My BikeE Recumbent Bike

(A photo of my BikeE recumbent bike on the West Cliff multi-use path in Santa Cruz, California)
Sadly, BikeE, formerly the world's largest recumbent bike manufacturer, went out of business in August 2002. I continue to ride and this page continues to be about the BikeE, and as BikeE was the closest thing there's ever been to a mass-market recumbent, you'll still see a fair number of BikeEs around in general. Even though, again, BikeE has been out of business for ten years, used BikeEs are still easy to find, and people continue to seek them out due to their comfort, ease of use, style, and low price. However, if you're looking for a bike similar to the BikeE in terms of being a basic, low-cost, easy-to-ride recumbent, but from a manufacturer that's still in business and able to support it, I recommend that you check out the Easy Racers/Sun Bicycles EZ-1 or the Cycle Genius Sparrow.

In September of 1998 I bought a used purple BikeE recumbent bike through the classifieds, and have been having a lot of fun with it ever since. This is the basic "CT" ("Comfort Technology" :-)) model BikeE -- basically what used to be the "mass market" recumbent in terms of price (they usually ran around $500-600 new) and popularity (I believe there are more BikeEs out there than all other manufacturers' recumbents put together).

I'll describe the changes I've made since getting it, some of which are more visible in the above picture than others:

I got a black BikeE bag that sits behind the seat -- it's a really nice big "trunk" for hauling groceries, library books, food for potlucks, etc., and looks good too. Someday it may be as covered with buttons, pins, etc. as my backpack, but for now it's plain except for two of those little flashing-red-LEDs taillights. It used to have a guitar pin, but my habit of strapping grocery bags on top of it with bungee cords in addition to filling it up with groceries seems to have scraped the pin off at one point.

I put a lot of purple-glitter beads on the spokes, and I've also tried various colors of Tireflys and other flashing lights on the tire valves, but they never seem to work very well or last very long.

I named my bike Groucho, because the black-cased dual VistaLite headlights I had mounted under the short black handlebar "eyebrows" (as opposed to a handlebar mustache :-)) gave it a kind of greasepaint-and-glasses Groucho Marx look from the front. These were beautiful, bright lights, but between the short running time on a battery charge, and the fact that leaving the battery on the charger for too long would kill the battery, three batteries later I switched to a pair of Cateye CE-EL500 LED headlights. They're OK, but definitely don't illuminate the road ahead as well as the Vistalites did. However, their EL530 model headlights I got for my older son's bike are 50% brighter, and even brighter models have come out since then.

I also attached a flagpole with a purple-and-silver holographic-mylar-streamers windsock, and a string of three silver/multicolored holographic spinning pinwheels. They really sparkle and flash in the sunlight, and also put on something of a show in the headlights of a car. For some reason it seems right to me to think of this assembly as more of a "tail" than a flag. (In response to a reader question about my flagpole, it's this two-piece one from Hostel Shoppe, and I had gotten the holographic-mylar attachments at an unfortunately-defunct local gift shop of the sort that sold crystals and other sparkly things.)

As I rode up to my house one night, one of my neighbors started excitedly calling out "You have fairy powers, you have fairy powers!" She said that my bike's tail/flag had really been sparkling in the light of the full moon, and that as she had watched the approach of the dual headlights with floaty sparkly stuff above them she had been wondering what this entity coming toward her could possibly be.

And now I've done that one further -- I wrapped a piece of purple electroluminescent wire in a spiral around my flagpole, and set it to blink when turned on. It looks like some kind of insane twisted flashing lightsaber -- totally great! As I was leaving a music event last night someone called out, "I love that, it looks like a unicorn!" (p.s. You can get lots of colors of flashing EL wire with battery packs really cheap on Amazon these days -- often under $5 and most of the rest under $10.)

My latest addition is that I've put a Techass Rave'n2 party light between the headlights -- while I'm riding around at night the strobing multicolored LEDs fit in nicely with people's holiday lights plus make flashing reflections all over the place. And of course it's amusing to have something called "Techass" on my bike. (November 2011 update -- and this last Halloween my "GROWN THIS WAY" pumpkin borrowed it for the night for more of a disco look as opposed to the usual flickering candle.)

I also just ordered a purple "Down Low Glow" system for my bike, and am looking forward to being even more lit up.

I should also put in a good word for my insulated Polar Bottle that I take absolutely everywhere, whether I'm out on my bike or just walking around with it in my backpack. Fill it with ice cubes and water and it stays icy for hours and hours -- why would anyone ever buy bottled water?

Anyway, if you were me you would think it was the most fun, beautiful bike in the world, but if you were someone who didn't like recumbents you might think it looked like a piece of a two-by-four with wheels*. Most of the frequent comments I get are quite positive, such as "cool bike!", but I've also heard a "what in the world!?!?!" and an "I think those bikes are creepy ... are they comfortable?" :-)

The name "BikeE" is supposed to be short for "Bike Evolution", but after Lee Iaccoca brought out his now-defunct electric "E-Bike" as you can imagine people began to confuse the two -- many times people have come up to me and asked if my bike is electric, or started brief conversations like this:

"Does that bike have a motor?"

"You're looking at the motor!"

(Incidentally, many people have added motors to their BikeEs -- see the BikeE modifications section below for some links.)

(And for even more name confusion, there is now a children's balance bike called the Bikee. This would have made it much easier for my children to learn to ride a bike when they were little, because it gets the big step of learning to balance out of the way instead of them having to learn balancing and pedaling at the same time. For anyone interested in such things, you can get $20 off by using the promo code BIKEE20.

There have been several different BikeE models over the years -- again, mine is the basic low-end CT, but BikeE also put out higher-priced models with features such as rear or dual suspension, longer frames for especially tall riders, higher-end components, and even a tandem. Check out this archived version of the BikeE web site for more information on the different models. It's also worth pointing out that there were some changes made to the CT in the years after I got mine, the most immediately noticeable being that later CTs have a different, higher-backed seat.

Although the BikeE is generally regarded as one of the easiest recumbents for riders new to recumbents to be able to just jump on and ride around with no trouble, in my experience there are two things about it that did require a little getting used to:

The first is that the combination of long steering tube and tiny handlebars makes for very sensitive steering -- the first day I got my BikeE I would want to turn a little to go around a parked car and wind up swinging way out into the street. But when I went out to ride it on the following day I found I had somehow internalized all that and was now able to steer with no trouble. Basically, the secret to good steering on a BikeE is to relax your hands, arms, and shoulders instead of holding the handlebars in a tight death grip.

The second relates to stopping and starting at traffic lights and the like. With a non-recumbent you can stand on the pedals to use your weight to provide the initial push to get you going again from a stopped position, but with the BikeE I had to get used to using the foot I'd put on the ground for balance (when stopped) to give a big backwards shove against the ground at the same time I would start pedaling with the other foot.
This is a Flickr badge showing items in a set called BikeE/West Cliff photo-shoot. Make your own badge here.
My favorite place to ride here in Santa Cruz is the West Cliff Drive "multi-use" path that reaches all the way from Natural Bridges state park to the Boardwalk amusement park. It's an unbelievably beautiful ride (I took the picture at the top of this page along West Cliff -- click the thumbnail images to the right if you'd like to see some additional BikeE/West Cliff pictures from the same afternoon) with a lot of friendly cyclists, skaters, pedestrians and no cars, and a recumbent bike gives you a great view of the scenery, because you're sitting upright instead of hunched way over. I sometimes use this route to go downtown, and then on Saturday or Sunday I'll usually ride it along the ocean for a ways while out riding around looking for garage sales.

Here's a link to a message about my BikeE experience at Santa Cruz Pride 1999 that I posted to the alt.rec.bicycles.recumbent newsgroup.

*(Ted Ledbetter put some wood-grain contact paper on one of his BikeEs to maximize this effect -- see his HumanPoweredVehicles page for a picture.)

Some BikeE and recumbent bike resources

Places to buy BikeE bikes, parts, and accessories

BikeE modifications

Traveling on or with your BikeE

BikeE history and reviews

BikeE personal pages

Some Santa Cruz links

Even though Santa Cruz is a great bike town, with much bike awareness and activism in addition to the wonderful scenery and weather to ride around in, I'm often surprised at how many people don't use bikes for their short trips around town. So many times I have gone to a party, meeting, concert, etc. and found it strange that everyone else arrived by car even though many of them only lived a very short distance away. Anyway, if you happen to live in Santa Cruz like me, and would like to find out more about getting around town on a bike, here are a ton of local links for you:

I have one more comment to make on cycling in Santa Cruz: especially in a small city like Santa Cruz, bike laws, lanes, parking, paths, etc. are not things we just have to live with so much as things that are constantly being changed and decided by small groups of people at City Council meetings and the like. IMHO subscribing to the Santa-cruz-bikes mailing list is one of the best steps you can take toward making sure your own concerns and issues are represented and taken into account when ideas are proposed or decisions made, because the discussions on the list will alert you to everything going on in town that affects cyclists.

Other bikes?

At one point I got email from an eBay seller asking if I wanted to buy a second BikeE. I love my BikeE, but if I was getting another bike it would be one that did something the BikeE didn't do, rather than just to duplicate what I already have.

  • I actually did wind up getting a Rowbike rowing-powered recumbent bicycle to play around with, but never really felt comfortable on it (though I know a bunch of other people love them), so I sold it.
  • I wouldn't mind having a folding bike to take on the bus or train -- right now Santa Cruz even has a program offering up to $200 discounts on folding bikes.
  • I wouldn't mind having a Lightfoot Recumbent Pedicab -- talk about rides and hauling! -- though unfortunately they seem to have stopped making them, not that I had $5000 to spend on one anyway. :-(
  • I wouldn't mind having one of those cheap, pretty, candy-colored beach cruisers -- then at least one of my bikes would be able to fit on a city bus bike rack!
  • I wouldn't mind having an Easy Racers/Sun EZ-3 SX -- about the closest thing out there to a three-wheeled BikeE -- for yet more riding and hauling.
  • For that matter, actually my other vehicle does have three wheels, even though it's not a trike. :-)

BTW, here's a picture of me on my first bike.

A last word

Here's a quote I found in the Terry Precision Cycling (some cool women's biking stuff, but not a recumbent to be seen, alas) catalog:

In the late 1800's, an anti-feminist writer warned of the hazards of cycling, "chief of all the dangers attending this new development of feminine freedom is the intoxication which comes with unfettered liberty."

When I first saw that quote my reaction was along the lines of "What a crank! That's so funny! I should put that on my page somewhere, along with a statement urging us all to enjoy our unfettered liberty!"

So I did. However, what I didn't know was how much the women of the time actually did owe what "feminine freedom" they had to bicycles -- so much so that Susan B. Anthony said "The bicycle has done more for the emancipation of women than anything else in the world." The technological advancements and popularity of the bicycle in the late 1800's both revolutionized women's fashions (dropping corsets and bustles in favor of more practical clothing allowing for more freedom of movement) and made it possible for women to travel longer distances without chaperones. More later, but I think we cyclists can definitely feel very proud of our chosen method of transportation.

Check out BUST Magazine's Oct/Nov 2012 article First the Bicycle, Next the Vote: The Story of Bicycles and Feminism.

And for a fun visual take on this, check out Portland's Sellwood Cycle Repair's huge and wonderful gallery of vintage bike ads, many featuring women either just out enjoying a ride or as goddesses flying around with their bikes. I'm especially partial to this one, but wonder how she keeps the sword out of the way while riding.

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Last updated March 8, 2016
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