Your Dirt Cheap Homebuilt USS Recumbent For Less Than You Think

Here we go with the “Dirt Cheap Recumbent” again, this time with USS, or under seat steering. When you start checking for factory built models most prices hover around $2000 or more. It’s like always, the components determine the final price. And then there are always those accessories.

Many homebuilders would not buy as many new parts as I did. While going to the LBS is unavoidable it can be cut to the minimum.

So homebuilders will only use the parts they can salvage from the frame used in making the new bike. Everything else is handmade, adapted or invented. That’s why homebuilders are so valuable, because of their imagination and out of the box thinking.

Some will clean up old chain and use it. Others will find BMX wheels for the front. I recall seeing one homebuilder who used the old style plastic clothes line to weave a seat. Others have used old lawn chairs.

You’ll see a list later on that will show what I used from the old frames and what was purchased at the LBS.

As with most things it’s all about trial and error. That’s why experience is such a great teacher. If the mistakes don’t kill you, they will certainly teach you what not to do next time.

But on the homebuilt model you’ll see here, in it’s naked, unpolished and sanded form, the components are just sorta “garden variety.” What you’ll see here, are the mistakes that can be made and still have a really great ride. This is really meant to encourage anyone that has the desire to built a recumbent, but thinks they can’t. This one’s for you!

The first photo you’ll see is the frame after the cutting, fitting, welding on the extension, and some sanding have been done. At this point the frame is in the form where the real work starts. Doing the cutting and lining up is not to hard if you follow the directions found in the free plans that are available, so this is the next step.


Let me point out two mistakes made in putting the frame together that can be corrected.

First, I made the seat tube too short, so the top tube is angled down more than the plans show. This caused the seat stays from the rear triangle to not form a straight line with the top tube. At first I worried the frame might have too much flex, or that somehow the handling would be messed up. So far that does not seem to be a problem.

Second, the length was too short to alow a good leg extension. No matter of repositioning the seat would allow the extra length needed. If the frame was going to be usable, it had to be lengthened. So I added a 4″ extension.

I found the angle of the top tube and the lower position of the seat tube did not seem to create a handling problem. Actually, having a lower seat height was just fine. Even though the seat stays were not exactly parallel with the top tube, the frame integrity seems to be just fine.

Keep in mind this model is really not intended for racing with the USS style steering. It is fairly light and the frame even seems to have more stiffness than the original.

USS connection

Here’s a look at the connecting rod for the remote steering to show how it connects to the front fork. A piece of common stock metal found at Lowes was used to make the flange to connect the rod end bearing and the connecting rod. I threaded the flange to take a 1/4″ HEX bolt.

The 1/4″ I.D. Aluminum rod came from Wicks Aircraft supply along with the rod end bearings. The rod end bearings are $6.95 each, and I have not found them anywhere else but Wicks. This is a typical part used in aircraft construction.

Wick’s also has all kinds of tubing and other parts for homebuilders not easily found anywhere else.

Front remote steering connection

USS Remote and rod connect

Here are two shots that show the USS remote assembly front to rear and the left turn angle. The other shot shows the right turn angle, which is currently less and I will have to make some modifications to correct that.

USS Remote showing RT Turn

The USS setup is not the best and I will make some improvements. I drilled a hole through the top tube, used a SS Hex bolt 3 1/2″ long, and 2 bearings from a skate wheel above and below the modified stem riser. There is still a little side to side play in the handlebar.

I think I will have to use a modified headset with bearing arrangement to get the “slop” out, which is what I will do after the Cooper City event in March.

Bare Bones

Even with the poor joint where the seat stays are welded to the rear dropouts, this frame has actually preformed just fine. The real deal will be how well it works after a few thousand miles.

Closer look at frame extension

Rear Dropout Weld

All the components I have purchased are from Mark Powers at his retail store, so if you’re looking for that “one source” for your bike building supplies, look no further than

Since many of you reading this do not live in Plant City, Florida, where Mark has his retail store nestled in among strawberry fields and orange groves, you’ll be glad to know Mark started out on the Internet before he ever opened the store. I can’t think of anything other than welding supplies that Mark does not have. Oh yeah…don’t think he has any hacksaws either!

Here is the list of what I purchased to build up the bike after the frame was completed. Later I will include a list of what old parts I was able to use from the salvaged frames I have hanging up.

New Parts

  • 1.Front Wheel-Sun CR18 451 with Quick release $67.99 (optional-some use old BMX wheels)
  • 2. 8 speed cassette for rear wheel $21.99 (optional if you use the donor cassette)
  • 3. Sora Rear Derailleur w/long cage $24.95 (optional if you use donor derailluer)
  • 4. 700X28 IRC tire $17.99(optional if you use donor tire)
  • 5. 700 c tube $3.50
  • 6. Deore BR-M150 Front and rear brake set $31.95 (optional if you use donor brake set)
  • 7. Brake Pivots $6.00
  • 8. Brake Levers $18.90 (optional if you use donor levers)
  • 9. SRAM 3/8 half pipe shifters $24.99
  • 10. Baccetta Handlebar USS steering (optional-this was a very expensive handlebar and can be found cheaper) $36.00
  • 11. Metal Plate for seat $7.97
  • 12. ¾” Plywood for seat $4.96
  • 13. Bolts for seat @ $.67 ea X 4 $2.68
  • 14. Aluminum tube for seat stay @ $4.69 X 2 $9.38
  • 15. Square ¾” Aluminum tube for brackets $2.97
  • 16. Cotter Pins $2.97
  • 17.Brake cable housing $4.00
  • 18. Gear cable housing $6.00
  • 19. SIGMA BC 1200 Cyclocomputer (optional) $24.99
  • 20. Minoura Space Grip (optional) $9.99
  • 21. Bell Multi-Mirror $13.99
  • 22. Cable stops 6 @ $.35 ea $2.10 (optional if using Zip Ties)
  • 23. Lycra for seat cover ½ yd @ $17.50 yd $8.75 (optional)
  • 24. Elastic Cord for seat cover 2 ft @ $.38 ft .76 (optional if not using Lycra)
  • 25. Headset $17.99
  • 26. Gear Cable (optional) $3.75
  • 27. ¼” Aluminum tube for remote steering $5.12
  • 28. Bar End bearings remote steer @ $6.96 ea $13.92
  • Total of all parts including optional items I used $396.46
  • Minus optional items not necessary to ride or used from donor bike – $264.26


  • Total cost of parts $132.20I purchased the above items new rather than try to salvage the old ones from a donor bike. Depending on the donor bike they may be usable or not.

    So in reality you could build this LWB for a little over $130 taking advantage of donor parts. If you have managed to collect some good donor frames with up to date cassettes, brakes and gears, then you will really save some money! Buying a wrecked bike to get the parts is a smart buy.

    Cable, cable housing, gear cable, gear cable housing may be usable for rear brakes and deraillure on an USS setup. If you use the typical OSS setup very little if any of the housing and cable will be usable on a LWB.

    Next is the list of old items I used from salvaged frames and bikes.

    • 1. 700 c rear wheel from old Giant Farrago Hybrid
    • 2. Front derailleur
    • 3. Chain with SACHS Power Link
    • 4. Kick stand
    • 5. Crank Set
    • 6. Clipless pedals
    • 7. 451 front tire and tube
    • 8. Bottom Bracket
    • 9. Derailleur cage for chain idler
    • 10. Aluminum stock for seat back pivot rackets
    • 11. Stem receiver for USS handlebar assembly

    Keep in mind the parts listed above may be different for you if this is your first frame, and you do not have a lot of spare parts hanging around like I do in my shop. This does not include the countless cutting discs used with my Dremel, or the sanding discs, or the grinding bits, or the sandpaper, brazing rod, Oxygen or Acetylene used to make the frame.

    It should also be mentioned I did not use a jig when assembling the frame, which would have been better for some minor alignment problems if I had. You would probably do well to use a jig as the plans suggest. Doing it by eye is tough and almost sure to lead to frustration later.

    I did not start out to make mistakes, or maybe I did. Since a plan was not used like the first time, and I wanted to make some “minor” changes, not using a plan was just asking for mistakes. The challenge of correcting the mistakes so the frame would still work is a different story.

    Check out the photos above that show mistakes which could have been avoided if plans had been followed instead of relying on past experience and just “eyeballin'”. This is also to show that even with mistakes this frame design is very forgiving. I can ride all day at a comfortable 15-17 MPH.

    Just the other day there were some pretty strong head winds, the 25-30 MPH variety. Every now and then it would hit me from the side. No handling problems at all.

    In fact, the only near accident was from someone in a pickup backing out of a drive with a clear view of the road both ways, who got upset when I started yelling at the top of my lungs to stop! We had more than a few words until I remembered you can’t argue with ignorance.

    About the only thing I will still do is some tweaking on the USS assembly and cover the seat. Next is grinding, sanding, polishing and painting.