Learning to Ride A Bicycle All Over Again

Biking Bbum

I have always enjoyed bike riding. I used to stay in the saddle for many consecutive hours in 100+ degree humid midwest weather and loved every minute of it. And mountain biking the Rio Grande Valley in Andrew Stone’s backyard was an absolute blast!

It is something that I missed in New York and Connecticut. When we moved to California, one of the requirements was that I was within biking distance of work.

After a few years of sporadic biking habits, I have been biking to work pretty much every day since the spring of this year and, achieving such consistency and a bit of back pain along with it, felt that it was time to consider an upgrade.

bbum relax-o-bike

I wanted something comfortable. Something that wouldn’t hurt my back or, frankly, my ass.

I had a chance to briefly ride a recumbent off The Bike Doctor’s truck and was immediately sold on it. The good doctor is also a Bacchetta dealer and the source of said bike. He took great care in tuning and fitting the bike. Highly recommended.

Specifically, the bike is a slightly modified Bacchetta Giro 20. Instead of rim brakes, mine has disc brakes as they perform much better when wet and won’t rub at the slightest bit of out-of-round of the wheel. I also added a botleholder and rear rack.

So comfortable and such a natural position to be using one’s legs. All of the power of a leg press, but in a highly mobile form.

bbum Blasting Through A Corner

And it is a completely different riding experience. Quite literally, it is like learning to ride all over again. For whatever reason, it only took me a couple of starts to get around the Apple parking lot (most people take a good ten minutes+ of false starts before they roll).

It is a radically different feel. But once comfortable, boy howdy, is this bike fast and nimble. Since your center of gravity is lower, the bike corners comfortably at speeds that would be downright squirrely on an upright.

The oddest part about riding a recumbent is that your stability is directly tied to how much you relax your upper body. Any tightness in arms and shoulders is so far above your center of gravity as to throw things off.

Sit back.
Let your fingers navigate.
Let your legs motivate.

And fast. Extremely fast. Riding the Bacchetta is an exercise in efficiency. When “cranking” on an upright, there was always one body part or another that would scream stop before the rest.

Not on this bike.

Cranking it up to speed and it is a systemic test of strength and endurance. It sucks energy from everything below your shoulders — heart, lungs, legs, etc — equally. I haven’t even really pushed it and I have already been cruising at 25mph comfortably.

It is a fun to ride and also fun to see people’s reactions. “Wait.. what???” is the typical look.

Better yet, zero sign of either the lower back pain or numb nuts induced by the various uprights I have ridden. Nor am I all hunched over. The damned thing is like a barco lounger with pedals! A bike-o-lounger, if you will.

Quite an amazing ride.

Update: Some random impressions after some time with the bike will be added here:

Yes, it really is fast. It has shaved about 10% off of my commute times in the first week.

Turning is a barrel of fun. In particular, turning at speed — at 20 to 25mph — is just flat out awesome. You can crank through the corners or, if you want to lean/turn extra low/sharp, then you put your inside foot in the down position (exactly the opposite of a regular bike — takes a bit to get used to).

Another Update: I’ll answer various questions from the comments here.

I’ve always wondered what it was like riding a recumbent, it sounds pretty good – does your neck hurt after a while though?

Not at all. Consider the angle of your neck when riding a bike with the “normal” geometry. On a recumbent, you are in a much more natural sitting position and your head is quite comfy.

How much clearance is there where the chain crosses itself near that idler sprocket?

The idler has two channels. The chain that goes over the front/rear sprockets goes under in the middle and, more importantly, the “under” of the front rear goes over in the middle. Thus, there is one connected idler and it rotates consistently. The spacing is about 1/2″ between the two bits of chain. Haven’t heard the bits touch. As an added benefit, there is pretty close to zero concern about running in littlest-littlest or biggest-biggest ring combos, given the length of the chain.

Looks like there is *very* little clearance between your knees and the handlebars?

If it is configured correctly, there is very little clearance, but it is enough. My knees have yet to hit the bars except when turning really sharp without leaning enough, which only happens when I screw up.

With all that chain, it seems like there would be some loss of efficiency due to stretch and flex.

Maybe. I haven’t noticed any issues. The bottom line is that the general body position is so much more efficient than a regular bike that any loss due to chain length is imperceptible (to me — I lose far more efficiency by being 20+ pounds overweight).

22 Responses to “Learning to Ride A Bicycle All Over Again”

  1. Lucien W. Dupont says:

    I’ve always wondered what it was like riding a recumbent, it sounds pretty good – does your neck hurt after a while though? That’s what first went through my mind looking at the pictures.

  2. John C. Randolph says:

    How much clearance is there where the chain crosses itself near that idler sprocket?


  3. stale says:

    Looks like there is *very* little clearance between your knees and the handlebars?

  4. dherren says:

    With all that chain, it seems like there would be some loss of efficiency due to stretch and flex.

  5. John C. Randolph says:

    That frame layout looks like it would be a natural for a shaft drive.


  6. David Dolinar says:

    My major concern with riding a recumbent into work is automobile-visibility (well, that & buying a new bike). In that last photo it looks like you’re fairly high off the ground and that your visibility to those dangerous automobiles would be better than other recumbent’s I’ve seen.

    How high would you say your noggin is from the ground? Do you feel like you’re as visible as you would be on a normal bike?

  7. Scott says:

    I have a recumbent trike from http://www.terratrike.com, that I ride to work in Edmonton, Canada, which is decidedly not a bicycle commuter city. The trike is far lower to the ground than the Bacchetta pictured in this post. Cars see me. Trucks see me. It is such an odd looking thing that most vehicles give me plenty of space just due to the WTF factor. Think about it this way: How high off the ground are the lines painted on the road? Drivers see those, don’t they?

    Of course, safety is up to the rider. Be visible, wear bright colours, carry lights, and drive defensively, and a recumbent is no more dangerous than an upright bike.

    I feel safer on my recumbent than on an upright bike, because where I live, drivers tend to ignore regular bikes as if they were part of the scenery, and not give them any space when passing.

  8. John C. Randolph says:

    I have to wonder how easily you can pop the wheels over a curb on that. Can you just give the handlebars a good yank and hop four or five inches up the way you can with a conventional bike?


  9. Jody says:

    Will it ride comfortably on the MKT? Have been working up to our 2 or 3 day ride next summer!

  10. Jim Iken says:

    In response to visibility issues: I ride a Bacchetta too. The high-wheel recumbent has almost as high a profile as a standard bike… unlike the old low-racers. When riding with my bike club, my eyes are about even with a standard bike rider’s shoulder. In fact I find that I get more respect from cars/drivers on my Bacchetta than I ever did on the old bike. I chalk this up to what I call the “What the heck is that?” factor.

  11. Slo Joe Recumbo says:

    Good article….found it on the Bacchetta forum.

    About the “steering”: It’s not the arms and center of gravity. The “twitchiness” on a bent is caused by the stranglehold grip learned on an upright. On an upright you lean into the handlebars and mother earth exerts resistance when you try to turn. On a recumbent the “force” is parallal to the earth and there is no resistance when you exert a turning force. You can push a handlebar of either an upright or recumbent with a pinky if you push parallel to the earth.

    Thus when a newbie tries a bent they think they have to “grip” the handlebars tight and don’t realize how much force they’re exerting.

    So yup…it’s the “feather steer” on a bent cause there’s nothing to stop the handlebar from turning.

  12. bbum’s weblog-o-mat » Blog Archive » Bike Brake says:

    […] rode my recumbent bike over to REI to pick up a new pannier. Because the geometry is a bit different, I wheeled the bike […]

  13. Guy on a Bike-E says:

    I’d like to add something about safety on recumbents. I feel strongly that the riding position is MUCH safer than a conventional bike, because of what happens if/when an accident occurs – which seems inevitable if we spend enough time on the bike. With a conventional bike position, especially with a road bike, you head over the handlebars and endanger the face and neck (even with a helmet). With a recumbent, you’re looking at an ankle injury, and there’s less room to “fall” – you’re starting off closer to the ground. I’ve been commuting on a recumbent for several years (no major accidents yet) and I feel MUCH safer in the “laid back” position. Drivers definitely give you more room as well, but someday I know I’ll meet a door – and I’d rather have a broken leg than a broken neck…

  14. chris says:

    I’ve put about 7,000 miles on my Bacchetta dual 26″ wheel short wheel base recumbent since i bought it in 2005, mostly in and around the city of chicago. I absolutely love it. I have a “beater” road bike for 2 mile trips to the grocery store or wherever, but rides in the 15-100 mile range are for my recumbent. no, i can’t curb-hop at speed like on the roadie. head position is a bit lower, but reasonable. Head position on recumb is well behind the feet, so i am more cautious when blowing a red light at busy intersections than I would be on the roadie. i have different riding styles for roadie vs bent. But the bent is the ultimate bike experience- your line-or-sight is slightly upward, so riding through the forest is beautiful. on a road bike you stare at the ground. clip-in pedals are essential. i had no problem with learning curve, perfectly natural for me. the dual 26″ wheel format is enjoyed my taller riders (i am 6’3″, long legs)- you need the leg length to touch down at a stop. overall, the recumbent is awesome, i’ve done the hills in wisconsin (4500 ft climbing in one day over 60 miles) at Mt Horeb, yes it can climb (if YOU can)! try it!

  15. Jack says:

    Question: is such a recumbent suitable for fully loaded touring? My wife wants to get me out on bike camping trips. I get very painful on either my mountain or my road bike after an hour and I’m considering a bent if it’s a practical possibility.

  16. bbum says:

    It is! Bacchetta makes a rack that hangs your stuff underneath your seat/legs. This pushes the center of gravity down even further and, apparently, you can hang quite a bit of stuff there. Also, you can use a rear rack on the bike & a handlebar rack. I have a rather large rear pannier on the bike without a problem. The recumbent could very likely haul more junk than an upright.

  17. day trade forex says:

    That bike is crazy. I just moved to rural Wis from Pittsburgh and I think mountain biking is just what the doctor ordered. That bike is awesome. Is that custom or purchased? The one thing that was always uncomfortable being a taller guy was the bike seat and positioning. I think this bike takes away any of those issues. I am going to check the local shops tomorrow.



  18. Hanna says:

    My hubby saw someone riding one of these the other day and said he would really like one. I couldn’t understand the attraction myself as it looks rather strange. However reading your description above perhaps I will see about getting him one for Christmas.

  19. Mark Hopkins (Trinbent) says:

    Solo bent rider in Trinidad, W.I.
    Despite a population of 1.3 million, I have the only bent in Trinidad, a Giro 26 purchased 2006 and substituted a CF seat in 2008 to reduce weight a bit. Prior to the Giro I never paid more than $100 for a bike and never owned a new bike. I was a year-round, commuting cyclists on my ancient but trusty Norco Bigfoot when I lived in Toronto from 1985 to 2000.

    Cycling is a year round activity here although it tapers off a bit in December through to Lent so folks can focus on Carnival fetes. There are a lot of cycling clubs in Trinidad, lots of well organized rides and regular national and regional competitions. Some international riders come to train during their winter. We have excellent bike shops but no bent dealer. And no one else has taken the plunge into the bent world. Road surfaces are not great. Roads are narrow and we have way too many vehicles. There is not a single bike path or bike lane but there are a few off road tracks for the mountaineers.

    The balance on the bent was quickly mastered but it took longer to smoothly transition toes to peddles from a standing start on an upgrade. I soon joined the second skin club as I had no prior experience with high pressure tires on a wet road! Newbies beware of the bumps with platform peddles! My feet bounced off the peddles on my first ride on rough road and in traffic – that threw off my balance as it was unexpected. A scary moment it traffic after which I headed to the bike shop for my first ever clipless peddles. They add a lot of security to riding.

    Reseach can be limiting. Having read that bents are not great on hills I developed an early mental block against hilly rides (and we have lots of hills). My first attempts at hills were a disaster until I realized that the challenge was mostly in my head not lack of legs and lungs. I now regularly do hill rides for concentrated training when I don’t have time for longer rides. Newbies should set a goal of mastering a challenging hill – a little more each time up and don’t get frustrated. If you are reasonably fit and can down shift quickly to meet the gradient its mostly mind over matter and more fun to spin outdoors than in a gym.

    On my first ever century ride at age 61, I started to cramp up going thru the central range of Trinidad but made it over without walking (he brags). Later in the ride I was surprised to keep pace on the uphills with younger riders on DFs standing on their peddles. It soon dawned on me that they were standing up to rest a sore butt and not for speed as we were about equally fit!

    As the guy on the strange/weird bike I get a lot of shouted comments riding past the rum shops. Everyone driving by with a cell phone camera has to take a picture and yell some comment out the window. I have started to record them. The most irksom comment was, “Is that a girl’s bike?” proclaimed to the guffaws of his pedestrain cronies. My challenge to Mr Loud Mouth try a circuit on the hill I had just completed was not accepted and the guffaws blew back on him as I headed up again. On a century ride coming out of a rest stop a DF rider rode beside me for a while taking in this strange sight and finally asked, “Is that some kind of bike”? I launched into my elevator speech on recumbents as we rode together. Trinidadians tend to say what is on their mind with no thought of being politically correct. After my bent spiel he then asked, “Why do you ride that? Do you have an imperfection”? I assured him that I was well and whole in both body and mind? The bent makes riding look too easy. I get lots of comments from the DF crowd about sleeping and my comfortable looking office chair. Not sure who they think is pushing the peddles when I pass them. But some ask if the bike has a motor which does wonders for my ego.

    I now wish I had bought something lighter and faster, but the Giro 26 is a great touring bike and a good starter. The balance is a challenge in the granny gear on a steep hill, particularly when I am weaving my way through ruts. My wobbling and turning can cause heel and brake contact and loss of control (ie. stop and re-start or fall over). Maybe the newer disk brakes reduce heel contact but it was not available when I bought. (Don’t know why the front caliper brakes weren’t mounted on the back side of the fork)?

    A touring cyclist travels about the same pace as a horse and rider. On rural roads lined with tropical trees and plants and few vehicles, you get a sense of discovery as new vistas are revealed turning corners and cresting hills, a sense of what travel was like here in the early 20th Century, a more leisurely time. The view sitting upright is great and its green all year round with only two seasons. It is either hot and dry or hot and wet. And best of all it never snows!!!!
    I hope you enjoyed my tale from the tropics.

  20. jackson says:

    I am a relatively new recumbent convert. I read a lot about them, such as on this type discussion page and bought my first Corsa about a year ago. It took a little time gaining confidence and I followed the advice of someone suggesting that hills be sought out and mastered rather than avoided. That was excellent advice and I would recommend hill climbing as well. After a few months, I rode the Bike Tour of Colorado. It was intimidating, looking at the profiles of the mountain passes but I soon realized I could climb as well as the average BTC rider and I could descend like a bullet! I passed everything on descents, even tandems, and was as stable as a rock. You steer with your butt and keep a loose grasp on the handles. I loved it and would not consider riding anything else on a long ride. I probably logged around 6 centuries over the summer. It was never a goal to accumulate centuries but they were relatively easy. I’ve hobbled to the hot tub after centuries on my DF and will never do that again. I rode 4700 miles between March and September. By the end of summer I could average about 4 mph faster on the Corsa than on my DF (carbon) Calfee over the same course. That amounted to an 18% increase in speed, attributable entirely to better aerodynamics. I would contend that there are no contortions a DF rider can assume, much less sustain for 100 miles and improve by 18%. Cars do indeed give you more room when passing. Recumbents are as comfortable as everyone says. The only down side is the ‘dork factor ‘ which you get over the first time riders a decade younger,line up to draft behind you. Evolve, get a recumbent.

  21. Andy Jackson says:

    Thanks guys for your writing efforts.
    I rode around Australia and Tasmania,on a racing tandem in 1989. Took 92 days cycling 14,300 kilometres.
    After reading all your comments, l wish l had done it on a recumbent now!
    I sold my normal bike due to stiff back problems from foot racing 35,000 kms in 15 years marathon and fun run events. My back , near the base of my spine is right angled but l can still walk fast.
    This idea of buying a recumbent, has brought the young boy out in me again and l have sat on the computer for the last week ,learning all the ins and outs of the various models. I think a Buchetta Corsa ss, or a Rans 5 pro with 700 wheels as l am 6ft 3 ins tall, will be my pick.
    Thanks again for all your sharing, which is what life is all about. regards from Andy jackson 57 years young this year.

  22. Nice Recumbent Biking photos | Recumbent Bicycle Site says:

    […] bbum relax-o-bike Image by bbum http://www.friday.com/bbum/2009/08/08/learning-to-ride-a-bicycle… […]

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