I went for a ride this morning. It was a beautiful day, early enough that it wasn’t too hot yet. I had come off the bike path, and was riding in a bike lane in the street, and I saw a cyclist ahead of me. He was taking it easy, and going pretty slow. I got the impression he was finishing up a longer ride.
In fact, he was going slowly enough that I was catching up to him. As we neared a stoplight, I think he heard my freewheel, because he turned and saw me gaining on him. He kicked it up a bit after that so I didn’t catch him.
I did end up following him for a mile or two. He was an older guy, my age or a few years older. As I said, he was taking it easy, and I noticed that he would occasionally drop his hand off the handlebar and shake it, make a fist a couple of times, and put it back on the handlebar. I knew exactly what he was feeling- his fingers were tingling and going numb from the pressure of the handlebar on his palm. It becomes so annoying you sit up on the saddle and try to shake the feeling back into them. I hated that.
If I had caught him, I would have said “Your hands don’t have to hurt. You can ride a bike without finger numbness, a sore butt, a bad back, and a stiff neck. Get a recumbent bike.” But it probably wouldn’t have done any good.
Most cyclists are remarkably resistant to even the idea of switching to a recumbent. I say “You can ride pain-free.” They say “Cycling doesn’t hurt me! I don’t need a recumbent!” It’s denial. Of course upright cycling hurts. Even the great Lance Armstrong, in his book It’s Not About The Bike describes learning to tolerate the pain that comes from sitting on a narrow hard saddle for hours at a time. It hurts. You can get used to it, you can tolerate it. But it still hurts. And it doesn’t have to.
I’ve tried to explain to friends how switching to a recumbent has reignited the joy I used to feel when I cycled. How it makes me feel like a kid again, sliding to a stop with one foot on the ground. How good it feels to go on a long ride, and the only pain I feel is in the leg muscles I worked. How much safer it feels to NOT lead with your head in traffic. But to most people recumbents are ‘goofy’ and ’silly’. They’re funny-looking bikes that are only ridden by fat old men and cripples. Yes, I ride a ‘bent because I couldn’t tolerate the pain. But now I wish I had started earlier, so I could have enjoyed my riding so much more.
Well, it doesn’t really matter. I’m seeing more and more recumbents on the road. We wave as we pass each other on the bike path. More and more people are learning our secret - that recumbent bicycles can be fast, and fun, and comfortable. We’ll let the rest of you catch up.