RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
So you may have seen people riding bicycles in a somewhat reclining position. Those are recumbent bikes. And these cyclists say leaning back in the seat with your legs extended in front of you is actually more comfortable than pedaling a traditional bike. But recumbents are also more expensive. So a man in Wisconsin has been working to make them more affordable. He's recycling traditional bike frames and turning them into recumbents.
Jon Kalish reports.
JON KALISH, BYLINE: After several operations on her knee, 66-year-old Marilyn Cowser of Greenfield, Wisconsin found herself no longer able to rollerblade or ride her bike. She was advised to try a recumbent bike. But when Cowser went to her local bike shop, she found that they were selling for upwards of $1500. Cowser wasn't willing to spend that kind of money, so she went to see a guy about a half-hour away who builds recumbents in his garage.
MARILYN COWSER: When I got there, he had them all out. And I got on this one and took off. I mean I just went.
KALISH: Marilyn Cowser bought a white refurbished 10-speed recumbent for just $400 from Recycled Recumbents in Glendale, Wisconsin. Cowser says she's been converted to the recumbent way of cycling.
COWSER: I just love it. That's all I can say. It was one of the best purchases. I see myself riding this bike well into my 70s.
KALISH: Recycled Recumbents is run out of a home garage. Cut-up sections of bicycle frames hang from the rafters, a plastic five-gallon bucket filled with bike forks sits near a messy workbench and visitors will notice there's a 500-foot roll of bicycle chain in the garage. This is the bike building workshop of Andrew Duncan Carson. Everyone calls him A.D.
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KALISH: A shower of sparks spills on to the garage floor as Carson cuts the rear triangle of an upright bike frame with an angle grinder. Carson is more than just a maker of recumbents, he's an evangelist for them.
ANDREW DUNCAN CARSON: The truth of riding an upright bicycle for most of us is that it hurts. It hurts where the sun don't shine. I never got completely happy on my upright bike. It always hurt. I thought that part of bicycling was dealing with the pain and in fact it was on an upright bike.
KALISH: Carson noticed a fair number of recumbents being pedaled around Wisconsin. It got him thinking about riding his upright bike.
CARSON: I saw one of these things and I said maybe it's time to think outside the box a little bit. That looks awfully comfortable. Then I went into a store and said that looks awfully expensive.
KALISH: So, A.D. Carson decided to build his own recumbent bike and found instructions online. Those instructions required some welding but that was something that Carson, a jack of all trades, already knew how to do. He rode it on a two-day charity ride up the west coast of Lake Michigan and at the end of the first day he had a real aha moment.
CARSON: I got up there and I said, you know, I'm tired. I've been 75 miles today but nothing hurts. I'm sweaty. But I could do another 50 miles today. It was that significant a difference that told me I would never ride an upright bike again.
KALISH: Carson wanted to share that experience with others. He's built close to 500 recumbents in the last 10 years. Most of them sell for sell for $700 or 800, half of what they cost in stores. It's unclear whether this is a profit-making enterprise or simply a labor of love. It takes him about a week to make each bicycle and there's also the cost of acquiring the used bikes he cannibalizes and paying a painter to powder coat the newly created frames.
CARSON: For me, it's always been about access. First, my own access. How do I get there without spending four figures? And then how do I help other people get there?
KALISH: First time riders, including this reporter, tend to be overwhelmed by both how natural it feels to sit back in a recumbent. But you also feel vulnerable until you adapt to a whole new way of balancing.
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CARSON: On a bike, you are using that saddle between your legs to control the bike and you're pivoting your hips. You don't use your hips on a recumbent, you're trapped in that seat - comfortably trapped mind you but you are trapped. So, you are using your shoulders a bit more, your arms, and of course, profoundly different from the upright bike is the fact that you can't stand up.
KALISH: Fifty-eight-year-old Mike McKeough of Grafton, Wisconsin bought a Recycled Recumbent. McKeough says that initially he fell down a lot. But after he got the hang of it, he says he fell in love with recumbent cycling.
MIKE MCKEOUGH: Everybody says recumbent cyclists are always smiling. It's true.
KALISH: McKeough now owns three recumbents.
MCKEOUGH: People look at you. Little kids point at you, you know. You feel a little special when you're riding one. It's neat.
KALISH: Recycled Recumbents sells kits for those who want to build their own bike. A.D. Carson says getting a photo from someone who built their own bike is as rewarding as selling a recumbent he builds. For NPR News, I'm Jon Kalish.
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MARTIN: And you're listening to WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News.