Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Why doesn't everyboy ride a recumbent?

Kent P's post of the same name has aroused quite a lot of response on his blog and elsewhere - some of it intelligent & reasonable and some of it angry or sarcastic rhetoric from both DF & bent advocates. I usually agree with his perspective and enjoy his style of writing. This one post though I have to say disappoints me. He uses a fictional character who is a bent evangelist to open his post which is where the whole things falls off the rails in my opinion. Not because there aren't any such folks around - there are trust me! However, there are just as many DF riders who have a "hate on" for bents. By starting with an extreme position any hope for a reasonable and meaningful discussion of recumbents and DF bikes goes out the window. Let's face it if I started a post about Middle Eastern relations with a fictional interview with a Muslim fanatic who wanted to blow up buildings in the US do you think we'd end up having an intelligent and reasoned discussion about the topic? The same could be said for any topic that holds a lot of emotion and personal interest for the people involved.

I ride both bents and DF bikes. I ride them both fairly extensively. I figure I'll take a stab at answering Kent's question about why more people don't ride recumbents? Before I do let me say these are just my opinions and not the result of any serious research - so take it with a grain of salt.

The UCI Ban:

  • I think this ban has had a serious impact on bents being more popular in the world. Until the internet came around I was totally unaware bents existed. I cycled lots and I read the popular bike magazines, but I can't recall ever hearing about recumbents let alone understanding what they might be good for. I think many cyclists are in the same boat today. If you are unaware of something how can you possibly make a choice about it?
  • Because there are no professional recumbent races at the Olympics or at the level of the Pro Tour bents get zero press coverage. Compare that to Lance Armstrong and his Trek DF road bike. Now imagine he was racing on a Bacchetta highracer. Do you honestly think they wouldn't be flying off the shelves?
  • Kent's post suggested that a good idea would win out and a bad idea couldn't hold out in the face of a good idea. I think he is plain wrong about that. Cars are a bad idea. Public transit , walking & cycling are good ideas - which has been wining out? Why because there is money and power at stake behind the automobile. The same applies in the DF vs bent situation. Lots of money and power is invested in the DF bike. The people behind it are not interested in seeing anything change.
  • Want proof? Have a look at bent sales and popularity. When did they start to take off [relatively]? When the internet became available and people could get & share information that was not provided in the mainstream media. I bought my first bent a few months after I found an email list about them online.
Bents aren't that great:
  • recumbents are not the be all and end all of bikes. You can be uncomfortable on a bent. You can be slow on a bent. They can be expensive. Some, frankly, don't ride that well.
  • not every bent is God's gift to man and women. Some truly do suck the big one.
  • bent evangelists often lose the plot on this issue because they don't realize that telling people a lie will not convince them of your message - especially if it a lie that is easily exposed.
  • even if we only look at the really good bents - they are not the ideal bikes for all cycling missions. So if you say to someone "....recumbents are better than DF bikes..." They know you're full of shit.
  • if the UCI ban had not happened and recumbents were given a fair shake in the media everybody in the world would not be riding a recumbent.
DF bikes don't deserve the market share they have:
  • although I just finished putting bents in their place the fact is there are some really excellent recumbents available. So why are people buying so many DF bikes? Simple if you walk into 95% of bike shops in North America all you will find is DF bikes. The sales people will only talk to you about DF bikes. You only see people on DF bikes on the street or on TV or in a magazine. What do you buy? Ta da! A DF bike!
  • there are some people like Kent that can ride a DF bike any distance in comfort. There are many more that can ride a reasonable distance on a DF in comfort. There are also quite a few people that cannot ride a DF comfortably even a modest distance. You don't hear from this last group on cycling forums or blogs because they either have given it up entirely or never got seriously interested in the first place. When they see a bike shop or bike magazine all they see are machines that they cannot or do not want to ride.
  • I submit DFs are not the pinnacle of cycling design. They are not at the top of the food chain due their inherent excellence. DFs are the leading bicycle design simply due to the impact of marketing and social conformity.
Who cares?
  • Besides bent manufacturers who really cares if people are riding DF bikes and not bents?
  • Ultimately if you are a Kent P or anyone else who is totally happy riding your DF you don't need to worry about bents yourself. Perhaps you don't need to consider the people being hurt by the lack of exposure to recumbents, but I do care about those people. Who are they? Here are some examples:
    • all those folks who don't own a bicycle because they can't get comfortable on it - whether the discomfort is real or perceived. This is the silent majority of North Americans who have either given up on bikes or never tried as an adult because they don't want to be in pain. Some of these people could probably ride a DF with the right info and setup, but they are being hurt by the same media pressure that puts bents out of the picture and focusses on racing bikes.
    • all those folks that have a bike hanging up in the garage and don't ride it because it isn't comfortable and therefore not enjoyable.
    • those folks who are suffering on long distance rides or giving them up entirely. For every 1200K brevet report where a DF rando gets off feeling fine I can point you to 2 other reports where they finish in pain and many end up with short to long term damage from the experience.
    • those cyclists who can ride a DF 100K, but would never consider longer rides because they are at their comfort threshold by the end of a 100K.
I don't want you to change:
  • If you are happy on your DF I don't want you to buy a recumbent.
  • If you are happy on your bent I don't want you to try a DF.
  • The only people I want to have a chance to try something new are those folks that are not having fun on their bicycles currently. If you are in pain or just don't want to ride a DF I want you to have the information and support to try a recumbent if you want to.
  • If you just don't want to ride a bike at all that's cool too!
My perfect world:
  • In my perfect world there would be pro level recumbent races that would highlight some of the world's best athletes and what they could do on their recumbents.
  • People could walk into a bike shop and buy both bents and DFs in a wide variety of styles and sizes.
  • Nobody would give people attitude because they are riding a different style of bike.
  • In my perfect world more people would be riding bikes because there were more choices and cyclists would support one another instead of fighting over whose style of bike was better.
What makes me really laugh is that in a parallel universe recumbents are the bike of choice and a few fringe DF bike riders are acting like evangelists trying to convince people that:
  • DFs are safe.
  • DFs would be cheaper if you made more of them
  • DFs are comfortable if you set them up right
  • DFs don't make you impotent
  • DFs can climb faster then bents
  • DFs are better for riding in traffic
  • etc..etc..etc..
Too bad the majority of recumbent riders in that universe just roll their eyes and think "...shut up freak you can't be right or there would be more DFs on the road wouldn't there!..."

Update: Kent P is so far ahead of the game he already has a Parallel Universe article written.


Kent Peterson said...

Hey, I wrote the "Parallel Universe" story already. See:


As for not liking the presentation of my blog piece, that's fine. Tons of people do the "this isn't how I would write it" or "this is how I'd make the argument" and things roll from there. Nothing is duller than a whole bunch of "ditto" comments.

I've connected lots of folks with bikes of all shapes over the years and I fully intend to continue doing that.

Keep 'em rolling,


Vik said...

Thanks for the link Kent. I hope you take my post as it was meant a rebuttal and differing perspective to your post - not any attack against you.

Not only have you entertained me over the years your rando stories got me interested in riding brevets. I finally figured out a way to do so happily when I bought my Fujin SL recumbent.

You've done tons of good work putting people on bikes which I totally respect and appreciate.

Keep up the good work!

Kent Peterson said...

No offense taken Vik. I got to thinking that I've hooked up quite a few folks with 'bents over the years (and DFs and fixies and folders...) I was really trying more to point out that we all get caught up in the "our way is so good" and our natural tendencies to share that joy sometimes blinds us to how somebody else might see things. BTW, you'll notice in my fictional dialog, neither "Perry" nor "Kent Peterson" had any real success convincing the other to switch bikes!

patmando said...

Thank you Vik. You've crystalized my thoughts eloquently. It's pretty funny how a lot of us (including myself) may have really missed Kent's true point. In many of the discussions it's refreshing to see a good number of people espousing the sentiment "ride what you like." I really enjoy both your's and Kent's blogs.

Keep on riding.

Perry said...

Vik, you did a wonderful job with this post. Much better than I did with my rebuttal to Kent, but I got mine out first, and that's what counts! ;-)

AbrasiveScotsman said...

Brilliant response, and very humbling too. I can be over enthusiastic (on the recumbent side) myself, but I was on the receiving end of it the other day when the guy from the bike shop came outside to see my bike. Lectured me for 5 minutes on why recumbents are rubbish. I don't tell him not to ride DFs, I'd have liked it if he'd return the favour.

Why can't we all just get along? :)

rigtenzin said...

Your post is very fair and even-handed. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

Vik, great comments.

Here in Switzerland recumbents are parts of the cycling scene, but people aren't convinced by seeing them. I was personally convinced by someone offering me to ride the longrider - then I realized this "old-fashion" looking recumbent was comfortable, and I felt more safe. It took 1-2 years after that event before I bought a used recumbent, which leads to another aspect: price. Recumbents are expensive, yes, and appear to be toys for the riches, but I would say, toys for convinced people.

I still own a DF bicycle but I'm not riding it anymore, and when I ride DF of a friend I feel uneasy sitting so high - with a longrider in particular I feel safer, much safer especially at high speeds (downhill up to 75km/h). I fell off a longrider twice in 4 years (I rode over 11'000 km in those 4 years): once a wood stick blocked the front wheel, another time I steered into mud to give a car more space to pass me, in the mud the front wheel no longer allowed me to steer - two falling off my recumbent, and I fell 50cm to the ground. There is no way to fall 50cm from a DF unless you ride a kid bicycle. Which brings up those arguments? Nobody. Insurance companies make big ads about reducing obesity, with DF bicycles, running etc - no recumbents. I discovered a lot of recumbent enthusiasts being big bicycle fans once, when they had back problems and lukely considered a recumbent (in german called liegevelo/fahrrad = laying-bicycle).

What could be done?

If people see you and are curious, offer them to ride your recumbent, that's what I do - some realize within 30secs how great it is. After they hear the prize for a new one, most drop the idea again. Once I tell them there is a small market for used recumbents, they say they think about it ...

I think this sums it up: inertia of the mind to consider new, lowering the bar to consider options (and this doesn't apply to riding recumbents, but any narrow minded perspective you might not even be aware of) by offering a direct experience.

And yes, the internet is doing a great job to broaden the horizon. A few years ago I found almost no real information of recumbents, now more and more information is available, blogs which feature people doing long distance trip with recumbents which interests me mostly. The blog of Vik introduced me the "randonneuring" movement I was completely unaware of and so on :-)

Rene K. Mueller
(riding a old-fashion longrider)

Wijnandt said...

Great post! I enjoyed reading it and like this way of thinking. Here in The Netherlands there are too many recumbent people who think they're saving the world bij riding a recumbent and feel very superior over everybody else :-P

But please don't neglect the nimble CF-bike! You can see them at http://www.ransbikes.com/default.htm

Don't make the error that they are cruiser-like toy bikes! I've taken the trouble to import one from the USA to The Netherlands. I get more attention when on my Cruz than on one of my recumbents...



Vik said...

Thanks Wijnandt! I have never really tried a CF bike - although I did a test ride on a Electra Townie once. I have a question for you. Look at the picture of the woman on the Dutch bike in the "Clever Cycles" post isn't the position on this bike sort of CF-like? The seat is set back and bars sweep back as well.

Wijnandt said...

Just have a look at http://www.crankforward.com/ . The slide show on this page makes it clear that the Dutch "opoe fiets" ("granny bike") is very much a normal DF-bike compared to the most extreme CF-bike like the Rans Fusion and Rans Cruz, and even when compared to the slightly less extrem CF models like the Zenetik, Dynamik and Citi.

You should really give them a try! Many people can ride an upright bike again thanks to this brilliant invention of Randy Schlitter! And some (not all, of course!) recumbent riders have sold their recumbents and are very happy with their CF-bike.

john said...

Recumbents and diamond frames are just apples and oranges and they're both fun in their own way. I live in Colorado and have done the local steep climbs (e.g. Rist Canyon)on both types of bikes. It was brutal on my Bachetta, but just hard fun on the diamond frame. A hundred mile rolling ride, however, is a piece on cake on the Bachetta and, for me at least, burtal on the diamond frame. In town I ride my dedicated 24 speed with the full banjo chain guard that Trek no longer makes. What's with this having to choose?

Anonymous said...

Recumbent advocates:
Start entering cyclocross races.
Start riding downhills at ski slopes this summer.
Do more mountain biking.
Attempt trialsin riding.
Go to the local BMX or dirt track and ride a few laps.

I know a Bike-E with rear suspension can ride down stairs as well as a DF without suspension.

And I know my recumbent pedicab can haul a full-grown adult up a steep hill far better than a DF with trailer.

But I never could hope to hop up a curb greater than 4 inches or to jump a 12-inch log on a recumbent.

Granted I don't have the recumbent handling skills required, but I think DFs have some advantages in this regard.
It involves the arms of the cylist being used more and the body being able to shift about more.

Yet nobody has mentioned this difference.

And also I think recumbents are the clear winners on the road at speed and have clear comfort advantages.

Despite some popularity in France, the Velocar and similar recumbent designs failed to take hold.

Why? There is definitely a place for them waiting to be occupied by riders.

Keep on rolling, but keep in mind that holy-rolling sometimes backfires.

lightninglad said...

I loved the article. 'Bent riders are so rare and the press so full of DF material that it's refreshing to read a fictional tale that reverses the scales.

It's true that too many 'bent riders think that recumbents are vastly superior. It's true that the World is full people that believe in Ghosts. That doesn't mean that either 'truth' is correct.

In my view, the DF is the most practical and minimal mode of human powered transport designed so far. It's not the most comfortable, the safest or always the most efficient but a piece of machinery that can weigh 6 kilos or so and propel a grown man along at an average speed of more than 30 kph has a lot going for it.

Recumbents are comfortable and safe and efficient but not always the most practical. Just as the Lazy R says, not all 'bents are fast or well made. There's far more variation in build quality and efficiency in 'bents than DFs.

Fanatical people should be avoided at all costs whether they're pushing a cult or belief or even if they're trying to persuade us that riding recumbents will save the world.

The parallel universe was fun and it presented a refreshing reversal - a fictional reversal.

stratobiker said...

Just found this post while searching for "wood burning stove"!!!

Now how bizarre is that?

Me? Bents? Don't like 'em.

1. Take a look at the picture in the post. Riders vision obscured.
2. The position for the rider look so uncomfy. Feet so high - makes me wonder about the blood flow to the legs. Torso angled back requiring you to crane your neck rorward.
3. They're too low. You gotta have a flag so drivers can see you. Plus if your riding with a group with bents in it they can't see properley, and you can't see them.

However, if people wanna ride 'em that's fine. It's all good cycling.