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Vortex Review

Recently I was given the chance to review a new Vortex from ICE (Inspired Cycle Engineering) – and I thought, no, I’m not interested. Not that it’s not a great trike – I’ve ridden and/or reviewed several from this company, from the S to the Q, QNT, and most recently a Sprint – and each showed the quality and craftsmanship that ICE puts into all their trikes. And, I was sure the Vortex would not disappoint – but I just felt it wasn’t “me”. I am more of a tourist than a racer – give me a trike with a mesh seat and sturdy rear rack, and I’m happy. But still, the Vortex has its allure, and I became more and more tempted. After all, who doesn’t like to go fast, at least some of the time? Even confirmed tourists like me sometimes get the urge to “open it up” and run with the big dogs. If only I could get a full-suspension Vortex with one of their new Ergo-Flow mesh seats … and they hooked me with “Yes, you can”.


To say I was surprised would not do my expression justice when I read the latest email from ICE. After all, the website (excellently done, btw) mentions only two seat options for the Vortex, a composite and a carbon fiber hard shell. And, coupled with the Ventisit seat cover, it is quite comfortable – I am just more of a “mesh seat” guy, and the new design of the Ergo-Flow seat definitely caught my eye, so I was torn between reviewing a Sprint or a Vortex. When I was told I could get the Vortex with that seat, that convinced me – and a relatively short time later, a call came fromFairfield Cyclery – the Vortex had arrived.

And speaking of Fairfield Cyclery – when it comes to reviewing bikes and trikes, I want to be sure that each is setup correctly. I don’t want a bad experience to color my review, and that could happen if I do something wrong during assembly. So, I let my mechanic Walt Smith or the experts at Fairfield Cyclery handle that chore. Besides, going there to pick it up gives me the chance to see what else they have in stock, and wonder if my wife would notice just one more recumbent hiding amidst the others in my basement …

My first sight of the new Vortex verified what I suspected: it’s gorgeous. The “ink black” paint, coupled with tasteful red highlights, results in an understated look that says classy, fast, exclusive – a subtle eye-catcher. I walked around it several times, checking out how all the bits and pieces just seemed to naturally go together, how the appearance seems to be the result of a concerted design effort, rather than just luck. This really is a pretty trike!

Those of you looking at the pictures may be thinking: he didn’t just stop with getting a mesh seat – he’s got fenders on it, and a rear rack, too. Sacrilege! You may be thinking, his touristy nature has gone too far – but that’s the beauty of this trike: these are easily removed. So now you have the option of a messy-weather trike that can haul some heavy panniers when you wish, or a bare-bones speedster when the urge strikes.

While we are on the subject of the fenders and rack, I would like to say again what I have said before: The British know how to make great fenders. They fit, they’re adjustable, they aren’t flimsy and susceptible to rattling – I love these fenders. And similar things could be said for the rear rack. Granted, that rack is expensive, especially if you order it with the pannier attachments (and who wouldn’t?), but this design works with the rear suspension, being supported both at the top and the bottom. Some hook up non-suspended rear racks, and while they are much cheaper, they won’t hold the weight that this rack can handle. Look it over, consider your options, talk to your dealer, and I suspect that most will agree that the factory rack is a good idea.

OK, we have looked at the trike long enough – let’s sit on it. Now we can experience the benefits of the new Ergo-Flow seat. It has some additional padding sewn into it, down around the “kidney area” as I call it. Is it comfortable? Yes! I like the zippered, weather-resistant pocket that’s also new with this seat. It’s a great place to stick some little things that you never want to be without, that you don’t want to remember too late is in the bag left on the kitchen table. Granted, I am seldom without my Arkel TailRider, but there are still some cyclists out there who haven’t had one surgically attached. And, for those go-fast times when you want to slim down and remove the rear rack, this seat pocket can hold the necessities. It is available separately, so those of you who want to replace the seat mesh on your older ICE trikes can. I have been asked if I thought it was worth the money to do so – the seat and foam insert cost approximately $106 US – and being the cheap person that I am, I have to say that if you are happy with your current seat, maybe save the money for something else. But, if you’re not as tight-fisted as I am, go for it – the Ergo-Flow seat really is nice, and a noticeable improvement.

Another thing about the ICE trikes that I like is the “parking brake”, the simple lever on the left handlebar that actuates an Avid rim brake on the rear wheel. It’s so easy for a trike to “wander off” when parked on gentle slopes, or when the wind catches it. Sure, a rubber band stretched around the brake lever will work, but with a trike this classy, this is a much better solution.

I selected the full-suspension model, which meant I had the choice between drum brakes or hydraulic discs. And while I am a big fan of the ICE Sturmey Archer drum brakes – they seemingly last forever with very little attention – they just didn’t seem appropriate for the Vortex, so I went for the hydraulic discs. As you might expect, the Tektro Auriga brakes have great feel and stopping power. And, an added bonus is that the brakes look great with the black rims and spokes, with the accent of the red nipples. Did I mention that this trikes looks great? Time to stop staring at the trike – let’s roll!

Riding one of the full-suspension ICE trikes for the first time is a revelation for most trike riders. One of the things a trike rider learns early on is that with three wheel tracks, you just can’t avoid all the ruts, potholes and rough stuff you encounter on the roads. You can try, but about all you can do is to minimize the impact by slowing down. Cussing a bit under your breath seems to help, too. And now you find that there’s another option: suspension! I’ve told people that while it doesn’t completely eliminate all the bumps and jolts, it does take the harshness out of them. The first time I rode over some of the “rumble strips” we have here in the US, I thought: this must be what it’s like if your butt is on Novocaine! Seriously, on a long day of riding, and even more so if you’re on a tour of several days, you’re going to love the ICE suspension.

Handling in general is superb. ICE has virtually eliminated “brake steer”, and the trike does not have any tendency to wander at speed. It holds its line – so far, my maximum speed is 50 mph on a good downhill, and it didn’t feel spooky the whole time. I credit the overall design of the trike, of course, but the tires play a part, too – I was running 95 psi in Schwalbe Kojaks.

So the trike looks lovely, it handles great, and it’s quick – but what feature really impresses many is something shared among the whole ICE lineup: folding. It is so easy, and without any tools, that I never hesitate to show people how it’s done, and how small the resulting package is. Two little knobs underneath the front of the seat, and a quick-release at the rear, and the seat is off. Now one more quick-release frees the rear section to fold forward, in a twisting move, putting the rear wheel parallel to the ground and between the two front wheels. The result is that chances are you won’t have any problems transporting this trike in most cars – and it takes up less room in your house, too – a selling tool if you have a wife like mine, who wonders why I have to take up so much room with all my bikes and trikes.

A quick look at the specifications page for the Vortex will give you a glimpse of what to expect. My review trike stays pretty close to the items listed, but there are exceptions. Obviously, the seat has been changed, as have the shifters. While I do like the twist/grip shifters when they work well (which they did, on prior ICE trikes I’ve ridden), my favorites are the bar-ends. I left the remainder as stated, so you see it has a gear range of 17.8” to 105”, with a 9-32 Capreo cogset paired with chainrings of 30/39/50. The turning circle may seem large to some of you – Catrikes, for example, have a smaller radius – but the ICE trikes handle roadway turns with no problems. The weight is given as 37.3 pounds, and while that is not the lightest I’ve seen, it’s not a bad number either. What you should deduce from the specs are that the components are top quality, and a test ride will show that the resulting ride is equally impressive.

At this point I am usually asked: yes, the ICE trikes are great, but which one should I buy? It’s a simple question, but with several answers, some of which aren’t so simple. One of them is, though: if you are going to be riding/touring in areas where you’ll often encounter deep, loose gravel, sand or grass, you might want to consider the Adventure. Its ground clearance is nearly double that of the others in the lineup – 7.75 inches vs. 4 – so if you’re concerned about getting sand in your chain and rear derailleur, that would be a good pick. Otherwise, the choice gets more difficult. If ultimate speed is your goal, then I would suggest the Vortex with the 26” wheel and the hard shell seat option. It will be lighter and faster (that hard shell reclines further than the mesh).

But what if you are more like me, somewhere in the middle, a tourist who does like a fast trike, but also likes comfort? Should you choose a Sprint or a Vortex? This turns out to be one of the situations where you will need to look at the specs (the Vortex has, as you might expect, components of a higher level), compare the prices, and if at all possible, take a ride (or several) on both. I tailored the Vortex I reviewed to be, possibly, the best of both worlds: carry touring gear like a Sprint, and then with the removal of the rack and fenders, a fast day-tripper. You will find that whichever of the two you pick, you’ll be happy you did.

Vortex FS
Pros: Gorgeous, fast, typical ICE quality
Cons: Costs more than the Sprint
Price: Starts at $4426 US