Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Recumbent Bicycles for Randonneuring, Interviewing John Vincent, Part 2: Builders, Relative Merits, Peering into the Future

Here is Part 2 of my interview with John Vincent, newbie recumbent rider and intermediate randonneur (he cringes when I call him a veteran randonneur). Part 1: Eliminating Pain can be found here. Though I do explore John's recent episode of being nearly run over by a car, I want to be clear that neither John or I are suggesting his accident was in any way related to the kind of bicycle he was riding. The accident had occurred just before the interview so it was topical.

Wouldn't have mattered what John was riding. The driver didn't look. A good reminder: stay vigilant!

Thanks, John for taking the time and being thoughtful about the answers and tuned into the audience's needs! By relating your own particular circumstances very openly you have graced the interview with greater depth and truth than if you'd kept it generic.

Keep it upright-even if it's not an upright,


Builders, Relative Merits,
Peering into the Future

CurioRando: Who are the best recumbent bicycle builders?

John Vincent: First of all I am no expert when it comes to bents. But there seems to be two styles of bikes: short wheelbase or long wheelbase. Long wheelbase, the most popular, is the one that won the four-person team at Race Across America (RAAM). All four were Rans X-Stream. It is about 23 – 25 pound bike and it is a long wheelbase bike. It won the four-person RAAM. It beat all the upright bikes.

So there is a lot of excitement about that being a good brevet bike. It is a little more upright, not as reclined. It’s got a big back wheel and a smaller front wheel, and it is a longer wheelbase so it’s more comfortable. Easy Racer makes the Gold Rush Racer which David Cambon up in British Columbia rides. He’ll give the advice to buy these ultralight recumbents, but for himself he rides a heavier bike and he does it successfully. Many people love their Gold Rush bikes.

On the other side--the short wheelbase bikes--there is Bacchetta Carbon 2.0 (as well as a whole lineup of other bents), and they make a bike similar to the Carbent. The Carbent makes theirs with 700c or 650c wheels. The Carbents are under 18 pounds. You can get a 17 and a half pound recumbent. The Bacchetta Carbon 2.0 is very light. Those are the two high racers that people are talking about. Both have good speed, and both are ultra light.

There are numerous recumbent companies besides Carbent, Rans, Bacchetta, and Easy Racer. Everyone has an opinion and individuals need to test ride and read about them first. There are numerous reviews of various bents.

My bent is very fast on rolling terrain and is doable going up hills. A lot of people on the heavier recumbents avoid hills because they are just too difficult. So they just ride flat rides.

The short wheelbase bike does not have a fairing attached, while the long wheel base often has a fairing and a body sock. There are some people out there doing some pretty amazing things on recumbents. They aren’t the slow heavy bikes you’ve seen in the past.

CR: Anything you miss about the uprights?

JV: You know, I had set my heart (laughing) on a Tony Pereira bike or a Steve Rex or a Stevenson or a Thompson bike (see previous post on Pereira bicycles here). There are so many different builders out there. I had set my heart on a lightweight steel, randonneuring bike, and I wanted to be into that mode. All of my friends are. I like to join the flock; I don’t like to fly alone. I miss just being one of that group. When you are riding a recumbent you are riding alone, or you kind of separating yourself from the group a little bit. I love the way upright bikes look.

I also have to carry my own tires because I ride 650c. Some of the things about recumbents are rather unique, and so you relearn everything. I miss what I know. While uprights were physically uncomfortable for me, I miss the comfort of knowing bikes. The recumbent world is its own little group. I didn’t choose to be in that group. My body told me I needed to be there.

CR: I think for people that are thinking of going ‘bent this is very useful information. I know you had this car essentially run you over the other day. Can you tell me what happened, and can you tell me the degree to which, if any, being on a recumbent had to do with it?

JV: Yeah, I’m coming up a one percent grade road, and I’m probably going 8 miles/hour…

CR: Where was this?

JV: First Avenue South and 160th (in Burien, WA). Someone drove past me and drove up to this light, and the light turned green. Now I’m probably 50 feet back. Typically, a driver will look in their rear view mirror, signal, and turn right. There was plenty of time to turn. They didn’t have their turn signal on, and they were stopped at the crosswalk, not moving. I’m watching them. I’m watching them, and I’m progressing up this road. I watched the SUV because I’m very aware of what they were doing. We’re both going North and it is a green light and I’m in the bike lane. The green light is both for going straight (North) and for a right turn (East), and as I get to the passenger side door the SUV begins to turn right. It was probably seven feet away from me. I’m looking in their window. My head is about to the bottom of her window, looking into her front window of her SUV.

My eyes are peeking over her window sill. I’m looking at black—their SUV is black—coming at me and their front right wheel turned into my front wheel and crushed it. It tore my wheel out of the dropouts and broke the drop outs. Crushed them. I didn’t slide at all; I just got jack hammered to the ground. I just went Wham! My wheel went spinning off someplace and I’m on my side. There were three 911 calls, two cop cars, and a fire truck.

Someone is screaming at me: “Are you OK? Don’t’ get up!”

And finally two guys come along and I do get up (nothing broken), and I’m hearing a voice: “Did I do that? I’m so sorry.”

And I’m saying “Lady, do you not look into your rear view mirror? Do you not see cement?”

If you’ve only got your mirror pointed at the sky, you’re goanna miss cars and bikes. Honestly, when I look in my rearview mirror I see cars, and I see some road and I see a wide range top to bottom. She didn’t look in her rear view mirror. She was probably talking to someone, conversing with her mother who was in the passenger seat, or was lost, or didn’t know where to turn. All of a sudden, she turned. I was, by that time, in her blind spot.

She admitted to the police that she remembered seeing me as she came up to the light but she must have forgotten that I was still there. She didn’t have her turn signal on. It was over $1000 damage to the bike and I was lucky.

CR: So the cops determined it was her fault?

JV: She tried to say it was mutual, it was joint responsibility. The policeman said, “No ma’am, whoever is in that bike lane is your responsibility. If there is somebody in that bike lane and you hit them it is your fault. They have a right to that lane.”

That was clearly stated. Now I’m waiting for the investigator from the insurance company to give final whatever. I sent him pictures, and he didn’t even know what a fork was, or what it looked like. (John has since received full payment for bike repair and a payment for pain and suffering).

CR: I saw a film called Veer that I posted about previously. One of the stories they told in the film is how bike advocates won a new law in the Oregon legislature this last session that I think is called a Vulnerable Operators law. If someone hits a cyclist, who as a class are considered a vulnerable operators, the person who hits the cyclist gets an extra fine and/or points because of the disparity of vulnerability. They showed hearing testimony in the film in which husbands or kids were killed or severely injured. Typically what happens in the current law is that you get a citation for going thru a stoplight or…

JV: Basic criminal law, basic traffic infraction.

CR: Yep, could be $1000 or $700. Whatever it is, if you kill somebody there is no other penalty. So the advocates are layering on a much stiffer additional penalty because you could kill somebody who is in a much more vulnerable position. The movie is worth seeing just for that story alone (it covers a wide range of Portland bicycle subculture activities besides the Vulnerable Operator law). The film portrays the statements of a legislator who is a retired State Patrol officer. He is strongly opposed to the law, talking about cyclists insisting on riding on the road instead of the shoulder due to punctures. He was just absolutely—he’s a legislator so he has power—righteously opposed, but the advocates won due to the compelling testimony of the families who survived their loved ones’ deaths at the hands of automobile operators.

JV: I understand that, first hand.

CR: Back to recumbents more generally, I assume from riding with you on a couple brevets this year and from my riding with Tom Russell on his recumbent on this last 400k brevet that you’ll probably zoom ahead next time we ride together. I might catch you again on the hills?

JV: Exactly, if I’m riding as the bike is designed for riding: at 18 – 20 mph. Obviously, given wind, slope, terrain I could be going a lot slower. But generally speaking, I ride much faster on the level to rolling ground than I did on my upright. Nothing remarkable up hills. I would envision a yo-yoing effect.

CR: The future of recumbents? Do you think that they are going to grow for a certain group? Do you think they will overtake uprights? Do you have a sense?

JV: Here’s the thing. In terms of marketing when you look at the advantages and disadvantages, the recumbent is built for comfort and long distance. Most people I know do lots of 30 mile rides in the Spring and Summer. There is a lot of out-of-saddle riding going. Uprights are probably better for that kind of riding but that doesn’t mean a bent can’t stay with the pack.
There are some I know who are really athletic who ride lightweight recumbents who are able to stay with uprights and pass them. This is even odder: there are recumbent riders doing crits in California racing 30mph (laughs) and placing in their community crits. They are very fast and accomplished riders.
The world is changing. There are some upright groups that don’t want any recumbents with them. A little discrimination going on there. Some people think recumbents don’t belong. That’s going to change. When a recumbent group wins RAAM, you see them beating uprights over the Rockies and over the Appalachians. They simply beat upright teams by averaging 20+ mph 24/7. There is something to be said for that, and that is going to draw some people. When a good bent and a good athlete are coupled together amazing things happen. They can be faster than upright riders. On the other hand you take old, fat guys and put them on recumbents and they don’t do much for the industry.

The other thing is when you see the performances at PBP. There is this Frenchman who has finished in the top five every time he rides, sometimes he is winning. In 2007 he didn’t set a record but he finished first, again. And the past two years he has been doing nothing but riding a recumbent. He did a 600k this year in France and he did it in 19 hours and some minutes. Tell me that that isn’t going to say something. There are some riders out there that are going to make themselves known. You get a feeling that recumbents have been slowly proving themselves as speed machines.
Talk to recumbent manufacturers and competitors. The guy who built my bike did the Furnace Creek 508 and he’s done some other rides, and he thinks that they are the best option for ultra distance. For me it’s just (laughing): “Please let me finish the ride”. (Laughing) I just want to be in under 90 hours. If I can complete a 1200 that includes a significant amount of climbing, man I’d be so thrilled. That’s where I’m at. I think that’s where it’s going. As you see more people being successful, it changes people’s perspectives.

CR: Yep, makes sense. What would you like folks to know?

JV: You got my email about your calling me an experienced randonneur (in an earlier post), and I just have to giggle at that. There are a lot of guys in the Seattle club (Seattle International Randonneurs) who have done so many 1200’s. In comparison to them, I’m pretty much a rookie.

CR: So you want to set the record straight?

JV: I’m one or two seasons ahead of you.

CR: So, if I call you more seasoned than I am you’re OK with that, but…

JV: I’m OK with that. I’m still trying to figure out how to finish out the longer rides. I have been around the block a few times though. Next year my goal is to do a 1200k.

CR: Do you know which 1200k ride you want to ride next year?

JV: I know the Cascade 1200k (in Washington State) is next year. That is pretty much long climbs. Most of the hills on that are looong mountain pass climbs. You’ve got White Pass, Chinook Pass up and back down, across the desert which has its own mortality, I guess. Then up through Mattawa and Quincy, And then Loup Loup Pass, and over the North Cascades Highway from Mazama. So there are some significant distances and some are long steady climbs in open spaces with different but doable terrain, but it is not easy. Who knows what is going to be next year? (CR: Since the interview, both SIR and ORR have released tentative Brevet Schedules for 2010.)

I’d love to do the Colorado Last Chance 1200k. It is probably the easiest with the fact that you’re still going to face winds, thunderstorms, and rattlesnakes on the road. I don’t know what’s being offered next year. Sometimes the Van Isle 1200k. The Van Isle up on Vancouver Island might come back. That one heads up from Victoria to Port Hardy and back. You’re kind of out in the wilderness. There is a marvelous story by Kent Peterson who did a 1200k up there.

CR: Well I might have to try and make that my goal for next year: one of those 1200k’s.

JV: This is the time to do it. What I’m doing right now is I’m focusing on weight loss. I don’t eat as much. I stop eating in between meals. I let myself get hungry and about the time I get hungry I go out for a 15 – 20 mile bike ride. I ride empty, and that is my goal to lose some significant weight. If you carry an extra 30 pounds mile after mile, at 300 miles it has a way of affecting your body and your brain. You’re not thinking 30 pounds, you’re thinking: Oh my God, am I ever going to make it? The two long rides I’ve done have had moments of crisis for me: partly because I got sick, not feeling well, and all of a sudden I’m short on time. I hit a crisis moment. I want to hit controls a little quicker, with less weight. I can and I want to take full advantage of a recumbent which is a comfortable ride. I want to get up hills a little faster. We’ll see, that’s my challenge: lose some weight and ride more hills.


  1. I'm glad to see that John got that money for his accident. My buddy and I put on that ride that he wrecked on. Getting that call scared the hell out of me.

    John is a great guy, I'm hoping to see him out on the 1200 next year.

  2. Where did you see the tentative SIR bevet schedule for 2010? I can't find it on their site anywhere.

  3. I believe the 2010 schedule was proposed by Mark Thomas on the SIR email list. And Robert, I will be out there and finishing along with a few other buddies and not ending up under a car.

  4. Hi John,
    Like you I did not pick recumbents over DFs, my body did. I never would have considered one 10 years ago.

    Glad you survived the crash well.

    Be patient, the climbing legs will come. After that its all about power to weight ratio, do whats easiest for you, get stronger or get lighter.

    It doesn't matter what you ride, as long as you are still riding! We are all cyclists.

    I wish you the best for next season!

    Whats with the initials? ;-)

    Wish me luck with my first 600K next weekend!

    Jim Verheul
    Team Bacchetta

    PS Crit riding, on a bent?? You're nuts!! ;-) http://www.bacchettabikes.com/forum2/tm.asp?m=8494

  5. I dont know Crit Rider (is that you?) but have read some of the reports he has written. Really good stories with supporting photos. He seems to have good rapport with others, also. Probably because he can tear their legs off.
    Initials? JV for John Vincent? what initials? Are you doing a pch rando 600? with Dana and Willie? good luck and ride safe