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What is a recumbent?

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This page describes my thoughts early on in my Sydney stay, circa June 1999, before I started buying recumbents. It's still here because it is a good overview of my rationale.

Knowing very little about these, I am collecting "stuff". I've decided I really quite like the idea of a recumbent bike, because bike seats are not especially comfortable., and I tend to do a lot of miles, so any advantage is good. Now that I have real net access I can spend much more time looking at web sites, which helps because there are precious few shops in the area that stock them.

There is Jargon. The critical bits are:

human powered vehicle. As opposed to (in many cases) motor mobiles, which burn irreplaceable chemical feedstocks instead.
lead-footed ape
a sub-species of humanity characterised by the inability to move more than 50m without a car. Often heard bemoaning the lack of parking at their gym, and wishing other people would drive less.
Under Seat Steer. The handlebars are mounted under the seat or frame.
Above Seat Steer. The infamous "begging chipmunk" position. Anything that can be described so cuttingly must suck, right? Maybe...
Long wheel base
the front wheel is waay out in front of the bottom bracket and everything else.
Short wheel base
the front wheel is behind the BB. And under your knees.
compact LWB. This is just to confuse people. No, really, it means the BB is next to the headset. Sort of neither one nor the other.
front wheel drive.
rear wheel drive. I suppose for the other options there must be LWD (left) and OWD (other wheel drive).
rear wheel steer. Ho ho ho! Rarely sen, even more rarely drivable, but a great solution to certain problems. As they say, if this is the answer, you're asking the wrong question.
another rarely used acronym, this one because it's almost universal.
rubber side down. The desirable state for most HPV's.

Current Bike

I'm big on commuting, which right now I do on a Scott mountain bike. This has 24 gears, from about 24" to probably 100" or so. That sucks at the top end, as I can only spin to about 70km/hr. It also has a Topeak handbag (the "tour guide handlebar bag") on the front and a Blackburn rear rack. Front suspension stops me putting real racks on the front, as last time I tried that the forks broke in an embarrassing way (the front wheel went down, the bike went up). Albeit I did have about 20kg of stuff attached to the front wheel at the time. I regularly load the bike up quite heavily, so it has a heavy duty rear rim. Heavy means a 25kg sack of rice as well as the rest of my weeks groceries (another 15kg or so). In the past I've used trailers and seriously non-stock mountain bikes.

Old Bike

The bike I loved most was a GT Karakoram, because it was bombproof. It had no suspension, but the traditional GT frame made of CroMo. And with a custom gear setup (24/42/53 on the front, a custom 11-38 7 speed cluster) it had a gear range to suit me. I could load up for touring and expect to climb hills that I couldn't push the beast up, then go down the other side still pedaling furiously. The brakes were your basic cantilevers circa 1990 (when I bought the beast) on the front, and a U brake on the back. A U brake with the reinforcing bar, because those things squeeze when you lean on the brake levers.

Now, I'm a bit old-fashioned, and new technology doesn't always grab me. So when I got this bike it had rapid-fire indexed shifting, which I promptly dismantled and decided that it looked fragile and complicated. In the sense that it if stopped working I would not be able to fix it using the tools I carry while touring. So I got a set of Shimano Deore XT levers, and four finger brake levers. Those let me use the index fingers for hanging on with, and the other three fingers for braking. Useful when you're off road touring and going down steep, rough hills with 50 kgs of gear on the bike.

Next Bike(s)

So, that's what I do with my bike. The question has to be, what sort of recumbent should I get? That's where I am now. I'm chasing various people for details and bikes, like the Sydney Recumbent Riders and the Oz HPV group. To date I've ridden a SWB USS tourer that I liked, and the owner (Evan) uses it for commuting so that sounds good. But see the comments on ASS below. Who knows...

I quite like under seat steering - riding Evans bike felt quite comfortable once I got out of the idea of pulling on the bars all the time. And the idea of sitting with my hands at my sides like that is appealing. Being the gear freak that I am it should also let me mount a "dashboard" in front of me to hold all the stuff that currently goes in my handlebar bag. Map, cell phone, wallet, keys, loose change, book... you name it, it's in there. But mostly it's the thought of my arms hanging at my sides and steering with my fingertips.

Other Bike stuff

I've been to a couple of Critical Mass rides, which are fun as well as useful.


When I expressed doubts about buying above seat steering Ian set me right:
  • allows a mirror and speedo to be right where you can see it
  • better aerodynamically and that means FASTER!
  • more normal ( a "normal" recumbent?)
  • just like a cool HarleyD
  • you can brace against it when you brake suddenly (and bents can brake/stop very abruptly)
  • narrower to squeeze through stopped traffic
  • can push the bike when walking without backache
  • can use ass to wheel bike vertically on the rear wheel
  • its no less comfortable!!!!
  • less likely to bend it when you crash.


These guys have good lists of links, so I won't bother.
International Human Powered Vehicles Association
HPV's in Canada