If you’re ever passed by a Gaucho 28, the first thing you’ll probably notice is the light pair of full-size 700C wheels, shod with Continental’s sublime GP4000s – a combination that wouldn’t be out of place on an upmarket conventional racing bike.
This image shows the bike with non-stock Planet X carbon tubulars…
A lovely contoured carbon seat and shiny carbon forks round off a package that includes oh-so-aero reverse-mounted brake calipers and a butted derailleur boom which flares at the end to accommodate a conventional band-on attachment. A real racing recumbent, right?
However, and I will get this out up front since it’s a bit vexing, for a go-fast bike there are some strange choices. First, the handlebars are a little pedestrian for such a fast ride – contrast them with the arrowhead tiller on the RaptoBike, which allows you to ride with your thumbs touching and elbows in the dirty air behind your thighs.
Second, the seat angle. It only goes as low as ~26 degrees, which is quite disappointing coming from a bike that will go below 20. This seems to be a mixed bag in the highracer market – the Challenge Seiran SL doesn’t even go as low as 26 degrees, after all – but there are a few that do go to 20, such as the MetaPhysic, Bacchetta Aero, and M5 CHR.
Roll over for a comparison with a stock Raptobike
Nazca implicitly acknowledge this, and went so far as to modify a Gaucho for rider Peter Haan to drop the seat angle for a race (article 1, article 2). You can, I’ve learned, order your Gaucho with this reclining mod from the factory, but it’s not something I’d readily attempt on a regular bike, even if you could get the parts (which include a shorter travel shock).
And yes, quibble number three – suspension. As it happens I think suspension on a recumbent can be rather a good idea and in the guise of fast tourer or commuter, I’d certainly not turn my nose up at it. The Gaucho 28 comes with a nice air shock that really takes the edge off our lunar streetscape and more than once I felt my Raptobike was missing the plush ride of the suspended Gaucho as I cratered over a 30cm precipice.
On a bike equipped with 23mm racing tyres though, a manufacturer’s champion all-out racing chariot, it would be nice to have the option of a rigid frame. Not needing to accommodate the travel of the air shock would lower the weight and accommodate a more progressive seat angle (and even a lowering of the seat relative to the wheels – OK, I know I’m now talking about a different model of bike altogether!)
Okay – time to reset our expectations and think about the bike as less the all-out racer, more the distance or ultra distance machine, or even 4-season fast commuter. Now we are more comfortable with the relaxed seat angle and the suspension must be welcome to any rider approaching the arrivée with 350 cratered miles pounded into their spine! The wide tiller bar seems more valuable for the practical real estate. Bell, mirrors, cycle computer and/or GPS – even a headcam – will all fit comfortably.
At 5’10” (178cm) with short legs for my height, I had no problems getting to the ground on the Gaucho (although lamentably, I cannot stand on my fingers as with the dual 700C RaptoBike!) and I really enjoyed the clearance between heel and front wheel. Although you can certainly strike the wheel, I never felt the need to stop pedalling around any turn, unlike on my Raptobike, where I can kick the derailleur and/or the wheel much more easily.
With a triple chainset and a wide-range cassette, this bike is geared to take on all challenges, with a twiddly low gear of < 25″, while a top gear of 120″ ought to satisfy even the more fearless descender…
The cost of the most basic Gaucho is a hair under 2200EUR, quite a bit above the Raptobike Midracer, the touring version of which weighs in at 1800EUR. Of course, it’s hard to compare like with like here – you are getting components like the shock, of course – and on the other hand, the Gaucho is way cheaper than racey alternatives like the Seiran SL or M5 (but then they are much lighter and perhaps, significantly faster?).
Don’t get me wrong however – the Gaucho is no sloucho (sorry!). In fact, when I took it out for my first test ride, a lumpy 35 miles that formerly made up my commute, it blew my personal best out of the water. Of course, having been training for Paris-Brest-Paris I am also going around with more miles in my legs than I did when I left that job two years ago, so I’d need to do another test run on the other bike for a real comparison – but you get the idea.
I also managed a 2h30m half-century (elapsed time, not riding time) which is very respectable as an extended commute. For our friends in Europe, this is ~80km at ~32kph.
As it happened, I would have considerably more time to ponder this review than I initially suspected.
As I wrote on my account of the 600km Edinburgh-Preston PBP qualifier, my knees have been giving me quite a lot of trouble. For whatever reason, the Gaucho proved better in this respect than my own Raptobike and so it was, against all expectations, that I found myself at the start line of the world’s greatest amateur cycling event on a borrowed bike.
Taking in refreshment along the PBP route. Over 5,000 participants fought across Northern France over 90 hours…
We can only salute the generosity (foolishness? madness?) of David Gardiner at Laid Back Bikes that he would send a new demo bike across 1200km of northern France!
It’s not the place to tell the story of PBP here, but needless to say I was successful, and the Gaucho played a big part in this. Despite eye-watering weight once loaded with my 30L tailbox stuffed with water and supplies, I held my own climbing with many Super Randonneurs. The bike descended with a surefootedness I’ve never experienced (up to 45mph at night on the “wrong” side of the road). Apart from my knees, I finished after almost 90 hours without any discomfort issues whatsoever, alongside people who could hardly sit down, whose wrists and feet were numb from the constant vibration. And I was able to draft many of them quite comfortably through the event…
If the speed of the bike were in any doubt, hilly sections averaging 17-18mph after 900km in the saddle put paid to that. In the end, it wasn’t as good as a knee replacement but it did make a big impression on me. For the first time I came to understand the perspective of the high-racer advocates, that although a bike design may be in a strict sense slower (than a lowracer), it doesn’t matter – may even be preferable – in the context of the type of road and event that is being ridden.
If you’re in the market for a great all-rounder, the Gaucho 28 has to be worth a look. It just so happens there is one in Edinburgh ready to be demoed!
[Distance ridden on test: around 1000 miles]