Buying a Recumbent
If you've looked around to test ride a recumbent lately, you've probably discovered that few bike shops carry them. Lots of shops carried them a few years ago when the first wave of baby boomers came through, but sales petered out and most shops dropped them.
Recumbents garnered a good deal of interest at the time. It was thought that older people would be drawn to recumbents as their bodies aged and they were no longer comfortable on regular road bikes, but recumbents never really caught on. Perhaps it was because they are unusual looking, or perhaps because they are not inexpensive. Nevertheless, most bike shops got out of the recumbent business and shifted their focus to road bikes, which have enjoyed a big resurgence in the last few year.
However, recumbents are still around for at least two very good reasons. One, they are extraordinarily comfortable, which makes them particulary good for touring, and two, they offer a great solution for folks who, for various reasons, can no longer, or don't want to, ride road bikes any more. If you're thinking about buying a recumbent, read on.
Buying a recumbent is actually pretty simple. You have two primary decisions to make when shopping for one. First, you have to decide whether you want above seat steering or below seat steering, and second, you have to decide if you want a long wheelbase or short wheelbase bike.
As for the steering, you'll see a lot more above seat steering bikes than below. I'm not sure why, perhaps because it looks and feels more familiar. Nonetheless, it makes pushing the bike around easier, takes less time to get used to, and is more aerodynamic since your arms are tucked in. However, with above seat steering, knee and leg clearance is minimal, especially for tall people, and getting on and off the bike can be a bit more ackward.
The main benefit of below-seat steering is that it is very comfortable. It allows your arms to fall in a more natural position, which works especialy well for longer rides. In the end, your intended use and personal preference will determine whether you choose above-seat or below-seat steering. I'd say go with what feels good.
As for the wheelbase, you'll find an equal selection of both short and long wheelbase bikes. Short wheelbase bikes are lighter, quicker, and more responsive than the long wheelbase bikes, but a little trickier to learn to ride. The seats tend to lean back farther for aerodynamics, and the cranks are higher, which helps foot clearance in turns. The short wheelbase recumbents are also easier to transport.
The long wheelbase bikes have a particularly smooth ride, as they absorb bumps better than short wheelbase bikes. They're very stable and very comfortable. Again, desirable attributes for longer rides, particularly for touring.
You'll see prices ranging from $1000, mainly for above seat steering bikes, to $6000 or more for bikes made of titanium and carbon fiber. The majority of bikes fall in the two to three thousand dollar range. Generally, as with any bike, the more you spend, the higher the quality, the better the ride, and the longer the life of the components.
The more difficult part of buying a recumbent is finding one to test ride. You may have to drive to another city, or hit up someone you know who has one for a test ride. If neither option is possible, take a leap and buy one directly from the manufacturer without a test ride. I don't think you'll go wrong. There's enough information out there on which to base a good decision, and if you're spending a couple of thousand dollars on a bike, you'll get a fine one whether it's above seat steering or below, or whether it's a long or short wheelbase bike.
Thanks for reading.
4 Comments so far...
Did you forget to define what a recumbent is for us ignorant people? I don't have a clue as to what you are talking about.
-Posted on May 29th, 2010 by Tom
Perhaps you should click the hyperlinked "recumbent" in the very first sentence.
-Posted on Jun 7th, 2010 by Trav
Or you could open your eyes and look at the pictures.
-Posted on Jun 22nd, 2010 by Ally
Easy guys. Tom had a point. I added the link after his comment. Can't remember if the pictures were there then.
-Posted on Aug 21st, 2010 by Mike