Recumbent Bicycles


My name is Steve, and I built my first recumbent bike in 1980 because my wrists were sore. (The bald guy in the photos is me.) That bike was made from parts of my girlfriend's old Bottecchia, (don't worry, I got her a new bike,) and a piece of 2" diameter 4130 steel tubing. I did all the machining, brazing, and assembly, and found out in minutes that this was a much better way to ride than my conventional bike, which I had previously loved until the pain was too much. I modified the first bike several times (modified means cut and rebrazed) before I came to a point where the next modification required building a whole new frame. The second bike was built from scratch in 1981, with front wheel drive and rear wheel steering. It seemed like a good idea at the time, and the front wheel drive worked great, but the bike was completely unrideable. I spent an hour trying to ride it the first day, and never got the pedals all the way around once. The bike fell over instantly, and there was nothing I could do to change that except rework the frame into bike number 3, with front wheel steering and rear wheel drive. This bike had a folding front end, allowing me to put it into the back seat of my 1967 Volkswagen Beetle, making it the first folding recumbent, to my knowledge.

Many modifications and one year later, bike number 4 was finished, and I rode it for 10 years. It didn't have a hinge, but it had paint. It finally met its demise in 2000, with a structural failure caused by severe rusting of the main tube. It probably wasn't a good idea for me to ride the bike in 16" deep water in 1988, but it seemed like the best way to get home at the time.

In 1993, I built bike number 5, the "final prototype and test bed." (Ha!) The frame was all stainless steel, because I was already concerned about rust and corrosion. I ride all year 'round in Evanston, Illinois, just north of Chicago. The roads are salted in Winter, and I didn't want to have to replace my frame every few years, so stainless seemed to be the material of choice. Many of the brazed joints were replaced with TIG welds, the front had a hinge again, and the rear end was designed to be separable from the frame by removing one pin and one bolt. The front wheel was 16" and the rear 27", as had been all the previous bikes. It occurred to me one day in 1995 that if I pulled the pin at the top of the seat stays, and pivoted the rear triangle around the bolt at the bottom of the seat tube (where the bottom bracket would be on a conventional bike,) I could fold the front end back on its hinge and fit the whole frame into a suitcase. However, if I wanted to put the whole bike into a suitcase, I needed to replace the 27" rear wheel with a 16" wheel, yielding the bike in the photo above and on the Why a Recumbent page.

By 1997 I had reworked the design once again, this time with the specific intention of being able to fold the bike and put it into the smallest suitcase possible, which is also the largest suitcase you could take on an airplane without paying an oversize baggage charge. By designing from scratch again, I was able to design for 20" wheels, which ride significantly better than the 16" wheels. Then I had to start thinking about how I could build these bikes somewhat efficiently, as it took about 8 hours to build the front pivot of the rear triangle, and there was no way I was going to try to build and sell bikes with parts that took that long to make. Thus, I turned my machining skills to mold-making, something I had never tried before. You don't need to hear the rest of this tale of pain. Suffice it to say that I now have 11 investment cast parts on each bicycle.

In 2001 I built the first of 6 beta prototypes, of which the bike on the Home page and Joey's bike were the first 2. I learned some lessons from those 6 bikes, (which is the point of beta prototypes,) and reworked my molds. The bikes I'm making now use different castings than the betas, as well as an oval top tube instead of round. The front fork is from White Brothers, and is much nicer than the fork on the betas, though the fork may change as the availability of parts changes. The rear triangle is stronger and prettier, the handlebars are easier to fold and more secure to ride with, and the seat is stronger and easier to fold. There will be continuing changes as I figure out how to make bikes lighter, stronger, easier to build, or more esthetically pleasing, but this is what we have for now.

If you're interested in buying a bike, if you have a bike shop and want to sell my bikes, or if you want to invest in Jaco Unlimited, Inc., use the Business link or Contact Us.