Our Dog's $100 Recumbent Trike





Introduction: Our Dog's $100 Recumbent Trike

Our chocolate lab, Louie, just loves to run.  His favorite used to be trotting along on a leash while I rode my bike.   But a few weeks ago an unleashed/unattended dog came at us while riding through a nearby neighborhood.  Louie instinctively bolted toward the dog and when I couldn’t release his leash quick enough, my bike went over and I took a splatter on the pavement.   The damage was minor but I became concerned it could happen again and be much worse.   So I decided to build something a little safer than my two wheeler, which turned out to be Louie’s Recumbent Trike.

I picked up two decent 20" bikes at a local flea market for $35 and purchased $65 worth of metal from a local supplier.   This included 20' of 1.5x1.5 square tubing, 12' of 1x1 square tubing, 4' of ½ x ½ square tubing, 6' of 1" black pipe and 4' of 2" wide 3/16th flat stock steel.  The remaining odds and ends for the project (nuts, bolts, upholstery material and primer) were things I had in my shop and would probably add up to about $10 or $15 if they had to be purchased.

I would rate this project as “moderately difficult” since it requires a good bit of welding as well as cutting and shaping some metal parts.  It may also require some design work since the old bikes you find to make your trike might be quite different from the ones I happened to get.  You also need a basic understanding how a bike is assembled and taken apart as well as a decent grasp of how a derailleur works and how it is adjusted.   Most of this information can be found on the web if you lack hands-on experience.  Derailleurs were a mystery to me when I started this project.  So thank you internet.

Step 1: Front Wheel and Steering

I opted for a “delta” design, single front wheel to do the steering and dual rear wheels.   I am also a big fan of trike builder Bill Irvine (google “bill irvine trikes” to see some of his work) who builds trikes with front wheel power trains - pedals and chain drive go to the front wheel.  For a first time builder, I found this design to be the simplest and most economical.  Note, however, that this design also results in some "pedal steer" and takes a bit of getting used to when first riding.

I began with this Huffy Roadmaster 20" frame and 6 speed sprocket set.  (Photo 1)   I used a 4" angle grinder to cut away unneeded pieces of the frame.  (Photo  2)   Next I marked and cut a “birds mouth” in the seat tube so that the tube will point forward 18 degrees from vertical rather than to the rear as it did originally. (Photo 3) The seat tube is then bent forward and welded.  (Photo 4)  The seat tube is strengthened with a steel gusset.  I first made a patten using heavy paper (Photo 5) and then cut the gusset from 1/8" flat stock and welded it in place.  (Photo 5)   Cut off the balance of the lower support bar.  (Photo 7)

The steering head is cut away from the down tube.  (Photo 8) Cut a length of 1.5 x 1.5 square tubing one inch shorter than the head tube.  (Photo 9).   Cut away one of the four sides of the square tubing making it into a U-shaped channel.  (Photo 10).   Fit the channel around the head tube.  (Photo 11) and weld it in place filling in the gaps on the top and the bottom with small pieces of flat stock.  (Photo 12)

Cut the top portion of the steering tube away from the front fork assembly.  (Photo 13)   Remove the seat post from the saddle.  Butt weld the seat post to the steering tube.  Make sure the tube and post are straight and aligned by inserting appropriately sized tubing into the inside of the tube and post.  I used a 13 mm socket to slide inside the steering tube and then found a leftover length of thin wall tubing from a solar light set which slipped inside the seat post tube AND fit snuggly over the 13 mm socket.   (Photo 14)    These parts are clamped together to hold them tight and straight and then the butt joint is welded (note: the 13 mm socket is sacrificed to the cause).  (Photo 15)   Cut away the remaining “ears” of the fork attachment points.  (Photo 16)    This is now the new steering tube.  (Photo 17)

Step 2: Main Frame

Cut 1.5 x 1.5 square tubing for the main frame.   I used a 120 degree angle at the top and bottom of the vertical and an 18 degree angle to mount the head tube to the main frame.  The top stub is about 4" long.   The angled vertical tube is about 15" and the bottom tube is 27".   (Photo 1) None of these measurements are etched in stone.   To keep things square and in place for welding use two pieces of 2x4 cut to exactly the same length (for this trike, 13") to keep the lower tube and upper tube parallel.  Then clamp the parts together and weld.  (Photo 2) Weld the head tube assembly to the top stub of the main frame.  (Photo 3)

Step 3: Front Forks

Temporarily assemble the front wheel and steering tube to the main frame.  (Photo 1) Note that  with the drive sprockets now on the front rather than the rear, the ratcheting mechanism requires that the sprocket set must be reversed (the wheel needs to be turned 180* in the drop outs)  This also requires that the pedals be installed in the reverse position so that the pedal sprocket is on the same side as the drive wheel cog set.  As will be shown later, the derailleur must also be turned upside down.

The front forks are attached to the existing mounting holes from the Huffy.  (Photo 2) Cut a 1 ½" x 2" piece of 3/16 flat stock, drill holes to match the mounting points and screw the flat stock to the drop out.  (Photo 3)   Cut a slit in the end of a 3' section of 1" black pipe and place it over the flat stock.  (Photo 4)    Drill a 3/8" hole through the steering stem.  (Photo 5) Put the stem in place in the steering tube.   Line up the top end of the black pipe with this hole in the stem and then tack weld the bottom of the black pipe to the flat stock mounting tab.  Remove the black pipe and finish welding the mounting tabs.   Cut off any excess portions of the 3/16 flat stock. (Photo 6)

Attach the lower end of the black pipe to the drop out and then drill a 3/8" hole in the top end of the black pipe to match the hole through the steering stem.   Use a bolt or threaded rod to secure the top end of the black pipe to the steering stem.  (Photo 7)   The front forks are now complete.  (Photo 8)

Step 4: Rear Frame

Cut 2 pieces of 1.5" square tubing at 30" and 4 pieces at 21" and weld them as shown.  (Photo 1)   Cut four “drop outs”, 4" long, from 2" wide 3/16" flat stock.   Drill matching holes in each of the four drop outs.  The holes should be the diameter of your axles.  (Photo 2)   Using an angle grinder, cut open each of the drop outs making them slightly wider at the mouth.  (Photo 3).   Line up the drop outs using a wheel and axle as a guide (Photo 4) and weld the drop outs in place.  (Photo 5)   The trike can now sit on its own three feet.  (Photo 6 and 7)

Step 5: Brakes

Cut the front brake bracket away from the rest of the front fork.  (Photo 1)  Cut two mounting plates from 3/16" flat stock.  (Photo 2)   Drill holes and attach the mounting plates to the brake bracket.  (Photo 3)   Position the brakes and weld the mounting plates to the front forks.  (Photo  4 and 5)

Cable guides for brakes and derailleurs can be purchased but you can also make your own using #10-24 x 3/4" coupling nuts from Home Depot.  (Photo 6)   Clamp the nut in a drill press vise and bore out one end large enough for the ferrule.   The bit should only go about  ½" deep into the nut leaving enough metal at the bottom or the nut to prevent the ferrule from slipping through.  (Photo 7)    Put the nut in a vise and slit it lengthwise with a 4" angle grinder.  (Photo 8 and 9)

Step 6: Derailleur

The derailleur must be installed upside down in order to operate properly. The mounting point must also be moved 2 1/4" forward and about 1/16" higher than the original axle mounting point. A bracket to do this is made by welding together two pieces of 3/16" flat stock. (Photo 1) Holes are drilled to mount the bracket on the axle and to mount the derailleur to the bracket. Note the smaller hole which is used to keep the derailleur from spinning out of position. (Photo 2) The bracket is mounted on the axle (photo 3) and the derailleur is attached (Photo 4)

Step 7: Adjustable Recumbent Seat

The metal frame for the seat is made in three separate sections allowing for full adjustment of the back position and the headrest position.   The seat frame is made of 1" square tubing.  The bottom and top sections are 10" long and 9.5" wide.   The longer middle section is 19" long and 9.5" wide.  (Photo 1)   The cushions which cover the frame are 12" wide.   The top and bottom cushions are 11" long while the middle section is 17" long.

The sections are “hinged” to each other by welding 1"x2" pieces of 3/16" flat stock to the outside of the frame rails for the top and bottom section of the seat.  The hinges extend toward the center section of the seat and holes are drilled through the hinge section and the side rails of the seats center section. (Photo 2)  The sections are then bolted together.  (Photo 3 and 4)   The seat sections can be moved to an unlimited number of positions relative to each other and then the hinge bolts can be tightened to hold the seat in place.  (Photo 5)   Addition support for the seat is provided by two small braces on the back side of the seat which are also fully adjustable.  (Photo 6)

The seat cushions are made using ½" strand board as a base.  (Photo 7) Holes are drilled through the metal frame and wooden seat base and tee nuts (Photo 8) are used to secure the seat base.  (Photo 9)  To secure the seat to the main frame of the trike, metal tabs are welded to the bottom of the seat frame and holes are drilled through the tabs.  (Photo 10)   The seat frame is flipped over and can be slid forward and backward along the center rib of the trike’s main frame.  When a comfortable pedaling position is found, the seat bolts are tightened in place.  (Photo 11)

The cushion padding consists of 4 layers of 1/4" closed cell foam glued together on top of the wooden seat base.  The edges of the foam and base are sanded to provide a smooth and even surface.  (Photo 12)   The upholstery for each seat section consists of three pieces.  The seat top, the seat side, and a strip of welting.  (Photo 13) The three pieces are sewn together inside out.  (Photo 14) The upholstery is then turned right-side-out, stretched over the foam, and stapled to the bottom of the wooden seat base.  (Photo 15)

Step 8: Ready to Ride.

The finished trike (Photo 1 and 2) Also a short video of Louie taking an early cruise.

The trike has been on the road for a number of months. In fact, Louie has lost about 10 lbs due in part to the great exercise he gets running along with the trike. I recently tore the trike down, however, to apply a paint job AND to install an electric motor. The Instructable for making the trike electric (dual powered) can be seen here.



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    32 Discussions

    Very nice! I have no knowledge of welding. But I am comfortable working with wood. I am wondering if I could make a similar frame from oak?

    1 reply

    There are a number of wood framed bikes and trikes posted on the web. Google "wood framed bikes" or "wood bikes/trikes" and you'll get a number of pics and sites with info.

    That is so cool!! Both you and Louie will be healthier for all the exercise. :)

    Would it be worth it to add a triangular gusset between the horizontal tube running forward under the seat, and the forward-angled vertical tube? That weld looks to be the most stressed...

    1 reply

    It would be a simple task to add a gusset like that for those who might feel it is a weak point. Personally I feel pretty confident about the joint. Hopefully one of you will come pick me up with a trailer if my engineering guesswork is wrong.

    Very nice! But you're doing an awful lot of pedaling...the way my dog pulls, I'd only wonder if the brakes are strong enough. Have you thought of putting storage between the back wheels?

    1 reply

    Yes. It's not shown in the photos but there is a storage tray which fits in the rear center section. Don't tell my wife, but it's one of her cookie sheets. Fits perfect.

    And you are right about the brakes. My lab will pull the bike for the first 10 - 15 minutes we run. I don't have to pedal or throttle the electric motor. He's pretty well trained that when I apply the brakes he is supposed to stop. ("supposed to" being the key words there.) The middle 15 minutes he runs either ahead or along side the bike. The last 15 - I usually have to slow down so his tongue doesn't get caught in the spokes.

    It steers OK with all that negative trail? Really? I guess it is not like 2 wheeler where you need a little positive trail to help make it want to stay upright.

    1 reply

    I must confess my limited understanding of the physics would read this trike as having a lot of positive trail, not negative. Either way, it is a lot of trail so it is a good question. The trike steers OK but I would call it very quick. It doesn't take much handle bar movement to change the direction you are going. So that takes some getting used to. The other drawback is that this amount of trail is not conducive to automatic straightening of the wheel. While a two wheeler with decent caster and little trail will allow you to ride with no hands as the front wheel tends to automatically straighten, this trike requires you to keep a hand on the handle bar at all times. That's not a huge problem since one needs to keep a hand in place to operate the throttle anyhow, but it is something to consider if contemplating this type of design.

    At first I wasn't sold on this, but then I saw the flag in the video. Amazing.

    What does the bike weigh? I'd like to make it in aluminum. If only I had a tig welder.

    Great work!

    1 reply

    I haven't put it on a scale but I could pick it up myself before I added the electric motor. It is, however, very awkward to handle and would require two people if you wanted to toss it in the back of a pickup. My wife and I easily pick it up (even with the motor) to put it on the work stand - and she and I are far from spring chickens.

    And thanks for mentioning the safety issue regarding visibility of the trike on the highway. Yes it does sit far lower and is less visible than a normal bike. But I have never had the slightest feeling that drivers couldn't see me. The flag helps a lot as does the fact I almost always have a dog running along side which gets people's attention. I'd say 80-90% of passing drivers wave, point and/or smile/laugh as they go by. I've even had a few drivers stop to admire and ask questions...and to pet Louie. But definitely, use a flag and put good reflectors/lights on the trike. Also, use a rear view mirror so you never cut in front of a vehicle.

    Now that you have ridden it for a few months, if you were to build it again, would you make any changes?

    1 reply

    I wouldn't change THIS trike at all. It was inexpensive to build and serves its purpose well. Even better now that I've added electric power. This will be my dog runnin' trike for some time. It suits his speed and endurance well.

    I am so enthused by the electric motor addition that I now want to build a "commuter trike". One able to go longer distances and with more speed, power, comfort and reliability. It won't necessary be a low budget project which this one was. The big change for that trike will be dual driven rear wheels. One rear wheel will be pedal power and the other will be electric power. I will use a jack shaft to transfer the pedal power from a centered chain to an outboard chain. The electric motor will be installed almost exactly as I installed the motor on this trike. It will also have to be a bit longer frame to allow the pedals to be moved rearward onto the frame rather than on the front wheel assembly.

    so a few questions.
    1st how is the weight using steel tube?
    2nd could you use aluminum to make it lighter ?
    and 3rd could you make it rear wheel drive and take out the minor issue of pedal steering?
    thanks. nice idea love that it cost 100 dollars the cheapest I've seen online is 350-400

    6 replies

    Good questions.

    1) You can keep the weight down by using thin wall steel tube. Commonly available tubing will be either 1/16" thick or 1/8" thick. The 1/16 tube will be strong enough for a trike like this and is about 1/2 the weight.

    2) Yes you could make the frame from aluminum. But be aware aluminum is FAR more challenging to weld and requires specialized equipment. I've been hobby welding for about 50 years now and I've never come close to acceptable aluminum welds.

    3) Yes you could make your trike rear wheel drive. There are many examples on the web. As with all trike designs, rear wheel drive has its own pluses and minuses.

    I'll give you a few that came to my mind, but as others have mentioned there are some other really good sites, like Atomic Zombie, that get into detailed discussion of the pros and cons of every bike/trike design. Also, pros vs. cons will depend a great deal on your own personal building skills. Not everyone finds the same challenges challenging.

    When you talk about rear wheel drive trikes, you need to divide that down into two large groups. Trikes with a single rear wheel and two front wheels for steering (called Tadpoles) and trikes with dual rear wheels and a single front for steering (called Deltas). There are offshoots of these as well, with a number of folks who have attempted rear wheel STEERING, using either a single of dual wheel.

    The biggest drawback I find with single rear drive wheels and dual front steering is the design and fabrication of the front steering. Ackerman, kingpin angle, caster, and camber are just a few of the concepts you'll need to get comfortable with to design dual front steering. Yes, it has been done and there are lots of examples around the web. But doing it yourself is a whole different ballgame. Done correctly, dual front steering can also get quite expensive with precision rod ends, special bearings, axles, and tie rods. If you manage to get the dual front steering right, the trike should have great handling and stability. The single rear wheel drive takes a bit of thought regarding pedal location and chain routing. Normally the chain has to run under the seat and often must run on idler gears to keep it safe and tight. The single rear drive also presents challenges if you want a dual powered bike running electric assist.

    The biggest drawback I find with dual rear drive wheels and single front steering is the drive train and chain routing. Some have run the chain down the center of the bike, under the seat, and then hooked to the wheels via a differential. Bicycle differentials are nice but quite expensive. Some have run the chain directly to a solid rear axle driving both wheels. This creates difficulties with "scrubbing" whenever the trike takes a corner. Others have split the rear axle and driven only one rear wheel while others have used a jack shaft design to transfer the power of the center mounted pedals to one or the other outer wheel. To my mind the jack shaft design would be the least difficult way for a novice to achieve rear wheel drive. It would also allow dual power (pedals could drive one rear wheel and an electric motor the other assuming both were able to free-wheel).

    The big advantage of either of the above designs over the front wheel drive design shown in this instructable is that you can eliminate any pedal steer and awkwardness when turning (the Big Wheel effect) due to the pedals turning with the wheel. You also eliminate a lot of tinkering around to reverse the derailleur.

    But as I said, challenges are in the eye of the beholder. Study all the designs on the web and think through (and draw out) each element of the trike you want to build. Hopefully you'll come up with a design that fits your taste and skill set.

    One really great website for home made recumbents like this is Atomic Zombie. The guy has great plans for cheap (6 plans for $36). It also has forums for builders to share tips. http://www.atomiczombie.com/

    He works in mild steel also, no aluminum. For the same reasons I believe.

    I forgot to say, he also has plans for rear wheel drive. Even with 2 pedalers to pedal at different speeds.

    I work for a metal fabricating company. we do aluminum welding so that wouldn't be an issue. just thinking of weight putting it in back of truck to take to trails.

    Brilliant idea and execution! Using your design, I'm considering building a recumbent tandem for my parents so they can get some exercise. It will definitely need a beer holder for them, and an ahstray :(