As you might know, recumbents were booted out of professional bicycle racing in the 1930’s after a 2nd-tier racer started shattering records on a Mochet Velocar recumbent. Sadly, this kept recumbents from mainstream attention for a long time. To be fair, racing organizations want racing to be a competition between athletes, not engineers, so some measure of uniformity in racing bike design should be expected.
Also, to be truly the fastest, a bicycle needs an aerodynamic shell to best use the limited power the rider has. When so much of the appeal of bicycle racing is in watching the athletes suffer (see exhibit A) it would take all the fun out it just watching enclosed streamliners hum around a race course (see exhibit B).
But still, there are a few cycling events where competitive recumbent riders can kick the butts of lesser mortals. Here are few that we know of.
Ultra-marathon racing: Recumbents have been welcome for some time in endurance racing events, and with their good aerodynamics and rider comfort they would seem well suited for it. Many of these events are qualifiers for the Race Across America (RAAM), and its more modest component the Race Across the West (RAW) While the RAAM and the RAW belong on this list, they require a lot of work to qualify for. Some of these events are requirements for racers wishing to participate. Ultra marathon is done by a racer or team of racers supported by a crew of some sort, so it isn’t a drop-in, informal kind of thing.
- The Texas Time Trials in September in Glen Rose, southwest of Fort Worth
- Texas Ultra Spirit – Fayetteville, TX in May, halfway between Houston and Austin
- Bessie’s Creek 24 – in Brookshire, TX, halfway between Houston and Fayetteville
- 24 Hours in the Canyon – in Amarillo, in June
- NOCOM (No Country for Old Men) Ultra, hosted by Dex Tooke in Alpine, TX October – This is an insane 1000 mile endurance race through brutal but beautiful west Texas. Too bad so many recumbents are piloted by old men.
Like Triathlon, ultra-marathon is kind of a culture to itself because training for it takes a lot of the athlete’s time. How much riding will you need to do to get in a 1000 mile bike race?
Randonneuring: This is a long-distance cycling competition where participants must complete a course within a specified time. Any participant who finishes before the cut-off is considered a winner. Personally, I like the idea of an event where everyone can win. Recumbent bikes and trikes are welcome, and considering their ergonomic and comfort benefits they seem like the ideal bikes for this sort of thing. Basically, these are like 600 mile fun rides.
There are several randonneuring clubs in Texas, probably organized to support riders in the lonely business of training for ultra-marathon events like this:
- Lone Star Randonneurs, in north Texas
- Hill Country Randonneurs, in central Texas
- Houston Randonneurs, you know where
There are a few randonneuring events around Texas, but I’ll let you find out from your local randonneuring organizations. I’m all randonnoodled out from thinking about all this.
Senior Games: The Dallas Senior Games and the Brazos Valley Senior Games (College Station) allow recumbent bikes and trikes in their cycling competitions. No aerodynamic fairings are allowed. Other local senior games may start allowing recumbents, and there is a push to allow them in the state championships.
Valor Games Southwest: The Valor Games series is a set of national olympiads organized around the country. In Texas, San Antonio Sports hosts these games in late September. The Valor Games series are organized by the Veterans Administration.
Abilene hosts two bike races that allow recumbents:
- The Steam-N-Wheels is hosted by Abilene Parks and Recreation. It takes place around March and might not be visible on their website until closer to that time. I haven’t found a permanent web page for the event. This is a “fun race.” Entrants are timed and those with the best times in their age group get a prize, but it prizes aren’t so huge that people will be shooting up steroids. Aerodynamic enhancements, such as fairings and tailboxes are not allowed.
- Tour de Gap. Another ride in Abilene, in July. They have rides/races of length varying from 11 to 100 miles. Racers use chips to track their time, so it doesn’t matter who crosses the finish line first.
IHPVA Events – The International Human Powered Vehicle Association races bikes with no design restrictions whatsoever. Indeed, they have competitions for land, water and aircraft, so long as it is human powered. It is, to some degree, a competition between engineers, but since the aerodynamic and materials engineering involved only progresses sporadically it has become more of a competition between athletes seeing who can break their bicycle first. The current speed record in HPVA events is a little over 80 mph on human power alone. There aren’t any of these events held in Texas, so I’ve left it out. Still HPV racing is the classic recumbent racing event, so it gets a brief mention here.