Gillian Wells wasn’t much interested in the recumbents her husband John was talking about when they decided to buy a couple of bikes 13 years ago. One short test ride later she was a convert.
Greenspeed trikes number 71 and 72 have been commuting in Bendigo and touring in Australia and Europe ever since.
The Wells’ first trip was a five-day tour was with friends around Central Victoria staying in pubs. John stitched up four sturdy panniers for the ride, which took in Redesdale, Nagambie, Colbinabbin, Tooleen and Elmore.
“They were on uprights and that was a good experience to show us that our bikes were better than theirs,” says Gillian.
“We got off at the end of the day and walked around. They got off at the end of the day and hobbled around,” John remembers laughing.
That was only the beginning of adventures with John’s panniers. The couple tackled the Great Tassie Bike Ride in 1997.
The trikes are fine on hills John explains. They have a 3-speed hub, triple chain rings and an 8-speed cluster, which effectively gives them three “ranges”. They can pedal comfortably up hills at speeds that would have an ordinary cyclist off and pushing the bike.
That same year he was living and cycling somewhere very flat. John, then a lecturer in industrial chemistry, went on sabbatical in Holland. Gillian took leave without pay to accompany him and the trikes went too.
The Dutch and bikes are synonymous. There are plenty of recumbent fans too, as John proves by pulling out the latest edition of a fat glossy Dutch magazine devoted to recumbents. Trikes, bikes, tandems, human-powered vehicles with full fairings – they’re all there.
“I liked it because it was flat,” says Gillian. “John wasn’t so keen on it.”
“I’d pine for a hill,” he says and pauses. “We found one!” It was a 50 m high glacial moraine and he’d ride up it every day to get to work. Gillian is convinced it was faster to ride around.
A recumbent’s lack of height worries many people who’ve never ridden them. John is quick with the answers to that concern.
“Firstly, we’re not actually as low as the white lines painted on the road and most people see those quite clearly.
“Secondly, to most people an ordinary cyclist looks like a post, whereas we look like something they’ll run over and do damage to their car.
“And lastly, drivers give us a wider berth than other cyclists. We rarely have people passing us closer than a metre and usually they’re further out. It’s because we’re so low down they’ve got to move out to keep us in view while they pass.
“With very few exceptions I’ve felt much safer on the recumbent than on an upright bike.”
There aren’t many recumbents around Bendigo. Gillian and John are often amused by reports they’ve been seen about town in places they haven’t been. That would be one of our fellow recumbent fans they think.
They both agree the recumbents have been a great way to meet people when they’ve been touring. They’re unusual enough that people want to have a closer look. Some want to try them out.
“Fourteen-year-old-boys are the worst. They’re not at all shy about asking for a test ride,” smiles Gillian.
“Adults generally don’t ask, but they’ll be there with their ears pinned back if you offer.”