Saturday, January 19, 2008

Why Doesn't Everyone Ride Recumbents?


Note: Basically every word I'm recounting here occurred in bits of conversations I've had with various recumbent enthusiasts over the past dozen years. For purposes of brevity, I've compressed these discussion to a single conversation and created the composite character of Perry. Perry is not a real person, although his resemblance to any real person is far more than coincidental.

-----

When the December drizzle settles in on Seattle, it's a good time to hole up in the corner coffee shop with a warm beverage and maybe a good book. I'd just settled with some hot, liquid form of caffeine in one hand and more than a thousand pages of Thomas Pynchon's latest tome in the other when my friend Perry rolls up, locks his sleek, laid back bicycle up next to mine and strolls into the coffee shop. Mr. Pynchon's novel can wait for another day.

Perry lays his dripping helmet on the table and after getting his own drink in order, opens our conversation with his standard gambit, "Still riding that horsey bike, I see."

I counter with my standard rejoinder, "Still lying down on the job."

Years ago, while recovering from a broken collarbone, I decided to learn about and test ride some recumbent bicycles. As things turned out, I wound up riding and owning a lot of those machines, even building a few recumbents of my own and going on lots of rides with the local recumbent club. I got to know folks like Perry and also Bob Bryant, the publisher of a little magazine called Recumbent Cyclist News. Bob convinced me to write some articles and I became a semi-regular columnist for his magazine. It was certainly an interesting couple of years and the people I met were at least as interesting as the laid back machines they rode.

While the machines might be laid back, many of the riders, people like Perry, were anything but. They were passionate about their chosen vehicles, evangelistic in their enthusiasm, willing at the slightest provocation to expound as to why their machine is what a bicycle should truly be. And many of these folks, not all but many, would speak of a conspiracy or at least a conspiracy of ignorance, that kept the world from embracing the design of the recumbent bicycle. In the future, they were sure, "wedgies" would join the high-wheeler as a quaint reminder of a more primitive age. And our current time, with bike shops filled with bikes that look like what Lance Armstrong rides, is still a primitive age.

When I went back to riding what Perry insists on calling "horsey bikes" some of my recumbent cohorts took this as some kind of betrayal. Perry, on the other hand, figured this was evidence that I was not too bright. Bob encouraged me to write an article about my choice, but I became more interested in the bigger picture and the question I posed to Perry right now.

"If recumbents are so good, why doesn't everybody ride recumbents?"

"Well, you don't because you're dumb, or maybe just because you like to piss me off. But most folks don't even know about recumbents. And even if they've heard of them or seen one, there's hardly any place to buy them."

"But why is that?" I press.

"C'mon," Perry says, "Don't play dumber than you are. You know this. 1934? The Ban?"

"Yeah, I know about the ban. In 1934 some guy on a 'bent beat the fastest folks on upright bikes and the UCI declared his machine wasn't a bicycle. And you really want me to believe that's what's keeping folks off 'bents?"

"That's a big part of it," Perry says, wagging his head. "Folks watch the Tour de France and think they're seeing fast bikes when they don't even get to see what a fast bike looks like."

"I guess you have a point there, but let me throw out a counter-example." I say, "Look, they don't let cars in the Kentucky Derby, but somehow autos managed to catch on. I can't run a motor in the America's cup, yet somehow speedboats are doing a booming business. If you've got a better mousetrap, isn't the world going to beat a path to your door?"

"Emerson was a better poet than a businessman," Perry notes.

"Quite true," I concede, "but he actually made quite a bundle off his writing and speaking gigs. However it looks like he may have never actually said that thing about mousetraps and in any case the history of the mousetrap is filled with neat designs that never resulted in riches. But enough about mousetraps, let's get back to 'bents. Today, there are lots of events where recumbents aren't banned. They race in RAAM and recumbent riders show up on brevets and international events like Paris-Brest-Paris. And the IHPVA has their own series of races..."

"Yeah," Perry inserts, "and we kick ass. The recumbent hour record is much faster than the UCI record and..."

"Freddie Markham in a Gold Rush is way faster than Eddy Merckx ever was on his 'horsey bike'," I break in. "Look, a guy taped inside a pedal-powered carbon-fiber torpedo can go like hell on the salt flats, no argument from me there. But that isn't going to make me go "ooh that's the kind of machine I want to ride down to the coffee shop."

"That's 'cause you're a slow learner," Perry explains.

"No, I don't think so," I say, "I think the recumbent speed thing is over-rated. Winning this race or that one isn't going to change a bunch of people's minds."

"But getting the bikes seen might," Perry ventures.

"Maybe," I concede, "and I guess with the way the ban went, we'll never know. But don't give me the 'if they let us in the Tour de France, we'd kick ass' argument..."

"But we would..." Perry begins.

"No," I say, cutting him off, "you wouldn't. The Tour is set up around the peleton, team tactics, sprint finishes and climbing. There are only a couple of time trials in the entire thing and the whole race is built around wedgie bikes, wedgie teams, and wedgie tactics. A recumbent stands as much chance of winning the tour as my cat does of winning the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show."

"So you admit wedgie bikes are dogs..." Perry says with an evil grin.

"Hardly," I say, taking pains to look pained, "and in real world riding, with hills and traffic lights and all the rest, most stock recumbents won't get me to work any quicker than my plain old upright bike does."

"Yeah, but a stream-liner," Perry begins.

"Feels like an underpowered car to me," I say. "I know you love your enclosed HPVs but I don't like riding around in a coffin. And that's what HPVs feel like to me."

"But what about your open low-racer, didn't you have fun with that?"

"Yep," I admit, "the Pillow Bike was a blast. But I got tired of lying down in the rain and I really got tired of being at tail-pipe height in traffic. On my wedgie, I've got a much better view."

"How about a high-racer, something like a Bacchetta?"

"Bacchetta hit the scene after I'd moved back to uprights, so I never had a chance to ride one..."

"Aha!" Perry shouts, loud enough that some of the other folks in the coffee shop looked over at us. "That's what you should be riding," he added in a softer tone.

"Perry," I say, "I hardly think the fact that I haven't ridden a bike means it's destined to be my bike."

"You'd love a Bacchetta," Perry enthuses, "it's fast, it's comfortable, you wouldn't have that wedge of plastic crammed up your butt..."

"And that's another thing you 'bent folks just don't get," I say, matching Perry's level of animation with some volume of my own, "I AM COMFORTABLE ON MY BIKE!"

"You're kidding, right?" Perry looks genuinely confused.

"No," I say softly. "I want you to understand this. I'm comfortable on an upright bike. Lots of folks are."

"No," he says, "I know lots of folks who are miserable on wedgies. I see 'em on the STP, rubbing their necks, walking like cowboy's in their dorky pants. They can't wait to get off their bikes."

"Look," I say, "I'm not saying everybody is comfortable on every bike. Some folks have their handlebars too low or the wrong kind of seat. Maybe their bike just doesn't fit or maybe they really can't get comfy on an upright bike. But there are people, people like me, who are comfortable riding an upright bike."

Perry still looks doubtful, "Really?" he asks.

"Really," I say, "Recumbents solve problems I don't have. They solve problems lots of folks don't have. That's why people don't buy them and that's why wedgies aren't going away."

"But...but...recumbents are better!" Perry insists.

"Better how?" I counter, "Faster? More comfortable?"

"Yeah!" Perry says, "C'mon, you know they are..."

"Well, Perry," I say, "my experience to date hasn't convinced me of that but what if I grant you those two points? What if a recumbent is faster than a wedgie bike and more comfortable. If my upright bike is fast enough for me and comfy enough for me, I don't think I'm going to change. It's like the Dvorak keyboard..."

"Hey, I use a Dvorak keyboard!" Perry exclaims.

"And this doesn't surprise me at all," I say, "in fact I think I'd be more surprised to find out you were a QWERTY man. Do you live in a geodesic dome as well?"

"No," Perry says, "but I've always wanted one."

"Me too," I confess, "at least I did until I read this article by the author of the two Domebooks that points out a lot of the problems that show up when you try to put the theory of domes into practice. I think a similar thing happens with recumbents."

"Like what?" Perry wonders.

"Like some are so laid back you get a crick in your neck from holding your head up to look forward. Or the way some people get numb toes from a high bottom bracket, or recumbent butt from a more upright seat. 'Bents aren't always magically comfortable."

"And then there is the drive-train thing," I continue, "if you've got the pedals out front and the drive wheel in the back, you've got a lot of chain. Chain is heavy and you've got to manage it somehow. Idler wheels suck a little bit of power..."

"But those things can be worked out," Perry counters.

"Oh yeah," I agree, "I'm sure every problem I can list has been solved by some 'bent, somewhere. But it's not like folks have settled on a common solution and different designs have different trade-offs. Front-wheel drive 'bents beat the chain problem but they can't climb steep hills in the rain. A long wheel-base bike like a Tour Easy is great for cross-country touring but not what I'd choose for busy urban riding."

"That's what you need the Bacchetta for," Perry states.

"What, did you become a Bacchetta dealer when I wasn't looking?" I wonder out loud, "look maybe it's the greatest bike ever and I'm really missing out..."

"You are," Perry insists.

"OK, OK," I admit, "you like Bacchettas, I've figured that out. My point is this, we're not moving to some future where everybody rides the same kind of bike. Look at that," I say pointing out the window to the street.

"Look at what?" Perry asks.

"The street, the cars, the world. There's lots of stuff out there. Look at that Honda Accord."

"What about it?"

"It's a car. As cars go, it's probably a good car. I've heard good things about 'em, but what do I know, I'm not a car guy. But let's say," I continue, "that it's a great car. Let's say Accord owners just love 'em. Does that mean it's the perfect car for everybody?"

"Of course not," Perry says.

"So you see my point," I say relieved that I'd finally gotten through to my friend.

"Of course I do," Perry said, "they shouldn't be driving Accords or any other car for that matter. They should be riding recumbents. And so should you. In fact, I think you should be riding a Bacchetta!"

63 comments:

Alan said...

I couldn't help but notice that you're standing but your buddies on 'bents are seated. ;-)

Seriously, great article..

Regards,
Alan

Kent Peterson said...

Actually that's my pal Wayne standing in the picture with a couple of laid back dudes. But good point, why is Wayne standing?

Shinyhappybikee said...

This was a little embarrassing to read. I'm too much like Perry. Great article.

Joseph Stevens (Southern California)

bikelovejones said...

Terriffic writing! But you forgot to mention that most recumbents:

a. Can't be taken on transit; and if you think that's no big deal see how it goes next time the 'bent gets a taco'd wheel too far from home to carry it and walk.
b. Speaking of carrying it, long-wheelbased versions pretty much require the owner to have a house with a garage (or large entryway); and they're difficult to carry up and down stairs, rendering them impractical for apartment-dwellers in particular and fans of urban density in general.
c. Are almost never as affordable as a merely decent "wedgie", even used.

To the uninitiated, wedgie bikes can be found or had almost anywhere, at almost any price, while recumbents look pretty much playthings for the rich. And that, more than any silly UCI ban, could be the real reason they haven't caught on with the general bicycling population.

--Beth

D-eL 708 said...

the honda accord reference is a good point. but for the sake of argument, i think everyone should ride three-wheel bents. (windcheetahs rock!) a rider can enjoy a cup of joe and a scone and never touch foot to the ground (except perhaps to go inside the coffee shoppe) like even the two-wheel 'bents must do. ;-)

John Clifford said...

Uh... because his butt hurts? :-)

Seriously, recumbents are great (I own two), but they're really a specialist bike. DFs are generalist bikes, especially when they're set up for comfort riding.

I've ridden the STP 4 times now on a recumbent, doing it in one day last year. I'd never ride a DF... bents are just too comfortable for these long rides.

I commute, train, and goof off on my 1985 Schwinn High Sierra DF. It's got higher handlebars now, plus fenders and 26x1.5" Kenda Kwest 100psi tires. My butt starts to get sore after an hour or so. But I have to climb a 300' hill on the way home with a grade that varies from 6% to 19% (yes, measured by my Garmin Edge 305), and there's no way I can ride this steep of a grade on my Bacchetta Ti Aero.

(When I do ride my 'bent, I 'bail out' to the 520 bike trail at the halfway point, or ride up 116th to 60th St. The Aero is also not as good at hauling cargo, e.g., laptop, etc., as the High Sierra.)

I'm convinced that 'bents are more ergonomic, while DFs are more biomechanically efficient. DFs are also more maneuverable at low speed, and wheel/heel interference is never a problem.

I will admit, however, to eyeing a recumbent trike (Catrike Trail) as a commuting recumbent, especially on those rainy/snowy/icy days.

BTW, I've read your blog and various newsgroup posts for years... and enjoyed them all even if I didn't necessarily agree.

Eric P. said...

Very nice article. I've had many similar arguments with a friend over the past few years. He's been trying to get me to junk the upright bike and get bent. So far he hasn't won the argument.

But he has made me think more about my own riding position. It's one reason I just convered one bike from drops to upright bars. So, I guess I could say I've been influenced by a bent.

Don said...

I think it's all just a non-issue. I have 7 recumbent bikes and 1 recumbent trike, and I actually bought an upright roadbike last spring.

I can't seem to make myself ride it, but it's not because recumbents are morally superior or anything. Right now, my recumbent bikes and trike meet my needs (mostly commuting back and forth from Montlake to Eastgate; I occasionally see you on your commute, Kent).

On any given day, I ride the bike/trike my 'inner cyclist' drives me to pick. Maybe one of these days it'll be that roadbike; a Trek Pilot - very nice bike, and not at all uncomfortable. I do have to manage saddle comfort - am fussy about chamois and chamois cream and all that, which obviously is a non-issue with the bents. But it's a fine bike, and I can certainly envision doing the commute on it.

I don't have an issue with anybody riding whatever they choose to ride.

I'm a little suprised you characterized EasyRacer's bikes as not being suitable for urban riding, though....I find them the ultimate for in-city stuff - I'm a lot more comfortable on them on twisty, stop-and-go streets like Seattle than most other bikes - easier to turn hard than any upright bike (for me), and my feet hit the ground at stoplights without getting out of the perch.

But that's just me. It's totally OK with me for you to ride your single-speed, or fixie, or folder, or Surly Pacer or $8000 racing bike.

Vive le difference (or is it la? I never got past jr. high school French).

Tex69 said...

Fun stuff Kent. I own a Rans Rocket and several 'wedgies'. I'll take the Rans out occasionally, but my overwhelming choice to commute is a 'wedgie' like my LHT. I have better vision and the traffic can see me better as well. I also find the handling to be more assuring and stable; the Rans is twitchy and top-heavy, not unlike the Bachetti my work friend rides. I say to each his own and let's all ride instead of drive!
thanks

John C said...

Great article. I am one of thse rare few who like two ride both. Any thing with pedals actually. My Bacchetta Corsa is a great bike, and a whole different feeling then my Fuji Team. Just like a Mt. Bike is a different thing then a road bike. In the woods it the Mt. Bike is at home, on the pavement it sucks. I always ways say ride what you like and ride it often! My issue is with some people who want to ridicule because of whatever choice of bicycle you ride. I get the same treatment on my Bacchetta as I would when I owned a folder. It's different and some people just don't like that. Most don't care, but the ones that really do go out of their way. No mater, I having the time of my life.

WheelDancer said...

Great read, thanks! I haven't yet ridden a bent but mostly for lack of initiative. I have a good friend who rides one and got turned on to them after a back injury that makes the 'wedgie' painful to ride. His take, and he loves his bike, is that they are unstable and more invisible to cars due to riding so low. As for how fast they are supposed to be, when they join in on club rides and we get to a hill, they drop faster than Paris Hilton's panties...

FLYBYU said...

Sometimes we 'bent riders become almost like religious fanatics in regards to our bikes. You made some wonderful points. I already converted one of my riding buddies to a recumbent and he loves it. My other buddy sounds a lot like you, he could ride for ever on a DF bike and it doesn't seem to bother him at all. I have been trying to convert him but recently I thought, "If he is happy on his bike now, why should I try to change that?"

So I eased off on him a lot. I think we should all ride what makes us happy, whatever that may be.

Vik said...

I've got a European lowracer I use for long distance rides. My last long ride of 2007 was a loop through the mtns and I ended up riding with 3 DF rando club members. Sometimes I was faster, sometimes they were faster. We rode a good chunk of the ride together. Everyone had fun. Regardless of the machine they were on.

I do think recumbents make a lot of sense on long rides for some people. My way to promote that idea is to just ride my bent and have a blast. If someone is comfortable on their DF they'll see me and at least realize bents can do well in the mtns. If someone is uncomfortable on their DF perhaps they'll inquire about recumbents.

Ultimately I don't care what people ride as long as they are having fun.

BTW - my fleet consists of 2 bents and 5 DF bikes. I end up riding my DF bikes most of the time as most of my riding is less than 100kms - heck most of it I am now doing on my BF Tikit since I live downtown and typical trips are 1km - 4km.

Having choices is great!

Michael said...

All I know is, when I got finished riding PBP, the 508, Race Across Oregon, and the Ring of Fire 24 hour race on my recumbent, my junk still worked. DF riders' mileage may vary.

PB said...

Kent, very nice post. I started to write a comment but it got so long that I decided to post it to my blog instead:

http://bessasandackerman.com/blog/?p=152

Take care,
Perry (but not the Perry in your conversation)

trsnrtr said...

I love my recumbents, but I am sick of hearing about that 1934 UCI ban that seems to sit on the shoulder of so many bentriders like a big whopping chip. :-)

Still, as an upright rider for 21 seasons and as a bentrider going into his 6th, I'd rather be on a bent!

Dennis T

Reese said...

Wayne is standing because if you can sit on the saddle and put your feet on the ground your saddle is to low. Usually when I stop I sit across the top tube. I did like the Linear Mach 3 I had for a bit. It just didn't fit the bill for the riding I do. I'll probably get another bent someday.

Nice entry Kent.

Cheers, Reese

patmando said...

Nice response to Kent's essay at The Velvet Foghorn blog (http://bessasandackerman.com/blog/?p=152).

Kent always enjoy your perspective.

Michael R said...

Geodesic Blues for another take on a bad good idea.

honza galla said...

I think that the first question is wrong. I mean the question should not be: "Why Doesn´t Everyone Ride Recumbents?" but "Why there are only 0,000x% of recumbents compare to uprights, when there are at least some advantages? Why there are not let´s say 10% or 20% of recumbents on the world compare to other peddaling machines?" The answer would be very long, mainly from my view of marketing specialist in recumbent company, but I am too lazy to spend so much time. But maybe I´ll write it once.

Anonymous said...

Nicely done, I agree. Different spokes for different folks.

BikeSnob Whidbey said...

Great post as always.
Yea, 'bents are great for broken collar bones (been there, done that)--but you just feel like such a pretentious jerk riding one.
Secondly, and perhaps I've missed it among the comments, but you never feel "at one" with a 'bent the way you do with a road bike.
I'm with Beth, if your bike is something other than an infrequently used recreational toy, it has to be a real "wedgie" bike.
Again, great post.

Neil said...

The prevailing notion about recumbents is they're a lot harder to ride up hills but that's becoming a bit of a myth these days. It was true years ago when they were all a LOT heavier than normal bikes, but good recumbents now are quite light, some of them are 19 lbs or less.

Firstly lets agree to concede that weight is everything when you are going uphill. The best hill climbing cyclists (TDF etc) generally have less than 2 pounds of body weight per inch of height. This power to weight ratio makes them kings of the mountains.

It is also true that a person on a 'normal' bike (I prefer to call them wedgies) can stand up on their pedals when things get really tough. However this can only be sustained for short periods because although it gives a boost in power it is a very taxing position to maintain. That's why you'll rarely see professional cyclists out of their seats except at the start of short sprints or for very short periods in the mountain stages of the Tour De France.

Fitness is a big factor of course. When I first started riding seriously I couldn't get up the steepest hill in Perth on my recumbent, but I was about 25 lbs overweight and wouldn't have made it on a wedgie either, even standing on the pedals. I can do it with no problems now. On rolling & medium grade hills I actually have an advantage over good wedgie riders in that I can use my seat to push back against. They could stand on their pedals but they won't because it's so inefficient to do so that a good wedgie rider will only stand up on extreme grades. Towards the end of my last cycle of treatment I regularly passed the logoed velcro brigade on my way to chemo sessions. For fun I would usually try to time my passing when they were going uphill. Let me tell you they don't like being passed by a recumbent rider with a pik-line hanging out of his arm, going uphill just to rub it in. :D

Consider the two Bacchetta riders from RAAM 2007 - not paid professionals. Both are over 45 & they crossed the U.S. in just a tick over 7 days. The course had over 100,000 feet of climbing. 30,000 feet of which was in one 400 mile mountainous section. They won the recumbent division & they beat all the other professional much younger 'normal' two man teams bar two.

RAAM is a pretty good test IMO. It's widely regarded as the world's toughest bike race. It's probably the world's toughest endurance race and Outside magazine voted it as the world's toughest sporting event .

Hill climbing on a modern (SWB - short wheelbase) recumbent is no problem.

Scott Wayland said...

Fun article, Kent. Thanks. Some folks have real chips/attitudes/religions to dump on the world--and this goes for wedgies and bents. Consider bikesnob's comment regarding not being able to feel "at one" with a recumbent. Clearly he doesn't like them and (probably)hasn't spent much time on them. I've been riding bents for about six years now, and I've owned several that I really meshed with. My current ride is a HP Velotechnik Street Machine that I recently rode across the country--4,661 miles and 136,000 feet of climbing--fully loaded, solo, no support. I am seriously AT ONE with this bike at this point, and when I lean back into that seat, it's like slipping into a well worn glove--so comfortable and pleasant that I can't wait to put in some miles.

So his comment is just plain silly. It just DEPENDS. I've never felt as connected to a bike as I now do to my Street Machine. I love wedgies. I drool over all kinds of bikes, but I just can't get comfortable on uprights, which is too bad because they tend to be a lot less expensive, a legitimate criticism of 'bents and a big reason they're not more common.

I readily concede that uprights tend to be faster in climbing for most folks, but I'm racing no one, so big deal. For loaded touring, I'd ride nothing else. And I do own an upright that I commute on almost daily--just for shorter distances.

Bottom line: Human powered travel--of any flavor/stripe/configuration rocks. Git on yer bike, trike, feet and go!

Check out my TransAm blog:
http://scott-findinghome.blogspot.com/

Be well and ride safely!

Cheers,

Scott

Matt T said...

Good grief, I guess what we can ultimately discern form this post is that recumbent riders own computers and are fans of Kent. It was a super post but the last one with Jaquelin had 2 comments and this one has 24! Bent riders are more militant than WOMBATS apparently.

Liqher101 said...

There are good points made on both sides, but the only ones I can agree with whole heartedly are the ones who say ride what makes you happy.

Do some bent riders become overly zealous? Yes. The flip side I think is that some upright riders become overly jerky. You know the type, usually younger, thinks he's Lance Armstrong himself. Usually he doesn't really ride that much, but spends more time making sure he has the latest light weight expensive tech that he can rub your face in. Usually he finds some group of similarly over ego, over hyped personalities to start a "team" even though they do not compete in anything. The type of club where you cannot join if you aren't under 30, don't ride at least a minimum of 28mph up hill both ways, and your bike wasn't at least $4000. After all, they are "training" for something that they will never actually go to. I know every city I have ever ridden in I have encountered at least one group like this. I would hazard to bet that the more zealous the bent rider, the more often he's come across this judgemental sub species of upright rider.

Is it fair then to assume that everyone on an upright is as ignorant as these over hyped, often rude sorts? No, not at all, but that is one response people take if they feel persecuted.

The real trouble with recumbents isn't the ban (though that is where it perhaps began) nor with any advantage or disadvantage on either side. The trouble is all monitary at this time. Most people I meet still think that $200 is a lot for a bike of either type. Because recumbents don't get the massive media exposure, most of the public isn't aware of them. To advertise costs a lot in an up hill battle, but people aren't willing to pay more for what is essentially an unknown quantity to them. The fact that the US is still so car-centric does not help since the majority of the population sees anything with pedels as a toy or at best an excersize routine and nothing more. Look at the Dutch and you will see a much larger percentage of bent riders, but even then it's still a battle of economies of scale. Those economic hills are the ones recumbents really have a hard time climbing so far.

Cellarrat said...

Dont forget about mtbs? Have yet to see a bent on the the trail =)

Vik said...

MTBing bents are not that common, but this guy races them and has a blast:

http://tinyurl.com/3xzaxk

Anonymous said...

Beth has it right. I'm riding all the bike I need and more than I can handle for the cost of $30 ($20 for a seat that didn't have a long nutcracking nose), some wrench work, WD-40 and air in the tires.

Now, recumbents look nifty, and sound real interesting (especially with my joint problems), but not only do the cheap ones cost more than the price of decent home gym (exercise being the issue), I'd have to make even more mods to the one I got to allow me to carry my 3 year old around.

The only justification for me to get one would be to restore my mobility (I can no longer drive a car because of seizures), but then I live out in the country and the first thing I'd have to drive on would be along a 4 lane highway. Ugh, add in more mods of this expensive toy to allow me to tote a baby and the groceries.

Your problem is price. Especially since the "lesser" bike does the job required for a fraction of the cost.

twodeadpoets said...

Fighting words I know to some but one could almost substitute the words "bent" with "Apple" and "horsey bike" with "Windows." A very similar argument... by a very similar group of people.

PB said...

twodeadpoets said...
Fighting words I know to some but one could almost substitute the words "bent" with "Apple" and "horsey bike" with "Windows." A very similar argument... by a very similar group of people.

I can see where you might complain about that. After all, it's not like DF or Windows proponents ever got all obnoxious and sanctimonious about their choices.

Neil said...

EDIT: It has been brought to my attention that for RAAM 2007 the Bacchetta Team beat all the other two-man teams to the finish bar ONE, not two as I originally wrote. Must've got my RAAM's mixed up.

Alan said...

An overwhelming majority of people will never have an opportunity to make an informed decision regarding whether they prefer upright or recumbent; it's not even a question that enters their minds. With so few on the market and so little information available, it's a rare event when someone manages a recumbent test ride. It isn't simply a matter of which platform is "better"; if every person that walked into an bike shop to test ride an upright also had an opportunity to test ride a high quality recumbent, I'm sure we'd see far more recumbents on the road. I believe this is why so many recumbent riders act like evangelists - they realize others might benefit from the advantages offered by recumbents, but because there's so little information available (and so much misinformation being spread about) they feel obligated to share the "good news" with their fellow cyclists.

bikesnob whidbey said...

Scott Wayland said:
"Clearly he doesn't like them and (probably)hasn't spent much time on them"
Scott I've done about 20k miles on a 'bent. Yes, my impression was that you don't get that "at one" connection on a 'bent. Because of that I am silly?
I checked out your blog--great thoughts, will put it in my fovorites list.
Thumbs up from an old steel frame utility cyclist.

SueW said...

Understand that some of us 'bent riders "were comfortable" on uprights too. And the constant bugging from bent riders caused us to try out the darned thing and it's then when we fell in love. I could venture a guess why everyone doesn't ride recumbents:
1. it's a new trick and many are old dogs
2. it's not socially acceptable among bikers to ride bent - if you don't ride upright, you aint a REAL biker cause bents are for elderly (I've heard that many times)
3. Lance Armstrong wannabes don't look like Lance Armstrong wannabes riding bent.
4. uprights esp road bikes are easier to pedal faster - bents take more strength and muscle since the rider is somewhat fighting gravity - that being said there are bents which are an easy switch
5. bents are MUCH more expensive to buy - you can get a really great road bike for the price of a medium priced bent. Many folks do not, as we felt, feel that spending $2000 per bicycle is a value added purchase.

It's just like any new thing - people don't change until the "pain of changing" is less than the pain of remaining the same.

Why ride a bent?

1. Because we do not drive model T fords even if the guts have been replaced with modern parts. The bent was designed from the ground up using modern technology - the frame of the upright has not changed in more than 100 years.

2. because there is no such thing as a sore butt or "private parts" with a bent

3. because it's really nice to NOT have to do seat lifts all the time to lessen the sore butt

4. because 60 percent of those upright riders interviewed in "Bicycling Magazine" mentioned PAIN as a necessary part of biking. Some of us feel that the elimination of all pain makes the bicycling experience a better one

5. because you can see MUCH better ahead of you on a bent and you, since you are at the driver's level can see the drivers better also (one reason that I switched among many)

6. because you can wear regular clothing on a bent, even suits - that and the comfort level causes 40 percent of new bent owners to become bicycle commuters

(see you just didn't talk to the right person.. *LOL*)

When do I feel a person NEEDS a bent? When I ask them if they have a bicycle and they say "yes" and I say "do you ride it much" and they say "well, no, I should get it out and ride it more"

THEN, I suggest switching to a bent. To the 5 percent who just love the racing machines, I don't bother trying to talk them into switching... I know better! :)

best,
SueW
my bent site

Lee said...

I agree with the posters who say just ride what you like, I own 2 bents, a fixie, and 3 DF's. Each is unique but I can say; for long rides on the road- I go recumbent, I get neck and wrist discomfort on an upright after a few hours. I did my first century on a recumbent last year and was very comfortable throughout. Off road and trail riding- MTB upright, I'm sore all over after a hard ride so who notices if it's from the seating position! Rambling and posing about town- fixie, 'nuff said. Also an observation; 'bents are a very small percentage of bicycles sold, for sure, but only a small percentage of bikes in this country are ridden regularly. I couldn't hazard a guess, but I feel perhaps a much larger percentage of total recumbents in existence are ridden regularly than the percentage of uprights ridden regularly. This is a more telling stat than how many actually exist. I don't personally try to evangelize much, I just like to ride, though I get a fair amount of comments whilst on one of my bents. Kids seem to love 'em, but lycra clad roadies seem to be either cool/ threatened/ or even a bit sarcastic- perhaps they had a bad experience with a "bent buddy"
in the past.

The world's most perfect person said...

Why unicycles are better than your bike:
1. I own a unicycle, so there!
2. I spent a lot of money for my
unicycle so that means I
am better than you.
3. I have a blog about unicycles,
so there again!
4. When I ride my unicycle,
everybody stares at me. They
are envious of my superior
nature.
5. People who disagree with me are
uninlightened.
6. As a unicyclist I spend a lot
time at the computer.

Nelson Ralls said...

Ha! this was so well timed, a friend and I were riding a 200K Saturday on our uprights, but we both have Bacchetta's we also ride regularly and were debating during the ride if we were going to be excommunicated by our bent pals for straying from the faith!

Thanks again for another great post!
Nelson.

grolby said...

Great post! And of course, we all come out of the woodwork to defend our ride of choice. Like you, I find my upright bikes comfortable enough and convenient enough that I simply don't see why I should switch. Recumbents are great, yes - I've ridden a couple. But any comfort issues I experience have to do with positioning and my saddle. This is far more reasonable to address with changes to my upright bike than with the purchase of a new bicycle.

The frustrating aspect of this debate, as in any debate, is the mischaracterization of the other side as being morally inferior in some respect. This is what gets people worked up and turns the conversation from a discussion of relative merits into a flame war.

So we have recumbent riders accusing upright riders of being elitist yet ultimately pathetic Lance wannabes who refuse to ride recumbents because of the cognitive dissonance such a choice would incur (by the way, I spend a lot of time with roadies, and most of them are seeking exercise and a good time, not some doomed mission to achieve self-actualization as a pro cyclist). And we have upright riders (generally enthusiast roadies) accusing 'bent riders of being slow, washed-up old men with a terminal lack of style. Both of these beliefs might be true to some limited extent, but it doesn't seem terribly relevant. Ultimately, most upright riders just plain don't care about recumbents, and why should they?

See, let me explain partly by responding to this statement:

"Why ride a bent?

1. Because we do not drive model T fords even if the guts have been replaced with modern parts. The bent was designed from the ground up using modern technology - the frame of the upright has not changed in more than 100 years."


This is kind of like asking why we are still using conventional shoes when we could have switched to moon boots long ago. The basic design of the shoe, with uppers, sole and laces, has not changed in over 100 years. Moon boots use the latest technology to propel us over the ground. But what was wrong with the old shoes? They work fine! In fact, they represent the end product of a long history of refinement.

The same goes for the upright bike. The design is not some static, obsolescent relic. Modern bicycles are the result of over a century of refinement. We are still using them because they work extremely well. In fact, they work so well for most people that there is no practical advantage to a newer design! This is, of course, for MOST people. Recumbents are great, I love to see people riding them. I don't think that there's a logical need for most people to make the switch. If they did, I think that more people would be riding them, which is Kent's point. I LIKE recumbents and I see no reason to buy one. I don't see why that's such a big deal.

charlie said...

I own a recumbent and several upright bikes in various configurations. I like them all for different reasons. A long flatter ride like STP seems like the perfect ride for a bent. I'm reasonably comfortable on my Surly Trucker with high bars and sprung Brooks but I do get more soreness on it than I ever do on my bent. My limit regardless is about 60 miles on a upright and about the same on a bent. The difference is I am not sore at all after riding the bent. I bought a bent because of comfort issues and only recently have been able to make my uprights tolerable with a Rivendell fit method. I say ride what you want but don't be afraid to try something new. I want a trike someday but I also want a folder. Any bicycle is more fun than driving my auto.

Peter McKay said...

lol. Precious story! Thank you for sharing an amalgamation of past conversations. BTW, one of the two recumbent riders in your photo recently commented that he would ride wedgie it it were fixed.

Nick Wright said...

I bought a recumbent bike when I was working as a security guard making $9 an hour, so I certainly don't think of bents as toys for the rich or an unconquerable hill financially.

Walk into any LBS and you will find racks and racks of bicycles costing more than $1000. I paid $275 for a BikeE in great condition when I saw it for sale on Craigslist. Compared to the price of a GOOD upright, they're actually rather competitive.

I love my bent for all the same reasons SueW wrote about. That said, I did eventually buy an old Fuji Gran Tourer that I use when I need to go downtown. It's less conspicuous and a lot easier to deal with on public transit.

Alan said...

you made many good points. Bicycling is a fringe acitivity for the most part. I only know a handful of people that ride consistently,and they are fitness hobbyists, like me. Most bicycles are sitting in garages and on the rare occasion ridden around the "development". That's it. That's the ride.
There are the racers, that ride in packs/clubs on the weekends, another micro-minority.
I lean toward the Rivendell philosophy that these groups have made it even harder for average folks to ride. Most don't want to get all dressed up like that just to get on a bicycle, but that idea has crept into the popular notion of what cycling is.
I do think a short wheelbase such as a BikeE or EZ1 would be a fine commuter/all purpose bike, that would fit where most bikes currently fit. They are not too low, either. But I have to admit, that for whatever reason, people aren't buying bents.
But for me, it was the natural evolution of my road bike fitness habit. . it is a hobby for me, and I do agree that for the most part bikes like this are a hobby for those with good incomes. Still way cheaper than golf, I'll remind you!!
I'm glad I was introduced to recumbents. They are comfortable and fun. When I ride my TE I feel like I am ten years old, out playing.

Teemu said...

As my stable consists of four upright bikes and one recumbent--and I ride all of them pretty much equally--I get to converse with both crowds. It is a wonder that there must be two crowds, but that is human nature for you.

But my main point is this: regular riders have become to expect bent riders to be arrogant evangelists. However, I would imagine that arrogant evangelists are born, not made. It is only when they live, they find subjects on which to practice this characteristic. Anything new, odd, marginal, which has some positive aspect to focus on and some negative aspect to ignore will do. Thus some proportion of this population find bents and proceed to cause them a bad name.

I don't really care that they give recumbent bikes a bad name, though. They are just pieces of metal and will not get offended. What occasionally gets under my skin is that they cause the perception that all recumbent riders are like them, and people start to expect me to be an arrogant evangelist just because I've been seen riding a bent. This is a mischaracterization of my nature.

I don't care if other people live their lives in a way I wouldn't. They probably would not live their lives in a way I do. Being different is part of life. Attempting to force uniformity, even in the relatively benign way (compared to show of force) of speech acts is also a part of life, but not a part which I much like. What the social situation between cyclist subgroups amounts to is a faceless accusation of me doing something which I take a stand against. It is sometimes hard to swallow.

Thankfully no one who actually gets to know me sees me just as a participant of a group. The silly categorization is mainly an artifact of long-distance communication.

Life is not a zero-sum game. Kent has always understood that if you are pro-something, you don't necessarily need to be anti-something else. He is not anti-car just because he is pro-cycling. He is not anti-recumbent just because he is pro-diamond frame (despite this present blog entry, he really is not). Let him be an example of human dignity bettering senseless false dichotomies.

Eric said...

Well you see dad, it's because of the corporations manufacturing the upright bikes. These corporations...they sit in their corporation buildings, being all corporation-y. "The Man" is trying to stifle the revolution against conventional wedgiedom. That seems to me to be the obvious reason.

Fight the power!

Anonymous said...

Great article.

Recumbent cyclists with highracers are the worst bent evangelist on the planet. One tried to convert me at water stop during a century.

I passed him climbing the hills and saw him riding to the parking lot an hour after I finished the ride.

So much for bent evangelism and what bike is the best.

Jim G said...

Kent, I think you touched a nerve!

I'd like to see someone race the Great Divide on a 'bent. ;)

Happy Bent Rider said...

THere are good reasons to ride both I suppose, but I have found that the 'bent is more comfortable and safer for bike commuting. It is a shame that riders can't seem to co-exist. I am sure there are races where DF riders come in first and 'bent riders come in first. Could be the rider! I don't act like I am above my counterparts because I ride 'bents, but it does get annoying that some of them feel that a 'bent is not a real bike.

Wijnandt said...

CF-bike riders occupy an enviable middle position, literally and figuratively! Also they understand fully the advantages and disadvantages of both bike breeds :-)

I'm an occasional CF-rider myself ;-)

slo joe said...

Hi Kent..

GREAT GREAT story and was just something I've been talking about with friends. Fun stuff.

I'm with what Rich Pinto, an owner of the Bacchetta ( mentioned a bit eh) company who says: "Ride what you like. Like what you ride."

As you said, if you're comfortable on a DF there is no reason to reason to switch, unless you want to try something different just for the fun of it.

As a slow rider who does brevets I wish I could ride a DF on long distances in hilly terrain. I know from practical experience that I can climb faster on a DF. In Shanghai I ride a MTB and a Bike Friday for short rides. Folks talk about weight, but I "believe" I can feel more muscle groups working uphill on my DF's.

As I'm oft to paraphrase:

You can't please all the people all the time.

You might please some of the people some of the time.

And there there are those that no matter what you say, show them or do are going to bi*** and complain.

Thanks again not only for a fun, entertaining, but thankfully an informative read.

Tailwinds

P.S. Sadly when I'm back in Shanghai I can't see any of these blogs, so I'm blog overloading for a few days!!

Anonymous said...

I rode a Raleigh Sports 3-speed when I was recovering from my broken collarbone.

Worked like a charm and was still faster than the bus and cheaper, too.

Thanks for yet another well-considered report, Ken.

John Kerher said...

Wonderful article, I am 34 and an avid rider. I have been riding to work everyday except in ice or snow now for 2 years. I was riding a descent quality road bike build light and fast. Yes I can sprint real well on it and keep up with traffic too. I put on 3000 + miles a year. I live in Tacoma so the rain does sometimes suck but its better than driving.

About comfort... well short rides were not bad, but long rides would have my neck, elbows, wrists and back aching. 4 hours on a bike will do begin to hurt, but 8 was just miserable. My ass was not so bad, Imean I am in the saddle nearly every day so it was well suited to the seat. I actually moved away from really padded seats to nearly not padded very early as I found them to be more comfortable after a couple months. But the discomfort of the horrible position was what made me start to look. mind you this is after about 6000 miles on my road bike.

So, after much looking I recently bought a bent 2 wheeler with 650's front and back. Wanted to be seen as to not be hit (done that, it sucks) so wanted to still be fairly tall and not have to carry extra gear for different size tires. But I have to say, I don't want to get on the weggie now, I have more fun and feel much better during and after the ride on the bent. I don't know if I will ever go back. I am currently shopping for a trike for my wife. But I may try it out too. Hills are a little harder but they are getting easier. I have a very steep set on the way home everyday so it wont be a problem for long. Flats are cool, man can I fly. I look forward to some long rides to build up some endurance in my legs in the new position.

SueW said...

John,
Congrats on your 'bent. You wrote:

**But I have to say, I don't want to get on the weggie now, I have more fun and feel much better during and after the ride on the bent. I don't know if I will ever go back.**

Several of us have BEEN THERE DONE THAT! I even bought myself a cruiser bike I'd wanted for years and yet, ended up giving it away because although it was comfortable for an upright, it didn't compare to my 'bents. I know you will have a lot of fun and probably ride as many miles or more on the bent!

Happy riding,
Sue

Daylyryder said...

I have ridden DF's of all kinds for many years. Being lucky enough to have a lot of time off (I do shift work), I typically commute to work and ride a total of around 200 miles a week. After many miles spent cursing my sore butt, numb hands, and too many sleepless nights spent nursing a sore neck, I bought a 'bent for myself this last Christmas. I love it! I still commute to work, and although there was a learning curve, I find that riding in the urban setting to be as easy as riding a DF bike. I also find that my own visibility is better, as I'm in a more upright position, and I feel that others notice me for being different. I ride an EZ Sport (purchased at Coventry Cycle Works in Portland, who are wonderful to work with!), and find that it is a great all around bike. This summer, I plan to ride the Pacific coast on the old girl, and have no doubt that she'll get me down the road in style and much anticipated comfort. I have not had a single issue with soreness / numbness of any kind on this bike, and I find that pulling hills of any grade is only slightly more difficult than on a DF (after some training for those 'bent muscles), and the downhills are awsome! Keep up the great work on this blog, please. You can count on the fact that I will be a regular reader. Take care. David

Anonymous said...

Because of recumbents I have been able to ride 100+ mi rides, but I still enjoy my mountain bike on off road. As far as a "wedgie" bike, I had to stop riding them due to too much pain.

One common thing I notice is kids (even teenagers!) think bents are cool while adults (read...closed minded) think your weird.

Great Article...

TML

Anonymous said...

Nice read. This spring I purchased a Greenspeed GTO recumbent trike. Different then an upright in so many ways....some good, and some bad in my perspective.

Probably the most aggrivating aspect of the recumbent trike is the low profile in tight traffic. This takes some getting used to, but definately not as impossible as some would think.

The benefit of moderating days between the upright and the recumbent is your legs get an awsome build/tone to them --- at least mine did. Get some serious practice in on the recumbent first before switching off between the two.

Uphills are a challenge until your fully conditioned (get used to very high cadence until you build up leg strength). Going down a hill can be down right scary at first. You smile in head winds.

Probably the single biggest reason a lot of folks don't have them is the cost and it's unfortunate.

Don't ever go cheap on a recubment - especially a trike version. You can seriously hurt yourself on a cheap recumbent (and there are a lot out there). If you can't afford to lay down 2.5-5k USD, then stick with the upright. Do a lot of research into what your buying.

SueW said...

"don't ever go cheap on a recumbent"

I don't feel this is true since there are thousands of folks riding the Easy-3, a relatively inexpensive trike and pretty long rides also. I plan to get one myself.

"good and bad about recumbents"

In making the transition you think that but as you get more experience there isn't any bad really. You ride a very low rider trikke but all you would have to do (which you probably have already done) is put one of those flags on it and then, you are as visible as the rest of us (bicycles are basically NOT very visible to cars, especially people with cell phones in their ears).

I transitioned myself and ended up after a couple of years, getting rid of all of my upright bicycles because after being in such comfort on the ride, I found I got more and more impatient with things like seat lifts etc that you put up with on uprights and I rode ONLY the comfort bikes... won a mtb one time where you leaned over and decided that definitely was NOT for me. :) Enjoy your bent!

SueW
bents and more bents!

Anonymous said...

bachetta has too high a bottom bracket, should be called a top bracket, my p-38 is super comfortables but is death on hills climbs like a stone, my old trek 2300 is much better in the mountains but even faired it's not all that aerodynamic and though I've done odram (one day ride across michigan (156 mi) on it I doubt that I'd put up with long distance riding on it now. nothing seems right for commuting so i'm back to driving

Big Cat said...

Doesn't really matter what you ride just as long as your riding, enjoyed the post! "Happy Trails, safe biking and Get Bent”

Bevin said...

Well written and hilarious. Tom Wolfe would be proud.

On a more serious note however, I've recently decided to switch from wedgies to bents.

I have come to this decision even though I have yet to actually ride a bent.

That's not as crazy at it might sound.

That's because I have already decided to stop riding wedgies because of the street conditions where I live.

If it turns out I don't like bents after trying them, I won't go back to wedgies. I will stop riding bikes altogether.

In other words, I earnestly hope bents will enable me to continue riding bikes. Because if they don't, then for me bike riding will be a thing of the past.

My reasons are twofold, and have to do with both the streets and the bikes themselves.

First the streets. The streets where I live are basically accidents waiting to happen. I recently took two very bad spills, less than half a year apart. Both were due to a loss of front tire traction on the pavement. Both times the front wheel skidded sideways and dumped me on the pavement in a split second. The second spill, which left me with hairline fracture in my scapula, was the last straw. I said, "Never again."

Next, the bikes. Wedgies are inherently dangerous for taller riders. The way wedgies are designed, with the pedals/crank/bottom bracket below the seat, forces the taller rider to sit much too high above the ground. In the event of a spill, the consequences of falling from that altitude onto unyielding concrete are no laughing matter.

Veteran bent riders have assured me that if I had fallen only a foot or so from the low slung seat of a SWB low racer, it is highly unlikely I would have been hurt so badly.

Assuming they are correct, bents are my last hope of remaining a bike rider. If bents don't do the trick, the bikes and I will part ways.

This is not ideological zeal. This is painful realism. Three months of physical therapy were undone in a split second. Now I have to go through it all over again.

Taller wedgie riders who live in locales where the probability of spills are high due to treacherous street conditions, really need to consider alternatives.

DJ said...

I live in Bemidji, MN and i got a recumbent this year (a RANS short-wheeled base). I love it and with my back problems, it helps a lot. i think more people should be on Recumbents too.

Sean Doyle said...

Great article! I have two bikes, a "wedgie" and a bent. Bent's aren't necessarily for "the rich" as I'm pretty broke. I actually built my bent using cruzbike's conversion kit (around $200) and some good old elbow grease.

What I can say is that I can see points on both sides of the argument.

But, I'm not one to tell who to ride what :). I love my bent, and I love my wedgie. They are two different modes of bikes. Sometimes I really feel like riding my upright, sometimes I really feel like riding my bent.

It's sort of like religion. It's okay to have faith, but it sucks when you try to push it too hard on others.

Tom said...

After riding DF's for most of my life, I started riding recumbent bikes about 10 yrs ago - not when I get back on a DF it feels very weird and uncomfortable. My favorite bike is my Lightning Cycles P-38
it's a stiff frame that can climb steep inclines and regularly wins the RAMM. It fits on bus bike racks and mass transit, and is just a blast to ride.
While new 'bents can be expensive,
I have bought all mine used - at decent prices, and done the rebuilds myself.
'bents aren't for everyone, but I just adore mine...