I have known the existance of recumbent bikes since I went to Luxemburg to visit a friend a few years ago. Before then, I really had no clue that those funny bikes existed. But of course, in central and northern Europe, cycling is more than a hobby. While walking through the EU area in Luxemburg, I counted a good number of recumbent bikes (and trikes!) riden by commuters, with their mandatory panniers.
After that trip, I had completely forgotten about those couches with wheels. It was only recently that I have come across a few more of these bikes through the Friday night rides. In those rides, a few people ride recumbents, and we first noticed them on one of the downhills into Reigate, where two riders flew past us. Wow, they were fast, really fast. I had no idea that those machines could go so fast. But it makes a lot of sense. The pros of the Tour, Vuelta and Giro are always talking about aerodynamics and wind tunnels. So, it seems that we use about 80% of our pedal power on cutting through the air while on a bike. Riding a recumbent means that you are way more aerodynamic and generate less turbulence that you would on a normal upright cycle.
Ok. I then figured out that there´s not just one type of recumbent. In fact, there´s loads. The racers, the tourers, the trikes, the audaxers, the cheap ones...and of course, their respective tandem models. Oh dear. If I was not obsessed enough with regular bikes...I was now getting into reclinadas (recumbents in Spanish!). I read a few facts, such as that all the speed records have been beaten on recumbents such as this one:
On some of our rides, I have had the opportunity to see a few different models and riders. They all agreed that I should try one. They seemed to be extremely comfortable...especially for those looong days on the saddle that we have been enjoying so much recently. When I googled the magic words in Spanish, the 3ike website of Jason from Madrid popped up. Conveniently, we had planned a trip down south in August. After a few emails and phone calls, we arranged for Jason to show us a few models in the outskirts of my hometown.
One of the few things I knew about these vehicles was that you need to re-learn how to cycle. Lucy and I were a bit nervous about this as we did not fancy crashing. After a morning of hiking in the Madrid mountains, we met the recumbents in the evening. I was the first (brave) one to try the two wheeled models, as Miguel and Lucy went for the trikes.
First impressions were...errr...weird. I could not cycle it for more than 5 m without falling or heading in the opposite direction that I wanted. I also did not know how to act before an imminent crash (apparently you need to move forward from the back of the seat, or else...you do fall on either of your sides...). I fell at low speed. It felt frustrating not to know how to cycle anymore after all these years!
Luckily, after a few more attempts, I got the hang of it and could manage a few meters on my own. Starting from stopped proved a bit tricky. The first pedal stroke has to propel the bike at enough speed to keep you going until you reach the other pedal...other than that is actually not that difficult. Steering is both with body weight and handlebars, although again, it feels weird. I guess we´re so used to normal bikes that we forgot how to ride and balance them...
Once you manage to balance yourself, they seem to be great fun. The bike I tried, in particular, had double suspension and was extremely comfy. The handlebars being under the seat make it so natural for the arms. I also tried the cheaper version of upright two wheels recumbent, with a different handlebar configuration, being over the seat, like a go-kart. This one was also nice, but perhaps because of the lack of suspension, the ride was not as smooth.
Then it was the trikes´turn. Jason had brought two models: a delta (one wheel at the front, two at the back), and a tadpole (two at the front, one at the back...the most common ones!). Both were very easy to get used to, although at speed (not that we reached more than 20 km/h this time!), you´ve got to be careful or else you may flip over. Obviously there´s not balance problems here! They both felt very fast and responsive, although I still prefer the classic two wheels. Both Miguel and Lucy loved the tadpole and the delta respectively.
There are a few downs to bear in mind with trikes: they´re bulky, wide (for filtering through traffic), and heavy. On the positive side, they seem stable and fun to ride, and apparently they´re better climbers than their two wheeled brothers (although I am sure this depends mostly on the rider itself!!!).
Lucy also tried the recumbent bike and mastered it in 10 min. I recorded a video while I was going on the delta trike:
Overall, we had a great time and loved these machines. Although we still need to try them for a longer, proper ride, we are already researching into options and I have asked my parents and Lucy to get me a recumbent after I complete the PhD. They better start saving...!
We would like to thank Jason and his dad for their time and help in introducing us to the recumbents world. It is not so common these days to find such good customer service! Keep up the good work guys and hopefully see you soon in Madrid!