There's always lots of recumbents at Eurobike, and some of them look like a lot of fun, so this year we thought we'd have a nose round and do a quick round-up of the trends. Now it's fair to say that we're more interested bystanders than industry experts where recumbents are concerned, so instead of just stroking our chins a lot and taking pics of the things we fancied the look of (though of course we did that too), we thought we'd get some detail about where recumbents are at from someone that's at the heart of the sector.
Chris Parker heads up Ice Trikes, a UK-based recumbent maker. He's responsible for the design of the trikes and flying out to the far east to oversee production; the finished machines are assembled in the UK. He's been making recumbents since 1996, so he should know a thing or two about where recumbents are, and where they're going…
road.cc: What are the current trends in recumbents that we're seeing at this year's show?
CP: I'd say that trikes are really taking over the recumbent market at the moment. And people want good looking trikes. They want a trike they can show off to their mates and have their mates go "That looks good" rather than "That looks weird" - that's what were trying to deliver, a bit of the wow factor you get with a modern bicycle. We're trying to bring professionalism in marketing, videos and social media into the recumbent market too.
road.cc: Do you feel that professionalism has been missing in the recumbent market then?
CP: People have always done their best, with the kind of volume and the kind of money that they had. It's getting a lot easier to look more professional now, but equally because it's getting easier the bar is getting higher as well. Our volume is growing considerably and that means we've got some money to put into the product and into the marketing to really sell the product and explain to people how good it is. There hasn't been that much change in the last five years in how well the machines work, but what we've really been able to improve is our ability to get across to the public just how much fun they are.
road.cc: why are people buying recumbents? who is buying them?
CP: The key advantages of a recumbent are adaptability and comfort, really. They suit a really wide range of people. If you have a back problem or a shoulder problem they're very equalising; you can go back to riding the distances you always used to be able to. And you can avoid having many of those problems in the first place! People come to trikes generally for two reasons. There's a minority who come because it's basically a go-kart and it's awesome fun, but most people switch because there's some reason why they're not wanting to, or not able to, ride a standard bike any more.
road.cc: how's the market for recumbents at the moment?
CP: It is generally growing as a market. Our big market has always been the US. They really like stuff that's new over there. The British market is probably growing slower than many but the British mentality is that they like to be absolutely sure of something before they jump in. We're seeing big growth in Europe at the moment, especially Germany. The more exciting look of the new machines seems to really be igniting the market. We never really thought that the recumbent market would get excited by anodised bits and bobs but at the end of the day they're still cyclists, they still get switched on by the same things. You put shiny bits on a recumbent and people go "wow, look at the shiny bits!", same as with a road bike…
road.cc: Which of your bikes is your personal favourite?
CP: I like to think I'm still young, so I like speed - the Vortex (above) is our speed machine, that's the one that excites me. It's not our best selling model – the Adventure, our all-rounder, is – but even so by June of this year we'd already sold as many as we thought we'd shift all year. It's our fastest growing model. We launched it as a kind of, "look at this and then buy a sensible one" model, but people are saying, "you know what? That is what I want to do. I do want to fly along and have the same kind of fun I had on my road bike, but in complete comfort." The growth in the market has meant that we can now do some of the things we'd always wanted to do, previously the volume wasn't there to support it.
road.cc: Are you seeing a lot of interest in power systems?
CP: We've had a lot of demand for electric systems for many years and we've tried all sorts of electric systems. Often people that come to recumbents haven't been able to ride a standard bike and they haven't had the amount of exercise they'd like over the past few years. They're maybe not as fit as they want to be and a little something to give them a kick up the hills and allow them to keep up with other riders is very welcome. We're gradually honing in on one or two that we think will best suit what we're doing. Trikes give equipment a lot of grief; you can do things on a trike that can't get away with on a bicycle. We've found that a lot of the electric systems aren't really up to the job but we're getting there; in the next few months we hope to be able to say, "this is the one!" Different systems will always suit different people and we've done a lot of custom building but we're working towards speccing a system that will suit maybe 90% of people that want electric assistance. It'll be a bottom bracket system that works through the gears. Personally I love riding with a motor, it just gives me a couple of extra miles an hour in the legs that isn't always there!
Thanks to Chris for giving us a heads-up. We did, of course, have a snoop round and take some pics of stuff we fancied the look of as well. Here's what we liked…
Here's the Flevobike Green Machine, which is available with high or low bars and will set you back just short of €4,000 in either incarnation.
The most notable feature of this beast is the fact that it uses a Rohloff hub, centrally mounted and completely encased, to provide the gearing so the look is really clean. The chassis is also free to rotate at the hub gear, suspending the rear wheel. Weight is around 18kg.
Flevobike also make this, the Orca, a fully faired recumbent trike with a carbon and glass fibre body. You get joystick steering inside and posh alloys too, nice to see some Sturmey Archer drum brakes making the cut too.
Weight isn't historically the main selling point of a recumbent but certainly there's a movement towards lighter weight machines. Catrike had a number of pretty light trikes, the Pocket tipping the scales at 13.2kg, about the same as a sturdy tourer. Not bad, considering you've got an extra wheel, a lot of frame and a full seat. The Pocket costs €2,190.
Ice Trike's Vortex (pictured above in the interview) is even lighter than that; Chris told us that the stand build weighs in at about 28lb (12.7kg) and it can go lighter wit more exotic kit. It'll cost you, though: the build on display would be about £3,500 and you can spend, well… how much do you want to spend?
The carbon fibre seat weighs almost nothing; Ice make two sizes which they reckon can accommodate pretty much everyone.
Ice were also displaying the Sprint X which has a full Xtracycle rear end for impressive load lugging capability. Fill this one up and you'll really be wanting a bit of motor assistance…
Powered recumbent bikes and trikes were on nearly every stand; most were using wheel motors such as this HP Veloteknik trike using the BionX system. It'll be interesting to see whether Chris's prediction that bottom bracket systems will be more suitable in the long run is accurate; the technology as a whole is still in its infancy and bottom bracket versions even more so.
Most trikes don't bother with front suspension so it was interesting to see this Steintrikes Mungo Sport design with double wishbone suspension that looks like it's been lifted straight off a racing car. Mungo were doing a powered version too.
Want to start your kids on the recumbent path early? KMX have a proper pint-sized recumbent trike, the K-3, made from the same box-section alloy as their grown-up trikes. It looked like it's be an absolute hoot.
You get plastic mag wheels (12" at the front, 16" at the rear) and a BMX-style one piece crank which will save a bit of money, but it's a proper recumbent trike. €399, if you're interested.
Dave is a founding father of road.cc and responsible for kicking the server when it breaks. In a previous life he was a graphic designer but he's also a three-time Mountain Bike Bog Snorkelling world champion, and remains unbeaten through the bog. Dave rides all sorts of bikes but tends to prefer metal ones. He's getting old is why.