Introduction: Front-Wheel-Drive Center-Steer Semi-Recumbent Bicycle

Picture of Front-Wheel-Drive Center-Steer Semi-Recumbent Bicycle

With two donor bikes and some other junk, any tinkerer can build a front-wheel-drive, center-steer, semi-recumbent bicycle. (FWD/CS/SR bike for short.) No welding or brazing required! No special tools required! No power tools required (but they can help).

Inspiration for this project came from the following pages:

The $18 Recumbent Bicycle

Build your own recumbent bike, the camel bike


Why? Because I wanted a recumbent, but I'm too cheap to buy one, and I'm too lazy to build a traditional one. It may be ugly, but it's the most comfortable bike I've ridden!

Step 1: Principles and Tools of the Project

Picture of Principles and Tools of the Project

This project was originally undertaken with certain fundamental principles in mind:

1) Buy nothing new if available materials suffice.

2) No torches.

3) No special tools.

The good news is that by following these principles, I purchased nothing expressly for this project, and I saved my MAPP gas for more serious projects. On the other hand, aesthetics and perhaps safety are sub-optimal.

The tools I used:

- pliers
- wrenches
- screwdrivers
- power drill (not necessary, but it prevents tendonitis)
- files
- metal snips
- wood saw
- hacksaw

Obviously, by discarding my principles and using better tools, one can make a much better bike. I dare not suggest that anyone exactly follow my instructions; I offer this Instructable merely to give others some ideas.

Step 2: Choose Donor Bikes

Picture of Choose Donor Bikes

You will need 2 bicycles. One bicycle will provide the main frameset. (I call this the "frameset donor".) The other bike will provide the bottom bracket for the FWD. (I call this the "drive donor".)

The frameset donor should be female. Ideally, it should be large--at least designed for 26" wheels. I used an old road bike frameset that had been sitting around unused for about 15 years.

The drive donor should be no larger than the frameset donor. It may be smaller, at it is in this example. I used a kid's BMX-style bike.

Step 3: Prepare the Frameset Donor

Picture of Prepare the Frameset Donor

Several parts should be removed from the frameset donor:

- saddle
- rear wheel
- front wheel (this will become the rear wheel)
- bottom bracket, cranks, etc.
- front brakes (if the donors are of different sizes)
- stem (if it is too short)
- handle bars (unless they are BMX-style)

The fork must be spread to fit a drive wheel. Likewise, the rear dropouts must be pressed closer together to fit a narrower "front" wheel. The fork dropouts may need to be filed to fit the drive wheel's axle bolt.

Step 4: Prepare the Drive Donor

Picture of Prepare the Drive Donor

Cut the top tube and down tube from the drive donor, leaving only the rear triangle. You may also remove the seat stays as they seem to have more weight than purpose.

Be sure to file the sharp edges from the cut tubes.

Step 5: Install the Front-Wheel Drive

Picture of Install the Front-Wheel Drive

Mount the fork of the frameset onto the axle of the drive wheel. It may be easier to fit the fork dropouts between the rear dropouts.

Insert a seat post into the front seat tube. Attach the top of the seat post to the stem of the frameset. I used two strips of sheet metal. Depending on the stem you use, you may wish to turn the stem around to avoid interfering with the attachment to the seat post.

You may change the height of the pedals by adjusting the insertion of the seat post.

Step 6: Add Handlebars and Seat

Picture of Add Handlebars and Seat

The two most crucial remaining parts are the handlebars and the seat.

Although it is possible to steer such a bicycle without handlebars, handlebars are helpful. However, most styles of handlebars would interfere with pedaling. Therefore, you must use either BMX or ape hanger handlebars. The other possibility is to fashion a tall stem, but that may require special hardware, such as a long stem bolt.

The seat is very important for both comfort and stability. A bad seat is almost as bad as no seat. I made a seat from plywood, then upholstered it with packing foam and vinyl. The plywood has a nice springiness to it. You may need to experiment with various seat designs before finding one that works best.

Step 7: Complete the Bike

Picture of Complete the Bike

Add a mirror. You will almost certainly need it.

Adjust the seat, handlebars, brakes, kickstand, etc as needed. Note that this bike experiences forces rather different from those of a conventional bicycle. You may find that the handlebars and stem come loose more easily than you would normally expect. Also, imperfections in the front wheel are very easy to notice, because it is for both steering and driving.

Step 8: Ride the FWD/CS/SR Bicycle

Picture of Ride the FWD/CS/SR Bicycle

The hardest part is actually riding this contraption. It is very different from a standard bicycle.

- Your back participates in pedaling.

- Standing starts are difficult. (A low gear helps.)

- Pedaling affects steering. With practice you can learn to steer with your feet.

- If you have no shocks, you may wish to slightly underinflate the tires.

- If the seat is not completely stable, you will lose energy and control trying to keep the seat straight.

- Lastly, people will gawk at your bike, as they try to figure out how it works.



m a r i a n o (author)2011-08-03

I used your instructions to build my rowing bicycle:

Thank you for the idea!

sennomo (author)m a r i a n o2011-08-03

I'm glad that I could help. Two-wheel-drive is a great idea! ¡Gracias a Usted! ¡Bien hecho!

djr6789 (author)2008-12-19

nerly finished mine just need a seet and to mod the handlebars

sennomo (author)djr67892008-12-20

Nice start! Two freestyle bikes should be a good combination. If you keep the rear pegs for a passenger, maybe you can make a seat that has convenient handles.

djr6789 (author)sennomo2008-12-21

thanks for the idea ill give it a try

avocadostains (author)2015-07-30

Thats amazing. You're going to be my bike hero for a while.

Prodromal the professor (author)2014-05-17

Is it easy to ride? Or does the pedaling have heavy side forces?

It definitely takes some practice. The pedaling indeed does have heavy side forces. You have to pull on the opposing handlebar to compensate. A longer boom (i.e. from a larger-framed donor bike) should reduce this effect a little.

Have you seen this ???

samander (author)2014-02-23

Nice 'ible! I have 2 bikes and plan to cut up one of the frames for the drive. Do you know how one could build a mesh seat for this machine? I usually ride in the summer and vinyl can get hot and sweaty as you have conveniently reminded us. Thanks in advance for any info you may have. Again, an awesome bike. More people should ride recumbent bikes! :)

donkeyknee (author)2013-07-18

nice one

bobcat1947 (author)2012-01-31

Loved it !

SIRJAMES09 (author)2011-07-24

on the front where that partial tube is sticking up, can you put a light or reflector there?? a light might make it easier to be seen or maybe to see after dark.....

sennomo (author)SIRJAMES092011-08-03

Yes, that would be a good spot for a light. After I finished, I regretted cutting that tube as short as I had. If I try a do-over (with better sized parts for me) I'll definitely leave that tube longer for lights.

SIRJAMES09 (author)2011-07-24

for the seat, you could use 1/2" plywood for the base, cover it with CLOSED CELL foam & then cover that with open cell foam: about 1" to 3" of each.

The double layers of foam will remove the bounce, yet, still give you a soft ride for maybe 50 or 60 miles. Just a thought.

tonyscott (author)2011-07-05

it's a nice idea as a starting point, next I'd paint and make a better chair, congratulations mate.

nantachayo (author)2010-08-11

cheap but enjoy

Woodenbikes (author)2009-10-02

Very cool bike! I ought to build one too. Perhaps replacing the sheet metal U shaped piece with a thicker piece of flat stock with a 5/16" hole for the stem expander bolt to pass through. Twist it 90 degrees and have another hole for the Seat clamp binder bolt to pass through. (or more elegantly and stiffer is to find a longer replacement for the seat post and flatten the top of it and drill a hole through which to pass the stem expander bolt.)

sennomo (author)Woodenbikes2009-10-02

Thanks! Your latter suggestion (about replacing the seat post) sounds right on the money for the stem I'm using. Stiffness is sorely lacking as it is, making the wobbliness a bit worse. I'm even considering adding springs to the fork to "encourage" the wheel to center.

2 stroke (author)sennomo2010-08-01

ill weld a post diagonlay from the frame to the sem to stop the wobbly ness

sennomo (author)2 stroke 2010-08-01

It might be difficult to remove the wobbling without blocking the steering.

green_rider (author)2010-02-10

brilliant, sennomo...
will try and build a similar one... soon... :-) 
how stable and comfortable is the seat? how easy/difficult is navigation, especially in heavy traffic? I live in mumbai, india... and the traffic congestion here has to be seen to be believed! :-) what's your average speed on this recumbent?  
ride safe... have fun... :-)

sennomo (author)green_rider2010-02-11

The seat is very comfortable and stable.  It's perhaps the best part. 

I have avoided heavy traffic with this bike, because it is not tall, so people in trucks might not see me.  The steering works fine on an even surface.  Bumps are more awkward with this bike than a standard bike.

The speed of this bike is limited by the 20" wheel and single-speed gearing.  Still, I can cruise at 20kph.

I can't imagine riding in Mumbai.  Mexico City was too congested for me, and I doubt it's as busy as Mumbai.

2 stroke (author)sennomo2010-08-01

is Mumbai in mexico

sennomo (author)2 stroke 2010-08-01

Mumbai is in India.

2 stroke (author)sennomo2010-08-01

ill weld on some some foot pegs in case u get uncomfortable and want coast like a regular bike

macdadyabc (author)2008-08-02

i made a recumbent bike this way about two months ago. I took a walgreens shopping cart, made a chair out of it , and then put two 10" wheels were the back cart wheels were. Then i welded on a down tube and struts, and the front looked just like yours. It was really hard to make it go fast though.

sennomo (author)macdadyabc2008-08-02

Sounds interesting. So, it's a trike? Can you post some pics of it?

macdadyabc (author)sennomo2008-08-04

i dont have it anymore. My dad made me take it too the dump, but just imagine cart chair with down tube and handlebars

extremegtafan (author)macdadyabc2010-07-08

Wow! You had a similar idea as I did! I had a shopping cart lying around. also a junk bike frame. I rigged it up so that the back of the frame is tied in the storage space under the cart, and the regular seat is on the bike. I couldn't figure any way to get it to pedal, so after pushing it like a scooter (and coasting on hills) I remembered this article. I don't have a bike frame on hand that I want to cut up, though.

cheesemanlovesrobots (author)2010-06-27

love it mate ill probably do this and put 2 wheels on the back. so its a trike

Good idea. The added stability will be worth the extra work.

ctherien (author)2010-04-15

Im Making a three wheeler with a big spoke in the front so it pulls back and the handle bars look bigger all i have to do now is adjust the seat higher and put the gear system on.

sennomo (author)ctherien2010-04-15

Sound interesting.  I hope you post some pics when it's ready.

bob48220 (author)2009-12-30


BillBiker (author)2009-09-30

Ummm only one thing to say...........BRAVVVVVVVVVVVVVVVOOOOO!

johnsonz (author)2009-05-28

mad props! that is pure sweetness.

henryxdam (author)2009-04-04

lol pure awesome!

fancypenguin845 (author)2008-11-03


extremegtafan (author)2008-09-22

Not to sound mean or anything, but my question is: What's the purpose of a front wheel drive bicycle with a giant seat? What does recumbent mean anyway?

sennomo (author)extremegtafan2008-09-23

"Recumbent" means "lying down". On a fully recumbent bike, you lie on your back. On a semi-recumbent bike, you recline a bit. There are various purposes for recumbent bikes. The number one purpose is probably comfort. Recumbents are easier on your back, neck, and crotch. Some people like them for speed.

You might want to read this: Frequently Asked Questions about Recumbent Bicycles

The front wheel drive is mainly for simplicity of construction. It is easier to build than a rear-wheel-drive recumbent, because the pedals are out front. To give my bike RWD would have required some extra pulleys and possibly some welding.

djnupi (author)2008-08-17

Nice one, Sennomo, brilliant! I spent some time experimenting with the fork, to bend it forward and backwards, to see differences in stability. not much differences. the peddal/steering interference is one of the things you learn to control. recently at a hpv meeting here in Sweden i rode an M5, expensive back wheel drive recumbent. thought, now this will be easy. wrong. more difficult than my fwd camel (oh yes, i am the guy from the camel bike) dont let it put you down your bike only cost 10 bucks! give it a 2 dollar paintjob and it looks 500. the $1000 bikes are not that much easier to ride. Cool bike! bests, dj

sennomo (author)djnupi2008-08-17

Thanks for your input and your Camel bike!

handidad (author)2008-08-03

Looks interesting. I had been thinking of building a tandem bike. With this approach it would be simplify the drive, because each paddler could drive their own wheel.

sennomo (author)handidad2008-08-03

I agree that individual drive wheels would be great for a tandem. Hypothetically, it should improve efficiency in a number of ways. On the other hand, one concern is that separate drive wheels would require good communication between the two riders. (The stoker won't feel a slack chain when the captain stops pedaling.) I'm not sure how this type steering would feel on a tandem. If I weren't afraid of messing up my tandem's fork, I might try it.

depotdevoid (author)2008-08-03

What a great idea! Maybe I've got a use for my daughter's old bicycle now.

PKM (author)2008-08-02

A vinyl seat? Oy noy! (That was a niche reference even for me) This is a refreshingly simple 'bent hack that I hadn't thought of or seen before... the simplicity of construction/hackiness of final product ratio looks to be quite good. Do your feet have enough control of the steering that you could steer entirely with them like you can on a normal bike?

sennomo (author)PKM2008-08-02

Honestly, the bike turned out better than I had expected. I have taken it on a 10-mile ride without any signs of trouble. The vinyl does, of course, induce the infamous "sweaty back". A mesh seat would improve that. However, the foam padding is very nice. I haven't developed the confidence to ride no-hands yet. As discussed with trebuchet03, their are minor stability issues that may be improved by altering the fork or increasing the front wheel size. Also, clipless pedals would probably help. Still, lack of balance is usually more a rider's fault than a bike's fault, so I'll just keep practicing.

trebuchet03 (author)2008-08-01

Nice write up - how's the pedal steer?

I've test ridden a few Cruzbike conversions and wasn't particularly happy with the pedal steer - nothing I wouldn't get over with enough time :)

sennomo (author)trebuchet032008-08-02

The pedal steering is still a bit awkward for me. (I just built the bike this week.) My experience makes me want to ride it like a standard bike; I'm slowly overcoming this. The handlebars are mainly stabilizers; in that sense, it's not too different from a standard bike. Wide turns are fairly comfortable, when making a turn, it's easy to go from "okay" to "WHOA, too sharp!" quickly, but then it's easy to speed up at straighten out. In other words, it feels scarier than it is. When I ride straight at a high cadence, minor bumps and dips seem to cause temporary shimmy. I assume that a larger wheel and a larger chainwheel would reduce this, but I'm just speculating. I forgot about Cruzbike. I should add a link. I don't like the price of their conversion kit. However, their solutions for the stem and front attachment to the stem look much better than mine.

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