When I first read about the Vortex, I thought: this is not the trike for me. Right there on the website , it says: “… one of the world’s most desirable racing trikes.” I’m not a racer – I’m a tourist! But then last year I did somewhat “race” at Calvin’s Challenge. And truthfully, I wasn’t so much racing anyone, as I was just curious to see just how far I could go in 12 hours. As it turned out, my lack of preparation took its toll. But I did have fun, and it caused me to take another look at this “desirable racing trike”. What did I find? Read on!
My first encounter with a Vortex was what I would call “not quite” – I owned a 2011 Sprint, and sold it, of course – that’s what I do! And as usual, I decided to buy another one. When I talked to ICE, they asked me about what color did I want, and would one painted black with red trim, much like the Vortex of that year, be to my liking. I said yes. And then, surprise! They decided to make a all-20″, folding and suspended Vortex, and that’s what was sent to me! I loved it, but down deep I knew it was really a Sprint with high-end components, not a “real” Vortex. Apparently ICE agreed with me, because now the Vortex does not offer the options of folding, suspension, or a 20″ rear wheel.
My second encounter with a Vortex – this time, a real one – was last year at Fairfield Cyclery. They had one on the showroom floor, and I just had to take it out for a ride. There’s a route from that store that does have a slight incline – nothing much, but it will give you the chance to see how the granny feels. Better yet, it gives you a chance to really fly when you reverse course. I turned the Vortex around (much tighter turning circle than I expected: 18 feet), and when I shifted to the top gear (122.72 gear-inches), I was really flying! When I got back to the shop, I did a couple of loops of the parking lot, and stopped when I saw the owner, Frank, and some other guy standing in front of the store. I told him what I thought of the trike, how fast it was, etc., and just when I was about to mention “borrowing” it for a few days, the other guy there said he’d like to take a ride on it. He did – and when he got back, his comments were even more positive than mine, so I knew I wasn’t going to get that trike as a loaner – he bought it!
So move forward in time to just about a month ago. My interest in the Vortex was still high, and rather than wait for luck to fall my way, I contacted ICE about an “extended review” Vortex to be sent to me. And, in what should have told me to go out and buy a lottery ticket, they said yes! So now I have a 2013 Vortex that I’m going to be riding for more than just a short period of time, and letting y’all know about what I encounter. Rather than make you wait for everything, here are my thoughts after having the trike for a few weeks.
I suspect many of you share the same feeling that I have about the looks of the trike: it’s gorgeous. There’s just something about those white rims and frame, with the red and black highlights. Toss in the large rear wheel (that always reminds me of a rear-engined racing car, such as Formula 1 or Indy), and that hard-shell seat, and you can almost hear the rumble of some high-output motor. Of course, in my case, it’s more the whimper of a low-output one, but I digress.
Speaking of that seat: many of you may be wondering if it’s comfortable, does your back get hot and sweaty, do you feel like you’re going to fly out in a hard turn, etc. As for the first item: that depends on the size of the seat you get (to make sure it fits you), and what may feel OK to some may not feel good to all. I had those same concerns, and while I’ve yet to do more than 30 miles at a stretch – it is winter here, and if it’s not snowing, it’s raining, and either time it’s cold enough to make me think twice about riding – I really don’t want to get that pretty trike all dirty, do I? But since I’ve gotten it, I lowered the recline to its most extreme (25 degrees), and while I won’t say that the ride is anywhere as smooth as a full-suspension ICE Sprint, it wasn’t bad enough to cause me any real discomfort. But remember the movie “Silver Streak“, when the train is heading at full speed into the terminal? When I had the trike at full speed (for me, anyway), on a road that wasn’t horribly rough, but not perfectly smooth either – the vibration caused me to think of that scene. Once I had slowed down into the 20’s, my vision smoothed out.
The weather here hasn’t been warm enough to let me know how hot my back may get, but I suspect that it’ll be fine. It may not have the ventilation of a mesh seat, but the contoured padding sections allow for not only comfort, but places for the air to circulate. Again, I suspect it won’t be as good as a mesh seat in this regard, but that’s one of the trade-offs of going with a hard-shell seat. I’ve often wondered just how much of a performance boost one can expect to get using a seat of this type – I haven’t seen any scientific tests that provide numbers – but I also realize that those who are looking for performance, they won’t care just what the numbers are: they want this seat. Incidentally, on this Vortex, the seat is “glass fibre”, as they say over there. The Vortex+ has carbon fibre. This, along with other weight-reducing measures saves you approximately 3.5 pounds.
Older ICE trikes had bolt-on attachments at the sides of the hard-shell seats to keep you in place during fast and tight turns. They were called “love handles”! Those are gone, replaced by turned-up sides in the shell of the seat itself. They are effective – at no time did I think I was going to be doing any butt-scooting boogie across the tarmac. But one word of warning: the very front of the seat is turned up a bit, too, to keep you from sliding forward during hard braking. Be careful when sitting down on this trike: if you don’t sit back far enough, you’ll get a rather rude notice of that fact!
Enough about the seat, for now – I’ll undoubtedly have more to say, as I get in longer rides in hotter weather. Let’s look at the rest of the trike. The frame is 4130 Chromoly with a 7005 T6 heat-treated aluminum boom and rear section. What those numbers mean, I have no idea, but I suspect they show just how good the frame is, or else they wouldn’t have told us! If any of you engineers out there want to chime in on just what the T6 means, for example, please enlighten me! All I know for sure is that aside from being very pretty, it also has the appropriate braze-ons for a water bottle cage, along with cable guides. Those two are things that we come to expect in modern trikes, and ICE doesn’t disappoint.
The components are good. And yes, had I gone with the Vortex+, they would be even better, but I wanted to try out something that perhaps the not-so-elite racer wannabes might be interested in. And, there is a significant price difference between the two. Anyway, in the case of this Vortex:
Front derailleur Microshift Triple
Rear derailleur Sram X9
Shifters SRAM TT500 bar end carbon
Chainset Truvativ Elita 30/39/50 170mm
Cassette SRAM PG 1070 11-36 10 Speed
Gear range 22.50″- 122.72″ (1.80m – 9.79m)
Chain YBN S10C
Idler ICE Speed-Tech pulley
Chain tube ICE Custom low friction
Front brakes Avid BB7 160mm disc
Brake levers Avid Speed Dial 7
Rear rim Alex DA22 Aero White
Rear hub Chosen 36 hole lightweight disc compatible hub with 4 sealed cartridge bearings & alloy freehub body, White . Red hollow quick release axle
Front rims Alex DA16 Aero White
Front hubs ICE W26 Pro disc with sealed cartridge bearings, White
Spokes & nipples Stainless black double butted with red alloy nipples
Rear tyre Schwalbe Durano 700c (28×622)
Front tyres Schwalbe Durano 20″ (28×406)
Overall width 29.5″ (750mm)
Overall height 27.8″ – 29.7″ (705mm – 755mm)
Overall length 78.5″-88″ (1994mm-2235mm)
Seat height 6.5″ (165mm)
Seat angle adjust 25 – 32 degrees
Bottom bracket height 12″ – 15″ (305mm – 380mm)
Turning circle 18′ (5.5m)
Rider weight limit 230lbs (104kg)
Max tyre width 47mm
Overall weight 32.33lbs (14.66kg)
Rider size range 37″- 48″ (940mm – 1219mm)
Track width 27.5″ (700mm)
Wheel base 48.5″ (1232mm)
Ground clearance 2.75″ (69.85mm)
As you can see, the granny is not low enough for full-pack touring in the Rocky Mountains, but then it’s not meant to be. If you’re planning on doing something like that, maybe the Sprint would be the better choice, with its low gear of 15.7″. In fact, if you mention putting a rear rack on a Vortex, you might be able to hear the cries of anguish from Neil and Chris, thousands of miles away! While I am going to be as “minimalist” as possible with this trike, there are things that I just “have to” bring with me, such as a camera, extra batteries, a mini-tripod, etc. – and then there’s a wallet and keys that I can’t forget. So I went for the Radical Banana Racer bags that drape over the seat. They weigh less than what a combination of rear rack and bag/panniers would, and they’re very easy to remove and carry with me, should I decide to get off the trike at some point. Anyway, those cries of anguish became mere moans of discontent, but I can live with that. I do have the computer and front light mounts installed; sometimes you can carry minimalism too far, and as I plan on riding this on the road, lights are a good thing to have.
Incidentally, in some of the pictures you may see a pair of objects (doohickeys) attached to the rear of the frame, that look like handles of some sort. They’re not. They are there to make sure the Radical Banana bags keep their distance from the rear wheel, chain, etc. They are not to be used for lifting the trike.
So, enough about the specs. Given the somewhat limited amount of miles I’ve put on the trike so far, how do I like it? I love it! Granted, it’s not as comfortable as their full-suspension Sprint – and also granted, were I not familiar with that trike already, it might not seem so stiff – but while riding it, at no point did I think, “Why didn’t I bring some other trike today?” It’s fast, maneuvers as stably as any trike I’ve ever ridden, and while individual tastes and bodies will differ, I thought it was very comfortable. Many won’t like the recline angle – again, for more upright riding, there are other choices – just not a Vortex! But remember, the more reclined you are, the more your weight is distributed over a larger area of your body, and the more aero you become. Combine that with a not-so-high bottom bracket (12 to 15 inches, depending on boom extension) and a seat height of 6.5 inches, and you have a shape that slips through the wind. I have enjoyed riding this trike, and I look forward to many, many miles on it. In fact I have given some thought to taking it on week-long (and longer) tours, but I suspect some inner voice will say “Hey! Are you nuts? Take something with suspension!”
The road habits of this trike are first-rate. Stable in turns, yes – one thing I like to try on any trike I test is how fast I can go in a full-lock turn on flat ground. It’s a plus if I get too dizzy to continue before the inner wheel comes off the ground! This one kept that inner wheel on the ground. Sure, I could have gotten it up in the air, had I been on a slope, and if I leaned toward the outside of the turn – but it’s not a good idea to turn sharply at hight speed on a slope at any time, and leaning toward the outside of the turn is just goofy. Straight-line stability is to be expected, what with its length (about 10 inches more than a Sprint). Another of my tests involves a ride down a rather steep hill close by, with speeds in the 40’s – 50 if I’m pedaling at the top. Near the bottom, at max speed, I take my hands off the grips, just a little, just enough to see if there’s any wobble or deviance from a straight line. This trike, as the expression goes, tracks like its on rails.
Was there anything about the Vortex that I didn’t like? A few things come to mind, but one of them went away once I talked to ICE: why is the shifting “backwards”? Take a look at a picture of a Vortex with its bar-end shifters. On practically every trike I’ve owned, the rear derailleur shifts as such: push forward one click to go to the next higher gear. When you’re at the smallest cog, the lever is parallel to the ground, and facing forward. On the ICE trikes, though, it’s just the opposite – it’s facing backwards, toward the rear. That was annoying, and a hassle to “fix” – though some say it’s not that big of a deal to change. But then I found out why ICE does it that way: it’s so that in times when you want to be braking and shifting down at the same time, you can: you’ll be pushing the lever fowards, perhaps with your thumb or that web of skin that connects your thumb and forefinger. Having it the other way, would involve pulling back with one of the fingers that are doing the braking. So, no more complaints about this “backwards” shifting – it sounds like a good idea to me!
I do have two quibbles, neither of which is a deal-breaker: the afore-mentioned bottom bracket height, and the mirror. Though this didn’t happen often, there were some times when the road had a bit of a bump in it, or I was riding up into a driveway, that if I stopped pedaling and had my feet oriented verticaly, my heel would drag. Not horribly, but enough to get my attention and remind me that I should angle my feet a bit when not pedaling. About that mirror: it may appeal to the racers among us. It’s very small and thusly blocks little wind. I don’t care – I may slip on a larger mirror – just don’t tell Neil or Chris!
2013 ICE Vortex
Pros: Fast and light
Cons: Not many, and not serious: the occasional scraping of the heel, and that dinky mirror.
Price: $3860.01 base price.
For More Information: http://www.icetrikes.co/explore-our-trikes/vortex