A Different Bent: Clovis’ laidback bike shop

By Valerie Shelton

The cycling scene in Clovis and Fresno has expanded in the past decade, as more bike and pedestrian friendly trails and bike lanes have been installed throughout the metropolitan area. Coinciding with growth in this area has been a growth in popularity for recumbent bicycles.

Odds are you’ve seen them out on the trail. Some are low-riding three-wheelers while others are standard height bicycles with a laid back seat and propped up pedals. Dan Caton calls them “longue chairs with wheels” and yes, he said, they really are as comfortable as they look—comfortable while also providing the same exercise benefits of a traditional bicycle.

Caton is the owner of A Different Bent, the new—and only—recumbent bike shop in the Central Valley.

Caton has been a recumbent cyclist since 2007. Wanting to get back into shape that year, Caton had purchased a mountain bike but soon afterward developed tendinitis in his elbows, making it difficult to ride frequently. He did some research and found out about recumbent bikes, which put a lot less stress on the joints. The problem was he had trouble finding one in town to try. Steven’s Bicycles in Clovis had just one, which he tried out and instantly enjoyed. In order to buy his own, though, he had to travel to Manteca.

Realizing there was a need for a recumbent bike shop in the area, Caton decided he would start his one recumbent business. He started in 2010, selling just a couple of recumbent bikes out of his garage. Then, in May 2014, he moved to a little office space on Alluvial. After being laid off from his day job at the end of last year, he decided to invest in the business fulltime and found the larger retail space at 50 W. Bullard, Suite 110.

Recumbent bicycles, he said, were practically extinct until the late 1970s, but the history of recumbent’s goes as far back as the history of cycling.

“The reason they haven’t been very popular is back in 1934-35 there was a second rate French cyclist who was beating all of the top cyclists and he was riding a bike that was low to the ground with 16-inch wheels and laid back and won a 50 kilometer race and set the record,” Caton said. “Then another guy on an upright bike broke the same record the next year and that guy went to UCI (Union Cyclists International), the governing body for racing, and asked which one is going to stand. It ended up being a close call, but they said the low-rider was not considered a bicycle for racing and in order for anyone to compete in UCI races the bike has to meet these certain dimensions. So the dimensions of the road bike you see now were established in 1935 and they haven’t changed.”

Since everyone wanted to ride what the racers were riding, Caton said recumbent bikes fell out of style until the 70s and 80s. Now, the baby boomers, he said, have really made the recumbent industry blossom again.

Although recumbent bicycles are popular among seniors and those who have trouble riding an upright bike, Caton said they are for everyone.

“A lot of cyclists think that when they are too hurt or disabled to ride a regular bike, then they’ll switch to recumbent, basically that they’ll ‘give up’ and go to recumbent,” Caton said. “Now, if you’re racing then yes, you have to ride a bike that fits those standards. Outside of that why not ride something that is comfortable, that you are going to have a good time on and that you can take your favorite ride on and double it or triple it because you can keep going.”

Caton said the exercise benefits of cycling are the same with recumbent as with upright bikes, but it’s less stressful on your body. Traditional upright bikes, he said, impact the wrists, elbows, shoulders, neck, back and butt.

The low impact of a recumbent bike makes it perfect not only for seniors and those with health conditions, but they are a good exercise option for larger people.

“These are great for people who want to lose a lot of weight,” Caton said. “I have one customer who was 350 pounds and he’s working on getting down and he got a Rover and he rides it to work almost every day and that’s about seven miles for him and he loves it. He’s lost 15 pounds already in three months. It’s low impact so it doesn’t hurt. Most doctors just recommend walking but for people who have had a sedentary lifestyle and have gained a lot of weight, even walking is too much but they can sit down and exercise.”

Aside from being comfortable, Caton said a major benefit of riding recumbent is being able to better take in the scenery around you.

“On a regular bike, what is your scenery? The rode and maybe a little bit of the landscape,” Caton said. “On a recumbent, you’re sitting back and your scenery is all around you. That’s another great thing about them: you can really enjoy the outdoors.”