Monday, January 25, 2010

Hey Is That Thing Fast?

“Is that thing fast?”

This is a question that you will get quite often when you are riding a recumbent. Usually the people who are inquiring are smiling youth or inquisitive roadies. The short answer is, “you bet it is.” If you are off the bike, like at a rest stop on an organized ride, you grin widely when asked this question. If you are on the rollers or flats, you grin widely and then upshift to the big ring - and rapidly disappear into the horizon. Awesome. Here is a few picture of my speedo on a slight downslope. 

That is a solid 40.2 MPH at a medium cruise with a 109 cadence. If the terrain has ideal rollers it is possible to maintain the mid 20’s pretty easily over the distance on a recumbent as you can carry incredible amounts of speed over the tops of the climbs. The result is a fast roller coaster cruise in the open air. 

Here is another of my own favorite personal images, on a not-so-steep decline - passing a 35 MPH speed limit sign - at a solid (but a bit blurry) 47 MPH.

Oops, looks like we are speeding there, I think. Oh well, it comes with the territory when on a recumbent. Here is a cut of video I took where the rider in the image above in front of me blows past on the same section of road. Note that I am already going 44 MPH when he dusts me and he is still cranking it up.

F A S T. It is important to note that this footage was taken at speed while holding the camera. Recumbents are not only fast but incredibly stable bikes at speed. I would not feel nearly as comfortable - likely I would feel very uncomfortable - riding a typical road bike one handed in the mid to upper 40 MPH range - never mind taking video or pictures. I don’t ride that way often on my recumbents, but when I want to grab the camera off my lap pack and click a few shots its second nature to do so at about any speed. 

The laid back position of a recumbent cuts through any wind that is attempting to get in your way. Your body is not a sail. Since you are already at maximum aerodynamic position, there is no areo-tuck, aero-bars, or other Twister-esque contortions needed where you cannot see straight to get and stay aero. This means easily sustained high average cruising speed for even occasional riders and very high speeds for stronger riders. 

Downhills are as fast as you want - from tame... to as fast as your gear inches allow... to gravity stricken insanity. Hitting sustained downhill speeds of 50 MPH on a recumbent is the closest thing I would imagine to the feeling of piloting a fighter jet at low altitude. Pure thrill. As a bonus - the entire time you have zero pressure on the arms, hands, fingers, neck, ass, shoulders, crotch, etc. At the bottom of the thrill ride you only want to do it again.

Now, before all the non-’bent riders cry foul and yell “yeah but the hills..!” I concede that point - recumbents are not always as fast on the UP-hills. That’s really OK though, and really it depends on the rider anyway. I know many a recumbent rider who can hang with the fast guys on diamond frames - even on the climbs. The right bike and engine combination is everything and can be a lethal combo on a ‘bent for sure. Also, many recumbent riders pull fast speeds and long distances throughout an entire ride with no benefit of a paceline to take multiple draft breaks. 

Climbing on a recumbent - once you have the right leg muscles in line - can actually be a relaxing zen like experience if the climb is not ridiculous steep.  (for those you have a trike) Just relax, gear properly, spin, and shift your paradigm. Savor those climbs because the reward is coming on the downhills. Also on the flats. Oh, and the rollers too.

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