You can’t afford to miss this FWD speed demon!
Pound for pound the fastest bike on the road?
I flicked the chain up to the 70 tooth big ring, pulled into the fast lane of the A90 and overtook a stream of slower moving vehicles at almost 40mph. The road flattened off but I found myself holding 30mph easily, pacing the rush hour traffic into central Edinburgh.
The RaptoBike Lowracer opened my mind to the possibilities of recumbents and I put my order in the very same day!
Even after three years and many thousands of miles, dropping into the near-horizontal seat still excites me:
- It’s low – down where the action is.
- It’s robust – no need to worry about potholes or kerbs (or cars!)
- It rides like a dream – far more stable than you’d expect, far more manouverable than you’d imagine.
- It’s fast – cutting through the wind like a knife. Open up on the pedals and the short front wheel drivetrain responds without a hint of flex.
- It’s adaptable – wheel sizes, tyre widths, brake options, gearing, almost anything can be however you like it. With a fork swap you can fit dual 700C (!).
When the RaptoBike first emerged it was a bit of a sensation. At around 1100EUR it was priced very aggressively for any recumbent, but it wasn’t just any recumbent – it was a FWD lowracer!
With a seat height of around 27cm, the RaptoBike is significantly lower than the Nazca Fuego and can also be significantly more reclined – from stock, 20-25 degrees, but I redrilled the seat (easy) to get this down to 15 degrees.
This gives the RaptoBike lowracer serious speed potential – especially as the bike is very stiff (it’s also heavy, compared with something in carbon or a Challenge SL – but then you didn’t pay for those either!)
Combine that sturdiness with the ability to take a pannier rack and the RaptoBike is also quite a versatile bike, easily able to accommodate the gear required on short tours / day trips or a commute, which is how I used mine (albiet with a tailbox) for many thousands of miles.
Well-worn after around 5,000 miles hard labour!
Personally, I wouldn’t buy the RaptoBike as a tourer, though. It’s a bit low, a bit firm, a bit too direct compared with bikes like the Nazca Fuego or Challenge Furai.
Something about the front wheel drive, perhaps the shortness of chain or just some mystery factor, gives the RaptoBike lowracer a very direct feel when applying pressure on the pedals.
Pedal-steer is really minimal. It can be felt in some gears, but this was my first recumbent which should tell you all you need to know about how easy it is to master (you can easily pedal as hard as possible with just one finger on the bars).
(Info point: as the chain is attached to one side of the front wheel, it inevitably pulls the handlebars slightly with each pedal stroke. Precision placement of the idlers relative to the axis of rotation has absolutely minimised this effect.)
The RaptoBike is very aerodynamic – when riding with normal bikes you will spend a lot of time on the brakes or soft pedalling to stay level. It also climbs pretty well (depending on how you’ve set it up).
When I first started riding audaxes I “won” several (I was far too inexperienced to realise how much of a faux-pas it is to race audaxes – my fastest 200km is something around 7h10m, so I’m no monster!)
It’s also very comfortable, with one exception that I’ll discuss below.
Steering is pretty free despite the front-wheel drive- I don’t notice the chain fouling the wheel, or any increased friction while pedalling through corners. The main hassle is kicking your heel against the front tyre or the mech when manouvreing on tight off-road facilities, but this never happens on any road.
It works so well, you can’t tell it’s there!
The small front wheel does benefit from a wider slick on most real-world surfaces to deliver the fastest speed.
At 20 degrees or below it is difficult to look around, so you will want a Mirrycle mirror to help you keep tabs. With the mirror, this is a very reassuring bike to ride, even on very busy roads so long as you hold your ground. In many thousands of miles I never had the slightest issue related to visibility (of course, it doesn’t prevent some drivers doing things without looking or, more commonly, seeing you and deciding you’re “only a bike”!).
If you don’t want to take my word for it, I gave up using a headcam because I virtually stopped experiencing issues on the road.
With front wheel drive there is a legitimate concern that the drive wheel may lose traction on an uphill slope, and I did once experience this on a snowy audax early in the season, on a 20% gradient. Otherwise, even in the wet I find it easy to ride up to 10% slopes on a regular basis with no concerns, and have often ridden on dirt with a Big Apple tyre on the front.
In corners the bike is steady as a rock, it’s like riding on rails. Very pleasant!
If / when you do overcook it, you just find yourself on your side, a few inches lower down, and come to a stop with a sore thigh, ankle bone and maybe a grazed elbow if you’re unlucky – nothing to write home about compared with a header from a regular bike!
One of the main downsides of the RaptoBike lowracer is that big power idler between the knees. The power side of the chain will snatch loose clothes, and until you’ve modified your pedal stroke to avoid it, can also raise a nasty welt on your thigh.
You can fit an idler cover to help prevent this, but it’s not fool-proof (especially for baggy shorts) and makes the physical obstruction larger.
Now, I cannot tell a lie, and so I must confess that after three years and untold thousands of miles I’m selling my RaptoBike – in favour of a rear wheel drive.
While training for Paris-Brest-Paris 2011 (up to 930 miles a month) I found the slightly squint power stroke I’d developed gave me trouble in my right knee. As my main passion is riding ultra-distance, I’ve decided to find a bike which will accept a narrow Q-Factor road crank and that means one which isn’t front wheel drive.
At the same time I wouldn’t want to suggest that this is an issue widespread amongst RaptoBike owners and I should point out that my 175 mile weekly commute to Fife gave me no issues at all! (How far are *you* planning to ride? Some may go further, but most will not.)
Comfort / Suspension
The RaptoBike is rigid and this keeps the weight reasonable, although it’s certainly no lightweight – if you’re willing to pay twice as much, you’ll save 2kg / 4lbs on the frame and fork with an M5 Carbon Highracer.
At the same time, I’ve got to point out that you can have it lighter than the £4,000 ICE Vortex+ for a fraction of the price – you’ve got to keep these things in perspective.
Aesthetically, the rigid frame combined with the front wheel drive gives the RaptoBike cult looks – super clean down the length of the frame, leading with all the business parts!
The seat, stock, is a standard glassfibre hardshell. ‘Standard’ of course just means it isn’t made of weight-saving carbon fibre – this is still a serious improvement if you’re used to mesh seating.
My own RaptoBike lowracer featured the carbon seat, which is a respectable weight saving, although again at a cost.
The Ventisit pad provides excellent ventilation and comfort – it’s pretty much the industry standard, although it’s worth noting it’s fairly heavy in comparison with foam pads, in exchange for keeping your back fresh and comfy.
There’s no option for a kickstand.
By default you won’t be carrying anything on the RaptoBike, except in jersey pockets. With the wheel so close to the seat back, options are limited to side panniers or fitting a full pannier rack and using standard top bags/panniers.
This stock Raptobike came fitted with a small tailbox too – also hard to get!
My personal RaptoBike was fitted with 30L of storage courtesy of a Velokraft carbon tailbox, which added just over 2 lbs to the bike. This is not a cheap option by any means, although it is one available on most carbon seats (which are generally resold from Velokraft by bike manufacturers).
As of 2012 it’s not clear whether Velokraft is still in business making recumbent parts, so this is a bit up in the air!
Drivetrain & brakes
The stock RaptoBike lowracer ships with a single chainset and no derailleur post. Even if you don’t go for a double/triple at the time of ordering, I strongly recommend the derailleur post, as the 300% range of a cassette is too small for serious riding. Only if you wish to fit a hub gear would it make real sense (in which case it’s really nice to ride a bike with no post – very clean!)
70 teeth. Fear!
Because the drive wheel is only 20″, special consideration is needed to get an adequately high gearing. My own RaptoBike featured a 52t/70t double chainset, which shifted well using a standard Shimano triple front derailleur and a friction shift (at first a twist shift, later a bar-end). An alternative would be a standard chainset and a Capreo cassette, although these wear out quite quickly, or hub gearing, where you can simply fit a smaller sprocket.
The RaptoBike ‘arrowhead’ handlebars are extremely comfortable and get your hands in a closed position against your body for optimum speed. I’ve ridden up to 600km (just under 400 miles) in one go on the RaptoBike and didn’t have the slightest issue with the bars, which in my opinion are almost perfect ergonomically.
The cables run externally but a nice touch is the cable retainer opposite the power idler, which accommodates three cables (why not four? Aii!) keeping them out of the way without having to resort to a zip-tie just next to your thigh.
The stock Avid gripshifters are solid and the shifts are all the more quick and precise because of the relatively short cable runs.
The stock RaptoBike lowracer comes with utilitarian wheels which guarantee a long life as an everyday bike. In fact, the 26″ rear wheel of my RaptoBike was so good that when I upgraded to 700C I threw out my mountain bike front wheel and switched to the Rapto wheel instead (which will also tell you something about the weight!).
Of course, this is not so easily felt when riding, where the bike feels good and fast, and you can easily buy and fit faster wheels if desired – right up to the 80mm carbon tubular which I first got to help speed up (and lighten) my bike.
Switching onto the turbo for some hard sessions – 80mm carbon tubulars for summer only!
There’s clearance for a Big Apple at the front, or a Kojak + mudguard easily. At the rear, a Marathon 1.5″ would be the thickest you’d get away with.
As described, the brake setup on the RaptoBike is very flexible, with disc or V-brake at the front and disc, V or caliper (700C wheel only) at the rear. I tried most of these combinations, except the caliper which was not available on my frame #34…
As with all lowracers, the RaptoBike is heavily dependent on the front brake, the rear becoming unweighted and easy to skid under any hard decelleration.
With a front disc, braking is well modulated and precise, and there’s generally oodles of grip. It is possible to brake too hard, especially cornering in the wet when something unexpected happens, and I took a few spills that way (nothing which ever managed to do more than gash my elbow and roughen up my shorts though!)
When I eventually cover the Challenge Fujin I’ll set this comparison up showing the difference between Fujin, RaptoBike and Fuego, plus the Gaucho, but for the time being you’ll have to settle for just the latter pair.
I also offer a comparison between RaptoBikes, so you can see the difference between stock and my own bike, with the large front wheel modification.
stock versus Nazca Fuego
Roll over for a comparison with my personal lowracer
The main difference between the stock RaptoBike and Fuego is the seat height and thus the seat-bottom bracket delta, as well as the seat recline.
However, I should note that you could buy the ‘large’ version of the Fuego if desired, which is lower (possible due to the extra length) and would mitigate some of this.
Of the two bikes, the Fuego is the better mannered all-rounder, and a far superior load carrier, while the RaptoBike tips it for speed and excitement.
The Fuego is more expensive, but not drastically more expensive, than the stock RaptoBike. Similarly equipped, there’s even less difference between them.
stock versus large-wheel RaptoBike lowracer
Roll over for a comparison with my modified lowracer
With 700C rear and 26″ front, running 25mm tyres this was the configuration that qualified me for the 2011 Paris-Brest-Paris and training totalling thousands of miles. The very reclined seat gives optimum efficiency while the large wheels roll easily.
Of course, if you prefer a less reclined seat it’s always possible to make it less reclined, with a bit of modification (it will always be quite a lot flatter than the same frame with a small front wheel!)
The downside? The bike is quite difficult to ride with the modified trail of the midracer fork – not so hard that you can’t ride one-handed, but definitely not possible to ride no-hands!
One for enthusiasts only, I think, while most riders would be better-placed looking at a midracer like the M5 ‘M’ racer, carbon “high” racer, etc.
The cost is not significantly more than a stock RaptoBike.
versus Gaucho 28
Roll over for a comparison with the Nazca Gaucho 28″
Here you can see Nazca’s highracer, the Gaucho 28″. (The Gaucho is also made in a variety of day trip / touring configurations, but this isn’t one of them).
The main value of a comparison like this is just to emphasise the difference in riding position between two bikes like these – the RaptoBike is low, reclined, while the Gaucho is high and more upright.
The Gaucho also has a much shorter wheelbase, which gives it handling in corners especially more akin to an ordinary bike than the stretched lowracer.
The Gaucho is considerably more expensive, with carbon finishing kit, air shock etc – and I think there’s probably not a huge amount in it between the stock bikes. The RaptoBike has a definite advantage over 20mph, but the Gaucho is more capable at slower speeds and over rougher ground.
The speed at which you spend most of your time will largely determine which bike is more rapid for you. For raw top-end, there’s no contest
The RaptoBike Lowracer is great – fantastic value for its speed (it’s not as cheap as it used to be unfortunately, but to go much faster will still require a large investment of cash) and the flexibility of the frame accommodates many different build options.
The excellent sturdiness and handling of the bike make this a really great day bike / commuter and not something for relative novices to rule out by any means. I’ve ridden several higher recumbents that were much less forgiving.
David Gardiner generally has a RaptoBike in for demos and I’d strongly suggest checking in with him for advice, or a test ride or tour to get your eye in. I would recommend a test ride just to check you’re happy with the power idler.
Fast, direct, stable, hugely fun and won’t break the bank – what’s not to like?