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Frequently Asked Questions
Are you confused about acronyms like SWB, LWB and CLWB? Do you have questions like
"Do recumbents climb hills?"
Well, here is a little Q & A to get you going.
If we've left your questions unanswered, please drop us a line and let us know!
- Are they comfortable?
That question has always amazed me. Here I am, sitting in this traveling "Lazy-Boy" recliner, and people ask
if I am comfortable. There is no strain on the shoulders, no pressure on the hands, my neck is not craning
to remain upright and I am sitting on something the size of a tractor seat.
Recumbents are made to be comfortable.
- Do they climb hills?
The short answer is YES!
Obviously the most important thing about hill climbing is to have the appropriate engine.
That point aside, recumbents do quite well. You need to develop your leg muscles somewhat differently on a 'bent
but after a training period you should be as good as you ever were.
Riders of upright bikes have the ability to
get out of the saddle and "hammer", which 'bent riders cannot do. But out-of-the-saddle hammering is not the most
efficient way to climb hills and it is very tiring. So you may be somewhat slower on the real leg burners but you
will make up time on aerodynamic, screaming descents and you will most likely still have more momentum going up
the opposite side.
- What do SWB, LWB and CLWB mean?
Basically, this is the positioning of the front wheel in relation to the cranks.
SWB = Short Wheel Base
LWB = Long Wheel Base
CLWB = Compact-Long Wheel Base
Short Wheel Base bikes have the pedals positioned in front of the front
wheel. The foot position will feel very high, but this promotes a more aerodynamic position. The frames tend to
be more rigid than the longer bikes, thus more power is transferred through the drive train. That power transfer
is not enormously higher (about 5% by most estimations) than with a longer bike, but it exists and the fastest
riders like the responsiveness and speed of the short wheel base bikes.
Long Wheel Base bikes have the pedals positioned behind the front wheel. The foot position
does not have to be as high as on a SWB to clear the front wheel. The frames are more flexible than the shorter
bikes and promote a more comfortable ride. While any configuration can be ridden for touring, the LWB bike is the
"Cadillac" ride of the recumbent world.
Compact-long wheelbase bikes (also known
as MWB or mid wheelbase) bikes also have the pedals behind or above the front wheel. To shorten the bicycle, the
rider position is further back, almost over the rear wheel. These frames are very comfortable and the rider tends
to sit up more than on the other bikes. Ultimately, the MWB is the easiest recumbent to learn to ride. They also
make excellent short distance bikes but often are not the fastest recumbents on the road.
- What about OSS and USS?
This refers to where the handlebars are on the bike.
OSS = Over Seat Steering (also sometimes referred to as "above seat steering")
USS = Under Seat Steering
So which should you get? Most of the time it is a matter of
preference and which type feels the most comfortable to you. Those in the know say that OSS is somewhat more
aerodynamic because your hands are not out along your side catching the wind. Others say that USS is more
comfortable because you don't have to hold your arms and hands up like a praying gopher.
- Recumbents are often low to the ground. Are they safe in traffic?
Well, sometimes motorists have a hard time seeing things as big as semi-trucks and trains!
The type of bike you
ride makes little difference. In fact, the opposite is true. Recumbents are still novel enough that motorists jerk
their necks around just to look at you. Just keep telling yourself that you are keeping the area chiropractors in business!
The thing to remember is that your safety depends most on YOUR actions on the road. The Cycling Education Program of
the League of American Bicyclists teaches riders to ride legally, predictably and defensively.
The only time I have
felt that my low stature made a difference was when I was behind a motor vehicle at an intersection. I am then
very careful about pulling out until I know that the motorists around have seen me.
- Are recumbents hard to transport?
Many 'bents, especially SWBs, will fit on standard car racks. Others will fit on roof racks or even inside some vehicles.
Many tandem recumbents will even fit inside minivans.
- Is that thing easy to ride?
That "thing" is as easy to ride as an upright bike; it is just different.
You have to get used to having your feet out
front and having to relax in the seat. If you are tense and have a death grip on the handlebars you will transfer that
tense jerkiness to the front wheel. In one word -- RELAX!
Starting from the stopped position at intersections takes a
little more effort but with practice you won't even think about it. If pushing off really worries you then get a trike.
Then the problem will be that you will keep forgetting that you DON'T have to put your feet down at stop signs.
- Is that thing expensive? How much did you pay for it?
My answer to the second question is always, "Enough!"
Recumbents are usually a little more expensive than a comparable
upright bike with similar components. The reason is that most recumbents are still hand-built by small companies that
don't sell 10 jillion bikes a year. Think of it this way. You are getting a hand-built bike and not the "K-Mart Special".
And of course, the price on the top-level recumbents, just like that of the top-of-the-line upright bike, will go up with
the components you put on it. One way that recumbent manufacturers try and keep the price down is to use as many
market-available parts as possible. So if your chain wears out you do not need a recumbent-brand chain.
When it comes to
the price of a recumbent think of it this way -- That sleek road machine is your sports car except that it costs less,
doesn't use gas, does not require insurance and takes up less space in the garage. Hey! Who needs a sports car when you
have an "awesome" recumbent?
- Do I need to wear that wierd bike clothing on a recumbent?
Yes and No! (How's that for a definitive answer?)
Cycling shorts and jerseys are made of sweat-wicking material these days
so they will keep you drier. Cotton t-shirts soak up the sweat and stay clammy for a long time. If you wear something like
that in cool weather it is especially bad.
Lycra cycling shorts have the advantage of fitting tightly and not causing chafing
when pedaling for long periods of time, unlike the seams in underwear.
And yes! Cycling shorts are usually worn without
underwear. They just need to be washed often.
The thing that you don't need is the "diaper" inside the shorts. That is the pad
in the bottom that adds a little cushion if you are riding an upright bike. What I wear depends on how long I am going to be
riding. If the distance is short I will wear street clothes. If I am riding for longer periods of time I will wear a jersey
made of CoolMax or some simiilar material and either lycra riding shorts or mountain bike shorts. The latter have an inside
lycra short and they usually have pockets that are great for stuffing all sorts of things.
- Do I need cycling shoes?
Here is where riding recumbents versus uprights differ.
If you are riding any distance at all I would highly recommend bike shoes.
With your feet out in front of you, there is a greater tendency to push them off the pedals when pedaling hard. Your legs could
then get swept back under your seat - a dangerous condition called "leg suck".
When cycling in traffic, cycling shoes and clips,
or preferably clipless pedals, allow you to get that extra power stroke when pushing off at a stoplight.
These days you don't
need to walk like a duck in your cycling shoes and slide around on slippery floors. Many mountain bike shoes have a recessed
cleat and flat soles. What is even better are the cycling sandals from Shimano or Keen. Now that produces the real Haight-Ashbury
look from the hippie days!
- What's this about trikes? Why would I want one of those?
Good quality trikes are a blast to ride! You can make almost immediate turns with them which you can't do on a bike. That
lends itself not only to better maneuverability but also to the tendency to see how fast you can make turns and still stay
on a minimum of two wheels.
Some people say that trikes are slower because you have the friction of three wheels instead of
two. On the other hand, some trikes are so low to the ground that you become an aerodynamic bullet.
Trikes are also more
stable in that you really have to try hard to fall over and there's no need to worry about having to maintain enough momentum to
get started after stops. Some trikes also have real low gearing so you can almost "walk" your trike up that killer hill
at only a few miles an hour without fear of falling over.
- Why do some trikes have two wheels in front and others have only one?
Two wheels in front = Tadpole-style trike
Two wheels in back = Delta-style trike
Delta trikes may be somewhat easier to get on and off from. You just sit down! Tadpole trikes have a bar in which you
must step over in order to sit down. More of the high-end, high-perfomance trikes are tadpole-style.