View Full Version : Commuting with recumbents

12-21-2010, 11:12 AM
I have a few questions for those with experience commuting with recumbents;

1. Are you able to recover easily from slight slips on sand, patches of snow/ice, etc, or is it more difficult than a DF?
2. Would a partially or fully suspended bike be needed for general commuting on the W&OD? The Custis Trail between WFC and Ballston?
3. Would a mid or high racer be appropriate if not used in medium or heavy traffic (i.e., predominantly trail or short exuburan runs)?

1. If properly flagged with gaudy LED whip (http://www.safeglowhips.com/)s, would short runs on lightly travelled exurban roads be relatively safe?
2. Would a suspended trike be needed for general commuting on the W&OD? The Custis Trail between WFC and Ballston?

12-21-2010, 12:27 PM
I did a 16 mile each way commute on a Catrike Speed (unsuspended, zippy-fast trike on skinny tires) for 3 months this year. My ride consisted of about 5 miles of small suburban back streets (with 2 large street crossings (Rt. 50 and Rt. 29 both in Falls Church)) followed by 11 miles of W&OD, Custis, Mt. Vernon and bikeway along the National Mall. My commuting times were 5am and usually about 4:30pm.

Snow/Ice: The cattrike was okay in the snow and ice as long as it was smooth and not more than 2" deep. I had a few situations where I had an icy climb and I had to make sure that I had a good bit of momentum so that it didn't matter if I spun the back tire on the icy parts.

Visibility: My trike was neon pink. I banded it with 3m reflective tape all over the place. I used 2 flashy lights on the back, one on each side of my helmet and one facing forward in addition to my normal headlight. I had a custom flag made because I couldn't find one that matched the color of pink on the trike. I had one "dooring" close call and the usual people who ignore the stop signs/ red lights on the Custis in Rosslyn. I was never hit on the trike.

Bumps: Generally the W&OD is pretty good with bumps. The bridges (and getting on and off them) usually had me lean forward a bit so that I didn't bump my back against the bar that goes behind the seat. The bumps on the Custis trail, on the other hand, were definitely something I felt. They'd probably do better with a rear suspension trike. Some of those tree root bumps are over 2" tall and really abrupt. I tended to be kind of a banzai trike rider. The instructions on the Catrike state that you should NEVER a) get it up on 2 wheels; b) get the trike airborn; or c) hit the brakes so hard that you lift the rear wheel. Doing so will void the warranty. I did a, b and c starting with my very first ride and almost every ride since. I rode it down the cobblestones in Old Town Alexandria. That was fun, but rather challenging. I launched curbs on more than one occasion (which must be done at high speed or you wail the idler gears on the curb. I even got to the point where I could bunny-hop (sort of) the expansion joints on the new Wilson bridge bikeway.

Roosevelt Bridge is too narrow for Trikes. You'll fit on it, but if you meet up with anyone, you have to get up, pick up your trike, let them pass, then put your trike down again. My trike is sub 30 pounds, but that still isn't pleasant in the middle of a ride.

Serious Benefits: In the days leading up to or following a national holiday that has any kind of parade, there is a special commuting lane that is created specifically for recumbent trike riders on the National Mall: http://www.flickr.com/photos/pedrogringo/4517120317/in/set-72157623845504494/

One of the recumbent (bike) guys I see almost every day has been commuting all week. He rode up the bridge from Roosevelt Island to Rosslyn in the ice both yesterday and today. He's awesome, though he won't say "hi" to me.

Hopefully that helps a little.


12-21-2010, 12:38 PM
Traffic can be HECK!


12-21-2010, 03:07 PM
I have a long wheel base Tour Easy that I have commuted and toured with for 6 or 7 years. It's long wheel base provides passive suspension so tree roots and such are not an issue. It took a while to learn to trust the bike but once I did tight turns (such as the one to get on the ramp to the 14th Street bridge from the Mount Vernon Trail) became a non issue.

The one problem I did have was with the front end sliding out on slippery surfaces. I switched from a Primo Comet to a Schwalbe Marathon (which has a more aggressive tread) and this helped quite a bit. The cause was the weight distribution of the bike which is skewed to the rear when carrying panniers on a rear rack. I could have further mitigated the problem with an underseat rack. I don't ride this bike in the snow. (I would if I wanted to buy studded tires.)

Visbility hasn't been an issue. I have reflective material on my panniers (Ortliebs), a head and tail light on my helmet, and a reflective sidewall on my front tire. I also have a big left hand side mirror. (At one point i had one on my right hand side too.)

One big advantage of recumbents is the fact that you ride in a heads up position. You see the"playing field" much better (like a quarterback compared to a down lineman).

One thkng to keep in mind about two-wheeled recumbents is that a fall is typically a lot less nasty than on a regular bike. You're much closer to the ground.

Larry Varney, a well known trike fanatic, told me that he thought suspension wasn't neccessary on the Custis Trail.

01-03-2011, 12:52 PM
Thanks, rootchopper and dirt, your experiences have helped me immensely in choosing which approach I'm going to take. I will indeed pursue the recumbent path (to gain a bit more aerodynamic advantage).

Bicycle Speed and Power Calculator (http://www.hembrow.eu/personal/kreuzotter/espeed.htm)

01-03-2011, 03:47 PM
I will indeed pursue the recumbent path (to gain a bit more aerodynamic advantage).

Be sure you have the requisite aerobelly, beard and engineering degree documentation before proceeding :)

01-03-2011, 07:39 PM
Actually I do have an belly that needs streamlining, along with a mustache and engineering degree. Aerodynamics used to be one of my favorite subjects and I recently published an article on the subject in The Oil Drum (http://www.theoildrum.com/node/5912).