First Recumbent Ride - Looking Back / by Erin Wade

It It looks like we are actually entering the honest-to-goodness warm spring weather here in the Midwest (or at least I hope so). For many folks that heralds the beginning of the outdoor activity season, and lots of folks will be cycling. It’s also the time of year that people consider the option of moving to a recumbent trike.

In the spirit of that, I thought I’d revisit my earliest experience with my Catrike Pocket and compare it to current day. Her maiden voyage with me was almost two years ago, and these were the things I realized from that initial experience:

There are several differences from riding an upright bike that became clear on this initial ride:

  • You sit low. This is a given when you look at it, of course, but when riding down the road you quickly realize that you are at eye level with the top of the grass in an unmowed ditch. The value of the bike flag becomes immediately apparent.
  • Because of the height difference, extra care needs to be at intersections to be sure you can see whether a car is there.
  • You cannot see into the cars as they pass you from behind - the angle is too steep. Oncoming traffic, however, is much the same experience as on the upright bike.
  • At first the act of pedaling causes a bit of torque steer. This goes away with some practice (smoother pedaling), but it's a real adjustment (enough so that it's mentioned in the Catrike owners manual).
  • Riding this is noticeably more of a leg workout than with the upright. This seems be due to the differences in positioning. On the upright you can stand up on the pedals, of course, but you can also use more of your upper body to supplement by pulling against the handlebars. It is possible to brace against the seat back, which offers a different but similar benefit, but I didn't fully sort that out until about two-thirds of the way thru the ride. I suspect this also contributed to the slower ride time; it will likelly improve with practice.
  • In relation to the above item, I did a lot more shifting than usual. Some of this, again, will likely pare back with practice. Still, I suspect more shifting is simply a part of the deal.
  • Because the rear wheel is right behind your head, you are much more aware of mechanical activity of the trike.
  • Steering is immediate and awesome - it's like riding a pedal-powered go-kart.
  • Similarly, the brakes are astonishingly quick. I don't know if this is because of the design of the trike itself, or just a feature of the disc brakes - I've never owned a bike with disc brakes. But in either case, it's noticeably different from my Cannondale.
  • This is the first ride of any length I've taken in years in which my hands did not become numb from road vibration. In fact the difference in controls and position was quite a bit more comfortable than on an upright bike.
  • Having a full seat back - even when it's made of mesh - results in your back getting exactly as sweaty as you would think.

Now, nearly two full years into the recumbent trike experience, I can verify that some of these things are the same, while others have faded with familiarity. In the warmer months - and they don’t have to be a lot warmer, a 60° day will suffice - my back still gets soaked. And it still feels delightfully like riding a me-powered go-kart. Frankly, I don’t think that’s ever going to get old.

With experience, though, I’ve gotten accustomed to the riding position, and have learned how to see what’s coming, though I still use the flag, along with lights, to enhance my visibility to others. Some adjustments in mirrors and learning to use them has addressed the issue with detecting cars from behind.

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The issue of torque steer has largely vanished with practice, and my legs have accommodated to the different type of effort needed. I honestly don’t think about either of these issues any more, and I’m simply reminded of them because of looking back at this post. Riding on the Catrike has gotten faster over time as well.

I’ve gotten used to the brakes as well. Back in the early days I did have a panic stop moment where I nearly flipped myself forward out of the trike, but that was a one-time event.

I was right about shifting - I still do more than I remember doing on the upright. However, except in very hilly situations, I am able to spend most of my time on a single (big) ring. In addition, tho it’s a more regular event, it’s become second nature, particularly on familiar routes. It’s a part of interacting with the machine that I especially enjoy (I also preferentially drive a stick shift - there may be a relationship there).

And overall, it’s still a more pleasant and comfortable experience than riding the upright. As I noted a little while back, I still have my Cannondale road bike, but it mostly collects dust.

Whether upright or recumbent, enjoy your ride!