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Recumbent bicycling for beginners

Updated on April 4, 2010

I switched to riding a recumbent bicycle about 5 months ago. I wanted to express my enthusiasm for it, and pass on what I learned getting into it; so others might be inspired to try it out. Recumbent bikes are actually referred to as "bents" by people who ride them and I will refer to them as such for the rest of this hub as it is shorter.

I decided to take up bents for a couple of reasons. After riding bicycles for the last 20 years, including commuting , touring , mountanbiking for fun and competition, I started to get what I refer to as numbnuts. or cantfeelmyfrickencrotch. This is caused by damage to the nerves under the perineum and is also relieved by special saddles such as the moon saddle. I tried a few of these ,but wanted a new bicycling experience as well; so I started looking into bents. Bents are also great for people with back or neck issues, or anyone who just wants a fun ride.

Advantages and disadvantages of recumbent bicycles

Before we get too far into bents I thought I would explain the pros and cons of these bikes.

Pros: No back, crotch, arm, wrist, shoulder or neck pain. Also no chaffing. They are very comfortable, with the only pain you experience being in your legs and lungs from the great exercise you are getting. Bent are also very fun to ride and can be faster than most other bicycles depending on the type you get. you also get a lot of attention on a nice bent. That's good or bad depending on you personality.

Cons: Decreased maneuverability. Being used to a mountian bike it took a little while for me to get used to the bigger turn radius and no way to lift the front wheel. Also your feet can fall asleep. On most bents your feet are right about the level of your heart so they don't get the blood flow they would get on a traditional bicycle.This can be alleviated by riding in sandals ,so you can move your toes around and/or riding without clips so you can move your feet around on the pedals.

example of LWB set up for touring
example of LWB set up for touring
example of SWB with oversteering
example of SWB with oversteering

Types of recumbent bicycles

It turns out there are a variety of different bents out there for different kinds of riders and riding. Bents are generally split up into two catagories, LWB(long wheelbase) and SWB(short wheel base). LWB bents have the front wheel out in front of your cranks, are generally heavier, easier to ride at first and are good for touring. SWB bents put the front wheel behind the cranks under your legs, are lighter, harder to get used to, and are better for commuting or sport riding. Those are just general riding styles for these bikes. I was inspired by Wade Hatlers webpage to get a SWB . He uses his for touring all over the world with no problems.

There are also a few kinds of steering for bents. USS(under seat steering) puts the steering under your legs with hands holding the bars down at your sides , is very free feeling, easy on your arms and a little harder to get used to.OSS(over seat steering) has the handle bars in the traditional position, is easier to learn ,but a little tiring on your arms depending on the position. There is also linked steering wich just means the bars are not attached directly to the fork with a stem, but use linkage to connect them.

this is the bent i purchased. It comes with a better seat than shown
this is the bent i purchased. It comes with a better seat than shown

Purchasing a recumbent bicycle

I decided to purchase a SWB USS bent. They are lighter ,sportier and have a cool look to them. I found out that most bents are adjustable to rider size either with a telescopic crank mount and/or adjustable seat. Some higher end models have to be ordered to match your inseam as the don't have the telescoping front end so that the frame is sturdier. There also can be a weight limilt to most models . What I found was that this seems to be mostly about wheels not frames , so most bents can be upgraded to heavy duty wheels for bigger riders. Looking into purchasing my SWB bent i discovered that my local bike shops didn't carry bents anymore. They were quite abundant 5-6 years ago , but a few manufacturers stopped producing them including my hometown bike manufacturer Burley. So instead of ordering one through a bike shop i decided to look online. E-bay was the only place i found that had a number of bents for sale at bargain prices. I only wanted to spend about $600 max. I bid on a few higher end used bents that retail for about $1700- $2500. Those all ended up going for $1000 or more. So i decided to purchase a new entry level bent. I ended up with a RecumbentUSA model that i bid $500 for plus $75 shipping. You can buy the same model direct from there site for $625. RecumbentUsa and Actionbents are both represented on E-Bay. The're bents are both made by the same manufacturer in tiawan and are quit affordable quality bicycles. There are a lot of other recumbent manufactureres if you want to spend more money. Most but not all of them are in europe as bicycling in general is a lot more popuplar there. Here is a list of manufacturers so you can look at the many types availiable.

I received my RecumbentUSA bent in 8 days. I had to assemble it. Nothing major , just attach the sliding crank assembaly, put on the wheels, attach the seat, attach the handlebars , run the cables and chain. I have had a lot of experience building bicycles so this took me about an hour. I am sure you could pay your local bike shop to do this if you were so inclined. I was very pleased with the quality of the bike, considering I only paid $500. It is quit adequate for my needs and all parts are very functional and sturdy. Including coming with heavy duty rims that are a little heavy but good for me as I am 6 foot and weigh 250 lbs. It has both the telescoping front end and a seat that you can adjust fore/aft ,and its reclining angle. The bike will probably last through a year or more worth of hard riding before I need to replace anything. The only reason i will need to replace anything is that the cranks are the cheap variety that you cant change out the chainrings on so they will need replacements at that point.

Riding a recumbent bicycle

So now I have my sleek looking recumbent and I want to take it for a spin. I honestly waited till night when no one was around, to reduce my embarrassment in case it went badly. Guess what it was a good idea cause i struggled to ride the thing for an hour and a half, going a few feet and falling over. Finally when I was ready to give up ,thinking it was impossible to ride the thing and wondering what I had gotten myself into , I tried one last time and did it , that was it. What was making it difficult is that my natural bicycling instincts were telling me to lean when the bike was going the wrong way or felt like it was falling over. The secret is to turn the handlebars ,not lean. You do still lean on a bent to turn sharper, but not nearly as much as on a traditional bicycle, and not at all when you are getting going. Knowing this would have made it a little easier, but it still would have been tough to overcome my instincts.

It turns out SWB USS high bottom bracket bents like the one I purchased are the hardest kind to ride at first. Who knew? Not me. It also turns out they make training wheels for them so you don't have to go through the hour and a half of falling over like I did, but they are a little spendy for something you only need for a couple hours or so. If you are truly worried about the difficulties in learning to ride one, a LWB OSS is the way to go as from what I discovered they are much easier to learn.

So now that I could ride it I spent a few days just riding in circles around a parking lot getting used to the feel of it. Got to say its the most fun ive had riding a bike in circles since I was 10 yrs old. I then spent 2 weeks riding it on bike paths isolated from traffic as it's a little unnerving at first the way it turns and such. After that it was like riding a bike , I can ride it anywhere no problem. I did purchase a rearveiw mirror. I had never used one before, but on a bent you cant look as far behind yourself as easily as on a traditional bicycle, so its quite necessary. I ride my bent every day now about an avg of 15-20 miles ,more on the weekends. Its a lot of fun and I am thoroughly enjoying the experience.


The first time

Fast rider

In the Alps


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