From left, Renge’ Lee Grace, with her dog Wiley, on a Greenspeed Magnum recumbent trike; her husband, Mark Waters, on a BlueVelo Quest recumbent; and James Cagney on a Lightfoot Ranger two-wheeled recumbent at Backcountry Recumbent Cycles in Bend last week.
Andy Tullis / The Bulletin

Recumbent cycling in Bend – Cyclists enjoy the ride, and the view, from recumbent bikes

By Lydia Hoffman / The Bulletin

Some resources on recumbent cycling in Central Oregon:

• Bent Heads of Bend:

• James Cagney’s recumbent cycling group: Email jecagney@hotmail.come_SClB

•Backcountry Recumbent Cycles (in the Bend Electric Bikes building):

550 SW Industrial Way, Suite 104, Bend, OR 541-323-3460

There is another breed of cyclist in Central Oregon — one that emphasizes enjoying the view and rejects the traditional spandex, the “wedgy” seats, and the old adage “no pain, no gain.” In fact, the recumbent cycling crew extols the virtues of the comfort they enjoy while riding.

On a recumbent bicycle, a wider seat also supports the rider’s back and shoulders, and the pedals are in front of the seat, rather than below it. The handlebars are mounted within easy reach of the seat for comfortable steering.

Some cyclists choose recumbents because of health problems or other physical limitations that keep them from cycling on a conventional bicycle; others just plain like recumbents better.

Mark Waters, 59, who plans to open Backcountry Recumbent Cycles in Bend this Saturday, turned to recumbent cycling to be able to keep riding despite a medical condition.

“On a regular bike all of the pressure is on two points: your butt and your hands,” says Waters, who has Dupuytren’s contracture, a condition that causes two of his fingers to stay bent. In the late 1990s, his doctor told him to give up cycling or lose the use of his left hand.

Waters says that, because of their versatility, recumbents work well for riders with health problems.

Recumbents come in a variety of styles, wheelbase lengths and wheel sizes, and they even offer a choice of two or three wheels, each style focusing on a particular aspect of cycling (speed, hills, balance, etc).

They can be outfitted with studded tires for winter riding or with knobby tires for mountain biking. Electric assistance is also available. And some recumbents, called velomobiles, even come with a special hard outer shell to reduce wind resistance.

Waters suggests recumbents as an alternative to regular transportation. The bicycles may cost as much as a used car — easily $2,000 to $4,500 — but they do not come with the same high insurance, gasoline and maintenance costs.

A key feature that attracted Culver’s Laura Altig to recumbent cycling was the way that the tricycles have built-in balance. Altig was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease six years ago and says her recumbent trike is a way to maintain independence.

“It makes it so I can go to the store whenever I want and don’t have to worry about somebody going with me,” she says. “I can go camping out in the boondocks.”

The cost was a factor, Altig says, but she saved for a year to buy her American Cruiser TriCruiser and hasn’t looked back since.

“It was easy to learn and easy to ride,” she claims. “It doesn’t go real fast, but it goes real steady.”

Hills do provide some challenge, says Altig. Her trike did not come with disc brakes and, at 50 pounds, it can be difficult to slow down on a descent. Recumbents have a reputation for being slow going uphill and fast going downhill.

The trike style represents about 80 percent of recumbent sales, according to Waters. They are not built for speed, but they have some advantages for cyclists who are not racers. And trikes are fun, says Waters, like a “human-powered go-cart.”

Visibility is a concern to some, he notes, because trikes sit low to the ground. “But … I feel safer on a trike than any other bike,” he insists. “Drivers tend to slow down and pass wide. I think it’s the ‘What the heck?’ factor.”

It is still smart to be on the defensive, Waters advises. “Use a flag,” he says, “and a bright flashing light.”

Johnny Gillen, 55, and his wife, Audrey, 51, made the switch to recumbent cycling in 2005. Audrey’s hand was going to sleep when she rode a standard bicycle, and it bothered her neck to be leaning forward for long rides. The Bend couple rides on a Bike Friday DoubleDay tandem recumbent; the Gillens also own a Burley Canto single recumbent.

Johnny says learning to balance on a two-wheeled recumbent was an adjustment that took a few months. The upside? “It’s extremely comfortable,” he says. “It’s like sitting in your recliner — except your legs burn going up the hill. But it’s a good burn.”

The husband and wife typically ride in and around Bend, including “some 50-milers out to Mount Bachelor and back,” and would like to ride their tandem across the country, Johnny says.

Last fall, Troy Frymier started a local recumbent cycling group called “Bent Heads of Bend.” The 46-year-old says the group may soon start meeting up once a month in different parts of Bend for group rides.

The atmosphere of a recumbent group ride is more social than on standard bicycles, Frymier says. Sitting comfortably and being able to see in all directions “fosters a greater communication with the people who are riding around you.”

Next month, James Cagney, 60 and of Bend, is also starting a local recumbent group. He and his wife, Patty, 55, got involved in recumbent cycling when looking for a tandem bicycle for touring in Europe. Patty was sold on the style when she realized she would be seeing the scenery and not just her husband’s backside, says James Cagney.

“All of a sudden she was sitting upright,” he recalls, “and the view was all around her.”

Cagney envisions his group as a means for recumbent cyclists to meet up and plan rides together.

Recumbent cyclists are already a kind of club, Cagney observes.

“You recognize each other — you’re willing to do something different,” he says. “There’s a real camaraderie when you see someone like that.”

Backcountry Recumbent Cycles is a sponsor for Cagney’s group, and Waters says he hopes the shop will be a good meeting place for the cyclists he calls “out-of-the-box thinkers.” The shop currently focuses on touring, but Waters says that he may bring in cycles for the “go-fast crowd” at some point.

Bev MacDonald and her husband, Mike Armstrong, of Black Butte Ranch, are looking forward to riding with a recumbent group.

The two are retirees — she is 74, he is 71 — and both ride an Easy Racers Gold Rush, which features a long wheel base and is designed for speed.

But speed is second to comfort for MacDonald.

“When I started riding a recumbent, I found I could … ride for longer time and distances,” she says. “People say, ‘How fast do you go?’ and I say that’s not a good question. (They) should say, ‘How far can you go?’ I have 34,000 miles on that bike.”

Riding as a group of recumbent cyclists has a completely different dynamic from riding with upright cyclists, MacDonald says.

“We’re compatible,” she explains. “We all go slower up the hill and we all go fast down. It’s really fun to ride together.”

—Reporter: 541-383-0358; For other cycling questions, comments or information directed to The Bulletin, email