A new GTR…

Posted on February 12th, 2006 in Opinion by Julian Edgar

A few weeks ago I bought a GTR. A long time ago – what today seems a very long time ago – I owned a Nissan Skyline GTR, but this new one is very different. How different? Well, for starters, it has only three wheels. And a maximum power output of about 0.2kW. I haven’t measured it, but I understand most fairly unfit people can furnish about 200 watts continuously….

Yes, that’s right, this GTR is powered by pedals.

So how the hell did I come to buy a pedal tricycle? A return to childhood while in the clutches of early senility, perhaps? Well, it all actually started on a photo-shoot for AutoSpeed. In Sydney and Melbourne and Brisbane and Adelaide we have favourite photo locations; places to which we can take a car to make the photos for AutoSpeed articles. One of the locations is in Knoxfield, a suburb of Melbourne. Over the years we must have photographed a dozen cars there.

And during one of those shoots I’d noticed a nearby factory unit. Along with the name ‘Greenspeed’, it had a sign above the doorway showing what I thought was a recumbent bicycle – the sort where the pedals are way out in front and the seat is close to the ground. Having always been interested in bikes, I put away a casual thought: Must go in there some time. Lots of time passed then I was again in the area – this time with 30 minutes to spare. I parked out the front, knocked on the door and went in. I had no idea what to expect, and so when instead of seeing a bicycle I saw a tricycle, I wasn’t too startled.

From the sign I knew it was all gonna be weird…

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Mick Sims – who didn’t know me from Adam – was helpful and relaxed, and took me out the back where they had a few different models. All used what’s referred to as a ‘tadpole’ design: two wheels at the front that steer and a single rear chain-driven wheel. The trikes are very sophisticated – Ackermann steering with zero scrub radius, drum or hydraulic disc brakes, over 80 gears including planetary internal hub gears as well as derailleur gears, and a hammock-like seat. Despite the seat, they look an ungainly and uncomfortable design, slightly off-the-wall for the sake of being different.

I wasn’t sure what the go was but I asked for a test ride, a request immediately granted. Even getting on the thing is unusual – you need to lock the hand-brakes and then sort of slump back into the seat, having stepped initially over the extending boom that carries the front chain sprockets. Steering is by two vertical arms, one either side of the seat. The steering mechanism is ball-jointed and the front wheels pivot on greased bronze-bush kingpins.

I put my feet on the pedals, grasped the steering rods and pedalled into the car park.

OHMYGOD! What an experience!

Forget bicycles; a Greenspeed trike is simply nothing like any bicycle. Forget any vehicle you’ve ever been on. (But if you want a parallel, think of a kart.) The steering is razor sharp (too sharp, perhaps), the ease with which the machine moves along startling. Before I’d even thought much about the process, I was drifting down a road perhaps a kilometre from the Greenspeed factory. The seat was hugely supportive (after all, it has an area perhaps a hundred times bigger than a normal bicycle seat), the ride firm but acceptable, the brakes tactile and strong. With what seems like hundreds of gears, there was some initial rider confusion, but the strength with which you can pedal (the leg push is no longer limited to your weight) means that on the flat, any of 20 gears will do.

To say I was stoked is an understatement: this machine could only be described as a fully-fledged human-powered vehicle. I wanted one; oh boy, how I wanted one!

Mick Sims just grinned at my effusive praise – he must have heard it many times before but he still enjoyed hearing from another convert to his family’s products. But then came the huge downer: cost.

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The trikes are enormously expensive. The cheapest, the GT3 (yes I know Porsche fans, go away and weep) costs three thousand Australian dollars. Other models can easily exceed AUD$6000. In our depressed used car market, you can literally buy a good fun car for six grand…

But what about secondhand, I wondered. Would prices of secondhand Greenspeeds be much lower than new price?

Back home in Queensland I searched the web night after night. There was a Greenspeed GTR available in West Australia. This is a more expensive model than the GT3, using bigger 20 inch wheels and higher quality cranks and gears; new it costs about $5000. The asking price was AUD$3500 and better still, it was one of the rare ones produced with suspension. But I wasn’t willing to buy without inspection, and Perth is on the other side of the continent.

Anyway, what was I thinking: three thousand five hundred dollars for a tricycle with pedals?

A few weeks passed, while nightly I haunted the (very good) Greenspeed website, ogling the photos of the different models. I also read extensively across the web to find that worldwide, Greenspeed is regarded very favourably. (That little Melbourne factory sends most of its production to the US.) But it soon became clear that finding a secondhand GT3 (the cheapest model) was going to be near-impossible – the budget would have to be around $3000.

Then I saw it:

Greenspeed GTR 20 $3500 ono

Would suit new buyer
Touring Recumbent Tricycle
four years old but has never been used
63 speed

extras include headrest, mirror/computer mount.

And best of all, it was in Brisbane – just up the freeway. By 9 the next morning I was on the phone; by 2pm I was inspecting the machine. Apparently it had been bought as a prop for an advertising shoot and then the current owner had purchased it but never ridden it. And it did look brand new, although the aluminium parts were a little milky with surface corrosion.

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I bargained and bargained, eventually getting it down to $3100. Of course, then I had to find the money. Credit card cash advance, account juggling and other financial wizardry followed until I had the cash readies. And two days later, it was mine.

So what’s it like on home turf? Firstly, I live in an area with extremely steep hills. That was one of the attractions of the trike to me: it wouldn’t matter how slowly I pedalled up the hills, balance would be assured. And when I am in first gear, a good pedalling rate moves the trike forward at only 4-5 km/h. That gearing is amazing – I doubt that there is a hill that cannot be climbed. Sure it’s slow, but that’s up hills that on a conventional un-powered bike I would find impossible to negotiate.

The drums brakes obviously work hard on big descents (I might add some brake ducts as the alloy drums get too hot to touch) and at high speed, the lack of any scrub radius makes the steering a little twitchy. In fact, the steering weight does not increase with speed – it remains super light and direct whether you’re travelling at 5 km/h – or 50 km/h. That’s fine, but you need a deft and accurate touch if at speed you’re not to suddenly bound off the bitumen into the bushes.

But the comfort is amazing. Right now, I am getting back into the fitness regime of pedalling. This means I make lots of stops on the big hills, locking-on the brakes (a pin on each lever does this) and then literally sitting back, sipping from my drink bottle and watching the world go by from my armchair.

Downsides? Well, the trike is clearly wider than a bike so on narrow roads, cars have to make a diversion to go around you; the ride with the tyres inflated to their regulation 90 psi was much too hard on poor surfaces and so I have dropped the pressures all round; and because of the horizontal leg arrangement, the pedals work best with cleats or toe-clips.

But hell, from the chrome-moly 4130 frame to the 40kg(!) rated integral carrier to the top brand-name tyres, rims, spokes, gears, cranks and chain, it’s a very high quality machine that should easily outlast the ten year frame warranty. And maybe it’s a rationalisation, but that’s how I view it – $350 a year for ten years.

As a Greenspeed retailer told me, that’s cheaper than gym membership and a helluva lot more fun….

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