A friend of ours recently had surgery on his right arm, and after a long healing process, he will then have his left shoulder worked on. With all of these "repairs" he will be pretty incapacitated for almost a whole year. He is very fit, and one of his activities is bicycling riding. This got me thinking about how a recumbent bike just might be the ticket for those of you out there who have otherwise had to give up riding due to physical demands of a wedgie style bike.
If you are one of the many baby boomers who are considering cycling as a regular activity but are worried about how you can ride without putting stress on your backs, shoulders, wrists, or arms? My answer is ....how about giving recumbent bicycles a try!
Before continuing, I need to confess. The number one reason why I ride, is that it is my "yoga". I am addicted to the circular movements of the pedals, it allows me to get into the "present". As an example: If I have a long day, filled with hard decisions, the best why I have found to solve them . . . is the go for a long bicycle ride AND keeping my mind as totally free of thoughts as possible. At the end of the ride, if I really stayed "present", those hard decisions are solved. So for me, getting on a bike, and pedaling a 10-30 miles is a joy.
What I Know about Recumbents.
SeeMore, our orange tandem, is a Rans Screamer. He is aptly named, because we truly believe we "see more" when we out enjoying his company. We also believe that we are "seen more" by other vehicles sharing the road. With this combination we feel very safe riding him.
To date, we have only ridden two recumbent tandems. Tandem life is not all down hill, and tail winds. It takes two to ride, and there have been days (very very few) that it felt that we were both riding on different bikes. For more information on what it feels like riding SeeMore, click here.
Is SeeMore perfect? Almost. The only thing I would change is the size of the front tire ( I would like each tire to be 26 ). Yes, for a couple of years now I have been looking at the Rans Seavo... but it ain't going to happen (we're too attached to Seemore). The reason for two 26" tires, is that on tours I would be able to only carry one size tube AND I could rotate the tires, making the tires last a lot longer. When SeeMore's rear tire blew 70 miles from West Yellowstone, I could not switched tires ( letting the rear one carry all the weight) thus I felt very uncomfortable trying to get into West Yellowstone on a "non touring " tire.
You are a "sight".
Let's face it, you are an oddity when on the road. I am pretty "famous" cycling the roads in southern New Hampshire. People honk at me all the time, and people pull over and stop me to talk about recumbent cycling. This is one of the things you have to get use to. I truly love fielding questions and meeting people. If solitude is your goal, you might find it hard when riding a bent.
No more cycling cloths.
I can't wear cycling shirts, the back pockets used for storing quick snacks rub against the back of my seat. This causes irritations. I don't need cycling pants, I mostly wear shorts (at temperatures above 50) but they must not have rear pockets (irritations, again). I find most of my "recumbent cycling wear" at stores like EMS. Also, I do not wear cycling gloves. Because there is very little (almost none) body weight on the handle bars, I found gloves unnecessary. No more funny tan lines on the back of my hands!
I enjoy being clipped in. Which brings up an important fact. When coming to a stop, you must get to a gear that will allow you to start off easily. ALWAYS SHIFT DOWN when coming to a stop. You CAN NOT stand to push down on the pedals. At stop signs or caution areas you will need to be more respectful. When riding SeeMore, the rear admiral stays clipped in, while I put my left foot down, balancing everyone while stopped. During stops, with one leg balancing, my right pedal is at the "11:30" position, ready for the all clear. Both on the tandem and on my single recumbents, I've had to head back down a steep hill, before continuing to climb. . . when I was forced to stop mid ascent. Moral of the story, try not to stop on a steep hill!
Standard Bicycle Accessories
Things can get a little tricky here. It depends on the recumbent, but when shopping for one you should be aware on how accessories may or may not fit your chossen bike. Remember to consider how a mirror, lights, computer, water bottles, rack, or bags need to attached. Some items need to purchased at a recumbent dealer, some need to be tailored to work. Brake and derailleur cables almost always have the be tandem length.
Handling - our bikes (Orca, Screamer, F5, and Rocket)
- Down Hill - we are faster than most regular bicycles going down hill.
- Flats - we can maintain the same speed as others of our ability on the flats when we are on our single bike(s). SeeMore is a beast...and he is slow (the way we like him to be!) We have a slight advantage on flats when riding into headwinds, then our friends on their regular bikes. So we tend use less energy.
- Climbing - Hills are a different story since we cannot stand on our pedals. While climbing, our lower back pushes against the lower part of the back of our seats. We can travel at a slower speed without feeling like we are tipping over. So yes, our recumbents are no speed demons going up hill. How about climbing large hills on a bent? Mary and I climbed 27 Mountain (Rockies) passes on SeeMore on our Great Parks tour.
Steering and turning are different also. Recumbents need very little steering. This is something you will have to get used to. It is very important that your hands rest gently on the handlebars. You can over steer, which is a big mistake. Just remember that THE BENT is in control, and you are all set. Most of our steering is by shifting our weight. If you hit a groove in the pavement, do not steer out of it! It's best to let the recumbent handle it. It takes a full size two lane American road to reverse direction when we are on SeeMore. Our single bents take a lot of road also. When reversing direction, you may need to watch your heals of your feet, as they may hit the front tire of certain recumbents.
Different pedal strokes for different folks
I have ridden a number of different kinds of recumbents, but not all. If you are located in New England, the two bicycle shops I would recommend visiting are (in order):The Bicycle Man
located in Alfred New York and Basically Bicycles
located inTurner Falls MA.
I have always wanted to visit the Bicycle Man, but as of this post I have not. However, I learned (through many blog postings on my different websites) that he really really knows his stuff. He has a larger inventory than most shops (even recumbent only shops), and if you tell him exactly what your trying to do, he will point you in the right direction. We purchased the Rans Rocket and SeeMore at Basically Bicycles in Turner Falls Ma. David (the owner) doesn't have a lot of different bents to ride, but he is very knowledgeable and he has a no pressure sales approach. He let Mary and I take SeeMore out for 2 days (about 70 miles) of test driving, before we purchased him! I get the feeling that he truly loves recumbents and gives you the opportunity to figure them out before you purchase (more on this later).
The Rans F5 I own is fast, but not made for commuting. He is very light. With the wind fairing this is a very fast bike. Younger cyclists have a hard time keeping up with me (I'm 50 plus years young) when I have the need for speed. If you need more speed, I would recommend the F5 Pro over the regular F5. The Gold Rush by Easy Racers is another very fast recumbent.
I ride a Optima Orca to commute back an forth to work. My commute is about 32 miles, round trip. This is a very "bullet" proof bike which allows me to carry a lot of "stuff". He is NO light weigth. We take the Orca, Rocket and Screamer off road on hard packed rails-to-trails. However, we do not do very well in soft sand, period. We also do not do mountain biking on our recumbents.
My dream machine
If I lived in a area filed with bicycle trails I would own a Quest velomobile
. I have never ridden in one but reading the many blog postings on the net I get the feeling that the Quest is, quite simply, a human powered rocket. The design of the Quest incorporates full suspension, drum brakes, front and rear lighting, trip computer and a kayak-style 'skirt" to protect the rider in cold or wet weather. Then I would be able to ride, comfortably, even in downpours!
Most of you reading this are sitting with your backs against a comfortable chair. If you stop reading and look around, your vision is about 300 degrees in every direction. Seating on recumbents is the same. We refer to it as sitting in an easy chair.
After day trip, riding for 50 miles on one of our recumbents, we do not have any upper body aches or saddle sores. Yes we get tired and we can definitely feel our leg muscles, but neither of us have knee issues.
With regard to figuring out whether a recumbent is for you? You will need to have patience, you will not learn to ride a recumbent over night. The ride part is pure delight but getting going is challenging and you have to practice, practice, practice.
The best advise on purchasing any bicycle, is to test drive as many as you can.