further out at a fixed angle which can ultimately alter the distance they are from one another, but not by a huge margin. While the KMX's handlebars angle are welded, the Catrike has a proper headset which allows free movement of the handlebars to sway left or right before fixing it to your custom position. Tough to explain w/o photos, but just know the Catrike allows more flexibility in handlebar configuration. The KMX's setup happen to fit me just fine, so no complaints in that department. I can't say this'll be true for all riders. I'm 5'-7" and 145lb's. I believe this fixed handlebar setup was compensated by the seat forward/back adjustability that's absent in the Catrike lineup.

The seat on the KMX is adjustable in increments. The Catrike's seat angle is completely fixed. The KMX is definitely has a softer foam cushioned seat whereas the Catrike is just mesh like all the other trikes out there (majority of them at least). The KMX setup allows for different types and thicknesses of foam to be swapped out while the Catrike's configuration can be changed by altering the tightness of the straps that secure the mesh seat. Looser allows it to sag and stiffer makes it harder. The seat position itself can be moved forward and back by 4 increments on the KMX. No such adjustability exists for the Catrike.

- I doubt the KMX was ever designed to be modded, but I've successfully been able to do so w/o much of a problem. The learning curve for me was just huge b/c I didn't know much about bicycle components when I started. The KMX frame allows multiple sizes of rear wheels. The Catrike Speed maxes out at the stock 20" wheel unless you purchase Utah Trike's extension kit to allow a larger size. As for the front wheels? KMX has a proprietary hub (although FFR was able to mod theirs with custom hubs using what I suspect to be custom axles). The Catrike uses what I believe to be a typical axle with standard quick release skewers for all wheels.

- All the other components to be modded pretty much can be done on either trike. The wheels are probably the only thing worth mentioning in this regard.

OMG, this is a big one. The overall weight is quite different. KMX is 45lbs and the Catrike Speed is 30lbs. What's even more crucial though is that the rear of the Catrike Speed is a lot less heavy than the front. The KMX's huge weight seems to be balanced more evenly across the length of the frame. Although this weight distribution may be ideal for cars where 50/50 is often desired, that's not necessarily true for trikes. Though open for debate in other threads, I believe lower drivewheel weight translates directly to higher speed and efficiency. This opinion comes from:

1. Racing my KMX Tornado against a friend who claims he's 100lbs heavier (though probably closer to 50lbs) on his Expedition. He's tons faster. No doubt about it.
2. Swapping my rear IGH wheel for a lighter weight one (less than 3lbs difference) and the differences were quite noticeable.

- A lower weight is also nice b/c it allows me to pull it up onto the rack (I haven't done this yet, but it just makes sense) more easily. 15lbs is a huge difference when the thing you're lifting is more awkwardly shaped than a dumb bell.

- For some reason, I suspect even if I strapped 15lbs of weight to the Catrike Speed to equal the overall weight of the KMX, the Speed would still feel faster.

- Storing the trike in a vertical position would've been easier on the Catrike Speed if it wasn't for the lack of a rear brake. Speaking of which....

The Catrike's brakes are ridiculously awesome. They stop on a dime. No joke. When engaged abruptly, it's like hitting a wall. It's nice having that ability. You can obviously engaging it for a smoother experience. The KMX has cheaper brakes and doesn't brake nearly as well as the Catrike despite having a third rear brake.

Rear Brake:
I hate that the Catrike doesn't have a rear brake. I suppose it saves money on production costs, is one less thing to break or maintain and adds weight but I miss the rear brake I have on the KMX. The KMX can power slide like none other. I love it. That's all gone when riding the Catrike. You win some. You lose some. The smoothest way to add a rear brake on a Catrike is unfortunately with the extension kit ($150) which comes a bit pricey and that only allows you the option. It doesn't include the cost of the cable nor the caliper itself.

No emergency brake on the Catrikes? Sorry Paulo, but that was a horrible move. But then again, most trikes don't come with a rear brake as standard equipment or even as an option. Perhaps the introduction of the rear brake is something uniquely KMX. The KMX comes with a stock emergency brake button on the lever. The Catrike? It comes with a high end velcro strap? Pleaaaase. Catrike did such a great job on the rest of the trike and they decided to go cheap on the parking brake. This can easily be upgraded yourself with the right component, but it's a disappointment that this feature was missing. All trikes should have parking brakes that don't equal to a 5 cent piece of velcro. In the meantime I'm using a "Bike Brake" branded rubber band thingy which works in the meantime but is nowhere as clean as a button setup.

Those with sub $2k budgets like me have a hard time getting into any serious bent trikes w/o getting one used. New ones these days seem to be priced at around $2,100-3,400 (maybe you guys can comment on the accuracy of this since I haven't really looked at many new ones over $1,400). Both the KMX and Catrike brand are great for those on a limited budget and allows those into the sport who otherwise wouldn't be able or want to. If you have $700-1000, get the KMX, understand it's limitations and upgrade as you have more available funds (assuming you like that activity of tinkering and modding). I spent close to 2 years doing this. If you have a budget of about double and have interest in a Catrike Speed, you can get one for $1,100-1,800 (or window shop for one) depending on the mileage and production age of the trike. First production models with the ugly blue mesh seat used go for as little as $800 before shipping while newer 2011 ones can land in over $2,000. I've noticed 2008-2010 models go for about $1,300-1,600 or so as of the date of this post.

Those that have read up on this thing, know that the Speed is pretty much Paulo's baby. It's tweaked almost every year as a developing trike. More changes have gone into the Speed than any other model as what I suspect to be an attempt at refining for perfection. Other threads will educate you more on the differences btw the years, but you're looking mostly at the frame's shape and seat angle. Crankset height off the ground from my understanding has also altered a bit. Some may prefer grip shifters which can be found on the older models.

I put my trike side by side with my aunt's 2008 and it looks very similar. Was the seat angle different? Tough to tell even when looking at them both at the same time, but for sure the bend on the upper portion of the seat is more extreme on the 2010 than it is on the 2008. Were decals different colors amongst all those in that year or was it just my '10 that had black stickers and her '08 that had red? Perhaps a minor difference that some of you may be considering when purchasing.

The gears of the Catrike Speed and I suspect all the Catrikes or (non KMX's) shift very smoothly. I don't think my used one's been tuned and even then, it's been shifting flawlessly. A few awkward sounds here and there, but it's nothing I shouldn't be able to fix when I get some time to attend it.

The ride is also very smooth. Of course you feel the road as you would a sports car, but I'm surprised even with the slick no-tread Kojak tires that the ride is as smooth as it is. Is it smoother than the KMX stock? Definitely. Smoother than the KMX with Marathon Racers? Not quite sure. I can't say one way or the other. If there's any difference, it's not obvious.

Though some may see the super heavy weight seat as a drawback (and it is), but the frame itself allows mounting of all sorts of stuff that a mesh seat doesn't quite offer. Mesh seats go over the tubes which pretty much hide it and limit where you can mount stuff easily. Whereas the KMX is all exposed and ready for mounting of things such as:

- I was able to put my bike license plate on the back in a really clean it-belongs-there kinda way.
- My water bottle mounting brackets fit super nicely, again as if it was that way out of the factory. If symmetry is your thing, it's worked wonders with water on one side and Gatorade on the other. It came out to a pretty sleek look.
- I also strapped on a Timbuk2 handlebar bag (currently discontinued) onto the back w/o a problem.
- My vibration alarm fit nicely under the seat within the metal frame well hidden from view.
- The recent addition of the Topeak bag was a nice touch. It took some experimenting, but worked out in the end and I have no regrets with the mounting design.

The Catrike's two horizontal bars at the top of the seat are often times used with Minoura or Topeak water bottle cage mounting brackets. Two fit there quite nicely. Perhaps not as convenient to retrieve, but it works. The single cage on the boom was a nice touch in that it follows the lines of the trike and I can't imagine it anywhere else. Of course this limits you to one bottle which may be fine for the casual shorter distance rider. But for those that ride longer routes and cover more miles w/o stopping, two bottles are great and can be put nicely here above the seat.

While the KMX as I mentioned takes some improvising to figure a storage solution, Catrike offers a few integrated solutions for those that want to carry more stuff.

The new Catrike seats as I mentioned previously, have 3 pockets. One on the left at your lower back, another smaller one under the seat on your right and a place for your pump. That'll be sufficient for most. For those that want to carry more on the road, there's the Arkel bags. Though the fitment of the Arkel bags are poor at best on the Speed, they're available and some people seem to deal with them okay.

Some find that the Nashbar or any triangle bags that typically are designed for DF bikes fit okay.

The Catrike's frame design also allows for standard trunk racks to be installed like you see on a typical bicycle. Not the case with the KMX. The KMX uses a proprietary $89 plus shipping rack.

Fenders can't be easily put on a KMX without some customization. I actually haven't seen any for the front wheels. The stock rear one is a great touch though. That rear fender really finishes off the look of the KMX. I like that the front wheels are bare, but that's only until dirt kicks up into my face on a rainy morning ride.

Catrikes allow easy fitment of fenders on the front wheels. I believe this requires a special bracket. Not sure if this is supplied/designed by Utah Trikes, Catrike themselves or Planet Bike. Either way, they're available and I've seen them installed. I personally still prefer to run fenderless, but I'm sure others would like the option of having them and now you know what the limitations are.

Catrike wins in this category. A few screws loosen everything, The seat can't be removed anyway (nor would you want to), the boom holds nicely with quick release skewers. All three wheels have quick release skewers too which are absent in the KMX. The KMX requires tools to lug around to remove the wheels, most of which aren't necessarily on a standard bike tool.

So if removing pieces for a more compact unit to fit into a sedan (non truck, SUV, wagon or hatchback) is important, note doing so with a KMX (which I've done on a few occasions where I drive long distance) isn't nearly as easy as I can imagine it would be with a Catrike.

Yes, I made that word up. The KMX's boom seems to like to loosen itself, especially during aggressive pedaling down hills. Part of it is due to the poor design of how it's secured. The KMX uses two screws. The only contact that secures the outer boom sleeve to the main frame is the end of the screw to a corner of the square frame. Hard to explain, but you'll see it immediately if you ever look closely at a KMX boom. I suspect an easy way to manage this w/o too much redesign is to cut a V-shaped groove into the end of the screw so that the full surface will make contact with the boom. Anyway,...

The Catrike doesn't have this issue. As Paulo noted so humbly in his Youtube video, owners of trike competitors have admitted that there's more technology in the Catrike boom than their entire trike! I can't say if KMX was the competitor (though I doubt it since hte quality, features and price point are completely different), but whomever it is, they remain anonymous.

I haven't dealt with the Catrike enough (being that I've owned it for less than 2 weeks) to know what irritates me about the trike if anything. I'm still in the honeymoone fast and I love the thing too much to see any flaws quite yet.

If you know you're getting a non-suspension strike with twitchy steering that's super low to the ground and the stock seat angle is perfect for you, then the Catrike Speed might be the ticket.

Car Analogy:
If the KMX Tornado is the Scion of tadpole recumbent trikes in that they're super affordable relative to all the features you get stock, then the Catrike Speed must be the Mazda Speed 3 in the world of comparable bents. The quality and performance are there with a slightly better price point. Not seen as high end as HP Velotechnik, but provides all the needs in a cool sleek way.

Or perhaps better yet, a comparison can be made btw the Speed and a Lexus. While the Lexus continues the great reputation of reliability as a Japanese motor company, the Lexus brand also has been privileged to sit alongside luxury brands and may be even considered competitors. Though often compared with the high end of Mercedes and BMW, the lower price point and good reliability of this Japanese car seem to both be attractive traits appreciated by fanatics.

The Speed is the same way. Though not quite an HP Velotechnik nor (TR)ICE, it's still considered higher end all while achieving this at an attractive price point. Lexus and Speed are both answers to those who are looking for something above mid level (Acura and Trident), but want to take advantage of price tags that look like bargains compared to the high end brands. Perhaps "upper middle class" may be the term that most accurately describes the Speed and Lexus.

Motorcycle Analogy:
Continuing with a similar analogy of rides: If you're a fan of the Suzuki SV650 motorcycle, the Catrike Speed may be comparable to that as well in that it's well loved by novices as well as professionals. It's at the perfect price point as a higher end intro ride but still well used and loved by riders who have owned it for years and compared it to others they've ridden.

Mt. Bike vs Road Bike:
While the KMX is like a mountain bike on three wheels, the Catrike Speed is like a road bike w/an extra wheel. The two are vastly designed for different uses and does each very well. Try to take on the same conditions meant for the other and you may find yourself wishing you had the other. Neither trike has enough clearance to hop onto (nor off curbs) w/o scratching the frame.

I'd consider the KMX a great training trike. Riding the KMX as extensively as I did (from SF to LA in 7 days across 545 miles) allowed me to really appreciate the upgrade to the Catrike Speed. You travel a shorter distance on the KMX with the same force as you would on a Catrike. Strength and endurance was built on the KMX and now when used on the Speed, makes the Speed feel like a demon. Dare I say a Speed Demon? No plans to let go of the Tornado. It's worth more to me than anyone would be willing to pay for it. If the perfect fan comes along, I may consider. For the time being, there's two bents in my fleet and I don't plan on being a collector by any means. I expect the Catrike Speed to provide perfect use now, but also plenty of room to grow on.


  1. This was exactly what i was looking for. You write well; you explain your bias; and most of all you are talking about the two bike I am looking at. Thank you for an enjoyable ride.

  2. Thanks for a good review. It's very informative to get info from an actual purchaser rather than a Media Publisher. As the 2008 - 11 Speed is a Trike I would like to own (among others) a follow up post after you have a few hundred miles would be nice to see also.