Jen got a bike! (Updated May 2021)

You may not believe this, but I’ve never really ridden a bike before. I had one when I was quite young, but didn’t get to ride it much before outgrowing it. Plus growing up with severe asthma meant I didn’t get to do a lot outside.

David has been biking for a long time. When we moved to the Bay Area and realized driving every day is a nightmare, he got an e-bike to commute, and loved it. I never tried it out, because I’m much shorter than he is, with much lousier balance (due to a spinal cord injury). But it always looked fun!

Since I didn’t really have anywhere to commute to, I stuck with my wheelchair (with a Freewheel, which I plan to post about here someday), though it’s a manual chair propelled by my own two hands. My speed was limited to how much energy I have on any given day.

This year, we started thinking about getting me some kind of bike so that we can go exploring together. There’s no way I can handle life on two wheels with my balance and pain levels, so I started looking into trikes.

Trikes and E-trikes are starting to gain popularity among those of us with balance issues and anyone just looking for something new and fun to ride around. I decided to go with a Liberty Trike. Liberty Trikes are designed for people with mobility issues, who want to stay active but need or want a little extra assistance, in the form of a motor. The trikes can be propelled by pedaling or by using the throttle, or a combination of the two. Unlike pedal-assisted bikes, you don’t need to have the extra strength to push the pedals in order to start moving. Just sit and use the throttle, then pedal if/when you’re ready.

We had my Liberty Trike out of the box and I was riding around on it within about 10 minutes. It came with plenty of charge for a first ride around the RV park, and I was in love within minutes! Look at this beauty:

A black tricycle in front of a liberty trike box
Liberty Trikes come in a lot of different colors, but I’ve always been a classic black kinda girl.

Liberty Trike has a top speed of 12.6 miles per hour, a maximum weight limit of 400 pounds, 5 different power levels, and the ability to reverse direction with the motor. Battery life depends on how fast you’re riding, the type of terrain, and the weight of the rider and any cargo. While riding around at the top speed/power level for over 45 minutes, my battery only dipped to 50%. I can ride around for a couple hours at the lower power levels and the battery stays above 50%. For reference, I am a fat person in the upper half of the weight limit. I definitely recommend this trike if you’re a larger person.

There are two brakes: a hand brake on the left handlebar and a pedal brake (reverse direction of the pedals like on a kids’ bike or fixie). The throttle is on the right handlebar. So my primary complaint about this configuration is that I absolutely need two hands to ride: one for throttle and one to brake. Not only that, but it can get painful holding the throttle for long rides. (Or maybe it’s because I like long rides at top speeds…)

I wish the seat was a little larger, and I wish the seat could slide back a bit. I’m fairly short (5’3”) and almost feel like I don’t have enough leg room. However, it hasn’t stopped me from riding and it’s close enough to justify keeping it.

In the first two weeks of riding, I put about 50 miles on the bike (there’s an odometer and a trip meter!), with an official top speed of 13 mph (downhill!). I broke 100 miles within 6 weeks. I’ve slowed down a bit since we’ve been traveling and being in a less-bike-friendly area, but I should hit 200 miles in the next few days!

Around mile 40, I started hearing a knocking sound in the axle. After speaking with the folks at Liberty Trike, they said it sounds more like the axle itself than a bearing, possibly due to a manufacturing defect. The same day we spoke, they put a new axle in the mail to us. Interestingly, once I hit 80 or 90 miles, the knocking sound stopped, so I have not installed the replacement axle. I’ll update this post if the noise comes back and I have to replace the axle.

Any time I’ve emailed them, they’ve been very fast to respond. There was also a shipping glitch when the bike shipped: there was a delay shipping (because of covid, this is understandable), but they did not update my shipping address as requested when we changed RV parks prior to shipping. I was extremely upset because it was going to be shipped somewhere we couldn’t be sure of the bike’s safety or our ability to get it, and within two days, they updated the address with UPS, and it was delivered to the proper location.

Where we’re staying in Arizona, there aren’t many maintained bike paths. We went down through the canals, which we believe is part of the Hohokam Canal System, developed by the Hohokam, a prehistoric group of people indigenous to what is now known as Arizona. (Yeah, maybe you’re not supposed to ride through them, but they’re interesting, we’re careful, it’s paved, and there aren’t may other places to easily ride where we’re staying.)

There are lots of what we think are goats head weeds in this area, which produce super sharp prickly burrs which will draw blood when you remove them from your clothes, and will puncture any stock inner tube. On our first long ride in AZ, I punctured a rear tire, and David punctured both tires on his new Lectric Bike. (Review forthcoming!)

So we were out of commission for a couple weeks while we sourced replacement tubes. I didn’t have any luck finding tougher tubes for my bike (it’s an odd size), so I bought spares from Liberty Trike directly, and we installed tire liners to hopefully prevent future flats. I’m still hoping for some heavy duty inner tubes someday, though.

A light skinned person in a mask and  bike helmet looking at the camera

I have yet to use this as a mobility device to take it shopping or to an event (because covid), but I think it’d be a nice change from my manual wheelchair for certain things in the future.

This is definitely one of the best purchases we’ve ever made.

May 2021 update:

After hitting 300 miles on the Liberty Trike, I have some more opinions.

Battery: the battery is too small. I’m used to the gauge being low far too soon when I’d love to keep riding, but I hadn’t yet been stranded. After an hour and a half of riding about 15 miles on a full charge, my battery ran out of juice a little too far from home (and very little warning on the battery gauge). With a fixed gear setup and heading uphill at the time, pedaling unassisted was absolute hell. Luckily David was with me and he “pushed” me with one foot while riding his Lectric Bike, which has a bigger and better battery. We’ve considered buying a second battery from Liberty Trikes to keep mounted to the trike and charged for switching on the trail, but with only 8Ah, I think we’ll be buying a battery from elsewhere.

Seating: for a mobility device with a higher weight capacity, the seat sure is uncomfortable on long rides or anywhere that’s not pristine asphalt or concrete. We’ll likely replace the seat when we can find one that’s a good fit, but it’s a shame it didn’t come with something larger and better suited for bumps.

Throttle: the throttle on the handlebar requires a twisting motion that’s just too harsh for my wrist. There really needs to be a thumb lever on the throttle and it needs to be configurable to use with or without thumbs (for those who can’t). More flexibility for riders of different abilities would be ideal if this is going to be marketed to people with disabilities.

Rear basket: this may be petty, but cargo carrying isn’t great. The basket doesn’t hold much because it’s got odd angles on the sides (the top is wider than the bottom) and I have to do a weird Velcro strap thing to keep my water bottle in the basket (and even then, it’s bounced out more than once on a rough road). It’s an odd size that I have yet to configure in any useful manner with any standard bags so far.

Portability: Liberty Trike is marketed as a folding trike, but it’s really not. If you fold it the way they recommend in their videos, it can’t be rolled and it weighs a lot. We disassemble it (remove the basket and seat, then separate the rear wheels from the front wheel) to transport it in the RV. It takes up a lot of space disassembled, too. I am a little envious of David’s Lectric Bike and how it folds down into something easy-to-transport, but it is what it is. I’m still grateful for it.

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