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I want to try riding a recumbent two-wheel bike to see if its easier. So I borrowed one and I just cannot get it to work right.

When the owner demonstrates it looks so easy and really fast. We are the same height so it should fit me okay. The bike is not faulty beause he rides it okay.

When I sit on the seat with the bike still its okay but when I start pedaling I can't balence and have to put a foot down really quick. I tried to put my hand down but it hurt my shoulder. Once my foot was trapped by the wheel and I fell down hard.

I am a confident rider who cycles 30 mins a day to and from work on a Trek commuter bike. We tried on the flat smooth carpark at work not a road.

How do I get moving and keep my balance right from start? Why am I failing so hard?

I do not have a photo of the bike, but it looks mostly like this one enter image description here from http://www.dtrecumbents.com.au/DTRecumbents/Images/ProGoal1.jpg but rim brakes, no rack, no bag on the stem, and no headrest.

I do not use clips or cleats on my road bikes.

  • Might help if you add a photo of the bike, or since it was borrowed, browse google images and find one that looks similar. Or ask the owner for a photo? – Criggie Jun 5 '18 at 20:55
  • Do you use cleats/clips on your pedals on the commuter? – Criggie Jun 6 '18 at 0:16
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    As a new bent owner & also struggling with the different technique, this is a brilliant piece of information, well written, & ideal for us "noobs" Thank you. – Steve Newham Dec 11 '18 at 15:19
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When learning to ride my first two wheeled recumbent, and when teaching someone else to start riding on it, I first rode without trying to pedal.
Using it as a balance bike, learning to steer and balance before you add the unbalancing effect of getting your feet on the pedals.

Not all recumbent bikes do allow that, as some have such a sitting/laying position that you can not get your feet on the ground and still be properly in the seat. But if you can get it to work it will help your muscle memory to get the right information to remember later.

When you are ready to start pedaling or if you can not use your feet on the ground while properly in the seat, find a post/hedge/person to hold onto while you put both feet on the pedals and give a shove (or get a shove from the person) trying to keep the bike as upright as possible. If you have pedals into which you clip your feet, in the early stages of riding do not use that option, you will want to put your foot on the ground a bit too often for that.

If you have a wide path, empty car park or other safe and wide area to practice you can get going quite a bit off the expected angle.

Going down an incline will make it easier. Going up an incline, even a very tiny bit, makes it harder to start riding, even people who can get away easily on the flat hate to stop at traffic lights as you need to go a bit up (over the road camber) while going slow. So help yourself while learning and find a slight angle down to get started.
Not down a hill just a small incline, almost flat will be the best.

Start at 'the easiest' gear but as soon as you make any speed, gear up, go to a harder gear when you make some speed, that will help you to get stable, but do not try to get to the higher gears just yet. It depends on the gearing on the bike whether you need the easiest but it should be a low gear.
When you start riding you will want to steer a little, to adjust for the bit of unbalance you are bound to get. If you tend to fall over in one direction you should steer to that side. Using one leg to start riding will make it more predictable which way you need to steer. (Only steer by a little bit, you should not expect to go at 90 degrees to how you stand.)

Check out (if you can) whether you over or under react when you balance. I found that on my recumbent bikes I tend to overdo on the balancing, they react very fast on the slightest change in position.
It is not easy to think how to adjust how much you change your position, but when you know what you do wrong you will adjust.

When the bike is set up right and set up to your measurements, it should not take long to get started. The recumbent bike sellers in the Netherlands all take new riders on a day tour in which they can try out a few different recumbent bikes, they allow half an hour at the start of the day for the people to get through the first stage, and after swapping over bikes (they adjust them on the road for this) it will be a few minutes to get used to the new bikes. I have never been with one of these rides, I learned on my own.
But I did start with a recumbent trike, so when I bought my first 'bent bike I was already used to the sitting position.
My first recumbent trike does not react at all on change in balance.
Now I own a Flevo trike and a Flevo bike, which required a new learning process as they have a different steering method. (Both mostly steer by balance, and are very fast in reacting on any change in position.)

I wrote this answer not going into what you already do/did right, more as a general guide than as a 'just for the OP' answer. You do a lot right already, I think me mentioning them is more for the general picture and it did help me to name all parts of riding a 'bent.

  • That is a long and detailed answer. Thank you. – Pete Jun 6 '18 at 3:09
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It is literally like riding a (upright) bike the first time. The problem is you need speed to achieve gyroscopic stability but you won’t have speed until you gain confidence. And you don’t have confidence because at the speeds you’re going at you don’t have gyroscopic stability. Rinse and repeat.

It's all muscle memory and not something that's really describable in words except -- go faster.

As with a child learning on an upright, try with someone pushing the bike from behind to help build up speed and maybe a hand on your bike giving you some additional stability. Going down a gentle hill also helps you build up some speed. Going slow on a recumbent requires a good deal of balance and won’t be something you’re comfortable doing without practice.

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    Actually, "gyroscopic stability" is a fiction, especially at low speed. The trick is to turn the wheel one way or the other to correct for lean. It's just that the dynamics of a 'bent is much different from an upright, so you have to re-learn things. – Daniel R Hicks Jun 4 '18 at 17:48
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    The point is that "gyro stability" is a fiction. At higher speeds it takes less effort to "steer into the turn". Gyro doesn't really become a factor until you're up to 20mph or so. – Daniel R Hicks Jun 4 '18 at 18:06
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    Sources? Spinning a wheel at even moderate speeds does produce considerable stabilizing force. And there’s a complex feedback loop with the front wheel that’s also providing stability. – RoboKaren Jun 4 '18 at 18:10
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    not 100% relevant but still relevant: youtube.com/watch?v=oZAc5t2lkvo – Gyom Jun 5 '18 at 10:10
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    Thank you for that - definitely going faster helps, but getting up to that faster speed is the challenge. Almost like a running mount onto a horse ! – Pete Jun 6 '18 at 3:08
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Background: I've been riding a 2 wheel high-racer for the last month, have 184 km on it now, and have intimate knowledge of what you're going through.

You're a practiced Diamond Frame (DF) rider who can balance fine. To be brief, that confidence could be leading you astray. Why?

  • DF bikes are different. When balancing a DF bike you put weight on the pedals which takes weight off the saddle. Subconsciously you are "steering with your butt" by moving body weight left/right and back and forth. By comparison, a recumbent can only be steered by your hands, and a small extent by your head and knee positions. Your bodyweight is completely static.

  • DF bikes are higher Center of Mass, but lower pedals. Recumbents are lower CoM but higher pedals. This means that it takes longer to get a foot down if things are going badly on a `bent.

  • Recumbents are lower, so you're harder to see. My bike puts my face at eye level with a regular sedan driver, but on DF bikes my thighs/knees are about their eye level and I can see over things much better.

  • Length - Probably not an issue but most bents are a good 20-50 cm longer than a DF bike. This generally doesn't cause problems, other than slow speed manoevering or parking.

  • Steering - Most `bents have steering in one of three formats. This section is too long, look further down:

  • Trackstanding/slow speed. As a beginner you simply can't balance a bent with no forward speed. There's a minimum forward speed you need to achieve to get balancing.

  • Pedals - some bent riders are happy with flat pedals. Some use the standard range of clips/cleats/toe cages, and there's also an option called a heel sling. To start with, ride flat pedals or put a spacer in the cleats, or flip them over. You don't need foot retention at the start. Later is a different question.


How to start

Part 1) When newbies (mostly kids but beginner adults too) start riding two-wheel bikes, the current best practice is a Balance Bike. Since you're essentially starting from the beginning, balance bike is ideal.

Sit upright on the seat (aside, its a seat on a bent and a saddle on a DF bike) without leaning back. Put your feet on the ground, and take alternate strides to move forward. This is scootering or scootching.
Your aim here is to get up to at least 5~10 km/h and coast about. Don't try to pedal or lie back on seat. Your feet are near the ground to help catch any mistakes before they turn into a complete fall.

Your aim here is to get comfortable with the steering, and the loss of body/butt steering/balancing.

Try to do turns as well. Mind out for the front wheel - as it turns you might touch your legs. When riding normally it may be possible to have heel strike.

Part 2) Once you're scooting around okay, lie back on the seat. Get comfortable scooting around, balancing and steering while laying back. (If your bike has seat adjust, set the seatback to as upright as possible while you're learning.)

Part 3) Once rolling, lift your feet up toward the pedals. Don't try pedalling, just get used to having them up high. Again, mind the wheel. If you get the feet onto the pedals, good work.

Part 4) Get the feet onto the pedals as above, and then pedal. The pedal shaft should be somewhere between the ball of your foot and the middle of the arch. This is further backward under your foot than a DF bike, and this could be tripping you up.
Pedal about your quiet carpark and see how you go.

Avoid getting cocky or overconfidence at this point. You're still a noob (as am I).

Part 5) Practice stopping and starting, without falling over. Starting from still is having the crank almost level but the rearward pedal slightly higher. Use your preferred starting leg, same as the DF bike. Ideally have the bike in a lowish gear on the big chainring for flat starts. Push the pedal and steer, while you bring up the other leg from the ground. Its got a long way to move compared to a DF bike.

Stopping is more a coast - you stop pedalling and brake. As your speed drops, put your primary foot or both feet down so they dangle but not touching the ground. Then gently brake to a stop and take your balance.


Wobbles

At first your track is going to be wide - you'll need 2+ metres to ride about around with reduced risk of tapping into things.

At speeds below 5 km/h, especially while starting off, you need some space. Don't get yourself into a position between cars where there is insufficient space. Take the lane at traffic lights rather than filtering.


Falls

You're going to fall while learning. That's a given, even more likely than falling with cleats on a road bike.

Here's my first fail - I was coming to a roundabout and didn't want to stop so I kept my feet up. But I slowed down too much and overbalanced at about 1 km/h. No damage to me but I scared the driver of the black car.

Second fall was not captured on video. I was trying to turn from a driveway onto the road. Again, slow speed plus the uphill slope of the road camber and I was too slow to balance.

Common thread here is "Too slow and I fell"

If you're on strava, feel free to explore https://www.strava.com/activities/1617908904 which is my first hill ride. Around 33 minutes in I hit the first grade which is about 10-11% at the start, and then relaxes to 8-9%.

My speed was 4-6 km/h in bottom gear which was very wobbly - I was easily taking the whole car lane to keep moving up the hill, and I still had to quickstop a couple times.

Minimum safe speed on a two-wheeled `bent is 5 km/h on the flat Any less and you lack steerage-way.


How to fall

If you're going slow enough you can stick the downside foot out and try to slow down the fall.

Risk here is if you're going too fast (above ~4 km/h) that your foot will touch the road and then be thrown backward under the saddle, (or under the frame on a trike! ) This is called leg-suck or legsuck and can result in bruising, broken bones, and a serious loss of control.

Another problem with leg down once the fall has started is that the foot is quite a long way forward and your CoM is further back. So one counter-intuitive assist is to sit up and bring your torso closer to the bars.

DO NOT ATTEMPT TO CATCH YOURSELF WITH YOUR ARMS/HANDS The angles are all wrong, and even a stopped sideways tilt will hurt your shoulder. I've already done this and its been aching for about 10 days now. You can also fracture bones in your wrist trying to take the force.

Best thing to do is have your feet down early ready to act as landing gear. Bents with wider seats might just be better to let-drop form under you. Narrower seats will make your hip hit the ground first, which would be bad too.



Steering Appendix

All DF bikes have a forward-facing stem and then a sideways bar, which is such a common system it has no name. The bar's grip describes a circle of motion that matches the rotation of the front wheel. When applied to a bent it might be called a `tweener bar (because the rider's knees go between the bars and the stem) and looks like this:
http://farm4.static.flickr.com/3614/3353950311_f7d24fea76.jpg * OSS/ASS Overseat Steering / Above Seat Steering (yes what a bad choice of acronym) This is where the stem faces backward from the steerer. The grips describe a curve that matches the direction, but its in the opposite direction. This is like an outboard motor or an early car.
http://www.bacchettaforum.com/forum2/download.axd?file=0;99476

  • USS (underseat) direct, (more common on trikes) where the grips are by your hips or thighs, and have a pronounced left-right movement to turn. These are connected by a stem directly to the steerer tube of the fork, but that stem goes aft and then the rider steers like tiller steering, except its below you. Not an ideal image sorry:

http://www.recumbentriders.org/forums/imgcache/5188.jpg

  • USS indirect - Similar to above. There are grips on either side of your hips, that move fore/aft and do not share a central pivot with the steerer. Has a pushrod for a two wheeler, or ackerman steering for a trike. Looks somewhat like this - the pushrod is the black line under the boom and bottom bracket/crank axle: https://hasebikes.com/files/kettwiesel_allround_studio.jpg

  • Finally there are oddball systems like this, which have a Universal Joint at the top of the steerer to give the rider a "steering wheel" like a car. These are uncommon.
    https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/f/f4/LWB_Lowrider_Recumbent.jpg

Some OSS systems have a hinge to allow the handlebar to move up or down.

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