Autonomous Motion

Sun USX Recumbent Tricycle


Supremely comfortable pedal-wheels

The Sun EZ-3 USX is a human-powered, recumbent, three wheeled vehicle. It engages me in a way that the Segway did not. I am amazed this product, what some call a “bent trike,” is not better known.

What’s significant about the USX? It’s the most comfortable human powered vehicle ever, more comfortable than many cars. It’s safe, practical, and affordable. I hate exercise but I find myself impatient to get my next chance to ride this thing. The USX is potentially a major step forward in promoting conservation and healthy exercise in America, but only if it becomes better known.

It was designed by Easy Racers near Santa Cruz, California, the same shop that designed the first bike to break 65 MPH, and is manufactured in Taiwan. Riding the USX is eerie, because it feels like relaxing on a perfect easy chair and performing aerobic exercise at once. You can go fast or slow, and both are wonderful. You can load the thing with 450 total pounds. You can pull carts. Some riders have decked out USX’s with ipod sound systems and other amenities. You can get rain roofs and car hitches.

There are some downsides. It’s heavy: 65 pounds. Going up hills is pleasant, but slower than on a bicycle. Some of the parts (bolts, screws, and bearings, in particular) are low-end and might need to be replaced sooner than you’d expect. It doesn’t come with some essential features, like rear view mirrors. (Mirrycle handlebar mirrors are the best after-market choice.) It’s hard to mount a front headlight. The best solution I have found is the rechargeable NiteRider Evolution. (I used nylon ties to extend the radius of the included universal handlebar mount so that it would fit on the frame.)

Some other upsides: Unlike a lot of bent trikes, the USX folds for easy transportation. I put it inside the back of our SUV instead of on a rack. There are three vendors of car hitches for it, though. (To fold, you have to undo two bolts and the chain guide. I added quick release fasteners to make folding easier. Be careful to choose a heavy-duty fastener to replace the bolt that releases the frame suspension.)

Another big plus: you sit high enough to be noticed by car drivers, though I also added a flag and extra lights to err on the side of caution. Although it looks wide, and encourages cars to give more room than is commanded by bicyclists, it is actually narrow enough to roll through a standard door. You can stand it up on end so it takes minimal room when parked. You can just stop and rest while going up hill- it has a parking brake.

There are lots of other bent trikes — dozens — but most are “performance-oriented” — made for athletes. Some of the athletic brands are Greenspeed, Catrike, and Windcheetah. I have tried some of them, and I think they are fun and interesting, but not what I want. They are expensive, very low slung (you’re practically on the ground while riding), and not so practical for non-atheletes. What I want is something that’s super easy to get in and out of, that’s fun to sit on while standing still, that’s high up enough to be safe around cars, and that is fun to ride slow, while on the phone or catching up on treo email. I want something for life, not for sport, and there’s not much competition in this niche. There is another interesting comfort-oriented bent trike, the Hase Leupus, from Germany. The Leupus is lighter and made of higher-end parts, but is disproportionately more expensive. The seat isn’t as comfortable as the USX — though it does have better suspension. Hase also makes super light versions, including titanium models.

Beware that sometimes enthusiast cults get lost in fantasy. The enthusiasm in the bent trike world sometimes reminds me of what happened with high-end consumer audio. Superstitions crowded out reality. People started to spend insane money on audio cables with impossible physical properties, for instance. The culture of high-end bent trikes is infected with nonsense physics and silly ideas.

Even though the USX is ridiculed by some hard-core bent bike enthusiasts, it is an important product, even aside from the low price. The ONLY company trying to support “regular” people with bent trikes right now is Sun. Hopefully there will be more soon. The USX is available online for about $800. If you buy online, know that Sun ships the USX without the parts well-tightened. If you can afford it, it makes more sense to buy retail from a good local bike shop for about $1000. The service will be very much worth it!

-- Jaron Lanier 11/3/05