Different Kinds of Bikes Pedal to the Beat of Their Own Drum

Some Bikes Just Don't Fit the Mold

Photo of a recumbent bicycle.
Recumbent bicycle. (c) Sun Corporation

Maybe you’re one of those people who likes to make their own way in the world. Or maybe you’ve got a special situation that means the run-of-the-mill offerings just aren’t ideal for you. Regardless of your reasons, there are several styles of bikes that offer you the chance to bust out of the ho-hum list that extends only to road bikes, mountain bikes or hybrids.

Recumbent Bikes

Recumbents are bikes that look like a chaise lounge on wheels.

These bikes are much lower to the ground and feature a wide chair-type seat and backrest usually made of a mesh material. Instead of being over the pedals and pumping your legs in an up-and-down motion, your legs extend straight out in front of you and you pedal like you might have pedaled a Big Wheel when you were a kid.

One advantage of recumbents is that wind resistance is less of a factor than on upright bikes. However, you may find it harder to climb hills as you can’t use your body weight in pedaling, such as when you stand up to pump the pedals on a regular bike when you get into a big climb. A wider gear ratio is usually built into these bikes to take this into account.

Also, some people may have a bit of difficulty at first feeling balanced on a recumbent. This comes from the different center of gravity that recumbents have, and may also be compounded by the positioning of the handlebar steering mechanism which sometimes sits below you, down by your hips.

Usually, a test ride of any duration will tell you if this will be an issue for you. You may need to special order a recumbent as bike shops do not always carry them in stock.

Recumbents are well-suited for people who have back (or backside) pain that makes riding a standard style bike uncomfortable.

Also, the rider’s position on a recumbent bike does not have them hunched over handlebars, which avoids the painful pressure on hands, wrists, or shoulders, other common complaints of cyclists riding traditional bikes.

Warning: people who buy recumbents often go completely wild for them, exhibiting an unrivaled maniacal devotion to their bikes. They form recumbent-only clubs and email each other pictures of their bikes. If you are concerned about becoming that zealous and enthusiastic about a bike, proceed with caution when checking out recumbents.

Tandems

Daisy, Daisy, Give me your answer do!
I'm half crazy, All for the love of you!
It won't be a stylish marriage, I can't afford a carriage
But you'll look sweet upon the seat, Of a bicycle made for two.

We will go tandem, As man and wife,
Pedaling away, Down the road of life

Excerpted from A Bicycle Built For Two, by Harry Dacre

Tandems are two-seater bikes, ideal for pairs who like to ride together but who have differing levels of strength or stamina. For instance, a tandem would be a good option for a husband and wife who want to tour together, but not worry about one of them not being able to keep up with the group. Usually, tandems are designed so that the riders work equally to propel the bike, with one long chain that runs through both sets of pedals to drive the rear wheel.

Another great use for tandems comes in allowing a person to ride with another whose disability would otherwise prevent them from taking a bike out on their own. I see two guys regularly on a tandem riding a trail where I live. Both in their sixties, they love riding together and put on hundreds of miles each month. The man in front is recently retired; his friend in the second seat is blind.

Considerations for you to keep in mind: tandems are substantially longer than a regular bike, which means you might night be able to carry one on your car using a standard rear-mount or roof rack. So, keep in mind that addition to the bike, you may need to buy a different carrier as well. Your local bike shop will be able to tell you about this.

Also, the feel of riding on a tandem is a bit different. A tandem bike is usually a good deal heavier and has a much longer wheelbase, which means you need to plan stops earlier and swing wider around turns.

You’ll want plenty of practice with your partner on a parking lot or quiet street before setting out on a busy bike path or longer tour.

Tricycles

Tricycles are just what you picture, a bigger version of the classic child’s trike. The main difference is that the three wheels on a full-sized tricycle are now the same size and have inflated rubber tires. Also, instead of pedaling directly on the front wheel, the rider on an adult trike makes use of pedals attached to a chain drive and frequently a three-speed set-up in the gearing.

Tricycles are a good choice when the rider’s sense of balance may be an issue, or if there is another physical impairment that prevents cycling on a two-wheel bike. Trikes are much more stable and do not tip easily. However, tricycles cannot turn sharply, and also require more space on the sidewalk or bike path as they are twice as wide as a regular bike and rider. Additionally, tricycles can sometimes be difficult to transport because of their width. Carrying a trike in a van or pick-up truck works well, but unless you have a tricycle with removable rear wheels, you might have problems carrying one on a standard bike rack.

Another use of tricycles can be for hauling heavy loads. Pedicabs in many cities around the world are usually mounted on a tricycle frame with the driver up front pedaling and a cab for passengers mounted over the rear axle behind him. Sometimes too you may see vendors of fruit, hot dogs, ice cream, etc., selling their stock from a mobile trike stand.

For regular personal use, tricycles can be easily equipped with large baskets on the front and back, and are well suited for toting lots of groceries, books, etc.