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Recumbent Bikes & Trikes

Recumbents

Recumbent bicycles or “Bents” as they are often called in the US and Canada, are sit-down bikes, pedaled with the cyclist’s feet out in front. They have existed since the mid to late 1800s. Recumbents are a pleasure to ride. You sit slightly reclined in a normal sitting position, back fully supported, arms relaxed, and neck straight. Compare this to the contorted riding position on a diamond frame bike.

Even after a long day of touring, a rider has no stiff neck, no aching back, or numb hands and sore crotch. A combination of lower mountain bike gears with higher road bike ranges ensures the correct gear ratio for any terrain. These bikes ride differently, steer differently, and start and stop differently. Climbing hills requires a different approach.

Recumbents are not dangerous. The lower center of gravity and greater proximity to the ground mean that if a crash occurred, a person’s feet would absorb most of the shock, instead of the head. Because more weight is over the rear wheel, recumbents also stop faster. Cars see them better because they don’t blend in with pedestrians, joggers or conventional bicyclists.

There are a lot of different recumbent shapes and sizes. bicycles are in greater numbers being fitted with front and rear suspension systems for increased comfort and traction on rough surfaces. Coil, elastomer, and air-sprung suspension systems have been used. Recumbent seats are either mesh stretched tightly over a frame (more common in the USA) or foam cushions over hard shells (predominate in Europe).

The three most common classifications of recumbents are based on where the front wheel is in relation to the rest of the bike. Wheelbase is the distance between the centers of the front and rear wheels of the bike.

Trikes

Not all recumbents are bicycles. Some are trikes (three wheels instead of two). Most recumbent trike designs are of the “tadpole” design with two front wheels and one rear wheel. The “delta” design comes with one front wheel and two rear wheels and are typically higher and do not corner as well as tadpole trikes.

Trike popularity has grown significantly in recent years as aging baby boomers discover the benefit of continued bike riding without the issues of balance and pain associated with traditional bicycles. Insofar as safety, crashes with trikes are virtually unheard of.

Trikes have a great carrying capacity and also appeal to those users with balance problems, salvaging an otherwise lost love of cycling. There is no learning curve to riding a trike. They climb very steep hills because trikes have incredible gearing (some as many as 72 gears). Also, a rider doesn’t have to maintain enough speed to balance as the case with two wheel vehicles.

Trikes in general are slower than bikes due to increased frontal area and more rolling resistance. Due to their low height these are not recommended for areas with traffic, but they work great on bike trails.

Recumbent Wheelbase Categories

LWB (long wheel base 60″-71″) recumbents have the front wheel located in front of the “bottom bracket.” Long wheel base recumbents have straight, efficient chain runs. The downsides of the LWB design include poor weight distribution (too little on the front wheel), and general unwieldliness due to the greater overall length. These bikes have larger turning radiuses and the smoothest rides of any bike. These bikes also tend to be the lowest bikes, often having the seat less than a foot above the pavement. They are great on the open road.

CLWB (compact long wheel base) recumbents are a variation which usually uses small 406 mm (20″) wheels front and rear, with the rear tucked somewhat under the seat to reduce the wheelbase. They are less common than LWB or SWB.

SWB (short wheel base 33″-47″) recumbents have the front wheel behind the bottom bracket. SWB machines are more maneuverable, and generally more compact. The downsides of the SWB design relate to interference between the front wheel and the drive chain. SWBs generally have to run the chain over an idler pulley or two, which causes a significant loss in efficiency. Sometimes this yields a harsher ride as you are sitting almost on top of the front wheel. These bikes tend to be speedier. SWB recumbents are responsive, stable, and with their higher seat more visible in traffic.

Recumbent Steering Categories

ASS (above the seat steering) recumbents have tall handlebars about chest height with grips typically located just in front of the rider’s shoulders. This arrangement is often said to be more comfortable for the beginner than under seat steering. Above seat handlebars also lead to a more aerodynamic configuration on the bike as arms are in front of you and therefore do not present an additional wind target.

RWS (rear wheel steering) recumbents have, at least so far, failed in numerous development attempts due to stability issues. The benefit of rear wheel steering would be a short drivetrain and short steering linkage.

USS (under the seat steering) recumbents have the handlebars located below the seat, so the rider’s arms hang down at his or her sides. This is a very comfortable position, and makes for easier mounting and dismounting. USS machines almost always use an indirect steering linkage, with a tie rod connecting the handlebars to the fork crown. Some riders find that this arrangement makes it easier to get on and off, due to not having to duck under the bars.

Recumbent publications include: Awake Again, Bent Rider On-Line, Easy Riders Recumbent Club, Recumbent and Tandem Rider Magazine and The Recumbent Bicycle written by Gunnar Fehlau.

Today, there are a couple dozen manufactures of quality production recumbents.

Whether you call them bents, recumbants, recumbents, trikes, tandem recumbents, tadpoles, incumbent bikes, or human powered vehicles recumbent cycling means never having to say you’re sore.