The Recumbent Question:
To Switch or Not

Now that the summer heat is starting to cool off I expect many cyclists, like myself, who are more sight-seers than athletes, are back on the road again. After this years Bike Florida in March, I only rode in April and the first week in May. For me it was just too hot in June, July and August to enjoy being outside.

Prior to getting a recumbent I was a suffering athlete. At 54 years of age, (2003) a veteran of 300 sky dives, numerous car accidents and having worked construction all my life, my back was shot. A day in the saddle was always followed by two days of suffering.

Making the switch from a Cannondale road bike to a recumbent was not an easy one. Actually it was more of a survival move.

About a year ago I read Frank Bostwick’s book “Upcountry Odyssey” on his trip by bicycle from West Palm Beach Florida, 1668 miles north to the Canadian border to visit his family. Not only was I envious of him for having the courage, at the age of 68, to take off alone on a trip like that, but he was also doing what I had always dreamed about, a very long bike trip. I had even been to some of the exact places he wrote about. His book is a great story to read. When he writes about crossing the bridge in Maysville Kentucky to get in to Ohio, believe me, it is much worse than he described.

So with the thinking that if Frank can do it so can I, I began to increase my weekly mileage. I knew I needed to be able to do consecutive 50 mile days, day after day for a tour like that.

Fifty miles is not a lot of miles for me, but fifty miles, day after day turned in to a real nightmare. I was literally crippled by the third day. I tried this week after week for a couple of months before giving up. I was completely discouraged. It was my wife, Judy who would say: ”why don’t you get one of those funny looking bicycles with the big comfortable reclining seat?”

Why didn’t I? Because they were funny looking bicycles that’s why!

I had had my heart set on riding in the Bike Florida tour and all was not looking good. Again Judy said; “go and buy a recumbent and quit complaining about all of your aches and pains every weekend.” I think by then I had spent a small fortune on Tylenol and Advil.

Our bike club had one recumbent, but it was a carbon fiber rocket that led the ‘A’ rider paceline. I’m just a reliable ‘C’ rider.

Shortly after that I saw another West Palm Beach Bicycle Club rider with her new recumbent and that was all I needed to get one for myself. Linda and I have ridden together several times. She purchased her recumbent for the same reason I needed to purchase one for myself. Aches and pains had taken the pleasure out of cycling. That would make me the third person in the club on a funny looking bike and I would not be the only one who was not an “A” rider.

I had previously done some casual research on recumbents, but now it was time to get serious. My best source of information came from BentriderOnline.com. In addition to recumbent discussion groups Bentrider is the central source for everything recumbent.

The variety of types and prices is almost endless. To approach this purchase in a logical manner I came up with some specific criteria for the bike I wanted.

The most important was that it would fit in the back of my Chevy S-10 pickup. The little truck has a camper top on it and I wanted to be able to carry the bike inside and not have to deal with a bike rack, the weather and thieves. This limited the overall length to 64 inches.

Secondly I did not want to be lying down. I wanted to be sitting up with above the seat steering and seeing the sights as I rode. The last criterion was price. I was comfortable spending a thousand dollars or so and was willing to go higher.

Of coarse there were the persistent rumors: recumbents can’t climb, recumbents can’t go fast. Those statements are both true and false at the same time. I really got into the wheel size, gearing, gear inches etc. I did all of the calculations and I found the higher priced recumbents did go fast and did climb well because of the way they were geared.

The recumbent I really liked, the Easy Racers EZ-1 SC Lite (aluminum frame) EasyRacers.com had the same exact chainrings and rear cluster as my Cannondale road bike. But this recumbent only had a twenty inch rear wheel. After doing the math this bike would top out at 18 mph at 100 rpms. This was not good. The bikes with better gearing were in the 2500 to three thousand dollar range. Not good either.

With help from Palm Beach Schwinn on North Lake Blvd, in Lake Park Florida, and a stack of parts catalogs, we determined the Easy Racer could be regeared to a 38-52-62 in front and a 11-34 rear cluster. This combination develops a range from 22.36 up to 112.72 gear inches and provides a speed of 20 mph at only 70 rpm, a very comfortable if rather slow cadence.

Well it was time to place the bike order, and the gear parts order and give this a go. A couple of weeks later the bike arrived. The fit and finish was very good for the price. The new drive train parts arrived a week later.

Before changing out the drive train I took the new bike for a ride. There are no hills here in South Florida. The best we have is the draw bridge over the Intracoastal Waterway. I took the ‘bent up the Donald Ross Road bridge and then down. It was pitiful. At 105 cadence I barely got over 18 mph. Well so far I was right on what was not going to work. It was now time to see if the math worked for the new drive train. I brought it back to Palm Beach Schwinn and the magic began. The new gear sets worked perfectly. I was able to stay with the existing derailleurs and shifters. It is the smoothest shifting bike I have ever ridden.

The high speed cruising of 20 mph at 70 rpm leaves a lot of room for more speed as the rpm increases. I haven’t found the top end yet. My maximum speed to date (down hill of course) is right at 37 mph and I chicken out way before I spun out. But at that speed you just can’t smell the flowers as you race by.

Oh, and Bike Florida? What a blast. A total of 1400 bicycles on tour. There were one hundred and ten recumbents, including a couple of tandem recumbent trikes pulling trailers. I rode fifty plus miles a day for six days, with no aches, and no pains, and the best scenery in Florida. Sleeping under the stars. Priceless.

I did however, under estimate the quality and abundance of the meals served on Bike Florida. I rode over 300 miles that week and gained ten pounds. Apparently there was too much carbo-loading on my part.

So if you see me standing by the side of the road as you go buy…I’m okay….I probably just stopped to smell the flowers.

After all I have got all day to get there.

COMMENTS FROM READERS

From Steve R:
   I love my EZ-1 Lite, but struggle with the top and cruising speeds. I was very intrigued by you re-gearing yours. Did you by chance keep the list of parts you purchased to do this? Thanks, Steve

Peter's Reply:
   Thanks for your question and I love my EZ-1 Lite too.
   When I re-geared the bike it was perfect for riding here in South Florida where the only mountain is the bridge over the interstate.
   When I took the Bike Virginia trip I was very humbled. The low end was not nearly what I needed. Admittedly I was not in the best of shape and was in no way prepared for the Virginia "hills" . I truly walked about half of the trip. The uphill part. Fortunately I was able to coast the downhill part. One time I coasted downhill for over four miles and hit 30 miles per hour.
   I have since changed the crank gearing. I just counted the teeth on the three chain rings. They are 53-42-30. I did not do the math to calculate the gear-inches. Best wishes. Peter

From Raymond B:
   My doctor recently told me that I have to give my upright bikes. One of my bikes is a Cannondale. So am I looking at recumbents. I really have been considering them for sometime now but like you I keep them thinking that I can still ride them. In any case there is a easy ride in my area for sale for $425. When I research it your site came up.
   How much did it cost to retrofit your bike with the new gearing cluster? What were the parts that were needed to upgrade it? Thanks, Raymond.

Peter's Reply:
   I had a beautiful blue Cannondale and I hated to part with it. The Cannondale sat in the garage for a full year after I purchased my recumbent, just in case I changed my mind. I even rode it a couple of times but alas it had to go. Sold it, but I do not recall for how much. I do remember it was a sad day.
In regards to changing the gearing I purchased my parts through my local bike shop and it was not very much. How much, I do not remember.
   The chain rings are available from the Hostel Shoppe which specializes in everything for recumbents for around $20 each or so. http://www.hostelshoppe.com/
    I must say that i got a rude awakening in the hills of Virginia when I found that I did not have enough low end gearing because of the change i made. I have since shuffled the rings around and put back in the smallest chain ring.
   My suggestion is to ride the bike for a while before making any changes. And always wear a helmet.

 


For the complete photo album on Bike Florida 2003 (click here)
For more info on the next Bike Florida go here www.bikeflorida.org