‘Bents

Recenty, a number of people have asked about my old recumbents, what I used to ride, why I quit riding ‘bents, etc.

I rode a number of different bikes, ranging from a Bacchetta Ti Aero to various SWBs, LWBs, and finally a custom Easy Racers Tour Easy (shown above) built for me by Rick Steele at Gold Country Cyclery. Before switching back to riding uprights, I had pretty much settled on long wheelbase, low bottom bracket bikes, with the TE being my favorite. I miss that bike.

Why don’t I ride ‘bents anymore? It’s simple: they don’t play very well with transit and city bike facilities. An important component of my monster commute is a city bike locker. As far as I know, there is no ‘bent currently being manufactured that will fit in either our city bike lockers or on our city bike racks. A friend was fortunate enough to convince the city to give him two lockers and knock out the divider to house his Lightning P-38, but lockers are so in-demand these days that it’s no longer an option. Another less important and very subjective reason I switched, is that I prefer a uprights to recumbents in stop-and-go city traffic. I can’t say with any confidence that I won’t own a recumbent in the future, it’s just that at this particular station in life they don’t fit in very well.

I need to add a caveat. We still own a recumbent – it’s a RANS Screamer tandem. We occasionally take it out for a joy ride, though not often. We’re saving it for our retirement when we hope to take some long tours on that awesome machine.

13 Responses to “‘Bents”

  • Frank Gonzalez says:

    Alan,

    I love recumbents, having owned (1) RANS V-Rex and (2) RANS Stratus, plus ridden as many as I could get my butt into. And my favorite is the LWB, with low bb, like the Tour Easy and Stratus, but they are impractical when it comes to the heavy traffic here in Miami. Lucky for me, I’ve lost over 130 lbs and feel good enough to ride an upright and enjoy it. Having said that… if I could afford it… I would own a Titanium RANS Stratus… among others… because that’s the fun of cycling… having different types of bikes… 8-)

  • lyle says:

    I’ve never ridden a recumbent but as you point out Alan, they’re mostly invisible in urban traffic. It took me a long time to accept the necessity of a switch to an upright (a bad neck) but the one thing I love most about an upright is that I’m way more visible. I still ride my road bike occasionally and am amazed at how much safer I feel and how much more respect I get from motorists.

  • Warren says:

    Maybe you don’t *feel* visible on your bent, but my experience riding a Tour Easy in Los Angeles for the last 18 years has been vastly different. L.A. drivers tend to be be inattentive and distracted. To them, a bicycle is just another “thing” on the road to ignore as they fiddle with the radio or fuss with their makeup. But a recumbent is *different*. Looking different gets you noticed. It’s that bright and shiny object that the driver sees out of his peripheral vision, that doesn’t look just like every other bike on the road, and so the brain *notices* it’s existence. That sure helps when it comes to being seen.

    I also enjoy the fact that sitting on my TE puts my head at about the same level as most of the sedans. It’s a lot easier to make eye contact with the drivers that way. And making eye contact can make all the difference.

    Shame about the lockers, though. Guess I am lucky I can bring the bike into the office.

  • Jason says:

    I agree with Warren. I feel more noticed on my recumbent. I also feel confident enough in stop and go city traffic, but I have a greater degree of defensive riding ability on a diamond frame bike (just more responsive). More than once, a quick bail-out move has saved me from a serous injury.

    I also agree and understand Alan’s position. Bike racks and lockers, and bike racks on buses are designed for diamond frame bicycle. It is a practical thing too, designing bicycle facilities for the multitude of recumbent bicycles and tricycles would be impossible.

    I do a lot of errands on my recumbent, it can carry the most, but for quicker, shorter trips, and to places in tight spaces I use my folding upright.

  • Alan says:

    Horses for courses, as they say :-) I pretty much like all types of bikes as long as they’re matched up well with their intended use.

  • John Gear says:

    My two collisions with cars were caused by drivers who did not see me on my upright bike. I am often asked about feeling unsafe on a lower recumbent (a Rans Rocket, a BikeE, or a Cruzbike, or our Screamer) — my answer for all of these bikes is the same: I am MUCH more visible on a bent, for several reasons:

    1) They’re strange — they don’t flit across the visual field and disappear the way upright bikes do — even if viewed from dead ahead, you are seeing more of me because you see my face. Humans are hardwired from birth to recognize faces and to process that information as IMPORTANT. Not so with the tops of heads, especially hidden under helmets.

    2) I have a white blinky LED light in front that I almost always use on anything but the sunniest days. In the rear I have several reflectors, a cut off orange flag, and a blinking red light

    3) Most importantly, because my head is in a comfortable, upright position where I have a perfect view into driver’s cars, I am able to know with a lot more confidence whether I’ve been seen or not. When I rode uprights, I often had no way to see the driver, especially with the darkened front windows many cars have up at the top, or when drivers had their visors down to block the sun from blinding them. With a bent that’s not a problem — I can still see where they’re looking (rather than seeing only the top of the car).

  • Jim says:

    I fell on the ice in the winter of 2005. Three long surgeries later to fix my shoulder (partially but not completely successful) I found that my worst and most lasting disability was a lack of confidence in my balance and equlibrium. I am fighting my way back and have been on two wheels the last couple of seasons but in the early going, I was too afraid of falling to enjoy my two wheeled bikes — upright or recumbent.

    It was a Greenspeed GTO recumbent tricycle that made me feel like a “Bite Roidah” again. I know, it’s not a bike. But it has pedals, and it gets me out on my own again.

    Thus far the visibility issue has confined me to rails-to-trails trip, but that’s a lot better than the indoor bike.

    I still haven’t been on my Cannondale road bike I got just before I was injured, but I’ve gotten back outside again.

    Anyone who lacks confidence in their equilibrium or needs underseat steering should look very seriously at a recumbent trike. They are fun.

  • Geoff says:

    Good comments, all. I’d go along with Warren’s and others’ thoughts re: better ‘visibility’ when on a recumbent. They ARE strange-looking to drivers. They DO get noticed in traffic, especially if the rider is wearing clothing like an “Alert Shirt” (a shameless, but valuable ‘plug’ for a product here — see: http://www.alertshirt.com/ ) These shirts are SO bright drivers can’t AVOID both looking at, and avoiding you). I recently relocated to the Charlotte, NC area after living in Washington, DC, and commuting almost daily to work there on various bikes. Down here, drivers average 10-15 mph over posted speed limits, tailgate like crazy and talk incessantly on cellphones while going down the road. BUT, having a stable of both kinds of bikes here, I have noticed that drivers give me (on average) LESS room when passing me on my upright diamond frame bikes (because these are ‘familiar’ here) than when I’m on one of my recumbents, dressed in a highly-visible shirt. Recumbents appear ‘strange’ (because there are so few of them hereabouts) and perhaps drivers’ immediate perception is that they are some form of roadable handicapped transportation device (i.e. a two-wheeled wheelchair, maybe) and they don’t want to get anywhere close to me. On an upright bike, cars routinely pass close to me on two-lane roads with oncoming traffic approaching from the opposite direction. But on my recumbents, cars will slow down and wait behind me for oncoming traffic to pass. When they then pass me, they move clear over into the opposite lane and give me PLENTY of room. It’s refreshing and increases riding confidence here in the “Land of NASCAR”, where everyone seems to drive like they’re at Daytona. Kudos to Jim who has found the Greenspeed trike to be a good alternative to a two-wheeler. Other trikes are more ‘upright’, place the rider higher (i.e. more visible) and are easy to handle. They can also be okay in city traffic, but as Alan pointed out, they are not storage locker-friendly because of size and width. Short wheelbase recumbent bicycle designs (with the front wheel under the leg calf) often pitch the legs upward in front, making steering “squirrely” and emergency cleat detachment and fast foot contact with the pavement difficult in clutch situations. One answer to this is a good short wheelbase recumbent with underseat steering that keeps the rider’s ‘plane’ more level (through use of smaller front wheel diameter) and reliable foot contact with the ground “immediate” when needed. One that I’ve ridden and feel is VERY solid and manageable in traffic is (another shameless plug for a product here) is the Longbikes “Eliminator”
    (see: http://www.longbikes.com/SiteII/Bikes/Eliminator/Eliminator.html ). This machine is built like a Panzer tank and is VERY stable in mixed city auto/truck/bus traffic. And with a wheelbase equal to or shorter than most diamond frame uprights, it WILL fit in bike lockers or racks easily. It is VERY well-designed, beautifully equipped (running gear and brakes) and made here in the good ol’ USA — another benefit for our lousy balance of payments deficit.
    Enjoy…
    Geoff

  • Mohjho says:

    I tend to use my Bacchetta Cafe recumbent on longer rides. I always felt that diamond frame bikes put the user into a non ergonomic position and that over time and excursion, the body will fail at some stress point. The city bike style answers these concerns but is not all that great for long distance riding.

    I have no concerns with riding the recumbent in traffic. I do however like the ability of standing on the pedals for acceleration and uplifting the bicycle weight while riding. The diamond frame bikes seem more agile over debris and curbs and is easier to store and manipulate in crowded areas.

    If you love just riding bicycles, I would recommend owning a recumbent at least once in your life.

  • Richard says:

    I’m able to put my Bacchetta Giro 26 with a bike rack into the bike locker at the Dallas DART station near my house. These are the standard lockers that open at each end with a kitty-corner board down the center. It is a tight fit, but it does work.

  • Daniel says:

    I could fit my Volae hi-racer in those lockers too. I think most SWB bent will fit. A SWB bent with a small front wheel is probably most ideal for city commuting, but I made a Hi-racer work because I like the speed.
    At my job (Mercy General Hosp Sacramento) they have built a “bike cage” around some bike racks–very effective. Now I park my Velomobile in there.

  • Alan says:

    A high racer wouldn’t come even close to fitting in the lockers we have in Roseville; I can barely fit a Surly LHT with front and rear racks, and a Pashley Roadster won’t fit.

    Alan

  • David Watson says:

    I found much improved attention from car drivers when riding my LWB recumbent after installing a bright yellow fairing made from a 2′ X 4′ coroplast. It was sliced down the middle for the inside and bent 90 degrees or so, then zip tied to the forks and handlebar. Cost-$9.
    The effect comes, I think, from the solid, bright yellow, unusual shape moving down the road. The space given by car drivers is truly amazing!
    The fairing gives much the same protection from cold and wind as the somewhat more expensive Zip (and similar) plastic windsheild’fairings.

 
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