“What Kind of Madness?!?” ~ a bit on ‘bents

Since I switched my plans from riding the Great Divide Trail on a ‘diamond frame’ bike to riding across the United States on a ‘recumbent’ bike, one question has stood out:

                         “What’s a recumbent bike?”

After explaining it’s the type of bike where the feet are forward, and the rider is in a slight reclined position, it’s followed pretty quickly by:

                         “Well…I mean…but…WHY??”

This question pretty well follows along the same lines of thinking asked by  John Andersen in an article on recumbents:

                         “…just what kind of madness would make a healthy looking bicyclist climb aboard a pedal driven lawn chair?”

Recumbents: far from new technology

I wish I could tell you from personal experience. The truth is, I have never so much as sat on a recumbent bike.  But when I was thinking and figuring and brainstorming about my trip, I came across the recumbent as an option, and  at that point there was really no question what my bike choice should be. There’s a slew of articles online you could Google up and look into the pros and cons, benefits and drawbacks to both the traditional ‘diamond frame’ bicycle and the ‘recumbent’ style, so I won’t go too deeply into those here.

But there is quite a healthy debate as to which style is “best.” I don’t think there’s a “best” type of bike across the board, much like there’s not a “best” between pick up trucks and economy cars. It comes down to a question of what your needs are.

The video clip here is a pretty funny interaction between two different kinds of riders, and if you can get past the fact the recumbent rider has a pair of speakers for ears, it’s pretty funny! Well, OK…so are the speakers…When I first saw it I was rolling. 🙂 There is a healthy rivalry, if you want to call it that, between ‘bent riders and diamond framers. Diamond framers do some pretentious looking down their noses at ‘bent’s, while ‘bent’s shake their head at the perceived diamond framer’s  ignorance. Truth is, to someone like myself who has absolutely no feelings attached to either style, I can see merits to both types of bikes. As it is, if it weren’t for the banning of recumbents from races and the holding of world speed records that came down in the 1930’s, what is considered “different” today may be different than what it currently is!

There’s a very interesting article on the history of recumbents that is located HERE, if you’re wanting all the fascinating details of that decision, and what it’s meant for bicycling in the years following the 1930’s.

So I just wanted to list a few benefits that I saw in choosing the recumbent style for this trip.

1) The ability to ride…and ride…and ride!

I noticed something about myself on my hike of the Pacific Crest Trail this last year. I wasn’t always a speed hiker. In fact, at one point, another hiker showed me a fellow PCT hikers blog online, and a reference to me:

“We came across a slow-moving hiker named ‘Rawhide’…”

Truth was, when those blogging hikers came upon me (my trail name on the PCT was ‘Rawhide”…), I was approaching Idyllwild. A rough couple days, some really wild weather,  as well as my feet beginning to really hurt with a scary pain had me hiking slower than usual. But Idyllwid was early in the trip; by the time I was hiking through Northern California and Oregon, I was putting in 25-30 mile days, every day. There were two types of hikers, I found: The type that would hike fast, takes lots of breaks, and cover 20-30 miles; and the type that hiked all day, took a minimum of breaks, and covered 20-30 miles. I was more of the latter. So, when I looked at “seat time,” the time I will be actually riding each day, across 5,000 miles, I took into account what type of seat might feel better riding at the end of the day…and the beginning of the next. Because, knowing myself, I won’t be sprinting across the USA, I will be grinding each hour out, and piling up  more riding hours per day as opposed to sprinting through fewer hours.

“Riding a longrider recumbent gave me a way to ride long (6-12 hours a day), far and rather fast again – without being exhausted and without pain on      wrist, neck or butt anymore. I started to enjoy riding a bicycle again! “~ Rene K. Muller

I have yet to get my exact mileage goals for each day/week, but I am looking at riding between 90 and 110 miles a day for those 60 days. There will be shorter days and longer days, but my strategy is playing to my strength: I will bulldog my way through each day, more substance & dirt than flash & style, and get up the next day and do it some more. In that sense, the recumbent will fit my style more.

 2) Speed.

In September 2008, a faired recumbent bicycle reached 82.33 mph on flat ground. Seriously? Wow. I’ll take one of those, please! Of course, that was with a world-class cyclist with years and years of training and the lightest, and one of the most hyper-designed recumbents ever built. Still. *adds to shopping cart*

“Recumbents hold all human powered speed recordsPeriod! The world’s cycling organizations, or even national cycling organizations such as the USCF recognize none of these records. These organizations have decided that the diamond frame bike (traditional road bike) is the only device they will admit to the record books. Recumbent enthusiasts insist that this is because they know that recumbents are faster and would take all records if given a chance.”

That quote, from an article by John Andersen, says it all. If I’m going to ride all day using my own muscle-power and burning my own calories, I may as well try to go as fast as I can, right? right. ‘Nuff said. 🙂

3) Safety:

Recumbents are lower to the ground, and falls from recumbents are almost always less severe and causes far fewer injuries per fall. This is based on the riding position and the height of the rider. There are some that will say that ‘bents are less safe from the standpoint of visibility: being lower to the ground, they are harder to see than diamond frames. Statistics don’t bear this theory out, though, and I will be conducting my own 5,000 mile test to add to that research, yes?

4) Intangibles:

Here is the really fun part. The intangibles of a recumbent, from what I have heard, are things I am really looking forward to finding out for myself! The view from a recumbent is better. Looking up at the sky, around you, without hurting your neck to look up…Yes. I’ll take that! The ride is supposed to be just a whole lot of fun…banking into turns, riding low and fast…again, yes. I’ll take one of those, too. The uniqueness…I mean, I’m 43 years old, and have never been on a recumbent, and I have lived all but a few of my years in bicycle-friendly (enthusiastic, even) California! How many of you reading this right now have ridden a recumbent, raise your hand? And how many have ridden a regular diamond frame bicycle? Recumbents are just  a more unique, interesting, attention getting vehicle. And quite honestly, that’s a perfect reason on its own to use for a ride of this kind, where I’m trying to raise as much attention as possible to the cause of human trafficking. How many cards do you think I wil be able to pass out along the ride, based just on the curiosity of others regarding my bike?

Throw in the fact that it’s going to be made of bamboo, and I’ll be the very first person to traverse the country on a bamboo recumbent, well…I ‘d be lying if I said I didn’t want the attention. The cause deserves all the attention it can get, and I’m all for anything legal that can get that attention!

Klaus Volkmann, and an early bamboo recumbent creation. Klaus is making my recumbent for me in Brazil right now, as you read this...

So as I dive into the world of recumbent riding, I’ll be taking you along with me for the ride!




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