archival and resource material for human powered recumbent tricycles

Original 1983 recumbent trike on Mother Earth News

Mother Earth News Header

A Cut-Rate DIY Recumbent Bike

Our mechanically innovative researchers have done it again; this time they’ve come up with a DIY recumbent bike for cycling enthusiasts who can’t afford a manufactured unit.

By the MOTHER EARTH NEWS editors
May/June 1983

Although the common bicycle is an efficient form of transportation, it’s not above improvement. In fact, over the course of its history, enthusiasts have often altered the typical two-wheeler to suit their varied needs. The results have run the gamut from rider-supine speedsters to environmentally sound service carts.

Of these, the reclining-seat or “recumbent” bike, as they’re referred to in cycling circles, is considered the most exciting of the lot; because the design allows riders to rest in a seated position (thus supporting the lumbar and pelvic regions), they have something to push against and can develop more pedal pressure than is possible sitting on a conventional saddle relying on body weight alone. In addition, the low seating position lessens wind resistance (increasing the vehicle’s top speed) and furnishes a comfortable platform upon which cyclists can relax and breathe fully, without the restriction that results from being bent at the torso.

Mother Earth New Recumbent Trike 02

Understandably enough, the cost of such specialty vehicles is high ($1,000 and up), simply because they’re individually built and usually contain light, strong (and expensive) materials. Nonetheless, the concept is such a good one MOTHER EARTH NEWS’ research staff decided to design an affordable DIY recumbent bike that could be put together using a combination of standard bicycle parts and commonly available electrical metallic tubing (E.M.T.).

We’re certainly not claiming that our chariot can compare with the exotic chromemoly-and-aluminum units now on the market. But we do feel that anyone who’s willing to spend a weekend’s worth of time, and perhaps $65 or so, will be rewarded with a sturdy little sport trike that’ll do anything most ordinary bicycles will do, and may even be a heck of a lot more fun, besides.

Consider, too, that we put a good deal of thought into the design of this pedal recliner, and it’s got some features worth keeping in mind. For example, the seat is not only light in weight (by virtue of its lawn-chair webbing), but also happens to be sprung front and rear to enhance rider comfort. Equally important, that sling is positioned in such a way that it distributes loads just about equally on all the trike’s wheels, and the track-to-wheelbase relationship enables the machine to maneuver tightly at speed yet still remain quite stable.

Mother Earth New Recumbent Trike 01

And that’s not all: We’ve also engineered steering geometry so that the front wheels self-center; utilized a three-speed hub to improve hill climbing and acceleration; and added a set of caliper brakes to stop the wheel. (The wheels, by the way, are made from discarded 20″ rims spoked with sections of E.M.T., and should be able to take greater side loads than ordinary spoked wheels would probably be capable of handling.)


Supplies needed to assemble unit:

Measuring tape
Dial protractor
Aviator’s snips
Light-duty welder (or oxyacetylene torch)
1/2″-conduit bender
1″-conduit bender
Power drill
5/32″, 1/4 “, and 5/16” drill bits
Screwdriver assortment
End- or box-wrench assortment
Pipe clamps
Scribe or marking pen
Pipe wrench
File or grinder



2 responses

  1. Jerry Forster

    Fun article, but in the end I’ll stick with my Mother’s advise, “you get what you pay for.”

    April 12, 2016 at 8:45 am

  2. I’d guess lots of today’s builders were inspired by this.

    April 14, 2016 at 10:23 am