Biker’s on the right track

"After your first day of cycling, one dream is inevitable. A memory of motion lingers in the muscles of your legs, and round and round they seem to go. You ride through Dreamland on wonderful dream bicycles that change and grow."

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Published January 17, 2007 by The Waterloo Chronicle
By Marshall Ward 

"After your first day of cycling, one dream is inevitable. A memory of motion lingers in the muscles of your legs, and round and round they seem to go. You ride through Dreamland on wonderful dream bicycles that change and grow."

H.G. Wells

Three days a week, just before 5 p.m., I sit in rush-hour traffic on Columbia Street on my way to work, and marvel at the strange human-powered vehicle whizzing by in the right-hand lane.

The rider is Jeff Schmidt, a 24-year-old Raytheon technician on his commute home from work.

He's peddling his dream vehicle — a recumbent trike.

The defining feature that sets recumbent bicycles apart from regular bicycles is the reclined seating position.

All recumbent bicycles, also known as "bents," feature a large, reclined seat in which part or all of the rider's back and head are supported. The pedals are out front, approximately the same height as the rider's hips.

On a cold, blustery day last week, I finally caught up with Schmidt at a traffic light and shared my appreciation for his choice of commuter vehicle.

Our brief conversation led to an invitation to his house to check out his recumbent bicycle business, Rebel Cycles.

"I get a lot of great comments when I'm riding," Schmidt laughs. "People yell, 'Whoa! Cool bike!' and 'Where did you get that?'"

Schmidt's commute is approximately six kilometres, and usually takes only 15 minutes each way.

"I can crank it up to 40 km/h and keep up with traffic in rush hour," says Schmidt. "I can even get up to 50 or 55 (km/h) going downhill on Columbia and Weber (streets)."

Schmidt says his main reasons for choosing this mode of transportation are for the benefits of his health, saving money and concern for the environment.

As I learned on my test drive down Schmidt's quiet, residential street, recumbent trikes are not only easy and comfortable to ride, but extremely fun.

With a silly grin on my face, I leaned back with my feet out front – feeling like I was in a La-Z-Boy as I sped down the hill.

"The difference between a regular bicycle and a recumbent bicycle is like the difference between a barstool and a plush leather couch," said Schmidt watching as I discovered the invigorating joys of recumbency.

Along with the aerodynamics of the trike, I was also surprised at how safe I felt despite the icy road conditions.

"If you did fall off, it isn't very far to fall," says Schmidt. "I've sold recumbent trikes to customers who have balance and stability issues sometimes caused by chronic disease. Seniors can benefit from recumbent trikes as well."

Through his website, www.rebel-cycles.com, those curious to try a recumbent bicycle or trike can book an appointment for a test drive with Schmidt.

It was through a Waterloo business, the Bicycle Forest, that Schmidt took his first ride on a recumbent bicycle.

"I rented a recumbent bike through www.bikeforest.com a few years back," says Schmidt. "I remember my first ride and thinking, 'OK – this is awesome.'"

Brent Curry, owner of the Bicycle Forest, has met hundreds of people intrigued by recumbent bicycles.

"Most are at the stage where they're not quite ready to buy, but are eager to try one," says Curry. "That's my main interest – giving people a chance to try these unusual bikes so they can go on and purchase one with confidence."

Along with recumbent bicycles, Curry is also known for some of his more peculiar human-powered creations – all available to rent.

"I've built a couch bike — a chesterfield on wheels — that I've ridden through the Maritimes; a pickup truck bike — it's a two-seater bicycle with a sheet metal body dressed up like a truck; and a Hula bike – one that propels by bouncing up and down like a vertical Hula Hoop."

Listening to Curry and Schmidt describe their shared enthusiasm for cycling reminded me of another great quote by H.G. Wells: "Every time I see an adult on a bicycle, I no longer despair for the future of the human race."

Marshall Ward is a professor in the fine arts program at Wilfrid Laurier University. Email is welcome at mward@wlu.ca.