An acquaintance Todd Boulanger in Portland Oregon (USA) spotted a new “4 in one” bike called the Zigo at the Interbike trade show and sent a note with a mention that was like the “very nice European bike that does the same” but much cheaper. I’m not sure whether Todd couldn’t remember the name of this European version, or simply didn’t want to mention it.
Regardless its called the TrioBike and I’d almost forgotten it until Todd’s mail. The TrioBike is a Danish designed product and its something of a joke amongst my colleagues here in Holland. Some laugh about it but how such a horrible product has won design awards, gotten mountains of (internet) press and glowing reviews from around the globe is both puzzling and troubling. One more lousy bike on the market doesn’t concern me, but the power of armchair internet reviewers does. Then again there are hardly any TrioBikes on the road so maybe its only a matter of perception and annoyance.
Before I go further here, let me clarify my position:
I have ridden and looked very carefully at the TrioBike. In fact, considering the miniscule number that have been sold I am probably one of the few people who have actually seen, touched and ridden it. My fellow colleagues at Workcycles have also ridden the TrioBike and share my opinion.
At Workcycles we sell workbikes and load-carrying bikes of all kinds, the largest number of which are used for child transport. That means that we talk with and share the experiences of thousands of families who transport their kids and groceries by bicycle. We don’t build the bikes ourselves but we do assemble them, modify them for kids of various age combinations, repair them and rent them. Our most popular and family-pleasing child-transport bicycle is the Bakfiets.nl Cargobike. We’ve sold around 1000 Cargobikes already.
Workcycles does not make any bicycle that competes with the TrioBike, and we do business with Amazing Wheels, the Dutch TrioBike importer. We could sell TrioBikes if we chose to, though probably not after anybody associated with the company reads the following assessment. Realistically though, my one personal blog post will only be lost in the flood of positive reviews and awards.
More importantly, I’m writing this post not to denigrate the well-intentioned but poorly executed TrioBike, but to lambast all the lame-asses (lame-assessers?) who evaluate products they’ve never seen, never mind tried or owned. Most of these “internet reviewers” and design award panelists clearly have no involvement in and know nothing about the field they judge. I happen to know this and other egregious examples in the bicycle world, but I assume its also the case in other fields as well. It frustrates me so I’m writing about it.
The Trio Bike case is one of absurd optimism and lack of realistic criticism, but absurd and inaccurate internet reviewing often works in the negative sense as well. I’d be a rich man if I had 5 cents for every know-it-all who comments about the dangers of each and every format of child carrying bicycle on the market. “If the kids sit in front they’ll get run over”. “If the kids sit in back they’ll get run over”. If the kids sit in the middle they’ll get run over”. “If the kids don’t wear helmets the parents are reckless murderers”. “If the parents don’t wear helmets the kids will be left to starve as orphans”. Front child seats behind the handlebar have been referred to as “suicide seats”. “Wooden boxes will make deadly splinters”. “Kids will freeze their tongues on aluminium boxes”. “Two-wheelers are unstable”. “Three-wheelers are unstable”. Its all BS, folks. The fact is that these comments are almost entirely just opinions with no basis in facts or experience. The reality simply suggests that cycling is quite safe, especially when compared to the statistically evidenced mess of carnage known as automobile driving.
On to the TrioBike itself…
For those still reading yet not familiar with the TrioBike its a simple concept: A very attractive, modern-designer bakfiets made so that the front child carrier section can be decoupled from the bicycle frame behind. The bike can be ridden without the child carrier, and the child carrier can be pushed without the bicycle. Thus its referred to as “Trio” for the three modes. Its a worthy idea though multifunctional products always come with compromises. Unfortunately bicycles have little room for design error so that seemingly small compromises can have enormous influence on the function of the bicycle.
I do not know exactly who is behind the TrioBike but I can add much more information than is to be found in the many internet reviews:
- TrioBike is an actual firm in Copenhagen, Denmark
- The TrioBike was designed by ID firm designAgenda in Hellerup, Denmark. Just to note: All bicycles developed by ID firms seem to be miserable failures. I can name numerous other examples so please write if you know an example to the contrary.
- My industry sources tell me that the TrioBike is made (extremely cheaply) by a huge firm in China, shipped to Poland where they’re assembled and then forwarded to regional distributors.
The Trio Bike does look very stylish and was introduced with lots of fanfare and publicity. Since then its received many a glowing internet review by those who’ve never ridden it, and probably never even carried children on a bicycle for that matter. That’s partially because it is effectively “vapor-ware”: There are a few out there, but very few and most are still sitting in the shop of the poor sucker who listened to the distributor salesman without trying it for himself. Note how difficult it is to find a picture of a Trio-Bike actually in use, as opposed to in an advertising photo supplied by the manufacturer.
TrioBikes are mostly to be found in webshops that specialize in design furniture and the likes. The performance demands of a bicycle, especially one that will carry your precious little ones, are simply higher than most furniture.
Here’s my best attempt at an unbiased review of the TrioBike, approximately in reverse order of importance:
- The construction quality and finish work is excellent – chinese bent, machined and welded aluminium, smoothly formed plastic box in a sandwich construction and so forth. Its pretty, looks high quality and in this regard it is light years ahead of many of its competitors.
- The TrioBike is quite sporty and made with parts suitable for recreational single bikes… but this trike is big and would generally have to be stored outdoors. The aluminium frame and special plastic box will probably be fine but the rest is certainly not up to that task – all those chromed nuts and bolts, steel brake disks, exposed chain, and connection system will rust, making your lovely modern design bike very unattractive.
- The trike to stroller conversion mechanism is too technical for most people to use. At the extreme risk of sounding sexist, few women will be able or willing to deal with it. (family bikes are mostly ridden by women, as evidenced by the images in their site and literature) Add a little wear and tear and corrosion and it’ll be convertible only when absolutely necessary. In the real world the TrioBike will simply become a three-wheeled child carrier bicycle (bakfiets).
- It has a men’s style frame, available in a single frame size. This is simply inconvenient for a city vehicle and few women are willing to ride a bike with a men’s style frame. Perhaps its different in other countries. Regardless of the stand-over height, this bike has the bent-over sitting position of a racing bike – unsuitable for city riding. The stem is an “Ahead” type, thus not adjustable in height. The saddle so narrow and hard that it’d be suitable on a racing bike.
- There are no mudguards, no chain covering, jacket guards, lock, or lights. OK, I exaggerate: there are some little LED lights in the handlebar and recent examples seem to have short, aftermarket plastic fenders.
- There are no steps or other means for kids to climb into the box. Its just a slippery looking, round plastic form. Are mom and dad supposed to heft the kids into the bin or is this a sort of athletic challenge for the kids? How will the sleek plastic box look with the resulting foot streaks and prints?
- The front wheels of the TrioBike are set far back in the front child carrier section and the side walls are high, sloping toward the front. This means that kids will climb in from the front. However the bike behind is very light, meaning that the trike tips under the weight of the kids, lifting the rear wheel into the air and consequently letting it swing around the steering axis and then fall with considerable momentum to wherever gravity takes it. That could be… onto mom’s white trousers (remember: no chain cover), into traffic, off the edge of the canal, or into a parked Mercedes. Just to note the Nihola and Winther Kangaroo also have this tipping problem, though at least the Nihola remains straight with its tail in the air since it is linkage steered.
- Now here’s the best part: The TrioBike rides terribly. The steering is so stiff that it can barely be maneuvered while not moving. At even moderate speeds the steering is so awkward and twitchy that its a truly scary experience. There’s always the feeling that a bump or quick maneuver could toss the whole rig over. Even if one could master it it would never be even remotely pleasant. Riding a bicycle should be a wonderful, natural feeling experience, not one to “get used to”.
How one could design such a thing and bring it to market is absolutely baffling to me. The basic concept is excellent but then the product development process went completely wrong. Many basic design factors reduce the suitability of the Trio-Bike to hardly anybody. It was supposed to be a convenient mommy bike but who is it for now? Even if it were just a lovely and cool bike for just a niche market that’d be OK too. After all that’s the case with most of the highly specialized bikes the recreational bicycle industry offers. But the killer is that the TrioBike is just unpleasant riding and inconvenient to use in practically every way.
So why does it nonetheless garner so much praise? Do people simply WANT it to be true? Do some regard all new things as good things? Are people so gullible as to believe the far-fetched claims of manufacturers without a critical eye? Why not a healthy mix of optimism and criticism?
At the same time the TrioBike doesn’t sell, and great working child carrying bikes such as the Bakfiets Cargobike sell very well. Apparently and thankfully there’s a considerable gulf between the internet know-it-all reviewers and the actual buyer/user. It still annoys me though. Flame away…