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Build a long-wheelbase low racer recumbent bicycle

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This instructable details how to construct a fast, inexpensive recumbent bike from one 1980's-era road bike plus some bits off a scrap bike. You should be able to build this for around $100 less paint. I plan to document how to build the kid's version shown in the video in the future.

***UPDATE July 23, 2008 - The kid's version is now available!

I tend to get numbness in my upper back and arms when riding a standard bike. I've found that I can ride all day on a recumbent without pain or numbness. Unfortunately, I don't have large amounts of cash to buy one, so after scrounging the net looking at other home-built bikes, I designed my own. I'm quite happy with the results and have built several other bikes as well. Now if I can just get off long enough to paint it ...



A few things to note before we get started:

  • I made this design with the intention of only needing one donor bike. While it is possible, I found that it is easier with one 1980's era 10-12 speed and any old piece of junk to donate its front steering components and fork. I bought my donor bike at the local Goodwill thrift store for $6 and found the crap bike rotting away in the Cuyahoga River in a national recreation area.
  • I assume that you will clean up bike parts as you take them off the donor bike (bearings, chrome, etc.). Do it now, you'll be too busy cruising around to do it later.
  • I assume that you will grind and file down all your welds as soon as you make them so they look pretty. Do it right after you finish the weld, you won't do it after everything is complete (you may not be able to get at them at that point, either).
  • I assume that you know how to assemble/disassemble a bike and know the names for the different tubes and hardware on a bike frame. Hopefully I have remembered them all correctly. Wikipedia has a quick reference.
  • This project will probably take a week of on and off work. After you are done welding for the day, hit the bare metal with some spray can primer. This will keep things from getting rusty, especially if something comes up and you have to set it aside for a while.
  • Wire wheel any zinc off electrical conduit before welding. Don't get metal sickness.
  • I was too busy building to take photos during construction (and didn't want to junk up my nice camera with workshop filth). I believe the photos will be clear enough to get you going.
  • I can't give you exact dimensions for cutting. Bikes and bodies vary, so I tried to give you instructions on how to measure for your situation.
  • This is my first instructable, so be nice :) ... I used to do a lot of technical documentation, so I hope things are clear and understandable - kind suggestions and corrections will be appreciated. Good luck and please post pics!
 
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robmock3 years ago

http://www.flickr.com/photos/robmock/5989318294/in/photostream/lightbox/


My bike originally had a small wheel in the front at a way too raked-out angle.  When I saw this instructable, I very quickly stuck the front half of an old 10 speed street bike onto it at a better angle.  VERY HAPPY with the ride now! 

My only suggestion:  The old version used a 3/8" solid round remote steering bar.... I switched to a half-inch hollow square tube which does not flex under compression when turning right (like the 3/8" stuff did).

With my old upright bike I used to have groin soreness and wobblyness in my legs after long rides, but with this bike I can go WAY farther at similar or faster speeds with no issues.  When other guys get off their bikes, they're waddling around like ducks and they're all hunched over... that used to be me!

Other Changes:
(1) Used only one bigger pulley (from McMaster Carr) under the seat
(2) Ran a tube directly to the rear handlebar tube instead of going down to the main square tube (the black tube in the picture)
(3) Cut off the large chain ring after a year because I never used it

Things I'll Change Next Time:
(1) A little steeper backrest next time... too hard to do head checks behind me with the current seat angle (I'm sure it'll still be comfortable and fast with backrest 10 degrees steeper)
(2) Front head tube will not be "long style".  I do not notice the tall front head tub in my field of vision, but all in all, I'd rather have it shorter.
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lol it's hard to build man recumbents are expensive.
yes they are expensive, that is why people usually make their own. and they can save quite a bit of money just building it, and they also have a custom bike.
derfpa3 years ago
Started to build one if these today with this instructable as an huge inspiration! By far the best model I've seen. :D I probably will make it with only one bike and the saddle post as the second steering holder... We'll see how it works out! Thanks for a great instructable!
nowj3 years ago
Looked at a lot of homebuilts. Appear many FINE features here. Looks like the result is competitive w/ high factory jobs. You have smiled on us all and allow many frugal "want to be a lay down cycler" access. I wonder what next might come through your forge. Waayyy inspired. Thanks. Thanks.
Charlie 724 years ago
Not sure if your still following these comments but I was considering trying to build a bike by using ideas from both your instructables and I was just wondering what the view is like from the riders position, does the steering not obstruct your view. Great instructables Charlie
japanbiker4 years ago
Muy buenas sus dos bicicletas, construyo la mia, espero pronto compartir el resultado de mi trabajo. Saludos!!!.
banks4124 years ago
This is one of the baddest recumbents I've ever seen!!! So COOL! I'm always looking for unique stuff like this, and I'd LOVE to try and make one. Unfortunately I don't own a welding rig and have no clue how to weld. If you're ever interested in selling/reproducing these, please let me know - I'd really like to have one...

Awesome bike - incredible. Just incredible...
-Tim
This bike looks like something i can build! I was going to buy one of these but after seeing your directions i'm going to save my money for a flux wielder!!!!
I really love this bike!!  From your instructable, this build sounds like something I can do!  
Judging by the distance between the front down tube and the front main tube, it looks like one of your donor bikes was a woman's bike. is that true?

Also, you mention having to cut material out of the center to keep your heals from dragging and your toes from hitting the front tire. Is there a way I can assure that my measurements are correct to avoid changing it after its done?

All I need now is a welding machine!!!

Happy Trails!

JerryMopar6 years ago
Im making one like yours right now, although im not following yours to a "t". Im using 1-1/2" tubing for the main frame rail, and using a Schwinn dual purpouse moutain bike. I will see if I can get the chain guidance system to be a little more refined that yours.
homba (author)  JerryMopar6 years ago
Excellent ... post photos of your progress. This summer's project is a tandem recumbent. It's still in design phase, though :) Good Luck!
Have you ever tried doing any top-speed runs with yours?? This was the main reason why I wanted to build one, for fast trips across town. its much lower than most recumbent designs, essentially meaning more aerodynamic. will post pics soon.. its not much right now, have to get a few more donor bikes to take parts off of...
homba (author)  JerryMopar6 years ago
On a flat-out run on I can get up to 36 mph (no hills). I run out of gears at that point, but I know I could get more out of it if I had a bigger chain ring. Down hill I get freaked out at around 45 and slow down. I don't have brakes that could safely stop me at those speeds. Normal riding, I tend to cruise around 18-20 which is a nice pace. I don't like to take it on the road where I am located as my head is at waist level. Cars just don't see me.
zmarlow homba5 years ago
Throw a flag on the back there. Its how I keep cars from running over my back carriage.
homba (author)  zmarlow5 years ago
Tried that - along with many bright blinkenlights ... almost got smeared - twice! In a 3 mile trip! I don't live in a bike/pedestrian/anything-other-than-a-giant-SUV friendly part of the world. It makes me crazy - I prefer to bike than drive.
chadeau homba4 years ago
Must be time to mount a rocket-launcher tube...lately we in Austin on human-pwered wheels have had legislation batted around to "combat" SUV attacks !
SirJoey5 years ago
(removed by author or community request)
homba (author)  SirJoey5 years ago
Hey thanks! I do mostly 26" stuff b/c that's what I can get a hold of around these parts (mostly 80's vintage 10-speeds). I checked out your site and I like your stuff - you're quite prolific! Where do you store it all? That's my biggest problem - no room for parts and finished bikes. I drilled through on my idlers - my drill press can get me a nice straight hole and I think it's stronger and easier to repair if needed.
sayoian995 years ago
the good thing is,(from my comments on the kid's recumbent) I HAVE an old 10 speed bike like that one there....would it work with a 26" women's bike for a FWD recumbent bike?(but the tires are crap...i don't have a large wallet,either...)where can I get a cheap replacement thin tire?
raepedrosa5 years ago
Man! That is gnarly! Really interesting build there. Hope you don't mind if I try it out on my BMX.
homba (author)  raepedrosa5 years ago
Do it and post pics! I'd like to see how it turns out - good luck!
Toulouse6 years ago
i have that exact same bike lock! awesome ride, i want to eventually build one
Amberwolf6 years ago
As I'm in the process of designing a recumbent to be built entirely from scrap bikes (partly for the express purpose of using *only* recycled parts to make it a challenge), this is an interesting article. I might use some of the ideas you have here in mine, but mostly the helpful hints on measuring and adjusting will be most useful to me. :)

If you're interested, the Electricle™ blog at http://electricle.blogspot.com has the posts about the project as I go along; I'll probably write it up (along with my motorization projects already done) as Instructables once I have a working process to build a bike that can be duplicated (since it's from scrap bikes, each one will by nature be different, but hopefully the process itself will still work!).

Thanks for posting your instructable!
mooseyjoe6 years ago
I am super pumped about attempting something like this. I just have a few questions first. How well have the skateboard wheels been holding up? Does the chain ever slip? How well do you think this would work using a full suspension donor bike? Were there any problems getting the gears to work? Does the rear wheel have to support much more weight than the back? Thanks for the awesome guide. I look forward to my new recumbent.
homba (author)  mooseyjoe6 years ago
Skate wheels are fine - this is the second riding season and I do 30-60 miles every other week or so. Because the chain angle on them is so shallow, they don't see a lot of pressure on them. Chain slipping hasn't been a problem once I got everything adjusted and run a few miles. You have to make sure the chain is on the skate wheels after pulling it off your bike rack or if you're moving/bouncing it around a lot. I think you'd have to be able to adjust and fiddle with the suspension b/c the weight distribution would probably be different than the donor, but It'd probably work pretty good. Gears worked surprisingly well. You need to make sure the skate wheels are lined up right and make sure you have a nice long chain tube for the return. The one I have on it now is a little short and the chain will start slapping around when I go over bumpy areas. I have a replacement that is a foot or so longer that I'll install if I ever get to painting it. The overall weight of the bike only increased maybe 10-15 lbs or so. The weight distribution is pretty even for both wheels. Good luck on your build! Post pics!!!
lol this looks awesome.
steelmole6 years ago
Wow, I really like your design. I'm going to try and make one of these this summer. I'll probably start off with an old ladies bike because they're easy to come by for peanuts.
JerryMopar6 years ago
Im near done with my frame. I cut aprt my bad-condition 3 speed schwinn racer. Im useing the front of it for the front of the recumbent, and the 3-speed sturmey-archer is going in the back.
WoodWinds6 years ago
What an elaborate cycle. Quite a handsome design, homba. Did I read correctly that you used a flux-core wire-feed welder and it cost nearly $500 at Home Depot? Could you not have bought a nice one of those for about $150 that would have done the job, or is your machine actually a MIG welder, which of course uses your choice of either a shielding gas to protect the weld puddle from oxygen and/or flux (in the core of the wire) to produce vapor to evacuate oxygen? I was under the impression that MIG machines ran for about $300-1000+ whereas flux-core wire feed welders (not made for argon) ran about $75-200 In any event, this is probably the most aesthetically pleasing recumbent bike I have seen so far on instructables.com +1
homba (author)  WoodWinds6 years ago
Thanks for the compliment :) The welder I picked up is a lincoln electric weld pak 100hd. It retails for around $350. It can do mig if you pick up a couple of accessories. Supposedly it can do aluminum and I think copper. Now, once you pick up gloves, a 10 lb. spool of wire, tip dip, a good mask, etc. etc. the cost starts adding up. I tried to keep a balance between easy to use, expandability as my skills increase, and not super expensive. I tried to write this on the high side regarding costs as I hate to see a "super cheap widget" instructable and then, after reading, realize that 90% of the materials/tools were either gifts or borrowed or just items that I don't have access to.
Grr! use Miller welders!
Geordiepom6 years ago
Thanks very much for this Homba. I can't believe I overlooked it! I had been concerned that something like this would be a bit "twitchy" to ride but you and your son look great riding round in the video clip. I hope to have mine built before the end of this (Australian) winter as this is the best time to ride. Cool sunny and dry.
pyrocop16 years ago
Are you still going to put up the small bike plans anytime soon?
homba (author)  pyrocop16 years ago
I have it halfway done, but we've had to move, change jobs, had a death in the family ... basically life has precluded any fun stuff lately. Since there is interest, I'll try to bubble it up on the priority list. I'll try to remember to mail you when I finish it.
gamer6 years ago
really ugly but so cool. good job! -gamer
xsmurf gamer6 years ago
It only really needs a paint job and new tires... The wood is absolutely beautiful! How much do these weight?
homba (author)  xsmurf6 years ago
I totally agree with the paint job - I wanted to work out he bugs before paint, but the weather turned cold early and hasn't let up. It needs some filing at a few welds and a little filler and a good sanding. I'm hoping to hit it in the spring before the trails dry up enough to ride - they are all crushed limestone and get soggy. The tires are new, but the limestone trails coats everything with white dust and gunk. Regarding weight - I haven't weighed them, but the cherry is fairly light. They are certainly heavier than plastic, but probably barely heavier than steel fenders. They are so cheap and easy to build and customize, though. I've started putting them on all my frequent rides. I always get lots of compliments.
very cool!
ll.136 years ago
Wayy cool!!
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