Can it live up to the hype?
Front wheel drive for big wheels in a fast, versatile and robust package
Way back in 2008 Arnold Ligtvoet’s RaptoBike lowracer caused a storm when it hit the streets (going on to win the Bentrider Bike of the Year Reader’s Choice amongst other plaudits).
It didn’t take long before word got out that Arnold was tackling a midracer as his next project, promising the same winning ride quality, flexibility and speed packaged around two full-size 700C wheels… not to forget the affordable pricing.
One way or another it took a couple of years to see the light of day, but courtesy of Edinburgh’s Laid-Back-Bikes the RaptoBike midracer is indeed here in the flesh!
There is an unmistakable family resemblance to the smaller lowracer – few bikes can match the clean lines of the RaptoBike design after all – but there are some substantial differences too, especially the novel telescoping frame.
Look Mum, no oil!
Supporting all three main types of brake (disc, V / cantilever and centre mount calliper), the Midracer can be configured with 700C rims and skinny road tyres or smaller 26″/650B rims with masses of tyre clearance. It supports pannier racks and mudguards or a super reclined racing setup – or any combination of the above…
The RaptoBike Midracer shares most of the properties which make the Lowracer such a success.
The bike is very stiff and responds directly to the pedals (correspondingly it isn’t trying to be the lightest bike in town, but that’s why you can afford to buy it!). The wide diameter frame combined with the burly fork means you also have no fear of damaging any part of the bike with rough handling – it just soaks up potholes and similar with remarkably little complaining.
While it’s not necessarily up there with the dedicated expedition tourers I could definitely see the Midracer doing well on extended road trip – the front wheel drive makes it perfect for slinging even the largest Radical Banana Bag (or equivalent side pannier) without friction or damage.
The Midracer handles really well in corners and over rough surfaces – although with narrow racing tyres the ride was firm rather than luxurious – while riding with one finger on the bars is easily achievable. Although I can never ride any recumbent no hands, Arnold of RaptoBike certainly can…
As with the lowracer, the fact that the RaptoBike Midracer is front-wheel-drive isn’t noticeable one you get the bike dialled in, even pedalling hard in almost every circumstance. It is only prone to slippage on loose or greasy surfaces if climbing steeply and pedalling unevenly (sorry, I think the politically correct term might be “powerfully”, wink wink).
Even with these 700C carbon road wheels, the seat remains low and accessible
One major winning point is the low seat height, a little over 50cm (20-21″), which is going on for 6″ shorter than the height of a 700C “stick bike” like the Bacchetta Corsa.
This really opens the RaptoBike up to those who are less well endowed in the length of their legs but desire a 700C front wheel. Because the cranks are fixed relative to the head tube even the shortest rider will have no hard interference! (See the section on tyres and clearance below).
Adjustment, Comfort and Suspension
The RaptoBike Midracer is a rigid frame, and the ride is relatively hard with narrow 700C slicks; on the other hand a model equipped with 40mm tyres on a smaller rim would be exceptionally comfortable.
The seat recline is configurable from 20 to 30 degrees depending on your choice of seat bracket (each gives 5 degrees of adjustment), and this is done using a couple of slightly fiddly bolts under the seat – not a QR as you might find on a Nazca.
Roll over for a comparison using just one length of seat bracket…
The main frame adjustment is really excellent – just a few turns of an allen key and you can size the bike for a completely different person with no need to mess with the chain (it’s also something you’ll want to regularly check for tightness!)
Two large bolts secure the separate halves of the frame but the real cunning comes from the reference bolt that keeps the wheels rolling in the same plane.
Obviously, this also means that you can separate the Midracer’s frame completely for travel, and you’d only have to disengage the rear brake as all the drivetrain is up front.
A simple braze-on (above) controls the cabling at the headtube, which already forces quite a wide Q-factor due to the power idler. Many otherwise quite refined bikes are crying out for something like this!
As with the Lowracer you can choose to receive a bike with or without a dérailleur boom. If you plan on fitting hub gears the ‘without’ option gives a remarkably clear view of the road ahead (and no loss of accessory options since the frame has a light mount built into the BB shell).
Otherwise, you’ll probably want to run multiple chainrings…
Seat, Bars & Controls
Both glass and carbon seats are an option, but it’s hardshell all the way – no mesh.
I found the seat on this Midracer to be a particularly good fit – it didn’t suffer from the vertebrae contact that troubles me on the Challenge SL seat for instance. One to eat many miles on…
You don’t get internal cable routing as on Challenge or Nazca,
but the controls are still well-routed.
RaptoBike’s distinctive ‘arrowhead’ bars make a welcome reappearance here. These are really excellent, putting your wrists in a completely neutral position.
There’s plenty of real estate for an avionics suite should you want one (front light will go on the front of the boom on the purpose-built light mount).
As with the lowracer, the RaptoBike Midracer features two prominent idlers at the headtube which you may or may not get on with.
I wrote a good bit about this in the ‘Raptobite‘ section of the lowracer review, so I won’t repeat myself here other than to say – most people seem quite happy with it
Drivetrain / Brakes
As this Midracer was built from a frameset (and even the stock RaptoBike build can be quite flexible) treat this as more of an exemplar than the usual breakdown I cover in reviews. You can already see another possible RaptoBike Midracer build from Laid Back Bikes documented on this site.
A Campag double chainset up front is slightly orphaned on this frame (which came without a dérailleur post – obviously that’s an option many will take).
Downstairs a SRAM mech drives a wide-range nine speed cassette. You can see Avid BB7 disc brakes in the background.
Tyres and clearance
There’s only space for at most 700x25C at the back, due to the brake bridge – if you wanted to chance removing that you’d have room for a 700x35C at least, as on my early RaptoBike Lowracer.
As soon as you put a smaller rim into play, wide tyres (probably about as wide as 40mm/1.5″ I think) should fit fine.
With 175mm cranks (as here) there’s still a decent gap between 25mm tyre and crank at their close opposition. If you wanted to run bigger tyres and longer cranks at the same time that might be a problem, but even 5mm shorter cranks should allow the biggest tyres you’re likely to get on the frame.
versus the RaptoBike Lowracer [view in-depth RaptoBike Lowracer review]
Roll over for a comparison with the RaptoBike Lowracer
Although these are very different classes of bike, I wanted to include this rollover to highlight how small the differences in ride position are between the two RaptoBikes.
My opinion is that the Lowracer is noticeably faster when I’m going hard, while the Midracer offered a smoother ride on rough surfaces (and can be safely assumed to have significantly lower rolling resistance all round).
Personally I found the Lowracer handled just a little better, but I wouldn’t want to swear on it when pitting a bike I’m new to against one I’ve ridden for so many hundreds of hours. As the seat is still low enough that you can easily reach the ground, the Midracer is still suitable for mixed traffic use and may reassure those who’re nervous about being a few inches lower down.
versus the Challenge Furai 24″ [view in-depth Challenge Furai 24″ review]
Roll over for a comparison with the Challenge Furai 24″
This is another interesting rollover, and the only other I have of a “midracer” -class bike. It shows the extreme similarity between the riding positions of the 700C RaptoBike Midracer and the 24″ Furai.
The Furai is not set up to be as much of a go-fast machine (in particular, the seat cannot be so reclined and the BB is lower) but it has better manners with a load, and of course that sought-after Challenge refinement.
I’d say the Furai probably appeals to a slightly different market and if your interests tend towards carrying a bit of stuff and seeing the world in comfort, albeit brisky, the Challenge bike is a better bet. For the ‘versatile racer’ niche the RaptoBike probably wins out.
versus the Nazca Gaucho 28″ [view in-depth Nazca Gaucho review]
Roll over for a comparison with the Nazca Gaucho 28″
The Gaucho is a little taller than the RaptoBike Midracer and more compact in the wheelbase. The seat to bottom bracket delta is smaller and it’s generally more conventional, adding suspension and refinement to the overall package.
Where on paper/in photos the Gaucho seems like it would be less rapid, I actually found it to be very capable in the speed stakes, setting a faster commute PR on my old ~34 mile Fife circuit than the RaptoBike lowracer. The main drawback is the relatively upright seat (you can order a Gaucho from Nazca which is more laid back, however).
If I had to choose I’d say that I prefer the handling of the Gaucho to the RaptoBike, but a big part of that might be the very narrow ergonomics around the headtube (the steel tube combining with a smaller idler to give this effect) which suit me personally.
On the other hand, if you’re in the market for a speed machine, the suspended Gaucho might not be as much your cup of tea.
versus the Bacchetta Corsa [view in-depth Bacchetta Corsa review]
Roll over for a comparison with the Bacchetta Corsa
Forgive me for confusing things by choosing a different photo of the RaptoBike for this comparison, but I wanted to emphasise the difference between these racers with both seats fully reclined.
You can see the really large jump in seat height – the Corsa is truly a “high” racer in comparison with the RaptoBike Mid, for all they have identical sized wheels.
Where I found the Corsa an unwelcome handful in tight streets and negotiating traffic, the RaptoBike Midracer is well mannered and presents no such difficulty.
Were you to get it in a lab, the Corsa’s drivetrain is almost certainly a bit more efficient than the RaptoBike’s tight bend, but I think this would be more than cancelled out by the aero advantage of the Raptobike.
It’s hard not to like the RaptoBike Midracer, offering as it does an attractive blend of robustness and versatility with the potential to go rather fast (or to go on extended tour!), and of course all at a keen price point.
If your bodyweight is low you may be concerned at the weight of the bike, but this is a factor that is chronically overplayed in the industry (considering the BMI of the average consumer) and wouldn’t hold me back from a purchase.
I have tested the performance of this Midracer using a PowerTap hub and it knocks the socks off my DF racer (although I’m new to this whole measuring thing and you should consider the results indicative only).
Neither is the front-wheel-drive really a concern, provided – and it’s a big but – that you can get along OK with the position of the power idler. Self-evidently it’s OK for most (otherwise it would have been designed in somewhere else) but I have found it a challenge in the past when mileage creeps up towards 1,000 per month.
All in all, a fast, fun and fresh entry into the growing big wheel recumbent section of the market. Will you go for 700C all-out speed machine or a tourer with tough disk-braked wheels and a massive side-pannier luggage capacity? Or (as seen elsewhere) something entirely in between?
Worth a chat with a local dealer such as Laid-Back who will be able to talk you through the options…