Biking with Cumberra

Cumberra and I will keep working on my sense of balance and stability until we get it right. Note: I did NOT collide with this cedar tree. (Photo by Patti Johnson)

Maintain speed.

That is the most important lesson I have learned in my first few days experience riding a recumbent bicycle. To slow down is to wobble, then weave, then wreck.

Fortunately, the wrecks are much less dangerous for body and bike with a recumbent than would be the case if I were riding an upright bicycle. Grip the brake levers, put my feet down, and I am safely anchored to the ground.

Usually. If I wobble-weave-wreck going uphill, I can execute a slow-motion topple onto my right shoulder. Embarrassing, but not painful.

This “maintain speed” axiom is based on the recumbent bicycle’s longer wheelbase, I think: 53 inches, compared to my old upright bike’s 40 inches. But maybe my instability is due to inexperience with the unfamiliar reclining body position: pedals at seat level, feet higher than hips, a more horizontal backward-leaning posture rather than a more vertical forward-leaning posture, more weight to the rear.

With enough riding time I will eventually learn how to sway, tip, lean, steer, counterbalance, and adjust with head, shoulders, hips, and legs to keep myself on the straight and level. I hope. In the meantime, an obvious necessity is a mirror on my handlebar so that I can espy other riders overtaking me on the bike trail. Slowing and looking over my shoulder invariably results in my meandering across the width of the trail, hazardous for other bikers, runners, walkers, electric scooter riders, and the occasional skateboarder.

The new recumbent bicycle has a longer wheelbase and overall length than my old upright bike. Cumberra is less maneuverable than an upright, but my back country trail riding days are over, and a recumbent bike is much more comfortable for lower back, arms, shoulders, and neck.

This instability while riding Cumberra (the nickname I have bestowed on my newest fitness-and-folly machine) has been disconcerting, but to be honest my stability while riding my upright bicycle is sometimes not much better. During a trailside conversation with another recumbent biker in his seventies, he conceded that his sense of balance was not what it had been thirty years ago, especially riding the sharp cures of the switchbacks on the steep downhill run on one of the local bike trails. He said that he still rides his upright occasionally, but he rides his recumbent, a three-wheeler, on the more challenging trails.

Unwilling to admit my diminishing physical abilities in my own seventies, I have opted for a two-wheel recumbent. I may reconsider that decision after my next trip to the emergency room.

My switch to Cumberra has already proved to have several benefits. After a couple hours of riding, my shoulders, neck and hips do not ache, there is little discomfort in my lower back, my arthritic hands do not throb from continual hard shifting of derailleur gears, and a sensitive part of my anatomy is not in torment. As a friend has said, “Sitting on a bicycle seat is like sitting on a wooden fence post.” True enough, for the standard upright. The seat of a recumbent bicycle is designed for older, less padded butts.

And those were my objectives in acquiring Cumberra. Bicycle rides should be fun, not punishment. If I have to suffer too many aches and pains while exercising for health and fitness, I will not stay with it.  

Recumbent bicycles are much heavier. I try to regard lifting it onto the bike carrier as a part of my daily fitness routine.

Although I am not yet completely infatuated with Cumberra, my intent to continue our relationship has been made evident by my first tinkering with accessories for her. I drilled a hole in the back support of her seat to attach a whip-like pole and flag (the low profile of a recumbent bicycle can make it difficult for other vehicles to see), and today I am designing and building a rear platform/basket for Cumberra to tote my gear on longer rides.

I also inflated her tires to a higher psi because, you know, speed. My new recumbent bike can zoom along paved trails at a considerably higher rate of speed with considerably less effort than my upright bike, maybe because my legs have greater thrust in the horizontal rather than vertical posture. Or maybe because Cumberra is a 21-speed rather than an 18-speed.

The engineers who designed this bike did not add the three gearings because they wanted it to go slower, did they? No, to the contrary, at slower speeds the bike has a tendency to wobble and weave. The faster I go, it seems to me, the more balanced and stable the bike becomes.

This is may prove to be an unwise discovery on my part. I might change my opinion after my next trip to the emergency room. Until then: maintain speed.


About Jerry Johnson

Curmudgeon. Bird hunter and dog trainer. Retired journalist and college public relations director. Former teacher, coach, mentor. Novelist and short story writer. Husband, father, grandfather.
This entry was posted in Recumbent Bicycles and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Biking with Cumberra

  1. Brenda Steinhoff says:

    Love it, Jerry! What I want/need is a FOUR-WHEELED bicycle “surrey with the fringe on top”!

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