Recumbent types: Steering

Under Seat Steering (USS)

The handlebars on a recumbent may be mounted below the rider so that their arms hang in a relaxed position. Known as under seat steering (USS), this is arguably the most comfortable and least tiring steering position since you’re not reaching up to grip the handlebars. That said, it can be a bit trickier mounting/dismounting a bike with USS without practice, and you’ll be less aerodynamic when riding since you’ll have a wider profile against the wind. It’s also worth noting that USS is more mechanically complex and expensive, often requiring non-standard bike parts including a tie-rod to link the bars to the fork (known as indirect steering). There are a few USS bikes out there with direct USS steering where the handlebars connect directly to the steerer with a stem (just like a regular bike but inverted), but the handling can be a bit too twitchy with direct USS steering. In contrast, indirect steering often allows the rider to fine tune the feel of their steering by changing the placement of the tie-rod to adjust the steering ratio.

Personally I’ve found USS to be the ultimate design in recumbent comfort. My first recumbent came with above seat steering (ASS- see next section below), and I immediately had to switch it to USS because my elbows were giving me problems. Despite the comfort, USS did get annoying when I needed a good place to mount accessories like my GPS. Having USS also made it harder to walk my bike since I had to bend over it a bit to steer it, and I needed a wider space for parking or storing the bike. My elbow pain improved a few years later after a couple surgeries (cubital tunnel release and ulnar nerve transposition), and I did switch back to ASS without much of a problem mainly for the sake of convenience.

If you’re interested in USS bikes, you have a few options in the US including Azub, HP Velotechnik, Linear Recumbents, and Long Bikes. In Europe you’ll have a few more options with Challenge Bikes (Netherlands), Slyway (Italy), and Flux, Toxy, and Traix (all in Germany). Just note that the HPV Streetmachine and Toxy bikes use direct steering, and may be a bit more tricky to ride.

Above Seat Steering (ASS)

When the handlebars are mounted over the rider’s lap and they have to reach up to them, the bike is known as having above seat or over seat steering (ASS or OSS). Compared to USS, ASS is more aerodynamic and generally easier to learn. You’ll have some choices regarding the shape of the handlebars: “praying hamster bars” that keep your arms in a tight position close to your chest versus “superman bars” where you are gripping onto wide bars in what is called an “open cockpit”. The superman bars are more ergonomic since they keep your hands/wrists in a neutral position where you don’t have to rotate your wrists to hold onto the handlebars. ASS does require your arms and shoulders to be more engaged compared to USS, so your arms will tire after a while. Unlike USS, you’ll have plenty of room on the handlebars to mount accessories such as mirrors, bells, and lights, but you may also have worse visibility with the handlebars blocking your line of sight (especially if you are in an extreme horizontal position).

Pivot Steering

There is a less common type of steering out there known as pivot or center steering. On these bikes, there’s a pivot at the center of the bike, allowing you to steer the front wheel by leaning. These bikes may come with side bars to help you lean into a turn, and may have no handlebars at all! I’d love to try such a bike one day, but the only center steering bikes I’m aware of are old Flevobikes from the Netherlands.

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.

Psyclists inaugural ride

Yesterday a few members of the Princeton Psychology/Neuroscience cycling group (the Psyclists) convened after a long pandemic hiatus for a relaxing ride along the Delaware and Raritan (D&R) Canal.

The D&R Canal State Park consists of over 70 miles of multi-use, car-free paths along the historic canal. The route of the main towpath goes in a U-shape starting north in Milford and traveling southward along the Delaware river all the way to Trenton before curving back north passing Princeton on the way up to New Brunswick. The trail consists of crushed stone and packed dirt, and is best suited for hybrid and mountain bikes. As far as casual/recreational cycling goes, it is one of the main attractions of west/central NJ.

Courtesy https://www.dandrcanal.com/trails

Yesterday’s ride took us from Princeton northward for 6 miles to the small town of Rocky Hill. There we visited Buy the Cup, a locally owned coffee shop, before reversing course and heading back. Despite the recent flooding in the area, the towpath was in surprisingly good condition and the meandering geese stayed out of our way!

Here’s our route on Garmin for anyone interested.