2006 marked my 10th year of laid-back riding
I owned a series of recumbents from 1996 until 2006, covering many hundreds of miles commuting and leisure riding and having no accidents due to not being seen. I sold my last trike because I hardly used it - changes in work and lifestyle mean that most of my riding is either using a Brompton folder to/from rail commutes, or leisure/fitness riding with my kids on mountain bikes in the gorgeous offroad countryside around my home town. If I had the space and money yes I'd have another one for fitness road-riding, something like a Bacchetta.
So why did I start riding recumbents? In a word, comfort. It wasn't outright speed - my travel time was never as short as my record on an Audax bike, due to the inability of a recumbent to safely filter through traffic, but on the open-road section of my commute I could fly along. We used to live near Southampton, England, where I had an 18 mile round trip to work. I was beginning to suffer from neck pain using conventional drop-handlebar touring or Audax bikes. I had the opportunity to test-ride a pair of recumbents in the early 90's and realised that some recumbents offered good performance without neck or wrist pain, plus the advantages of excellent forward visibility, huge reserves of fun, and instant celebrity - or local eccentric - status. Don't buy one if you're naturally shy. They have superb braking, are fast on the flat or downhill and contrary to popular opinion can climb well - though you obviously cannot stand on the pedals and they tend to be poor at hill starts unless you get a trike.
I'll get the minus points covered now, because recumbents are not perfect...
They can be scary to ride in heavy traffic, and are not well suited to weaving through a queue of vehicles, so I wouldn't advise on purchasing one for exclusively urban use, your journey time will be slower than on a conventional bike.
You can't easily hop curbs.
If you opt for a trike, they are wider than single-track machines (you might not be able to negotiate cycle-path barriers) and particularly low.
Low machines (esp. trikes) are hard to see if you ride in areas where there is lots of on-street parking., hedges, or undulations in the road. Consider using a safety flag, and a helmet-mounted light in the dark.
Some individuals will laugh out loud or even aim things at you - I've been squirted with a water pistol out of the windows of a passing car before now. It's worse in summer for some reason - I think the heat (and booze) make people act strangely when they see something unusual!
Horses are scared of low recumbents! If you ride where there are horse riders, be really careful - a spooked horse is dangerous for you and its rider. I don't know why they are so scared of recumbents, maybe we look like predatory animals or something.. Don't wear a lion suit..
Knee pain can be an issue as it's easy to overstrain knees because your back is braced against the seat - its essential to start in low gears, so make sure you stop in one (unless you have the luxury of a hub-gear where you can downshift when stationary).
One major safety warning about the lower recumbents is that you really, really, ought to use some sort of binding system (clipless pedals, toe straps etc.) to keep your feet on the pedals. If your feet fall off and drag on the ground they can get pulled backwards underneath the bike or trike. It's known as 'leg suck'. If you're lucky you will get away with it, but a few riders have suffered major multiple fractures.
Although falling off forwards is as not as likely as it can be on an upright bicycle, if you do get thrown forward there is a risk of injury from the handlebars, front derailleur tube and chainring.
Some years ago I heard that one person had lost a finger from falling off sideways and trapping his finger between the seat and the road, I can believe that is possible.
With the lower machines it's hard to 'bail-out' in an emergency, or to reach-up and activate road crossing push-buttons.
On more laid-back designs, when it rains heavily , your crotch area acts as a water trap - not nice.
There is the issue of having to source unusual components and spare parts - some manufacturers are small and can't be guaranteed to stay in business, so try and avoid models with lots of custom componentry.
Although there are exceptions, I would not recommend recumbents for off-road use, they are at their best as long-distance mile-eaters on good road surfaces. Touring on a recumbent is a pleasure, most can take panniers or tow a trailer, and 100+ miles per day is easily achievable without leaving the rider in agony.
Prices. The prices tend to be higher than normal bikes, similar to tandems, but still cheaper than a moped or motor scooter. Expect to pay from £450 upwards for used machines (2 wheel versions; £750+ for trikes) and from around £900 for new (£1600 for trikes, except for the short-range fun trike from KMX at less than £700). Dealers are thin on the ground and you really should try before you buy - ideally get tuition if you're after a 2-wheeler, as it will take a short while to get the hang of balancing in a new configuration. In the UK most of the recumbents you see are short or medium wheelbase designs, but long wheelbase recumbents also exist and are good tourers. Most recumbents hold their value well (esp. trikes) so if you decide that laid-back riding isn't for you, you won't lose too much money on selling the beast later. Certainly far less than you lose trying to sell a once-expensive mountain bike.
Seat shapes vary a lot between different models, some are made of mesh stretched around a frame (many US, Australian and UK models) which offer a nice blend of comfort in all weathers with light weight, and some UK and most mainland European manufacturers tend to use solid seats of glass fibre, aluminium or carbon fibre. These offer good back support (if they fit you) but can get sticky in the summer.
Handlebars are either above or below seat. Below seat is the most common for trikes with the notable exception of the Windcheetah. It's very comfortable and popular with tourers, but below-seat steering is not so good for mounting mirrors or cycle computers (more of an issue for bikes - trike seats are lower so trikes tend to have 'side stick' handlebars). Above seat steering with various bar shapes often is the most aerodynamic configuration and offers a good place for accessories, but if you crash there are certain, er, disadvantages...
Whilst many owners use their recumbents as touring, commuting or utility machines there is a thriving racing scene with most of the world speed records for bicycles being held by recumbents - except they are banned from normal competitions due to archaic rules about what shape a bicycle should be! See the pages of the British Human Power Club if racing - or maybe building your own recumbent, appeals. Note that some of the specialist race recumbents are extremely low and have limited steering lock so are not really intended for public road use! Recumbents are welcome at Audax UK events as far as I can tell (see Peter Marshall's excellent "Tall Stories & Low Tales" website for more).
I bought my first recumbent, (see the link to pictures of previous machines) a Vision R40, in 1996. This was a good first short wheelbase (SWB) underseat steering (USS) recumbent with 16" front wheel and 26" rear (16-26). I fitted a Zzipper front fairing and upgraded the front brake to Magura hydraulic. The Vision was fun but suffered from a fragile disposition (back wheel and seat fabric vs UK potholed roads..) so in 1998 I bought a Pashley PDQ. This was an agile, strongly-built SWB (an updated, licensed copy of the American Counterpoint Presto) with above seat steering (ASS) and 20" wheels front and back (20-20). The PDQ was well suited to semi-urban use and had quite a high riding position. It had the SRAM 3X7 gear system which was ideal for a recumbent as I could change to a low gear while stationary. As well as commuting it was used on a couple of charity rides and featured on the poster for a Winchester cycling event in 1999.
In 2001 I moved home to Wales where the hilly terrain suggested three wheels rather than two (for balance at slow speed up hills, and safety on wet roads) so I was delighted to try using an early production Stein Viper trike. This was reviewed by me in VeloVision magazine issue 7. The Viper was fun and used in a British Heart Foundation charity ride soon after delivery but ultimately proved not suitable for the local terrain as the required low gearing caused frame clearance problems for the chain, and it was very heavy - about 21kg. The next machine was a very nice second-hand HP Velotechnik Streetmachine GT 2-wheeler with extra-low gearing to which I added a SON dynohub with disk brake. A fabulous tourer and great for runs to the beach heavily laden, but not suited to hill climbing or fast fitness riding. I reckon that the Streetmachine GT was one of the most 'complete' bikes I've ever owned - a true workhorse, capable of hauling the shopping home in four panniers over a rough canal towpath in all weathers. The lastest 'GT-E' version with lighter frame and more adjustable seat must be a fabulous touring bike. If you're not bothered by outright speed there are always Streetmachines on the used market, they are well worth trying.
In late 2004 I went from 2 wheels to 3 and received of one of the first ICE-Q NT's (narrow, low Cornish-made trike) as it is light enough to climb my local hills easily, is beautifully made, fast, and the drum brakes and protected chain are well suited to the rather wet Welsh climate. Since then ICE have continued to improve their range, and 2006 and 2007 models are even better.. I was very pleased with the Q-NT - nothing broke, snapped off or went rusty; the bolts stay tight, the seat was comfortable and the tyres gripped well. I did get rear wheel-spin hill climbing on steep wet roads but that's often an issue with trikes.
To my surpise I found that I was doing very little riding on public roads after summer 2005. Newly-opened cycle tracks, the fact that my children were now old enough to ride with me and they all had mountain bikes, and the inability to take a trike on a train easily meant that I only logged about 20 miles in the first quarter of 2006, so I took the decision to sell my ICE-Q NT and invest the proceeds in a 5-inch travel full suspension mountain bike. After consultation with local riders and hire shops (who know which bikes survive hammering from vistors to the Afan Forest Park) I went for a 2005 Kona Dawg. The Dawg has a reasonably upright riding position, very strong construction, hydraulic disk brakes and is regarded as a better bet than some other brands for surviving the mud and rocks of the local rides.
As well as the recumbents I've owned I have ridden several other models - Streetglider (swb/uss/26-20); Linear (lwb/uss/26-20); Trice Explorer (uss trike/20-20); Peer Gynt (lwb/uss/26-20); Kingcycle (swb/ass/24-20); Challenge Hurricane (swb/ass/20-20); Challenge Wizard (swb/ass/26-20); Thorax Sinus (uss trike/26-20).
There are some excellent websites out there, such as the BHPC one mentioned above. A google search for 'recumbent' will find various mailing lists, reviews etc. in the UK and internationally. For general information and reviews try the online magazine 'Bentrideronline. The International Human Powered Vehicle Association (IHPVA) website is a comprehensive resource, and home to several mailing lists, including one for hpvs of all kinds and another aimed mainly at trikes. There are also links to human powered boats, hpv's for sale and manufacturers websites. In the UK it's worth having a look at the VeloVision website - or better still take out a subscription, it's a lovely magazine and frequently features recumbents. Recumbents are featured fairly often now in the pages of the CTC magazine 'Cycle', and in Cycling Plus magazine.
There aren't that many recumbent riders out there yet and it's a friendly community. If there's a machine you'd like to try there are many owners who might be willing to let you try out their pride and joy but be aware that for the two-wheel recumbents in particular there's a good chance you might fall over at first and damage the bike, so seriously consider going to somewhere like DTek or FutureCycles where you can hire or have tuition first.
There's a "For Sale" section on the VeloVision website that's good for finding used recumbents, otherwise the best source of used machines in the UK is via DTek of New Thetford, Cambridgeshire. DTek for some unknown reason don't have a website but can be phoned on 01353 648177 or emailed on email@example.com (phoning probably best). They often advertise in the CTC's magazine as well as VeloVision. New recumbents can be had from DTek, as well as FutureCycles (Forest Row, East Sussex tel 01342 822847), Westcountry Recumbents (mainly trikes; importer of Greenspeed & Stein, based on Humberside - but used to be in the Westcountry.tel 0870 7401227), London Recumbents (last time I called by they worked out of a glorified portacabin in South London tel 0208 2996636) Bikefix (London - between High Holborn & the British Museum and a good choice of machines, tel 0207 4051218) and Kinetics of Glasgow (tel 0141 9422552). Norman Fay Cycles in South Shields, Tyne&Wear, also have a few recumbents (tel 0191 4561055), email firstname.lastname@example.org . There's now an outlet for the excellent US brand Bacchetta in the UK, contact CycleCentric in Cambridge tel 01223 438074
Other good dealers can source recumbents if you know what you want, and I'm sure I must have left some out - sorry!
UK manufacturers who will sell direct to you are excellent - Inspired Cycle Engineering of Falmouth, Cornwall and AVD Windcheetah in Cheshire (Windcheetah trike and Ratcatcher SWB) are the best known but there are even smaller outfits such Redmount who may have what you want. Outside the UK there are dealers and manufactuers offering lots of choice in North America, Australia, and Northern Europe (a web search will soon find dealers, or go via the IHPVA or Bentrideronline mentioned above) but recumbents are rare in other parts of the world.
Page created by Steve, email email@example.com, last update 14 December 2007. Let me know if you found this useful, or if the links are out of date!
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