Bluetiful, the 2008 Sun EZ Sport
I have been intrigued by recumbent bicycles for a long time. Any seating position which doesn't require me to feel like a "bike rider on a stick" is very inviting. I have always been fascinated by the high tech appearance of them. And they simply really appeal to a certain rebel streak which still exists down deep inside of me.
We used to have several recumbent dealers in central Phoenix, but I guess the bad economy and the fact that recumbents are not a fast moving product has reduced it to one: Sun Cyclery on north 7th Street. In the fall of 2008, I went in to Sun Cyclery to begin looking. They carry samples of most of the major brands: RANS, Bacchetta, Sun, Lightning, Easy Racer and Cycle Genius. They also have a good selection of Long Wheelbase (LWB), Compact Long Wheelbase (CLWB) and Short Wheelbase (SWB) models to test ride.
I immediately started focusing on LWB models, for a number of reasons. I wasn't sure how I would "take" to recumbent riding, and it became obvious from the start that a LWB recumbent would be one of the easiest to ride and therefore would offer the most positive experience for a new rider. CLWB recumbents are actually more like semi-recumbents than full recumbent bikes; they usually have saddles which put you into a more upright position and give some lower back support, but they do not have the laid back, reclined webbed seat or formed seat that is one of the things which attracted me to recumbents in the first place.
The candidates were quickly reduced to two: The Cycle Genius Falcon LS and the Sun EZ Sport CX. The configuration of the two bikes is very similar. Both have a 26" rear wheel and a 20" front wheel. Both have V-Brakes and the same level of other components. And they are the identical MSRP price: $1,100.
I really like the Falcon LS. It has an aluminum frame, which makes it lighter than the EZ Sport CX. It is the same frame as the Cycle Genius Raven and the regular Falcon, which means you can customize the LS in a myriad of ways by upgrading to the components of those other two bikes. The Raven comes with dual 700c wheels, which makes it the fastest bike in the Cycle Genius line. The regular Falcon comes with disk brakes and dual 26" wheels, which make it a little more stable than the LS at high speeds and the ideal touring and commuting bike.
I was ready to buy the Falcon LS, but then we had some family medical financial issues related to our own challenges in the miserable economy and the purchase of a new bike was out of the question. My recumbent riding venture was put on indefinite hold.
After the holidays, and we had completed our 2008 taxes in late January, the financial picture looked a bit better. I once more started looking at recumbents, but with a big difference: my budget for a bike had been reduced to $1,000 or less. This would appear to eliminate both the EZ Sport and the Falcon. I could go to a used bike but I wanted something which, if I experienced problems, I could take into the dealer and get fixed under warranty. Although I am a pretty handy general mechanic, I do not have the equipment or tools to work with derailleur systems and the other special components of bicycles.
Then, at the beginning of February, 2009, came a big break. The bike shop I have gone to for years, The Bike Barn, also sells Sun recumbents. They had a new, 2008 model EZ Sport CX sitting in their shop, at a 10 percent discount. They have always given me an additional discount, no matter what, so I could walk out of the store with the bike for around $950. Although the EZ Sport had not been my first candidate, this was a great deal, and the EZ Sport did have a certain, desirable quality which I'll get to a little bit later.
I had also set aside two hundred dollars for options, which was not included in my base budget. I bought a Blackburn Voyager 3.3/Mars 3.0 headlight/taillight combination package, a Specialized SpeedZone wireless computer, a Serfas Big Stick mini pump, a couple of standard bottle cages, a Sunlite Tubular seat bag, a Zéfal rear rack and a Jandd Rack Pack II. I went slightly over that two hundred dollar accessory budget with that Rack Pack bag, but I had discovered my Jandd Economy Panniers did not hold all the stuff I wanted to take on my commutes.
I took the EZ Sport home, rode it around for a couple of hours, discovered I thoroughly enjoyed it, showed it with pride to my wife when she got home, got thoroughly chewed out, and the next week I started commuting to work on the bike.
The first thing I noticed was that everyone saw the bike, and any concerns I had about visibility were groundless. Kids yell out "Nice bike, mister!" Cars give the Sport a really wide berth, much more than the three feet required by Arizona law. Pedestrians at intersections come up to me and ask me all kinds of questions about the bike.
Although the recumbent is not difficult to ride, it is a very different riding experience and requires different riding techniques. When I first started riding it, I found that I got the low speed "wobblies" at a much higher speed than on an upright bike. Starting out from a standing stop was very wobbly also, but I discovered a way to start which eliminates that, and I believe I wobble even less on a recumbent start now than I do on an upright bike. The key is to have the bike in a pretty low gear, use my strong right leg against the pedal to get moving, and then supplement the starting speed by kicking off with my left foot on the ground in much the same way a skateboarder kicks off with his power foot. Start ups are very quick using this technique.
Another aspect of the 'bent riding experience is the confidence of the low, laid back riding position. I felt so confident that I purchased an accessory I would never purchase for an upright bicycle: clipless pedals. My 1986 Batavus Course had come with clip pedals, and perched up in the seat I found them very awkward to use. I couldn't imagine using clipless pedals in that position; I could just imagine not being able to release the shoe from the pedal and plummeting down from that high perch. I bought Shimano SPD mountain bike pedals with the cleat receivers on one side and a platform on the other; in this way I can hop on the bike and ride with my regular shoes rather than having to stop to put on the shoes with the SPD cleats.
That high position of a conventional bike is also a disadvantage in a headwind. I've read that sometimes about ninety percent of your energy on a regular bike is spent fighting the wind, and that the lower riding position of a recumbent saves up to thirty percent of that effort. I can testify that when the road goes slightly uphill into a headwind, even with a fully loaded EZ Sport I can keep up with all but the fastest road bike riders.
Some people have expressed a concern about the inability of a recumbent rider to see over other vehicles is a drawback of the design. I have to say I had the same concern when I first started riding, but no longer. I have not come across a single situation where not being able to see over an obstacle imperiled my safety.
In the months since I bought the EZ Sport, I have added a handlebar bag, a handlebar mount for my Garmin eTrex Legend GPS unit and some other items. The accessories are profiled in a post on my blog at The Complete Bluetiful.
Oh, and as far as what that special, desirable quality the EZ Sport Bluetiful has? It goes back to when I was a kid, and wanted a Schwinn Stingray. My parents could not afford it, so I had to ride a staid, 3-speed diamond frame bike. When the late Gardner Martin designed the EZ Sport, he purposely gave it a unique, classy, retro look. If you look at it just right, it looks like an adult Schwinn Stingray, so I get to have the cruiser bike I was denied as a kid.