Recumbent Bicycles and Tricycles

by Dan Blumenfeld, recumbent rider and Web dork

So, what are those funny bikes all about anyway?

Well, for starters, recumbents come in as much or more variety that “normal” upright bikes, so it’s pretty hard to make very many accurate statements about them. In general, they involve pedaling a 2- or 3-wheeled contraption while positioned much like you’re watching TV from an easy chair; aside from that, well, they vary from inexpensive and comfortable trail cruisers to carbon-fiber wonderbikes used in the Race Across America.

So, what’s the point?

Aside from the coolness factor(cue howls of outrage…), comfort is one of the biggest ones. Speaking personally, I’ve ridden over a century on mine several times, and had flat-out no pain whatsoever (with the exception of tired legs, but that’s kinda going to happen on any bike!). Neck, back, arms, hands, groin…nothing aches, or goes numb.

In addition, speed on the flats is definitely increased; the aerodynamic efficiency of many recumbents is significantly greater than that of many upright bicycles.

Some feel that recumbents suffer on the hills; I certainly do, but that’s more to be attributed to my lack of fitness, rather than anything intrinsic to the design of my ‘bent. I’ve ridden with guys on uprights who outclimb me; I’ve ridden with folks on recumbents who outclimb me; and I’ve outclimbed people on both. So, really, it comes down more to the engine than anything else; as some dude from Texas said, “It’s not about the bike”.

‘Bents come in a whole lot of different models; touring, for instance, is one area where a recumbent bike or trike can really shine, due to the increased comfort leading to feeling better at the end of each day. Also, ultracycling events are seeing a disproportionate number of recumbents, for much the same reason. You can find a decent commuter/utility ‘bent, or a racing model designed to blow the doors off everything at the track, or even a fully enclosed model designed to break world records for humna-powered speed (over 80 mph has been achieved…Google “Sam Whittingham” for more information.)

So, where can I try one out?

Heh…that’s the hardest part, really. A couple of local bike shops carry a few models; the Ambridge Bike Shop and Rapp’s in Butler carry some. The nearest fully-stocked shop is RBR in State College; worth the drive, as you can test dozens of different models.

If you’d like more information, or have any questions, feel free to contact your friendly neighborhood Dan Blumenfeld.

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