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Posted by on Feb 8, 2012 in Bicycle Culture | 11 comments

Want Respect on The Road? Ride a Recumbent

On The TerraTrike

On The TerraTrike

I will preface my remarks by stating this is not a report on a scientifically proper experiment, but relating my person experience. In other words, strictly anecdotal evidence.

I recently had a total shoulder replacement, left side. Knowing I couldn’t ride my standard bike for a while, I looked into a recumbent to use while my shoulder mended. I found Suncoast Bicycles in Inverness had TerraTrikes for rent. As soon as I could drive, I went over and picked one up. I rented a TerraTrike Sport for one month. (Being the eternal optimist that I am, I feel assured I will be back on my regular bike by then.)

Riding the recumbent is a blast. It handles very well and it’s just fun riding so close to the ground. (Can you pick up the newspaper without dismounting?) And it’s pretty comfortable. The TerraTrike has single rear wheel drive with two wheels that steer in front. I find this configuration to be very stable and easy to maneuver, although the turning radius is large. I’m riding it everywhere I rode my standard bike. It’s a little less efficient than my standard bike with more moving parts, so it doesn’t go quite as fast. But not by much.  Getting used to using a slightly different set of muscles took  just a couple of days.

I was wary about riding in traffic. Being so low to the ground makes my visibility significantly different than when I’m on a standard bike. To help visibility I have an orange flag that sticks up about six feet and I wear a high visibility jacket or shirt, as well as having a red strobe light on the back of my helmet.

You may have heard me complain about the bad treatment I frequently get from motor vehicle drivers, especially on certain roads. Close passing, honking and various unfriendly verbal admonitions have been commonplace in the past.

Well, glory be! Not only have I not had any adverse reaction while riding the recumbent, but drivers give me wide berth, changing lanes to pass most of the time. If they do stay in my lane they slow way down and inch past. Even on the RBLR arterial. Many wave and smile at me. They wave me through intersections even though they have the right-of-way.  I ride around with a big grin on my face most of the time, hardly believing my good fortune.

So why is this increase in respect happening? Here are the variables: Recumbent bike, trike, new beard (check picture). Could it be the novelty of the recumbent? Could it be my beard? (But drivers don’t see that when approaching from the rear.) Could it be the trike which apparently to the driver takes up more of the road than a regular bike? Could it be that because I’m closer the the ground they give wider berth since I’m less visible to them? Or finally, could it be what I call the “Crazy Unpredictability” (CU) factor, wherein drivers figure the sum total of what they see is far enough off the normal scale they are compelled to give it wide berth? And in connection with the CU factor they also smile and wave so I won’t do anything to harm or upset them.  I personally think it’s the CU factor combined with decreased visibility.  Drivers are thinking, “better stay well away from that thing”.

Admittedly this is only based on 11 days experience. But my experience has been so exceptional I had to give you all a report.  I’ll be interested to learn any of your own experiences with recumbents.  Enjoy your ride and stay safe.

11 Comments

  1. Wait until you get asked if you’re handicapped and that’s your version of a wheelchair!

    • I saw a guy on West Colonial hand cranking one last summer. No legs. Hugging the gutter, the F-150′s were buzzing him unmercifully. So he was really only cranking with one hand while the other was making “rude gestures.”

  2. Bill, I’ve heard the same thing from other recumbent trike riders wrt more respect and better passing clearance. Nice to see they are more civil to you on Red Bug! Thanks for posting this!

  3. The only people I have problems with are the SUV drivers,… They can be mean, angry, insulting,… truly miserable people drive those things (maybe the price of gas and the poor mileage of those things has something to do with it),…
    What are all these people planning to do when Saudi Arabia breaks out in civil war (or Iran and Israel starts shooting at each other), and the price of gas doubles?

  4. I think it is the beard!

    • Having a large scraggly beard certainly does me no good.

  5. In the first ten or fifteen of the nearly twenty years I’ve been riding recumbent bikes, I found that I got far more room from motorists than I did on a conventional bike. Over the last ten years, though, I think it has become less a factor. I suspect that I ride differently now than I did ten years ago, partly a function of being an instructor now.

    People ask me about flags–I don’t see them as necessary. Most of the time, people are going to see my size well before they will see something the size of most common flags. The flapping motion of a flag may draw some attention, but the aero penalty doesn’t justify it for me. I can just as easily mount a flashing light without the aero penalty, and the light helps more at night than a flag.

    Mean, arrogant drivers come in all size vehicles. Rich dads showing off for their girlfriends, er, daughters (yeah, right), teens showing off for themselves or each other, whatever. They get mad at other motorists, too, when those other motorists don’t go 60 in that 45 zone.

  6. I used to think the flag was unnecessary, but since I started using one I no longer get comments from people who say I am invisible (nothing more queer and annoying than when people look you straight in the eye and say they can not see you).

  7. Maybe that is why motorists treat me well in North Texas suburbia. Assertively operating cyclists are so rare that the CU factor comes into play. I’ve posted about every single one I’ve seen over the last three years. One, to be specific, outside bike Ed situations. Same as the number of recumbents I have encountered.

  8. Sorry to bust your bubble, but I think they just think you are crazy and unpredictable, that’s all. They are treating you like they treat any other crazy person they see on the street — lock the doors and give them a wide berth.