A unusual passion : recumbent bicycles

Ride in fall time through the Chambarans hills, north of the Vercors mountains, with my former M5 Shockproof 451 recumbent

One-hour race at Bourg-les-Valence, with my former Velokraft VK2 carbon fiber recumbent; 40 km/h speed does not forbid to say hello to the photograph...

My new Zockra recumbent, specifically built to fit my body by the Briton engineer Malric Leborgne. Absolutely great to ride through the Alpine hills, sitting only 30 cm above ground. It is a carbon-fiber frame, front-wheel drive recumbent. It requires to learn again how to pedal efficiently, because of interactions between pedaling and steering. But it's much more responsive than a rear-wheel drive, and it has a better transmission efficiency.

Here is a strange vehicle which now appears more often on European roads and elsewhere. A vehicle creating curiosity, but also laughs from time to time. I became addicted to it in 2003, year when I tried one for the first time and bought my first one. I then became a bentrider, or "bentradieux" in French (litterally "shining recumbent rider") !

A little bit of a personal background

As many people living in Grenoble, I have to commute a relatively long distance between my home and the workplace : 13 km to work, and 13 km back home. Having been a car commuter for many years, I could observe that the city and its suburbs became more and more congested, with traffic jams that I contributed to feed. The result was : a lot of stress, wasted time, burned fuel for little use, pollution. Thus nothing fun.

In 1997, I decided to join the usefuleness with the fun : to use my bicycle. A possible alternative was to use public transportation. But the latter provided (and still provides) a poorly competitive frequency and speed. In addition, riding a bicycle allowed me to have some physical exercise, beneficial for my arteria and my health in general.

But quite soon after starting to use the bicycle for the daily commuting, I found out the main problem : living down in the valley where a strong wind blows nearly all times, Murphy made my life a little bit harder. Facing front wind in the morning (descending slope wind from the South). Facing front wind in the evening (thermal wind building up from the North) !

I then decided to install on my bicycle one of the very first electric-motor kit.  A ZAP system, an electric motor looking a bit like a French Vélosolex. Two motors of 200 watts each, on each side of a rotor getting in contact with the rear tire. A throttle on the handle bar, a big battery in the V-shape of the bicycle frame. About 10 extra kg for my bicycle but a true boost of power, quite surprising during the first use. In 1997, the French law still allowed to use this kind of kit. I could quite easily reach 30 km/h of cruising speed with this motor, while still pedaling. And I had enough autonomy with the battery for the daily commuting of 26 km.

There were still some drawbacks with this commuting solution : rear tire wearing very fast, rotor slipping against the tire when wet, electric consumption, weight of the bicycle, hard to adjust the power from the motor, and one day it simply became illegal (now under French regulation, the motor power must stop above 25 km/h, otherwise it becomes a mopet !). Still, the fact that I installed this electric-motor kit on my bicycle allowed me to ride 17000 km just during commuting, which helped me to start acquiring some reasonable fitness (I still needed to pedal even with the motor !).

One day in 2003, riding along the Isère river toward LGGE as everyday, I was passed by an Unknown Rolling Object (a variant of UFO !) : its driver lied on its back, very close from the ground. He seemed to pedal very easily through a crankset situated well in front of him. And he was passing me with several extra km/h, without giving the impression that he was forcing on the crankset. "Bingo !". The main advantage of this strange URO bicycle was obvious : a much better aerodynamics compared with an upright bicycle, making it much less sensitive to a facing front wind.

Afterwards I went for an intense period of seach for information. First of all, I needed to learn that such bicycle was called a "vélo couché" or "vélorizontal" in French, or "recumbent" in English. Which then provided easy access to internet. In summer 2003, a recumbent retailer from Geneva had the great idea to come to Grenoble and to provide several of his recumbents for test. First try for me, a few tens of minutes trying to understand how one can pedal with this bike and maintain equilibrium at the same time... And then, here we go. I finally could start. The first sensations were very nice : great comfort, easy to handle, fast.

That was enough to decide to spend my cash and to buy my first recumbent on October 2003. Since then, I've ridden about 20000 km along my daily commuting, without use of electric assistance. No need for, I go even faster with the recumbent ! It brings the pleasure to ride an unusual bicycle, funny, efficient, non polluting, and which still provides me with about one hour of daily exercise instead of loosing my time in traffic jams. It helps to remove the stress accumulated during the day. It is usually faster than my car for the daily commuting. And my timing for departure and arrival at destination is very reproducible !

Getting addicted to that kind of bike, I then bought another recumbent with better performances for my bicycle rides around during the weekends. Lying on the back provides a unique 180° view on the surrounding landscape. Thanks to the comfortable position, I can go for quite long rides without getting in pain. With the efficient aerodynamics, the speed reached on the flat and on downhills is quite astonishing. One needs to be a very well trained upright bicycle rider to be able to follow my recumbent on the flat around Grenoble...

The main advantages in a few words

The drawbacks in a few words

A few links to get more information about recumbents