Sunday, November 8, 2009

Why Recumbent?

There are many reasons why one would choose a Recumbent Bicycle over a up right style or what some
Recumbent riders refer to as a . UP Wrong.
Bad backs,wrists, necks, and other body pain has been the reason for many to switch over. Cancer, Stroke, And other aliments have turned the Racer Biker,Tourer into a Recumbent Cyclist.
In my case, it was simply a case of wanting to ride in the recumbent position. I thought it looked like fun, like a pedal powered Go Cart.
The first Recumbent I saw for sale was a Tadpole trike called a Slingshot. It was huge and sold for $1500.00 back in the late 70's. It was for sale at the famous "Bicycle Exchange" in Harvard Square where I worked. I never saw the bike come off the wall where it hung until someone came in and took it away.
Shortly after that, I had customers coming in to me from MIT that were building there own. The attempt was to build a safer bicycle and the recumbent position would be safer under most of the crashes I have heard about. Breaking a collar bone just doesn't seem to happen. Going over the handlebars cant be done without really trying. Getting "Doored" would have you hitting with your feet and not your head , sholder or hand. Scraping a pedal on a corner and crashing would only be when you were already crashing and in all the story's of Recumbent Cyclists being hit from behind, I have never heard of anyone being hurt enough to not walk away. One story was on a Recumbent Tandem on the last days of a long tour.
One day we had a fellow come in with his brand new Hypercycle. The Hypercycle was a super short wheel based recumbent with a very long boom. The rider sat over the front wheel. It was bright red and looked great! I loved the look of it with the under seat steering and wanted one.
One of the mechanic's at the shop saw us all around the customer and bet him that his bike was not as safe as any upright on the floor. It was a no money bet, but the test would be held right then, in the parking lot along side of the store.
The test was to ride straight at a brick wall and at a point marked with a rock and "Panic Stop".
The mechanic went first on his Schwinn Paramount with Campagnolo Brakes. He rode off the saddle as fast as he could toward the wall. When he got to the rock, locked up his brakes and slid to the wall. Rubber on the driveway, he slammed his shoulder sideways against the wall. He said, "Like That, Your turn."
The student cyclist started slower, but sped up to reach a respectable speed. When he reached the rock marker, locked up his brakes. The rear wheel came off the ground and he came out of the seat and up on his feet, holding the bike in the air in back of him. He did a really good job of keeping the new shiny paint from hitting the pavement. He ran into the wall with his whole body. and dropped the bike. It was not pretty. The group of spectators groaned and went back to work.

The cost and availably of a new Recumbent kept me from the sport for about 20 years, but not the "road test." I always wanted one, but could never afford one or imagine building one.

My first Recumbent was a cool little bike called a ReBike 707. It retailed for around $400.00 and cost me around $300.00. When I got it I changed everything except the frame and the seat. The rear wheel was only 20" so the first thing I needed to do was to increase the size of the chainring to a 65 tooth. This made the bikes gearing close to that of a standard road bikes.
The ReBike was a silly little thing that was designed on a cocktail napkin by a Gal in Florida, It rode that way too. The best thing about thr ReBike was that it was cheep and put you into the Recumbent Position, sort of. The ReBike introduced me to Recumbent Cycling.

About 2 weeks later. I ran into a friend, Bill Darby. Bill had been building Recumbents for years and designed a missle like tandem for the store that compeated in international compition.
When he found out what I was riding, he asked me why I did not ask him to build one for me. I said I couldn't afford his prices. He said he could build me one I could afford. So he did.

Bills bike was a "Compact Long Wheelbase" style bike. Like the ReBike but much more of a recumbent pedaling position. His was called the "NeoBike" and also had a 20" rear wheel, but had a thing called a "Jackshaft" that received the chain from the front chainring at a freewheel in the middle of the bike and then went back to the rear wheel. It increased the gearing by about another 50%. The bicycle had 2 rear derailleurs, one at the Jackshaft and the other at the rear wheel.
The bicycle was heavy, but cool. Bill was the best thing about the bike, because he checked back to do adjustments in frame and seat design for me. I rode the heck out of the thing and he knew it.
I ended up changing everything on the bike too.

35 years ago my first desire and dream of owning a Recumbent bicycle was the thought of coming back after a great dinner at the Wayside Inn in Sudbury on Wayside Inn road in Framingham. I saw myself in the dream listening to great music with a big headlight for the ride back to Dover.
A week after receiving Bills NeoBike, I found myself doing just that.

A true Recumbent Dream Come True!


  1. Great story, Scott. A lot of history there. I love the panic stop test!

  2. I remember the first time I saw a recumbent bike.
    It was in the movie "Brainstorm", around 1984. Christopher Walken played this scientist guy and he rode a recumbent bike. The movie was *meh* but I thought the bike was the coolest thing I'd ever seen. Ever since that day I wanted a recumbent bike.... 20 years later, I finally bought one. My only regret is that I waited 20 years. :-)

    People always ask "is that thing comfortable", and I usually tell them that only my face gets sore -- from smiling so much. :-) I love being able to go for nice long rides and still walk normally the next day. Something I could never do on an upright.

    Thanks for setting up this blog, Scott.



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