Challenge Furai 24″ review

Versatile commuter, medium tourer, rough road warrior

Over Easter I had the pleasure of three days touring a Challenge Furai on loan from Laid-Back-Bikes in Edinburgh.

Challenge Furai 24 review
(Thoroughly drenched on the banks of Loch Sunart)

This was a short ride of a little under 200 miles, evenly split between each day.

We took the ferry from Oban to Craignure, rode round the periphery of Mull, got the ferry from Tobermory to Ardnamurchan, rode to the westernmost point of mainland Britain and thence to Glenfinnan via the wild road along the banks of Loch Shiel. On the third day we returned to Oban via the Corran ferry and sections of the Oban – Fort William cycle path.

Challenge Furai 24 review
(The laden Furai caused a bit of a stir among the pack of riders sheltering at this hotel.
Note my camera bag clipped to the Radical side pannier for easy one-hand access.)

The weather was extraordinarily wet, and I was very glad of the benefits of being laid back – dry feet, freewheeling into the wind as everyone else pedalled away behind, need I say more!

The Furai impressed on a number of scores – it was very smooth and felt light and responsive despite being well laden. It rolled quickly on tarmac, ate potholes and broken surface easily, and even handled the 16 mile logging track by Loch Shiel with a minimum of fuss.

Challenge Furai 24 review
(Sharp bends and a slippery surface made this section of north shore
near Glenfinnan an excellent challenge)

The Furai is no match for a racing bike, in this configuration at least – but compared with an upright tourer or utility bike, it is quite a rapid piece of kit. Even pulling into the wind with my companions taking a draft, I often had to ease up, while I had no difficulties on the climbs.

The gearing allowed a respectable top end combined with a winch-like ability to take on sustained gradients up to 20% (1:5), aided by the slightly smaller wheels. Both at low speed and high the handling was predictable, lazy even – I can’t ride any recumbent no-handed but this is as close as I’ve come.

Challenge Furai 24 review
(Only aquatic Furai range much further west than this…)

Through tightening corners the bike showed no tendency to understeer and wash out as I’ve experienced, with various degrees of pain, on past adventures.

Ride height / comparison

Height-wise the Furai comes in at a happy medium of 46cm (18″), noticeably above low bikes like the Rapto (+19cm/7.5″) and noticeably closer to the ground than the Gaucho (-14cm/5.5″).

The main advantage of being higher is that you can hang bags without worrying about ground strikes while cornering, although if you’re inclined to believe a few inches of seat height is significant in terms of safety you’ll get that too.


Roll over for a comparison with the Gaucho 28


Roll over for a comparison with the Raptobike

Like the Gaucho (in fact, like many European bikes and almost all Challenge ones) the Furai features rear suspension:

Challenge Furai 24 review

This makes a massive contribution to ride comfort when you hit unpaved surfaces (or potholes on the so-called “paved” ones!). It also makes life much less punishing for the frame, seat, and rear wheel which should all see a significantly longer service life.

The suspension is a simple coil rather than the tunable air shock provided by Nazca on my PBP Gaucho 28, but there is some kind of preload mechanism and it’s probably possible to use different springs (in fact, it’s probably possible to fit an air shock if you like, although Challenge would need to confirm).

In case you’ve also read my Gaucho 28 review – whereas I’d take that bike rigid, the Furai is a recumbent whose purpose and construction is ideal for suspension and I highly recommend it on that basis.

Controls

Attention to detail in the cockpit is as high as you would expect. The stem is adjustable for easy entry/exit and cables are routed internally:

Challenge Furai 24 review

This maintains very clean lines indeed (although it would be lovely if the front brake also ran straight through the frame, perhaps there is a structural reason this is to be avoided).

Challenge Furai 24 review

In terms of the bars themselves, these are of the ‘preying mantis’ type and were extremely comfortable and precise – even covering rough unpaved roads in the middle of nowhere, these (combined with the thick tyres) really made light work of it.

Having your arms tucked in is considerably more aerodynamic and there’s plenty of real estate for computers and the like. Perhaps the only issue is that to fit into the aperture for internal cable routing, some quite severe curves are required, and indeed the rear disc brake of this bike functioned very poorly.

I didn’t try to fiddle with this as I could have made it worse, but I could actuate the disc caliper manually with good power (i.e. using my hand to press the pads together) so friction was causing the problem somewhere. That said, Challenge sell a lot of bikes with this cable routing, so it’s probably quite fixable and just the result of teething in the setup.

Challenge Furai 24 review

The finishing kit was good – solid SRAM branded parts, works every time. The shifts were crisp and rapid and the front brake at least was powerful and effortless easy to modulate (vital when riding a slick tyre at speed on a muddy gravel logging track!)

Challenge Furai 24 review

At the front, the boom is very clean, with just a small projection of cable outer to help turn the bend (other than this, it’s fully internal which is really nice):

Challenge Furai 24 review

Wheels, mudguards

The Furai is equipped with 24″ (ISO 507) wheels, which are just a little smaller than 26″ MTB wheels. The book circumference of a 24″ Kojak is 1844mm vs 1976mm for the 26″ version, a difference of 6.7%.

Challenge Furai 24 review

This makes the Furai noticeably more surefooted at the front than a 20″ bike and allows the bike to tackle unpaved terrain with ease. (By “unpaved”, I mean forestry roads as opposed to mountain biking. This would not be good on rough ground). This, in fact:

Challenge Furai 24 review
Loch Shiel track – off limits to motorists, a 16 mile, wild ‘short cut’ with no tarmac in sight…

The Kojaks are, of course, full slicks with volume and this really lets the bike fly on hard surfaces – loaded or unloaded – while it’s also fine on dry hardpack and dirt. If you make a habit of riding dirt however, something with tread will be worthwhile for muddy days!

We spanned 16 miles of track (from Glenfinnan down Loch Shiel in the Scottish Highlands) and some sections had an inch or two of surface mud from forestry plant that mandated careful attention to detail with the steering column!

There’s a solid range of tyres available in 24″ from Schwalbe amongst others – both wide and narrow.

In the interests of being comprehensive – the 507 rim size is generally paired with wide tyres while narrow ones go with 520 rims. The extra 13mm of the bigger rim compensates to make the final diameter roughly 24″ in either case – hence both are “24 inch wheels”.

(I’m not sure whether Challenge can spec the Furai with 520 wheels from stock. Obviously it makes no other difference to the bike setup, since the discs don’t care)

Challenge Furai 24 review

The mudguard stays are carefully (and finely!) bent to work around the disc caliper.

As we unfortunately experienced three long days (dusk to dawn) of riding in the rain, I had plenty of time to put these to the test and they did a fine job as you’d expect.

Seating

The Furai comes with Challenge’s aluminium hardshell seat, and you should be careful to get the right size, since this one was a bit too small for me and I had to fiddle around to make it tolerable.

This makes trying a bike essential (for instance, at a popular dealership such as Edinburgh’s LaidBackBikes).

Challenge Furai 24 review

The seat is extensively drilled and ribbed for lightness and ventilation – yet it’s strong enough to support a max rated weight of 125kg, so you shouldn’t worry about hanging heavy luggage.

Challenge Furai 24 review

The bike comes equipped with the industry standard Ventisit pad. Unfortunately I left the pad in a different car on our way to the start of the trip!

This logistics error then enforced the purchase of a camping mat which I hacked into shape. However, I’m happy to recommend the Ventisit on the basis of many thousands of happy kilometres :)

Luggage

The Furai comes equipped with a ‘day rack’, pictured below:

Challenge Furai 24 review

This will support a seat bag nicely, or a pair of panniers – the maximum rated capacity is only 12kg however.

Since the total load limit for the Furai is 125kg (enough for a serious amount of luggage) you will need to look further for a complete solution.

Challenge also make “voyager” racks – which usually take four panniers, two behind and two below the seat, but I don’t think you can fit these to the Furai (the Challenge website isn’t completely clear) so if you wanted to go bigger than 12kg on the luggage front, side-panniers, rather than conventional bags, would need to be taken.

Indeed, I was pleased to be able to demo a pair of Radical Banana Bags, which sling across the saddle and are voluminous indeed (55L for the medium version as tested). I’ve posted a separate review of the Banana Bags here.

You can see below a shot of the fully loaded Furai with bulging Banana Bags and a conventional pannier (to help out another member of the team):

Challenge Furai 24 review

(Yes, that carry mat again!)

The Radical Bags, in the interests of fairness and diplomacy, are a bit tricky to set up correctly, although they have a dozen or so different straps in an attempt to make them one-size-fits-all.

I had some rubbing between the bags and the frame (a bit like cable outer rub) which would need to be addressed with some kind of frame protector stickers if you wanted a setup like this long term.

Drivetrain / Idlers

Unlike the idlers on, say, the Raptobike, Challenge fits ‘floating’ idlers which can move from side to side to accommodate different chain angles without as much side-loading and friction.

Like most SWB recumbents, a return idler holds the chain above the front wheel, giving the ability to turn the bars as far as 90 degrees without fouling (naturally, there’s no possibility of achieving this whilst riding!)

Challenge Furai 24 review

This bike was fitted with two tubes, one power and one return side. To be honest, I didn’t really notice much friction from the drivetrain and they did prevent an overload of oil on my touring clothes.

My one criticism in this area is that the return idler has no guard. As a result of the idler position, which is just inside the knee, it’s possible to ‘run over’ baggy clothes which then derail the idler – this happened twice over the three day trip, although both times the chain ran inside the idler and the bike remained rideable, rather than spilling off the other way.

Challenge Furai 24 review

Nit-picks and Conclusion

Sadly, the Furai didn’t come with a kickstand – although this is certainly something Challenge can provide, so perhaps not a true criticism (buy one!). It will save your paint and make accessing things when there’s no handy fence posts or walls to prop up the bike much easier!

Other than that, and a little trouble with the return idler, I couldn’t really find anything significant on which to mark down the bike. (If I was desperate, I’d point out that the handlebar grip on the left became a bit slippy after three days rain – it’s only a half grip because of the shifters). Really, that’s about it!

Challenge bikes aren’t built to be the cheapest, but for your money you have a well considered, sprightly yet not overly fragile bike that’s about as well mannered and as versatile as a recumbent can be.

With the seat laid back and racing tyres it would be quite a different beast to the loaded tourer with all the trimmings, and in either configuration you can happily mix it with rush hour traffic, secure in the knowledge that you are much larger than painted road markings.

Challenge Furai 24 review

I would say there are two types of people who shouldn’t look at the Furai – those who want to buy a recumbent just to go faster (Challenge, and others, make vastly faster models) and those who want to go expedition touring (get something heavier and less refined).

For the vast majority of riders however, this is a pretty strong offering.

See also:

13 Comments

  1. John Williams

    It is frustrating that Challenge are STILL not putting a guard on the return side idler. My 2010 Fujin has the same design and I’ve had the chain jump off on several occasions – in my case spilling off altogether – when going over a pothole.

  2. Dave

    Hi John,

    Thanks for the comment – this was my one real issue and it does seem like something that would be easy to fix, luckily I spotted the chain was running against the frame both times before I chewed through the paint and into the metal!

    Dave

  3. The first Challenge bikes I sold did have a cage over the front return idler.

    The Furai is really a range of bikes that can combine an SL frame with a choice of possibilities.
    So 507, 520 and 26″ wheels are all possible. Also was / is a 700c version but this may being displaced by new Chamsin.

    You can choose any steerer type you like including USS. Be aware though that the underseat frame has an extra braze on for the steerer – so ask at start if you ever think you would want to change. I find teh one fiterd fine. Some Furais have a rigid steerer which is ok as there is space to get in and out – ie more than a Rapto!

    A Furai with 520 wheels and carbon seat and front boom is pretty light. Audaxers though like to add items like front lighting hubs, disc brakes etc so teh weight goes back up. Even as an Allround featured here it is around 35lbs. This has an SL seat though which allows a rack – handy for light and bags. The SL seat is powder coated to match bike but only comes in one size.
    The rear brake was good when delivered but cable has somehow got twisted I think. Not typical… The bike also had kickstand on rear swing arm but I took off…

  4. Dave

    Thanks for the clarification David!

    Naturally if you’d put the kickstand on I probably would have borrowed it for a race and moaned that it had a kickstand so you can’t win! :)

    There’s a good bit of buzz around the Chamsin, although I think if you’re going to get one in the shop, a rigid Chamsin SL is the way to go (if such an option exists). I wrote last year that the Gaucho 28 was a bit of a funny fish because it’s a 700C racer, but it has suspension. Would make a good comparison with the Raptobike midracer of course.

  5. psiberzerker

    Best review on this bike I’ve read! Ok, it’s the only comprehensive one I could find, but still, very thorough, and well written. Top rate!

  6. Dave

    Thanks!

    If there’s anything else you’d like to know, please feel free to ask.

    D.

  7. Franck

    If you have a problem return side idler on you fujin or hurricane, buy this product.
    http://www.icletta.com/shop/antrieb/kettenleitrollen-set-challenge-kettenfuhrung-fujin-furai-terracycle-icletta.html
    Now, my Hurricane SL is perfect!!!

  8. john mills

    Dave, As you know my normal ride is a Nazca Fuego. Having clocked up a few miles on a Furai 26 I thought it might be worth adding a few observations and comparisons. The Furai in question was bought from David at Laidback. It is built with a pair of Mavic Crossride wheels, SRAM X9 rear mech and controls and an FSA Gossamer chainset, 30/39/53 utilising an Ultegra front changer. The brakes are hydraulic Avid Elixir. Tyres are 35mm Kojaks.

    As supplied the bike came fitted with a medium SL seat but, like you, I found this to short for me. I contacted Challenge direct and eventually obtained a large CF seat. This has transformed the bike in several ways. There is not a whole lot of info out there so I fitted it utilising the same mounting points as the SL seat. As fitted the seat is perhaps 1 cm further forward and perhaps 6 or 7 mm higher than the SL. I extended the (carbon) boom by one cm. Comfort is now excellent and the handling slightly improved – the steering feels even more planted. Perhaps this is due to the slight shift in weight distribution? Seat height is approx 57cm and BB height 70cm.

    My immediate impressions were of a bike that felt more stable and less ‘sensitive’ to steering inputs although there was initially a hint of what I thought was wheel flop. This disappeared within a few minutes and I suspect it might be a reaction to pedal inputs at low speed.

    The bike dealt with coarse surfaces better and seemed to climb better. That might be down to weighing 2kg less than the Furai. On the flat the higher position allows better observation and on climbs it is able to go slightly slower before it begins to destabilise. Perhaps 1kph difference?

    Downhill the Fuego wins. The long shallow descent off one climb usually produces 55kph on the Fuego but only 52 on the Furai. The Fuego has a more spacious cockpit and is better when launching from a stop. Into the wind the Fuego feels slightly better. There’s not much between them in those conditions I think. I have not had any issues with the idlers.

    At the slow and medium speeds which comprise most of my mileage, big wheels seem to hold a clear advantage. The downside of stratospheric seat and BB heights I put up with on stick bikes are not present on this bike.

    Overall I am very pleased with it. I have a pair of wheels coming (XT on Mavic XC717 rims) These rims will take 28 mm tyres and I’l put Duranos on. It will be interesting to see if they make a difference.

  9. john mills

    I see an error on the para above regarding bike weight. It should read that the Furai weighs 2 kg less than the Fuego

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