Recumbent Trikes Return

A turn-your-head-sight

Story and photos by Jerry C. Smith

It’s a sight guaranteed to cause double takes – vintage men riding giant tricycles, backwards. But for Joe Dorough and Jerry Burns of Pell City, it’s more than recreation, it’s survival. These weird contraptions may have actually saved their lives.

Officially known as recumbent trikes, they come in two basic versions and a host of sub-types. Some are in standard tricycle configuration, with two wheels in back and one out front, but Joe and Jerry’s machines are known as ‘tadpoles,’ with two wheels up front and a long rear-wheel ‘tail.’

Riders sit in an ergonomically-correct recliner seat, with legs outstretched in front to work a pair of standard bike pedals. Steering, braking and gear shifting are controlled via an opposed pair of handlebars, much like a zero-turn yard tractor. Drive effort is delivered to the single rear wheel through a long bicycle chain running through carbon fiber tubes.

There’s nothing ordinary about them. They’re cleverly-designed, precision machines, capable of delivering amazing road performance. Indeed, with proper lighting and accessories, they are actually highway legal, but both men agree that off-road riding is much preferred, even though there’s still danger where riding trails cross roads.

Joe says they are the ultimate riding machine. “You can’t turn one over unless you really work at it, although Jerry actually flipped his once. After you get the hang of it and learn the gears, you develop a kind of pedaling pattern that gets you over the ground quickly and almost tirelessly.” To illustrate his point, he took a warm-up ride while waiting for Jerry to arrive and was out of sight in less than 30 seconds.

Joe says, “We usually toot our air horns and say something like, ‘Old men riding tricycles behind you’ as we approach walkers from behind. Brightly colored flags on slender poles make them more visible when crossing roads shared by cars. Jerry adds, “When you get tired you just pull over and rest in a comfortable recliner seat.”

Jerry, a native of Greene County, moved to St. Clair in 1976 following a work career that included the Navy, Gulf States Paper, Alabama Power and the mobile home business. After moving to Pell City, he worked for Liberty National Insurance Company and Kilgroe/Leeds Funeral Home before retiring.

Around 2007, he endured back, heart valve and shoulder surgeries, all within a year and a half, leaving him in a semi-convalescent condition. His son Steve, a bike enthusiast, bought Jerry’s trike from a shop in Canton, Ga., hoping it would help rehabilitate him. Jerry quickly warmed up to his new machine and began riding it four to five days a week. The results were remarkable. Joe says, “Jerry recovered from back surgery faster than you can imagine.”

Joe, a Pell City native who worked at Cisco Auto Parts for 30 years, is semi-retired while serving as a director and loan committee consultant for Metro Bank. He had become a virtual cripple due to multiple diseases that kept him in ICU for 12 days. Joe says, “At one point they had given me up for dead.”

During a long, painful recovery, he literally had to learn to walk again. Impressed by Jerry’s example, he ordered a trike online to help strengthen and re-train his legs through repetitive movement.

 “When I ride my trike, I can feel its action reverberate through my legs, and the pain just goes away,” he says.

Both men are married fathers whose spouses and children marvel at the almost miraculous results they’ve seen.

Currently, theirs are the only two in the area, but they hope others will soon join them. The average price range is $900 to $1,600, depending on options, well within reach of most riders, and much cheaper than clinical rehab. Joe’s machine is a Rover, made by TerraTrike, and has an eight-speed shifter in the rear wheel hub. Jerry rides an E-Z Tad SX, made by Wrench Force, which sports a 27- speed derailleur shifter.

 Jerry at age 73 and Joe at 76 are quite hale and hardy today, riding their trikes together at every opportunity, usually at Pell City’s Lakeside Park. They’ve ridden amazing distances together, including several 26-mile jaunts from Anniston to Piedmont on the Chief Ladiga Trail, and plan to go from Piedmont to Cedartown, Ga., this fall.

 Quoting, “The 34-mile long Chief Ladiga Trail is Alabama’s premier rail-trail. It is located in Cleburne and Calhoun counties, in east-central Alabama … and connects to Georgia’s Silver Comet Trail to the east.

“The Chief Ladiga and Silver Comet travel over 95 miles when combined and form the longest paved trail in America. Both trails are non-motorized and are great for walking, bicycling, rollerblading, hiking and dog walking.”

Knowing their determination, it wouldn’t be hard to imagine Joe and Jerry riding its entire length – both ways. l




Subscribe to our e-mail newsletter to receive updates.