Triking the Katy

Riding the 2014 Pedaler’s Jamboree on a Torker 3-wheeler.
Shan Neely

Shan and his Trike

Shan and his Trike

“You’re going” That was the final decision a friend had rendered for me as he described the Pedaler’s Jamboree: two days of bikes, beer and live music on the Katy Trail. I’d never been and his campaigning wore me down. It did sound fun.

So … I bought two tickets. Got my 16-year-old son all geeked up about it. Got the weekend pass from my wife and took off work the Friday before.

The problem wasn’t whether I was going or not. The problem was HOW I was going.

You see, exactly three weeks before my first Peddlers Jamboree, I took a wrong step off my neighbor’s raised porch and kissed the driveway four feet below. Hard. Compound fracture of the wrist. Two weeks before the Jamboree, surgeons installed a plate into my wrist. One week before the trip, the surgeon told me nope – no way can I ride a bike.

My choices were few. I might be able to get a refund on the tickets and disappoint my son. I could see if he wanted to take someone else in my place and disappoint myself. Or I could, perhaps, check into some sort of alternative type of bike I could safely ride with one hand.

Hmm.

Enter the Torker Tristar.

One of the great things about being involved, albeit casually, in a community of cyclists is that you meet some truly nice people. So it wasn’t really a surprise when the buddy whose porch I fell off suggested I get in touch with Theresa Van Ackeren at Family Bicycles. He’d mentioned my demise to her. She said, “Have him call me.”

If you haven’t been to Family Bicycles, you’re missing out on a great neighborhood bike shop. It’s in the Brookside/Waldo area. Theresa’s owned it for about six years. She and Bruce are super-friendly, and always helpful. They’ve been great champions for community biking. They also have a cool cat named Surly.

In her typical fashion, Theresa was gracious and generous. She offered to let me use one her trikes for the weekend – free. All she wanted was the trike’s return and for me to write about the experience. I agreed.

That settled, she introduced me to the Torker Tristar. On their website, Torker describes it as a “utility bike” that’s “perfect for a casual jaunt around the neighborhood.” I’m no bike snob, but, honestly, I would’ve describe it as an “adult tricycle.” If my 70-year-old mother ever wanted a bike, THIS would be the bike I’d recommend. Given my situation, however, style had to bow to function, and after a couple loops around Family Bicycle’s parking lot I decided the Tristar was just what I needed to pedal 60 miles in two days with a shattered wrist.

Thanks to Theresa, my first Pedaler’s Jamboree was still on.

DAY ONE – FRIDAY

Seven of us arrived in Columbia around 5pm and we rendezvoused with friends with whom we were spending the night. They have a beautiful farm-like place. Not only is it next to a private pond, it’s less than a mile from the MKT spur that feeds into the Katy. That would be our starting point in the morning.

That night, as the fire pit crackled and beers were drained, the group’s attention fell to the trike, or more specifically to the gimpy old man who would ride it. The first reactions were predictably jocular. After the geriatric wisecracks ended, however, everyone took turns taking the trike for a spin. It was decided that, yes, this would be the perfect bike for me.

After all the jokes, everyone wanted a spin.

After all the jokes, everyone wanted a spin.

For one, it really is a neat looking bike. Gorgeous deep-red paint. Wide comfortable seat. Easy to steer one-handed. Coaster brakes were perfect, as I couldn’t operate the left-hand brake caliper. Having only 3-speeds was a bit worrisome, but the basket in back made me forget about that. Think of all the beer I could carry. It was decided I would be very popular on the trail.

Tack, my teenage son, thought I looked ridiculous on it, but that didn’t stop him from trying to repeatedly ride it on two wheels.

DAY TWO – SATURDAY

7:30 am. Cooler … check. PBRs … check. Spare tubes … check. We went wheels up at 8am.

Actually, I should say “wheel up.” I unintentionally discovered that the Tristar definitely prefers flat surfaces. I almost rolled it three times negotiating the rolling grassy field that separated us from the trailhead. If you’ve never off roaded a trike, don’t, at least not with one hand.

Fortunately, the trail itself is flat and forgiving. By the time we reached the Katy, I’d settled into a steady cadence in third gear. Ultimately, those gears – or lack thereof – were to haunt me a bit, but for the time being, the ride was stable, comfortable and easy.

The benefits of a trike like the Tristar became clear at our first stop. A great four-man band – the Dirt Leg Benders – was playing at Perche Creek Bridge. Not only did I have a comfortable perch on which to watch the band, I had a half-dozen cold PBRs within easy reach in the basket. The bike itself got more looks than I thought it would. As I stretched my legs, Tack stole my seat. For a dude who says he’d “never sacrifice style for comfort,” he sure was on the trike a lot.

Tack stealing my very comfortable seat for the show.

Tack stealing my very comfortable seat for the show.

Our next stop was Lucy’s in McBaine. Rain was starting to move in. Up ‘til then, the trike had performed as expected. My legs were just starting to feel the grind of only three gears, and the fact I couldn’t stand and pedal was causing a few new muscles to make themselves known. Then again, I’m admittedly not in the greatest shape. Add a few beers and a broken wrist, and well, you know.

The White Trash Blues Revival

The White Trash Blues Revival

We had a nice, long rest in McBaine as we waited out the rain. Tack and I managed to carve out a small spot on the covered stage and thoroughly enjoyed the White Trash Blues Revival. Amazing what two dudes can do with a two-string slide skateboard and a drum set made out of a cardboard box, a couple of trashcans and an empty beer keg.

Back on the trail, the breaking sun and humidity started working on the old man. I found myself wishing I had, maybe, seven gears. The bike, however, was getting lighter with every PBR I drank.

When we pulled into Rocheport, I did a mental check on my condition. So far I’d done, maybe, 15 miles or so. I wasn’t really hurting but doubt about day two was beginning to creep in. After a long wait we got some food and took in a great performance by William Elliott Whitmore. I overheard a couple comments like, “Oh look … a tricycle.” Other than a few recumbents – and a couple of Mad-Max looking battery-powered contraptions – I seemed to be the only one on true adult three-wheeler.

One guy saw the Family Bicycles sign on back and shouted, “Those guys rock!” I enthusiastically agreed.

After a couple hours we started the longest trek of the day – the 16-mile jaunt to Booneville. I’ll be honest – after about seven miles I was powering down. I just couldn’t seem to find a comfortable pace with those three gears. I was either spinning too fast or huffing too hard. And not being able to really change up my riding position was wearing on me, too. The beers, of course, had nothing to do with it.

Just a man and his tricycle.

Just a man and his tricycle.

All morning long, my son, Tack, had been bugging me about swapping out bikes. I wasn’t too sure about one-handing a two-wheeler, but I gave in just to be able to change my sitting position. We agreed that’d he’d take it to the Booneville Bridge and we’d switch back.

Ten minutes later Tack was begging for his bike back. “Dad, this is HARD.”  I was doing okay on his, even single-handed. It felt good to just be in a different position and have more gear choices. I told him the deal was we trade back at the bridge.

I arrived at the bridge first. Somehow Tack managed to sneak past me. Next thing I knew, I spotted him on the bridge PASSING other bikers. If you’ve seen the Boonville Bridge, you’d know that’s impressive.

I met up with him at the campground in Booneville. We were both pretty wiped. We pitched camp and settled in for the night’s performances. If you haven’t seen the Ben Miller Band, do. They are terrific. As I sat back and enjoyed my beers, I had to make an honest assessment. I just didn’t have the juice to repeat the trip the next day, especially after being told that it goes slightly uphill going east.

DAY THREE – SUNDAY

Sunday morning, I sagged out. Tack went on with our group and I boarded a shuttle back to Booneville. I picked up the car and met the group at the other stops along the way.

I had done, maybe, 25 miles on the Tristar. Thinking about it, it was probably the wrong type of bike for the purpose, at least for someone in my shape. If it’d had more gears, maybe I’d done better. And yes, if I’d been in better shape, that wouldn’t have hurt, either.

The bike, however, performed flawlessly considering it was being used in a way for which it probably wasn’t designed. For trail use, it’s under-geared and a little unstable.

Honestly, though, if I had the space and the money, I would’ve liked to keep the trike. It’d be awesome for weekend trips to the grocery store or meeting friends at the Brooksider. Perfect for local events, too, like the Brookside St. Patrick’s Day Parade. It truly is a urban “utility” bike and a fun one at that.

All in all, I had a great time. The Pedaler’s Jamboree is a fun event and I’m looking forward to it next year. Highly recommend it. The best part of the weekend, though, was spending time with Tack and our friends. Sure, I took some ribbing for trying to “trike it” … and for sagging out. But the jokes stopped when I showed up at McBaine on Sunday with a beer re-supply. I think everyone decided that sagging out should be my ongoing official duty.

One final thought. The experience solidified my belief in locally owned neighborhood bike shops like Family Bicycles. I’m not knocking the big chain stores, but I highly doubt any of them would have volunteered to give me a free bike for the weekend. Theresa is awesome. You know she’ll always be there when you need her. If you’re looking into a new bike, be sure they’re on your shopping list.

And if you’re interested in a bargain, I bet she’s got a great deal on a slightly used tricycle.

Surly Disc Trucker Surly Big Dummy