BentRide 2004

Every recumbent cyclist desires two things:
  1. to try out dozens of cool recumbents in one day, for comparison and for the sheer pleasure of novelty; and
  2. to ride through quiet country roads along a clear lake, stopping for lunch at a local winery.
BentRide 2004 offered the chance to satisfy both of these urges in one weekend.

Part One: The Recumbent Festival

Several manufacturers and distributers displayed their wares in a tree-lined square in Canisteo, NY. By noon there were dozens of bikes whizzing through the lot and out into the surrounding streets. Some impressions of the bikes I rode:

Velocraft: these angular carbon-fibre low-racers look like they were stolen from Batman's garage. They weigh about 500 grams, not including pedals, and Dana Lieberman was holding them with his fingertips. But there are some, how to put this, chain interference issues. I pointed this out to Dana as delicately as I could. "Well yeah, of course the front wheel interferes with the chain," he responded, "look, you can see it in front of you. This isn't a bike you would ride on the street [where one must occasionally turn]. Although I do."

Barcroft: When I mentioned I owned a Rans Rocket, Bill Cook replied, "You need to upgrade!" He later assured me that the Rocket was a perfectly respectable bike, but having ridden the Barcroft Virginia, I must concede his point. This is the most natural feeling, comforting bike I have ever ridden. It uses a standard Rans seat and a very close praying-mantis handlebar position, but the low-slung curvy frame just fit me perfectly. It made me feel like I was back in the womb.

The high-racers: Volae Tour 26, Rans Force Five, Bachetta Strada These are what I, and most of the other 100 people, was here to see, and we were not disappointed: probably half of the bikes on display had dual 26s. These bikes look precarious, like a luge on stilts, and I was pretty nervous about even trying one. But once I finally summoned up the courage to put my feet on the pedals, it took roughly one and a half seconds to feel comfortable. It doesn't feel precarious at all. To compare these to the Barcrofts, riding a highracer is like flying a kite, only you're the kite. It's true, the Superman handlebar position is not meant for doing U-turns on side streets. But here's the secret: unclip and sit up, and you're riding a wedgie (well, a wedgie with no pedals). These are maybe not the bikes for tooling around town or for touring -- my two main uses for a bike -- but I could probably convince myself that I should get one anyways. For me it's a toss-up between the Strada and the Force Five -- they have different rider positions, but they're both good. The Volae I found a bit uncomfortable, but Vic liked it best if I recall correctly.

Recumbent Trikes: Cornering at high speeds is a lot of fun.

Reynolds Weld Labs: These bikes perfectly embody the sentiment of Mark Schatzker's Industrial Dream Kitchen. They're made of titanium, the seats are covered with astroturf, the chain looks like it could cut your leg off, the handlebars are at least two meters long, and the water bottle cage is jammed uncomfortably close to your groin. In contrast, George Reynolds is a friendly down-to-earth guy. We talked about hockey. I had a hard time riding these bikes -- my arms are two short and my legs too long.

The Bicycle Man: Kudos to Peter Stull for bringing such a wide variety of bikes to the festival. I only rode one, the Challenge Hurricane. I found it small and finicky and the chain kept falling off. Too bad, because I always thought it was the coolest looking bike.

Part Two: The Bent Ride

What can one really say about a quiet ride down country roads to a winery overlooking a lake? I can only compare the sight of a hundred recumbent riders swarming through a convenience store parking lot to that of a department full of engineers drinking a small Saskatchewan town dry. Also, I think New Yorkers mean something different than we do when they say "flat" and "mostly downhill."

Part Three: The Food

Lest the winery from Part Two give you the wrong impression, may I point out that on the first night we dined on pizza and wings. The second night was pasta and delicious zuchinni bread, home-made by Brian's mom. Thanks, Brian's mom! We had two after-dinner speakers. First, Jay Dixon gave a well-received talk about transportational cycling. Then "Fast" Freddy Markam gave an overview of his cycling career, with special attention paid to crashes at above 50mph (he called them "hits"). Freddy rode Gardner Martin's Goldrush long wheelbase recumbent, which to be honest does not look like the kind of bike that would win you the DuPont Prize (for first bicyclist to reach 65mph on the flats). But like they say, it's not so much the bike as the engine.