Taking it lying down in Norfolk

This article was published in 1998, in Newsletter 20.

Ever since I first saw a picture of a recumbent bicycle I have wanted to own one. At least I thought I did. I wasn’t sure about the idea of lying down so low that cars would run me over, and I wasn’t too keen on the idea of steering by means of handlebars under my bottom.

So when I saw an article in the new magazine Bycycle, about a weekend trying out recumbents, I couldn’t resist.

I am now back and have the bruises to prove it. On the second-last weekend of May I got myself to Castle Acre, just north of Swaffham, and checked in to the Old Red Lion, a hostel on the Peddars Way. Should have cycled of course, but 50 miles is a bit over my limit, so I took the car. Or it took me.

There were about 15 of us for the weekend. Stuart, the owner of Bikefix, the London shop which organised the weekend, arrived with a van full of bikes. We spent the Saturday morning on the village green of Castle Acre, trying them all out – there were about 10 different sorts of recumbent, some with under-seat steering, some with high handlebars like those ’60s motorbikes one still sees. Some were a doddle to handle, others quite hard, and I fell off starting and stopping a number of times. There was a low-slung three-wheeler, a Windcheetah, which holds the cycling Land’s End-John O’Groats cycle speed record and costs nearly £3,000. One over-enthusiastic participant cornered so fast he rolled out, though the machine itself stayed upright.

In the afternoon we did a twenty-mile cruise round the country roads and villages. Ignominiously, I fell off in the middle of Swaffham market place. This was on something called a Pashley PDQ, a British bike which costs about £850, the second-cheapest of the lot. The nice thing about it is the comfort. Instead of putting most of your weight on a hard saddle, you are in a mesh seat, and a lot of the weight is taken on your back as you push forward on the pedals. These are on an adjustable boom out beyond the front wheel. Height above the ground proved not to be the problem in practice that it was assumed to be in theory. Most of the bikes kept your head about a foot below where it would be on a ‘normal’ bike and that seemed to be enough even on bendy country roads for cars to see us.

On Sunday we did 40 miles, some on rough bridleways, and again I felt I could have gone another 40, whereas on a normal bike I feel uncomfortable in the nether regions after ten miles. This day I was on the cheapest, a Dutch Flevo, which weighs in at only £400. Not quite as comfortable on the rear as the PDQ, but harder to fall off. This is billed as a town-bike rather than a touring machine, but the smallish wheels coped with gravel and sand and ate up the miles on the tar.

Having now tested the concept, my only question is not whether I should get a recumbent, but when. They are expensive, and probably will be for some time to come, but for me they are the future. I adore cycling, but up to now have been limited by what my arms and backside could stand in the way of prolonged pain. On a recumbent the only limit is how many times your legs can go round in a day.

Philip Lund