Laid-Back-Bikes: Recumbent Reviews

Edinburgh is home to an excellent specialist bike shop in Laid-Back-Bikes. Owner David Gardiner provides expert advice, fitting, and test rides from the leafy suburb of Marchmont where customers also benefit from expert attention from the mechanics of the adjacent Bicycle Works.

shop-top

Laid-Back specialises in popular brands such as ICE and Hase, Nazca, Challenge, Optima, MetaBikes and RaptoBike (not to mention uprights from Paper Bicycle, Circe and Airnimal). At any given time there are a representative range of bikes/trikes in stock and anything can be built to order.

shop-trikes

The shop is just off the Meadows in south-central Edinburgh and adjacent to a number of quiet roads which makes it ideal for less experienced riders (location here).

It’s all very well reading about recumbents and looking at photos on sites like this, but before any potential purchase I’d have to recommend dropping in to a specialist dealer like Laid-Back-Bikes to enjoy artisan coffee, fitting/test rides and discussion of your custom spec:

shop-customers

My Instant recommendation:

  • The Nazca Fuego is fast, comfortable, versatile, easy to ride and great value.
  • If you’d prefer three wheels, then you won’t regret the ICE Sprint 20 RS – virtually the perfect all-rounder.

 

Table of Contents:

Each article is an in-depth review based on extensive riding (except where noted with an ‘NR’) and illustrated with detailed photography:

‘NR’ denotes ‘not ridden’ – typically, this is a photo discussion of a LB customer or third party bike which it wasn’t appropriate for me to trial thoroughly.


Trikes

While there are go-fast trikes, by and large they aren’t focused on speed; day rides, touring / load-hauling and mobility are their forte.

Of course, they are outrageous fun as well, and give the best cycling experience with regards to traffic that you can imagine (so long as you don’t need to cut through stationary queues!)

 

ICE Sprint 20″ RS click for in-depth review

Is this 20″ rear-suspension model the perfect all-round trike?

sprint20rs

Comfortable and robust with industry-leading handling, the Sprint 20″ is easy to store due to the compact fold. Perfect for sprightly day trips or carrying heavy loads.

Click here for an in-depth review (Jan 2013).

 

ICE Sprint 26″ click for in-depth review

With an unsuspended frame and a full-size rear wheel, this is a very popular variant of the Sprint:

sprint20rs

Slanting more towards speed than the Sprint 20 RS, but at the expense of some comfort and a less compact fold, the Sprint 26 is considerably more practical than the Vortex – does it occupy the sweet spot of the whole trike range?

Click here for an in-depth review (Apr 2013).

 

ICE Vortex click for in-depth review

This trike gives everything up in the search for ultimate speed.

Vortex

Very light and aerodynamic, but with a harsh ride, no fold, and limited luggage options. Still, you cannot buy a faster trike!

Click here for an in-depth review (May 2012).

 

ICE VTX click for in-depth review

The Vortex concept has been revisited with an all-new tail section.

Vortex

The VTX retains the speed and weight advantages of the Vortex but with superb comfort to firmly take the “high speed trike” crown.

Click here for an in-depth review (Jan 2014).

ICE Adventure HD click for in-depth review

The Adventure is very similar to the Sprint, but features a higher seating position making it more accessible (as well as giving it greater ground clearance).

sprint20rs

This ‘Heavy Duty’ version is especially adapted for the more portly rider with a wider seat, handlebars and wheel track. Don’t let it put you off – a well fitting trike is a trike you will want to spend many days on!

Click here for an in-depth review (Apr 2013).

 


Tandems

This may be a very small category, but the attributes of recumbents – relaxing, comfortable mile-eaters which give you a great view of the world around you – mean they lend themselves well to the tandem format.

Some amazing tours (of all lengths, from day trips to expeditions) have been completed on recumbent tandems.

Remember… two’s company!

 

Nazca Quetzal click for in-depth review

A masterful design, this steel-framed folding tandem is versatile, efficient and confidence-inspiring.

Quetzal

Nazca’s tour-de-force is predicted (by me!) to take the recumbent tandem niche by storm.

Top-level build quality is just the icing on the cake for a bike with great handling, formidable load capacity, a sprightly manner on the open road yet enough manoeuvrability for the inner city.

Click here for an in-depth review (Dec 2012).


Lowracers

Divine or dangerous (pah!), the lowracer is the purest expression of recumbency – these are the most aerodynamic bikes on Earth. Manouverability in tight spaces requires practice, but falls at almost any speed are quite tolerable.

Generally, lowracers have a small front wheel, sacrificing a little rolling resistance and a more complex chainline for superior aerodynamics.

To me, the defining characteristic of a “lowracer” is that I can touch the ground with my fingers without falling over. If that sounds arbitrary, consider whether classing bikes by expressing the seat height as an arbitrary multiple of the length of the human foot makes any sense at all…

Nazca Fuego click for in-depth review

It’s hard to go wrong with this classic design, which blends comfort with speed and remains very accessible to novices.

Fuego

Offering a low, reclined position with excellent luggage capacity, the solid, sturdy construction will accommodate a rough daily commute or distance touring with ease.

Click here for an in-depth review (April 2012).

 

RaptoBike Lowracer click for in-depth review

Arnold Ligtvoet brought front wheel drive to the mainstream with the critically acclaimed Raptobike Lowracer – BentRider Online’s runaway “Reader’s Bike of The Year” in 2008.

RaptoStock

Extremely direct and huge fun to ride, the Raptobike can be adapted to carry a certain amount of luggage and is immensely rugged and strong. A great commuter or day tripper and possibly the best value fast bike on the market.

Click here for an in-depth review (May 2012).

 

RaptoBike Lowracer DualDrive / Aero wheelset click for photo review

Arnold Ligtvoet brought front wheel drive to the mainstream with the critically acclaimed Raptobike Lowracer – BentRider Online’s runaway “Reader’s Bike of The Year” in 2008.

RaptoOrange

You can buy this bike stock or have it built to order by a dealer like Laid-Back-Bikes.

See the main Raptobike Lowracer entry for more.

In this case, the orange colour option is combined with SRAM DualDrive and a handbuilt set of deep aero wheels to make a really stunning bike. See the photo review (November 2012).

 

Challenge Fujin SL click for in-depth review

Light, stiff, and refined, the Fujin SL takes you into the territory of the real fast-movers; if you can’t perform on this, you need something from the track racing world!

FujinSL

Many consider this to be the archetypal lowracer – combining Challenge’s impeccable handling and finish with great aerodynamics and respectable weight, without going crazy on cost.

Click here for an in-depth review (Sep 2012).


Midracers

Most recumbents fall into the ‘midracer’ bracket – models where the seat is higher than ‘finger height’, yet they are not “High”, even if they have large front wheels.

In this category you will find the largest range of models, from racers to tourers and commuters. If you’re looking for a bike which is easy to learn and tolerant of the widest range of road conditions and rider skill, midracers are a good bet (although there are exceptions at the extremes).

Generally, if speed is a priority to you, a midracer is less likely to be the best choice (with the same noteworthy exceptions), but will dominate if you are seriously into touring, particularly rough road or expedition touring.

 

Challenge Furai 24″ click for in-depth review

A versatile model with superb handling, which will be equally at home fast riding, light touring, or commuting. With the right tyres, can easily be taken off-road.

Furai24

The aesthetics and build quality of the Furai are, as with all Challenge bikes, second to none. A lighter construction than many Dutch manufacturers makes this a nimble bike which is a pleasure to ride.

Click here for an in-depth review (April 2012).

 

Raptobike Lowracer (big wheel) click for in-depth review

This unsupported conversion puts a 26″ or 700C front wheel on the Raptobike lowracer, giving killer aerodynamics and rolling resistance to an already compelling platform.

BigWheelRapto

For all that this is not an easy bike to ride, with the super slack head angle, I did qualify for Paris-Brest-Paris upon it, as well as setting a personal best over 300km (16.9mph) on the west coast of Scotland.

Click here for an in-depth review (July 2011).

 

RaptoBike Midracer click for in-depth review

The long-awaited stablemate of the classic Rapto lowracer, Arnold Ligtvoet’s RaptoBike Midracer is now on the street in limited numbers. Combining big wheels with a low seat height and trademark versatility, including the ability to take big tyres, pannier racks, or carbon aero wheels and a highly reclined seat, there’s something for everyone here.

RaptoMid

As with the lowracer, you can buy this bike stock or have it built to order by a dealer like Laid-Back-Bikes.

This stock Midracer came through Laid-Back in late summer and I was able to put it through its paces and cover it in greater depth than the custom-order OC version linked below.

Click here for an in-depth review (October 2012).

 

RaptoBike Midracer Alfine/Open Cockpit click for photo review

The long-awaited stablemate of the classic Rapto lowracer, Arnold Ligtvoet’s RaptoBike Midracer is now on the street in limited numbers. Combining big wheels with a low seat height and trademark versatility, including the ability to take big tyres, pannier racks, or carbon aero wheels and a highly reclined seat, there’s something for everyone here.

RaptoMidOC

As with the lowracer, you can buy this bike stock or have it built to order by a dealer like Laid-Back-Bikes.

See the main Raptobike Midracer entry for more.

In this case, we see an Alfine 11 hub gear combined with open cockpit (a relatively unusual choice). I didn’t ride this version, but sat on and poked it in the showroom, and offer some thoughts in this photo review (August 2012).

 

Nazca Gaucho 26 Open Cockpit click for photo review

Nazca Gaucho 26

I rode this model, a trade-in, for only a limited time but was charmed by its good handling and practicality.

I offer some thoughts in this photo review (Feb 2013).

 

Challenge Furai 26″ click for review by John Mills

A couple of years ago I toured on a Laid-Back demo Furai with 24″ wheels, which I greatly enjoyed (although it did keep dropping the chain…)

Challenge Furai 26

In this follow-up, Laid-Back customer John Mills offers his thoughts on his own 26″ Furai – click here for the review (Mar 2014).


Highracers

Only recently gaining traction in Europe, the conventional definition of a ‘highracer’ is a recumbent with a 650C / 700C front wheel. While “stick” bikes like Bacchettas are extremely high, up to 26″, European 650/700C models are generally the same height as bikes classed as midracers, or sometimes a lot lower. I’ve stuck with the stupid definition because it’s an industry standard, not because it makes sense.

Using large wheels lets the bike roll more easily over rough surfaces and take advantage of established upright bike parts and technology, like deep rim / disk wheels and tubular tyres.

Often harder to ride than low models, a fall can be punishing. At the slower speeds of long-distance riding, though, the efficiency gains of a highracer may be compelling.

 

Nazca Gaucho 28″ click for in-depth review

A superlative long distance bike if you’re travelling relatively lightly but still want comfort – and very accessible for a dual 700C bike.

gaucho28

Built to the same robust standard as other Nazca bikes, and with the same comfort factor thanks to the rear shock, the Gaucho 28 features dual 700C wheels to get you up high (but not too high!) and rolling easily over rough roads.

Click here for an in-depth review (August 2011).

See also my commission piece for the Gaucho 28 on BentRiderOnline.

 

Bacchetta Corsa 700C click for in-depth review

An archetypal ‘stick’ bike, the Corsa is a headache in traffic (for someone of average height, at least) due to the ultra-high seat, and at low speeds where the open-cockpit bars obstruct the thighs.

Corsa700c

On the flipside, it is light, stiff, relatively inexpensive, and rolls very nicely on the open road. Hard to recommend for all purposes but definitely something to consider if you’re either tall or don’t care about riding in tight urban areas.

Click here for an in-depth review (June 2012).

 

Optima High Baron click for in-depth review

Combining big, easy-rolling wheels with excellent low-racer style handling, the Optima High Baron is a stand out performer.

HighBaron

Unfortunate niggles with the brakes are virtually the only blemish on this stiff, lively, and economically-priced high racer.

Click here for an in-depth review (April 2013).

 

M5 Carbon High Racer click for in-depth review

A strong contender for the fastest production recumbent in real-world conditions.

m5_carbon_high_racer_feat

Some handling and fitting issues may make this a difficult recommendation for some riders.

Click here for an in-depth review (October 2015).

 

Schlitter Encore click for in-depth review

A stylish, lightweight and extremely well-detailed carbon stick bike.

schlitter_encore_21

With custom sizing for perfect weight balance, massive flexibility in terms of different build types and a relatively reasonable price tag, this could be a great choice for all but the most demanding speed merchant.

Click here for an in-depth review (October 2015).

 

Challenge Seiran 26″ click for photo review

A tall bike which fits a high seat over big wheels, few all-purpose bikes will get you further in the air than the Seiran 26″. Clearance for a wide variety of tyres and under-seat steering make this a potent weapon for laden touring and mixed terrain.

Seiran26

Like other Challenge bikes, you can spec this any way from polar expeditions to SL-II lightness (like this example).

I haven’t ridden the Seiran 26″, but I have sat on and poked one in the showroom, and offer some thoughts in this photo review (July 2012).


Tyres

700C and 26″ tyres are relatively easy to come by, but 20″ models less so, with the noteworthy exception of the Schwalbe range…

 

Schwalbe Kojak 700C/26″/24″/20″ click for in-depth review

Schwalbe Kojak

Highly versatile road tyre, with enough air to give a smooth ride but tread and construction dedicated to tarmac efficiency

Click here for an in-depth review (Sep 2012).

 

Schwalbe Ultremo ZX 700C/650C/20″ click for in-depth review

Schwalbe Ultremo ZX

Uncompromising race tyre available in 20″, 650c and 700c sizes only; 23mm wide with wider options for full-size wheels.

Click here for an in-depth review (Apr 2013).

 

Schwalbe Marathon Winter 700C/26″/24″/20″ click for in-depth review

Schwalbe Marathon Winter

Extremely specialised winter tyre with light snow tread and carbide studs to keep you rolling through the worst of winter’s icy maw…

Click here for an in-depth review (Sep 2012).

 

Schwalbe Marathon Racer 700C/26″/20″/18″/16″ click for in-depth review

Schwalbe Marathon Racer

A great all-rounder with a twist towards efficiency – not the most rugged, but no sluggard either.

Click here for an in-depth review (Mar 2013).


Accessories

Because your recumbent is not the same shape as an ordinary bike, you may wish to take advantage of recumbent-specific accessories to fully equip it.

 

Radical Solo Aero click for in-depth review

A small (12 litre) seatbag with excellent fit and attention to detail.

radical-aero

Built to the same high quality as other Radical bags, the Solo Aero has an aluminium stiffener and needs no rear rack. It also offers a handy (if tricky to use) bottle holder.

Click here for an in-depth review (June 2012).

 

Radical Banana Bags click for in-depth review

From 25 – 70 litres (55 litre reviewed here), the Banana Bags by Radical are a great alternative to conventional panniers, especially for bikes which can’t easily take a rack, as they sling across the seat.

banana-bags

With excellent build quality (although priced to match), great adjustability, and lots of useful features like mesh pockets and heavy storm flaps, these bags are a serious option versus conventional luggage.

Click here for an in-depth review (April 2012).

5 Comments

  1. Bruce Logan

    I was just about to send a comment when I hit the wrong button while trying to find the € symbol and, bollocks, it all disappeared. So I’ll try again.

    Some random thoughts.

    Long distance lights: On my HPV Grasshopper FX purchased from our dear friend last year I have a SRAM D7 which I have found to be just as good as a Schmidt which I had on two other bikes including a long lost BikeE. And a lot cheaper. The HPV uses the SRAM combo of 3 internal gears + 8 derailleur which is great esp for changing at traffic lights etc. Indeed, you can almost stay in one sprocket and just change the hub as and when. Very convenient.

    I’m not long back from riding in bits of 11 countries in the last 7 weeks. In Bosnia lights were absolutely essential as there were so many tunnels, mostly narrow and many – always the longest – unlit. I don’t have a dynamo on my Dave Yates expedition-style tourer so I was using a re-chargeable Cat Eye Single Shot which was just good enough for total darkness until you got blinded by oncoming truck lights. Going through the tunnels was pretty scary, esp with huge artics thundering up your backside. Going from Gorazde to Visegrad, only about 25 kms, I had to negotiate about 25 tunnels: and as there was no way out except into a part of Serbia I wasn’t planning to go into, I had to repeat the experience the next day going in the opposite direction. A beautiful country with gigantic gorges and limestone cliffs and roaring rivers, but the road from Sarajevo to Mostar – the only road and two way – was horrendous with very heavy commercial traffic and no shoulder. Not pleasant riding for a couple of days.

    Got back a couple of days ago from riding the Rhine route from Overalppass in Switzerland to Rotterdam. In all the time (17 days) I saw very few recumbents which was a surprise, esp in the Netherlands. I did speak to one R rider on a ferry who was using a gigantic 62T chainwheel. He said, rather disparagingly, that when he went out with this wife they used their Scorpion trikes. He was a big and burly guy. I met two others near Worms and they were riding beautiful handmade dutch ‘bents (forgotten the name) with completely enclosed drive trains and many accessories hand made by the guy who was obviously a good engineer.

    If you like 5 star hotels but can’t afford them go to Kosovo. I spent a couple of nights in total luxury at a hotel in Peje for €50 dinner b & b. Through northern Europe, by the way, Germany is far the best value. And they have some lovely bikes there. I slavered over a tout terrain Silk Road in a superb bike shop in Kalkar. Rohloff, Schmidt, disc brakes etc etc. I’ve been using my Rohloff for 10 years and I guess it has done over 40,000 kms. Dave Yates changed the cable runs from top tube as recommended by Rohloff to the down tube and along the nearside chain stay and he he fitted some custom braze-ons which are a great improvement aesthetically to the Rohloff bits. When I bought it from Andrew at BicycleWorks it cost £500. I believe they’re about €1200 now.

    Excuse the rambling.

    Bruce

  2. Dave

    Thanks for the comment Bruce!

    I think I may have been sorely tempted (but managed to resist) that very same Rohloff hub…

    It’s good to hear about your experiences on the continent. It’s been too long since I was there (and buying this house may have delayed any possibility of return, for the time being!)

    I don’t suppose you fancy contributing something for my Reader’s Bikes section do you? Would be especially interesting to have a long distance / touring set up featured there. :)

  3. We no longer stock – but still supply parts for – Ezee, Kalkhoff, Powabyke, Powacycle, Giant, Synergie, Raleigh and many others. Visit one of our shops to find out all you can about electric bikes. http://www.electricbikesales.co.uk/

  4. Hi Dave

    I have a Challenge Sieran 26 and I have cracked the front fork – bent the front crank shaft and beaten up other parts pretty badly – can you please tell me if I can still get parts through them. I am not having any luck finding news about the company or getting a response via email.

    Thanks Steve Lawson

Trackbacks / Pings

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>