The Psyclists’ first spring ride

The Princeton Psychology/Neuroscience cycling group dusted off their bikes and reconvened after a long winter.

Today’s route took us along the scenic D&R Canal towpath from Princeton to Rocky Hill. From there we crossed to the other side of the canal and looped back with a stop at PJ’s Pancake House in Kingston for some coffee and snacks.

Interesting sightings included a few dozen sunbathing turtle, some hissing geese, and a great blue heron flyby.

In total, we rode 13 miles– most of which were flat except for the steep hill along Rt 27 into Kingston.

Here’s our Garmin route for anyone interested in the ride.

Cycling with your child

With a kindergartner on the verge of riding a bike on his own (I think it’ll happen this summer, but let’s not jinx it), I thought it may be fun to review the various contraptions (there’ve been many!) I’ve used to bring him along on rides ever since he could hold his little head up. Some of these child carriers won’t safely work with a recumbent bike or trike, but I did manage to adapt a couple of them as you’ll see.


Child-in-front seating

When my son was one year old, it made the most sense to have him in front of me within eyesight and also within reach in case of a fall. At that time I was riding a Surly Straggler that was set up as an upright and comfortable commuter.

I chose the Kangaroo by Kazam because unlike other front child seats that mount directly to the steerer, the Kangaroo mounts to a bar behind the head tube. This bar runs along the length of the bike and is secured to the seat tube at the rear and the head tube at the front. I like this design because it prevents the child from being a counterweight which would make steering more difficult.

The Kazam Kangaroo mounts to a bar that ran along the top tube, thereby maintaining a good central weight ditribution on the bike that made handling easier.

Child-in-rear seating

The following year we tried the Thule Yepp Maxi rear seat. A unique feature of this seat is that it can mount directly onto a luggage rack or to the frame’s seat tube with a special attachment. In my case, I didn’t have much confidence in the strength of my rear rack, so I opted to mount it to the seat tube.

The seat is made of lightweight, high-quality foam-like material that provides both comfort and built-in suspension. The footrests are adjustable and have shielding to prevent little feet from hitting the rear wheel.

When I bought my first recumbent, I was hoping to attach the Yepp Maxi to the bike, but decided against it. While I did find one instance of someone mounting a rear child seat to the rack of an Azub recumbent bike, it didn’t looked particularly safe to have so much weight on the rear rack.

The Thule Yepp Maxi was well built and seemed comfortable enough for the little guy to fall asleep on many rides.

Bike trailer

Bike trailers are safe, all-weather solutions to bringing a child along on a ride. They mount to the rear axle of your bike with a small hitch attachment and work as well on recumbent bikes as they do with regular bikes.

My son enjoyed some rides in the comfort of a Burley Bee bike trailer, not unlike a little king being pulled in his chariot. Unfortunately, he got bored and lost interest. I don’t blame him. In the trailer, you don’t feel the wind on your face, and you’re too far to chat with Mom or Dad. I’ve met families that routinely use bike trailers, but it wasn’t working for us.


Pedaling “Weehoo” trailer

The Weehoo is a single-wheel bike trailer where the child is seated in the recumbent position (!!) and has a set of functioning pedals in front of them. The seat position can be adjusted fore/aft, and it comes with useful features like a removable canopy and panniers for storing snacks and a jacket.

Because the Weehoo attaches to the seat post of your bike, it won’t work with most recumbent bikes. That being said, I was set on using this (after all, it was a $20 Goodwill find by my wife!). Because my Azub MINI’s frame is open in the back to receive a rack, I designed a faux seat post that could be inserted into the frame in place of the rack, and had it fabricated by a local machine shop.

The best thing about the Weehoo trailer is that the child can pedal if they want to and feel like they’re participating in the ride. This was a game-changer for my son. He had a blast and learned how to pedal without the fear of falling.


Tow bars and tag-alongs

Both tow bars and tag-alongs attach to your bike’s seat post. A tow bar, such as the Trail Gator, lets you tow your child’s bike, while tag-alongs are essentially bikes without a functional front half.

We’re currently experimenting with the Trail Gator using the faux seat post on the Azub MINI. So far it seems to work reasonably well, provided the tow bar is attached as high as possible on the seat post (otherwise the entire setup is too unstable). Generally, I think the tow bar is a better option than a tag-along since it allows the child to “detach” and ride solo when they want and then be towed when they tire out.

One other device worth mentioning in this category is the FollowMe Tandem. It’s similar to a tow bar in that it allows you to pull the child’s bike. However, instead of attaching to the seat post (which limits its use with recumbent bikes), it attaches to the rear axle and seems much more stable. The FollowMe Tandem should work with just about any recumbent bike as well, as long as the rear wheel is at least 26”. Sadly, because my current recumbents are both 20”, I can’t try one out at this time.

Here’s our first attempt with the Trail Gator tow bar and a Woom 4 kid’s bike. I think the stability of the towbar could be improved if the faux seat post was a bit taller to match the height of a regular bike’s seat post.

My favorite stocking stuffers for cyclists

With the holiday season already here, why not do some shopping for that special cyclist in your life (or simply treat yourself). Here are a few of my all-time favorite bike accessories. Some are more recumbent specific, while others are appropriate for just about any bike.

Safety

Loud Mini Horn by LoudBicycle

If you ride in traffic, ringing bells and using your voice just doesn’t cut it. I absolutely love this thing. It uses micro-USB charging and a universal go-pro mount (so you can mount it just about anywhere you have the space). They offer button extension cords, which are really handy for long recumbent bikes. And most importantly, this thing is LOUD (125 db) and sounds JUST like a car horn. I kid you not. Nothing is more satisfying than beeping an inattentive driver with this. At $169, the Loud Mini is certainly not cheap, but it’s the best horn out there as far as I’m concerned and worth every cent the instant you have to use it.

Quad Amber and Red lights by Dinnotte Lighting

Dinnotte Lighting is a well regarded company run by Rob Skaff up in Hampton NH. Rob’s been manufacturing high performance LED lights for over a decade with the idea that bike lights need to be as bright as car lights to be effective. I like the unique, compact design of their Quad line of lights, and their latest models provide convenient USB-C charging. Their amber lights are more visible to motorists than typical white lights during the day time. Get the Quad Amber headlight + Quad Red taillight package for $349. These are lights meant to last a lifetime, and Dinnotte offers reasonable battery replacement or trade-in services.

Ultralight Mirror by D+D Oberlauda

This mirror is made in Germany and can be hard to find here at times. It often goes by different names (usually the Ortlieb Ultralight Mirror or the D+D Oberlauda UltraLight Mirror). It’s designed for touring and commuting or just about any situation in which there’s a need for greater visibility. Hands down it is the best mirror out there. It’s extremely light (2 oz), provides a really wide field of view, and it’s easy to adjust on the fly. The way it mounts is quite versatile which makes it a great mirror for recumbent bikes where you sometimes have to get creative with your mirror placement. I’ve gone through many mirrors over the years and consistently come back to this one. It is reasonably priced, and currently $24 at ModernBike.

Cargo

Fastback Carbon Slim Seatback bag by T-Cycle

For the recumbent rider, sometimes you need a compact bag to hang over the back of your hard shell seat just to carry some essentials. I use this bag to hold my phone, keys, wallet, and a few other small things on my commuting recumbent. It’s a very simple bag with a convenient Velcro attachment system, and its slim profile allows it to fit over the back of even the most reclined hard shell seats. T-cycle has these for $90.

Tech

AirTag Bike Mount by Project4AGZE

If you’re an iPhone user, do yourself a favor and pick up an Apple AirTag or two. To mount one to your bike, I recommend a mount by Marshall of Project4AGZE on Etsy. There are tons of mounts out there, but his are good quality, handmade in USA, and durability tested by Marshall himself over thousands of miles and races. These mounts fit behind the water bottle cage, and are so slim that they’d likely go unnoticed by a bike thief. You can pick one up for $8.99.

Fashion

Helmet Visors by DaBrim

In case you’re not drawing enough attention riding your whacky recumbent bicycle, add one of these helmet visors by DaBrim. If it’s not apparent in the picture, they are huge and look absolutely ridiculous. That being said, yes I have a bright yellow one. I don’t wear it often, except on those long sunny summer rides. These things do an amazing job keeping the sun out of your face, especially on a recumbent where you’re not hunched over looking down at the road. Available for $34-$45. Strangely there are no pictures of me wearing one that I could share…

The Psyclists visit the Delaware River

The Psyclists went on their longest ride to date last weekend, covering 28 miles of the D&R towpath along the Delaware River.

Starting at Washington Crossing State Park in Titusville NJ, we travelled north on the towpath past historic Lambertville and stopping for coffee at the Borsch Belt Deli in Stockton. We reached our half way point at Bull’s Island Recreation Center where we crossed the Lumberville-Raven Rock Bridge. There’s a beautiful view of the river valley from the pedestrian-only 5 span suspension bridge. From there we headed back, this time going southbound, along the Pennsylvania side of the river.

While the condition of the NJ towpath made for very easy riding with well packed fine gravel, the PA side was in dire need of maintenance on the northern end. Once we reached New Hope on our way back down to Washington Crossing, the PA towpath did improve dramatically.

Here’s our route on Garmin.

Why ride a ‘bent?

The most frequent questions I get about my recumbent bike from passersby are “is it hard to ride?” and “is it comfortable?” As is often the case, the answer to both is “it depends”. Recumbent bikes vary wildly in design and that of course has an effect on learning difficulty. Generally speaking, I think how well you ride a regular diamond frame (DF) bike will predict how quickly you learn to ride a recumbent. I don’t think my daily bike (pictured in my introductory post) was particularly difficult to learn, but I’ll discuss different recumbent bike styles and their ease of use in a future post.

Similarly, if the recumbent bike you choose fits you well and is suited for the type of bike riding you do, you’ll find it very comfortable. But not unlike a DF bike, if you don’t pick the right bike you’ll probably end up dissatisfied.

In today’s post, I’ll delve a bit deeper into the comfort of a recumbent bike and other reasons why someone may want to ride one.


Comfort

If you happen to be middle-aged like yours truly, you may be intimately familiar with terms like herniated discs, spinal instability, back pain, neuropathy, etc. For me, my back pain is made worse by bending over or sitting upright for prolonged periods of time. Now picture a typical DF bike and you can see how the rider’s position could aggravate a bad back.

Most recumbents have an adjustable seat that can be set to varying degrees of uprightness. These seats are large and allow you to sit in them instead of perching on top of a standard bike saddle. Generally speaking, recreational and touring recumbents will have you positioned a bit more upright allowing you to see traffic and your surroundings a bit better, while the racing ‘bents will let you get very horizontal to give you a more aerodynamic profile. I personally find being 35 degrees or less reduces pressure on my spine enough to allow me to ride completely pain free.

Beyond the back, your shoulders and neck are more relaxed, and your wrists and hands no longer have to bear your upper body weight as they would if you’re hunched over the handlebars of a DF bike. But just how relaxed your upper extremities are depends a lot on the type of steering and handlebars on the bike because not all recumbents steer alike (note to self: future blog post topic).

The Rans Stratus (left) and the Schlitter Encore (right) are obviously two very different bikes. The Status is a touring recumbent with an upright seating position and a low bottom bracket, while the Encore is a “high-racer” bike with a very reclined position and high bottom bracket for increased power output.

Speed

There’s a whole other group of cyclists that gravitate toward recumbent bikes because they want to go as fast as possible. While a recumbent bike may be faster on flats and downhill compared to a DF bike, it all depends on many factors like what kinds of bikes you’re comparing and what “motor” you have powering them.

Recumbent riders interested in speed will often enhance their aerodynamic profile by adding a windscreen (or fairing) to the front and/or a tail sock to the back. For example, just take a look at the classic Lightning F40 recumbent with a full body fairing in this video. It may look absolutely ridiculous, but this thing really flies.

For those really interested in speed, they’ll go for a recumbent bike (or trike) incased in a rigid streamlined shell. These are known as velomobiles, and they are the kinds of bikes that set human powered vehicle (HPV) land speed records (currently at 89.58 mph). The amazing thing about velomobiles is you don’t need to be very strong or exert much effort to reach some fast cruising speeds. That makes them quite suitable for people who have long commutes on relatively flat terrain.

I should note that in my experience recumbents tend to be slower when going uphill compared to DF bikes. Unlike a DF bike, on a recumbent bike you can’t stand up out of your seat, mash your pedals down with the help of your weight, and rock your bike back and forth to get up a steep incline. All you can do is sit back and keep spinning those legs. I am overgeneralizing a bit though, and experts will tell you about recumbent bikes that are just as fast or faster uphill than DF bikes (the Cruzbike Vendetta V20 is a well known example).


Safety

Would you rather be careening down a street avoiding potholes and car doors while on a regular DF bike or on a recumbent? Turns out you’ll be safer on a recumbent. Research has shown more severe injuries occur on a DF bike compared to a recumbent bike. On a recumbent, your center of gravity is much lower and you’re traveling feet first. You’re certainly better off crashing with your feet than your head! Plus you can brake much harder without the prospect of flipping over your handlebars and suffering a severe head injury.

Also while you’re on a recumbent, your head is more upright allowing you to spot road hazards and make eye contact with drivers more easily. Not to mention the fact that you’re riding something weird, so drivers will notice you much more readily.

When talking about safety, I have to at least mention the recumbent trike. You can’t fall over on a trike (unless you really push it to its limits on a high speed turn and flip it). So for riders of a certain age, or those with balance problems, or those who exceed the weight limits of a two-wheeled bike, the trike is a very safe option. Many young recumbent bike riders of the 80s and 90s have since graduated to trikes in the past 15 yrs for this reason, leading to tremendous growth in the trike market (and a parallel shrinking of the recumbent bike market).


Style

This is just my opinion of course, but I do think there’s something inherently cool about recumbent bikes. It’s really interesting to see the variety of styles and solutions builders have come up with. In comparison, now most regular DF bikes just look plain boring to me!

Looks cool, right?

Introduction

I’ve liked bikes and bike culture for quite some time. Went through a Lycra phase years ago, but who are we kidding, I’m no athlete. Now I embrace a more relaxed version of cycling, or maybe that’s just aching middle age speaking to me. Regardless the reason, there are few things I enjoy more than riding my bike, whether I’m winding along scenic routes in NJ and PA, roaming around town, or commuting to the office.

Beyond just general cycling, a few years ago I discovered I like weird bikes. I mean really weird ones, known as recumbent bikes (or ‘bents). These contraptions allow you to remain in a laid back position while you pedal. They hold many advantages (and certainly some disadvantages too) over “regular” bikes. Unfortunately the heyday of recumbents has passed*, but I do believe there’s still a valuable place for them in the cycling community.

I said they were weird didn’t I? This is my first recumbent bike purchased in 2017. Though it’s been heavily modified since this picture was taken, I still ride it today. I’ll be writing more about this particular bike and others later.

Welcome to thelaidbackcyclist.com, my name is Mark. I’m a neuroscientist by training, so I guess I like both brains and bikes. And while I’m just an enthusiast, I hope you’ll find something interesting here. Who knows, maybe there are some future ‘bent riders out there who don’t know it yet.

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*I should be more specific: The 2-wheeled recumbent bike has been steadily declining in popularity. The 3-wheeled recumbent trike, on the other hand, is quite popular nowadays (relatively speaking).