(PART 4)



At some stages of the Wild Thing's design and construction I wondered if I would be able to ride it at all. Perhaps I would wind up cutting it up and throwing it away. Early attempts to ride it down the hall before the drive mechanism was complete tended to reinforce my pessimism, but after a dozen or so attempts at balancing the thing, my hands caught on to what they needed to do, and I knew I had it. Soon I found that the easiest way to get momentum was to start out on a short incline, and the loading ramp of Rogers hall became the first test track. After a few trips down I was ready for some pedals and brakes.

The leg cranks were installed before the arm drive so I started riding it on flat terrain under leg power alone. At this point I was able to observe its handling characteristics and make adjustments in the seat and gear ratios.

When the arm drive was installed, a new dimension in cycling was at hand. Once up to speed I quickly learned to stroke with my arms and maintain control. At the time of this writing I have fewer than fifth miles on the Wild Thing, mostly under leg power alone. Although I can maneuver fairly adeptly when I'm not using my arms for power, I've only broken the ice on learning to maneuver and stroke with my hands and arms simultaneously. I feel it's a matter of time and miles. At this point the steering motion required of my hands is still somewhat less than automatic, and until it is more so I will only use my arms for power on a straight stretch where the bike will tend to steer itself. {As I expected, I became quite skilled at riding the Wild Thing. I use my arms for power at all times, regardless of the steering demands.}


The steering system seems sluggish if the rider is stationary and loading the front tire with their weight. Once moving, however, the steering is very quick and responsive - almost too much so.

By contrast, the long wheelbase makes steering by shifting one's weight fairly sluggish. Although it is possible to steer it this way, it is necessary to plan maneuvers a split second in advance.

The combination of fast and slow steering characteristics make the Wild Thing a little tricky to handle. I haven't trained anyone else to ride it {still true!}, and sometimes I wonder if the only reason I can do it as that I practiced so long in my dreams. I get more and more adept as I ride, though, and am generally confident that anyone close to my size and willing to practice could ride it also. {I eventually discovered a principle I called "active sitting". If you just sit in the seat and let it support your weight laterally as well as fore and aft, you are sitting passively. If you force your spine to wake up and take a role in tossing your body's center of gravity around, the bike reacts immediately. Later modifications in the seat allowed more of this side-to-side motion. At speed, I eventually learned to ride and balance with both my hands and feet in the air, balancing my weight on my butt, which I guess is the arm-and-leg-recumbent equivalent of riding with no hands.} People often ask "how fast will it go?" and I have no answer, because I haven't mastered it myself and I'm not the strongest of riders anyway. {In my prime, I was able to keep up with almost all the black-shorted-tooth-gritters I came across on the trails. And the WT weighs 50 pounds!}

Being long and ungainly, it is possible but difficult to turn around in a two-lane city street. The front wheel must be turned to its extremity (about 45 degrees), and even if I can keep my balance, interference will occur between my foot and the front tire if I'm not careful.

Starting out on a flat took some time to master, and I have yet to start out going up a hill. Stop and go city riding isn't worth the trouble on the Wild Thing. Steep hills are difficult if not impossible to climb, but this is a common complaint amount recumbents. {I think this is a psychological phenomenon, due to the fact that it feels very weird to go uphill feet first. The Wild-Thing's problem with hills, other than its weight, is that it is tough to balance at low speeds, and low gears mean low speeds. I could never bring myself to installing training wheels to get up steep hills. ;-)}

On a relatively flat, open road or paved trail, the Wild Thing lives up to its name, giving a comfortable yet exciting ride and the promise of a workout for the entire body. It's easy to manage in a bike lane, or in the margins between moving and parked cars where the bike lanes don't exist.


When I first installed the arm drive mechanism I had the Wild Thing on a stand. When I climbed on and started to 'ride' I discovered a curious thing. Although I had assumed that my legs and arms would naturally want to cycle at the same cadence, I found that this just wasn't so. The nature of the arm drive system is such that there is no set stroke length. My arms preferred to travel a longer stroke than what I had planned. When my arms were doing what they felt best at, my feet were going too fast, so I put a larger sprocket on the crank axis to slow my legs down with respect to my arms.

Once the Wild Thing hit the road other things became evident. My original scheme of using friction to carry the power from the arm drive strap to the one-way driven pulleys proved inadequate, and I was forced to build new pulleys with slots for the ends of the straps to key into.

The new system actually consists of two straps, the drive strap and the constraint strap. One end of the drive strap (referring again to Figure 4), is keyed into a driven pulley and wrapped around a couple of times. It is then brought back around a drive pulley where it passes through a clamp assembly, up and over a pair of idler pulleys and down the other side where it is clamped onto the other drive pulley, and then wrapped and keyed into the other driven pulley. The constraint straps starts at the clamp on a drive pulley, goes down and around the corresponding driven pulley, up and over a pair of idler pulleys, and then down and around the other driven pulley to terminate at the clamp on the other drive pulley.

The clamps, shown in Figure 7, serve to adjust the tension on the straps as well as to clamp the ends of the constraint strap.

The Sachs hub has a very useful neutral gear between its high and low internal gears. The shifter for these gears is placed on the left leading edge of the seat, and when it is in the neutral position the rider can change the other five gears while the bike is stationary. Since the drive is disengaged from the rear wheel within the rear hub, the derailer can be operated by stroking the arm levers and adjusting the shifter on the right side of the seat. The pedals can also be rotated freely in the 'forward' direction until they are at a good position for 'taking off'. {Boy, was this ever a stroke of luck!}


The Wild Thing weighs approximately fifty pounds. I did not keep accurate records of my expenses, but estimate that they came to between six and eight hundred dollars. {Never mind the time estimate!}


As I ride the Wild Thing and teach myself more and more skills my ability to handle it improves with every mile. The first few miles uncovered several minor problems that have been corrected and there remain several others that, eventually, should be seen to also. Possible improvements include a sturdier seat cover and several weatherproofing features. A fabric cover for the lower frame would help keep the works clean and might improve aerodynamic characteristics. At this point, however, it works well enough to satisfy the objectives of the project and I feel there is more to be gained by riding it than by tearing it down again for minor improvements. {So lemme have that M.S.M.E. so that I can get the *#@!%! outta here!}

If I were to build a second Wild Thing I would try a few different ideas in the frame design. The seat would be lower to make it easier to reach the ground and to make the frame lighter and more compact. The problems associated with the oversized wheelbase and the interference between the rider's feet and the front wheel might be alleviated by the use of smaller wheels, although the decrease in angular momentum could decrease its stability at low and moderate speeds.

I would like to improve its 'rider friendliness' by making it easier to balance and handle. Whether this would involve differences in the steering linkage, the steering geometry, or both, I don't know. A few thousand miles of test riding will undoubtedly prove helpful in this area. {Uh huh, - Riiiight.}

{I may have put as many as a thousand miles on the Wild Thing, but maybe not. I was single then, and I even remember dreaming about touring the country on it. It didn't happen, of course. Other events and developments in my life took me in different directions, and the Wild Thing hangs in the barn about 360+ days of the year nowadays. I still contemplate what the next generation Wild Thing would be like though, and I'm not ready to divulge what I've got schemed, partly because some of my ideas are really demented, and partly because if they work I want to be the first to do it. Look for it here on the GizmoWizard page!}


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{Thanks for viewing this foolishness!}