Mark Waters of Backcountry Recumbent Cycles
I will include a bio on my cycling/touring/recumbent/trike background below, as well as an article about a tour Paul and I did recently that addresses some of the differences between touring by recumbent trike versus recumbent bike that busts the myth that a bike is faster for touring than a trike.
How I Came To Find Cycling Stability in an Unstable World
My name is Mark Waters, and in 1965, I became enraptured by the idea of reaching faraway places under my own power. Envisioning the possibility to actually cover great distance with my own legs seemed wondrous to me and after buying a 1960 Raleigh Gran Sport from my cousin, I set out on a life of cycling that took me on a circuitous route to my present day passion for the recumbent trike.
In 1977, after working for the company that eventually became Pearl Izumi and doing some road racing, I returned to my original vision of cycling as a means to reach faraway places – I did this by setting off on a long tour with my former spouse. We rode from Victoria BC, down the Pacific Coast to Astoria Oregon, where we picked up the TransAm route (then called the Bike Centennial ) and rode it to Jackson Hole WY. I learned several things along the way on my initial tour: 1) Touring is not racing, 2) Slow down and enjoy the journey, and 3) I love riding on rural dirt roads. Since I began that first trip on the same bike I used to race on, I became intrigued with exploring a better way to travel under my own power.
After several years of longer and shorter tours by upright touring bike, I was introduced to the idea of touring by recumbent on a large group ride I did in 1994 in Colorado. I ended up riding with a young guy who was on a recumbent bike and was amazed at how fast he could ride on it, and in complete comfort, no less! So it wasn’t long before I was calling Dick Ryan at Ryan Cycles to build me one of his beautiful touring bikes.
It was on my fully loaded Ryan Vanguard (a long wheel base touring bike – LWB), climbing a very steep hill in the Adirondack mountains in New York, that I had a three wheeled epiphany. I was struggling to climb a 13% grade with 40 pounds of gear on the back at 3 mph and while trying to maintain my balance at that snail’s pace – the idea sprung into my head that maybe one of those recumbent trikes might be a better solution! Evidently, that idea got pushed to the back of my mind on the fast downhill following the climb, because it took me until 2006 to actually try a recumbent tricycle.
After all of 30 seconds riding one around the parking lot at Rocky Mountain Recumbent Cycles in Fort Collins in Colorado, I was sold. Why didn’t I try one of these sooner?! The assumptions I had about trikes being too slow, too low to be seen, and too heavy, were quickly dispelled, and I bought my first trike – a Catrike Road, followed quickly by a more suitable touring trike, the ICE Trice T. That same year I set off on my first fairly long trike tour up the east coast to Washington DC, then following the C&O Towpath to the GAP rail trail into Pittsburgh. The last 370 mile portion was pretty much all dirt.
At the time I was living in Florida but was longing for a less humid, more mountain lifestyle so my wife and I picked up and moved to Bend Oregon, where we live today. A little over two years ago, I had the idea that based on a lifetime of working off-and-on in bike shops and the cycling industry, plus fairly extensive experience with touring and recumbents, that we could open a recumbent-specific bike/trike shop here in Bend. With only one other recumbent shop in the entire state of Oregon, we figured there’s got to be room for at least one more. The idea was born – we were on our way!
The response to a touring oriented recumbent shop has been very positive, and business has been successful from our first year but has grown exponentially since we started. Having worked in retail bike shops and mountaineering shops for a good portion of my life, I always said I would never open a shop because you end up only talking about the things you love to do rather than finding the time to do them. This is why we decided from the get-go that the shop would only be open four days a week so I can maintain my fitness and passion for the things I sell. Having personal experience with the various bikes and trikes means I have a broader perspective on the equipment, and am able to make better recommendations to my customers on the best choices for their triking needs. I feel like this approach is in keeping with the path of the trike: it’s all about fun and comfort, fresh air and moving under our own power, finding our own stability in a sometimes unstable world. Trike on!
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Sub 36 Hour Overnighter – the S36O
(anyone can do it)
My buddy Paul and I left the shop a week or so ago on an S36O tour. If you are familiar with the term S24O, it refers to a sub 24 hour overnighter. I have extended that to be a sub 36 hour overnighter. This concept is related to getting out for short quick bike tours that are simple and local. A lot of folks think of cycle touring in terms of riding from one ocean to the other. The concept of shorter tours brings this wonderful pastime within the scope of more riders and fits the schedule and lifestyle of far more of the cycling community. This is within reach of nearly all trike pilots.
We ended up leaving a bit late (about 1:30 in the afternoon) as Paul’s decision to go was last minute, so we rode over to his house and he tossed his cargo into his small Radical design cyclone trailer (quick packing is always a trailer perk!) and we were on the road. He pulled his trailer with his ICE Sprint RSX tricycle with hardshell seat, and I rode my Azub 5 bicycle (almost identical to the new Azub Six) with Ortlieb panniers. Our route was a loop from our shop in Bend, east to Prineville Reservoir, down the Crooked River canyon to Prineville, then west to Redmond and back home to Bend. Total distance, just over 100 miles and a couple thousand or so feet of climbing.
We kept a fairly brisk pace leaving town, and stopped at Alfalfa Market to grab a couple beers to have with dinner and continued up some substantial climbs to where we topped out before the screaming descent to the reservoir.
I always am interested in how one style of bike or trike performs in relation to another type of machine so it was interesting to see how the bike with panniers rode in relation to Paul’s trike. Some folks, myself included, consider that a trike will be slower than a bike in most cases. In this case, a somewhat high performance trike pulling a trailer was pretty much equal in performance to a full suspension, fairly heavily built touring bike with panniers. Paul, weighing in at around 30 lbs less than myself, usually has the edge on climbs; I usually have the edge on the downhills. We are pretty evenly matched on the flats.
We rode a fairly brisk touring pace out to the reservoir and for an end of the day reward, dropped into a screaming 45 mph downhill to the dam. Fast and twisty, we dropped like rocks toward the canyon. What was surprising, was that in a no-pedal roll out test between the trike and bike (does not involve rider fitness or ability), we were perfectly evenly matched! Around a couple of the hairpins though, I backed off from Paul because he was taking them so fast, his trailer was sliding sideways like a rally car through the turns. If he lost it and wadded it up into a ball, I didn’t want to be a part of that!
We stopped at the dam to admire the view and continued down into the canyon in the evening light. Reaching the perfect campsite at a BLM campground a few miles down canyon, we set up camp alongside the river, cooked dinner, and enjoyed a campfire and a shared flask of single-malt scotch before turning in. It was a delicious 42 mile ride that day.
After a wonderful night’s sleep next to the sonorous lullaby of the nearby river, we woke up just before the sun hit our tents. The air temperature climbed above freezing as we packed up and headed down to Prineville for a mid morning brunch at a great local café. Heading toward Redmond on the same route the Adventure Cycling Association (ACA) TransAm route follows, we took the back way through Redmond and headed south along one of the Oregon Scenic Bikeway routes into Bend. We ended the trip at just over 60 miles for the day.
We averaged 13.5 miles per hour over the entire course of the tour, a comfortable pace that is a bit faster than my overall average I used to ride when I toured on a diamond framed (DF) bike but in a whole other universe where comfort is concerned. The Azub is set up with a MEKS/SASO carbon fork and a rear shock which smoothed rough spots and cattle guards on the road more than Paul’s rear suspended ICE trike did, but the Azub, to be fair, has much more suspension travel. Even with the hardshell seat, Paul has no complaints about his trike. It’s an almost perfect balance between performance and comfort. And the small Radical Design trailer is a beautiful compliment, performing wonderfully, even when drifting sideways around hairpin curves!
At the conclusion of this short tour, I would have to say that after touring for almost 40 years of my life on nearly every conceivable type of touring machine, the Azub 5/6 is pretty much the best touring bike I’ve ever ridden fully loaded. Sure beats the common diamond framed touring bicycle.
As to which is better to tour, trike or bike, I don’t think for the most part there’s a substantial difference in performance between the two. What it comes down to really is what you prefer to ride. Which makes you happiest rolling down the road? If I’m doing a tour that includes substantial sections of dirt, my preference would be towards the bike, but other than that, it’s a pretty even toss up in relation to performance and efficiency.
One of the biggest perks to touring by recumbent trike is the ability to be more observational towards what you’re out there to see anyway. I think of touring by bike like being the driver of a car rather than a passenger. You can’t look around as much if you are driving because if you’re not focusing on the road, you’ll go off the road. Whereas riding a trike allows for more observational awareness of the scenery – that, and there is a distinct joy in riding with no energy expended towards balance!
I’m going to try and do more of these short S24O and S36O two to three day tours this summer. Just as most backpackers don’t think they have to set out on the Appalachian Trail to do a backpacking trip, they regularly plan overnight trips out on weekends. There’s no reason to not consider doing the same on a recumbent tricycle, or even a recumbent bicycle.
If you are interested in giving this a try, give me a call, and perhaps we can arrange for you to join in on one of our 2-4 day regional tours! Or, we can even arrange a custom ride to suit your needs and group, on recumbent tricycles or bicycles.
Backcountry Recumbent Cycles
550 SW Industrial Way #104
Bend, OR 97702
See more photos of Mark’s BRC headquarters HERE.