Louis Hudgin arm/leg powered bike
Hudgin with a prototype design for his arm and leg powered bike.IxEd

Editor’s note: Freelance writer Scott Lunt spends his cycling time piecing together impromptu loop rides and running occasional errands. Soaking in the Tucson sun since 1994, he can be found two-wheeling around town on his Bacchetta Giro 20 recumbent.

When Louis Hudgin was a child in Tucson, he saw an arm-powered child’s scooter and wondered: “Why isn’t it arm and leg powered?”

The question stuck, and years later Hudgin started experimenting with building a bicycle that combined the power of all four limbs.

He soon found the answer to his original question: “It’s very difficult to do,” he said.

But after experimenting off and on over the course of 30 years, Hudgin overcame the difficulties. He now has his seventh prototype and a patented design that demonstrates how a little arm power can go a long way in boosting pedaling performance.

Unlike a rowing cycle, Hudgin’s design combines a rowing motion of the arms with standard pedaling. Simply put, it incorporates a second chainring and chain that’s cranked by pushing and pulling on the handlebars. Power is transferred to the pedaled crankset.

According to Hudgin, the arms contribute about 25 percent more power on an average ride and up to 60 percent more power during maximum effort.

What’s more, he said, the design allows for the elimination of dead spots — the spots where no power is generated during a stroke. Riders can generate power 100 percent of the time because the arms power through the natural leg dead spots, and the legs power through the natural arm dead spots.

Because riders on standard upright bikes tend to use their handlebars for support, Hudgin found that the design works best for recumbents where handlebars are used strictly for steering control.

Recently, I met up with Hudgin to see first-hand how his design works.  He brought one of his two prototypes, a modified older model Rans Strato Cirrus. He’s also modified a Cycle Genius Sparrow. Both are long-wheelbase recumbents.

We were joined by his son Al, who, as a teen had been an Arizona State Junior Criterium champion. Al led us on a loop through Marana and Oro Valley that involved some moderate climbing, the type of terrain where Hudgin’s design excels.  I was on my Bacchetta recumbent and watched as they quickly rode away from me.

Here’s a short video showing his Rans prototype in action:

Recumbents are known for being slow climbers because you can’t stand and get that extra burst of power. Hudgin’s design overcomes that. For recumbent riders “that makes going up hills easy,” he said. “Comparable to a diamond frame. And probably better.”

In fact, Hudgin rode his modified Rans on the 111-mile route in last year’s El Tour de Tucson. He said with a smile that he passed lots of people, completing the tour in less than six and a half hours.

As I watched Hudgin, obviously fit, row and pedal it was clear that his arms were giving him an extra boost for climbing. Throughout our ride, father and son politely held back so I could keep up.  Then it was my turn to try out his bike.

At first it was awkward because I didn’t expect the resistance when I pushed and pulled the handlebars. Hudgin pointed out that it helps if you already know how to pedal a recumbent so you can concentrate on the arms. Quickly, though, I stabilized and immediately felt the boost in power. Other than that initial awkwardness, the ride was just like on any other long wheelbase recumbent with the added benefit of a full-body workout.

Hudgin said it doesn’t take long to get used to the rowing motion, and the arm power can be adjusted to fit different arm lengths.  The handlebars can also be fixed for pedal-power only.  He would like to license his design, but is also considering building the bikes himself.

For more information, contact Louis Hudgin at landlhudgin@msn.com.

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