How to Build a Recumbent Bicycle for Touring?

Elvis Elvis

If you’re looking for a ‘bent for your next tour. Why not build a recumbent bicycle? There are several options for building that will allow you to create a great machine for your next tour, even if you’re not a welder!

We’ll look at the pros and cons of build vs buying, as well as, available options for building, and levels of difficulty between various options.

The first thing you have to do is determine what type person you are. Do like to build things? Do you tweak things? Do have a deep seeded need to figure out how things work? If so, you can easily build a recumbent bicycle. If you are just trying to save money, you may do best to buy outright or go for the frame set build up which we will discuss later.

Various options are listed below. So, take a look and enjoy!

Short Wheel Base Builds:

Short Wheel Base machines are the easiest to build because it’s easier to keep the wheels in alignment. The front and rear wheels have to be in the same plane. With a short wheel base machine this is easier to accomplish.

I consulted a welder while planning to build my Greenspeed trike. He said, “Son, when these plans say an inch and three quarters, they MEAN an inch an three quarters.” Then, it hit me…

How to Build a Recumbent Bicycle for Touring?

Steaming down Mount Cheaha at 45+ MPH with 50+lbs of gear is NOT the time to think, “I wonder if I was off by a quarter inch on the crossmember?”

Remember Allen Shepard’s prayer? “O God, please don let us screw up” or something to that effect? Well, if you have any doubts let the pros handle the frame and wheel building.

If you want to build a recumbent bicycle, SWB machines are easy. This would be a great first ‘bent– especially, if you hacked the rear triangle off an old mountain bike and used that as your rear triangle.

Some would say that SWB ‘bents are not for touring, that they’re better suited for racing. Rev. Johannes “Hans” Erich Myors has pedaled more than 140,000 since 1993. Last I checked he was riding a SWB machine by Lightning Cycle Dynamics. Now Lighting recumbents are known for being the fastest racing ‘bents in the world, and this guy is using it as a hardcore touring machine!

Long Wheel Based(LWB) Builds:

Okay, whether you choose to build a LWB or a SWB ‘bent, it is hard to keep both front and rear wheels in the same plane. But with LWB machine (65 inches or more), the chance of misaligning the wheels is MUCH greater. If youare willing to undertake the precision ecessary to achieve good wheel alignment, then LWB’s offer great rewards.

If the wheels are out of alignment you’re not going to have fun. You’ll be fighting the machine with each pedal stroke. And you will be much slower. Worse, you’ll get a serious wobble which can be life threating at speed.

However, LWB ‘bents make for great touring. It’s like floating on air. Downhill on a LWB machine is like riding a steel roller coaster. Taking the extra time needed to ensure proper alignment will be worth it.

Want to build a recumbent bicycle? You can’t go wrong with a long wheel base machine!

Trike Builds:

These are by far the most difficult type to build. But if you want to build a recumbent bicycle, trikes are King of the Road. They are three wheeled, human powered go carts. With tadpole trikes, the hardest part is building the steering/braking system and the crossmember. With delta trikes, the hardest part is building the drive system.

Tadpole trikes have 2 wheels in the front and one wheel in the back and are read wheel driven. Although I have seen front wheel drive models, rear wheel drive is the standard.

Delta Trikes have one wheel in front and two wheels in the back. Most delta trikes I’ve seen are one wheel drive. A two wheel drive delta trike would necessitate some kind of differential which would make the trike as heavy as lead in a black hole. The same goes for front wheel driven tadpole trikes. Trikes are heavy buy nature and using a differential would add too much weight. Thus, rendering the trike less practical.

You’ve got two options:

Frame Set Builds:

Let’s face it: the diamond frame (DF) world enjoys building bikes from frames sets. That is you can buy the bare frame, headset, fork, stem as a kit and just transfer components from your other bicycles or just pick and choose the components you like best.

For instance, I want to build a recumbent trike. I want more than 27 gear combinations. A great way to do that is to add a quad chainring as opposed to a triple chainring. If I bought a factory built trike, I would have to throw away the stock crankset. Well, that’s a waste.

In recumbent world, these options are limited. That’s because not many ‘bent manufacturers sell frame sets. But as ‘bents become more and more popular, more frame set options will become available.

How to Build a Recumbent Bicycle for Touring?

Tube Kit Builds:

Some companies sell the tubes for their ‘bents. The tubes are precut and mitered (fish mouthed) and come with a set of plans. All you have to is weld them up. This will make it easy for you to build a recumbent bicycle.

This is also a great time saver, as tube mitering by hand can take FOREVER. Your arms will be ripped like Mr. Arnold by the time you get done with your first ‘bent.

Tube Kits Come With:

  • Bare unpainted frame parts
  • Forks
  • Rear triangle
  • Seat tubes
  • Seat cushion or fabric (sometimes)
  • Handle bars(sometimes)
  • Stem(s)
  • All tubes pre-cut and mitered
  • Basically, everything to build a recumbent bicycle except the transmission!

Plans Built:

Plans built bents are great because you always have a standard to go by. You can make modifications based on the plans. You can stray as little or as much as you need to in order to accommodate your needs.

For instance, if the plans call for 1.75 inch diameter tubing and you are over the weight limit for the plans, you can just increase the tubing to 2 inch diameter. Building from plans offers complete customization from a rock solid proven design.

Sometimes it’s best to buy the plans first to assess how much time and energy the project will take. Then you will be in a better position to determine if you really want to build a recumbent bicycle

Built From Scratch:

Okay, for you hardcore types this will excite you. No plans, no drawings, just build a recumbent bicycle with raw imagination and a BUTT LOAD of luck. No really, there are some who find this option quite satisfactory.

If you’re an engineer, then, luck has got nothing to do with it. But for us mere mortals…Well, just let the pros handle it.

I’ve heard pilot’s who decide to build their own airplane instead of buying one. They enjoy the building process. Sure they like flying, but the building process cuts into thier flying time. That’s why many ‘bent builders will build a recumbent bicycle in the winter so that spring, summer, and fall can be used for riding.

How to Build a Recumbent Bicycle for Touring?


Building CAN cut cost, depending on the options you choose. Another great thing about building is that you can build as you can afford to.

Some high end trikes can reach $5,000 or more. Not only can you build a recumbent bicycle for about half the price, you can buy the frame set first, then, weld. Save more money, then, paint. Save and build the wheels. You see the point? You may not have $3,000 for your dream bent, but you can spend $100 here and $300 there. Overtime this will add up.


  • Custom build a machine to your own needs (You could build 135 speed machine if you want!)
  • Can Cut cost.
  • Pride of having built it yourself


  • More time consuming.
  • Cost of tools could overall undercut saving. (There are other options).