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Converting to 'Recumbentism'
Written by Travis Prebble   
Monday, 05 January 2009 13:00

Living up to his alias (in a good way), Longfellow of the 'BentRider Online forums posted a great story about his conversion to recumbent riding and the Longbikes Slipstream that has made it so enjoyable.  I'd normally just shuttle you over to the forums, but this really deserves to have as wide an audience as possible.  So without further ado...

When I decided to make the switch from an upright to a recumbent, many recumbent veterans told me to be prepared for using different muscles. Little did I expect them to be my facial muscles.

I’ve been grinning from ear to ear since my Longbikes Slipstream arrived on December 3, 2008.

As recumbent rider Roland writes in his blog at www.ebent.wordpress.com: “You are learning to ride again. This is the time to feel like a kid and enjoy every moment of this new experience. Old roads will look new.”

He is absolutely right. Every familiar road on which I’ve cycled, feels and looks different — like I’m exploring it for the first time. It really is like being a kid again and discovering a whole new world out there on your first bicycle.

So why a recumbent?

Since first learning to ride my cousin’s bike more than 50 years ago, I have been an enthusiastic cyclist. My first bike was a heavy coaster bike on which I did my first “tour” at age 11. A friend and I cycled out of our city neighborhood, across a major bridge to what we considered the country, and then back home for a distance of 24 miles. We enjoyed the exhilarating sense of adventure.

Cycling was put on the back burner during teenage years.

Not until my late 20s did I again start riding regularly, this time on a bike borrowed from my brother. In my early 30s, I finally bought my own sport-touring bike, a relatively inexpensive Norco Monterey. (Today that name is used on a mountain bike).

Never out to break speed or distance records, cycling for me was always a pleasant way to see the countryside. You catch details often missed if going faster, and yet you can actually travel fair distances simply on leg power.

Over the years, I enjoyed many fully loaded tours averaging about 400 miles each. There were many other shorter trips as well with my yearly mileage averaging just over 2,000.

The old Norco was not the ideal bike for fully loaded touring but it had been very dependable over the years. It was also difficult to even consider parting with it after almost 48,000 miles.

Still, I knew it was time to start thinking about a new bike — hopefully another 20-plus year bike.

I started looking at touring bikes…and then custom-built frames for my own extra-large 6’ 9” 260-pound frame.

I’m not sure exactly when I began looking at recumbents, but by 2005 my interest was quickly growing. Finding a local recumbent bike shop was a major discovery. So was Bob Bryant’s wonderful but now defunct Recumbent Cyclist News. And then [BentRider Online].

I was now studying recumbents far more closely than uprights.

I tried several long wheel-based bikes but wasn’t quite comfortable with the above seat steering. More practice might have made a difference.

Then I tried a tadpole trike with under-seat steering. That type of steering just felt so natural. The trike was tempting. It would allow me to climb hills as slowly as I wanted and it was a lot of fun. Although I really liked the feel of the trikes, I still really wanted only two wheels.

I tried shorter wheel-based bicycles too, but the bottom brackets were too high for my liking.

The more I read and experimented, the more I wanted to see and ride a Longbikes Slipstream. I had read and heard many good things about it. Now completely built in Denver, the long wheel-based under seat steering Slipstream is a direct descendent of the Avatar and Ryan Vanguard.

Unfortunately my local bike shop didn’t carry them and had no plans to import one. I can’t blame them. With the value of the Canadian dollar against the U.S. dollar at the time, it was one costly bike.

I asked several Slipstream riders for their opinions. They were all kind enough to write and even phone with their extensive thoughts. They made me want to try it even more.

I then had several long conversations with Longbikes owner and builder Greg Peek about building bikes, recumbents, the Slipstream and more. I even met Greg when he was in town on business unrelated to cycling. He is a very easy-going and helpful person who cares very much about his bicycles and how they are designed and built.

A trip to Denver in 2006 finally gave me a chance to ride a Slipstream. It was everything I had heard, read and more. I felt completely at ease and comfortable on my very first ride.

But I was still nervous about buying it. I had never spent this much on a bike. With the extras I needed and wanted like an extra-long frame, heavy-duty tandem wheels with Phil Woods hubs, front and rear racks, mountain gearing, the price was going to be more than the base list price of $2599 U.S. And would I really like it? I had only ridden it twice for about an hour and that can’t be considered a true test.

We left for home without ordering one.

More research followed.

In the spring of last year (2008), a rear dropout on my old Norco cracked. Although it was beautifully repaired by a local mountain bike frame builder, I knew the old bike was getting tired. Two months later, one of the seat stays broke with only my weight holding the two pieces in line.

At about the same time, the Canadian dollar suddenly became worth more than the U.S. dollar…albeit for a short time.

I called Greg.

My yellow Slipstream arrived on December 3rd, packed into two boxes. It took me about two hours to assemble the bike with two Allen keys. Much of that time was taken up simply because the parts were so carefully packed in what seemed like mountains of foam. There was not much more to do than attach the wheels, handlebar, seat, rear fender and rear rack.

The handlebars and seat can be set in so many positions that making it a perfect fit is just a matter of fine-tuning. Luckily I set it up almost perfectly for my own tastes when I assembled it for the first time.

I immediately set out in the dark to try it out. It was superb!

In the daylight the next day, I finally had a chance to really take a close look at it.

This was one l-o-n-g bike — just over eight feet from the front wheel to the back wheel. With its upswept bottom tube, it has a very pleasing design. The welds and machined parts were beautifully made. The paint was thick and very nicely applied.

It took only a few rides to get the hang of starting without wobbling all over the road or starting on a hill. The relatively low bottom bracket makes it easy.

Tight turns take a little extra care. Being used to an upright on which you can seemingly turn on a dime, the Slipstream is not quite that agile. On one poorly designed local bike route, cyclists have to turn 180 degrees on a narrow path surrounded by fences. That’s a little tough to do on a Slipstream.

It is far more at home on the highway or street where it literally eats up the miles. After several 30-mile rides, I felt I could easily have extended those rides by another 30 miles or more. It was only the short daylight hours and unseasonably cold temperatures that limited my rides.

The under seat steering is particularly appealing to me. With no handlebar in front of you and your arms relaxed at your sides, one Slipstream rider has likened it to an IMAX movie — everything unfolds in front of you without obstructions. It’s like floating along the road.

Over the years I have always pedaled with a cadence of about 100 using toeclips and later clipless pedals. For the time being, I’m using the stock platform pedals that came with the Slipstream until riding it becomes closer to second nature. I have had my foot come off the pedal at speed a few times (without mishap) so I’m looking forward to installing the clipless pedals soon.

When climbing with my old upright, I rarely got out of the saddle or even pulled on the handlebars so the transition has been easy on the Slipstream. I just try to get into the proper gear and spin away until I reach the top. Pushing against the seat back gives me extra leverage.

On the downhills, the Slipstream flies! It’s also very steady. Holding the handlebars on either side and sitting just 23 inches above the ground, it feels more like you’re piloting some kind of flying vehicle than a bicycle. It’s nice to know the front and rear Avid disc brakes are there when the flight plans suddenly have to change.

Although you aren’t likely to break speed records with it, the Slipstream feels like one very solid bike. I doubt it would ever let you down in the middle of a long fully loaded tour. It can take the weight of large riders and loads and yet is equally at home with smaller riders on short, light neighbourhood jaunts.

In my first 200 miles of riding the Slipstream, I have had one mishap on a rainy day. I had to pass through a narrow gate that had grass under it before the trail started up again. Other bicycles had worn the grass between the gateposts into a muddy hollow. The hollow was deeper than I realized and the back wheel went out from under me as I went through the mud patch. I managed to slightly bend the steering linkage rod.

A sheepish phone call to Greg took away any worries. His chuckling admonishment was: “You didn’t think it was a mountain bike did you?” He was ready to send me a new steering linkage rod at no charge! I had to insist on paying for it because it was due after all, to my own “bog heroics.”

Reactions to the Slipstream have been very interesting and fun. Construction workers have yelled out: “Now that’s a bike!” A woman stepped out from a bus stop to declare: “That is a cool bike — no I mean a really cool bike!” Two fellows in their 30s admired what they called “the hot rod” bike. Then as I was leaving a coffee shop, a woman seemingly in her late 80s shuffled over and used her cane to point to the Slipstream saying: “Now why would you want to ride a goofy looking thing like that instead of a normal bicycle.”

As I mentioned…riding a recumbent means a lot of grinning!


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