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!

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Step 1: 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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.




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    52 Discussions


    I used your instructions to build my rowing bicycle:

    Thank you for the idea!

    1 reply

    Reply 10 years ago on Introduction

    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.

    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.


    5 years ago

    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! :)


    8 years ago on Step 7

    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.....

    1 reply

    Reply 8 years ago on Introduction

    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.


    8 years ago on Step 6

    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.


    8 years ago on Step 8

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


    9 years ago on Step 5

    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.)

    2 replies

    Reply 9 years ago on Step 5

    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.