Crikey, what’s that? It’s called a Trikke

Latest wheeled fad makes heads turn

Jonathan Watson, 13, of Merrimack, N.H., “carves’’ on a Trikke along the Nashua River Rail Trail. Jonathan Watson, 13, of Merrimack, N.H., “carves’’ on a Trikke along the Nashua River Rail Trail. (Joanne Rathe/Globe Staff)
By Taryn Plumb
Globe Correspondent / July 23, 2009

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Rocketing along the trail, it’s a three-wheeled convoy.

Curled over handlebars on tri-pod-like contraptions, the riders zip and zoom around mountain bikes and racing cycles, 10-speeds with handlebar baskets and low-riding recumbents.

They slalom, they weave, they lean into wide “S’’ curves that devour the flat band of asphalt.

Here they come, a whooshing spectacle.

But they’re not tricycles, not scooters, not skateboards.

Essentially, they’re all three.

Known as Trikkes (pronounced just like “bikes’’) these three-wheeled, core-powered fusion devices are whirring for recognition in the rolling world.

“No gears, no pedals, just aerobic body movement,’’ is the experience as described by Kenny Mayne of Ipswich, who organizes New England Trikkers, a small group of enthusiasts scattered across Massachusetts and New Hampshire.

Fingerless gripping gloves, plastic safety glasses, quarter-sized mirror cropping out of a black helmet, water tube winding from a backpack - he was geared up for an 18-mile ride on the Nashua River Rail Trail.

“It’s a blast,’’ the 45-year-old said before setting out on a rare sunny day, sky a tapestry of blue and white. “I like the fact that it’s a little strange.’’

Pop culture has undoubtedly provided us with a rollerdrome of fads on wheels - scooters, Segways, rollerblades, Heelys. One of the newer entrants in that rolling lineup is the Trikke, a three-pronged vehicle that morphs several styles. Take your pick of descriptions: A wheeled set of skis; a sleek, oversized tricycle; a nimbler, more flexible skateboard with handlebars.

Still, the trickling of trikkers around the country - who don’t just ride, but “carve’’ or “camber’’ - stress that this unusual-looking (and moving) apparatus isn’t just another trendy toy.

“I think it has a place right alongside the bicycle,’’ asserted John Simpson, CEO of the Buellton, Calif.-based Trikke Tech Inc., which sells the tripod vehicles.

Even so, they’re still in the stop-and-stare-inducing stage.

“That’s neat; what is it?’’’ is the typical response to Dee Newman, a Nashua physical therapist, as she weaves and sways on her gray Trikke.

Honks, hollered acclamations, and queries about whether it was homemade encompass the panoply of other reactions; scorn and profanity, too, mostly from Lycra-clad cyclists, trikkers note.

Mayne explained that Trikkes are to hardcore racers what snowboarders are to skiers: Seemingly reckless and in the way. In that sense, he said he hopes increased exposure fosters more understanding and accommodation.

“There are pockets of popularity around the country,’’ he said. .

Yet because of the terrain and the tempestuous climate, “New England is definitely not one of them.’’ He said there are 10 or 12 regulars scattered across Boston, North Shore, South Shore, Cape Cod, southern New Hampshire and Maine.

Hot spots include Texas, Florida, Philadelphia, New York and cities up and down the West Coast, according to Simpson. He has seen an expansion occurring, albeit slowly. In late 2002, when it first began marketing them, Trikke Tech sold just 2,500 of the three-wheeled gizmos. Sales have since grown twentyfold, with 50,000 sold in 2008.

They’re not just rolling onto streets, but gymnasiums as well. Schools across the country have begun incorporating Trikkes into physical education programs, Simpson said.

The Danvers public school system recently purchased 30 Trikkes with a grant, according to Gary Nihan, director of health and physical education, and the plan is to get 30 more.

Starting this fall, the vehicles will be cycled (or trikked) throughout the town’s five elementary schools, with students getting to reel and wheel on them for three weeks at a time.

Ultimately, the intent is to introduce youngsters to something they might adopt recreationally. “It’s unique, something they’ve probably never seen or done before,’’ said Nihan. “The focus is really on lifelong fitness. You have to give them options.’’

For Newman, it was a perfect one. Although she liked biking, it pained her knees. “I wanted something low-impact,’’ she said as she straddled her Trikke, helmeted and gloved and ready to carve. “It’s total conditioning: trunk, abdominals, upper body.’’

Mayne, for his part, started trikking to train for downhill skiing. Now, he says, he rides asphalt much more than powder - 250 miles so far this year, as recorded on a handlebar GPS.

Clyde Watson also voraciously logs miles on three wheels. The 40-year-old network manager from Merrimack, N.H., has shed 35 pounds since his first ride, and now trikkes regularly on his lunch break.

“You don’t realize how hard you’re working until you stop,’’ he said. “You’re just flowing, flying along.’’

Essentially, it doesn’t feel like exercise, said Simpson, which is one of the vehicle’s selling points.

Here’s how it’s done: Gripping handlebars, feet positioned on narrow, wheeled platforms that look and feel like skis, riders propel forward with exaggerated hip swiveling.

There’s no pole jockeying or feet kicking; instead, it’s about weaving and bending into serpentine turns, letting momentum guide.

But the unique propulsion does have limitations. Long, flat, paved surfaces make for the best courses, rather than rough, rugged and hilly. And always avoid wet and slippery areas, Newman advised.

When the conditions are right, they can cruise. Twelve to 15 miles an hour, says Mayne; he’s even flown as fast as 23 miles an hour.

Speed, ultimately, is what converts recreational riders into addicts.

“I’d say it’s awesome, but I don’t think that’s strong enough,’’ said Watson’s son, 13-year-old Jonathan, preparing to set out on the Nashua River Rail Trail. Dad, meanwhile, offered a more whimsical description: “It’s like rollerblading while changing shoes.’’