Doug is the only velomobile dealer in the USA, a keen velomobile racer, an avid cyclist, a collector of recumbents and other bikes, and a recumbent enthusiast that promotes them everywhere he can. He was also THE person that has helped Bryan Ball re-start the Bentrideronline Forum and also the website several months ago. Doug’s knowledge and experience benefit the recumbent community, so I have asked him to answer my ten questions. And I plan to bring you a few more 10-to-1 interviews with other members of the Laidback Bike Report crew shortly.
This is another one from a series of very popular 10 to 1 interviews.
What do recumbents mean for you?
Transportation, Exercise, Seeing people discover the joy of riding a bike again (or for some) the first time.
Can you remember when did you see a recumbent for the first time?
Probably in the late 1960s early 1970s I remember reading about them in Popular Science / Popular mechanics on a bicycle called the “Ground Hugger”. It was a Long wheelbase bike that had an upright position. There were plans in a kit you could buy and you needed to cut up a couple of regular bikes to build it. Me and another kid managed to cut up lots of bikes but never actually built this. Partly because we really had no clue as to what we were doing and partly because it was more fun to cut up old bikes and build other things – and we sucked at welding. I mean really sucked.
How long do you ride recumbents?
Since 1982 so we are at 40 years or so.
What was your first model, and which is your current one?
The first one I ever owned was a home built attempt at the Ground Hugger. It wasn’t the same but it was two bike frames welded together. It was what we’d call a CLWB nowadays with a front wheel drive (like a Cruzbike). I bought the plans out of a magazine. A few years had passed and I’d learned how to weld by then. The first commercial one I owned was a called a Quetzal, it was a long wheel base 20” rear 16” front wheel with a mid drive derailleur. I would have purchased it in the early 1990s if I recall. I moved from it to a Vision R45 and then to a Lightning P38 then to a Bachetta and a few other things along the way.
I now have a stable full of them. Probably too many to list, but if it was a commercially made recumbent in 1996 until now I might have one of them. Everything from a Gold rush to a M5. I don’t have my original home built anymore as I gave it away to someone during a move and I sold my R45 to pay for the P38 – but since then I’ve kept most of them. I built a few others along the way too and tinker with some of them.
Can you compare them somehow?
Riding a cobbled together FWD recumbent is nothing like what we have today. The evolution of everything has improved the ride, handling and drive trains. I know so much more, the industry knows so much more and what we produce as a bike (or trike) is orders of magnitudes better in almost every way. It feels like as much a transition from apothecary to modern medicine but thats probably because I started out in the back of a barn and now use cad/cam and pro-engineer.
Do you ride upright bikes, too, and if so, how do you choose which type is the best for a particular task?
I ride my Lightning P38 Voyager when I traveled for work. It has seen roads in 37 different countries, it has crossed Japan, China, Philippines and much of Europe and the USA. It gets ridden because it fits in a suitcase.
I ride my R84 when I want to play with the roadies and not ride in the pack.
I ride my Lightspeed Ultimate or Trek 5600 upright road bikes when I want to ride with the roadies in the pack.
My Lightspeed tandem has crossed the USA a few times with one of my kids in the stoker position.
I ride my Brompton folding bike when I’m getting on the train or bus here or doing a short trip for work travel and the P38 would take a while to assemble and it wasn’t worth it.
I ride one of my velomobiles most of all though as I like the speed, comfort and security the shell provides.
I ride my Rotator Coyote when I want nothing but speed and I don’t care about comfort or ridability. Its the fastest bike I own by a long distance.
Where do you see the main problem why recumbents aren’t so popular and much widely used?
Lots of problems keep recumbents from being adopted. Its not any one thing but a whole lot of things that keep them out of the mainstream. Here’s my top 3.
Stereotypes – having been in the bike business a few years has been a real eye opener to this for me. We’ve had morbidity obese people come in our shop. The’ve been told by their doctor to “get out and exercise” or they face (or are facing major health problems) they are the perfect candidate for something like a Sun Ez3 HD, ICE Adventure HD or a Greenspeed Magnum; if they got on it they would have fun, they would likely ride it and resolve some or all the health issues. They want that joy they had when they were a kid. But you can’t get them even near the recumbent. Much less get a test ride. They look it with obvious disgust. They want a chubby tired mountain bike as “someone” told them thats going to take their weight and the mountain bike is “much stronger” so rather than have something that brings joy, they buy that mountain bike and maybe ride it a little; find out it hurts that its not fun like it was when they were a kid and then it sits in the garage. We know this because we see the bikes again in 2 years when the grandkid comes over and they want to ride it and its dry rotted the tires and the spiders have made homes in it. This isn’t a one-off occurrence either. It happens enough that I can see it unfold every time and I do not have a clue how to solve it and it pains me greatly to see it again and again.
The bicycle industry – (re: that someone above) As an industry we suck at messaging. The companies that have money are busy pushing their elite teams and trying to sell a fantasy of road racing, mountain bike racing or some kind of ultimate elite level stunts that Red Bull sponsors on Youtube. Neighborhood races are not a thing, to try to hold one will get the industry to fight you over it once it gets big enough to be noticed. In our country USA Cycling will actively get in the way of anyone not doing it their way. Try to have a recumbent race (I know this because I have) and watch them stack up against you. One time we were told that they wouldn’t renew a USA Cycling race directors certifications if he continued to advocate and support a recumbent race I was sponsoring. (this has now recently changed) And look at the National Senior Games. 2022 was the first year that recumbents were allowed! And they were limited to 9 total miles, yet paid the same as the road bikes who had both time trials and two road races. Thats nearly $30 a mile to race. But the big slap in the face was that the timing company was told not to time them. So imagine how it feels to be someone who paid all that money, made the trip out there and basically was treated as a sideshow freak. I’m glad (really glad) recumbents made it out there to NSG and really proud of the people that showed up. But call me a grumpy old man; I think how they were treated was reprehensible.
Bicyclists themselves – There is a pervasive element in the cycling community that makes them want to put down recumbent cyclists. I’ve experienced it myself many times. Jokes are made, you are snickered at behind your back, they nudge and wink at each other pointing at your funny bike. I was at the OKC senior games and rolled up in my velomobile. They pointed at it, teased me openly about if I was going to make it up the hills and even gave the race director a hard time for putting me out front of the road race as; as one person put it “ I don’t want to have to go around that guy”. Because of this they asked me to “pull over” when the peloton came through. I came in 18 minutes ahead of them. Then rather than walk over and congratulate me no words were said. But there has been a movement to *totally ban* recumbents from the event. The same thing happened in Dallas. My home town. They made me start 9 minutes behind the last group “so I won’t get in the way”. I caught them 19 miles into the 22 mile course and passed ever one of them and this was on a trike! But again, the result wasn’t congratulations or good job or any kind of athletic validation. It was a ban. I’ve personally gotten recumbents “banned” from about a dozen races in the area and have started hanging the rule changes (before and after) on my wall.
Meanwhile we still have poor laws all over the USA regarding recumbents – but thats another topic altogether.
What is your dream bike?
That changes over time. Right now I’d go for a lighter, stiffer velomobile. There’s been some good progress in this area but a lot of tradeoffs. Even though we’ve innovated in the drivetrain and internals the actual construction is still pretty much the same as its been. I think a materials change will help a lot in this area. There are some exotic composites on the horizon that look very good for this.
A P38 style suitcase bike thats titanium would be on my buy list instantly; I’d prefer that over carbon fiber as its just about as light but less stiff and given the beating some roads will give a bike I like the ride of Ti more as I get older and more sensitive to such things (also I like my dental work) this is starting to matter.
How do you think recumbents will evolve in 5 or 10 years?
I would like to wax poetically about some altruistic vision but honestly I think there will be little evolution other than minor design and component changes. Not that we’ve hit the apex by any means but there just isn’t enough commercial interest. Even if gas prices hit or exceed $10 a gallon it won’t change much. There will be more interest in this country in light electric vehicles as americans generally want throttles not exercise and I don’t see a lot of evolution in the mind set of the bicycling industry nor the bicyclists. I think Europe will be the hub of this innovation but even then its going to be fairly slow. I think we will see almost 100% eBikes in 10 years though. Recumbent or not eBikes will take over. It will be a niche dealer to have high-end road bikes or non-E recumbents. The box stores will still have them; but that mid-range bike store bike will vanish in-favor of eBikes.
What is your other hobby besides recumbents? Do you even consider recumbents as a hobby?
I’m a trimix/mixed gas scuba diver (and can even weld underwater now). Its more of a hobby than anything else. But getting my commercial license and underwater welding ticket was something my Dad appreciated as it was “A real mans job”.
I fly airplanes and helicopters on occasion I also do some drone flying with the bikes (some of that has been on the Laid Back Bike Report).
Year of birth: 1962
Residence: Dallas Texas
Education: BSEE + Masters Psy + Phd in Operations Research
Job: Bike Person
Motto: There is no box; thinking there is a box was the first problem to overcome