A dirt cheap Recumbent Bike! Am I crazy? Does that sound crazy to you? Just because you’ve looked in some stores, and some online sites, do you think dirt-cheap is too cheap? How about impossible, is there a vote for that? Sure! All you doubters stand and be counted. Let me tell you how you can have a recumbent bike for $299…or less (at the time of writing 11/2016)!
You saw them on sale for $1200, $1700, $2500 and more. Where are they on sale for $299 or less? You can’t find one on sale for that price…at least in one piece. Who is going to give away a recumbent dirt-cheap?
Notice It Does Not Say “Free” Anywhere!
OK! OK! I know it sounds hard to believe, and for some it will be hard to do. Here’s the deal. As soon as some of you read the next few lines you’ll be gone. Why? Because you’re going to have to sweat and work for this.
Notice it does not say, “free” anywhere. Some will be more than up to the test, so those ready for the challenge of having one of these incredible machines for your own riding pleasure…read on.
Just for the asking! It sounds a little overconfident doesn’t it? Well, I can tell you it worked for me so it can work for just about anyone who’s not afraid of the “asking” part. Is someone going to give you a recumbent for $299 just by asking? Nope! So what’s the catch?
Would you believe you can make a recumbent bike from a Road Bike frame, and about the only things you will need to buy are a front wheel, tire and tube, about 8′ of galvanized electrical conduit, gear and brake cables for a tandem bike (available at almost any LBS), and maybe a seat.
Now assuming that you have some simple tools, like a hacksaw, tape measure, files, and a way to sand the frame and *galvanized conduit, you’re just about ready to go. The only thing missing so far is a Road Bike frame.
*Disclaimer: Galvanized conduit when sanding or heating can produce toxic fumes that could be hazardous. Many recommend against this and recommend using Cromolly tubing or tubes cut from a donor bike.
Some plans call for two Road Bike frames. I have successfully made two homemade LWB recumbents using just one Road Bike frame each time. Check out the latest frame.
About the only benefit of using two Road Bike frames may be not having to splice in a piece of top tube from another source. That was the only piece I used from a trash bike, just that piece of top tube and nothing else. There wasn’t much else usable. A plain old piece of any steel tube of the right size would work just as well.
As long as the frame has not been wrecked, one will do. The key is finding a good frame with components that are in reasonably good condition. So where do you find this frame? Well, here comes the asking part.
I just happen to spot two old Raleigh Road frames someone had put out for trash. When I asked the owners if I could have them, they said, “sure!” Normally you wouldn’t pay any attention to something like that. It’s amazing how they suddenly “pop up” when you start looking.
But let’s say you can’t find any like I did. Many bike shops will take old bikes on a trade for a new one. They don’t give much of a discount, and they usually don’t fix them up to resell. They wait for someone like you who’s looking for an old bike for parts.
Parts! Keyword there. If they think you want to repair it then they’re much more interested in selling you something new. I picked up a perfectly good frame from a LBS (local bike shop) for $25, and I was able to use most of the major components to make a recumbent.
Garage sales are great for bargains. I had a neighbor who had this really nice, perfect condition girl’s road bike that I picked up for $10! The daughter had a car now and the bike was just taking up space. That scenario gets repeated every weekend in someone’s garage.
If The Crankset Is One Solid Piece You Don’t Want The Frame…
You have to know just a little bit about frames to make sure you’re getting a good one, and not just a cheap department store variety. The easiest way to know a good frame is to look at the cranks! Click here to go to Nashbar.com to see a variety of cranks. Cranks are what the pedals are attached to. If you were going to buy them new, the Shimano Crankset gives you a great range of gears.
If the crank arms are connected to the chain ring with bolts, it generally indicates a frame with decent components. If the crank is one solid piece you don’t want the frame, at any price. You also want a road bike frame, and not a mountain bike frame.
A road bike frame will have a top tube that goes straight back from the head tube to the seat tube (the Mountain Bike tube has more of a downward slant). It is the only tube that is horizontal with the ground, or the topside of a triangle. Just because the bike may be in very good shape, doesn’t mean you can’t get it for a steal. Smile! You’re On Camera At AMAZON!
Road Bikes have a decreasing appeal. After riding one for five miles or so, the seat starts to hurt real good. After that, every time the bike comes into view the memory of the pain comes flooding back. As a result, in time the pain becomes greater than the value of the bike, and then it’s time for the bike to go. So you can wheel and deal at the garage sales.
People put those bikes out when they are tired of looking at them in their garage. They will all but give it away just to get rid of it. Now and then you may find a real bike rider who knows the value of what they have, and you may as well just go on. As for the others, when you convince them you don’t need it for anything but parts and no one else is buying, you’ll get the deal.
Now you have the bike frame with decent components. What next? Well, you probably want to ask for some plans on how to cut up the frame in the right places. Are you wondering where to get plans like that? Well, it just so happens you can get them right off the Internet…on this website. (Look for the link for “free” plans coming soon) You can print these plans out later if you want.
All you need is Adobe Acrobat to download it, and you can even get that free if you don’t have it. Just go to www.Adobe.com to download the free version.
OK. I’m going to believe that you have the frame (or two frames if you go exactly by the plans) and the plans. You’re going to need the galvanized electrical conduit, or that extra frame to cut an extra tube from, or if you want to spend the extra money, buy some chromium-molybdenum tubing commonly known as Cromolly. You can get a 20″ wheel for around $30 new. Some have found used BMX wheels to save money.
Tire and tube will cost another $20. If you paid as much as $25 for the frame you’re at $75 so far. Brake cables will cost no more than $10-11 and $30+ for grip shifters for the gears. Three lengths of chain will run around $30.
All that’s really left is the galvanized conduit and the seat. The whole 10′ stick of conduit runs about $3 at Lowes or Home Depot. The seat kit is available on eBay, which is the heart of the recumbent, and will run around $140. A.D. Carson has them on his site for $110. Of course, you can always look for used equipment or make your own if you’re handy with tools and save that money.
The handlebar is another item of interest. You will need what’s called a Quill ($23 on Amazon) to fit in the head tube. On to this “Quill,” you will fit a curved tube, which will attach to your handlebars. You can buy a steerer tube, also known as a curved riser, for $73 made by Rans Bikes, but you will still need an extender to make it long enough for a LWB. A.D. Carson at Recycled Recumbents also has these available at roughly the same price.
You can make your own by buying a piece of Cromolly and bending it. You’ll need to buy or borrow a tube bender to do that. I found a 7/8″ tube of Aluminum from Loews, that I was able to bend for mine. Creativity and ingenuity are King when building your own.
Once You Have Made Your Frame If You Can’t Weld, Get A Pro!
You’ll find that once the frame is together and you start adding the brake and gear cables, a good supply of plastic Zip-ties will be a huge help. As most plans do not include the “braze on” cable stops and cable guides, the Zip-ties will be necessary to hold cables in place.
Now, once you have made your frame, if you can’t weld it, then get a professional to do it for you. Set the frame up on what’s called a “jig.” A “jig” is explained in the plans. That way the welder will know how it’s supposed to look.
Don’t just take a bunch of tubes that need to be welded together, and tell him to “go get it!” He won’t get it, but you will! He might charge $60 or so. Be sure to ask first so there won’t be any surprises.
Now, it’s possible these components can be found for less money. I tried mixing old chain from several different bikes and found that doesn’t work to well. Usually the components from the “donor” bike can be used in making the new one. I used all the components from my 5 month old, $425 Giant (Brand) Hybrid, 24-speed bike.
Here’s a list of what you might buy and the approximate cost.
Front Wheel $30.00
Grip Shift Gears $30.00
3 chain sets $30.00
8′ conduit $ 3.00
Zip ties $15.00 M
Tube $ 4.50
Seat $140.00 (optional)
Making your own seat and if you choose to do the welding reduces the cost by $200 and keeps the price well under the $299 at $163.50. So even if you have someone weld the frame for you it’s still way under. If you buy the seat but do your own welding, or find a friend like I did to do it for free, get used parts like wheels or reusable chain, you’re still under $299.00. You may find some of these other items for less. New prices were used to give you an idea of the real cost.
Finding your frame for free saves you money. Being able to weld the frame will reduce the cost even more. I’m glad I didn’t try this on the first one. Watching the process taught me a great deal, and after practicing on a second frame, I discovered how NOT to do it!
A very comfortable seat can be made from plywood and foam, or a used one may be for sale. One was given to me that had basically been trashed as my riding buddy upgraded his homebuilt and had the extra seat.
The point is, whether all new components are purchased or you put something together like many others using whatever is at hand, just build it! The first try may be a tremendous success. After 15,000 miles and 10 years, dozens of 100 mile rides, hundreds of 60 mile rides, and more than I can count of the 10, 15, 20 and 30 mile jaunts, I feel confident in saying mine is.
If changes are needed (if you ask any bent rider changes are ALWAYS needed) to improve the ride, no big deal. This is still a ride you put together, and it didn’t cost the “big bucks” of a new one, or even a used one.
More important, you know how this thing is made, so you’ll also know the effect of any minor or major changes and the immediate result. You may also decide to buy a factory made bent in the future, and this is the huge advantage you have. Now you know what you want, and if it’s worth the money.
I found the first frame I made completely to be easy enough, that I was encouraged to make another of my own design. Not everyone is going to do this. I still haven’t finished my experimental frame, so it’s difficult to tell how it will work out.
To do this I had to invest $225 in a portable Oxy-Acetylene welding kit, because it was too much of a demand on my friend’s time to ask him to do it. It also cost too much to use the little kits available at Home Depot.
In welding my first frame, I discovered the little Oxygen tanks only last about 8 minutes. That’s not nearly long enough to do serious welding, and you can’t control the flame. Before I had finished, I used 12 tanks at a cost of $8 each. It would have cost me less to take it to a welding shop…I think!
The one point that shines through in building your own recumbent is this. You did it! If you can get on it and enjoy a relaxing, comfortable ride, does anything else matter? It may not shine as much, the welds may not be as pretty, and it may not be as fancy as those from the factory. But you can enjoy every single mile, every hour on your bent knowing it was fashioned by your hands.
Accept with humble thanks when others are amazed that you made it! Let your chest swell with pride when you hear the kids shout, “Cool bike!” Feel the rush of riding along with those “expensive factory built bents” that don’t go any faster than yours. Soak in the admiration of fellow bent riders who had to buy one because they can’t turn a wrench.
Mention that you only have $299 invested in your bike, and watch the faces of those who paid six, seven, and in some instances 10 times as much for theirs. Are you starting to get the picture?
When you pay $2000 for a bent, you are reluctant to do any customizing, especially if you aren’t mechanically inclined. When you made it to begin with, no such resistance exists, because you have the confidence of your building experience.
Making changes, finding a way to improve it, modifying part of the design are almost guaranteed, because you know you can. So it might be a good question as to who gets more pleasure out of a bent.
Would you like to have a “Dirt-Cheap” recumbent bike all your own (or maybe even an HPV?). Maybe you can even improve on what others have done, and do it for less. That would be worth writing about, and you might be surprised how many would be interested. Comfort you never dreamed of, at a price you never imagined! Just do it!
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