Steve on moon with lunar rover tire tracks

am sure many of us have been asked that question by others. I sometimes reply “with the handlebars” and usually show them where the handlebars are at since they don’t seem to be able to figure it out for themselves. That is the short and simple answer to the question, but wait … there is more to it that that. I mean … SELF STEER, WE STEER, PEDAL STEER, BRAKE STEER, BODY STEER — THEY ALL STEER. Did you follow all of that? I am sure some of you did, but for the rest I will explain further. Let’s look at them one at a time.

I already mentioned the WE STEER and don’t think it needs any further explanation. We simply turn the handlebars and thus we steer the trike. The only thing I think I will add here is that if we hold onto the handlebars too tightly and are pedaling hard we can effect the steering thru the handlebars by simply moving them back and forth. We often won’t even realize we are doing this. Of course, direct steering vs. indirect steering will also make a difference. Usually direct steering is more sensitive to slight movement, especially at speed.

SELF STEER (self centering) – is simply the way the trike is designed. If designed and built correctly the front wheels should more less center themselves and go straight ahead on a flat smooth level surface. This is desirable.

PEDAL STEER – is when the trike tends to turn one way and then the other as we pedal along. This is the result of the boom flexing and effecting the forward line (path) of the trike as it moves along. This is something undesirable, but unfortunately it happens. Some trikes are far worse than others. That is because some trikes have a whole lot more flexing going on than others. Again, a well designed and built trike will have very little pedal steer. Pushing hard on the pedals results in a worse case of pedal steer. Shifting into a higher gear will decrease pedal steer. It is important not to grip the handlebars tightly as when pedaling we tend to input slight movement into the handlebars. Using just the fingertips can help us lesson our grip. Shorter crankarms will help reduce pedal steer. The more upright a person is sitting the more likely it is to experience pedal steer. Riding sitting as stationary in the seat as possible while pedaling and not swaying your upper body side to side in the seat will help reduce pedal steer. Just leaning to one side or the other will cause the trike to steer in the opposite direction. Again, depending upon the trike design some trikes are more sensitive to this input and will move about accordingly. So pedaling from the hips and not involving the upper body will eliminate most pedal steer. The further out the boom is extended (accommodating a tall person) the more likely it is to have an increase in pedal steer. “Mashing” (hard pushing) the pedals usually results in increasing pedal steer. It is far better to “spin” than to mash. The straighter we can push on the pedals the better. This may mean pulling our knees together inward somewhat and adjusting the position of our feet on the pedals as well. Pedal steer can be pretty much eliminated if we work on it.

Here is what Catrike says in the owners manual about some of this …

<> Riding tips: If you don’t have experience with recumbent tricycles, you may find that for the first few rides you experience noticeable pedal steer (pushing hard on the pedals makes the trike swerve) and brake steer (grabbing one brake harder than the other causes the trike to swerve). These two phenomena become much less noticeable as you gain experience. Pedal steer is minimized or eliminated by pedaling smoothly at a fairly high cadence, rather than mashing hard. Brake steer is minimized by braking smoothly and evenly…if the trike lurches under braking you’re overdoing it (it’s like driving your car…you don’t stand on the brakes every time you slow the car; rather, you learn to modulate the pressure so that the car does not lurch). The smoothest, most enjoyable ride comes when you learn not to over control the trike. The steering is very responsive, and does not require much input at all to make the trike change direction. The less you try to steer, the smoother the ride will be.

BRAKE STEER – occurs when only one brake is applied and the trike steers in the direction of the applied brake. This can be helpful when done properly by someone experienced and skillful. However, it can be quite dangerous as well, especially when it is done by someone not so experienced and skillful. It can be quite scary and lead to tragedy.

Here is what Catrike says in the owners manual about some of this …

<>  Brake Steering: Our frames are designed for a diminished brake steer effect. However keep in mind that the trike is not a heavy vehicle such as a car. It does not have hydraulic, electronics or self correcting mechanisms either. It is instead, a very light recreational vehicle with a mechanical steering linkage that carries a rider sometimes over 8 times its weight. Therefore the weight & dynamics of the driver can exert total control over the capabilities of the vehicle. It does demand that the rider develops proper riding skills, such as smooth pedaling, smooth steering and smooth breaking and that it is always conscious when riding. The Catrike has front brakes only, since in a breaking situation 90% of the weight is transferred to the front of the trike. The front brakes are also independent, meaning that you can break the right wheel only, or the left wheel only. Therefore, especially in high speed or down hill situations, it is mandatory that you pull both brakes at the same time and with the same intensity. If you elect however, to brake only with one brake, this could cause the trike to steer out of your path and cause serious injury or death.


The bottom line here is we need to be careful in applying the brakes, especially at higher speeds.

BODY STEER – which seems to have varying effect depending upon the particular trike and how it is designed and built and perhaps setup. Body steer is simply a matter of leaning to one side or the other while seated and riding along. Leaning to the right should result in the trike steering to the left. Leaning to the left should result in the trike steering to the right. Oftentimes I would have to say it doesn’t have much effect.

(I purposely left out lean steer trikes since they are not very common.)

So when someone asks you how you steer that thing you can share with them all of this I have discussed here. Of course, they will probably be sorry they asked. 😉 It probably would be better to just tell them that you steer it with the handlebars and then you can just …


Lastly, HERE is a poem of sorts someone made up about pedal steer. I would give them credit for it if I knew who wrote it, but alas I don’t so all I can do is share the website where it is posted. It is rather lengthy, but interesting:

As the internet has flourished,
It’s the place where brains are nourished –
Questions answered, good advice, and all for free.
But at times we find confusion,
Petty spats with no conclusion;
On some issues, people simply disagree.

Pedal steer’s one red hot topic,
Where the biased and myopic
State their strong opinions – kooky to sublime.
Teams of tadpole testers wrote us,
“It’s a problem you will notice..”
Others tell us, “You’ll forget it; give it time.”

Some folks try to understand it,
And why builders haven’t banned it,
Simply making good decisions in design.
Are some tadpoles worse than others?
Men might ostracize their brothers,
Disagreeing… So what is the bottom line?

One authority is certain:
“CASTER! That’s the culprit.” (Flirtin’
With a partial loss of credibility)
Other pundits shun that war word;
Sure the rider’s too far forward,
They insist the key is fore-to-aft CG.

One guy says, “That boom’s too flexy.
Sure, light weight is super sexy;
Still a tadpole works much better if it’s stiff.
Folding frame or soft composite –
That’s the sort of stuff to cause it.
Solid alloy steel would fix that in a jif!”

Some posts tell us, “Make tracks wider.”
Others claim that all a rider
Needs to do is just relax his stonelike grip.
Scores of would-be trike designers,
Second guessers, geeks and whiners
Offer their beliefs or freely share a tip.

Though I rarely speak in bellows,
I – like all these other fellows –
Can’t (or should I say I won’t?) resist the urge
To assist in education
Of the unwashed population,
Helping logic, truth and reason to emerge.

No, you know of course I’m poking
Fun at technogeeks; I’m joking.
Still there is some truth in what I have to say.
I’ve spent years in engineering,
Analyzing, probing, peering
Into why contraptions act some quirky way.

When I started out three-wheeling,
I encountered that odd feeling
As the trike began to waggle – gee then haw.
But did I, appalled or frightened,
Shout, “This wrongness must be rightened!”
In a single word, the simple answer’s ‘NAW’.

I feel sure – at least I’m hopin’ –
That if you’ll keep your mind open,
Though you doubt at first, you’ll have a change of heart.
Gather ’round, all those who’ll listen;
I’ll share points some may be missin’,
Going back to basic biking as a start.

Hey… remember starting biking?
It was not much to your liking
When the danged thing rocked from side to side – then CRASH!
Still all cyclists gained reflexes –
Smart and dumb folks, both the sexes –
So that they weren’t dumped each day they dared to dash.

You have seen one-wheeled abortions,
Watched their riders do contortions,
Smiling, though they jerked around to stay upright.
Unicyclists, pedals pumping,
Pirouetting, even jumping,
Balance as they ride, aloft, eight feet in height.

Folks, it’s not exactly SHOWTIME
When someone can ride a tadpole straight and true.
Even if, when you first try it,
You may think, “Bull. I don’t buy it,”
Settle down and give it one more chance (or two).

Tadpoles yaw when someone meddles,
Blithely stomping on their pedals,
But it’s not at all essential (as on bikes)
That new riders learn rare talents,
Skills or even basic balance
To prevent unplanned rollovers on their trikes.

With their stable three-point footing,
Tadpoles yaw, but they’re not putting
Even handicapped (or clumsy) folks at risk.
Riding tadpoles is so easy,
Thoughts of skill can be… well, breezy –
Or at least until one’s cornering gets brisk.

Some folks find some trikes instinctive;
Others get a strong (distinctive)
Feeling when they pedal other trikes, they swerve –
Back and forth, like some cheap floozy,
Strutting through some joint, so boozy
As she waddles by, her path’s an ess-shaped curve.

But so what? Folks, pedal steering
Isn’t something to be fearing.
In most cases the sensation’s pretty small.
Subtle shifts you make in spinning,
From the first as you’re beginning,
Well may mean that you won’t notice it at all.

At its worst, it’s one reminder
Trikes – compared to bikes – are kinder.
Hey, at least you won’t keep falling while you learn
How to make those small corrections
That will counter odd deflections
As your pedals, cranks and wheels begin to turn.

Pedal steering is SUBJECTIVE.
Any rational detective
Should catch on and tell the victim he’s to blame…
Well, at least in part, I’m thinking,
Though I’m grinning now and winking,
And although of course all tadpoles aren’t the same.

I believe most tadpole riders,
Once they’ve stroked their three-wheeled gliders
Long enough and far enough to earn their stripes,
Learn the simple compensations
For whatever deviations
Pedal steering makes in tadpoles of all types.

Tadpoles don’t demand much training.
Just go riding; stop complaining.
Very soon you’ll note your style has reached its peak.
Is it automatic? Brainless?
If it’s mental, folks, it’s painless
To develop what’s required for good technique.

So… I’ve stated MY opinion,
Which some TROLL (and faithful minion)
Will insist and swear is wrong as wrong can be.
Hey, if TROLLS begin agreeing,
I’ll be very swiftly fleeing
To another point of view… Is that just me?


About Steve Newbauer

I have a few current blogs (tadpolerider1, navysight, and truthtoponder) so I am keeping busy. I hope you the reader will find these blogs interesting and enjoy your time here. Feel free to email me at stevenewbauer at

Posted on July 4, 2016, in construction/design, tadpole trikes, tips and tagged . Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. Nice article. As a trike wannabe nursing an arm/elbow surgery recently, I’m considering a trike/tadpole purchase. I did get the chance to test ride a couple of Catrikes and Ice tadpoles. They were incredible! I’ve been a long time triangle rider and thinking of making the switch. Any advice would be appreciated. Thx.

    • My advice concerning what trike to buy is:
      1)try as many as you can taking long rides if possible to determine which one best suits you and you are comfortable on
      2) buy the best trike you can afford rather than settle for one of the lowest cost ones
      3) remember that you will need certain accessories (lights, safety flags, water bottles, horn or bell, etc.) which add to the price and need to be figured in