Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Recumbent Riders: The Happiest Cyclists?

On a tandem ride the other day, my astute stoker pointed out that of all the other bikers we encounter, it seems like recumbent riders always look the happiest. We have other theories about the mental state of our fellow trail users (most notably that runners seem to be in a constant state of searing pain, just based on their expressions), but this was the first time one of us had observed a tribal mindset within our own wheeled brethren.

My flip answer was, "You know that pain you're feeling in your ass right now? Recumbent riders don't have that." Doesn't seem like an awful theory, really. Even the most comfortable upright bike is going to eventually do a number on your contact points. Take away that pain (even if it's just a small, nagging one) and you're much more likely to smile.

But on further reflection, I think there's more to it than just pain relief. As any recumbent zealot will remind you, sit-down bikes were banned from competition by the UCI in 1934, and have been riding around on the fringes of the sport ever since. That means everyone you see on a recumbent today has at some point walked into a bike shop, taken a look at the rows of "normal" upright bikes that everyone else rides, and said, "Nope, not interested. I want that weird one over there." Maybe it's just for the comfort, maybe they can't ride an upright any more, or maybe it's an innate desire to be different. Who knows? But that person made a choice to get outside the mainstream, judgment be damned. That has to be pretty liberating, don't you think? Suddenly, the "rules" of the "regular biking world" don't apply. Maybe that's why so many of them have those orange flags -- it's the recumbent rider letting his or her freak flag fly.

I know I have a couple Steves among my regular readers who have 'bents in their fleets, so I'm hoping they can enlighten me on this one -- or tell me I'm full of hot air. Maybe they can also explain why recumbent riders are required to grow beards.


Anonymous said...

I'm a clean shaven 'bent rider, so I may be a statistical anomaly. All of the 'bent riders that I know have some sort of physical/health issue driving them to the reclined position. My guess is that we all have faced the issue of either switching to 'bents or giving up riding altogether. Having faced the prospect of not riding at all, we may just be happy at the mere opportunity to glide on two wheels one more time.

This summer, my neck seems to be good enough to let me commute on my custom upright bike one day a week, and I really do enjoy it. In addition to getting to stand up when going over potholes, I can ride no hands, friction shift, use toe clips, and enjoy intimate communion with my Brooks. TMI??

Steve in Peoria

Unknown said...

I am a "benter" riding a SWB Rans Rocket as well as Catrike Village trike. I also have a couple of conventional bikes (hybrid and MTB). But the bents are my vehicle of choice for fun weekend rides. Just sit back and peddle while watching the scenery pass by. Even the head winds are less daunting.

Cal said...

I'm also a 'bent rider... yea, even a tadpole trike. :-D I've been though a major weight loss, so have issues balancing on two wheels, and have a blown right knee so 'bent is the only way I can go. But that's alright - it's also the way I'd choose to go. And no, I don't have a beard either. :-D

David Yochum said...

I've been riding a LWB recumbent for about 20 years. I enjoyed going out and riding 20+ miles but really didn't like the agony I felt on my upright. I now enjoy feeling all the parts of my body all of the time. I don't have any particular physical issue, I just enjoy seeing everything and enjoying the ride. I did buy an upright bike for around my small town and glad that I don't have to ride 20 miles on it. David

Milford said...

Three major reasons for a healthy individual to ride a recumbent have nothing to do with wanting to appear odd, or compensate for physical limitations. First, not having to bend one's neck to see what's ahead is a great improvement in comfort over the position on many uprights. Second, with legs pointed forward instead of hanging down to increase one's frontal area, wind resistance is reduced, particularly noticeable at speeds above about 12-15 mph. Third, an early long wheelbase one, the Avatar, was developed by MIT Prof. David Gordon Wilson to minimize injuries that occur in a head-on collision, because it's not possible to fly over the frame and into something face-first, or as I did years ago when Berkeley, California still had storm sewer grates with widely-spaced bars, rotate around the front axle of a "normal" bike after its front wheel is halfway below the road surface and try to take a bite out of the curb (parts of three front teeth lost that battle).

Idaho Trail Lizard said...

Lost 45# on my '91 Rockhopper the first month of riding this year.
Sort of hit a plateau of 350# basically because there's not much of anywhere to ride here without becoming a pain it the butt. <3 my Rockhopper, don't favour being black & blue between the legs.

Had planned to get a TerraTrike Rover as is the only recumbent trike capable of holding a 350# rider + gear. It's the logical recumbent choice for rider weight, comfort, & best value for the money.

PS: Rode a Brike recumbent trike in 90's. Was a silly single speed but it was fun. Was different. I like that.
Gave to a friend though, Richy Burrell, who wanted to start a recumbent revolution. He & his sister Sissy were quite gifted in mechanics & welding.

Anonymous said...

Yes to all of the above: painless, reduced wind resistance, ideal view of scenery, and great conversation starters. I've ridden a Gold Rush (Easy Racer) for about 6 years now and put 3500 idyllic miles on it the first year I owned it. What nobody has mentioned is how fast these HPV's cruise, especially on the flats. Admittedly, uphill is a workout but downhill and on level terrain, the bent flies. My understanding is that advantage is why they are banned in most races.

For some bent history check out: http://www.easyracers.com/racing.html
"In 1979, legendary cyclist Fast Freddy Markham became the first person to exceed 50 mph on a bicycle while aboard an Easy Racer. He would go on to become the first to achieve 60 mph, and in 1986 won the heralded DuPont Prize after exceeding 65 mph. The Gold Rush that he rode to set that record is now property of the Smithsonian Institute for display in various museum exhibits."

Anonymous said...

I am one that converted to a "bent" due to back issues. Personally I love riding bikes. My first serious bike was a Stumpjumper Sport back in 83. I rode that thing to death (high school) and living in Utah it got a lot of snow travel. But the years of biking took it toll on me. So when I found a store that specialized in 'bents I was very excited. My poor wife sat in the store while I test rode bikes for over an hour (the store was not local and I was coming home with a bike!)

Since getting the 'bent I've also discovered the more traditional utility or as they appear to be call lately "comfort" bikes. These are the standard diamond frame bike but the angle of the seat and handle bars put you in a very upright position versus the hunched over position most bikers find themselves in. You still get the butt pain... But you get to enjoy the view without craning your neck and you aren't hunched over.

At this point I doubt I'd ever get on the racing bikes people buy as everyday bikes again due to the back pain. But if you do want a bike that is good for around town and don't want to get a 'bent these comfort bikes are a great option. I picked up an Electra Amsterdam. I found the bikes style when on vacation in Amsterdam. Really its a shame how hard these bikes are to find in the US. Outside the US they are much easier to find.