Recumbent: Reclining but not resting
Along Kirra Point, a shelter shed hugs the headland. It’s been there for years and forms part of the Coolangatta heritage walk. The day was sparkling with sunshine in a sky, blue and broad. I’d stopped at the shelter shed – with its high pitched roof, timber slatted gable and verandah railings painted in the familiar Federation colours of yellowy cream, burgundy and white – to take some photos.
I was just about to leave when a man looked into the shelter from the adjoining footpath and asked if I was touring. My Vivente is a touring bike so it’s a question I’m often asked. And that’s how I met Barry, learned about his bike and a week later went for a long chat and a short ride.
You see Barry’s is no ordinary bike. It’s a trike. More accurately a recumbent trike, with an electric motor.
Recumbents situate the rider quite differently to a conventional bicycle. Instead of an upright position where riders push their legs up and down, recumbents seat the rider in a reclining position with the rider’s legs extending in front. This means the recumbent rider is usually much closer to the ground and if you’ve seen one, they typically have a fine flagpole flying a small orange flag to make sure they’re seen.
I’ve only seen a few recumbents and each time, I’ve wondered at their safety, given the lower seating position and the need to rely on mirrors for rear vision. However, seeing my touring bike parked next to Barry’s recumbent trike, I can clearly see the trike would have a bigger presence on the road.
The stability of the tricycle is the feature that sold Barry on this type of cycling. Barry began sailing in his late forties and after 10 years of being on the water, he decided to pull in the sails. While travelling in a campervan around Tasmania, he met a Dutchman who was bicycle touring, had travelled all around Australia by bike and was 66 years old.
This sparked Barry’s interest. As a sailor, he liked the challenge, the navigation and the adventure. Meeting the Dutchman, he realised bike touring had all those things. So, seven years ago at age 58, he bought a touring bike and went cycling – to Japan, North Queensland, Central Australia, Victoria, and to Tibet for a charity fundraiser. He found joys in riding his bicycle akin to sailing. One of them is peacefulness. I asked him to explain this:
“You know when you’re riding downhill and the wind is rushing past your head, it’s noisy. But when you reach the bottom of the hill, there’s silence… it’s peaceful.”
Unfortunately, Barry had a fall on some rough terrain in North Queensland and broke his hip. He returned to cycling but the appeal of the stable recumbent trike was obvious. Touring on the trike feels safer.
It means a slower trip at about 12-14km/hr with a touring load (previously he travelled 15-20km/hr depending on the terrain). But now, with a recently installed electric motor, Barry’s trike will move him along at 25km/hr with very little effort. (Check out the short video at the end of this story to see the acceleration.) He says it’ll help him outride any chasing dogs too!
A recumbent bike might mean reclining but it certainly doesn’t mean resting. Barry said people used to ask him if he was scared when at sea and now they ask him the same about cycling. To him, being fearful doesn’t bring you a good life. In his words:
Fear stops you doing things. You have to take some risk.
Here’s a short video (56 secs) showing Barry’s recumbent trike in action.
Barry demonstrates how the electric assist allows him to stop pedalling and keep moving along. When he changes the setting, watch how the trike takes off! It’s amazing!
Tech spec: Barry’s Recumbent Tricycle is made by ICE: Inspired Cycle Engineering.