Quadracycles are four-wheeled human-powered vehicles. The term "quadracycle" literally means "four wheels" in Latin.
Why would anyone want to own and ride a quadracycle? Wouldn't a motor car or a bicycle be a better transportation choice?
This page will examine quadracycles, their history, what they are, their advantages and disadvantages, some terminology, who owns a quadracycle and also some factors to consider when shopping for a quadracycle of your own.
We will also look at some ownership issues such as security, how to get insurance and legalities.
Quadracycles have been around for a long time - the earliest recorded pedal-powered, four-wheeled example was displayed at the Exhibition of the Industry of All Nations World's Fair held in New York in 1853. This World's Fair was patterned after the Crystal Palace Exhibition that was held in London two years earlier and, as such, focused on new technology made available by the industrial revolution.
Quadracycles appeared at about the same time as bicycles and were one attempt to come up with a pedal-powered vehicle that was more stable at low speed than a bicycle. Early bicycles weren't very fast and as a consequence were hard to balance and control.
Early quadracycles certainly had some design limitations, too. Typical of the 1860s vintage models was the Andrews Quadracycle, which was built in Dublin, Ireland. It was seven feet in length, with a frame made from one inch iron. The sole rider propelled it by pedaling foot levers, which moved in a long horizontal ellipse. It featured wooden wheels and iron tires. It sounds like it would have been a rough ride, especially on the gravel and dirt roads of its day.
By the 1880s quadracycle design had evolved considerably. Designs like the Coventry Rotary Quadracycle introduced in 1885 (see photo at right) replaced the foot levers with rotating pedals, similar to modern bicycles. These still only had one gear and produced a reasonable speed only by the use of large wheels.
The Rudge Quadracycle, introduced in 1888, was termed the first really practical four-wheeled pedal vehicle. It's main improvement was lighter materials.
As bicycle designs were improved in the late 1800s quadracycles became slowly relegated mostly to the tourist rental market.
Nineteenth century designers put motors on them and they became the first automobiles. Early powered four-wheelers were often called "quadracycles" by their designers, although later the terms "car", "motor car" and "automobile" were applied. Henry Ford called his very first gasoline powered car "the Quadracycle".
There were revivals in quadracycle popularity in the early twentieth century. The French automobile designer, Charles Mochet produced a two seater with a wooden body in 1924 that he called the "Velocar".
The Velocars were available in a variety of models, such as the Type "F" illustrated here.
They were produced in Puteaux, France from 1924 until 1938. Their great economy in post-World War One France gave them some popularity. A road speed of 10-15 mph is claimed with a three speed transmission.
During World War II the Velocar became a symbol of occupied France and the only practical way of getting around for a country that had little access to gasoline for five years. Velocars are still found in France and some have been completely restored to their original condition.
The early quadracycles became powered by gasoline engines and became cars, just as bicycles had motors added and became modern motorcycles. Thankfully both pedal-powered quadracycles and bicycles are still with us.
The oil crisis of the 1970s, along with other social forces, such as the "back to the earth" movement, concerns about pollution and greenhouse gas emissions from cars and desire for personal self-sufficiency brought a renewed interest in quadracycles in the 1970s and 80s. This was the real time of birth of the modern personal quadracycle.
Here in early twenty-first century the motivations for interest in these vehicles include concerns about climate change, high gasoline prices and oil availability, plus of course the desire for physical exercise and just plain fun.
There are five different general classifications of quadracycles on the market today:
Even in the 21st century, touring quadracycles are fairly rare in some parts of North America - you can bike through a whole city on a summer weekend and not see any at all.
Why the lack of interest? Probably due to the fact that many people have never seen one, other than at tourist attractions. While fun for an afternoon, those tourist rental quadracycles aren't likely to inspire people to buy one of their own. To withstand the rigours of rental use they tend to be very heavy, most seat four or six people and, for simplicity, tend to have just one gear. This means that they can typically only attain about 8 km/h, which is just slightly faster than a walking pace.
Today there are about seven manufacturers of touring quadracycles in North America, plus a couple of kit manufacturers. Touring quadracycles are different from tourist rental quadracycles. They are optimized for personal use and for travelling serious distances. They often have more gears than bicycles do to for slow hill climbing and faster cruising on the flatlands. They are also capable of carrying a lot of baggage and so can be used for serious shopping trips, camping vacations or for other excursions.
One question often asked is: "why not just ride a bike instead?"
Bikes are great and have some advantages over quadracycles, but quadracycles have advantages over bikes in some respects too.
Here is a brief rundown comparing touring quadracycles to bicycles:
Quadracycles aren't just a potential replacement for a bicycle - they are also a potential replacement for the family car. Here is a comparison:
From looking at these lists it is fairly obvious that most people aren't going to use a quadracycle to replace their favourite bike or the family car. Quadracycles can really fill a gap between the capabilities of those two vehicles, however.
That said, there are families who have given up their cars in favour of a combination of quadracycles, public transit and bikes. Depending where you live that may work for you, particularly if you have the option of locally renting a car when you really need one.
Aside from being a truly zero-emissions vehicle, a quadracycle can save a family a lot of money over a car due to eliminating the cost of buying gasoline, oil, car maintenance, licence plates, car insurance, etc. For some people it really makes sense.
From our research we have found that a diverse group of people own and ride touring quadracycles for personal use. These include:
As can be seen there are probably as many reasons to ride a quadracycle as there are people who own them!
In North America there are currently seven manufacturers building a total of twelve different models of single-seat and two-seat touring quadracycles, plus two kit manufacturers that make either a conversion kit for mating two bicycles or for building a quadracycle from bike parts. In a relatively small market that is a lot of choices! How do you tell which one is the right one for your needs?
Of course it would be ideal to be able to try each model out and then make a decision, but with manufacturers scattered around the continent and few dealers, that is difficult to do. Too bad that there isn't a "National Quadracycle Trade Show" where they all come to exhibit their products!
Here is a list of some important factors in considering a quadracycle:
If they have been around a while hopefully that indicates that their product has been successful and that the company may be around in the future to provide parts and other support.
This is almost always a factor for everyone, but make sure you know what you are paying for. The key thing is value for the money.
Almost all the current manufacturers produce their quadracycles on a "custom, one-off basis". There are no quadracycles that are as cheap as the cheapest bikes, but most cost in the same ranges as higher-end bikes. Certainly the cheapest two-seater we have found starts at about Cdn$2000 (plus tax and freight). The most expensive one we have found has a base price of Cdn$6500 (also plus tax and freight) which is more than three times that of the cheapest one. Incidentally freight can add another Cdn$1000 to the price depending where it is shipped from and where it is shipped to.
Because quadracycles are classified as "cycles" by Revenue Canada they are subject to PST and GST or HST on importation at the border, just GST or HST if shipped interprovincially and PST and GST or HST if sold within the same province.
We haven't found much difference in the quality of the products of the different manufacturers. In fact some of the most expensive quadracycles seem to have some serious stability limitations as noted by their manufacturers. A little internet research turns up these factors.
Many manufacturers provide warranty backing for their products - two years seems to be the norm, although some have a lifetime warranty on the frame itself.
A well made product will hopefully last longer and require fewer repairs. This can be hard to assess when you can't see the actual product close-up. You may have to rely on consumer and owner reports.
This may well be a "red herring" in quadracycles. The lightest two-seater we have found is listed at 80 lbs, while heaviest is 155 lbs. The bicycle world, of course, prizes light bikes for hill-climbing, but some quadracycle owners have indicted that with their lower gearing and ability to climb hills slowly without falling over sideways that weight isn't such a factor. Quadracycles that are quite light may have stability compromises or light construction.
This is a critical item that often gets overlooked by buyers. All two-seater quadracycles can be easily handled with two people of near equal weight on board. But what happens when you want to ride solo? Some quadracycles can handle solo riding with ease and others can't.
It all hinges on where the wheels are. If they are well outboard of the seats then the vehicle will be more stable, especially with only one rider on a two-seater. Quadracycles that have the wheels closer to the seats, or even on the centerline of the seats (as when two bikes are bolted together) can be quite unstable when there is only one person riding them, or even impossible to ride solo.
One manufacturer says that their new Cdn$4500 base-price model "can be ridden slowly and cautiously by a single rider only with the [fifth outboard] stabilizer wheel; it cannot be ridden at all by a single rider without the stabilizer." Even their Cdn$6500 model which has the wheels slightly more outboard carries a warning that when ridden solo "it can be tipped by a hard right turn".
Another manufacturer of a quadracycle model that resembles two bicycles bolted together, where the rider sits over the wheels, says "The vehicle can be ridden by an experienced single rider who has learned how to counter-balance [it] to ride comfortably and safely." Obviously it requires some skill and practice.
If you will want to ride a two seater solo some times then make sure that you get one that has the wheels well outside the seats and can be easily soloed without having to worry about flipping it.
Some quadracycles have provisions for cargo and some don't. It is possible to attach a trailer to most models, but it may be easier if you don't have to.
This seems to vary a lot. The number of gears won't matter much if you won't be riding very far or on hills, but if you plan to travel any distance or deal with hills then more gears will allow that more easily. Some quadracycles come with only one gear available - these are usually aimed at the rental market where simplicity counts. The minimum we have seen on a touring quadracycle is 7 gears which may not be enough to handle hills. Other models have compound derailers that give 36 gears. One model we have seen has 192 gears, although it is the most expensive model with a Cdn$6500 base price! I am not sure how you would figure that many gears out, but you are unlikely to run out of them on any slope!
Touring quadracycles generally come in single and two-seater models. There are also some four-seaters on the market that might make reasonable touring vehicles too, although these are often optimized for the pedal-cab market.
Obviously if you want to go travelling with a partner then a two-seater would be better than two single-seaters. Even if you ride by yourself half the time a two seater will give more options, including more cargo space, although this is traded off against the extra weight and size of the two-seater.
If you are going to own a quadracycle you will need a place to keep it. The investment is too high to leave it outside in the rain or where thieves will get at it. Our 4W2PCP is 87 inches long and 55 inches wide, with a height of 40 inches. To store something this size you will need some garage space or a small shed that will accommodate it. Apartment dwellers will have an interesting time finding a place to keep one! Unlike a bike, you probably can't take it in the apartment elevator and keep it on your balcony!
Like almost all hobbies, quadracycling depends on spouse and family support. If you are single this won't be a factor at this point in your life, but for people with partners who aren't interested in cycling, buying and riding a quadracycle will be an "uphill climb". Sometimes it helps to trade-off hobbies, agreeing that you will make time for "doing your own thing." Of course quadracycling with your kids can be great fun and give you a shared activity that promotes fitness as well.
These are just some of the factors to consider when looking at a quadracycle. We will try to list more as we discover them!
A common question asked is "how do you lock up a quadracycle?" Quadracycles are expensive and you don't want it stolen, obviously.
At home most people lock them up in a garage, which is the safest option. People who live in homes that don't have a garage need to get a bit creative. There are several designs of small sheds that could be adapted as a quadracycle garage.
Away from home quadracycles usually get locked up in the same manner as a bicycle - with a lock to a solid object. We use a 15mm cable and a bike "U" lock. This isn't impervious to thieves, but provides pretty good security in most instances. We usually lock it to a sign or fence post. The 2.5m cable allows great flexibility in securing the quadracycle, as it can be attached to the frame in many different ways. When a solid object is not easy to find, we have locked it up to a convenient bike rack. The bicyclers don't seem to mind.
To be honest we don't lock our quadracycle up very often. We take it shopping all the time, but we usually park it in a regular car parking spot and one of us stays with it while the other does the shopping. We find that staying with it is more interesting as so many people usually gather around to ask questions. Kids love sitting on it, too. It is more fun than waiting in line in the grocery store.
In most cases you don't have to buy automobile insurance to cover your quadracycle. We checked our household policy and found that it already covers liability for riding any type of non-motorized vehicle.
Insurance for the loss of the cycle itself (fire, theft, etc) is another matter. Our household policy includes loss of cycles up to a maximum or $1000, with a $500 deductible. I am betting that they don't have to pay out on those policies very often!
We purchased coverage under our household policy against loss or damage to our quadracycle for a premium of $104 per year, which isn't bad for this coverage.
Check your own home policy - you will probably find that you already have liability insurance and that insurance for loss of the cycle is probably available, if your exclusion limits don't already cover it. Talk to your insurance broker for more information.
For information on the rules for operating these vehicles please see the page on Quadracycles and the Law.