Both a foot launch and a trike will get you up in the air to enjoy that fresh and free atmosphere. Each is unique and poses its own benefits and drawbacks.
Most experienced pilots say that a trike is safer than a foot launch. The fact that trikes have wheels eliminates many of the natural human mistakes that could be made by the pilot. The wheels create balance and stability during liftoff that isn’t always possible in a foot launch.
That being said, there are a lot of dangers which could still happen while flying a trike. It may surprise you to know that even though the trike is considered the safer option, it isn’t always the paramotor pilot’s first paramotor choice.
Why is a Trike Safer Than a Foot Launch?
Trikes serve several purposes. They are generally used more for heavier pilots. They aren’t meant to function as a foot launch does; that alone is the first reason they are safer.
BlackHawk Paramotors (a paramotoring company) only makes trikes/quads because they believe they are safer than a foot launch. They believe that safety comes first when flying, so they don’t make any foot launch paramotors.
Much of human error is taken away from liftoff and landing with the use of a trike. The pilot does not have to worry about tripping and falling with a motor on their back, nor do they have to worry about having the stamina to get a running start.
This video is 20 minutes, but it’s basically everything great about the trike and why you should get one. The video was posted by Flight Junkies. They are a flight school who offers free training.
Depending on the design, the trike is often built with guard bars on either side of the pilot. In the event of a crash or roll-over during take-off, the pilot has a buffer between them and the ground.
The buffer created by the bars gives the pilot a chance to take advantage of that extra reaction time before they hit the ground. Whereas, with a foot launch, you are going down directly and you’re going down hard.
You can land in any direction in a trike. In a foot launch, you have to be careful which way you land because you are landing with 50lbs on your back; it’s a lot harder.
All in all, the trike is easier for the pilot. Most accidents in paramotoring happen because of pilot error, not because of paramotor design flaws or mistakes; hence the reason you should choose a trike.
Wing collapse is more likely in a foot launch than in a trike. Trikes are heavier than foot launch paramotors so the wing will stay inflated and won’t collapse.
Trike Drawbacks and Dangers
Even though the trike is the safest choice, that does not mean it’s completely safe. As mentioned in the previous section, you can still crash or roll over in a trike. A trike shouldn’t ever roll if the pilot has been taught correctly, but it’s important to consider the possibility.
Note: Many trikes are built to self-correct in a potential rolling situation.
Here are a few of the restrictions and dangers that can happen in a trike:
- Trikes can’t land in small spaces; they need a large takeoff and landing strip to get off the ground and to land.
- The sidebars in a trike make it harder to see the surrounding area which means a higher possibility of running into power lines and trees.
- Trikes are more dangerous over water. While no paramotor should really be flown over water, it is particularly hard and dangerous to escape a trike if it hits the water.
Foot Launch Drawbacks and Dangers
The foot launch is a great way to fly! This flight will probably be the closest you’ll get to the feeling of free flying. Even though it is a great flight option, there are a lot of possible dangers.
The first set of dangers come during the initial take off. With a foot launch, you are literally carrying 50lbs or more on your back. Included in this weight are the motor, the wings, and the fuel inside your tank.
This weight puts a lot of strain on your back and while not immediately affecting you, you’ll begin to feel it later. Those who have bad knees, bad back, and so on will feel the negative effects of the foot launch.
Now, the weight isn’t a life-threatening risk, but it’s going to begin to limit some pilots who have bone and joint problems to a point that they won’t be able to fly as often as they would like.
Not only is the paramotor heavy during takeoff, but the pilot has to rely on their own speed to get things going. With a running start being a necessity, it is highly possible for a pilot to trip over a rock, in a hole, or just over their own feet and crash before they’ve even begun.
There isn’t much to compare regarding flight dangers between the foot launch and the trike when they are actually in the air. Some even argue that they are the same.
With both, there’s always the danger of running into other pilots, powerlines, turbulence, etc. (the foot launch has a lower risk of running into powerlines because of their range of vision compared to the trike.)
Why Should I Still Consider a Foot Launch?
The benefits of the foot launch are that your feet hang like you’re free flying and, you have the thrill of a running start. For those who find satisfaction in launching from the ground through their own strength and agility, it is likely they will prefer the foot launch over the trike.
Is it more dangerous than a trike? Yes, but you shouldn’t rule it out just because of that reason. If you are young, independent, and strong, you might find that you prefer the idea of a foot launch. (Not trying to display stereotype here.)
The thing about the foot launch is that you can go higher and it’s possible to launch from a smaller area and to land in a smaller space. Granted, you still need quite a bit of space to land, but it is possible in smaller spaces.
Let’s be honest, safety isn’t always the deciding factor of whether or not you choose to do something. Paramotoring is categorized as an extreme sport. Even though it’s not the most dangerous, it still counts.
By choosing to take part in it, you are accepting the risks, that’s why you shouldn’t rule out the foot launch paramotor.
Another thing about the foot launch is that it is safer over water. It is a lot easier to get out of your foot launch than it would be a trike. The sidebars and wheels on a trike would make your escape take longer.
How Does Terrain Affect Trike and Foot Launch Safety?
Terrain plays a big role in a quality launch for both trikes and foot launch paramotors. The terrain makes or breaks your takeoff, so it’s important to choose terrain that will be smooth enough and big enough for you to launch.
Here are a few types of terrain a paramotor might take off from and which might affect takeoff for both:
There are a lot of different beaches out there. There are soft beaches where you can sink your toes in the sand, and there are hard beaches where your sandcastle will stay up for all eternity. (you know the kind I’m talking about!)
I don’t live close to the beach so I’ve never had the opportunity to take off from there, but in my experience, (and from what I’ve seen on YouTube and social media pages) a hard beach is a great place to take off from because of how few obstacles there are, how large space the space is, and so on.
Trikes don’t do as well on the sandy beaches. There are trikes designed with sandy beaches in mind, but most trikes won’t take off very well, no matter how they are built, if the sand is too soft.
The foot launch method will generally do better on the soft beach, but have you ever tried to run through the sand really fast? Yeah, not easy. It matters what type of beach you are launching from. The foot launch will do great on the hard sandy beaches, no problem.
Just like with the beach, there are different kinds of desert places. There are places in Utah (United States) that are desert, but they are salt flats. (This means they are hard and literally the sand is salty) There is a place in Idaho that is full of sand dunes and the sand is extremely loose. It just depends on where you go.
Not to mention places like Africa, the Middle East, and like places. You’ll find all sorts of terrain. What matters with desert terrain is if you can at least run or drive easily through it with no obstacles.
The trike will obviously do awesome in places like Utah where it’s flat. You’d get in the air pretty quick. There might be some issues with thermalling because it’s so hot, but that’s focusing more on weather, not terrain.
The foot launch will be fairly easy on desert terrain. Whether it’s loose sand or not you’re going to be fine with a foot launch. Thermalling in really hot areas or on summer days is a danger with whatever paramotor you use, so keep that in mind.
Grassy fields are another popular liftoff spot because fields often go on for several miles. You may not live next to the ocean or the desert so a field would be your only option. If that is the case, you should be aware of the possible risks and dangers which come with this type of launch site.
When landing in a grassy field the some of the same worries will apply as they did with the beach and desert. Something to consider is the power lines or sprinkler lines that are near you when coming in for a landing. With either the foot launch or the trike you have to pick your launch site wisely and carefully.
A trike will do well enough through a large grassy field. Even if you hit small rocks and/or a few holes the trike is pretty good at being unaffected by it. If you hit a big hole, however, it could tip, flip, or roll your trike.
Note: The thing with grassy areas is that it’s often hard to see rocks and holes where on a desert it would all be visible and avoidable.
Grassy fields are a great launch spot for a foot launch. It is more dangerous for a foot launch because you’ll be depending on your own coordination and not the coordination of a machine. You are more likely to trip and fall.
The benefit is that you can feel the ground beneath you to better avoid falling, but it isn’t a guarantee you’ll lift freely. (But really, it’s not such a huge deal)
You should just avoid terrain which is too rocky. In fact, don’t even think about rocky terrain. If you think your paramotor can handle it, you’re wrong. Even if you manage to get up in the sky, you’re merely a lucky ducky, I still say avoid it.
Going over rocks is going to wear out your trike faster. Yes, it can handle it probably better than a foot launch, but I wouldn’t advise it. It will be bumpy, it will take longer to get in the air (if you get up at all), and you’re more likely to roll. My advice, don’t try it with a trike.
Don’t do it. That’s the only thing I have to say about that. It’s already a risk to depend on the pilot’s coordination. There is no need to add fuel to the fire.
Okay, so this isn’t really a large stretch of terrain, but I couldn’t leave this out. It’s not likely that you will be jumping off a cliff, but I’ve seen people do some pretty crazy things. I had to make mention of it for the sake of preventing injury.
I mean, I’m sure you could drive off a cliff, but you probably shouldn’t do it.
The foot launch is the only one I could really see anyone trying. I’m sure it would work and liftoff would be pretty quick. The only dangers I could see is that you lose your footing and aren’t prepared to fall off a cliff, but that’s really it. Best not do it then, I guess.
Learning Curve: Foot Launch Vs Trikes Paramotor Damage/Danger
As a small add-on, remember that during the first year of learning how to paramotor you will likely have small accidents. Making mistakes is just part of the learning process.
For the first year, you will probably break a few propellers as well (especially during the foot launch).
If you are starting out with the trike, it’s unlikely you’ll break your propeller, but because you’re on a small learning curve you shouldn’t rule out the possibility. Generally speaking, the trike will be a quicker learning process than the foot launch.
You’ll also expend much less money in repairs/damages with the trike. Not only is the trike safer, but in the long run, it is more cost effective.
The foot launch takes longer to learn than the trike because you are depending more on your own capabilities. That’s just the bottom line.
Whatever you decide to buy/learn, it all boils down to what kind of experience you want, your personality, and personal preference. Everyone is different. There really isn’t a limit with paramotors. It’s all about what you want. If you know that, then go for it!