Reprinted from Bicycle Paper, December 1997
Steve Smilanick lives in Roseville, near Sacramento. Smilanick owns a high-tech machine shop, S and S Machine, making all sorts of precision stuff.
His sideline, his passion really, is the S and S Torque Coupling, stainless steel or titanium devices that allow bicycles to come apart for travel. He sells them to 55 framebuilders around North America.
I have an S and S- coupled bike made by Waterford in Wisconsin. A road bike with normal 700C wheels, it fits in a case the size of the wheels (with deflated tires) and 10 inches deep. The cased bike qualifies as luggage, thus comes up the airport luggage conveyor, at no extra charge. Saves $50 per flight in the States.
Smilanick asked if he could display my SandS Waterford in his booth at Anaheim. I put the bike in a car and took it to his home. We agreed we'd go for a ride while I was there. I thought I'd ride the Waterford, but it was immaculate, ready for the show. I dreaded getting it dirty again.
Smilanick looked at me a few minutes after I arrived and asked, "How open-minded are you about bikes?" And walked me out on the patio behind the house where there was a tandem, a RECUMBENT tandem. Oh, I thought: THAT's why he wanted to know.
It was a Ryan, a long-wheelbase recumbent, SandS coupled by the way. How long is it? Two inches longer, axle to axle, than Smilanick's Toyota pickup: 104 inches long. Your road bike's about 39 inches long.
It has two lawn chair-looking seats with handles near the arms, mirrors on the handles and umpteen water bottles. The stoker (rear rider) has a single brake lever for the drum in the mountain bike-size rear wheel.
The guy in front, the captain, steers with handles that came up from under his seat. Too weird.
You adjust the seats fore and aft, to set "saddle height." You can adjust their tilt, like some electric car seats, and the degree to which they wrap around your bottom, front to back. Don't say it; I know...
It was, no contest, the dorkiest bike I'd ever seen.
Let's ride THIS, Smilanick said. I thought about it. No one knows me around here, I thought. Why not? It'd be the purist roadie bike-writer riding the pocket-protector bicycle. But it MIGHT be fun...
So off we went.
And it WAS fun. I was immediately comfortable in that back seat, legs nearly horizontal in front of me. You sit so close to the ground you feel safe, somehow; you could fall, sure, but you couldn't fall FAR.
The bike felt fast on the flats, as tandems do, and not all that slow on the moderate hills on our ride. We wobbled a little at first on uphills, but got smoother and steadier as miles slid under us.
We didn't have to learn how to stand up together; on a recumbent, you don't stand up. You do the whole ride sitting in that lawn chair. The passenger, incidentally, is pretty far behind the captain. He or she can see nearly everything, not just the material of the captain's jersey.
As Smilanick warned, I used some muscles I don't use on a normal bike, on the sides of my knees and in my lower back. I could feel them post-ride. Smilanick says he mixes up riding the recumbent with riding normal bikes (like his full-Campy Merlin). Switching back-and-forth works like cross-training for him.
He says, by the way, he wouldn't have been caught dead on a recumbent until someone he trusted got him to try a solo one at a bike show demonstration. He found himself smiling as he rode; he'd been seduced.
The Ryan tandem rode over the road quite smoothly. The long frame absorbed more shock than a wedgie-bike (that's what recumbent nerds call conventional bikes) would.
Unless I miss my guess, a recumbent would be kinder to your body than a regular bike. There's no weight on your feet or arms. The seats support your back and butt over a far greater area than conventional bike seats would. You're not going to get saddlesore.
Smilanick rides in regular walking shorts; no need for a chamois insert on a recumbent.
Once you were on the road, not just looking at the Ryan on Smilanick's patio, you forgot how unforgivably dorky it was and enjoyed the ride.
As different as the Ryan was from your usual bike, more different was the reaction from people along the road from the one you usually get.
The guy on his lawn tractor would yell, "Nice bike." The lady getting into the Camry parked in front of the suburban home would wave and grin. The two moms with kids in the park would stop their conversation, wave and smile and talk about you as you passed.
You imagined they were going to invite you to stop and help them eat their picnic lunch. You expected to hear, "Please. We've got plenty of sandwiches and potato salad. It'd be our pleasure. Glass of lemonade?"
That part made me kinda sad.
Somehow, we cyclists have worn out our welcome on suburban roads, and urban roads too, I guess. Smilanick and I were the same two guys no one would've paid a bit of positive attention to -- had we been on solo road or mountain bikes. But on that funny-looking recumbent tandem...
We were the circus, just come to town, the main attraction. We just pedaled by, and they loved us.
12420 Gibson Road
Everett, WA 98204