X-country cyclist Lucinda Chandler, aka Pink Panther.
(First appeared in Orlando Sentinel March 16, 2008)
On a recent Saturday morning, I was heading home along State Road 50 when I noticed a large gathering of recumbent bicyclists assembled at County Line Station, one of several parking areas and amenity outposts spaced along the 19-mile West Orange Trail bike trail.
I've always been fascinated by recumbent bikes. Many years ago, a friend had a bright yellow basic three-wheeled model. One ride was all it took to hook me on these comfortable and sensibly designed "armchair" cycles. Rather than sitting up on a small hard seat and bending over the handlebars of a traditional bike, recumbent riders propel themselves forward from a relaxed lounge position. As the body reclines in stress-less comfort -- no wrist strain or sore bottom from these bikes -- the legs stretch out to pedal away the miles.
Since I've always harbored a secret fantasy of someday owning a recumbent, the sight of so many in one spot was too tempting to ignore.
"What the heck," I thought, mentally revising my schedule. "I have time for a short detour."
I turned off the four-lane and headed back to the trail park. What I found when I got there were dozens of people preparing to set off on the fourth annual Catrike Rally.
Although familiar with recumbents in general, I have very little knowledge of individual brands. Turns out that not only is Catrike, a product of Big Cat HPV, a locally manufactured three-wheel type of recumbent bicycle, but the Winter Garden-based company is also the largest manufacturer of recumbent trikes in the world. The March 1 rally was a chance for Catrike owners from around the country to meet and share their passion for these extraordinary machines.
After asking around and talking to several riders, a helpful park employee introduced me to Big Cat founder Paulo Camasmie, the man behind the Catrike design. Camasmie, a mechanical engineer and Brazilian native, moved to the United States in 2000. His dream was to create a three-wheeled recumbent that would combine comfort with speed, stability and elegance. The U.S. market was ripe for new ideas, and Camasmie's company grew rapidly. From meager beginnings working out of a small garage, Big Cat now produces more than 100 Catrikes each month in its west Orange factory.
But Catrikes, like most high-tech multispeed recumbents, are pricey. Who buys these grown-up tricycles that start at $1,750? All sorts of people do.
If the assemblage at the Catrike rally was any indication, you don't have to be young and in shape to pedal off into the sunset. People of many different sizes, shapes and ages traveled to Orange County for the rally.
One rider drew much attention. Cameras were flashing left and right as Lucinda Chandler posed for pictures. A mother of seven and a cancer survivor, Chandler was the first person to ride a Catrike across the United States. During 58 days in 2007, Chandler pedaled her bright pink Catrike, aptly nicknamed 'Pink Panther,' on a one-woman trip from California to Florida.
"I brought along all sorts of spare parts, including two extra wheels," said Chandler, a resident of Martha's Vineyard who now leads Catrike guided tours. "But I didn't need to use any. The trike performed wonderfully with no breakdowns along the way."
Seeing all the riders so comfortably settled in their brightly colored lounge chairs with wheels was inspiring, and talking to Chandler only added further fuel to my fervor to someday be a recumbent owner myself.
But not today.
Living where I do at the end of a long unpaved road, I wouldn't be able to ride my trike around the property. I'd have to transport it elsewhere, and that's more work and planning than I want to do. Maybe when the clay roads nearby get paved -- as someday they inevitably will -- owning a pedal pusher that costs more than the used truck we recently bought will make more sense.
I'll consider it a lesson in patience. I've lived with my secret fantasy and fascination with all things recumbent for more than 20 years. In the big picture, what's wrong with nurturing a dream for a few years longer?