I’ve never quite understood recumbent bikes. I mean, what is the point of laying back on a bike? So before I went for a ride on the 46 mile Withlacoochee Trail in Citrus County, Florida with Regis Hampton and Cindy Messer, of Hampton’s Edge Trailside Bikes, I asked, what does the recumbent have over conventional upright bikes?
Riding feet-forward, low to the ground on a big seat with back and headrest is not only more comfortable it provides a viewer-friendly way to take in the surroundings, Regis explained. On a paved path the bike is stable enough to take one’s hands off the handlebars and take photos. Try that on a conventional two wheeler.
The recumbent bike does require individual fitting to get that seat-to-pedal distance right. I thought it might take a while to get used to riding it but it didn’t. Making turns on the other hand, feels like the bike is going to tip over at first. With a minute or two of practice I was feeling confident and off we went, six travel writers including the lovely Barbara Beckley of Los Angeles.
The Withlacoochee, in Citrus County in Central Florida’s Gulf Coast is the longest paved trail in Florida. But that only partially explains its popularity. It’s a good workout because round trip is 100 miles of barely-interrupted ride. It’s beautiful, too. We passed through areas shaded by native trees and open areas with expansive views of old fashioned Florida homes.
In Floral Springs, a village center straight out of Mayberry RFD where Regis and Cindy have their shop and bike rental center there are a number of cutsie shops worth getting off the bike to explore. We did not do that. We were on a mission to try and bike as much as we could of the trail with just 2 hours.
For a while I rode with Cindy who sported a windscreen-like device on the front of her bike which she explained acted like a sail when the wind is just right. She pointed out the bluebird nests, small white boxes positioned every few hundred yards along the trail that are part of the Florida Bluebird Society’s rehabilitation program for cavity nesting birds.
Bluebirds can lay their eggs in the boxes, safely away from hungry predators. Cindy has a bluebird house in her back yard and to her delight, babies have emerged from the nest.
I go for the big splashy birds so I was thrilled when, shortly before we arrived back at the bike shop, I looked up to see a pileated woodpecker high up in a tree.
As I look back on the photos we took on the trail, I prefer to see the ones of the wild life to the wild travel riders taken by Ed Caum, of the Pasco County Tourism office. That’s because for all the pluses of riding on a recumbent, and Regis swears some of the most macho/macha riders compete on them, I think we looked pretty dorky splayed out that way.
But this reinforces my theory that for a great travel experience the best way to roll is to pack a sense of adventure and leave one’s personal vanity at home.