Recumbent history? Bicycle history? I don’t know about you but history of any kind was never my best subject. Unless it was about romance or adventure, like Romeo and Juliet, or the Battle of the Alamo.
So when I got interested in recumbent bikes and was curious about the history of this new design that seemed to come from nowhere, I discovered historical intrigue! The impact and stir it created in the 1930’s should have changed the course of bicycle design.
Here was a new frame design that was beating the pro racers of that day. Not with some testosterone filled youngster of 20 something years old. Francis Faure was considered to be a “second rate” cyclist.
Oh, and did I mention he was 43 years old! So here is a second rate cyclist riding this new fangled bike beating the pro’s…and it was banned from competition? Oh, you just know it’s a juicy one when it starts off like that!
This is the sort of stuff modern day drama is made of. Go to the late 1940’s and the famous story of the Tucker Automobile. The Tucker was years ahead of its time with safety features among other things.
Then we have Andy Granitelli of STP fame, who went against tradition by introducing the turbine engine at the Indy 500 in the late 60’s. The STP Turbo Car proved a turbine engine could compete with the internal combustion engine and was more efficient.
Both the Tucker and the Indy Turbo Car were successful, just too much so. They were too good, so politics and greed sent both of these revolutionary efforts to the woodshed. And so it was with the recumbent bike.
Bicycle history is rich with unusual designs , some of which really seem ridiculous. In fact some ARE ridiculous! Some designs were very practical and used for utility purposes. Others consisted of just a frame, wheels, seat and handlebar for steering but no pedals.
Can you imagine riding on that? You’re really walking on a seat with wheels. Sort of a real twist on the scooter. Remember the big-wheeled bikes that had the rider perched about 6 feet in the air over the front wheel? These were called “bone shakers” and they were. Teeth shakers too. In some areas they were banned as a health risk.
The first recumbent designs could be seen as far back as the late 1800’s. Several different designs appeared, and for the most part they were so heavy they were not that popular.
While an improvement over the “bone shakers,” they probably took more effort to move than they saved by riding. But nowhere does bike history record a bike being banned, because it was too efficient…until April 1,1934. It was no April Fool’s joke, but it should have been.
Just like IBM thought the PC would never become a household item. Western Union thought that telegrams could never be replaced by e-mail, and that wireless phones were just a fad. Big mistake, and it cost Western Union almost to the point of bankruptcy.
IBM did a double take and got back in the game. But the bicycle manufacturers had it their way for over forty years. Theory has it they feared the recumbent so much they were convinced it would challenge their business and their pocketbook.
People still used bicycles to get to work and even go for weekend visits to other villages on towns. Racing was extremely popular so the bike was sorta bigger than life. The Tour de France began in 1903, so heros of the era were the pro racers.
So pressure was applied to the ruling body of international bicycle competition, and they voted to ban the recumbent from competing. So other than a few years of exhibition races, the recumbent dropped out of site.
The joke it seems is on the diamond frame bike industry, which mass-produces road bikes, mountain bikes, BMX bikes, cruisers and such. That industry has spent 100 years claiming to make the better mouse trap, when all along it was right under their noses.
The same recumbent they thumbed noses at decades ago, now lays claim to every bicycle land speed record there is! The recumbent began a renaissance in the 70’s with builders like Dick Ryan and Gardner Martin. Thanks to professor David Gordon Wilson from M.I.T. who discovered the history about the recumbent.
In addition, the UCI, which regulates International Bicycle Competition, to this day will not allow recumbents to compete. So the International Human Powered Vehicle Association was formed, and regulates all events in which human power is the source of energy.
It could be a car, boat, airplane (yep there are some) or a bike. The IHPVA sanctions the events and records the records for certification. So another good thing came out of all this.
So what do you think about all this little bit of intrigue? The more powerful have denied the masses of something better than what they had. At least this is one case where they didn’t even have enough sense to keep it for themselves.
Well, this just goes to show that power and money don’t have a corner on good sense. Recumbent riders are on the rise, in Europe and in the U.S. History verified it was a superior bike, and there’s nothing like the present to go out and prove that for yourself.