That question might cross the mind of many people, as recumbent bikes become more and more popular. No longer some strange contraption as it was nearly 40 years ago when they were first seen on the streets and roads of the U.S.
When compared to the typical road bike, mountain bike or cruiser bike, there is little to compare in terms of looks. About the only things that may be similar are the wheels, and even that is different in terms of most recumbents offering a 20” front wheel with a 26” rear wheel.
Both have various types of frames from different composites of steel to Cromolly, carbon fiber, aluminum, to more exotic combinations of wood, plastics and whatever the creative mind can conceive.
No other bike offers a seat like a recumbent.
Then there are the many selections of gears and brakes, 21, 24, 27, and 30 speed gears to choose from. Brakes range from Caliper, V-brakes, Cantilever, and the ultimate would be Disc. These are some of the common items shared by all bikes.
OK, so what’s the big secret other than design that separates the recumbent bikes from all the others? One word…comfort! And what is it that makes the recumbent comfortable compared to any other bike? THE SEAT!
No other bike (not including trikes here) offers a seat like a recumbent. Period! The whole aspect of a recumbent is comfort while increasing safety, aerodynamics, and basically pain free riding. From personal experience it can be attested that there is nothing comfortable about the regular bike seat.
So when riding with a group of friends, one was on a recumbent, and the first I had ever seen.
Let’s take that just a bit further. Having owned the Schwinn 3 Speed Racer back in the late ‘50s, that was used daily for of all things, a paper route. Plus many long rides for clandestine night meetings with a steady girlfriend, or longer rides to neighboring cities to spend the day with other friends. That seat made itself well known to my anatomy.
Then as an adult reviving my love of riding, a Canonndale Hybrid was purchased and ridden for 5,000 miles that included a couple of Centuries and Metric Centuries. The amount of Vaseline used to attempt relief from the seat was significant, and it didn’t help!
So when riding with a group of friends, one was on a recumbent, and the first I had ever seen. He had both a homebuilt version and a Rans Lightning factory model. After riding several months he offered to let me ride his homebuilt model on one of our 35 mile routes through some hilly terrain.
The long wheel base recumbent…was more comfortable.
On my Hybrid I would have finished tired. Period. End of story. However, on the recumbent, not only was I not tired, but ready for more! What an experience and revelation at the same time.
Everything my friend had been telling me was true. The long wheel base recumbent, which was known as a Tour Easy Clone frame style, was more comfortable, more aerodynamic, requiring less effort for the same result on my Hybrid, and I didn’t hurt anywhere!
The greatest of all was the seat! For the first time there were no intruders into my nether regions. Since I wasn’t bent forward over the handlebars, with my upper torso weight concentrated on my wrists, they were not numb. My neck was not aching from being craned up to watch the road.
Granted a Hybrid is a cross between a Cruiser and a Road Bike, with the riding position more upright than forward. However to be more aerodynamic I had changed the configuration on the handlebars creating the forward position of my upper torso, to reduce wind resistance which was like that of a Road Biker.
Not only was it the forward position of the pedals and crankset, that created the push from my hips against the seat back rather than against my own weight, it was also the upright, relaxed position of my upper torso and hands, allowing a complete view of my surroundings.
I was hooked! There simply was no going back. My friend had shared that his first bike was made from parts of two old road bike frames that were basically junked. Strangely enough just days after he had shared this information, I spied two rusty old road bike frames sitting along the street for trash pickup.
New recumbents, even used ones, are not cheap.
Immediately the decision was made to make my own, especially after my friend offered any help I might need. He was going on vacation for two weeks and offered to loan me his homebuilt bike as a model, and for me the rest is history.
But the big secret that makes the recumbent so unique other than the many different configurations of the frame, is the seat. It has often been compared to riding a lawn chair, which is not far from accurate. In the end, for those who can relate to not riding a bike more often because the seat gets uncomfortable, this is your alternative.
New recumbents, even used ones, are not cheap. But with just a little effort, some free plans, used bike parts, you could enjoy riding a bike like never before. Check out my page on “Dirt Cheap” Homebuilt Recumbent Bike, to see how you can make yours.
If a recumbent bike is not your style after all, consider a recumbent trike…
But first, go find one to ride. Don’t be discouraged when your first attempt is nearly like learning to ride all over again. The center of balance is different, but once you get the hang of it you’ll remember my slogan. Ride a mile then check your smile! I’m not certain it is original with me, but it’s true. So “get bent!”
Unless you are them most uncoordinated person ever, there’s little chance you won’t love it. If a recumbent bike is not your style after all, consider a recumbent trike, although that would be more of a challenge to build your own. Most importantly, try it and see. Your body and your significant other will love you for it. The increased exercise may just keep you around a little longer!