Which 'Bent is Best?
By Jose A. Hernandez
"Is this bent bike better than that bent?" Which one
is more comfortable? Which bike is faster? Which one handles
better? "Are bikes with high bottom brackets faster or better?"
"What do you recommend I buy? " These
questions comprise the bulk of the inquiries I've been getting ever since I
quit my former avocation as an adroit couch potato and publicly confessed(http://www.getbent.org) to being a bent
evangelist. My own journey into the recumbent universe began in 1998 . My thirst for "bent knowledge", led me to
the Recumbent Newsgroup (alt.rec.bicycles.recumbent),
the Recumbent Cyclist News Magazine (RCN) and numerous web sites like
www.Bikeroute.com. All of these "places" proved to be to be
invaluable resources. Yet, much of what I've learned came from my own errors
and acts of mindless recumbent enthusiasm.
Are you ready to start your own journey? Of course you are! That's why you're here!! So allow me to share a few simple ideas, which I think might point you in the right direction. Lets get started by "adjusting" the way you think about certain things. You are about to embark on a never-ending journey because the bent universe is a in a constant state of evolution. So relax and don't be concerned about your final destination. Simply sit back and enjoy the ride. Let's pack our bags by making a minor vocabulary and attitude adjustment.
Try to avoid using the word "better" and instead accept the word "different" as a more useful alternative. If you're in the process of selecting your first set of bent wheels, you already know how confusing this can be. I found that comparing bike A to bike B is often equivalent to comparing apples and oranges. Comparisons often lead to the unfortunate conclusion that one bike is "better" than another when if fact, these bikes were just different.
To help complicate matters, you might run into an experienced bent rider who will find it necessary to put down certain bikes just because they are heavier, appear to be less aerodynamic, or seem to be "too low" or "too high off the ground." Is a sleek carbon fiber racer with the most expensive components money can buy betterthan an inexpensive 50 pound compact long wheel base bike with a steel frame, seven speeds and low pressure fat tires? If you think of these bikes as being "different" you might be open to appreciate the virtues of the 50-pound bike. Consider this: the heavy bike will give you a tremendous workout and will enhance your ability to climb hills. A heavy bike is likely to cost less money and may prove to be indestructible and ideal in less than perfect paths. Ok so this bike won't be used to cruise at 25 MPH but what is wrong with a nice slow ride? The point is simply this: As you begin to replace the word "better" with the word "different" you'll find that you'll become more appreciative of the unique qualities that each type of recumbent bikes might offer and you will be better prepared to make a wise selection.
The "different-rather-than better" principle is easy to apply. You'll soon discover that short wheel base bikes are just different from long wheelbase or compact long wheel base recumbents. Similarly, high bottom brackets (BBs) are neither better nor worse than low BBs, and Above-the-Seat-Steering is not necessarily better than Under-the-Seat-Steering. Each style or feature has its good points.
OK so this bike is different from that bike. But which one is better for me? Well, only YOU can answer this question to your satisfaction. Chances are that it may not be possible to find ONE bike that will be GREAT under ALL conditions so your first bent is likely to be a compromise. Yet, unless you're willing to mortgage your house and start a bent collection (as I did <g>) you'll probably benefit from a simple selection guideline. Start by thinking about the type of riding you'll be doing 80% of the time and determine which features seem to compliment your current and future needs. Read our FAQ section and familiarize yourself with our Glossary of Recumbent terms. REMEMBER: Recumbent biking gets better with time and your current needs are likely to evolve. Selecting a bike that might accommodate your future needs might actually save you money.
I understand that at this time, you may not be ready to mortgage your house in order to get bent. But I think that in the end you'll save money by investing a little more in a bike that is "slightly" above your current needs even if it seems to be a little expensive. Many of us hesitate to buy our first recumbent because of its apparent high price and, as the result, end up buying a bike which is far below our ideal. We then end up trading the bike or upgrading the bike every two months and find that our attempt to save money costs us a fortune. (OOPS's. Did I just describe myself again?) Often we fail to buy the bike of our dreams because we cannot "justify" the cost, which means we haven't discovered the bike's true value. Trust me, the more we bike, the more we will enjoy and learn to appreciate the value of these wonderful bikes. Cost is obviously a factor but it shouldn't be the only factor or criteria in selecting your first recumbent bike.
Lets continue our "attitude adjustment" by understanding that our perception of any bike is often not dictated by the bike's actual qualities. We are ALL different!!! I know a certain individual who has used a favorable article or even a cool picture of a bike as the basis for choosing a bike. Once he got his "dream bike", he found that he didn't really like it! <OOPS. Did I just describe myself again?> OK I confess. I once picked up the phone and ordered a bike after seeing a great picture and reading a number of great reviews about the bike. The bike itself is/was a great bike and I still think it looks cool. But my numb toes told me I had made a mistake.
So, no matter how much our friendly editor likes a particular bike, there's no way to predict how much you'll enjoy the same bike until you have a chance to ride the bike yourself. Of course, the advice you'll get from Bryan Ball is indeed valuable and you can trust Mr. Ball to lead you in the right direction. (Just try to avoid riding your bent in 4 feet of snow! <g>) Remember that a ride around the bike shop's parking lot IS NOT enough. Before you buy, try to take a similar bike on a long ride.
In general, you're likely to benefit from buying your first recumbent from your local bent dealer. Choose a dealer who will let you take a long test ride and is willing to spend time with you and answer all of your questions. Then ride as many bikes as you can and ride them as long as possible. Only then will you be able to select the right bike for you. Your local dealer is likely to charge you a little more, but the education and support you'll get is worth the extra money.
Last but not least is my strong recommendation that you choose a bike from a reputable and established builder and equally reputable and established dealer.