A major advantage to adding arm power to a recumbent is that the arms are not as involved in postural support as with an upright bike, and therefore can perform the task of propulsion while the rider remains stably mounted on the machine.
In the post “Rx for a Healthy Commute” I extol the comfort I experienced in riding an Avatar 2000 recumbent over a period of 22 years. What I didn’t mention was I never obtained upright-bicycle speeds while riding it. I attributed my lack of power to coming from a runner’s background, where more of the leg force came from the gluteus and hamstring muscles as opposed to the quadriceps muscles. I suspected that sitting on the major force generators significantly reduced my supine power output, but again I have no empirical data to substantiate this notion. On the other hand, I estimate that my recumbent speed was only about 80% that of my upright speed. This would equate to a drastic loss of power!
The bottom line, though, was I always felt I had cardio-pulmonary capacity I wasn’t using and the only way to remedy that would be to add more muscle mass to the job of propulsion.
So the question was what type of arm motion should I use?
If one wants to avoid the differential force application of propelling and steering the alternative to hand cranking is a rowing motion. While rowing does not make as good of use of the legs as cycling, it involves the muscle mass of the back in addition to the arms. The decision was made to use a rowing motion for the arms and conventional pedaling for the legs. The two motions were not at all incompatible and worked quite well.
The basic approach is to have a rowing frame that pivots at the recumbent’s top tube and during its rotation pull a chain over a 16-tooth single-speed freewheel attached to the left crank arm. The chain must pass under the freewheel to move the cranks in the correct direction, and therefore an idler is required to route the chain backward where it is kept taut by a screen-door spring attached to the bike frame.
The handlebars are pivotally mounted within the rowing frame and the steering axis is perpendicular to the rowing axis. The lever length of the rowing frame is 18.5” and it can rotate through 90deg.