I saw a velomobile (probably an early Cab Bike) while I was on vacation in Seattle seven or eight years ago. I thought it was a really interesting idea, but there was next to no US market at the time; as best I could tell, the only way to get one in this country was to order it, at prices starting at $4k, from one of the Dutch or German companies that had an English web page and was willing to ship to the US. I also noticed recumbent trikes at the time: velmobiles seem to have started life as recumbent trikes with fiberglass shells. But even they were almost entirely a European phenomenon, with next to no US market and prices starting around $3k. I made a mental note to try to arrange to test ride some when I was in Europe some day, "once I get into shape". And I didn't give it much thought again til a few months ago.
Back in July I was balancing my checkbook. And there, as every month, was the $125 preauthorized withdrawal to pay for my car insurance. And I found myself thinking beyond my habitual annoyance about Massachusetts' regulated insurance market, where I, with a spotless driving record for more than 20 years, subsidize insurance for idiots. I thought: I'm driving less than 5,000 miles a year these days, and even most of that's unnecessary. And I'm paying
$3,000 $1,500*** a year just in insurance for the privilege. It'd probably be cheaper if I took cabs or used zipcar when I really do need a car, and certainly be healthier if I walked or took the T or rode a bike when I don't. Plus, I fucking hate driving in Boston. Why am I doing this? Within a couple of weeks I'd decided to go car-free.
And naturally, decided to look into velomobiles again. They're still damned expensive, and almost unheard of in the US. But recumbent trikes, while still a tiny market, were now a much bigger tiny market, with US and Canadian specialist dealers online. Most interestingly, a Tiawanese company had started selling cheap but sturdy recumbents. Including a knock-off of one of my favorite German designs, the Hase Lepus — at about a quarter the price. A little more digging and some tripping over a of out-of-date information on the 'net (leading to, among other things, a phone call to what turned out to be the home phone of a guy who no longer runs a bike shop on the South Shore) I found out that Belmont Wheelworks has them in stock. Including a display model.
So last Tuesday, for the first time in 40 years,* I rode a tricycle. And absolutely loved it. There's a phrase you run into repeatedly on recumbent bike and trike discussions online: the recumbent grin. It is absolutely real. Riding the trike is fun the way riding a bike was when I was a kid. I'd been concerned that I'd feel be too low to be seen by drivers, and part of the reason I liked this design before I ever tried it was that it seats the rider a good deal higher than most others — though still a lot lower than on a bicycle. But the reality turned out to be just fine. Most people who ride them (at least the ones who talk about it online) feel that drivers give them more room than bicyclists; my experience on last week's test ride tended to agree with that. By the end of the test ride I was pretty much sold.
So today I went out to Belmont, did some final fitting stuff, and rode it home in the sunshine. 8.4 km in 52 minutes, including stopping once to turn the trike on its side and try to figure out where a noise was coming from, twice to get off and look at my map (I was on an unfamiliar route), and haven't figured out a way to keep stuff like maps within reach while in the seat), and eight or ten times for stop signs or traffic lights. Drivers generally did seem to give me more room than they would a bike. There were the only two assholes, both, stereotypically enough, in full-size pick-ups.** And overall, I had a blast. I am really looking forward to life with this as my primary vehicle.
* For the record, that is the first time I have ever said "for the first time in 40 years". I suppose it won't be the last.
** When I was a kid, guys drove pick-ups because they had to haul shit. And there are still such guys. But for the most part, guys seem to drive pick-ups because it gives them delusions of adequacy.
*** Buries face in hands.