Bent or Upright?

  Having biked across the nation once on an upright and then on a recumbent, I know now that I will *NEVER* travel long distances on a conventional bicycle ever again. In the words ahead, in addition to showing you why the recumbent is a far superior long distance traveling option, I will give you some of its background and then try to help you understand why it has taken so long for people to "discover" them.

To begin with, it needs to be known that ever since my car wreck and subsequent rehabilitation, in starting my life from a clean slate, I've looked at every sport from the perspective of its ability to be a lifetime way to keep myself fit. Immediately ruled out because of this requirement were most of the sports I saw on TV such as football, baseball and basketball. Bicycling, which I'd done all my life, seemed like a logical choice but as I looked at it from this new standpoint I didn't see that many older people on bikes. I wondered why this was so.

Well 4,000 miles worth of TransAm answered my question. Upright cycling causes pain. Any body who can put in a hundred mile day on a conventional bicycle without combating hands

  and genitals (applies to men) falling asleep, a sore butt and back or tired arms (all parts of the body that don't turn the pedals around) has an extremely high threshold of pain (like I did after my car wreck), has desensitized themself to the signals their body is always sending them or has the resilience that only youth can bless one with. (We won't even visit the issue of penile numbness, impotence or the prostrate problems associated with upright cycling that "Bicycling", "Newsweek" and other notable members of the mainstream press covered in great detail during the summer of '97.)

Unlike 30 years ago when most people over 30 didn't exercise, more and more adults are entering mid life with a respectable measure of fitness or at least a genuine interest in it. And yet the upright industry still doesn't get it. It continues to focus it's efforts on younger America. It showcases its racers and endeavors to make older riders as well as those hurt by the upright position comfortable with items such as suspended forks, stems, seats and seatposts as well as with padded gloves, saddles and shorts, etc. Such moneys if invested in the recumbent solution, however, could provide them with a needed shot in the arm to send their sales of a whole new bicycle into outer orbit.

  Peugeot, the once proud bike manufacturing giant, saw this as far back as 1914 when they entered the marketplace with a recumbent bicycle of their own (recumbent bicycle's actually go back as far as the mid to late 1800's with the Macmillan Velocipede and the Challand Recumbent that are talked about in the still in print book from the late 1800's entitled, "Bicycles and Tricycles"). Also during the early part of this century, a Frenchman named Charles Mochet, was busy making the rounds with a recumbent bicycle that was literally rewriting all the known cycling record books of the time. When one of his riders, a second-rate French racer named Francais Faure set a new world record for the hour on one on July 7, 1933, covering 45.056 kilometers, however, he also wrote their epitaph. This was so because, eight months later the Union Cyclists Internationale (UCI), banned the recumbent bicycle from any of the races it sanctioned.

Were Mochet and his riders having too much fun? Had they made it look too easy? Was the forward thinking Peugeot too far out of balance with the prevailing mindset of the times? Let's take a look at that era to better answer these questions.

There were three factors working against the recumbent when Mochet was trying to sell the

  world on his changed cycling position. Hero worship, what we will call a global misery consciousness and a pressing need to conform all worked to keep the people of his time from accepting anything that was different. And the recumbent bicycle was (and still is) different!

First we will look at the question of hero worship. In the '30 's, even though the private automobile was just beginning to achieve dominance, the bicycle was still a strong part of the mass consciousness. Its racers were the crowned dignity of a very recent past for the people of that time. So for anyone to upset the accomplishments of the heroes they had once idolized while doing so in a different position impressed them as nothing more than an achievement that had to be counterfeit.

We can see an example of this in the world of baseball. When Roger Maris hit 61 home runs in 1961 to upstage that game's icon, Babe Ruth, America and the press almost made Maris a criminal. Nor did they accept his record either. It is only now, four decades later, as the media regularly reduces our hero's to the mere mortals that they really are to begin with that sports writers are even beginning to consider Maris for the "National Pastime's" Hall of Fame.

  Also during the '30's, a global misery prevailed because, stuck in the fighting consciousness that separated the two world wars, the industrialized nations of the world were busy making themselves strong against attack. People were no more than the nuts and bolts that made up grand war machines; all that seemed to matter was if what they did contributed to making their country strong. Happiness, feeling fulfilled or enjoying what they did for a living were not even worthy of consideration.

The mentality of 'life is hard and then you die' was the dominant thought form by which most people during this time governed their affairs. Henry David Thoreau, a forward thinking proponent of individualism seemed to be summing this sentiment up decades before when he observed, "The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation. What is called resignation is confirmed desperation."

It was this feeling of hopelessness and helplessness against an enemy that was seemingly

  everywhere that made recreation a distraction from the quiet suffering that was needed to always be ready for battle. Here, however, is where a fine line had to be walked. To travel the "Path Less Traveled" that Scott Peck advocated some 50 years later in his celebrated book by the same title, imperiled the safety in numbers consciousness that was so necessary for survival back then. So, in order not to lose sight of one's adversary, never could one have too much fun no matter what he or she happened to be doing.

For a cyclist in that era to look happy as he was rewriting all the known record books of the time was seen as a slap in the face to this unspoken requirement to regulate the amount of joy one was allowed. For Mochet's riders to smile and have their arms at their sides in the surrender position while making the efforts of previous cyclists seem like child's play only added to the insult that this style of riding was beginning to cause. Removing such disrespect from public view was almost seen as civic duty.

  A decade later, even after The Bomb's decimation of Nagaski and Hiroshima had made America the unofficial leader of the world, here in the U.S., for the next 40 years we still continued to prepare ourselves and our allies for attack. The fighting consciousness continued as the Interstate Highway system was signed into law for defense purposes, we built air raid shelters and the arms race left us with enough armaments to destroy the world many many times over. As the rest of the world followed our lead, life continued to be one hardship after another.

It is this mindset that has become a part of our present day enculturation. In order to insure that we are not alone in our misery, how hard we work and how well we conform to the code of conduct prescribed by our tribe, our co-workers, the clubs and associations we belong to, even our families, etc, have become the measure of our own individual sense of self worth.

  Such conditioning even goes so far as to permeate the very way in which we transport ourselves. How we move ourselves about, according to this paradigm, is supposed to be serious business, a job. It is never supposed to be fun especially if we do so in any of those areas where most of the people on the roads are going to work.

Not only is the group mind telling us that we can't enjoy ourselves when we are on its roadways, the media constantly reminds us that they are for moving workers about with its reports on workday traffic, road conditions and the like. It is for this reason that, here in America, Bike-to-Work Day has been somewhat successful in bringing older cyclists back to the roads. It has begun to speak to the inferiority complex that many of us on two wheels are always working to overcome.

  As we endeavor to legitimize our presence on the road's shoulder by associating it with work, however, we squeeze the joy out of something as simple as riding a bike. As we learn how to "play it cool" just like the people of the '30's we talked about earlier, however, we take something that is supposed to be childlike fun and turn it, too, into work. Here we see examples of this in everything we do so that we can justify it as grown up activity. One has to look no further, once again, than the baseball diamond to understand this last statement.

How many of the men amongst us here in America can forget how much fun it was to throw a baseball around or to swing a bat at one? When we were little boys, we looked at the special gloves and the shoes and all the rules we were required to learn with a sense of wonder and awe. It astounded us to learn that we could actually get paid to do such a thing. The few that got to the professional level, however, forgot how to smile when things got hard.

  At exactly the time when research shows that such athletes need to surrender to laughter; to lighten up, to not take themselves so seriously in order to get out of their slump, they take the opposite approach in trying to show their paying fans that they are not happy with the performance aspects of their game. They try too hard. And as their woes worsen, they push even harder. They smile less and less and they make everyone miserable around them until they somehow break free. While at the same time such pain unwittingly becomes their future approach to the very game they once enjoyed.

Whether it's baseball, pounding nails or preparing ledger sheets, on some level, we forget in the same way that every job we do gives us some measure of satisfaction. However we tend only to remember the hard times as a perverse way to insure that others will pay us for a pain we have projected into the future. As a result, we learn not to smile too much with pretty much everything we do in life whether it's for money or even just for fun.

  On a recumbent, because they are novel for most and so genuinely comfortable, we have not yet figured out a way to associate hardship with their use. In becoming a part of this new critical mass of happy cyclists, then, you break with the currently dominant paradigm of no pain no gain that the UCI decision had propagated for almost half a century. On one, you also fall out of the mental rut you may find yourself in with regard to how you are "supposed' to look when moving from one point to another.

In the last few decades, recumbent cyclists seem to have followed a progressive resistance to the conformist consciousness that had once so paralyzed us as individuals. As the proliferation of household appliances began to make it possible for the individual to function independently of the needs of the group, for more and more people, what he or she wanted finally began to matter. The need for us to stick together for battle continued to lose its importance in the '70's when Vietnam made war as we had known it obsolete. The hippie and pop psychology movements then used the folly of supporting a war effort to show us that we as individuals really did matter. It convinced many of us that it was OK to break with the rank and file, to be different.

  As the shock of long hair, sideburns, sit-ins and tie dye had begun to wear off, consistent with the spirit of the times, Dick Ryan, of the present day Ryan Recumbent, teamed up with a handful of engineers in the Boston area to manufacture the first recumbent of the modern day era, the Avatar (Long Wheel Base, Under the Seat Steered). Initially met in 1979 with curiosity and much fanfare, the high price tag of the bike ($2195), however, made it hard to buy for the small but growing number of people unafraid to stand apart from the crowd.

At almost the same time, on opposite sides of the United States, Gardner Martin, a student of aerodynamic advantage began producing his Easy Racer speed machines in the Santa Cruz area of California. While in the southern part of that state, another small team of engineers, led by Jack Baker of the present day S&B Recumbent began producing the Hypercycle. A short wheel base machine, it was not about serious cycling like the S&B that has evolved from it, but more of an adult toy that appealed to cyclists looking just for pain free fun.

  Bitten by the same bug, in the middle part of the US, another recumbent movement began. In Indiana, Doc Pierson (a local dentist), brought his design for a recumbent bicycle to a well-to-do tool maker named Steve Edwards of Ace Tool and the Infinity (Long Wheel Base, Under the Seat Steered) was born.

Soon the Dutch introduced their version of pain free cycling to America in the form of the Roulandt and in California another long wheel base, the DeFelice began to attract buyers.

During this time, the only link these bikes had to the marketplace were the tiny ads that they were able to place in the backs of bike magazines or through Dr. Bike, the only recumbent dealer in the U.S. Run by Ken Culver in the Long Island area of New York, this operation now located in Arizona found interested buyers all over the world for this "new" cycling position. The King of Morroco even purchased an Infinity and a Hypercycle from Culver and once sent out a Lear Jet from his home land just to retrieve a replacement part.

So it was that the present day recumbent movement began, just like the modern day computer -in garages, almost strategically

  positioned throughout the US. Then when in 1984, E.I. Dupont, the chemical giant, offered $18,000 to the first human powered single rider machine that could top 65 miles per hour, the present day recumbent movement was given somewhat of an official blessing. Soon, Dick Ryan and the rest of his recumbent brethren would be able to remind people that speed on a bicycle didn't require that one have to be uncomfortable. The engineers backed up this contention when their equations showed that it was the recumbent design, which is 25 to 33% more aerodynamically efficient than a conventional upright bicycle, that could produce the speed they would need to win this award.

As other recumbents kept falling just short, on May 11 in 1986, a recumbent bicycle ridden by Fast Freddy Markham then captured the Dupont prize on a fully faired Easy Racer recumbent. His victory gave a shot of adrenaline to the fledgling industry that Ryan had helped to revitalize. Since then, scores of manufacturers and a myriad of different laid back machines have sprouted up all over the world. In 1990 Recumbent Cyclist News then, with great success, began helping these builders merchandise their wares to a very receptive public. Here now in 1998, it is the world wide web that is even further bringing down the walls of resistance.

  Having made the recumbent my main source of transportation in 1982, I have witnessed this transformation on a first hand basis. It has been the many tens of thousands of miles comfortably seated on a recumbent that has let me look deeply into the question of why other people on regular bicycles used to almost persecute me for having a good time. When I first started riding 'bents, for example, if I wasn't being accused of being on a fake bicycle, I was met with looks of disapproval by those others on standard two wheelers. As we talked about earlier, I knew on some level that I was just having too much fun for them; I wasn't playing it cool. Fortunately for me, my brain injury rehabilitation had made me enough of an oddity already that I was able to ride a bicycle, the recumbent, in total comfort and not give in to the subtle suffering that many felt was required of me.

More and more people are also discovering, as did I, that it is actually an honor to be different; that their bicycle does not have to cause them pain. Those returning to this once almost outlawed style of riding are discovering they can ride for hours and miles without ailments such as the sore butt, stiff neck, aching shoulders or numb hands that afflict the conventional bicycle rider. Besides far greater comfort, the recumbent rider also experiences a better view of the world, a toning and strengthening of the abdomen, even a better sun tanning position.

  Nor are they dangerous. In fact the lower center of gravity and greater proximity to the ground mean that if you should crash on one, your feet will absorb most of the shock instead of your head. Because more of your weight is over the rear wheel, recumbents also stop faster. Cars see you better, too, because the biggest part of your body is in the car driver's field of vision and you do not blend in with pedestrians, joggers or conventional bicyclists.

On a practical level here are some more things to consider about the recumbent advantage. On a recumbent:You don't have to dress a certain way; there is no need for special clothes such as bike shorts with a chamois in them or jerseys with pockets in backIt is easier to feed your self on oneYou can ride far longer with one handYou see more of the lands through which you are passingThey perform better in headwinds of which the plains and deserts are filledYou are on a magic carpet ride...having fun.

  Comparing my two bike rides across the US, the recumbent position proved infinitely superior. I could enjoy my time off of the bike and still had energy at the end of a day for more than just climbing into my sleeping bag or looking for a hotel room. I also enjoy the added respect that motorists give me and the inquisitive, receptive people I meet even today. It is this last fact, which when held up under the scrutiny of a TransAm crossing, that can help you decide which kind of bike to ride on your own TransAm.

Any time you pass through unfamiliar territory on a recumbent, people along the way can't help but feel a sense of comfort wherever they see you. On a 'bent, it is as if you don't pose a

  threat. When you are not moving about with your arms poised for attack in the fighting position of the upright it is as if you are saying all is well, the world is a safe place for me to be. Instead of presenting a menacing appearance, on a recumbent, you offer your heart. It is as if you are saying, "love me, don't fight me".

Try to imagine just for a moment what our world would be like if love was the dominant theme; if there was nothing to defend. Harmony, tranquillity and joy would abound. There would be a true heaven on earth. All would be a playground -- National Bicycle Greenways would fill the land!! It is toward this end, then, that I say that those on recumbents will be the ambassadors of such good will as we move through the new millennium!!.

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