Laid-back bicycling

Recumbents bring the joys of the open road without punishing the body.

Health & Fitness

April 14, 2002|By Nick Sortal

Shari Bernhard pedals down a quiet road in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., laughing and chattering with friends all the way, doing something that frustrated her six years ago -- riding a bicycle.

A throbbing neck and sleepless nights were getting the best of her. It looked like a cycling tour of the coast of Washington state in 1995 would be her last, even though she loved seeing the countryside by bicycle.

But a couple of months later, a friend riding a recumbent -- which means "lying down" or "resting" -- offered his bike for a test ride.

Bernhard, 47, plopped into the seat, leaned back and began moving. She thought she'd ride for a couple of minutes, but she cycled for an hour and half. When she returned, so did her passion for biking.

Recumbent riders make up only about 2 percent of the cycling population, but as baby boomers head away from competing and more toward comfort, they're finding the recumbent to be like a rolling recliner.

Says Larry Pierce of Lantana, Fla., who switched from an upright bike to a recumbent to avoid aching shoulders, neck and hands: "Recumbent riding is a different mind-set. I got over that macho thing years ago. I don't have anything to prove, unless it's that I can ride my recumbent as much as I want."

Pierce and Bernhard are not alone in their recumbent advocacy. Bryan Ball, who co-publishes an online recumbent newsletter, says he has nearly 20,000 monthly readers.

I joined Bernhard recently, riding on the back of her tandem (built for two) recumbent. On my upright bike, I'm used to leaning forward and straining my neck to keep my helmet up and tightly gripping the handlebars. But on the recumbent, nothing hurts.

Sitting in a recumbent widens your field of vision, even though there's not that much difference in speed. Our tandem rolled along at about 17 mph.

Many recumbent cyclists don't even use those Lycra shorts that are padded in the crotch, because recumbent seats spread the weight across a rider's backside. The relaxed muscles also bring relaxed minds, so you can enjoy the scenery while getting a workout.

"I've gone on tours with upright riders and I've said, 'Hey, look at those birds up there.' And they think I'm crazy," says Cleve Watkins of Sarasota, Fla.

Sean Wentzell, manager of Atlantic Bicycle in Margate, Fla., says few people walk into his store and immediately buy a recumbent.

"They're not commonplace enough that everybody understands them," he says. "It's something people tend to get an education about first."

Still, his store, which specializes in recumbents, has seen an increase in business. Sales went from about 200 in 2000 to nearly 400 in 2001.

The bikes are priced from $500, but most of Wentzell's sales are in the $1,000 to $1,500 range, he says.

Recumbent aerodynamics are different from those of upright cycling. Those seeking speed on uprights are fighting the wind head-first. Recumbent riding is a feet-first adventure, and as the cyclist becomes more adept at handling one, he becomes more linear. So a beginning cyclist will often ride sitting at a 90-degree angle, with legs extended forward, and will progress toward a flat 180 degrees as he becomes more experienced.

"After a while, your feet will be in line with your head and your whole body will occupy a plane that's only about a foot or two," Wentzell says. "The wind resistance is less than on an upright because you're lower to the ground."

Recumbent riders tend to burn fewer calories. The upper body works less than on an upright, and because a recumbent rider's legs are more in line with the heart, the chore of pumping blood to the area doing the most work -- the legs -- is less urgent. Hence, a lower heart rate.

Nick Sortal is a reporter for the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, a Tribune Publishing paper.


For more information about recumbent cycling, browse Bryan Ball's Internet publication, 'BentRider Online Magazine, at www.

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.