Recumbent Bicycle: A DIY, Low-Cost Project

Here's how to recycle the frame and parts from older bikes to make a recumbent bicycle that's far cheaper than, and just as successful as, commercial models.


| February/March 1999



Recumbent bicycle

Enjoy longer, more comfortable rides with a recumbent bicycle, and save your back from the usual discomfort of riding a standard bike.


PHOTO: JON REISS/PHOTOLINK

The beauty of the bicycle has always been in the simplicity and seemingly unchanging perfection of its original design — a design that has changed remarkably little in a hundred years. Truly new bicycle designs are very rare. But one that rethought the design from the ground up was the recumbent bicycle. You've probably seen at least one of these eccentric contraptions whiz by, its rider practically flat on his back. They are stable, fast, and shock the back and stress the midsection far less than traditional bikes. The only fly in the ointment is that they are complicated and start at about $1,200 for a stripped-down model.  

When you look at the elaborate design of a manufactured recumbent bicycle, you'd never think you could build a better one, much less build one for almost nothing. Yet that's exactly what Jeff Setaro did. His ingenious idea is beautiful, both in its simplicity and its economy. This is the story of how Jeff came to build his $18 recumbent bicycle. —MOTHER  

The Recumbent Bicycle Quest

My search for a low-cost recumbent bicycle began after reading an article on the health problems that conventional bicycle seats can cause. (Recumbent seats pose little or no health risk). I tried different models of commercial recumbents, including the E-Bike, a mountain-style recumbent with shocks, retailing for $1,200. I discovered that the demand for recumbents is still limited — only 3 percent of the market — making the bikes so pricey that they were way out of my budget. Many of the bike shops I visited had barely heard of them.

I am a nontraditional technology major at Buffalo State and will graduate this summer. One thing I learned in school is to problem-solve my way out of anything. Though I had an idea for a recumbent made from a woman's bike frame, I could not figure out how to move the drive train forward to get more legroom. My wife's suggestion — that I try some kind of front-wheel drive — set the gears in motion.

My initial attitude was that front-wheel drive was fine for tricycles, but that it couldn't get a two-wheeler moving fast enough in direct-drive mode. It also seemed that steering would be impossible or at least hindered, with your legs on the front wheel. Somehow, I got the notion that if you took the back end of a kid's bike and stuck it on the front end of an adult bike, you could pedal normally and avoid the long chain to the rear wheel that is used by many commercial recumbents.

Recumbent Bicycle Parts and Building

I already had a used woman's bike frame and went to search the thrift shops for a kid's bike. I found a nice blue one with three speeds and a coaster brake — the kind you pedal backwards to activate what is actually a drum brake inside the rear hub around the axle. With a hacksaw, I cut off the whole front of the kid's bike frame as well as the seat stays (the two tubes that connect the top of the seat post to the rear axle) so that all that was left was the V formed by the rear wheel, the bottom bracket (including pedals, cranks, chainrings and chain), and the seat tube.

anna
3/14/2015 12:05:20 PM

Recumbent bicycle its a great exerciser system. I have read your page already and gotten many information. I want to buy a http://yourecumbentbike.com/ recently. Thanks for your shearing page.


bob keeland
9/22/2010 3:21:31 PM

My wife and I recently bought CATRIKE brand trikes in Austin Texas. We love them, but they were expensive. A guy at Easy Street Recumbents (where we bought our trikes) loves to take old bicycles and build something new. Apparently this type of conversion is not that rare - just not really well known.


endaenada
5/26/2009 1:43:43 PM

What size wheels are they front and back?


dirk jan luiting_2
7/4/2008 7:47:36 AM

hi guys, you dont need a special brand of bike to build such a recumbent, independently i made one myself from 2 completely other bikes. in fact, just now i foud out about this website! Some italian guys picked up my design and made their own versions, even more different. here is my website where there is some more about this design. http://www.nupi.nl/index.php?id=383d7200f0


jeff_52
1/8/2008 7:30:07 PM

Tony, I was sad to see that Giant discontinued the Revive. You can still get one on Ebay. There is a great review of the bike at (http://products.howstuffworks.com/giant-revive-review.htm). If you are into speedy, light weight, hill climbing machines, don't get a Revive. If you are into a comfortable, cool looking bike, and now rare in the US- try to score one before they end up in museums. P.S. you can always make your own like I did. Jeff


tony_17
11/28/2007 10:49:01 AM

Jeff, Thanks for the writeup and thanks for sharing your bike with the kids in South America. Tell me more about your Revive. Which one did you get? Hae you made any modifications? I'm looking at one now. A local bike bike shop that sales them told me that they are being discontinued in the USA. That don't bother me. Just makes me want to get one soon. Please email me. Thanks, Tony


jeff_35
6/26/2007 3:31:49 PM

It's been years since I have thought about that design. We donated the bike to an organization that fixes and ships used bikes to impoverished children in South America. I can just see the faces of the locals as some kids rides by on that one! I have since compromised (and have gotten older). I now ride a semi-recumbent- a Giant Revive, which is the the most comfortable bike I have ever rode- including mine! It cost a little more than the $18 bike I built- but it is shinier and still turns heads. It seems that homebuilt bikes have taken off there are really neat designs out there. I hope I contributed something towards the movement to Do-It-Yourself.


manny_2
4/10/2007 2:00:12 PM

The $18 Recumbent Bicycle By Jeff Setaro Way to go Jeff ! Very nice, innovative and inexpensive ! Thanx for sharing this wonderful idea . How is the bike now ? Is it still roadworthy ? thanks






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