By Jim Russell
Standing cycles, as the name indicates, are cycles—bicycles, tricycles, scooters—that do not have seats. Riders propel them exclusively in standing positions. Why would anyone want to ride such a vehicle? There are a number of reasons.
- Seats can be uncomfortable for men and women.
- Men may have prostate issues that seats aggravate.
- Men and women may have back issues that hunched over positions while seated aggravate.
- Many believe that sitting for long periods of time is not good for health.
- The standing position may be more pleasurable than the hunched over seated position.
I began experimenting with standing cycles in 2013. This is my experience with three cycles.
Kickbikes, also called footbikes, are essentially scooters with larger bicycle tires. You can also think of them as scooters for adults. They were invented in Finland. Like kids’ scooters, there are no seats or pedals. They do, however, like bicycles, have front and rear handbrakes. There are now competing models from a number of other countries, including the Czech Republic and the United States. So far, they have not caught on as much in the United States as in Europe, where there are organized races. Kickbike is the commercial name for the Finnish version. Footbike is the generic name.
Because of their bicycle-sized tires, they go a lot faster and further than scooters with small wheels. At least one person has ridden a kickbike across the United States. I think it took him about a month.
I bought a used Sport Max model for $200 in 2013. The new price would have been around $450. At the time I was in my 60s and had been riding bicycles for almost all my life. I commuted to work daily on one, had ridden centuries (100-mile rides in one day), and had taken multiday camping trips.
There’s virtually no learning curve. Riding one is intuitive. The number one question I got from people who asked about this strange contraption I was riding was whether I switched legs to push it forward. Yes, you switch kickoff legs. Otherwise, you would build up enormous muscles in one leg and not in the other. You’re supposed to switch every seven to ten strokes. At first, I slavishly counted strokes before switching. Now, I switch when I feel like it.
As a longtime bicyclist, my first question was how well the kickbike experience would compare. I was pleasantly surprised to find that it had advantages over the bike. They are safer because they are more stable. In seven years of riding mine, I never had any kind of accident. They are safer in part because they are slower. If you are ever about to go down, they are much easier to jump off than a bicycle.
They are a joy to ride. There is the full cycling experience without the negatives of bicycles. I used mine for exercise, pleasure, and commuting four miles to work up and down hills.
Going up hills is the same as with a bicycle. It just depends on how much effort you want to put into it before getting off and pushing. There is also the factor that it is much easier to get off a kickbike and start pushing than doing the same with a bicycle. It’s very easy to shift between riding and walking, and you don’t have the sense of being a wimp if you decide to shift to walking it up a hill.
The only disadvantage is speed. There is no question that they are slower than bicycles. They’re much faster than walking but half to two-thirds as fast as a bike. They can be as fast, however, going down hills.
My longest distance was 26 miles in about four hours on organized bike rides. I could have gone much further if I had wanted to as they are not at all strenuous to ride.
The Half Bike
Much as I loved my Kickbike, I was frustrated by its slow speed. I wanted to go on the Seattle to Portland organized 180-mile ride. But I knew that my Kickbike would be way too slow to keep up.
After searching through standing cycles on the internet, I discovered the Halfbike, a Bulgarian invention from around 2014. It has a bicycle-sized tire on the front and two small tires on the rear. Unlike the Kickbike, it has pedals and a chain to propel it. Like the Kickbike, it has a handbrake but no seat. It is like a seatless unicyle with training wheels.
I bought one in 2019 for $550 via a Kickstarter sale.
Unlike the Kickbike, it has a steep learning curve—a least a month. It took me about two months to be mostly comfortable riding it. It was faster than the Kickbike though still slower than a regular bike. However, it was much more strenuous to ride than the Kickbike. I could not imagine riding 180 miles on it. Some younger and more fit people might be able to do it. I don’t suspect we’ll hear of anyone riding one across the United States.
Half-bikes can be fun to ride. But their main disadvantage, as far as I was concerned, was their lack of stability. I had two nasty accidents with scraped hands and knees, and was always fearful of them, especially when anywhere near car traffic. I would not have used mine to commute to work for multiple reasons, including that there’s no place to carry loads other than your back.
After a year with the Half-bike, I began looking again for the holy grail of a standing cycle: one that would be fast, comfortable, stable, and economically-priced. I looked at the Elliptigo but rejected it as too expensive at $2199 and too big to carry in a car. Recently, the people that make the Elliptigo brought out a new model, the SUB, that was closer to what I was seeking. It has a bicycle pedaling motion and is smaller than the original Elliptigo. It sells for $799.
Then I began thinking about an earlier idea I had had. When I first began toying with the idea of a standing cycle, I tried simply standing all the time on my TREK 750 hybrid bike that I used for commuting. That quickly became uncomfortable and I abandoned the idea and began searching for a dedicated standing cycle. That led to the Kickbike.
But maybe there would be a way to convert the hybrid into a standing cycle that was comfortable to ride. I found an article on the internet about Frank Cavaluzzi, who had converted his bike into a standing cycle and went on rides for hundreds of miles with camping gear. The article didn’t say, though, how he had converted the bike. After a lot of searching, I discovered that he had simply raised or replaced the handlebars so that they were about six inches higher. That allowed him to ride in a full standing position without having to hunch over.
I took my hybid to my local bike shop and had them put on a six-inch handlebar riser and then, of necessity, install longer brake and gear cables. Voila! I had a perfect standing cycle for the couple of hundred dollars charged by the bike shop.
I’ve been riding it every day for several months and love it. It has the speed I want with a comfortable standing position. I’ve come full circle and am back to my commuter hybrid bike, albeit converted to a standing cycle. The Kickbike and Halfbike stand unused in my garage. If I had known back in 2013 what I know now, I would have gone straight to the conversion option and avoided buying the other cycles. I don’t, though, regret those eccentric cycling experiences that drew a lot of attention.
Table. Comparing Standing Cycles
|Cost||$650+ new including additional cost of conversion; $200 converting existing bike||$400||$700|
Jim Russell lives in Portland, Oregon. When not riding a standing cycle, he writes about retirement plans and other social policy issues. He is the author of Social Insecurity: 401(k)s and the Retirement Crisis and, forthcoming from Monthly Review Press, The Labor Guide to Retirement Plans.