Pressespiegel - Cycling Today, May 1999 (2. Teil)
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Acceleration from standstill and climbing are a different kettle of fish
altogether. You can't use your weight for either of these manoeuvres because,
for obvious reasons, you can't get out of the saddle. My first attempts to
generate acceleration had me pulling on the bars just like a normal bike.
Wobblefest ensued. Recumbents don't work like this. You crank through the gears
bracing your back against the seat. This is easy enough for a few pedal revs
but the subtleties required for prolonged hard effort were obviously beyond me.
I was reduced to slow speed twiddling up inclines I would normally charge up on
an upright bike. (Or 'upwrong' as dedicated recumbists say.)
Pretty much immediately you realise the importance of full suspension. Road
imperfections arrive with less notice because the lower position means you see
them later and some things, like road humps, you just can't avoid. Since you
can't adjust your centre of gravity one iota you need something to take the
shock. The Street Machine does this with a pair of sawn off suspension forks on
the front and a large elastomer on the rear. A feeling which once you get used
to further enhances the aura of armchair-like comfort.
My legs registered their irritation to the new position after about half an
hour. Nothing too painful just fatigue in half the normal time. Same muscles -
different requirements. A physiotherapist or biomechanics expert could no doubt
tell you more.
Cornering is a big favourite with recumbists. Elevated cranks mean continuous
pedalling and lower centre of gravity allows increased leaning. A chance, as
Superbike riders say, to get your knee down - if you weren't pedalling that is.
I got the general idea on this but preferred not to rupture my newly acquired
skills envelope by pushing it too far. OK, I bottled it.
On the open road the Street Machine reveals a whole new side to itself and its
misnomer. Unhurried by traffic it motors majestically along engendering a
somewhat regal attitude in it's passenger. Freewheeling in the sun it's
tempting to wave queen-like at passers by. You can get a tan on the right side
of your body for the first time in your cycling life. Conversely you can also
get a puddle of water in your lap if it rains. But then you might want to think
about fairings, they're more aerodynamic and you take your own microclimate
It is easy to imagine covering extended distances in this way with the upper
body largely relaxed, unable to contribute to propulsion, leaving the legs to
deal with those duties. Enthusiasts I spoke to say that general body fatigue is
much less than that suffered by a conventional cyclist.
Although your position is lower your perspective is raised providing plenty of
opportunity for contemplating your surroundings. Is this why many recumbists
have smug looks?
There is probably a greater variety of recumbents than normal bicycles. The
number of wheels, position of the front wheel(s), position and type of the
steering controls, degree of fairing, amount of suspension all contribute to
their Professor Pat Pending appearance.
The reason for the variety has to do with the motivation of those attracted to
them. According to Richard Loke, co-editor of Recumbent UK magazine, enthusiasts
break down as follows: there are those who are blessed with superior mechanical
abilities and just like building things. They build a bike nobody pays much
attention then they find that if they dispense with the conventional diamond
frame some interesting stuff happens. Then there are others interested in speed
and are lured by the reduced wind resistance of fully faired recumbents. Still
another group suffer from an injury, typically to the back, and they find
recumbents more comfortable. Then there are those that just want to ride
something different. (Interestingly, of the 1600 subscribers that the magazine
has almost ten percent don't have one, they're just... interested.)
Hot beds of recumbent activity in the UK include, York, Cambridge, Bristol and
Somerset though the domestic market has not grown as fast as those overseas.
Overseas Germany, Holland and west coast USA are have the highest recumbent
ownership. Bike E, made in the USA, now sells 25,ooo a year compared to 500 five
years ago. Loke puts the domestic inertia down to british conservatism and the
perception of bicycle transport in gerenral as low grade. Recumbents are also
denied the oxygen of publicity that other branches of the sport get through
elite competitive coverage. The UCI does not recognize them.
It is difficult to see recumbents becoming ever more popular in the UK without a
good reason rearin its head, although there is a glimmer of hope should cycling
itself ever make a resurgence. This has less to do with any disadvantages, real
or imagined (and I have to say they are more imagined), of recumbents, and more
to do with an idea wich is just too left field. It is just about possible to
imagine a more cycling friendly society with more people encouraged onto two
wheels for short journeys, but recumbents look more than a cycling evolutionary
dead end than the future.
Although I could be completely wrong if, as one enthusiast said to me, the
Taiwanese decide we should all be riding recumbents now and mass production
brings unit costs down. Who knows, maybe the taiwanese.
So, why recumbents? Well if you have a sneaking suspicion that you might enjoy
riding one you probably will. They are great for long distances and good enough
for everything else, we even took the Street Machine offroad for a mile or two.
If you think they are the work of warped egg-heads for whom conventional bikes
just weren't satisfying enough you'd be probably be right and the fact that this
still irritates you undoubtetly says more about you (and transparently, me) than
the machines themselves.
Contraptions for weirdy beardies? Of course they are, at least for now.
HPV and recumbent info|
Shops: Bikefix, Central London 0171405 1218; London Recumbents, Dulwich 0181 299
6636; Future Cycles, Forest Row, East Sussex 01342 822847
Organisations: British Human Powered Club 01224 640864. International Human
Powered Vehicle Association web site (www.ihpva.org)
Magazine: Recumbent UK 01454 613497
Events: BHPC have races every month at venues around the country. Call Dave
Larrington 0181 5314496 (eves/weekends) for details. The World HPV Championships
take place in Interlaken, Switzerland in August. Contact Jurg Holzle (+41) 33
335 3155. Info from www.futurebike.ch/events/rail/.
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