Tools for Possibilities

Recumbent Bikes

Tools for Possibilities: issue no. 11

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Supremely comfortable pedal-wheels
Sun USX Recumbent Tricycle, $1,300+

The Sun EZ-3 USX is a human-powered, recumbent, three-wheeled vehicle. It engages me in a way that the Segway did not. I am amazed this product, what some call a “bent trike,” is not better known.

The USX is the most comfortable human powered vehicle ever, more comfortable than many cars. It’s safe, practical, and affordable. I hate exercise but I find myself impatient to get my next chance to ride this thing.

Riding the USX is eerie, because it feels like relaxing on a perfect easy chair and performing aerobic exercise at once. You can go fast or slow, and both are wonderful. You can load the thing with 450 total pounds. You can pull carts. Some riders have decked out USX’s with iPod sound systems and other amenities. You can get rain roofs and car hitches.

There are some downsides. It’s heavy: 65 pounds. Going up hills is pleasant, but slower than on a bicycle. Some of the parts (bolts, screws, and bearings, in particular) are low-end and might need to be replaced sooner than you’d expect. It doesn’t come with some essential features, like rear view mirrors. (Mirrycle handlebar mirrors are the best after-market choice.) It’s hard to mount a front headlight.

Some other upsides: Unlike a lot of bent trikes, the USX folds for easy transportation. I put it inside the back of our SUV instead of on a rack. Another big plus: you sit high enough to be noticed by car drivers, though I also added a flag and extra lights to err on the side of caution. Although it looks wide, and encourages cars to give more room than is commanded by bicyclists, it is actually narrow enough to roll through a standard door. You can stand it up on end so it takes minimal room when parked. You can just stop and rest while going uphill – it has a parking brake.

There are lots of other bent trikes — dozens — but most are “performance-oriented” — made for athletes. Some of the athletic brands are Greenspeed, Catrike, and Windcheetah. I have tried some of them, and I think they are fun and interesting, but not what I want. They are expensive, very low slung (you’re practically on the ground while riding), and not so practical for non-athletes. What I want is something that’s super easy to get in and out of, that’s fun to sit on while standing still, that’s high up enough to be safe around cars, and that is fun to ride slow, while on the phone or catching up on treo email. I want something for life, not for sport, and there’s not much competition in this niche. There is another interesting comfort-oriented bent trike, the Hase Leupus, from Germany. The Leupus is lighter and made of higher-end parts, but is disproportionately more expensive. The seat isn’t as comfortable as the USX — though it does have better suspension. Hase also makes super light versions, including titanium models.

The USX is available online. If you buy online, know that Sun ships the USX without the parts well-tightened. If you can afford it, it makes more sense to buy retail from a good local bike shop for about $1,300. The service will be very much worth it! – Jaron Lanier
Front wheel drive recumbent bicycle
Cruzbike Freerider, $1,195

Although it takes time to master the ride, the Cruzbike’s a blast once you do get the hang of it. It’s a front-wheel drive bike, so it gives you the comfort and speed of a recumbent without the long, long chain. The lack of chain in the rear makes it a perfect complement to the Xtracycle free radical sport utility bike, which is specifically why I bought the Cruzbike. I have the stock 65 psi tires on my Freerider now, but I’m thinking of upgrading to disc brakes and 100 psi tires to make it even more of a cargo-hauling truck. (As much as possible, I try to avoid driving a car entirely.)

I first bought a recumbent in 2000, after testing several, and never looked back. I’ve ridden bikes like the EZ-1 and have four recumbents currently: a Rans Rocket (my first), a Rans tandem, a BikeE (for my wife) and the Cruzbike, which I bought last fall. The Cruzbike’s grip-shift handles the same as any other bike, and it takes hills pretty well for a ‘bent, albeit with the proviso that no ‘bent climbs as well as an upright because you can’t stand up on the pedals (a small price to pay for being able to ride for hours without feeling any pain and for having a pleasurable touring ride experience).

It feels great to glide through the world with your head in a normal, comfortable position, at a comfortable height, instead of craning to see traffic. I find I’m faster because you are more aerodynamic than on an upright. Thus, it also takes less work to maintain the same speed. Even with the Xtracycle, the Cruzbike feels amazingly light. – John Gear
Inexpensive recumbent bicycle
EZ-1 SX Recumbent, $899

I recommend the cheap recumbent, EZ-1, designed by the makers of the classy Tour Easy touring recumbent. I ride a BikeE recumbent myself, but they went out of business. My bro has an EZ-1. They’re not the lightest, fastest, or coolest recumbent, but they have the ergonomics of a $1500 bike and are a blast to ride. They start at $900. The EZ-1 is a comfortable workhorse that lets you stay in the saddle for a *long* time. – Mark Crane
Lightweight tri-wheel bent
Greenspeed Trike, $2,390+

Although I’ve known about recumbents for years, until recently I had a prejudice against them. Whenever I observed middle- aged riders of two-wheeled recumbents obviously just getting started on regular daily exercise, they seemed unstable when starting to pedal from a dead stop. That led me to trying out a three-wheel tadpole trike, which allows you to remain in a stable, ready-to-ride position. Tadpoles have the two wheels in the front, one in back. Deltas have the two wheels in the back. After just two minutes riding a trike, I was addicted.

The Greenspeed sits closer to the ground and is much lighter than most delta trikes — my GT3 weighs 37.5 lbs compared to the 65 lbs. of the previously- reviewed Sun USX. Unlike deltas, the tadpole provides a greater sense of the same freedom, speed and agility that people are used to on good upright bikes. My GT3 is much faster and infinitely more sporty and maneuverable than a delta. If deltas are sedans; tadpoles are the sport coupes. Sitting with one’s head upright enables you to enjoy your surroundings much more than on regular cycles. This is true of all recumbents, but for me, there’s something especially thrilling about a tadpole. Though all tadpoles whip around like human-powered go-carts, the Greenspeed has 16-inch wheels rather than 20-inch ones on most tadpoles. Thus, it has a much tighter turning radius and even more responsive steering. It’s also really fun to move along at a good clip that close to the ground.

It’s worth noting that if you’re older and/ or fairly overweight, the Greenspeed can be harder to get in and out of than other tadpoles (again, it’s lower to the ground).

Greenspeeds aren’t the cheapest tadpoles. Sun now makes fairly inexpensive tadpoles and that entry-level Catrike is a real deal. The new Greenspeed GT1 is more affordable than the GT3, but obviously the higher price brings with it better components and a noticeable difference in performance that I value.

Throughout my 20’s and early 30’s I was an avid distance cyclist; indeed, one of the most life-affirming events in my life was touring cross country in 1978. That said, I always had discomfort in my neck, crotch and butt and developed some knee problems. Finally, in my late 30’s I started to have back problems that became stenosis and sciatica. I had to quit cycling.

Until I discovered bent rides and the GT3, I thought I’d never ride again. Like many people my age (I’m 54), I have battled my weight. Having a significant gut makes riding traditional bikes that are meant to be quick, not feasible. Since starting to ride my GT3, I’ve lost 30 lbs and have been able to make good progress on a new routine of sensible eating that suits my body and age better. The machine motivates me greatly. During the summer, I rode nearly every day, ten to thirty miles. I’ve joined a gym to continue conditioning through the Minnesota winter before I begin bike touring again next year. – Curtis Wenzel

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