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A recumbent bike is any bike where the rider is in a reclined position. These bikes are more comfortable to ride (once you get used to it!) and faster because of reduced wind resistance. However, there’s a bit of a learning curve when it comes to balancing, starting, stopping and maneuvering a recumbent bike (as there is with an upright bike) but once you nail it down, you’ll wonder why more people aren’t riding them!
- Find a clear, level space, free of obstacles and traffic. Choose a surface that is paved, rather than loose material such as dirt or gravel, which can slip. Try an empty parking lot or wide, quiet side street.
- Beginners will probably find it difficult to start on an uphill slope. Get comfortable riding before starting uphill.
- Mount the bike and sit with both feet in the ground and your hands on the handlebars.
- Put the bike in a low or medium gear. If you have hub gears, you can change the gear while coasting or standing still (just release pressure from the pedals before moving the shifter). With derailleur gears, you may have to dismount and change gears while turning the pedals. It will help to have an assistant for this process, since you will either need to wheel the bike along or lift the drive wheel up.
- Adjust the seat to your height. Designs vary, but recumbent seats slide forward and back along a bar. As with a diamond-frame bike, you will want your knee almost straight at the farthest point of its travel. You may also wish to adjust the tilt of the seat and the location of the handlebars at this stage, but those adjustments may have more to do with your long-term comfort than just getting started. Your feet should be able to reach the ground and the pedals comfortably.
- Make sure the kickstand is up, if there is one. It’s usually behind you on a recumbent, so it’s easy to forget.
- Apply both brakes and put one foot (your leading foot) on the pedal. Pull the pedal backwards with your toe until it is approximately straight up. When riding a recumbent, you will push back against the seat, rather than using your weight to push the pedals.
- Push the pedal, release the brakes, lift your other foot off the ground, and you’re off.
- Practice riding without wobbling. Make a few laps up and down the street and get the feel for the balance. Like other bikes, going very slowly is a good way to wobble more and have a harder time balancing, so try to get up to at least a good medium pace. The balance will be a little different from the bikes you have ridden, but the fundamentals are the same.
- Change into a higher gear if you’d like. Again, change hub gears while coasting, but change derailleur gears while pedaling. Your recumbent may have both.
- Practice slowing and stopping. Apply both brakes at once and get your feet ready to touch the ground and come to a stop. Get ready to start up again.
- Remember that you will need to unclip if you are using toe clips or clipless pedals. Allow plenty of time if you need to unclip, or get a feel for the bike without clipping in.
- Gear down as you slow down, so that you will be ready for your next start.
- Keep the brakes applied the entire time if you’re not moving.
- Advanced braking techniques:
- With front suspension, best control results from braking with the front brake first, then the rear. This permits front suspension to be compressed and prevents the rear wheel from locking-up, fish-tailing and losing control.
- Low racers may be so low that it may be possible to stop while keeping one’s feet clipped into the pedals, by putting one hand on the ground and resting upon it. Wear gloves and make sure you stop fully before putting your hand down, if you choose to try this.
- Use your momentum to help yourself sit up if you have a fairly upright seat. Moments before coming to a halt, remove your feet from the pedals keeping your knees bent and raised (shoes unclipped if you use clips). As you stop, your momentum automatically lifts you upright in the seat and you can place your feet on the ground as you stop.
- Practice turning. As on an upright bike, lean into the turn, keeping pressure on the outside pedal to heel the bike into as vertical an angle as possible. Feather your brakes going into the turn, stop pedaling, and have the outside pedal down, pointing your inside knee in the direction of the turn. As you become more proficient on your new bike, you’ll be able to turn at fairly high speed.
- Brake before a turn, not after you begin, so that you are traveling the right speed before you change direction. If you skid during a turn, you are likely to fall.
- Be very careful turning on loose gravel, oil, mud, ice, snow, black ice (looks like a wet road but the tires make no sound), debris, trash, wet leaves, and wet or dusty ironwork. A recumbent will slip just like a diamond-frame bike and grab lips and edges that are close to parallel with the wheels, but it’s harder to put a foot down in a hurry.
- With some recumbents, the rider’s feet can interfere with the front fork-crown or under-seat steering mechanism (if present). If this is possible, it is essential to stop pedaling around corners. With other types, such as long-wheel-base bikes, this typically cannot happen, so it is safe to pedal around corners.
- Approach train tracks, gratings, and the raised edges of driveways and gutters as close as you can to perpendicular. Recumbent wheels, especially small ones, will tend to grab lips and edges if you approach them close to parallel. Walk or lift the bike over tall curbs or steps. Don’t try to hop up a curb on a recumbent.
- Be very aware of road conditions. As recumbents become lower and faster, the ability to see the ground in front of the front wheel is substantially reduced. It becomes harder to spot debris and adverse surface conditions like pot-holes. Hitting such a depression or performing evasive maneuvers could unseat you.
- Be patient. Don’t expect to go faster than an ordinary diamond-frame bike immediately. Recumbents use different muscle groups and it takes time to develop ‘recumbent legs’. Once strengthened, your stamina and speeds will improve. Initially, it is likely that a novice rider will be slower on a recumbent than on an ‘upwrong’ bike. As a very rough guide, assume that this will take a minimum of several hundred miles to a thousand miles.
- As with any bike, make sure that everything is in good working order and your tires are properly inflated whenever you ride.
- Master the basics before moving onto clip-less pedals, but consider choosing them later. Clip-less pedals help prevent ‘leg suck’, caused by a foot touching the ground and being dragged beneath the rider – potentially causing anything from soft-tissue injuries to multiple fractures of leg and ankle! Leg suck may be a greater problem with low seat height.
- Use a mirror. Looking over your shoulder to see what’s coming from behind is much more difficult on a recumbent, for both balance and physical reasons. A helmet or handlebar mounted mirror is a necessity.
- If you think you’re going to crash, stay with the bike. You’re not likely to go over the front wheel, but you are likely to slide. Let the bike hit the ground first. It can be repaired more easily that you.
- Just like ‘normal’ bikes, recumbents come in a wide range of types. There are long wheel base (LWB) cruisers, tourers, low racers, and many others. Choose one that fits your riding style.
- A good bike shop will make sure you have mastered the starting and stopping technique before you leave with your new bike.
- Because it is not possible to stand on the pedals, a novice recumbent rider will initially find hills more difficult to climb. This is especially true because of low speed stability issues that limit the lowest usable gear. Once a rider has developed ‘recumbent legs’, climbing hills becomes much easier.
- Panniers and other obstacles to smooth airflow can greatly add to stamina-draining drag.
- Practice in a parking lot before moving on to the road.
- As mentioned above, you need to have your feet ready to hit the ground once you’ve come to a stop, but don’t drag your feet on the ground if you’re moving too fast. Your foot could get pulled behind you and get injured.
- As recumbent bikes are lower to the ground than traditional bicycles, riding through traffic can be a dangerous exercise. Ensure that you are visible to drivers and other pedestrians alike. When riding in traffic, a safety flag can greatly enhance your visibility. Such flags are only needed in traffic where speeds are often low. Flags are readily shredded at higher speeds.
- Visibility at junctions is restricted. The vast majority of recumbents where the rider is seated reclined backwards have the rider’s head well towards the rear, which means that it’s sometimes difficult to make proper observations at junctions where vision may be obstructed by parked vehicles, buildings, etc. If this is the case, the rider must stop or risk emerging into the path of traffic.
- Be very careful when riding a recumbent in the presence of horses and riders. Some ridden horses can be scared and show the whites of their eyes, and become potentially uncontrollable by their riders. It may be worse when approaching the horse and rider from the rear.
- Don’t buy a recumbent unless you’re happy to get noticed! Wherever you go, people will ask about your bike!
Things You’ll Need
- A recumbent bike
- A bike helmet
- Sports glasses or wrap-around sunglasses, to keep grit and insects out of your eyes
- Cycle mitts or gloves
- Space to ride
Sources and Citations
- ↑ http://www.bikeroute.com/Recumbents/BentMedBenefits.php
- ↑ http://www.tfhrc.gov/safety/pubs/04103/04103.pdf
- ↑ http://www.recumbentblog.com/2008/04/18/leg-suck-be-damned/#more-784
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