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Benting to Work

by BluesCat

BluesCatBluesCat is a 60-year-old Phoenix, Arizona resident who originally returned to bicycling in 2002 in order to help his son get the Boy Scout Cycling merit badge. His bikes sat idle until the summer of 2008 when gas prices spiked at over $4.00 per gallon. Since then, he has become active cycling, day-touring, commuting by bike, blogging (azbluescat.blogspot.com) and giving grief to the forum editors in the on-line cycling community.


bent (bent)
Short for “recumbent.” A bike that’s built close to the ground for less wind resistance, and lower center of gravity.

Source: Bicycle Glossary on BikeWebSite.com

First Middle Schooler: “Woo! That’s BAD!”

Second Middle Schooler: “Yeah! Really SICK!”

People familiar with today’s adolescent-speak will know that these comments mean those two young fellows have a positive view of something. In this instance, it is me gliding down the driveway in front of my house aboard a bicycle called Bluetiful.

BluesCat's Bluetiful 'BentOf course, it isn’t the dashing figure riding the bike, but Bluetiful herself who is eliciting those admiring comments. She is an EZ-Sport CX recumbent; a sensuous collection of metal curves designed by the late Gardner Martin, of Easy Racers fame, and manufactured by Sun Bicycles.

I have to admit the classic lines of the EZ-Sport were a definite plus factor in my decision to buy it. (I was frustrated as a youth because my folks couldn’t afford to buy me a Schwinn Stingray.) Add to that the fact that I was seriously intrigued by the much touted comfort of recumbents–in addition to the reality that I am a geek, and the whole geeky concept of a recumbent bike is something impossible to resist–and you have a recipe for an easy sale.

So, the bike is comfortable and gorgeous, but how practical is it?

I started bike commuting back in the summer of 2008, when gas prices spiked at over four bucks a gallon; riding a Giant Yukon mountain bike with a rear rack and panniers. Commuting the 16-mile round trip to work and back constitutes the vast majority of my yearly vehicle mileage. After riding the EZ-Sport for around 22 months now, I can happily report that the EZ Sport is an excellent commuting bicycle, has become my main ride and the only bike I ride to work.

The experience has not been without some challenges. Recumbents have a much lower center of gravity; for new riders the “twitchies” required for balancing begin at a higher speed than on a diamond frame (DF) bike. This is mitigated on the EZ-Sport by the long wheelbase (LWB) of 62 inches. This is also the reason most new ‘bent riders start with the LWB bikes rather than the more responsive and twitchier short wheelbase (SWB) bikes. After a short time, most riders, even of SWB’s, find they adjust very well and do not have problems staying upright.

BluesCat's 'Bent in PhoenixA 62-inch wheelbase translates into an overall length of around 85 inches, which means LWB ‘bents can present problems for commuters who utilize mixed-mode commuting. You will have problems putting an LWB bike in the rack on a city bus. Some commuter trains, such as the Metro in Phoenix, allow you stand to one side of the car with your bike, rather than having to hang it on a rack. Prospective LWB riders should check with their local transit authority. SWB ‘bents can go pretty much anywhere a DF can.

Some riders are concerned that the low profile of a recumbent translates into lower visibility. In the desert southwest, bike riders share the road with humongous SUV’s which would mask riders of Penny Farthing bicycles from view! Actually, like Penny Farthings, recumbent bikes are so unusual looking that I think they’re more visible than regular bikes. Some ‘bent riders will assuage their fear by putting a flag on a lightweight mast. I have a mast and flag, too, but it is more a fashion statement than a safety device.

Speaking of equipment, most regular racks, panniers, lights, computers, and all other accessories will fit right on a recumbent with no alteration required. And, except for things like chain length, the drive trains, brakes and shifters are common mountain bike or road bike systems. Your favorite local bike shop can service a ‘bent, and a lot of bike shops stock recumbents or can order them in and assemble them for you.

New recumbents are generally more expensive than a new DF bike with the same level of components, and almost always are slightly heavier than a comparably equipped DF bike, but the pain of that extra cost and weight is more than compensated for by the fact that the recumbent presents a much lower wind profile. Some say the lower wind resistance improves your riding efficiency by as much as 50 percent or more. While I’m sure about that, I can say the advantage of Bluetiful over my Giant is appreciable; translating into a 3-4 mph advantage in almost every riding condition but off-road.

“Recumbents can’t climb” is a myth which is easily disproved. The four-man bike team which won the 2009 RAAM was riding LWB RANS X-Stream ‘bents, and I’m told they increased their lead on the climbs. This myth centers around the idea that you cannot stand in the pedals of a recumbent, and so can’t use your weight on the climbs. Another way of looking at the issue is, yes, on a conventional DF bike the maximum amount of power you can put to the pedals is your own weight; whereas on a ‘bent your legs are wedged between the seat back and the pedal so–just as with a Dead Lift competitors–you can put much more pressure to your foot than just your weight.

Caution! Because you can put so much “mettle to the pedal” on a recumbent, there are many anecdotal reports of competent DF cyclists blowing out a knee when first riding a ‘bent. I can say from experience that when I have been riding my Giant a lot, and then switch to Bluetiful, my right knee will complain unless I’m mindful of the different technique required.

You use a slightly different set of muscles on a ‘bent, and you might find you are pretty sore when you first start riding one. Recumbents help you to become an overall better rider, and that means when you adjust to the bike you will get much faster, of course, and become a better climber to boot.

You are automatically a better rider if you are more comfortable, if the bicycle “fits” you, which means that a ‘bent rider is way out in front of a DF rider at the start. Most recumbents can accommodate almost every sized rider, and there is a body measurement, called the X-Seam, which can be made to make sure you get exactly the right sized ‘bent you need if your body size is too far out of the range of “average.”

Comfort, again, is the name of the game, and you don’t need any special, padded drawers or other … accessories … to ride for miles and miles in laid-back comfort on a ‘bent. I typically wear cargo shorts, and in the warm summer rains of Phoenix I have been known to wear a t-shirt, swim trunks and a pair of Crocs. (I’d ride naked, but I don’t think our local law enforcement would appreciate how comfortable that is.) I don’t think I would ride nearly as much as I do if I had to use some butt butter or other product to grease up my derriere in order to go to work. That just seems so … wrong; so utterly … creepy! No thanks, I’ll just continue to ride my Lemans Blue Bluetiful and endure the comments …

“WHOA! Nice bike, Mister!”

 
Burley nomad 229

8 Responses to “Benting to Work”

  1. Ted Johnson says:

    BluesCat: What I’ve always wondered about recumbents is whether you have to adjust to taking all the bumps on your butt, instead of letting your legs take the shock.

    I stand on my pedals a lot, even when I’m on pavement. I see a pothole, I stand up. I hop a curb, I stand up.

    I would imagine that you make minor (or even major) alterations to your route if you’re on a recumbent compared to a DF bike.

  2. BluesCat says:

    Ted – Actually, if you see the bump coming, and you have the ape-hanger handlebar Over-Seat-Steering (OSS) like [i]Bluetiful[/i] has, you can hoist yourself up slightly out of the seat so the severity of the bump is somewhat mitigated.

    It’s those “Surprise!” potholes/bumps that get me on ANY bike, when I don’t have a chance to either stand in the pedals or lift myself up off the seat. On the Giant Yukon MTB with the RockShox and the Brooks saddle I just sorta go “Whups! Hope that didn’t knock a wheel out of true!” On the bent, it’s “Woo! Bouncing like hitting a mogul on a toboggan!” If it’s my 1986 Batavus Course road bike it’s “Oof! Guess I’ll be talking a bit falsetto for the next few days!”

  3. Josh Lipton says:

    The variation in tomes makes me think of a bell choir.

    Should we call it a bump choir?

  4. BluesCat says:

    Josh – Hmmm. I’ll have to see if I can find a road under construction, or one with a LOT of potholes, and sit on the curb and record the sounds of bicyclists hitting them.

    Hey! Maybe I could create a Christmas carol album a la the Barking Dogs! (I’d need to add some sounds, like the “Argh!” made by gal who loses the groceries out of her front basket when she hits that speed bump.)

    Jingle Bells by The Tortured Cyclists

    “Oof, oof, oof! Oof, oof, oof!
    “Oof, woo, whups, argh, oof!”

  5. Leo Horishny says:

    Ted, actually the length of the bike absorbs some of that pothole impact, but the primary shock absorption is that fat foam seat cushion that helps minimize any pothole impact!
    That said, I do cringe and worry about my rims when I hit potholes dead on, but so far, no bent[sic] rims.
    I have a lower end EZ than BluesCat and I love mine. I’m at 149 commutes to work on my bike this year and at 2794 miles, there’s no way I would have wanted to do these many miles on my hardtail mtb. That’s what I started commuting on until I came across this recumbent.

  6. Tony Shelver says:

    It very much depends on the bent as to how bumps affect the ride. I have a SUN Sport AX (the aluminum version of Blues bike) and a tadpole trike (Trice Q).
    The Trice has 20″ wheels all round, weight is distributed pretty much evenly.

    I also used to have a hardtail MTB, no longer with me as i was not riding it much.

    Although the 20″ wheels on the Trice pick up bumps a bit more (I live in northern New Hampshire, where frost heaves and potholes are more than common and road maintenance sucks), the mesh sling seat that is reclined to 30% from horizontal and the elastomer rear suspension (about 2″ of travel) make for a smoother ride than on the SUN.
    The downside is that 3 wheel tracks make it more difficult to find a smooth path between the bumps.

    Not that the SUN is bad, for me it was a lot more shock absorbent than the department store MTB that was too painful to ride for much distance.
    I’d guess the words ‘Cadillac’ and ‘Jeep Wrangler’ would come to mind comparing the two. The Sport is just a lot smoother then the MTB.

    I do find that the relatively upright position on the Sport compared to other bents can transmit more shock to your back then on a more reclined bent. As noted by Blues, you can raise your butt a bit off the saddle using a combination of pedal pressure and a but of leverage from the bars.

  7. James Ford says:

    I bought a Sun supercruser EZ-1 last August and i am hoping to make frequent 13 mile trips this summer. I am seriously considering getting a fairing for the front. I always ride alone and do not know any other bent riders. Their are two types I have found. One is smaller and covers the upper half of the handle bars. The second one covers every thing the small one covers and extends down to over the peddles. As 13 mile riders in Ohio might be cought in summer storms the larger one seems to look dryer. Have you had any experence or know someone who has had experance with one or both that whould share their impressions please?

  8. Deb in Texas says:

    In answer to Ted Johnson’s question about bumps, because you are in a natural position of looking ahead and not bent over looking down forcing your head to look up and forward, you can see everything in your path before you get to it, thus allowing you to avoid things such as bumps or potholes before you get to them… no surprises. You would not want to ride over them in the first place because you could do damage to your wheel(s) or tire(s).

    I have had mine for only 3 days, my husband has had his for 2 weeks and we go out every single day. They are a joy, extremely comfortable, and he doesn’t come back with “numb-nuts” He’s a prostate cancer survivor and his regular bike was keeping him from healing.

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