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Product Review: The Catrike Pocket
Posted by: Dale Franks on Saturday, August 20, 2005

This afternoon, I finally got my Catrike Pocket (#175). The Pocket is a compact recumbent tricycle, with a "tadpole" design, i.e., two front steering wheels and a trailing drive wheel. It is made by Big Cat HPV in Winter Garden Florida. The frame is a TIG (Tungsten Inert Gas) welded space frame made of heat-treated, aircraft-grade aluminum. It has a 27-speed drive train (3 front and 9 rear chain wheels). The Pocket uses direct steering, with each handlebar connected directly to one of the two steering wheels. The handlebars are connected by an aluminum steering bar below the seat. The MSRP is $1,495.

Side View
Side View

Rear View
Rear View

Front View
Front View

 Me, standing behind the Pocket to show scale
Me, standing behind the Pocket to show scale

Initial Problems

As you may remember, on Wednesday, I was disappointed to find on my first attempt at delivery—after waiting 3 months for the trike to arrive—that the specified rear derailleur had a travel arm that was too long for the radius of the wheel. Catrike's owner, Paulo Camasmie, responded to my ticked-off rant by instantly overnighting a brand new SRAM SX-5 deraileur. The specs for all Pockets manufactured in the future have been changed to this new deraileur, which should solve the problem I had. After installing the new deraileur, my local Catrike Dealer, Holland's Bicycles in Coronado, CA, delivered it promptly. Also, in return for my trouble, Tyler, the owner of Holland's gave me a free taillight and the Pearl Izumi jersey I'm wearing in the picture above.

Unfortunately, the new derailleur, while a great improvement on the previous model, has a little problem of its own. When you shift to the small gear ring in the front and the three smallest gear rings in the back, you run into a cross-chaining problem, as shown below:

The chain rubs against itself in the smallest gear combinations
The chain rubs against itself in the smallest gear combinations

Cross-chaining is not an unusual problem in bikes with really wide gear ranges. (Having said that, I've been riding a 24-speed Sun USX recumbent trike for over a year now, and it never had a cross-chaining problem.) It's not even particularly irksome, although it slightly offends my perfectionist sense. While I haven't done so yet, I may be able to solve the problem easily by taking a link or two off the chain, although in doing so, I'll have to be sure the derailleur has enough travel to handle the large-large gear combinations. But, the small-small combination really isn't one you use very often, and in any event, the cross-chaining isn't a show-stopper like the previous deraileur's problem was.

I also have to say that the people at Holland's Bikes didn't seem quite up to speed on how to put the bike together. When I went down the first time, I had to point out some basic things they'd done wrong in the installation, especially in fitting the chain and boom. Catrike's web site states that their dealers are "fully committed to the Catrike products & brand, with certified mechanics trained to service the Catrikes". I'm not sure what that certification process is, but, based on my experience, it doesn't seem too rigorous. Recumbents are a sideline for Holland's, and as a Silver-Level Catrike Dealer, I expected them to be a bit more up to speed than they were, despite Catrike's optimistic assertion. They are a good, well-respected bike shop, and they went out of their way to be helpful, but it doesn't seem like Catrike has put in the effort to ensure that they have the familiarity with recumbent trikes that they should.

The Catrike Cult

Let me also digress for a minute, and talk about the Catrike message board. I posted my complaint both here and at the Catrike message board. After posting my complaint, I was treated to a vivid reminder of why I no longer post on message boards. Apparently, derogatory comments about the Catrike are not welcome there. I was immediately subjected to a barrage of personal attacks. One poster urged Catrike to return my money and refuse to sell me the trike. One poster urged me to become a better person, since blowing off steam about this problem was a sign of bad character. A couple of posters wrote that, since owners of other Catrike models, like the Road and Speed were perfectly satisfied, so I must be being unreasonable, which is much like telling a Ford Pinto owner, "Hey, my Crown Vic doesn't explode when it's hit from behind, so you must be full of crap!" After one poster stepped up to defend me by pointing out that he had not been satisfied with his new Catrike Speed, another poster responded, in a post charmingly entitled "Two Pricks in a Pod" that we were unsuited to be a part of the pioneering spirit of the recumbent triking world. Because, you know, having a comfortable middle-class lifestyle that allows you to own an expensive tricycle is just like crossing the prairie in a Conestoga Wagon while driving off attacks by hostile Indians.

The Lovely Christine read through some of the responses and her judgment was, "Wow, these guys are like a cult!"

So, note to Catrike Message Board members: It's a freaking tricycle, not a religious experience. Maybe you should crack open a sense of proportion. And maybe, if you didn't respond to complaints by attacking the character of the complainants, you might find that the reason you think everyone loves the trike is because you've set up a little echo chamber that is unremittingly hostile to opposing views.

I have to say, though, I really liked the poster who wrote:
[H]opefully by riding your new trike your outlook on life might change..... sit back, relax, and pedal your way to becoming a better person.
Really? You think? Well, if by "becoming a better person" you mean that I can exude your smug sense of moral superiority, well, then, I'll pass, thanks.

The Ride

So, initial problems solved, some of the Catrike Message Board members driven to mouth-breathing hyperventilation, how about the trike itself?

To answer that question, as soon as I got it home, I took it out on a 3-hour ride. After that ride, I've decided that, while it isn't perfect, it's pretty darn close.

First, the finish on the bike is nicely done. The welds are professional, and the paint job is first-class. The fit and finish of the trike are very nice. It has an excitingly high-tech look, and the details of the steering assembly are smooth and precise. One thing I didn't like, though, is the lack of ties for the brake and shifter cables. In the past, when I've bought a bike or trike, they've usually come with those little plastic snap ties that clip down the cables. The Pocket, oddly, does not come with them, so the dealer had to use zip-ties to bind the cables to the frame. That's the one major "tacky factor" in the bike's look. Fortunately, Home Depot has colored zip-ties, so I'm gonna go buy a bag of blue ones to replace the big white ones that Holland's Bicycles used.

That aside, though, the look of the Pocket apparently has a very high "cool factor" Every Friday night, we have something called "Cruising Grand", where all these vintage cars are displayed downtown on Grand Avenue. We cruised Grand ourself, and everywhere we went, people were yelling how cool the bike was, teenage girls were shrieking, and people came running up to ask questions about it. People were curious about my USX, but the Pocket took that reaction to a whole different level.

Next, it's deceptively fast. Surprisingly so, in fact, considering the small, 18" wheels. I opened it up on a level street. The Lovely Christine, who was riding behind me on the Sun Trike—that is now hers—yelled at me, "You're going almost as fast as the cars!" I think that was a little exaggeration, but, while the Pocket doesn't sprint right off the blocks, it accelerates satisfyingly quickly, and using clipless pedals and sandals, you can definitely feel the breeze when getting it up to speed, and you can get it up to speed pretty quickly.

The low weight of the bike helps, too. The Pocket weighs in at just 26 lbs, which means you can literally pick it up and carry it on one hand. Compared the Sun USX I've been riding, which comes in at 65 lbs, the reduced weight of the Pocket is a huge improvement. Also adding to the speed are the Schwalbe wheels, which are rated for a tire pressure of 100 psi. Low pressure tires tend to be grabby, and you have to exert more force to keep the trike moving. The Schwalbes are a good tire choice, and the higher tire pressure prevents the tire from sucking onto the pavement like a leech.

The Pocket's mesh seat is also cool and comfortable. One of my worries about the Pocket was the seat width. I wasn't totally sure how comfortable it would be for me, at 5'11" and 190 lbs. The mesh seat is wrapped around the space frame, so I wondered if there would be uncomfortable pressure points on my hips or shoulders. In fact, after three hours on the trike, it was perfectly painless, even though my shoulders are wider than the frame on the seat back. In fact, it felt like the seat was perfectly proportioned for me, and fit like a glove. If you're a really big guy, you might not find the seat as comfortable as I did, but anyone less than 6' tall and less than 210 lbs should find the seat comfortable, if not roomy, even on long rides. The seat back is inclined at a 45° angle. You might think that sitting back at that angle would make it uncomfortable to keep your head up, or require a headrest—which is, by the way, available from Catrike—but it really doesn't. The back angle is actually just about perfect, and I didn't feel any neck strain or fatigue at all.

The biggest surprise of the Pocket was how smooth the ride was. One of the big complaints about trikes is how bumpy the ride is. The Sun, for example, while fun to ride, transmits every bump in the road to your butt, and sometimes, poorly paved roads can set your teeth clacking together. Most trikes use steel or alloy frames, and so the frame, and, hence, the ride, is pretty stiff. The Pocket, however, has visible flex in the frame, and that seems to make the whole frame act like a big shock absorber. The ride was far smoother than the ride of my USX, and I noticed that while the Lovely Christine was being tossed around on unevenly paved roads, I was passing the same bumps right behind her and hardly noticing them. Like Stoly Vanil, it's surprisingly smooth. The Lovely Christine summed it best by saying, "It doesn’t even look like you're riding; it looks like magic." It felt like it too.

Well, almost. The Pocket does have one irritating drawback, and that is the frame's ground clearance. Avoid speed bumps at all costs. I made the mistake of trying to go over a speed bump, and the frame scraped the asphalt. The lowest point on the frame only has a couple of inches of ground clearance, so you have to train yourself to avoid road obstacles. You have to go around, not over.

I'm not sure about the gear ratio at the high end, either. When you're riding on level ground, the pedal action is so effortless that you find yourself wishing for a higher top gear. I think a fair number of people are going to want to look into replacing the front crankset with a bigger large ring. Having said that, I am using Shimano clipless pedals and sandals, so I'm not sure if riders with plain, old, flat pedals will have the same experience. Also, I ride 5 days a week or more, so someone who rides less regularly might find the gear ratio just fine. Speaking of pedals, the Pocket doesn't come with any, so if you buy one, be prepared to shell out few shekels for the pedals of your choice. In any event, I kept thinking, "You know, if I had a higher gear ratio at the top end, I could go even faster."

Not that it would be wise to do so, at least at first. The steering is very sensitive, and it doesn't take a lot of control input to go whipping around corners. I'm pretty sure this is something that familiarity with the trike will solve, but when you first start riding, the steering seems sensitive, and the trike itself seems a bit tippy when taking corners at speed. I think, though, this is just a function of learning how to control the bike, and experience will solve that problem. All trikes are tippy, because the physics of turning affects a trike a lot differently than a standard bicycle.

Another thing I don't like—and this purely a personal preference—is the grip shifters. The shifters are on the bottom third of the handlebars, so shifting requires a little bit of thought. I prefer grip shifters that use the whole grip, not just a part of it. Come to think of it, I prefer bar-end shifters to both of them. But that is going to vary with the individual, and, of course, there are some people who swear by grip shifters.

Another difference that takes a little getting used to is your height when riding. On the USX, your head is right at the height it would be if you were driving a compact car. So, you are high enough to be seen relatively easily by automobile drivers when you're sharing the road. Tadpole trikes are very low-slung, however, so you find yourself looking up at the door handles on Toyota Corollas. That's just the nature of the beast for most tadpole trikes, and the Pocket comes with a bright orange warning flag and pole to help out with the visibility problem. It doesn't bother me, except to the extent that I've festooned it with lights to help out with the visibility, but it's something you need to be aware of if you're interested in getting any tadpole trike, not just the Pocket.

Finally, there's the whole rack issue. I really need a place for my stuff. Unfortunately, only Big Cat makes a rack for the Catrikes, and apparently, at the moment, a rack is unavailable for love or money. And, even if one was available, Big Cat charges $120 for it. I'm sure it's a nice rack and all, but 120 bucks is pretty darn steep. So, I'm going to look for an alternate rack, so I can put some panniers on the back. If worse comes to worse, I can always go to Home depot and by some aluminum tubing and just make a rack. Might as well use those tools I've got lying around for something useful.

Overall, at its price point, the Pocket is perfectly good trike. The drawbacks are relatively minor, and they are more or less the drawbacks of tadpole trikes in general, not things that are particular to this one. The advantages though, are impressive for a trike whose cost is at the low end of the spectrum. I could probably buy a Greenspeed trike that would be a bit nicer, but the Greenspeed costs about $3,500, so even if it's nicer, I doubt it’s a couple of grand nicer. The comfort, smooth ride, and speed of the Pocket make it a very enjoyable trike to ride. I would recommend the Pocket very highly.

In fact, now that I've spent 3 hours on the Pocket, I spit on my old USX. The USX is like the most lame, suck trike ever. But don't tell The Lovely Christine that. She thinks it's great, and she's already looking forward to riding with me up the coast tomorrow.
 
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Previous Comments to this Post 

Comments
Great review. I am an early ’05 Pocket owner with 16" wheels and have been waiting to hear how the new ’05 Pockets handled and what the difference is. Doesn’t sound like there is much except for the additional gearing. As for the rack you may want to check on the Catike ezboard or BROL. I think it is Chillipepper who was able to get a $29 (or there abouts) rack to fit her trike (also and early ’05 version). It might be an alternative for you.
 
Written By: Dom
URL: http://
You have taken the time and effort to write, with great detail, several thousand words about the "tricycle experience", complete with photographs, and you think the message board people are obsessed? Interesting, though.
 
Written By: timactual
URL: http://
( you think the message board people are obsessed? Interesting, though)

He wrote a review that I rather go by because it is unbiased and he has no fear of loosing an account should he point out the flaws in the product.
There is a difference in obsession and a good review.
 
Written By: Glenn
URL: http://
Glenn
Okay, okay. I am not used to reading multi-part reviews of that length (My attention span isn’t that long). I was trying to be amusing, not critical, but sometimes it doesn’t work. I apologize for any offense given. Does the fact that I did find it interesting win me any points?
 
Written By: timactual
URL: http://
Whoa! You’d be one intimidating-looking dude if it weren’t for the Star Trek shirt and the tricycle! :-)
 
Written By: equitus
URL: http://
LOL! I kinda like those little black tights too.
 
Written By: McQ
URL: http://www.qando.net/
lol @ equitus.
 
Written By: DannyBoy
URL: http://
Awesome review! It’s great to read a review from someone who isn’t already immersed in the ’bent scene.

I expect my new Pocket within a few days and I’m glad you pointed out some things to keep an eye out for.

FYI: The cross chaining scenario is one you should avoid. You don’t ever need to place any bike in the small-small combination. For one, this puts undue wear on the drivetrain... chainrings, cogs, idlers, and chain will all wear prematurely if stressed at too much of an angle. You could also get the chain to jump track inadvertently if you hit a bump or something too. Secondly, you can always find a similar ratio using another chainring/cog combination that won’t put as much stress on the system... most bikes with this wide of a range - say a "27 speed" - have many combinations of ratios that are so close you’d never know.

Hope this helps... thanks for the great review!
 
Written By: zymurguy
URL: http://
Awesome review! It’s great to read a review from someone who isn’t already immersed in the ’bent scene.

I expect my new Pocket within a few days and I’m glad you pointed out some things to keep an eye out for.

FYI: The cross chaining scenario is one you should avoid. You don’t ever need to place any bike in the small-small combination. For one, this puts undue wear on the drivetrain... chainrings, cogs, idlers, and chain will all wear prematurely if stressed at too much of an angle. You could also get the chain to jump track inadvertently if you hit a bump or something too. Secondly, you can always find a similar ratio using another chainring/cog combination that won’t put as much stress on the system... most bikes with this wide of a range - say a "27 speed" - have many combinations of ratios that are so close you’d never know.

Hope this helps... thanks for the great review!
 
Written By: zymurguy
URL: http://
Brilliantly done. Can’t wait to ride my new pocket now! Now if only Fed-Ex would hurry up!
 
Written By: Kevin Mesiab
URL: http://mesiab.servebeer.com
Dale, thanks for taking the time to write this. I have been on the fence and your very meaningful observations were very relevant and useful to me. Ready to order my blue Pocket now. (-: Take care. Jose
 
Written By: Jose latour
URL: http://
I received my CATRIKE Pocket in December 2005. I have worn out one set of tires! I love the little bike, ride it every day on trails, go like a bat out of hell and did not think at 83 years of age I’d ever have this much fun. I don’t bother myself with highly technical things. Am just out to enjoy life and the CAT makes that possible. This old goat hopes you all have as much sheer fun as I do!

mcatfish
 
Written By: Martin Fishback
URL: http://
Martin, it gets better the longer you ride it.
 
Written By: Dale Franks
URL: http://www.qando.net

 
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