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Long Time Road Biker tries Recumbents, by Erik Fetch

Guest post by Erik Fetch, of The Bike Doctor, Bay area mobile bike repair service.

I recently decided to offer the Bacchetta Recumbent through my mobile bicycle repair business. Although I had no real experience riding recumbents, I’ve been intrigued with what customers tell me about the ride and feel of this style of bike. They are simple machines, as are all bikes, and I know very well what a bike and the ride should feel like. I researched different recumbent companies and decided, based on style, workmanship and customer satisfaction ratings, and Bacchetta was the bike. This style of bike rides and feels much different at first so I suggest when you decide to test ride one from my shop, you take it for a week. Call for details 408-202 8833.

Erik on bachetta

My overall impression of recumbents is much different than what I thought. Going from riding around the block to test the occasional recumbent I would tune, to actually riding one at speed was like night and day. I’ve been awakened. If you are new to this type of bike, it will take a few days of riding to really get comfortable. A recumbent is a much different ride than standard road bike. But once there, you are in for a fantastic experience. The bike and body are more one on a recumbent, which creates a very solid feel. The twitchy ride I experienced in the first days, I’m happy to report, is completely gone.  The original question was “is it me or the bike” was answered.  And my wife who never really felt comfortable on a road bike, is excited about riding. We are already thinking about an extended trip on recumbents, something we have never thought of doing before.

Ok, here we go with my recumbent experience. A little history first. I’m and avid cyclist with 9 years of racing road and track bikes. I’ve had a lot of racing experiences including the 1983 Word Pro Cycling Championships in Switzerland, and the 1983 Tour de L’avenir stage race in France. I never stopped riding over the past 35 years, totaling over 250,000 miles, and I still love getting on my bike. I’ve also been a bicycle mechanic for over 35 years and created and still operate The Bike Doctor mobile bicycle repair business, now running for 28 years. I’ve worked on many recumbents over the years and have always been interested in the ride. As a mechanic I only get to tool around the block, and never experienced a recumbent or “Formula One” style bike on hills and flats at high speed. Though recumbents have been around for a long time they always looked a bit clunky to me, sort of home made and a bit too heavy. Things have changed, especially in the past 10 years. Not only are they better looking, but man do these bikes ride well. If you read my updates you will experience what I experience as a new recumbent rider. I plan to find out exactly why people love this style of bike and also to understand why someone would not. I’ll share the ride on a ride by ride update in this article.

Day #1

5 Bacchetta bike models came today. This was my first purchase with Bacchetta, a Florida based bike builder. I first noticed the workmanship on these recumbents, clean welds and beautiful simplistic design. I really like this about Bacchetta; their attention to detail and design runs all the way through their bike. The first bike assembled is the Bellandare. It’s a low riding long wheelbase recumbent, pretty much what recumbents looked like for the past 100 years. You still see a lot of this style out there, but that’s changing. This bike is designed to be stable and low to the ground so you can get your feet down fast. This was a dream to ride, not much effort or concentration needed for this first ride. Very sharp turns are a bit more work due to the long wheelbase but on any ride a sharp turn is rare to none. Even my non-riding wife handled this bike with ease…she loved it. This is exciting. My wife has always been a tough sell for bike riding. She never felt comfortable with the road bike position and the saddle, so she never really got the miles in to get used to the bike. We road a Santana road tandem for a year. We could both ride together but the usual issues still existed with the added ones being her view consisted mostly of my back and she had zero control. I was the bicyclist so I became the captain. We took maybe 20 rides and then she lost interest. That era ended and I wondered if a tandem recumbent would work, but there was still the no control issue for her, so I dropped that idea also. Back when we looked at the tandem recumbent the solo rides for recumbents were still a bit clunky, so I dropped that idea also.

The next bike assembled is the Corsa, the one I chose for myself. I call this style Formula One. Not only for the fact that the body position it puts you in is very similar to a formula one race car but also because the recumbent was the original design for a bicycle. This bike is a very slick model and very fast and high on performance. These bikes come with narrow 650c or 700c wheels. For those who don’t know, the 650c wheel is a very common wheel size for small road bike frames and some tri-athlete bike front wheels. Most tire companies make tires for this size, so high end tires are easy to find. Now for the test ride. Remember, I’m new to riding this style of bike, so what I feel will be what you feel on your first ride. The bike seat on the Corsa sits higher off the ground than the Bellandare and so do your feet. It has a shorter wheel base which puts you over the wheels instead of between them. You lean back a bit more and pretty much are looking straight at your crank set. Fantastic for aerodynamics, which makes these bikes faster than a typical road bike. Now for the ride; I try it with standard pedals first. Wow, the bike is twitchy, or is it me? I start and stop quickly, maybe travel 10 feet. Such a different position and your feet are about 3 feet above the ground. I take off again and tell myself to just relax and believe. Ok, past the 10 foot marker and going down the hill a bit, but slowly. It is twitchy. Twitchy is a feel we talked about when we went from a road bike to a track bike. The steering angle is steeper on a track bike which makes the bike quick to turn. A track bike is twitchier than a road bike and a road bike twitchier than a bike you would ride around town. Like sports car handling compared to Cadillac. You get used to it on a road bike and end up loving the quick response. Anyway, the Corsa is very quick to steer and I feel a bit out of control. I wonder if the way a recumbent steers is differently than a road bike. I’m in a completely different position on the bike so the feel and balance is totally new. It’s time to get my cleats and cycling gear on and take this out for a real test.

Corsa B12web.jpg7_normal

The Bachetta Corsa is shown above, and specs and prices here , at the Bachetta website. My first at speed experience is right out of my driveway and down a hill at around 25mph. The steering is very touchy to me. Responsive I guess you could call it, but I’m not comfortable. At this point I’m not sure why Bacchetta would make this bike so overly responsive. I’m new to this and have had no help or advice on how the ride is different, so I chalk it up to inexperience. I wanted to experience this as any new rider would, without much input from others. There are thousands of recumbent – formula one riders out there and they all say they love there bikes…I want to find out why. Ok, down the hill and approaching my first stop light. Which foot do I want to take out? I choose my usual and get it down and almost lean too far to the other side and quickly snap that foot out also. Close one. Ok that wasn’t good.

Recommendation #1. Take both feet out and get them in landing gear position, before you stop for your first dozen stops. Also, remember to get in a lower gear as you would with any road bike to take off from the light. It’s surprising how quickly I can accelerate from a stop, it’s easier to get going than you think. Push hard back into the seat on that first pedal and your off easy-ish. Next, is a straight two mile slightly downhill road. Now I can play around a bit and figure out what makes this bike tick. I lean left and and right to feel what’s needed to turn. Turning is much different than my road bike but still not sure why or how it’s different. My first thought is that it’s much less hands and much more body. I learned years ago that to turn a motorcycle or a bicycle the first response sequence is turning the wheel slightly to the opposite direction than you want to go. Sounded strange to me but I looked and it was true. You will need to look close to see it. To initiate a right turn you need to slightly let the front wheel drift left, this allows the bike to begin to lean to the right, then the front wheel follows with a slight turn to right along with the lean. This may be happening but I feel the lean with the body first. It could be that this first lean sends the wheel turning slightly opposite, then following the same rule. Back to the ride.

Recommendation #2. Relax the upper body. It seemed if I let my body control the correction left or right and relax my hands on the grips and lay back into the seat, the turn felt much smoother. I was fighting the turn at first, tight grip and tight around the waist…this is very different than a standard road bike. Onward, a few more stop lights and this is getting easier already. I’m still sending both feet down to the ground, maybe this is the proper way to stop on a recumbent. When the road is straight I think I can feel the sensation of riding a recumbent. It’s smooth, relaxed, and the view…wow. I find myself looking at much more scenery, my head is in a very natural position for enjoying what’s around me. First hill, nothing steep. It’s said these bikes don’t do as well going up hills as a standard road bike, and today my first day, it’s true. I’ve also heard that different muscle groups are taxed differently in this laid back position. Jumping forward, to the hours after the ride, this is true also. I haven’t felt a sore muscle from riding a bicycle in 20 years, today I did. Looks like quads and hamstring are used differently or possibly more. Reached the top of the hill and I was, well, ok with my speed. Not up to my road bike speed but not as far off as I was expecting. This ends the ride for me today, I live at the top of a hill so a cool down for me never really happens. Still puffing a bit from the hill and my legs still tight from the last pedal stroke, I clip out of the pedals and attempt to stand. Watch out here, things are a bit weird. I almost fall backwards, catch myself and attempt to take a step forward. This is strange, I feel like I’m pushing against a strong headwind…I can’t walk forward without an extra effort. That lasted for about 10 seconds and then I acclimated. I’m guessing that goes away as my inner ear learns to compensate.

Day #2

I took a day off from riding as I usually do, one day on the bike one day off, but I was dieing to ride. I wanted to learn more about this machine and what I could do. So today’s ride was going to be about 15 miles, maybe a bit more. I head out and take a long route down to Santa Cruz. Nothing too tough for hills but a narrow somewhat busy road winds it’s way to town. A lot of cyclist won’t ride this road but that rarely stops me when I’m on a bike. I’m not comfortable yet but I charge ahead foolishly, as I am a fool. Ask my wife.

Ok, I’m in Santa Cruz and I feel way too fresh to start heading back, so I head out to Highway 1 and plan to ride up the coast a few miles. I thought maybe I could try to draft another cyclist out there. It’s a favorite ride for a lot of roadies around here. Lightly rolling open straight road with fantastic vistas. On one side the Pacific ocean and looking east, rolling hills full of green wild grasses as hills rise up to the coastal mountain range. I see my first target, oops yes I look at other cyclist as targets. This is left over from my racing days when anything on two wheels with pedals in front of me must be caught. I’m not in that kind of shape anymore but I still catch a few now and then. I’m on the coast road now and the wind is blowing a bit in my direction and I’m flying. Boom Boom, two cyclist down. Hey, I’m kind to the targets, I slow a bit on approaching to pass and I give a friendly wave as I do. What they can’t see is my smile once I’ve passed them. So like I said, I’m flying with a little tail wind and a few more miles are click by. I want to do more, in fact I don’t know why I should ever turn around and go home, this is feeling wonderful. I’m once again noticing the scenery much more. My line of sight drifts off to the left and right much more on this bike than my road bike and I’m feeling very stable out here on this open road. I do eventually have to get home, so I force myself into a u-turn and look around for another target. I see someone behind me about half a mile, so I ride sort of slowly, I lay out the bait. Here he comes, a roadie passes me a few miles an hour faster. I push into the back of the seat and it feels like I just hit the accelerator pedal in a car. That is something you will notice with this new style of recumbent right away; when you need a blast of speed you can get it. These bikes really take off, especially on the flats and downhill’s. He is an easy catch and I’m drafting for the first time on a recumbent. We start pushing hard, egos are engaged now, and I can tell he is a fit rider and we fly back down the coast together in a nice two person pace line. Me of course getting the better draft. Maybe that’s one reason why the recumbentee is frowned on…lousy draft. Actually the guy I was riding with said it’s wasn’t bad, not as good but not bad. This was supposed to be a casual 15 mile ride and when I get home I’ve tacked on 38 miles. 40 miles on my road bike is about what I do these days but I don’t feel anywhere near this fresh at the end, and this is only my second ride on a recumbent. I think the possibilities are going to be amazing.

Day #3

Foothill Rd. Los Altos, California. This road is loaded with cyclists and I want to chase something down, just kidding. What I really want was to ride with people and get some reactions to the recumbent. I’m amazed how many cyclists that have never ridden near or next to a recumbent. By the comments, I can tell this is something very new to 99% of them. It’s the same for me, I have maybe ridden next to or with a recumbent 4or 5 times in my 250,000 miles on the bike. Why are these bikes not out there in larger numbers I wonder. Judging by the comments of my cyclist buddies the past week, as I tell them I’m now a recumbent dealer, they don’t realize what these bikes can do. Seems most people have recumbents in the category of “strange, slow and awkward”.  All they know is that it looks odd but comfortable. No one I’ve talked to knows anything about the feel of the ride. I guess with over 100 years of seeing people on a standard road bike configuration, anything else would look odd. Even the bike shop owners I know roll their eyes at the mention of a recumbent. From only three days in the comfy chair of my formula one style bike, I see there is a serious lack of education about these bikes.

Today’s ride should be another 20 mile ride. A short flat ride between house calls. Did I mention I started and run a mobile bicycle repair business for the past 24 years. When I was racing I worked in bike shops, but once the racing era was over I wanted to try creating a mobile bike repair shop. The most common customer comment when they brought a bike in was, “how long do I have to wait to get it back”. No answer was too soon and they would often mention they had a couple more at home that would not fit in the car.  So I decided to go to the customer with my business and fix all the bikes the same day. If you want to read more about my business check out www.thebikedoctor.net. Back to the ride. I chose this route because of it’s flat terrain. I want to put some miles on these new groups of muscles being used before I hit some of the bigger hills around here. Don’t believe me, I’ll be climbing in less than a couple of days, I love hills. Most of the hill climbs have 1800-2000 feet of elevation gain and are 4-7 miles long. Not much to report about this ride. Handling is almost second nature now, my upper body tenses up only occasionally but I can sense it right away and easily correct. Drafted, caught and passed a few cyclists, and once again my 20 mile ride easily turns into a 30 mile ride. I’m still a bit squirrelly on the bike, not quite in the grove but good things are happening. About half the hard turns I go into are feeling coordinated. Riding a straight line is mostly good, with an occasional correction needed. Still not the control I have with my Trek Madone road bike.

Day #4

Day 4 didn’t look like it was going to happen. The sky had been threatening all day, but each hour went by without rain. Ok I’m going. I figured that would make it rain and this area could always use some. The bike had been looking at me all day as I worked in my truck. I’m not sure, but I might be addicted. It will be very interesting to see how long I keep this level of excitement, and when will be the next time I reach for my Madone instead of the Corsa. I’ve parked 5 miles from my target road, Canada Road, in Woodside. Another favorite stretch of rolling road that runs about 14 miles out and back. I hop on, zoom out and execute a few stop lights like I know what I’m doing. No hesitation on the stop, one foot comes out one stays in. I’m solid at rest and lift off from a stop is effortless and smooth. This is wonderful, four days and I’m feeling that ride recumbent riders talk about. I really feel like I’m into this bike, not like “I’m into it man,” more like the bike is around me and I’m part of it. Road bikes don’t have this feel as much as a recumbent does. It’s the low center of gravity and this prone position. There is the main tube of the bike frame and then there is my body, the other frame structure. You really feel a part of this ride. A road bike you sit on, a recumbent you sit in. This ride is going so well, everything is clicking and I’m on Canada Road with the wind at my back and I’m flying again. I don’t have a lot of time before it will be getting dark and I debate going the entire length of this road before I turn back and hit that head wind. I hate to ride at night. Oh hell, I’m going for it, head wind and darkness, I can’t stop riding.

Oh, let me mention here that I never ride any bike without strobe lights. I caught up to a few buddies of mine in the hills about 2 years ago and they had decided to run their strobe lights all day. I was amazed, I saw those lights way before I saw them on their bikes. I started thinking, daylight running lights… my 1980 road motorcycle had them built into the ignition, many new cars come with daylight lights, my 14 foot box truck runs daylight running lights and even buses now have daylight lights. What the hell was I thinking? If my 7 by 10 by 24 foot work truck is more visible with lights why am I not running lights on my bike. My visual footprint on a bike is tiny compared to a truck or a car. And then I heard that 60% of daytime car vs bike accidents happen because the driver never saw the cyclist…60%!  Think about that one each time a car passes you. Which one will be the one that doesn’t see you. These strobes, my favorite Planet Bike Super Flash, is a half watt strobe that can been seen 1/4 mile up the road, in broad daylight. Plenty of time to be seen by any driver. And these bikes being so aero also means we have even less visible surface area than a road bike rider. 100 hours on 2 AAA batteries, I think my life is worth splurging on 2 AAA’s. Sorry to preach, just trying to save a life. We have all had close calls and now I wondered if some of those drivers even saw us.

The road is open, wide and smooth. I climbed a nice easy 1/2 mile grade with surprising ease. The wind at my back is helping a little, but my speeds are saying I’m even with my road bike and I’m not really killing myself. Crest that rise and continue another couple of miles just enjoying the ride. This is another beautiful road flanked by Crystal Springs reservoir and the coastal hills as a backdrop. Grassy meadows, glassy smooth lake, and I’m staring straight up watching three red tail hawks circling over head. I can stay perfectly balanced for about 5 seconds while looking straight up! This is something I can’t do on road bike. I have a massive panoramic view that I can really take in. Even pushing it hard and grabbing for air, my head is up and the view is right there to enjoy. I am loving this. The turn around, a head wind now and it’s looking like rain. 1/2 mile in, wind must be at a slightly different angle, maybe I’m protected by those trees a bit. 1 mile, some wind but nothing much. 2 miles in and I’m in the area where I felt the tail wind. I feel a headwind but I’m still cranking pretty good. Another amazing aspect I’ve heard but hadn’t experienced, the recumbent has much less drag, and yes it’s true. This ride back is a breeze, even into the breeze. It’s bout 5 miles from my truck and the end of the ride and I’m getting rain, and getting it good. A downpour and I’m feeling so fast and fresh. Riding with my head up, my face is straight into the rain, so I open my mouth and enjoy a drink straight from the clouds. Glad to be wearing sun glasses cause at these speeds rain drops sting. So far the only downfall of a recumbent…it’s too fast when it’s raining.

Day #5

Back in Woodside and thinking about hills…Old La Honda. A climb of about 4 miles, little traffic and it lines me up for a fast downhill back into Woodside on Highway 84. Smooth turns and well paved. I want to feel speed and corners. I should stay away from that climb I keep saying. But as I approach the turn off for the hill, the two cyclists I’ve been catching make the right turn to the hill, I have to follow. I have no other choice but to climb. This should give me an idea of how slow I am on hills. Sadly within a mile they are out of sight. Rats…how slow am I on this recumbent, or maybe how fast were they? I remind myself that this is not a race and I re-adjust my ride from the pace of a hound dogs chase, to a deer’s loping pace, sit back into the seat, relax and enjoy the visuals at slow speed. The climb is over all tough, my quads burning a bit and hamstrings are getting a serious workout. Pulling on the pedals seems so much more automatic and a bigger part of the pedal stroke with recumbents. Once again I tell myself I need more miles before a good climb like this, I need base miles. But I’m at the top and that puts me 4 miles above the bottom. I’m excited about the downhill. First a 2 mile straight subtle downhill before I take the right on Highway 84. I reach 20 in a snap, another few seconds and I hit 30mph. You will find that these bikes go from 20 to 30 without much effort. Pedal hard, put my back into the seat again and I’m at 40mph. Yikes, that was easy.

My Bacchetta rides even more stable at speeds than I thought it would. I give the bars a quick twitch to test how quickly it centers itself. No wobble and better than I expected, much like my road bike. Now for Highway 84, first turn at 20mph, easy smooth, next turn at 30, still smooth. I wonder how far I can go, and will I know what is too far? I know a standard road bike feel and pretty much know the limits, but I don’t know recumbents. I’ll have to push myself into the unknown to know. With each of the next 15 sweeping turns, once into the turn, I wish I had entered the turn faster than I did. Each turn teasing me to add more speed. These bikes feel very different in a turn. Center of gravity, position over the wheels, not sure what it really is but I’m loving it. The bike in a turn has the feeling much like a Seadoo or motor boat. The front wheel enters the turn and feels like a road bike, but the back wheel feels like its sinking into the road and carves the turn. Strange to me but solid, I feel stuck to the road. Off the hill and I tack on the usual extra miles to the ride, as I have for every recumbent ride so far.

I bet there are thousands of people who test rode a recumbent, that never felt what I felt today. It took me 20 miles to feel ok on the bike but another 200 miles to really know what it is about these bikes that makes it such a thrill to ride. If you test ride a recumbent, a trip around the block is telling you nothing except that they feel strange. If you have never ridden a recumbent, you need miles on these bikes to feel comfortable. Now I know why there are not more people on recumbents. How many shops will let you test a bike for 200 miles? I have over 250,000 on my legs and it took me until today to know recumbents. I’m keeping this one.

Day #6

Santa Cruz, CA. Felton Empire Rd. 5 mile hill climb. I know I know, I need more miles on my legs to be doing another hill, but I know my times on this one. I need to know how slow I am on hills and I want a base time to gauge improvement. Out of the house and 6 miles later I’m at the base. 1/3rd of the way up and I know by the slight pain in my quads and hamstrings it’s too early for a climb like this. Who cares, I’m going up. I sit back in the saddle and motor up the hill. I hit the top and I’m a bit over 25% slower than my road bike…ouch that hurts. I know the muscles are not there yet, so I give myself a break. I’ll keep you posted. At this point I’m down 25% on the hills, but I gain maybe 10% on the flats and 15% on the down hills; sounds like I’m even. Add in a few points for the comfort factor and a few more for the visual pleasure and I’m up overall. This climb lands me on top of Boony Doon Doon Rd. with a fast fast descent to the coast road, Highway 1. Heading down, 20-30-40mph, this downhill puts you at top speed by just tucking in. Oh right I’m on a recumbent, there is nothing to tuck in, I’m pre tucked. I top out at 51mph and the Bacchetta is so solid, I’m stunned, it feels as stable as my road bike. I make it to Highway 1, way too soon, and now an 8 mile stiff headwind back to Santa Cruz. This ride actually kicks my butt today, too soon for a hill like that. Ok, I know my climbing stats on hills, now it’s time for more base miles. I’ll be back after a few hundred miles with another full report on this hill.

A few cold rainy days gave me chance to read a few articles about recumbent experiences and some technical stuff. I’m happy to report that I’m still sold on the Bacchetta recumbents. The rider feedback on the internet is consistently positive about Bacchetta’s. Also every article says that I should find climbing hills much faster in a few months. Maybe even as fast as a standard road bike. I’ll be checking times again in a month. Stay tuned.

I’ll be adding updates by miles now instead of days. This will take months to build up my legs and I think distance is a better gauge of progress than days. If you plan to become as fast as you can on a recumbent or any bike, riding once a week is not going to get you there. Oh sure, you will be able to enjoy the ride but if you want to improve you need to get out there for at least two rides a week, preferably three. Spend your first 500 miles doing flats and some short hills but nothing with a steep enough grade to force you into your easiest gear. You don’t want to blow out a knee and you can put alot of force into the pedal thanks to the seat giving you something to push against. Take your time, it’s still fun and your knees will be much happier in the long run.

Mile 500

I’ve been building leg muscles for the past 3 hundred miles now. Mostly flat riding with some rolling hills. Tried to stay off Old La Honda’s 4 mile climb but failed 4 times now. I love this bike on the downhills so I have to get up to the top somehow. I haven’t timed my hill climbs but I’m sure I’m cutting off time. Still not sure what the upper speed limits are for fast cornering. I keep pushing the speed up each time I enter my favorite corners on Highway 84 and I’m not topped out yet. These bikes can corner! I know I’ve mentioned this before but it’s so true, this recumbent is much faster and now more stable than my road bike on fast descents. I should stop pushing it so I can finish this write up for you from my couch, not the hospital bed.

I’m about as comfortable as I can be with the handling now and the only issues I can see as negatives are the following:
1) You need a mirror, turning your head back to see traffic behind you is not easy
2) People look at you all the time
3) Road bikers just don’t get it yet
4) Hopping over a pot hole is not going to happen, you’ve got to scan the road surface for pot holes. You can do some real damage to the rims if you slam into something big.
5) When someone asks you what you like about recumbents. The answer is endless, leaving you with less time to ride

600 Miles

Out for a ride on the Santa Cruz side of the hill today. This will be the second timing of the hill climb I did during the first week of recumbent riding. I was 25% slower that day and that did not feel good. I could not see myself selling recumbents and always having to admit that they are quite a bit slower up hills…”but, but, but you make it up on the flats and downhills”. In the back of my mind I know if you are riding with friends and they drop you on the hills, making up that 25% could mean a lot of miles riding alone on the chase, that’s not going to sell well. Well , I’m excited to report after 600 miles, and I’m not in top recumbent form yet, I’m only down 10% on the hills. Over the past few rides the strength in my legs has noticeably improved, especially on the hill climbs. I can now see matching my road bike time on hills could be possible or at least close enough. Now the big question will be if I ever ride my road bike again. I’m going to give the recumbent another month of rides and then hop back on the Madone. For now all I can tell you is that I’m thrilled and I’m dieing to scream down another fast descent and to even climb another hill.

1600 Miles

Well I’m back. Another 2 months have gone by and I’ve been on my Madone road bike three times and my recumbent 18 times. The first time back on my road bike I was riding with a friend. I thought I should save him from any shame of riding with a recumbent type. 35 miles and I didn’t love it, in fact it was a bit odd what I felt. The weight on my saddle and hands was a surprise. I never gave it a thought over the past 30 years, but here I was 30 years later and it felt a bit like my first days on a real road bike. Bent over the bars, a bit heavy on the seat and hands, but that’s all anyone serious about the sport was riding back then. Anyway, I put up with it long enough to get use to it and spent the next 30 years thinking it was just fine. But I’m in trouble now. I think I may not go back. I love the look of the Madone, I feel like one of the gang out there while riding it, but I can’t find enough reasons to stay on it. I didn’t head out on this recumbent mission to actually become a recumbent rider. I wanted to be able to talk to people about them, know what a recumbent rider feels and how the bike handles, not become one.

Today was my third road bike ride. The first ride I just mentioned and one a few weeks ago that I wanted to ride easy and try to enjoy it again… I lasted 1/2 mile and turned back to get my Corsa. This was a turning point for me. I never turn back for anything, but the seat and hand pressure was very noticeable, and being bent over the bars was odd now. I thought about it and wondered why this ever became the proper way to ride two wheels. and why isn’t a standard road bike called a bent, I sure felt bent over. I wanted to be comfortable. I wondered why the recumbent hasn’t become the bike for most of the public all these years. Well it’s not really that big of a mystery I guess, but I think things are changing. I think the new design, Formula One, of these Bacchetta’s is key. Slick, simple, lighter and shorter than the old style. They have a cooler look and for sure are faster and quicker steering than the old long wheelbase recumbents. For me to love this ride is big, I’m a roady, I like the look of a road bike, it’s my history, it’s in my blood…I’m ruined, or is it that I’m saved?

Anyway, my third ride was today. Kings Mountain to Summit Rd. and then scream down Woodside Rd. Well after today I’m not ready to admit it but it may be over for the road bike. It even hurts a bit to jot this down here. The ride overall today was harsh. That describes most of the feeling. All the usual previously mentioned points of pressure bothered me again and that visual issue was there. The Madone is still faster on the uphills by about 8% but who cares? My racing days are well over, so why do I need to be as fast up hills? Most of what I saw today on my road bike was asphalt. Could this really be the end of the Madone…? On the Bacchetta I still get higher speeds on the straights and downhills and the views, the comfort, the relaxed position with no pressure points at all, rules. I’m still building my recumbent muscles . I figure this will take about 10 to 15 thousand miles to get to my maximum fitness on a recumbent. It took that long when I first started to ride road bikes seriously. I was fit earlier but my racing peak fitness came after more than 5 years into the sport. I might just reach my road bike hill climbing speeds one day. I’ll let you know

I can now ride my recumbent on a straight section of road and look up at the sky for about 10 seconds with no waver at all. It’s beautiful. Watching the trees rushing by over head while traveling down the road is a very cool sight. I mean, I’m sitting on a couch with feet up on an ottoman, staring up at the sky and getting a workout. Is this still cycling?

Next Day

I had swapped my road bike for the recumbent this morning in hopes that I might have time to do the same ride today. After yesterdays not so enjoyable ride I thought what a great test it would be to ride the same route a day later on my Corsa. I never ride two days in a row so I thought this could be a bit tough, but I had time so I went. Same ride, up Kings Mountain across Summit and down Woodside Road. I timed the hill climb yesterday on my road bike and today on my recumbent. Road bike 31 minutes – Recumbent 33.45 minutes, less than 3 minutes difference. I passed a roady on the hill and he complained that recumbents were supposed to be slower on hills, I laughed and said this is not your fathers recumbent. Hung with him for a bit and slipped away to finish the hill alone. The recumbent was unbelievably comfortable. I was relaxed and noticed how much more I enjoyed the view. All the same things I’ve mentioned before but the contrast was dramatic. I finished the ride in less time than my road bike time and if I had more time I would have gone for another loop. Two days later I took the Madone out for another 30 miles. I got home and knew it was over and clearly the end of an era. That’s it…I’m off the road bike for good.  I hope many more cyclists give these new formula one style bikes a try now that the ride is more like a true road bike. It takes time, but once you get it and have the muscles developed, recumbents are by far more enjoyable, faster overall and more relaxing. If anyone out there has back, neck, shoulder, or wrist problems this is the way to go, and I’m convinced that most of the cyclists out there would love the ride if they gave it time. Even diamond frame riders (what recumbent riders call upright or regular bikes) that don’t have any issues would find they like this ride so much more than they would imagine. Look at me, ex road racer with no health issues, sold my Madone last week…it’s gone gone gone. Love the look of a diamond frame but looks is one thing, riding it is another and I love to ride so why not ride with more comfort, speed and better views.

Two Years Later

I’ve hit 10,000 miles on my Corsa and haven’t looked back. Well I do still take a glance in my mirror occasionally when I get the chance to torture a diamond frame cyclist while climbing hills. Anyway, still loving the ride, although I purchased another road bike from Raleigh, who is now making a hot high end carbon bike. I was able to get it at cost so the investment was an easy one to make. My first day out on the Raleigh was the first ride on a diamond frame in two years; it was a shocker. I never used to think about the weight on my saddle and the weight on my hands or the bent over position. The contrast was very noticeable. I’ve been so comfortable on my Corsa for the past two years, and now to jump back into the road bike position was not what I remembered at all. For 35 years I grew to expect the bent posture and the weight issues but it was all new again. I suppose I’ll keep the Raleigh but I really wonder when I would choose to ride it. I’ll keep the Raleigh for the historical reminder of where I began, and to be able to say I still own a road bike to friends and customers. Recumbent cyclists are still outcasts on the road, so owning a road bike at least gives me some credit.

Three Months Later

I road the Raleigh 6 times during the first two weeks and not once after. Why you ask? The weight on that small saddle, the weight on the bars, the bent over position and the asphalt views. It sold today… THE END


Prone Bicycle, 1907

Graeme Obree has dedicated his cycling career to making the cycling position as aerodynamic as possible.  Rather than lying further and further back, like fast recumbents do, he went the other way and moved more and more horizontal with his head at the front.  Prone, in other words.  His latest attempt has been a fully prone and fully faired racer, which he planned to race at the Battle Mountain speed contests.

He is not the first to try the prone position, as shown in this 1907 prone bicycle design.  This looks like it hurts to ride it, but its not so different in concept from Obree’s prone racer.

prone recumbent


Index to Catrike Maintenance Posts

Catrike Maintenance and Repair topics are listed below. Links are to specific posts or links to information.  Submissions of posts by any Catrike rider for inclusion here are welcomed. FYI, Catrikes are recumbent tricycles, with more information available at the Catrike Performance Trikes site. Information on other trike or recumbent technical topics is welcomed.

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Basic Setup and Maintenance

Catrike Performance Trike Official 2004 Manual

Catrike Performance Trike Official 2005 Manual

Catrike Performance Trike Official 2006 Manual

Catrike Performance Trike Official 2007 Manual

Catrike Performance Trike Official 2009 Manual
Catrike Performance Trike Official 2010 Manual

removing the master link on the chain, and replacing it (page 18 of the above manual).
checklist of initial setup items
removing a front wheel
replacing front wheel bearings
replacing rear wheel bearings
adjusting rear derailer (link to Sheldon Brown’s instructions)
adjusting disk brakes (link to Park Tool page)
replacing disk brake pads (link to Park page)
Bruce’s advice on adjusting Avid BB7 brakes on Catrikes
installing front fenders
fixing a flat tire in front, rear wheels
installing teflon bushings in front headsets

Catrike headset adjustment, servicing bearings

cleaning a chain, and lubrication

Troubleshooting section:

rear wheel squeak: lube rubber weather seal
Bottom bracket not horizontal when trike is on flat surface: loosen boom clamp, reorients boom, or file guide tooth
after removing a front wheel, my brake pad rubs: adjust brakes, per this link:
shimmy in steering: purchase teflon bushings from catrike, install
chain routing
brake cable routing
shifter cable routing
setting toe on front wheels of a trike

Upgrades:

Facing the bottom bracket edges

Discussion of After market items and FAQs:

Jerry’s flags
Locking brake levers. These are great!
What is Schlump and other drives?
what would Schlump or Roloff give me over the stock gearing?
Terracyle idlers discussion
Super bright (240 lumens) flashlight for use as headlight, tail light
what size bearings does my (year) (model) Catrike use in the front, rear wheel?where does one get replacement steel or ceramic bearings (link, or part number)
ceramic bearing installations in front hubs
options for mounting both a light and a speedometer
list of all tools needed
chain guards, bash guards: Purely Custom, with Catrike Logo available, and many colors, Trice (Utah Trikes) Chain Guard Ring
- Cables: how to order replacements, how to cut to length, how to install end pieces on housing and cable, what tools are needed
- Chains: how to order (how many chains needed/length), brand, types
- Articles on component upgrades (brakes, shifters, derailleurs, etc)
- Common accessories: what has worked well (lights, racks, bags, pedals, mirrors, etc)

- Arizona Whip lighted flagpole

- Tactical Flashlights for lighting system


Mirage Chainless Recumbent Bike

Bike designs using a drive shaft were tried at the turn of the century, but never caught on as the best form of power transmission bikes.  I’m not sure why, because a lot of bikes were made with a drive shaft and bevel gears for a power train.

A Finnish company led by Tatu Lund has designed a beautiful drive shaft recumbent bike, shown below.  It has disk brakes, a wonderful feature on a recumbent, fenders , a built in pack support, and rear suspension.  As in all Finnish products, the design is a thing of beauty.  Sells in the neighborhood of $3500.

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The drive shaft goes inside the frame to the gear wheel, yet the rear wheel has suspension and moves up and down.  Very impressive.  The bottom bracket is a bit lower than the seat, so stopping and starting should be much easier than on my high race.  Tatu says that the bike is designed for two demographics: those that are looking for increased speed, and those that are looking for increased comfort.  Sounds like the same demographics that all recumbents appeal to.  Mirage has 3 U.S. distributors, and if the bike rides as well as it looks, it should be a world beater!

Info about the company:

http://sdrv.ms/11YejDE

Br. Tatu Lund, CEO

MirageBikes (VAT ID: FI23497371)

www.miragebikes.com/en

+358 40 541 0900, Skype: tatu.lund


The Velocar, Charles Mochet

Charles Mochet of France first set out to build a four wheel bicycle, because his wife (just a tad overprotective, are we?) thought that bikes of the day (the 1930s) were way too dangerous for her precious baby boy.  So Charles made a little 4 wheeled car that his son could not fall off of.  However, he found that the little car was very fast, and son George was leaving the other kids on their bikes in the dust.  That observation started Charles on his next project.  The first was to make more pedal cars, and there was a mini craze over pedal cars.

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From the childs pedal car, Mochet went on to improve a recumbent bike design to a world speed record setting form.


My new ride: a Rans F5 High Racer

In the world of recumbent bikes, there are several broad categories such as Long Wheel Base, Short Wheel Base, Tadpole trikes, Delta trikes, and Low Racer.  Short Wheel Base (SWB) bikes typically have smaller wheels, and typically the front wheel is smaller than the rear wheel.  Another type of SWB with 2 wheels of equal size, of 650 or 700 cm wheels.  Having bigger wheels opens lots of options for selection of racing wheels and tires, and it is thought that the bigger wheels are faster than smaller wheels.  These SWB bikes with larger wheels are called High Racers, and my new (to me) Rans F5 is a high racer.

I got it used about 2 weeks ago, and have been learning how to ride it since.  These are bikes you just don’t jump on and ride.  You have to learn to launch it, learn how to drive it more or less straight, and learn how to stop it without falling over.   Yes, you have to learn these things like you were 6 years old and learning to ride a bike for the first time, and 60 years of riding a DF (diamond frame, or standard) bike doesn’t help that much.

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My learning curve:

Day one: I did get up the hill to my house, but it sure doesn’t track as easily and straight as the trike, and going downhill is downright scary! I think I was actually faster on the Rans than on my trike, but I’ll have to put on a speedometer to verify. I have heard people talk about high speed descents on a high racer, but I don’t see how that is possible at present.  Rode about 5 miles, fell off twice when launching. Very twitchy on downhill, but I made it uphill about a mile. The bike feels super high off the ground.  I’ve been using shoes with cleats that snap into the pedal, and hence the risk of falling off the bike when launching or stopping.

Day two: rode about 10 blocks, 6 or 7 stops and launches, went uphill on the steepest section of my hill. Launching on slight downhill definitely helps.

Day three: rode to work down hill, much more stable feeling on the downhill this time, and got up the steepest portion again, did 2 or 3 launches from flat ground. The bike feels not so high off the ground.

Day 5:  I’m doing better on starts. I can start on level ground now fairly smoothly. I still use brakes when going down my hill that I didn’t brake on in the trike. I’m a bit better as far as tracking straight. I have to think a lot more about stops and starts and intersections on this bike than on my trike.  I feel a bit faster going uphill on the F5 than on the trike, but a good deal slower going down hill. I have not had it on a long flat straightaway yet, but by the weekend I’ll be ready to try that.

Week 2: starting on level ground is fine for me now, as long as I remember to put it in a low gear on the front chainwheel. I am still not tracking very straight sometimes at the moment of launching. I’m way faster going up a hill than I was with my trike, because on my trike I could go slow, put it in a low gear, and not push myself. With the F5 I am afraid to go slow, so I try to keep the speed up to improve tracking. When I get to the top of the hill, I’m sucking air like crazy, having spent way more energy to keep the speed up.

On my trike I could get up to 20 mph, but it felt like an exertion. This past weekend I got a speedometer on the F5, and today noticed I was cruising at 20 mph effortlessly. I bet I could easily kick it up to 24 and hold that for awhile on flat roadway. To get to 24 mph on my trike I was on the verge of blowing the engine, and I could not hold it for long. I have still not had it on a long flat road, but I’m looking forward to it. On my way home I go up a big hill, about a mile long, with sharp curves around corners. I have mentally divided it into 10 segments, and to try to get faster on my trike, I would maintain a speed of 7 mpg for one or two sections. After such a pace, I’d be wheezing and puffing like crazy, and I’d have to slow down. I thought I’d eventually build up to every other section doing 7 mph, then someday the whole thing at 7 mph. DFs go at about that pace on that hill, as I know from pacing some of them for a short distance.

Still at a somewhat shaky stage of steering, and at far less huffing and puffing than I would be on my trike, I go up that hill at 6-8 mph, exactly the same motor and fitness level. I’ll take that. If I can also go 2 mph faster on flat ground, hurray for high racers! I might try the full out speed on flat terrain this weekend.

End of week 2: Went on a 30 mile group ride today on the F5. We did great! It put me at about the same pace as riders who were much younger than me, on expensive bikes, in team colors. They didn’t lose me on the hills, and I got passed darn few times, until I had a flat tire.

I started at the back of the pack, to give myself plenty of room to wobble around on the start. As the pack thinned out, I moved through the pack, toward the front. Out of about 100 riders, I could see about 15 ahead of the group, and I picked off a few of those and was keeping the faster group in sight and maybe gaining a little. The faster group crossed a RR track before a long freight train crossed, and I had to wait out the train. Shortly after that I had a flat, so I never caught the lead group, but all in all its quite a bit faster than the trike, and is enough of an advantage that a 63 year old commuter becomes comparable with road bikes in speed, and in the same league as DFs going uphill. The hills were fairly gentle, and I had a rider or two pass me on hills, but not flocks of them like pass me when I’m on the trike. So far so good!

Day after 30 mile ride, the guys on Bent Rider OnLine, a recumbent forum, told me I had the riser to the handlebar on backwards.  I reversed it, and it is more comfortable for me now.

OK, riding for 2 weeks now, and I take my 3rd fall!  I came around a corner of a building where I planned to stop for food and water, and as I slowed to stop I was still turning to the right. My routine is to pop my left foot out and put it down, stop, pop my right food out and put it down. That doesn’t work when turning right, so down I went at zero mph. OK, so stop only when pointed straight ahead, not turning.  Lesson learned.

I notice after the 30 mile group ride yesterday, my steering is accurate enough to go around the speed bumps in the gutter. Today was the first time I could reliably hit that small zone between the speed bump and the curb.

Riding it for one month, I take my 4th fall!  I was going slow on grass and making big steering movements.  I got my left foot caught in the wheel as the pedal came close to the wheel as it was turned.  Down I went, on grass, and not hurt.  I can go up my hill at 4 mph, and don’t have any trouble starting on the level or at stoplights.  I have not even tried starting on an uphill!

Below is the bike with different handlebars, Rans 3 way adjustable ones. I’m thinking they are too high, and i might use a riser that is 3 or 4 inches lower than this.  Below is with one leg at full extension.

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below is a view showing how much clearance I have when my left knee is at the highest point of the pedaling circle.

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Below is a pic of my right leg with the knee at about the highest point of the pedaling cycle.

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Fastest Bike in the World

Inventor Charles Mochet designed a recumbent bicycle, and in 1933 the design was compete enough that he thought it was ready to enter a race against professional cyclists, in the home of professional cycling, France.  His rider was Francois Faure, who was not a top cyclist of the day.  Riding against professional cyclists, Faure set a new world record that day for distance covered in one hour.  The old record was 44.247 km, and the new record set that day was 45.055 km.  Later races on recumbents in the same year raised the record to 49.99, and that was set by a 43 year old.

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The international governing body of bicycle racing, the same one that had earlier banned metal rims and derailluers,  decided within a year that the recumbents should not compete against “real” bikes.   They also revoked the records set by the recumbents the previous year. Their ban has stood for 70 years, and essentially remains in place.  Don’t they realize that with a recumbent, a French cyclist might be able to beat Lance Armstrong?    More recumbent related items at Bent Rider Online, Bent Stuff, and Mochet Velocar Racing, and http://www.wisil.recumbents.com/wisil/. Photo from Mochet Velocar Racing, with all the sites listed above maintained by Warren Beauchamp.

An earlier recumbent was patented in 1902.


Four wheel, four seat, pedal vehicle

photo(1).28 photoIMG_0195I ran across this totally cool vehicle in downtown Boise.  It has 4 wheels, and seat for 4 riders. Each rider has pedals, and pedals at their own pace.  It has 4 disc brakes.  The seats slide up and down on slanted posts to adjust for height.  What a cool ride!

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The Backstory on Holey Spokes

In fall of 2008 I (Bruce, trikebldr) bought a 2003 Speed. As I hefted it up to put it in the rack on top of my car I thought I would just throw it all the way over the car, it was so light. When I got it home I weighed it at 28lbs, complete with fenders. It made me wonder how light I could make my 2007 Speed. Stock, it weighed 31lbs.

I have a friend in Los Angeles who runs the computers that control the earthquake shift equipment under a high-rise building in downtown. He asked for a lot of pics, dimensions and weights, then plugged them all into this computer to do a stress flow analysis. It gave us back hundreds of diagrams that showed where the trike’s frame, and other parts, were most and least stressed under load.

DF bikes are made from butted and double-butted tubing to reduce weight. For those not familiar with the term “butted tube”, this means that the center has thinned out walls while the ends are thicker walled. These special butted tubes can be made in approximate lengths and cut to fit precisely into a DF’s frame. All trike makers that I know of use pretty much generic, uniform-wall-thickness tubing. It’s simply a matter of economics, since trikes of various frame design require too many tube lengths to be able to provide butted tubing for all parts of the frame. The old solution to non-butted tubing was to drill across the tube in the middle areas to reduce the weight. Tubes under side loading cannot be drilled, but those in longitudinal compression and tension can be. Most DF frames are completely triangulated, meaning their tubes are all under tension or compression, but not side loaded, appreciably. Trike frames are not so lucky!

Holey Spokes was drilled in those areas shown to be over-built as far as tubing wall thickness. The main, one-piece frame was drilled exactly as the computer showed, but I took some liberties on some smaller, easily replaceable parts. In the end the only area that I would do differently would be not drilling completely through the boom’s internal “peace” webbing. A stock, undrilled boom gave me 1/16″ of twist under heavy loading measured at the top of the der post, but the drilled version now gives me 1/8″ of twist, measured the same way. By loading, I mean causing the rear wheel to spin slightly with the front brakes on. This would not be acceptable for all you pseudo-Lances out there, but for me it isn’t a noticeable loss of efficiency.

A lot of criticism has been heard about drilling the cranks. You cannot drill most cranks, but the older Truvativ Elita cranks have a dog-bone cross section to them and the main strength is along the edges. Small, 1/2″ holes can be drilled with no problems. The most stress that can be applied here is until the rear tire breaks free, and I have done that, as well a stomping on them hard.

I have about 200 hours of drilling and de-burring in the project, as well as other tweaks to make it handle quicker. The wheels were tightened up to the max recommended spoke tensions for each rim. Ceramic bearings are used everywhere except in the Frog pedals. I have one set of Stelvio Light tires that are over 11,000 miles old and are much lighter than new Stelvios. I keep these stored except for special rides. I normally run newer Stelvios. I dumped the stock seat mesh and made up a new sling from a single layer of the stuff POC sells. It’s laced inside the seat rails with some parachute cord.

The cost to build this trike (other than the stock trike) was $12.53 for the materials to make the seat, plus about $183 for the new XTR Shadow carbon-cage rear der. The der weighs just 181grams as opposed to the 495grams for the stock Deore der. I was already running Q-rings and hollow-pinned chains, so throw in a bit more money for those if you must. Ceramics for the whole trike run about $500 for everything, including BB and idler.

The base trike weighed 31lbs, 3oz when I started. Set up for final weighing, with the lighter tires, no headrest, mirrors, bottle cages, it weighs exactly 24lbs. I normally run it with newer, heavier Stelvios, one mirror, one cage and a POC headrest. Set up like that it weighs at 25lbs, 14oz.

Holey Spokes drew a lot of flak on the Catrike forum as it was being built. Comments like “fold up around his ears” were found often! The drilling was not done helter-skelter like so many bikes were in the old days. It was done carefully according to indicated high and low stress areas. It’s now three and a half years old, and I ride it about 3000miles a year. I almost always pull my dog in her trailer behind it, too (another 56lbs, total!)! If Cindy is pulling the trailer, I get carried away and take a lot of curves on two wheels. After all, higher performance in handling was what it was built for. I prefer to bicycle it rather than slide through a corner.

I  have weighed between 207 and 225lbs during the last 3-1/2 years, so it has endured a lot of heavy abuse from my riding style, with no failures yet. The reason is, those drilled tubes are not being BENT, but are under tension or compression. The seat side rails were not drilled specifically because they are being pulled sideways, inward from the weight of the rider in the mesh. There’s one short video in the link to my pics of this trike, showing me bicycling the trike as well as doing hard stoppies. This is pretty much normal for me while I wait for others to get ready to ride. It’s just a fun trike to play with like this!

About six others have test-ridden it and two of them have had me do this treatment to their’s. One is a 2008 Speed, and the other is a 2007 Pocket, called Piccolo Pockets. I consider the 2007 to be the very best Speed of all models, especially to do this with.


The First Tadpole recumbent tricycle? A cool one from 1875

According to the Field:

My tricycle weighs 83 pounds, and, when loaded for a summer journey of several days, it is made to carry myself, 196 lbs, and an overcoat, spare clothes, a book, sketch book, colors, etc to the extent in all of 221 lbs.  I have always a comfortable seat to sketch in, or to rest in when I need, with great ease in driving.  Although I can put it along on level ground at the rate of 8 or 9 mph, I seldom cover more than 6 in traveling/ but the road must be very bad to reduce me to 4 mph.