DateTrike Construction

Wherever we go on the DateTrike, our vehicle turns heads, gets smiles, and everyone wants one.  I’m won’t be making any more of these, but it is no harder than any other mildly complex project, so I’ll present a few of the details here for those who are up to the challenge.  If you happen to be inspired enough to build something, please post a comment – even if it is years from now.

DateBikeI started by doodling with a drawing program and came up with the basic idea shown in the plans above.  I was after moderately uniform weight distribution on the three wheels, and a design as compact as possible.  The seat spacing is snug, which allows the overall width to be under four feet, with the passengers inside of the rear wheels.  I copied the rake of the front wheel from our Sun trike. I wanted the pedals as far forward as possible, but the inside foot has to clear the frame.  The front wheel needed to be a small as possible to keep the low profile.  For the rear wheels I chose a pair 24″ wheels that are commonly used for garden carts because the hubs could be easily modified to work for the rear axle.

The Frame

A laminated frame makes possible the graceful front section curve.  Lamination also lends itself to building-in only the strength needed using less material.  The main frame is made of a box-beam construction.  Tight-grained Douglas fir is used for the core and 3/16″ birch plywood is used for the outer skins on the straight beams.  For the nose I used 1/8″ birch plywood for the laminations.

The building process begins with cutting out the conical section needed for the inside-most nose lamination.  The inside straight-frame laminations are also cut out.  Eight-to-one scarf joints are planed into the plywood, and the conical nose section and flat sides of the inside ply are glued together flat on the floor.  The basic frame takes shape by bending the pre-assembled inner ply and holding it in place with a couple of sections of 2×6 that space the two sides apart correctly.  A second 1/8″ ply is added to the nose section, and then the core spacers are glued onto the sides.  More 1/8″ ply sections are cut – but only 2″ wide sections to make up the top and bottom solid sections of the nose. Construction Regions where extra strength requires more reinforcement are filled in with core wood.  The nose-to-sides joint area is tricky and can benefit from a bit of filler that can then be planed fair.  Plywood likes to only bend in one dimension, so it is critical to keep surfaces “flat” to multi-dimensional bends.  I use an epoxy that has good gap filling properties for the lamination.  There is lots of room to hide mistakes until the very last lamination.  Then much trial and error is required to get the overall length and the scarf just right.  Once you add the glue, you are committed.

The cross-piece in the back was made as strong as possible, with gussets to increase glue joint area in the corners and lag screws in the butt joints under the final skin.  I was unsure how stiff the frame would end up, and always wanted strengthening options.  In the rear axle section, completing the box sections with glued down top and bottom ply decks would help.  For the entire frame, a fiberglass skin could be applied.  However, the frame proved to have good stiffness without those additions.

Front Wheel Mount

HeadStockThe front wheel mount took some thought because this needs to be strong and needs to hold the front wheel head stock.  I used a salvaged head stock that I cut off an old bicycle frame.  I took a couple of blocks of wood, clamped them together, and bored a hole along the split between the two boards.  I adjusted the hole by hand to fit the irregular shape, testing the fit frequently until the two board halves could be clamped together and trap the head stock.  Once epoxied together, the block was shaped to provide the desired rake  angle and carefully fit to the contour of the nose lamination   Although the part is made of cedar, a relatively soft and not particularly strong wood, I used plenty of long screws and lag bolts to fully reinforce the joint.  The block was fastened to the nose before the very last nose veneer was glued in place.  All of the screws are hidden under this last ply layer.

The Drive Train

Left Drive Each person has their own set of pedals, gears, and a drive wheel. Each axle is supported by a pair of pillow blocks. You need to use an old-fashioned “freewheel” type of gear cluster.  There are a couple of custom machined parts required for this axle.  I built them with the machines I have access to at work.  For a while Atomic Zombie made this hub, but no longer.  Another source might be Staton-Inc.  Serious builders should browse Staton and Atomic Zombie for parts, ideas and building suggestions.  Reviewing AZ’s Kyoto Cruiser was certainly part of the design process I went through.RightDrive I bought most of the components I needed new, including the freewheels, derailleurs, and disc brakes.  The key to using a wood frame is to add reinforcement for the attachment points for these components.  Simple blocks of aluminum, or aluminum angle extrusions can be lagged into the wooden frame and provide a very secure mount for brakes and derailleurs. Another spot that needs good strength is the crank hub installation. Bottom BracketThe threaded “bottom bracket” tube can be purchased  (or salvaged). This part of the frame was furnished with a solid core and additional support ply sections were added on each side for added joint area and strength.  A hole saw was used to create a fairly tight hole, and the metal part was epoxied in place with a gap filling epoxy designed for adhesion to metal. With the well-supported large-area joint, this will not fail.

Steering and Brakes

It took having the frame and drive train together and staring at the trike for a week or two to finally come up with the cable under-seat steering design.  Steering Tiller I wanted either passenger to be able to steer, and I liked the under-seat operation because it is a natural position for your hands. But how to do the linkage?  Looking for inspiration, I came upon the pedal and crank from my salvage bike and realized that this could be the basis for the steering lever with the chain linkage to the steering cable.  Another “bottom bracket” tube is glued into the seat support cross member to hold the steering arm bearing.  The cable system works well on the trike because the framework lends itself to the cable circuit.  To turn the wheel Steering PulleyI had to make a special steering pulley that  I could fasten to the front fork through the fender bolt hole.  The “half pulley” was built with a groove for the cable and a clamp to fix the cable position.  There was a certain amount of trial and error to get the right fit.  For one-to-one steering angle motion, the pulley diameter and the crank chain diameter should be the same.  Four cable pulleys were fastened to the frame as required to route the cable close to the frame and out of the way of the pedals.  A turn-buckle is used to adjust the tension.

The steering is responsive, and allows a tight turning radius.  On tight turns the steering lever slips under your legs.  The steering tiller also has the brake lever for the dual disk rear brakes.  The dual acting lever powers both brakes.


SeatsWhen I came to the seats, once again the project sat on hold while I considered various options, none of which were adequate.  I went so far as to purchase a boat seat, but Ellen quickly nixed that idea!  It was hard to beat the nice foam seat on Ellen’s single person Sun trike for comfort, so I finally decided that those seat cushions were the place to start.  Then, in keeping with the wood work, I decided on simple woven seat backs, similar to classic Shaker tape-back chair weaving.  I went for weather resistant polyester webbing on oak frames.
For simplicity, and because this project is mostly for Ellen and myself, I opted for just fixed seat positions.  A piece of 3/4″ plywood was attached to the bottom of the seat cushions, with thread inserts so it could be bolted to the frame seat cross member from the bottom.  The seat  backs were attached to the plywood piece with a pair of hinges so the back angle is adjustable.   Back braces are attached to the seat-back frame and fastened to the rear member of the frame.  You can give a strong pedal push and securely transfer the force into the seat without concern.  It took several stages of adjustment, added holes, and trial and error to get the final seat position.  Making the seats adjustable is an improvement that the next builder might want to design in.

Do It

If you have read this far, perhaps you should start sharpening your plane blade and get started on building one.  Working with wood epoxy construction takes on a pace that is hard to hurry.  Each lamination needs to cure before the next is applied.  You will become ingenious inventing clamps and jigs to hold things in place while the epoxy cures.  You don’t need many special tools.  The only additional tools I acquired for the project was a saber saw for cutting the conical sections from the plywood, and the correct size hole saw for mounting the bottom bracket parts.  So, its time to get started.  Add your creativity to the process, and let us advance the technology and comfort of the bicycle built for two.


  1. What fun for the hands-on minded, Gary. Stuart Brand would love to have published this piece in the WHC. Inspiring. Your creative dare has me thinking, like, um, pick-up trike, vendor trike, hearse trike (😁); stern-wheeler trike, sail trike, solar-electric trike, etc. For Burning Person, maybe you would wanna look into building the kind of thing these brothers are making in Eugene:
    Check out the slide show of their teardrop build. Surely, you could find a way to stuff in the Date Trike. Just a vagrant thought…..

    Date: Sun, 26 May 2013 16:42:15 +0000

  2. I have been inspired when I saw your bike in last years Eugene Celebration parade. I am doing a steel tube frame from the Kyoto plans.

    I have a few questions.

    1) How do you like the center steering after using it a while? I am thinking of doing similar thing with linkages rather than cables.

    2) I like the smaller size as compared to the Kyoto plans. How has as the narrower width worked out? At 4 feet outside dimensions it might fit in my minivan.

    1. Hi Greg,

      Glad you are inspired to build your own! The center steering is very nice. Originally I had the steering tiller on the underside of the seat support and it was rather a long reach that I found rather tiring after a while, so I moved it up to on top of the seat support. There it is very comfortable. However, you get less motion because the tiller runs into the seats, so the turning radius is larger than when you can slide the tiller under your legs. But all in all it is very comfortable to use.

      I deliberately tightened up the width to make the entire craft more bike-path friendly, and it has worked out fine. This is “date” trike after all. The issue comes down to the passenger that is not steering; what do they do with their inside arm? If they are comfortable to drape it over their partner, it is very comfortable. If they are stand-offish, I wouldn’t take them along!

  3. Hi Gary,

    That’s an awesome piece of work. Kudos galore.

    At the moment your sociable is mentioned here on the German Velomobilforum. Link: Got to scroll down a bit.

    A question about steering design. Have you ever considered making a tiller that moves up and down instead of left to right? One of the German builders Rikschaprofi had designed and build a sociable with such a tiller and within 15 minutes driving I was quite accustomed to that way of steering, though at first sight it could be considered akward.

    Thanks in advance for any comments
    Cheers, Hans

    1. Dear Hans, That is probably a very good idea – making the tiller vertically operated. As is now, there is somewhat limited turning range because you bump into the seats with the tiller. I started out with the tiller well below the seats so that it could slip under them. Then the trike could turn very tightly. However, there was too much arm strain reaching down that low so I moved the tiller to the top-side of the “bottom bracket” that I use as the tiller bearing. There it is much more comfortable to use, but lacks the range. So maybe with some clever engineering, it would be possible to move it vertically and solve both problems. Are you going to build one? I’ve had this design and construction info out there for a while — really hope someone will attempt to make something similar! Most common comment I get when riding the Trike is “I want one. Where can I get one?”

  4. I’ve been developing something similar based on your plans that I hope to build over the next few months. Hoping you can help with what I hope is a simple question that I just can’t find an answer to.

    How did you link the rear cart wheels to the axle so the drive train would power them? The cart wheels I’ve found have simple bearings and I can’t see how to lock the wheels into the bike’s axle so power and braking are delivered to the wheels.

    1. Hi Jeff,
      Great to hear that you are attempting something similar. Good Luck! Yes, the garden cart wheels come with a set of bearings in them that are not what you want. I pressed out the bearings and made an inner and outer piece from aluminum that fits tightly in the bearing seats of the cart wheels. There were three holes in the cart hubs that I used to bolt the drive-side bushing to the part I built so that power could be transferred reliably. The bushings that I made were then pinned to the drive shaft as well. The outer bushing was bolted into the center of the drive shaft, which was tapped appropriately. This all sort of works, but there is a lot of force on these joints so it is important the the machining tolerances be pretty good. I used Loctite on the bolt threads.

      Now for the caveats… If I were to do it again, I would look at the rear axle / bearings, etc. with the aim to make it more “bike like” and less like a piece of farm machinery. As built, the bearings have a bit too much friction and the parts are all quite heavy. There are many other possible approaches. Rather than two separate short axles, one could use a single axle with a differential in between. That might be stronger and offer more options for power and breaking attachment with only bearings on the outside. Some of these things look interesting: Samagaga

      Jeff, keep me posted on your progress!


  5. Hi.

    I found your trike on a youtube video and was really impressed by its simplicity and the beautiful wood work :)

    I want to build a recumbent trike from either bended plywood or something similar to your trike.

    One thing I can´t find an answer to is, how do you attached the crank i the wood, somekind of glue, gorilla og epoxy maybe? altså how “tight” was the hole compared to the crank? :)

    Best regards Jonas Hall

    1. Hi Jonas,
      Yes, the crank attachment needs to be done well because there is a lot of concentrated stress at that spot. With my box-beam construction with ~5mm plywood skins separated by the solid fir pieces on the edges, it was imperative to also completely fill the regions where I was going to put the cranks with wood. Hence those sections are have a piece of solid fir between the two skins. If you hunt on the internet you can find threaded “bottom bracket” shells into which the crank bearings will mount. I purchase three of them (always good to have an extra – which ended up as the steering mount in the end anyway). I then found a hole saw that was a close fit of the bottom bracket tubes and made a few test holes in random pieces of lumber to see how it would go. It was a close but not super tight fit. I used a gap-filling metal-happy epoxy to fasten the tubes in place. I also made inner and outer flanges out of the outer ply skin material with the same tight hole then added those on each side for the tube to give it just a little more strength. I can report that so far they have held up without any sign of trouble.

  6. Hi Gary,

    Met you on the bike path this afternoon (me riding a Sun tadpole recumbent) and I’m pleasantly surprised I remembered the site you gave me to look up. I noticed you were putting on your mask, sorry if I made you nervous. I’ve had both Pfizer shots, so you’re probably ok. Fascinating idea and execution on the trike. Thanks much for the ideas and the conversation.

    Mike Curtin

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