Do you have a back, neck or wrist problem which makes riding a standard road bike difficult or impossible to enjoy? There are many reasons why people ride recumbents, but for some recumbent cyclist it's not an injury that made them switch, it's the ride. I'm an x-road bike racer and a bicycle mechanic for the past 30 years. Recumbents have been around for 100 years and the old thinking that they are slow and inefficent is not true anymore. These bikes are, in some catagories, more sporty and quicker than a typical road bike.
I recently decided to offer the Bacchetta Recumbent along with my mobile bicycle repair business. Although I had no real experience riding recumbents, I've been intrigued with what customers tell me about the ride and feel of this style of bike. They are simple machines, as are all bikes, and I know very well what a bike and the ride should feel like. I researched different recumbent companies and decided, based on style, workmanship and customer satisfaction ratings, Bacchetta was the bike. This style of bike rides and feels much different at first so I suggest when you decide to test ride one from my shop, you take it for a week. Call for details
My overall impression of recumbents is much different than what I thought. Going from riding around the block to test the occasional recumbent I would tune, to actually riding one at speed was like night and day. I've been awakened. If you are new to this type of bike, it will take a few days of riding to really get comfortable. A recumbent is a much different ride than standard road bike. But once there, you are in for a fantastic experience. The bike and body are more one on a recumbent, which creates a very solid feel. The twitchy ride I experienced in the first days, I'm happy to report, is completely gone. Answering the question is it me or the bike. And my wife who never really felt comfortable on a road bike, is excited about riding. We are already thinking about an extended trip on recumbents, something we have never thought of doing before.
Ok, here we go with my recumbent experience. A little history first. I'm and avid cyclist with 9 years of racing road and track bikes. I've had a lot of racing experiences including the 1983 Word Pro Cycling Championships in Switzerland, and the 1983 Tour de L'avenir stage race in France. I never stopped riding over the past 35 years, totaling over 250,000 miles, and I still love getting on my bike. I've also been a bicycle mechanic for over 35 years and created and still operate The Bike Doctor mobile bicycle repair business, now running for 28 years. I've worked on many recumbents over the years and have always been interested in the ride. As a mechanic I only get to tool around the block, and never experienced a recumbent or "Formula One" style bike on hills and flats at high speed. Though recumbents have been around for a long time they always looked a bit clunky to me, sort of home made and bit too heavy. Things have changed, especially in the past 10 years. Not only are they better looking but man do these bikes ride well. If you read my updates you will experience what I experience as a new recumbent rider. I plan to find out exactly why people love this style of bike and also to understand why someone would not. I'll share the ride on a ride by ride update on this web page.
5 Bacchetta bike models came today. This was my first purchased with Bacchetta. I first noticed the workmanship on these recumbents, clean welds and beautiful simplistic design. I really like this about Bacchetta, their attention to detail and design runs all the way through their bike. The first bike assembled is the Bellandare, it's a low riding long wheelbase recumbent, pretty much what recumbents looked like for the past 100 years. You still see a lot of this style out there, but that's changing. This bike is designed to be stable and low to the ground so you can get your feet down fast. This was a dream to ride, not much effort or concentration needed for this first ride. Very sharp turns are a bit more work due to the long wheelbase but on any ride a sharp turn is rare to none. Even my non-riding wife handled this bike with ease...she loved it. This is exciting, my wife has always been a tough sell for bike riding. She never felt comfortable with the road bike position and the saddle, so she never really got the miles in to get used to the bike. We road a Santana road tandem for a year. We could both ride together but the usual issues still existed with the added ones being her view consisted mostly of my back and she had zero control. I was the bicyclist so I became the captain. We took maybe 20 rides and then she lost interest. That era ended and I wondered if a tandem rucumbent would work, but there was still the no control issue for her, so I dropped that idea also. Back when we looked at the tandem recumbent back then the solo rides for recumbents were still a bit clunky, so I dropped that idea also.
The next bike to assembled is the Corsa, the one I chose for myself. I call this style Formula One. Not only for the fact that the body position it puts you in is very similar to a formula one race car but also because the recumbent was the original design for a bicyle. This bike is a very slick model and very fast and high on performance. These bikes come with narrow 650c or 700c wheels. For those who don't know, the 650c wheel is a very common wheel size for small road bike frames and some tri-athlete bike front wheels. Most tire companies make tires for this size so high end tires are easy to find. Now for the test ride. Remember, I'm new to riding this style of bike, so what I feel will be what you feel on your first ride. The bike seat on the Corsa sits higher off the ground than the Bellandare and so do your feet. It has a shorter wheel base which puts you over the wheels instead of between them. You lean back a bit more and pretty much are looking straight at your crank set. Fantastic for aero dynamics which makes these bikes faster than a typical road bike. Now for the ride, I try it with standard pedals first. Wow, the bike is twitchy, or is it me. I start and stop quickly, maybe travel 10 feet. Such a different position and your feet are about 3 feet above the ground. I take off again and tell myself to just relax and believe. Ok, past the 10 foot marker and going down the hill a bit, but slowly. It is twitchy. Twitchy is a feel we talked about when we went from a road bike to a track bike. The steering angle is steeper on a track bike which makes the bike quick to turn. A track bike is twitchier than a road bike and a road bike twitchier than a bike you would ride around town. Like sports car handling compared to Cadillac. You get use to it on a road bike and end up loving the quick response. Anyway, the Corsa is very quick to steer and I feel a bit out of control. I wonder if the way a recumbent steers is differently than a road bike. I'm in a completely different position on the bike so the feel and balance is totally new. It's time to get my cleats and cycling gear on and take this out for a real test.
My first at speed experience is right out of my driveway and down a hill at around 25mph. The steering is very touchy to me. Responsive I guess you could call it, but I'm not comfortable. At this point I'm not sure why Bacchetta would make this bike so overly responsive. I'm new to this and have had no help or advise on how the ride is different, so i chalk it up to inexperience. I wanted to experience this as any new rider would, without much imput from others. There are thousands of recumbent - formula one riders out there and they all say they love there bikes...I want to find out why. Ok, down the hill and approaching my first stop light. Which foot do I want to take out? I choose my usual and get it down and almost lean too far to the other side and quickly snap that foot out also. Close one. Ok that wasn't good.
Recommendation #1. Take both feet out and get them in landing gear position, before you stop for your first dozen stops. Also, remember to get in a lower gear as you would with any road bike to take off from the light. It's surprising how quickly I can accelerate from a stop, it's easier to get going than you think. Push hard back into the seat on that first pedal and your off easy-ish. Next, is a straight two mile slightly down hill road. Now I can play around a bit and figure out what makes this bike tick. I lean left and and right to feel what's needed to turn. Turning is much different than my road bike but still not sure why or how it's different. My first thought is that it's much less hands and much more body. I learned years ago that to turn a motorcycle or a bicycle the first response sequence is turning the wheel slightly to the opposite direction than you want to go. Sounded strange to me but I looked and it was true. You will need to look close to see it. To initiate a right turn you need to slightly let the front wheel drift left, this allows the bike to begin to lean to the right, then the front wheel follows with a slight turn to right along with the lean. This may be happening but I feel the lean with the body first. It could be that this first lean sends the wheel turning slightly opposite, then following the same rule. Back to the ride.
Recommendation #2. Relax the upper body. It seemed if I let my body control the correction left or right and relax my hands on the grips and lay back into the seat, the turn felt much smoother. I was fighting the turn at first, tight grip and tight around the waist...this is very different than a standard road bike. Onward, a few more stop lights and this is getting easier already. I'm still sending both feet down to the ground, maybe this is the proper way to stop on a recumbent. When the road is straight I think I can feel the sensation of riding a recumbent. It's smooth, relaxed, and the view...wow. I find myself looking at much more scenery, my head is in a very natural position for enjoying what's around me. First hill, nothing steep. It's said these bikes don't do as well going up hills as a standard road bike, and today my first day, it's true. I've also heard that different muscle groups are taxed differently in this laid back position. Jumping forward, to the hours after the ride this is true also. I haven't felt a sore muscle from riding a bicycle in 20 years, today I did. Looks like quads and hamstring are used differently or possibly more. Reached the top of the hill and I was, well, ok with my speed. Not up to my road bike speed but not as far off as I was expecting. This ends the ride for me today, I live at the top of a hill so a cool down for me never really happens. Still puffing a bit from the hill and my legs still tight from the last pedal stroke, I clip out of the pedals and attempt to stand. Watch out here things are a bit weird. I almost fall backwards, catch myself and attempt to take a step forward. This is strange, I feel like I'm pushing against a strong headwind...I can't walk forward without an extra effort. That lasted for about 10 seconds and then I acclimated. I'm guessing that goes away as my inner ear learns to compensate.
I took a day off from riding as I usually do, one day on the bike one day off, but I was dieing to ride. I wanted to learn more about this machine and what I could do. So today's ride was going to be about 15 miles maybe a bit more. I head out and take a long route down to Santa Cruz. Nothing too tough for hills but a narrow somewhat busy road winds it's way to town. A lot of cyclist won't ride this road but that rarely stops me when I'm on a bike. I'm not comfortable yet but I charge ahead foolishly, as I am a fool. Ask my wife.
Ok, I'm in Santa Cruz and I feel way too fresh to start heading back, so I head out to Highway 1 and plan to ride up the coast a few miles. I thought maybe I could try to draft another cyclist out there. It's a favorite ride for a lot of roadies around here. Lightly rolling open straight road with fantastic vistas. On one side the Pacific ocean and looking east, rolling hills full of green wild grasses as hills rise up to the coastal mountain range. I see my first target, oops yes I look at other cyclist as targets. This is left over from my racing days when anything on two wheels with pedals in front of me must be caught. I'm not in that kind of shape anymore but I still catch a few now and then. I'm on the coast road now and the wind is blowing a bit in my direction and I'm flying. Boom Boom, two cyclist down. Hey, I'm kind to the targets, I slow a bit on approaching to pass and I give a friendly wave as I do. What they can't see is my smile once I've passed them. So like I said, I'm flying with a little tail wind and a few more miles are click by. I want to do more, in fact I don't know why I should ever turn around and go home, this is feeling wonderful. I'm once again noticing the scenery much more. My line of site drifts off to the left and right much more on this bike than my road bike and I'm feeling very stable out here on this open road. I do eventually have to get home, so I force myself into a u-turn and look around for another target. I see someone behind me about half a mile, so I ride sort of slowly, I lay out the bait. Here he comes, a roadie passes me a few miles an hour faster. I push into the back of the seat and it feels like I just hit the accelerator pedal in a car. That is something you will notice with this new style of recumbent right a way, when you need a blast of speed you can get it. These bikes really take off, especially on the flats and downhill's. He is an easy catch and I'm drafting for the first time on a recumbent. We start pushing hard, egos are engaged now, and I can tell he is a fit rider and we fly back down the coast together in a nice two person pace line. Me of course getting the better draft. Maybe that's one reason why the recumbentee is frowned on...lousy draft. Actually the guy I was riding with said it's wasn't bad, not as good but not bad. This was supposed to be a casual 15 mile ride and when I get home I've tacked on 38 miles. 40 miles on my road bike is about what I do these days but I don't feel anywhere near this fresh at the end, and this is only my second ride on a recumbent. I think the possibilities are going to be amazing.
Foothill Rd. Los Altos, California. This road is loaded with cyclist and I want to chase something down, just kidding. What I really want was to ride with people and get some reactions to the recumbent. I'm amazed how many cyclist that have never ridden near or next to a recumbent. By the comments, I can tell this is something very new to 99% of them. It's the same for me, I have maybe ridden next to or with a recumbent 4or 5 times in my 250,000 miles on the bike. Why are these bikes not out there in larger numbers I wonder. Judging by the comments of my cyclist buddies the past week, as I tell them I'm now a recumbent dealer, they don't realizing what these bikes can do. Seems most people have recumbents in the category of "strange, slow and awkward". All they know is that it looks odd but comfortable. No one I've talked to knows anything about the feel of the ride. I guess with over 100 years of seeing people on a standard road bike configuration, anything else would look odd. Even the bike shop owners I know roll their eyes at the mention of a recumbent. From only three days in the comfy chair of my formula one style bike, I see there is a serious lack of education about these bikes.
Today's ride should be another 20 mile ride. A short flat ride between house calls. Did I mention I started and run a mobile bicycle repair business for the past 24 years. When I was racing I worked in bike shops, but once the racing era was over I wanted to try creating a mobile bike repair shop. The most common customer comment when they brought a bike in was, "how long do I have to wait to get it back". No answer was too soon and they would often mention they had a couple more at home that would not fit in the car. So I decided to go to the customer with my business and fix all the bike and all that day. If you want to read more about my business check out www.thebikedoctor.net. Back to the ride. I chose this route because of it's flat terrain. I want to put some miles on these new groups of muscles being used before I hit some of the bigger hills around here. Don't believe me, I'll be climbing in less than a couple of days, I love hills. Most of the hill climbs have 1800-2000 feet of elevation gain and are 4-7 miles long. Not much to report about this ride. Handling is almost second nature now, my upper body tenses up only occasionally but I can sense it right away and easily correct. Drafted, caught and few, and once again my 20 mile ride easily turns into a 30 mile ride. I'm still a bit squirrelly on the bike, not quite in the grove but good things are happening. About half the hard turns I go into are feeling coordinated. Riding a straight line is mostly good, with an occasional correction needed. Still not the control I have with my Trek Madone road bike.
Day 4 didn't look like it was going to happen. The sky had been threatening all day, but each hour went by without rain. Ok I'm going, I figured that would make it rain and this area could always use some. The bike had been looking at me all day as I worked in my truck. I'm not sure, but I might be addicted. It will be very interesting to see how long I keep this level of excitement, and when will be the next time I reach for my Madone instead of the Corsa. I've Parked 5 miles from my target road, Canada Road, in Woodside. Another favorite stretch of rolling road that runs about 14 miles out and back. I hop on, zoom out and execute a few stop lights like I know what I'm doing. No hesitation on the stop, one foot comes out one stays in. I'm solid at rest and lift off from a stop is effortless and smooth. This is wonderful, four days and I'm feeling that ride recumbent riders talk about. I really feel like I'm into this bike, not like "I'm into it man," more like the bike is around me and I'm part of it. Road bikes don't have this feel as much as a recumbent does. It's the low center of gravity and this prone position. There is the main tube of the bike frame and then there is my body, the other frame structure. You really feel a part of this ride. A road bike you sit on, a recumbent you sit in. This ride is going so well, everything is clicking and I'm on Canada Road with the wind at my back and I'm flying again. I don't have a lot of time before it will be getting dark and I debate going the entire length of this road before I turn back and hit that head wind. I hate to ride at night. Oh hell, I'm going for it, head wind and darkness, I can't stop riding.
Oh, let me mention here that I never ride any bike without strobe lights. I caught up to a few buddies of mine in the hills about 2 years ago and they had decided to run their strobe lights all day. I was amazed, I saw those lights way before I saw them on their bikes. I started thinking, daylight running lights... my 1980 road motorcycle had them built into the ignition, many new cars come with daylight lights, my 14 foot box truck runs daylight running lights and even buses now have daylight lights. What the hell was I thinking? If my 7 by 10 by 24 foot work truck is more visible with lights why am I not running lights on my bike. My visual footprint on a bike is tiny compared to a truck or a car. And then I heard that 60% of daytime car vs bike accidents happen because the driver never saw the cyclist...60%! Think about that one each time a car passes you. Which one will be the one that doesn't see you. These strobes, my favorite Planet Bike Super Flash, is a half watt strobe that can been seen 1/4 mile up the road, in broad daylight. Plenty of time to be seen by any driver. And these bikes being so aero also means we have even less visible surface area than a road bike rider. 100 hours on 2 AAA batteries, I think my life is worth splurging on 2 AAA's. Sorry to preach, just trying to save a life. We have all had close calls and now I wondered if some of those drivers even saw us.
The road is open, wide and smooth. I climbed a nice easy 1/2 mile grade with surprising ease. The wind at my back is helping a little, but my speeds are saying I'm even with my road bike and I'm not really killing myself. Crest that rise and continue another couple of miles just enjoying the ride. This is another beautiful road flanked by Crystal Springs reservoir and the coastal hills as a backdrop. Grassy meadows, glassy smooth lake, and I'm staring straight up watching three red tail hawks circling over head. I can stay perfectly balanced for about 5 seconds while looking straight up! This is something I can't do on road bike. I have a massive panoramic view that I can really take in. Even pushing it hard and grabbing for air, my head is up and the view is right there to enjoy, I am loving this. The turn around, a head wind now and it's looking like rain. 1/2 mile in, wind must be at a slightly different angle, maybe I'm protected by those trees a bit. 1 mile, some wind but nothing much. 2 miles in and I'm in the area where I felt the tail wind. I feel a headwind but I'm still cranking pretty good. Another amazing aspect I've heard but hadn't experienced, the recumbent has much less drag, and yes it's true. This ride back is a breeze, even into the breeze. It's bout 5 miles from my truck and the end of the ride and I'm getting rain, and getting it good. A downpour and I'm feeling so fast and fresh. Riding with my head up, my face is straight into the rain, so I open my mouth and enjoy a drink straight from the clouds. Glad to be wearing sun glasses cause at these speeds rain drops sting. So far the only downfall of a recumbent...it's too fast when it's raining.
Back in Woodside and thinking about hills...Old La Honda. A climb of about 4 miles, little traffic and it lines me up for a fast downhill back into Woodside on Highway 84. Smooth turns and well paved. I want to feel speed and corners. I should stay away from that climb I keep saying. But as I approach the turn off for the hill, the two cyclist I've been catching make the right turn to the hill, I have to follow. I have no other choice but to climb. This should give me an idea of how slow I am on hills. Sadly within a mile they are out of site. Rats...how slow am I on this recumbent, or maybe how fast were they. I remind myself that this is not a race and I re-adjust my ride from the pace of a hound dogs chase, to a deer's loping pace, sit back into the seat, relax and enjoy the visuals at show speed. The climb is over all tough, my quads burning a bit and hamstrings are getting a serious workout. Pulling on the pedals seems so much more automatic and a bigger part of the pedal stroke with recumbents. Once again I tell myself I need more miles before a good climb like this, I need base miles. But I'm at the top and that puts the me 4 miles above the bottom. I'm excited about the downhill. First a 2 mile straight subtle downhill before I take the right on Highway 84. I reach 20 in a snap, another few seconds and I hit 30mph. You will find that these bikes go from 20 to 30 without much effort. Pedal hard, put my back into the seat again and I'm at 40mph. Yikes, that was easy.
My Bacchetta rides even more stable at speeds than I thought it would. I give the bars a quick twitch to test how quickly it centers itself. No wobble and better than I expected, much like my road bike. Now for Highway 84, first turn at 20mph, easy smooth, next turn at 30, still smooth. I wonder how far I can go, and will I know what is too far. I know a standard road bike feel and pretty much know the limits, but I don't know recumbents. I'll have to push myself into the unknown to know. With each of the next 15 sweeping turns, once into the turn, I wish I had entered the turn faster than I did. Each turn teasing me to add more speed. These bikes feel very different in a turn. Center of gravity, position over the wheels, not sure what it really is but I'm loving it. The bike in a turn has the feeling much like a Seadoo or motor boat. The front wheel enters the turn and feels like a road bike, but the back wheel feels like its sinking into the road and carves the turn. Strange to me but solid, I feel stuck to the road. Off the hill and I tack on the usual extra miles to the ride, as I have for every recumbent ride so far.
I bet there are thousands of people who test rode a recumbent, that never felt what I felt today. It took me 20 miles to feel ok on the bike but another 200 miles to really know what it is about these bikes that makes it such a thrill to ride. If you test ride a recumbent, a trip around the block is telling you nothing except that they feel strange. If you have never ridden a recumbent, you need miles on these bikes to feel comfortable. Now I know why there are not more people on recumbents. How many shops will let you test a bike for 200 miles? I have over 250,000 on my legs and it took me until today to know recumbents. I'm keeping this one.
Santa Cruz, CA. Felton Empire Rd. 5 mile hill climb. I know I know, I need more miles on my legs to be doing another hill, but I know my times on this one. I need to know how slow I am on hills and I want a base time to gauge improvement. Out of the house and 6 miles later I'm at the base. 1/3rd of the way up and I know by the slight pain in my quads and hamstrings it's too early for a climb like this. Who cares, I'm going up. I sit back in the saddle and motor up the hill. I hit the top and I'm a bit over 25% slower than my road bike...ouch that hurts. I know the muscles are not there yet, so I give myself a brake. I'll keep you posted. At this point I'm down 25% on the hills, but I gain maybe 10% on the flats and 15% on the down hills, sounds like I'm even. Add in a few points for the comfort factor and a few more for the visual pleasure and I'm up overall. This climb lands me on top of Boony Doon Doon Rd. with a fast fast descend to the coast road, Highway 1. Heading down, 20-30-40mph, this downhill puts you at top speed by just tucking in. Oh right I'm on a recumbent, there is nothing to tuck in, I'm pre tucked. I top out at 51mph and the Bacchetta is so solid, I'm stunned, it feels as stable as my road bike. I make it to Highway 1, way too soon, and now an 8 mile stiff headwind back to Santa Cruz. This ride actually kicks my butt today, too soon for a hill like that. Ok, I know my climbing stats on hills, now it's time for more base miles. I'll be back after a few hundred miles with another full report on this hill.
A few cold rainy days gave me chance to read a few articles about recumbent experiences and some technical stuff. I'm happy to report that I'm still sold on the Bacchetta recumbents. The rider feedback on the internet is consistently positive about Bacchetta's. Also every article says that I should find climbing hills much faster in a few months. Maybe even as fast as a standard road bike. I'll be checking times again in a month. Stay tuned.
I'll be adding updats by miles now instead of days. This will take months to build up my legs and I think a better guage is distance. If you plan to become as fast as you can on a recumbent or any bike, riding once a week is not going to get you there. Oh sure, you will be able to enjoy the ride but if you want to improve you need to get out there for at least two rides a week perferably three. Spend your first 500 miles doing flats and some short hills but nothing with a steep enough grade to force you into your easiest gear. You don't want to blow out a knee and you can put alot of force into the pedal thanks to the seat giving you something to push against. Take your time, it's still fun and your knees will be much happier in the long run.