Going on nearly six years ago, Mrs. Manor and I were riding two wheeled recumbents. A Ran V-Rex for me and a Rans Stratus for her. Rans no longer makes either model. We enjoyed them very much, but Mrs. Manor, who is seven years my senior, was showing the beginning of a balance problem, so we got her a Terra Trike Sportster.
The Sportster is a great trike, though Terra Trike no longer makes it, replacing it with another model for the 2021 model year. We quickly discovered on our rides together though the Sportster is a fast trike, I was really have to lug it on the V-Rex, so we sold it and I got a Sportster as well. Six years on, we’re six years older, and my need for speed never abated, so about a year ago, I began the search for another two wheeled recumbent that would allow me to go fast when not riding with Mrs. Manor. But what to do?
New bikes, with all the bells and whistles, are quite pricey, and because I plan to spend most of my time riding with Mrs. Manor—I much prefer to do things with her rather than anyone else—I couldn’t justify the price of a new machine I wouldn’t ride nearly as much as my Sportster. So I began to search for used bikes. Trying to buy, sight unseen, long distance, has many potential problems, so I found Angletech, in Colorado Springs, which is not only the best stocked recumbent shop in that part of America, but also takes in, refurbishes, and sells used bikes.
Keep in mind recumbents are only about 3% of the total bicycle market, and trikes are about 70% of the recumbent market. As such, recumbents of any type are more expensive than “diamond framed” two wheelers, partly because so relatively few of them are made, and partly because there is more hand fitting, fabrication and less parts commonality involved. However, a $3000 dollar recumbent that is regularly ridden compares favorably with a $600 upright bike that spends most of its time gathering dust in the garage.
After spending some time with the Angletech “experienced cycles” website, I settled on the blue Bacchetta Giro A26 high racer you see here. A “high racer” is a recumbent with at least 26”, 650c or 700c wheels. As you can see, the riding position–particularly the crankset–is higher than any other type of recumbent–scroll back to the V-Rex photo–and the large, skinny wheels and aerodynamic position of the rider make high racers among the very fastest recumbents. The other common short wheelbase recumbents, like the V-Rex, have 20” or smaller front wheels. A call to Angletech to specify a few additional modifications, and a few weeks later, I was on my way to The Springs.
The good folks at Angletech said the bike was in “excellent” condition, and had apparently been ridden only about 100 miles, judging by the lack of wear on the original tires. One normally takes that sort of thing with a grain of salt, but they were obviously right. The bike is in nearly new condition, with like new everything, including pristine paint and all rubber and plastic parts. The seat was never worn in, and some of the gears on the cassette have never felt the caress of the chain. This is all the more remarkable when the Bacchetta folks told me, judging from the serial number, it’s probably a 2003 model—18 years old! It’s a genuinely, driven only by a little old lady on Sundays and garaged every other day kind of machine. How much? $995.00.
That may sound high by middle of the road upright bike standards, but for recumbents, it’s quite cheap. Keep in mind it’s very easy these days to spend more than $10,000 on a street or mountain bike.
The current A26 has a MSRP of $2400. Apart from the paint, different seat and disc brakes, they’re essentially the same machine.
The bike was rideable as is, with the exception of appropriate sizing adjustments, though I did need Shimano SPD pedals (PD-ES600). Clipless pedals are a necessity for recumbents, and SPD standard cleats are much easier to walk in than the other street bike standard. I also opted for Schwalbe Marathon Pro tires, 26” X 1.35”, which is about as close as 26” tires get to the much skinnier and lighter tires of more usual street bikes. However, we run the Schwalbe tires on our trikes, and while they’re pricy—about $60.00 each—they are very, very rugged and last for many years. I’ve never had to change a flat on a Marathon Plus—they’re well reinforced–but have on other tires, so we’re sold on them.
Accessories always add to the price of a bike, so let’s go over the accessories I chose, which are pretty much what we have on our Sportsters. We begin with the Profile Design bottle mounts, from Performance Bike. This mounting position causes weak mounts to release water bottles if one hits a good bump, and many is the time I’ve had to U-turn to retrieve a bottle. These particular mounts, which are quite cheap–$8.00–are very rugged, hold much of the bottle with friction alone, and are unlikely to let a bottle fly away. And no, it’s not hard to remove or replace the bottle when riding; it just takes a little getting used to.
One area where recumbents can lag a bit behind diamond-framed bikes is in stiffness. A less stiff frame doesn’t allow all the pedaling effort to get to the rear wheel. Many ‘bents use “grenade pins” on their seat stays, which helps introduce unnecessary flex. I use T-Cycle seat strut clamps, $28.00. They come in various sizes, make the seat struts much more rigid, and allow finer length tuning than grenade pins and evenly spaced holes. T-Cycle, by the way, is the premier accessory manufacturer for recumbents, and many of their beautifully designed and made products work for all kinds of bikes. Some things can be a little pricey, but they’re absolutely the best on the market, and you get what you pay for.
Continuing with T-Cycle, we have their excellent Handlebar Accessory Mount ($50.00). This was mandatory, because due to the necessary design of the handlebars, there was no other way to properly mount the Mirrcycle mirror (more about that shortly). This mount—one of those pricy items—fits perfectly and does what nothing else can. You can see it in the various photos of the A26, and see what I mean. Quality matters.
The bike came with the bars and stem wrapped with the kind of tape common to diamond framed road bikes. That’s done largely to clean up the brake and shifter cable routing, but is also quite traditional. I prefer a cleaner look, so I removed the tape, which was something of a pain.
Pro-tip: WD40, and a common kitchen sponge/scouring pad, work very well for removing that kind of goo. WD40 is not a lubricant. It’s a very effective solvent. It took quite a bit of elbow grease, but it works even better than Goo Gone. After removing all the adhesive, I wiped everything dry, then went over it all again with a liberal amount of rubbing alcohol to remove any residual solvent. Neither WD40 nor alcohol damage the paint, as long as one doesn’t use anything too abrasive to remove the goo. Spray car wax finished the job.
Pro-Tip: The bike had a rather large and unsightly sticker from the original shop that sold it. As I’m sure you’re aware, such things are, by design, fiendishly hard to remove. Razor blades, etc. will surely gouge the paint, and even WD40 doesn’t work well on the sticker, only the adhesive holding it in place. The solution? I sharpened a thin gauge guitar pick, on one side only, with medium, then fine sandpaper. It allowed me to wedge up enough of the sticker—without paint damage—to peel off about 99% of it. The pick got the rest, and WD40 and rubbing alcohol, followed by wax, finished the job.
With the handlebar tape gone, I attached the brake and shift cables to the handlebars with simple zip ties, but T-Cycle makes a set of really cool clamp on cable guides for all four of those cables, plus a slot for a computer cable, for the handlebar stem. A pair goes for $44.00. They’re metal, not plastic, and beautifully machined and finished.
The final T-Cycle goodie is the idler. Idlers are a necessity due to the long chains required by recumbents, usually between 2-3 times as long as a standard chain. While I could have gotten by with the Bacchetta idler, I’ve always used T-Cycle idlers, which have never failed and last essentially forever. Bacchetta’s idler is actually pretty good. Many idlers on many makes and models are less so, which is why T-Cycle does a good business in idlers. The Bacchetta idler costs $67.00.
I’ve tried a variety of mirrors over four+ decades and never found anything superior—indeed, even as good—to the Mirrycle mirror. Unlike many other mirrors, once properly adjusted, it stays put, and only costs about $16.00. If any part breaks, unlike most makers, you don’t have to buy another mirror; you can order replacement parts for very reasonable prices.
On to Planet Bike. Particularly for trikes, which are quite low to the ground and therefore, essentially invisible to drivers, having flashing lights—and a tall flag—to the rear are essential. This is not quite so serious with a high racer which is about as tall as a diamond framed bike, but I added two of Planet Bike’s excellent Superflash Turbo lights, at $30.00 each. One might be enough, but I only have one body, so…
From the photo you may have deduced I sewed a simple strip of nylon strap to the seat bag I’ll explain in a moment to mount the lights. That works well, but the lights also come with a mount adaptable to a variety of bars and similar bits. They’re very bright and visible from great distances, even in daylight. I wouldn’t ride without them.
Finally from Planet Bike, I got their cheapest, most simple computer: the Protégé 5.0 for $25.00. I’ve had very bad luck with wireless computers, particularly from Cat Eye, so I’ve gone back to basics and dealt with a wire between the computer and wheel sensor. Actually, who notices or cares? I’m long past the age when saving a few grams of weight, wearing color coordinated cycling clothing, or having the newest techno cool goodies on the bike matter to me. I have a yellow helmet–only thing they had in stock that would fit my unusually large head–a blue bike, and the color of my clothing is whatever happens to be appropriate to the weather and clean. All of the stuff I’ve added to the bike adds weight, but so what? I’m not trying to impress anyone, and pushing a little extra weight is better training.
Finally, I needed a small seat bag, something big enough to hold a spare tube, some basic tools, a cell phone, etc., but nothing bigger than necessary. Terratrike makes a perfect bag for that purpose, which perfectly fits their standard seats, that costs $34.95. It’s high quality and very rugged. Unfortunately, because the seat designs are quite different, it doesn’t fit the A26 seat as well, and I had to sew on a strap to hold it in place. I’ll probably still have to do a bit more tailoring, but for the time being, it works nicely. You’ve already seen it. Terratrike has a lot of great recumbent accessories, by the way.
Just a few other items. I needed a pump in case of flats, and the kinds of mini pumps available are common and inexpensive, but their brackets are designed to fit on water bottle mounts between the frame and bottle cage. That wouldn’t work with the seat. I discovered the seat stays have the same hole spacing as bottle mounts, so after a trip to the local hardware store to get the right length stainless steel metric bolts, washers and nuts, here is the result:
The bike, actually, most bikes of this type, have a handlebar stem that is not only adjustable for height, but that pivots forward and backward to make entering the cockpit easier. This is what it looks like with the stem and bars forward:
When the stem is fully back, it slides into a slot that makes the connection between the bars and front wheel rigid. There is also a bolt at the bottom of the stem that allows one to adjust the angle of the stem. I added several stainless steel washers, and some LocTite, to get the angle I needed:
Riding Impressions: this is my third two wheeled recumbent, and easily the fastest of the three. The step over height is greater than on most—that’s due to the 26” front wheel that makes it a high racer–but I have long legs. Even so, shorter legged people can deal with it simply by leaning the bike over, stepping over, and pulling it back upright. However, some shorter legged people may not be able to securely touch the ground from the seat, in which case, a bike with a smaller front wheel is the obvious answer.
Because the cranks feel very high on first try, my initial few starts were just a tiny bit shaky, but as with all bikes, as one goes faster, they become much more stable.
My first realization was I need to keep my knees straight as I pedal or their outside edges tend to contact my hands on the grips. There is more than adequate room to avoid that, but riding a trike with no such issues has made me a little sloppy. It never hurts to develop proper, efficient form.
Heel strike—the heels of one’s shoes contacting the front wheel when turning—isn’t a problem as I worked that out long ago: just level the pedals when turning. For those new to recumbents and unaware of that issue, it can be startling, but seldom dangerous.
After about ten miles, the sensation of being very high off the ground, particularly compared with a trike, began to vanish, but it’s going to take a bit more time before coming to a stop at intersections, etc. feels completely natural and doesn’t require active concentration.
The bike turns quickly, but with stability. Changing direction is more a matter of thinking about doing it than actually using muscles, but this is usual with short wheelbase recumbents. The seat is also very comfortable and absorbs much road shock.
The bike is fast, much faster for the same effort, than a trike or either of my first two two-wheelers. That’s exactly what I had in mind for the days when Mrs. Manor is otherwise occupied and we can’t ride together.
With a bit of careful shopping and accessorizing, I have a bike that’s easily going to last the rest of my life and at half or less the price of a new machine. Sure, disc brakes are cool, but the brakes on this bike work nicely and are mechanically simpler. The point is there are similar opportunities out there if you know where to look, and now you do.
UPDATE, 05-14-21, 1600: Since posting this article, I’ve had the chance to take a few more rides, which reminded me of things that might be useful, particularly for folks riding recumbents for the first time. With this in mind, I’m going to leave this article up for a second week. I normally only keep articles up for a week, but I’ll make an exception in this case.
Setting off on a recumbent, particularly a two wheeled bike, for the first time is a very different experience. The balancing skills one learned on an upright bike transfer directly–you really don’t forget that sort of thing–but one will inevitably wobble a bit, feel tipsy, and most of all, grossly overpower the handlebars, which will tend to feel as flimsy as spaghetti. That’s because we don’t realize just how much of our upper body we use when riding an upright.
The key is to completely relax the shoulders–very important–arms and hands. Don’t death grip the bars; hold on only enough to guide them. Many people will also discover their neck is very tight. It’s as simple as relaxing. The moment you do, everything will immediately smooth out, and you’ll realize almost all of your muscular effort is going to come from your legs.
It’s always a good idea to begin in an empty parking lot or similarly large space. That way you can work on balance, relaxation and control without having to worry about road surface and running into things. Clipless pedals are important, but on any first recumbent, it’s wise to get a clipless pedal with the normal SPD mechanism on one side, and a non-clipless face on the other to allow the easy use of athletic shoes. Start with one foot–most folks are right-footed–to push off–start rolling with the pedal at the top of its stroke relative to the ground–then add–relax!–the other to begin pedaling. Make sure you’re in an easy, but not too easy, gear until you get the hang of it, which should be pretty rapid.
It’s important to practice stopping and starting until you’re comfortable getting the legs off the pavement to the pedals and vice versa. It won’t take long until you’ll be comfortable putting just a single leg down when stopping for traffic or at a stop sign, but until you’re sure, do both. Once you’re comfortable with starting and stopping, you can transition to clipless shoes and pedals. I recommend adjusting the release tension all the way to the “-” (minus) side, then clicking back 3-4 clicks to begin.
If you’re riding a trike, the balance and starting issues really don’t apply. When you come to a stop sign, you simply stay clipped in–balance isn’t an issue. It is, however, particularly important to go clipless on a trike. If a foot slips off the pedal at speed, it’s possible for it to strike the road and be pulled back into or under the crossbars supporting the front wheels. If that happens, nasty orthopedic consequences can easily result. This is far less a potential problem on two wheeled recumbents.
That’s another interesting issue: on any recumbent, you’ll be using muscles differently than on an upright bike. On an upright, your knees, and to a lesser degree legs, are bearing much of your weight. If you’re a real speed demon, this is sort of a good thing, because on hills you can stand on the pedals and use your body weight to help propel the bike up hills. But you are bearing weight, particularly on your knees, and using a lot more strength/energy. Not so on a recumbent. They’re much easier on the knees and other joints, but they use them differently. Expect to be sore in places you’ve not been sore before for about a week. By “sore,” I don’t mean wailing in pain, just being aware you’re using and building new muscles.
The knee thing is important to me, because the last time my orthopod x-rayed my knees, he told me he’d be glad to replace them whenever I was ready: advanced arthritis. Riding a recumbent helps keep them flexible, and is allowing me to stave off inevitable knee replacement surgery. So far, the knees let me know their warranty is about expired, but they still work, and they’re not really painful, just a bit sore upon occasion. What that means is I can hop on the trike or bike and ride 20-40 miles, and the knees feel better for a day or two thereafter. That wouldn’t be the case on an upright.
With any new recumbent, one needs to make a few adjustments such as bar position, seat position and angle, proper leg extension, angle and position of brake levers and shifters, etc. Adjusting for leg extension is a little different in that you’ll tend to slide “down” a bit in the seat as you ride, which might require you to adjust your boom a bit more outward, or the seat a bit more backward. Proper extension is usually a slightly bent knee at the bottom–greatest extension of–the pedal stroke. On machines where adjusting leg extension is done by lengthening or shortening the boom, it’s probably going to be necessary to shorten or lengthen the chain to keep the gears properly working. On bikes where such adjustments are done by moving the seat–like the A26–it won’t. There are some things you just can’t realize until you have some miles on the bike. After four rides, I finally got every little thing sorted out, and the new machine feels efficient and comfy.
For turning, you need only about 5% of the muscle effort you’re used to using. On a good recumbent, it’s more a matter of thinking about turning rather than activating muscles. This is particularly so with recumbents with 20″ or smaller front wheels.
In some respects, it’s easier to develop a smooth pedal stroke on a recumbent, because you’re not using your legs to support your weight. Concentrate on pulling up rather than pushing down–that will automatically happen–and the smoother the pedal stroke, the less energy you’ll be using, the faster you’ll go for less effort, and the easier it will be to maintain an effortless, straight line. As with any bike, easily spinning, rather than grunting with effort for each pedal stroke, is most efficient and faster.
There are all manner of other little tips, but that’s for another article. For the time being, have fun and stay relaxed!