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Iowa Company Makes Recumbent Bicycles

August 8, 1989

GUTTENBERG, Iowa (AP) _ Troy Thein gets some funny looks from motorists when he rides his bike to work.

It could be his unusual posture - leaning back with his feet pedaling in the air - or the fact that he keeps up with traffic going 50 mph.

″People right here in town still look at me funny. They say, ’What’s that? Where did you get that?,″ said Thein. ″The other day I was coming down the River Road hill and was going 52 miles per hour.″

Thein is one of three workers at Kann Manufacturing, the Guttenberg company that makes the Linear brand of recumbent bicycles. The company also makes aluminum semi-trailers, commercial work boats and grain-hauling bodies for trucks.

Instead of the standard bicycle seat, the recumbent bicycle has a cushioned chair that supports a rider’s back, making it easier to generate pedal power. The upright position of a rider also puts less pressure on the diaphragm for easier breathing, and the position allows for an unrestricted view without neck cramping.

The Linear bike has an aluminum frame and under-the-seat steering so that a rider’s arms hang down in their natural position. Its 18 gears are shifted by a flick of the thumb.

The Linear, designed by company president Dirk Kann, is the only recumbent on the market that can be folded. That enables the 7-foot bike to fit in a car trunk, Hansel said.

″You have to get used to it, but once you do, it’s extremely comfortable. It’s much more efficient than the traditional 10-speed or 12-speed,″ said Steve Hansel, director of production and marketing at Kann.

Recumbent bicycles have been around since the 1920s, Hansel said, and Kann has been making them for five years. The company hopes within two years to be making 1,200 recumbents annually.

Hansel said the Linear, which retails for about $850, is faster than conventional bicycles.

″A recumbent would just walk away with it in a race,″ he said.

The world record speed for bicycles - 65 mph - was set in the mid-1960s by an aerodynamic recumbent.

However, John Kukoda, a senior editor who road-tests bicycles for Bicycling magazine, said the recumbent has its disadvantages.

″I think they’re inferior going up hills because there’s no way to stand up. You’re not able to use the biggest muscles in the body, the rear-end and lower back. I found it takes a lot more power and energy to climb hills,″ Kukoda said in a telephone interview from the monthly’s headquarters in Emmaus, Pa.

James Finney of Iowa City disagrees. Finney and a companion, Melanie Pot, plan on Aug. 2 to embark on a 44,000-mile journey around the world riding Linear recumbents.

″When I’m going up a hill, I find I’m breathing easier and am not as tired when I get to the top than if I were hunched over a traditional bike. I’m able to recover a lot faster,″ Finney said.

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