The development of recumbent bikes, as well as those for long-distance cycling, is largely determined by the development of mountain and road bikes, which is essentially the mainstream. Especially when it comes to components. Whether we want it or not, it is modern to have the lightest components possible, which can shift perfectly, brake brilliantly and exceptionally transmit power. But what if we would rather sacrifice a tiny part of these certainly very good features and prefer easy serviceability, longer life, or the minimum need to adjust the component?
Discs rule the world
And here we come across a fundamental difference between drum and disc brakes. The discs are without a doubt a trend of today’s cycling. Especially hydraulic ones. They brake excellently, do not fade in long descents and you need only minimal power to control them. These are all qualities for which all mountain bikers and today road cyclists love them. But their adjustment is often quite difficult, if not impossible, a slightly bent disc usually means a stop sign and most of their owners have experience with all sorts of clinking or other similar sounds. Similarly, you need to be prepared for the fact that there are many types of brake pads in the world, and therefore you need to have a spare set exactly for your bike in case you need to replace them. And if you are going on a long journey, then you prefer two sets of them.
Drum! Drum! Drums
And then there are the drum brakes, which in the version for trikes are currently offered only by the British company Sturmey Archer. They have two diameters. 70 and 90 mm. The smaller ones are indeed somewhat weaker and in the case of a heavy rider and a high speed, a longer braking distance should be expected, but the 90 mm drums are sufficiently strong for normal use. Their advantage is perhaps endless lifetime (experience says somewhere around 40,000 km), minimal maintenance and extremely easy adjustability. The disadvantage is higher weight, somewhat aging look especially in silver version and lower braking force. In short, drum brakes are an excellent choice for everyday bike use, for long journeys and for all who prefer to ride rather than service.
Yes, I like drum brakes!
You’ve probably already learned that. I like simplicity and functionality. I am not a person who cares about their bikes, so I like when things work and work for a long time without any intervention. And even at the cost of some concessions. I am not a racer requiring precise functionality and top features. I mainly want well-being. In addition, I am raised on heavily loaded tandem bikes, where the braking distance is always much longer than on a single bike without load. One simply learns to predict.
And to document what the drum brakes are capable of, here are some examples of the journeys I have taken with them or in their presence.
It was the first time in the Indian Himalayas, when we drove through several passes at an altitude of 4000 meters above sea level, and my wife Eliska rode a trike with 20 ”wheels, fitted with smaller drum brakes with a diameter of 70 mm. Despite being fairly well loaded, she did not complain about the lack of braking force once. And some downhill courses were even 20 km long.
The Sun Trip
In 2013, I competed in a solar bike race from France to Kazakhstan with my friend Karel Šebela on a similar trike that we had in the Himalayas two years before. But this time with 90 mm drums. However, the weight of the kit has increased considerably. Overall, it reached about 160 kg including the rider. And that’s a lot of weight. We drove not only through the high altiude pass in the Alps called Petit-Saint-Bernard, but also over the ridge of the Caucasus and everything was fine.
photo by Jacob King
The Pikes Peak in Colorado is 4300 meters above sea level (14,110 feet) and has a beautiful asphalt road. Getting up is really challenging and takes a few long hours. One of my colleagues with whom I cycled us was on a trike with 90 mm drum brakes in combination with AZUB push brakes. And he drove down the entire road without any problem.
I don’t want to discuss whether the drum brakes are better or worse than discs. It is different for every rider and for every use. I just want to point out that drum brakes are quite underestimated and modern trends backed up reliable solutions.
Finally, perhaps a little comment. If you have drums and the braking seems a bit jerky, have both wheels centered. Mostly this is due to the asymmetrically tightened spokes.
And what about you? What is your experience with brakes for trikes? Write us in the comments.
I have been riding recumbents since 2003 and I have done several long-distance trips on either a recumbent two-wheeler or a trike. Since 2005 I have been working in the recumbent industry as well so I could visit 120+ recumbent dealers all around the world, 50+ shows and I also met some great recumbent enthusiasts. Many of them I call friends. I started to write about recumbents in 2009 and 10 years later I founded the RECUMBENT.news mainly because I wanted to support the recumbent community and serve it with fresh stories from the world of recumbent bikes and or the world which is any way related to recumbents.