Invisible recumbents narrowly avoid death

A video looking at extreme recumbent risk-takers on Britain’s public roads… (or not)!

See how they blend into the tarmac!

I’ve been meaning to post something like this for years, literally. I make no apologies for having my tongue firmly in cheek with the subtitles… 🙂

So many people (if truth be told, other cyclists mainly) spout off about how recumbents inherently must be hard to see and express amazement that you commute on one for thousands of miles each year, let alone survive a trip to the corner shop without instantly being flattened…

Yet when you actually ride one, or see one being ridden, you inevitably think to yourself, wow – I wish riding a normal bike felt this safe, with so much room given by motorists…

We still have just the one recumbent versus seven ordinary bikes. There are lots of valid reasons why you might not want one. But based on my experience, safety on the road doesn’t come into the picture (unless it’s to say that you’re actually much better off on a recumbent than anything else!)

A tiny aside

Watch the road positioning between 50 and 60 seconds into the video. There’s a serious risk that motorists coming up this road will straddle the central speed cushion, forcing you right up against the doors of the parked cars on your side. This is neatly pre-empted by the assertive positioning of the lower recumbent rider (David Gardiner, the proprietor of the excellent Laid-Back-Bikes).

You will often hear people say that the only way to ride safely is to pretend that people can’t see you. On the contrary, mastery of the road requires you to understand and exploit the fact that everyone can see you quite clearly almost all of the time – their incentives just aren’t well aligned with your needs.

The Recumbent Attribution Error

It’s easy to blame the bike, but really, bad driving is universal and we shouldn’t be fooled into having a safety debate over superficial differences…

Don’t be lazy when trying to find something to blame

As spring gets into full swing, I’ve dusted off the recumbent to put some miles in ahead of Saturday’s 400km Southern Uplands brevet.

After getting used to the usual antics of drivers between Balerno and the city centre – close passes, cutting in and out of lanes, aggressive driving and horn use – it’s been pretty refreshing to enjoy bags of passing room, no cutting up and no aggression.

I don’t believe this comes from some mystical power of the recumbent to soothe the angry beast behind the wheel, but simply because it jars people out of the well-worn groove that “it’s only a bike, I don’t need to give him much room”, or “it’s only a bike, how dare he hold me up from speeding to the next red light”, or whatever.

Something interesting did happen the other day though, as I was motoring along Slateford Road at over 25mph in the morning peak. See if you can spot the driver who apparently failed to see my recumbent?

It’s not close, I merely chose this as an illustration of the principle – hands up if your default response to this sort of situation would be “well, what does he expect riding around on an invisible bike?” or maybe “he got lucky, he could have been taken out if the distance had been a bit less”?

For my part, I was mildly vexed that the driver had pulled out on me when I was going so fast – only by flooring it was he able to keep the car in front until I rocketed past at the next set of lights. However, after countless thousands of urban miles, I know better than to take the lazy option of thinking that a bike which is at any distance just a few fractions of a degree lower than another bike is actually going to be hard to see.

Instead, my experience tells me that while there’s no meaning difference in visibility (or conspicuousness?) you’re never going to eliminate that proportion of bad driving that comes from not looking at all, or more likely – being seen perfectly but the driver ultimately doesn’t care.

This was illustrated nicely immediately afterwards… take a look at the full clip:

Nobody would ever suggest that the driver who pulls across multiple lanes of rush-hour traffic didn’t see the white car – that would be ridiculous. We find it easy to attribute this kind of driving to a total failure to look or (more likely) a high risk threshold / unhealthy disregard for the safety of others.

Throw a recumbent into the mix though, and even fellow cyclists are worryingly prone to tacking the blame for any mishap on the height of the vehicle (am I that much lower than the car in the video? Really?)

This “recumbent attribution error” is so common that I can’t even be bothered to find any examples (if you like, try googling for Councillor Michael Stanton, who infamously told a registered disabled constituent that he should have gone to Dignitas, the Swiss euthanasia clinic, rather than ride a recumbent, and you should find some robust discussion).

In my experience of riding a recumbent in rush hour Edinburgh, the only safety disadvantages are found in a few niche, easily avoided circumstances. They’re massively outweighed by the huge safety benefits of removing almost all the wilfully terrible driving that a cyclist normally receives.

In fact, it’s easy to argue that it’s probably a lot safer because it forces the rider away from the temptation to, say, skim the side of parked cars on the approach to a side street, so you just don’t do it. Combined with the mirror, taking a much more positive road position is probably half the advantage, with the rest coming from drivers’ apparent fear to be aggressive towards you.

I’ve been meaning to write something on recumbent safety for years but just can’t get into it as a topic – probably because whenever I ride mine, it feels so safe that I can’t understand why I keep going back to a normal bike for the rat race.

Challenge Furai 26″ review

John Mills talks in depth about his Challenge Furai 26″ midracer…

John’s Nazca Fuego is a popular “Readers’ Bikes” entry, and I’m pleased to be able to add this article by John to the site, this time featuring his Challenge Furai — Dave.

Introduction:

Over the last few years I have owned and ridden a good few bents, from stick bikes to low racers. My first bike was a Nazca Fuego and I eventually went back to this model as it is, for me, a near perfect all-rounder.

The Furai also caught my eye and I did have a brief ride on a 24” all-rounder version. Later, I read Dave’s review of the Furai based on a very wet short tour in the Highlands. It came across as a bike with many similar qualities to the Fuego but with a bit less weight and a slightly higher seat. Intriguing.

Then last year David at Laidback told me about a 26” version he had taken as a trade in. I travelled up to view it, tried it and bought it.

johnmills_furai1

The Bike:

My bike started life, I believe, as a 24” model. Challenge supplied a replacement fork.

The bike is fitted with an Rock Shox air suspension and carbon boom. It is built using Avid Elixir hydraulic disc brakes, SRAM X9 rear mech, and twist grip controls. The supplied SL seat was too short for me so I approached Challenge directly about getting a Large carbon seat and the associated fittings. The process went smoothly enough and the seat arrived. There were no instructions so I set about it using my own judgement. The outcome is a seat sitting a little further forward than the SL seat. This seems to have benefited the handling (I’ll explain this later)

I made one or two changes. I substituted a pair of wheels comprising Shimano XT hubs and Mavic XC717 rims (a personal favourite), a SRAM PG990 9 speed cassette and fitted 28mm Schwalbe Durano tires. I lowered the gearing by fitting a Shimano XT 26/36/48 ATB chainset. I am using a Bacchetta Big Bag as a seat pack for stuff and a bottle cage is mounted on the stem. All the changes went smoothly and the finished bike, ready for the road with mudguards, bottle cages, computer, Ventisit and pedals came to approximately 14kg. All that remained was to wait for the blessed rain to stop!!

Handling:

When I first rode the bike I felt what appeared to be a slight hint of wheel flop at low speeds. It disappeared at anything above walking pace. After I fitted the carbon seat this characteristic had vanished. Either I had dialled this out of my consciousness or the slight shift in weight distribution eliminated it.

Directional stability is excellent, yet it responds quickly to steering inputs. Changes of line feel secure with no feeling of under or over steer. Across cratered surfaces it holds its line well and the narrow tyres seem to cut through some of the muddy surfaces left from the winter storms.

Brakes, as you might expect, are superb with power and good modulation.

I have had no issues with the idlers. I wonder whether chain tubes (which are installed) prevent the chain leaping off? Perhaps chain length and therefore tension plays a part?

Some time ago I remember reading a number of posts on BROL forums concerned about the potential for heel strike on a Furai 24. It was some weeks after I got the bike that I remembered and looked up this thread. Up to that point I had not thought about or experienced heel strike. It certainly can occur (though there is no hard interference between cranks and wheel) but in practice it is a non-issue.

In Dave’s report of the 24” version he mentioned the issue of pannier bags rubbing on the swing arm. I haven’t ridden the bike with panniers (Radical Bags) however when I offered them up they looked as though they clear the swing arm. The only difference is that Dave was running the SL narrow seat and the standard seat is at least 2 cm wider. There might be an issue with sway but that is easily dealt with by tying the bag to a convenient point on the rack.

johnmills_furai2

Comfort:

I realise that hard shell seats suit me well and comfort levels are excellent. The rear shock does its stuff. There is no sensation of pogo-ing. The bottom bracket is, for me, just the right height above seat level. Performance riders may wish it to be a little higher. Combined with the moderate seat recline the BB height gives me a good view of the road surface immediately in front.

The unsuspended front does transmit some road shock but the longish wheelbase helps mitigate the effect on the bike.

Seat height is 55/56cms. You sit between the wheels and because of the shape of the seat reaching the ground is easy. I’m 6ft with an X seam of 42.5” and inside leg 32” i.e. short legs / long torso. At junctions I can sit comfortably with one foot clipped in and the other flat on the ground. Ergonomically this is a very friendly machine. Compared to big wheel stick bikes I have owned the Furai delivers better comfort, seat height, weight distribution and bottom bracket height all without any significant weight penalty.

The narrow handlebars – slightly V shaped – are excellent for fast riding. They give you a real feeling of being tucked in to a cockpit. The folding stem looks fabulous but isn’t. The clamp that sets the handlebar height is woefully inadequate and the ‘bar height continually slips out of adjustment. A solution is easy though. Take one slightly bent target archery arrow, cut a portion of the shaft equivalent to the width of the clamp, squeeze gently in a vice until it will slide into the space underneath the clamp and presto you have limited the distance the clamp can move! Shouldn’t be necessary though.

Performance:

The first time I rode the bike I took it over my short hilly circuit and immediately felt it climbed faster than the Fuego. I seemed to be one gear up all the time. Downhill was good but not as good as a low racer of course. And into the wind it is marginally slower as well. Where a big wheeled bike shines is on less than perfect surfaces. It just seems to roll better over them. And coarse surfaces abound round here. Over a number of rides I would say that my average speed was consistently 1-1.5 kph faster than the Fuego. I put that down to lower weight and less rolling resistance. It is winter and these figures are the result of moderate (not performance) riding efforts.

On steep grunty climbs the bike feels very stable and seems to be able to drop to near walking pace and still hold a reasonable line.

Conclusions:

Overall I would describe this as a swift, smooth bike with good ergonomics. It is not a racer but feels as though it will make an excellent Audax / long day ride bike.

It is very versatile. With the standard Challenge aluminium seat fitted it can take a rack and panniers and feels robust enough to carry a load.

One of the tests I use about any bike is to observe how I use it after the initial novelty has worn off. The Furai gets picked as often as any of the others. It must be good! I look forward to warm days with no mudguards and some longer rides. A great bike – and like so many Challenge products it looks great.

ICE VTX Review

The new VTX is the top of the line racing trike from ICE. Just how good is it?

Hold on tight: the best just got (much) better

At first sight of the marketing blurb which accompanies the VTX I was sceptical. “It looks much the same as the Vortex to me,” I thought. “Beyond a few cosmetic tweaks to make it seem worth the upgrade, will there really be much difference?”

ice_vtx1

I must admit that I wasn’t completely convinced by the ICE Vortex – a trike so uncompromising that I had bruises over my vertebrae after just a few hours hard riding. Sure, it was fast (for a trike), but given the type of roads I have to ride on, I couldn’t really imagine owning one.

I’m happy to say that my suspicions were completely wrong. While evolutionary, ICE have made a very significant upgrade in the VTX – no less of a speed demon but one which is significantly easier to live with.

I’ve also been able to take some power-based performance measurements for the first time; scroll down for details.

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All change at the back

The headline upgrade comes in the form of the new rear frame section, which employs hydroforming in an attempt to create a more compliant ride, without sacrificing drivetrain efficiency or cornering performance. The seat bracket has also been relocated to further reduce the transfer of road impacts.

I deliberately took the VTX for a session on a local tarmac road which has started to fall apart, and I could hardly believe the difference – despite rattling at full speed over inch-deep cratered moonscape, I still felt pretty comfortable in the seat and the trike was easy to control.

On my maiden ride with the old Vortex I had to stop every five minutes to tighten something… was this my first hint that the VTX was actually a step-change? No – I was convinced of that immediately.

ice_vtx4

Handling

The ride quality of the VTX is head and shoulders above anything else I’ve tested. The whole trike feels beautifully poised, and can be flung around the road with one-handed abandon.

Conducting virtual elevation tests one frosty morning (where braking is an absolute no-no) I found the tail drifting out on the sharpest corner and it was no worse than entertaining. I settled for imagining I was Steve McQueen, started pedalling hard and everything eventually straightened out!

Speaking of brakes – as with all ICE trikes, brake steer is non-existent on the VTX (we live on a steep street, and I took the demo to skidding point with one hand without the slightest inclination to pull to one side).

The whole trike feels incredibly refined and leaves you in no doubt that you are riding a top quality machine.

ice_vtx3

Power tests

I decided to take a different approach with the VTX and perform some virtual elevation testing to measure its performance. See here for an informative PDF by Robert Chung.

The general idea is that if you know CdA (aero resistance) and Crr (rolling resistance), along with weight, air density and so on, physics will tell you *exactly* how fast you will be going for a given power input.

If you compare this theoretical speed with actual speed and it turns out you’re going slower, the only answer is that you are going up hill (and vice-versa). A virtual elevation profile can thus be drawn up by charting these deviations in speed as changes in height. You have to do some guesswork with the CdA and rolling resistance until the virtual profile matches the real altitude profile, but then you’re done.

Unfortunately, having the trike for weeks which turned out to be some of the wettest and wildest on record made it difficult to gather a compelling set of data due to wind interference (wind slows you down, which looks like you’re going uphill).

However, with that caveat, I came up with the following approximate values: CdA: 0.350, Crr: 0.01

(Note that the trike and my body / clothing are indivisible, and the rider makes up a good chunk of the above figure!)

I performed a series of laps in a built-up area where only one leg was exposed to a (very light, almost un-noticeable) headwind. I was able to create the expected virtual elevation with the above values:

VirtualElevationVTX

Obviously, the altitude increases with each lap, but the thing giving me confidence is that the profile is exactly correct on the three sides which were sheltered from the wind. The one wind-impacted street (which connects the descent with the start of the next lap) slopes down in reality, but doesn’t slope down enough on the VE chart, due to the headwind making it slower, thus “flatter”.

It’s pretty interesting stuff. I rode the laps at differing speeds, and it looks like you can see the trike scrubbing in the hardest corners (as it slows me down, it makes the elevation a little steeper than the road really is, giving some variation in the exact profiles).

I was almost out of good weather, but had one opportunity to validate these numbers by climbing a local hill between two spot heights measured by Ordinance Survey. As you’d hope, the virtual height I climb to in the plot below (blue line) ends up at *exactly* the expected height (denoted by the vertical green bar at the finish, which is neither too high or too short to meet the blue line):

VirtualElevationVTX2

If I’d been thinking ahead, I would have climbed the hill several times at different power to further validate the figures, but it was just a snap decision when I happened to be there.

Just to point out – the blue line above is completely synthetic based on Watts at the rear wheel and estimated Cda/Crr numbers. My power varied plenty on the climb, and yet the plot captures the ramp up then steady gradient which exists in real life. Neat.

Knowing the ballpark CdA and Crr allows a direct comparison between the VTX and other bikes/trikes without arguing over routes and weather conditions. For a great example, refer to this post by techathy on BROL, plotting the Vortex against the Challenge Fujin and a regular time trial bike.

(I believe his Vortex has a aerodynamic tail of some sort, so as expected it’s a little more streamlined than the VTX was for me.)

As you can see, unfortunately the VTX isn’t as rapid as a time trial bike, let alone a lowracer. But on the other hand, you can’t spend much time riding in the TT tuck (certainly not an entire leisure ride) and if you do, you can’t see much of what is going on. The VTX is extremely comfortable and you can look around 🙂

Note the significant difference in speed at 200W and above – 4mph slower than the Fujin or DF time trial bikes (but “only” 2mph slower than the more common DF ‘hoods’ position).

lbflickr2
Contrast the profiles of the VTX and the Sprint 26X (with extra laid-back seat!) – from the Laid Back Flickr stream

I was asked specifically to compare the VTX to the Nazca Fuego, a low(ish) and not insanely reclined two-wheeler. My gut feel is that over mixed terrain the Fuego is faster, but the VTX is close, unlike the Sprint or Adventure – the VTX is a similar weight and the drivetrains are not dissimilar in perceived efficiency. When I’ve been able to perform virtual elevation testing with the Fuego I’ll produce a specific article on this, but for now, I’d say anyone swapping from a non-racing two wheeler to the VTX won’t be overly disappointed…

Construction in detail

Much of what I wrote in the Vortex review applies equally to the VTX, so that may also be worth your time.

To allow for a lower and more reclined seating position, the VTX continues the set-back seat position of the Vortex, and this can make it slightly more challenging to get into. For the vast majority of prospective owners this is just something you’ll get used to in a few minutes, but I was reminded of it repeatedly whenever someone wanted to sit on the trike and see what it felt like!

It’s hardly made of paper, but a heavy enough collapse onto the seat (especially if you took the carbon option) might not be the best idea.

ice_vtx6

The VTX is fitted as stock with a triple chainset (compact double on the VTX+ for the mountain goats), and although I hardly used the smallest ring, you should be aware that the 700C driving wheel is so much bigger than the 20″ drive wheel on other trikes that it makes each chainring the equivalent of the next size up.

ice_vtx9

In other words, the small ring on the VTX is like the middle ring on a Sprint 20, and the middle ring on the VTX like the big ring on a Sprint 20 – so with the VTX big ring, the sky’s the limit!

(Unfortunately you still have to pedal 😉 )

Below is a close-up shot of the new rear frame member. It’s fully rigid and the tubes are highly profiled and bowed to improve comfort and handling. Note the upper seat mount is just visible right up next to the power idler – nowhere near your shoulders, and the difference is really dramatic.

Note the fine detailing around the dropouts, which have been extensively relieved and look fantastic.

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Here’s another view. You can see that this model came fitted with a rear mudguard. The month I had it prior to publication was the wettest December since records began and I doubt I would have ridden at all without it!

By way of contrast, the lack of front mudguards will only get you wet if there’s a cross wind at just the wrong angle to steer the spray into your path… a compromise that seems worth making to avoid increasing the VTX’s frontal area any further.

Note the new headrest. Even that is a significant step up on the Vortex (i.e. I actually used it from time to time!)

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The new seat pad is excellent – my back didn’t feel at all sweaty even on the hardest ride (note, it is winter at the time of writing so not the sweatiest time of year!)

Most importantly, the seat holds you securely when corning hard and it stays comfortable even when you’re being pounded by a broken road. A great improvement.

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Front of house, the VTX comes equipped with the ubiquitous BB7, made razor-sharp by the tiny length of the cable run. Braking one-fingered is natural… quite a revelation compared to my grimy collection of well-used winter bikes!

The VTX+ has an upgrade to hydraulics for minimal maintenance and even greater bite (though you have to wonder who would find the brakes on the base model inadequate…)

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The handlebars and stem come in one piece – this makes them light and stiff, but I suppose may not suit every rider. Personally, I kept rubbing the mirror t-bar extension off the tyre when cornering in tight spaces… user error?

The shifters are SRAM and work crisply and flawlessly – shifting on the VTX is instant as you’d expect from anything which costs as much as this. Just be aware that as with the original Vortex, adjusting the boom will throw off your front mech completely, because the gear cable runs to the boom without an outer housing.

The rear mech had an amazing feature where you could push in a pin to lock out the spring and work on the drivetrain (or remove the wheel). This blew my mind and all my SRAM rear mechs are now destined for upgrade-land…

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The VTX (reviewed here) doesn’t have quite the same quality of finishing kit as the VTX+, but I’d be amazed if anyone took it out for a spin and felt dissatisfied: every detail has been attended to and as a complete package this is one of the sharpest rides in town.

Conclusion

Speed-wise the VTX is streets ahead of any other trike I’ve ridden, and should not disgrace itself in the company of two-wheelers if you normally ride strongly. That said, the inherent penalties of multi-track mean that it won’t leave any two-wheeler in the dust, either. In return you get an insanely fun machine to ride, given twice as much space by passing motorists, and everything else that’s unique about trike riding!

As always, I haven’t talked about price. While it’s a fact that the VTX is significantly more expensive than some other trikes, there’s no question you are buying a quality machine.

The handling is perfect, the seat very comfortable even after many hours, the complete package is light and has excellent finishing kit… it really is quite easy to recommend. ICE have little to fear when it comes to losing their crown.

There’s a demo currently available at Edinburgh’s Laid-Back-Bikes, but I suspect it won’t hang around for long!

ice_vtx2

Dual 700c recumbent roundup

MetaBike, High Baron, Raptobike, Nazca Gaucho and Bacchetta Corsa go head-to-head in this 700c recumbent roundup…

Five high rollers go head to head

Low bikes may still be the most popular, but the days when “recumbent” had to mean “small, odd-sized wheels” are long gone.

While there are plenty of reasons to go for a small wheeled bike, almost everyone now makes a recumbent running “full size” 700c hoops. These bikes are increasingly making an favourable impression, especially on the long distance circuit.

On this page, five bikes from the Edinburgh-based showroom of Laid-Back-Bikes compete: from Nazca, MetaBike, Optima, RaptoBike and US manufacturer Bacchetta. (There are other 700c bikes. When I’ve ridden them, maybe I’ll do another article…)

Let’s take a look… roll over the labels below the image with your mouse to flip the photo (for some reason you sometimes need to refresh the page if using Chrome):

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  • RaptoBike Midracer
  • High Baron
  • MetaBike
  • Gaucho 28″
  • Corsa 700c

 

Where once you had a stark choice between small wheels or the extreme height of a US-style stick bike, there are now options to suit a much wider range of riders.

David Gardiner at Laid-Back-Bikes specialises in all of these models (each one is a Laid Back demo which I have reviewed in depth), and I recommend interested parties get in touch with him to discuss your individual circumstances.

Let the comparison commence!

Overview

Raptobike Midracer

Combining big wheels with a low seat height and trademark versatility, including the ability to take discs and big tyres, pannier racks, or carbon aero wheels and a highly reclined seat, there’s something for everyone here.

Front wheel drive on 700c!

Click for in-depth review

Nazca Gaucho


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

Thin slicks and caliper brakes only.

Click for in-depth review

Metabike

MetaBikes caused a flurry of excitement with their short-wheelbase, braced aluminium frame (there’s now also a carbon option).

Stiff for great efficiency, light enough to be popular with the climbers, yet versatile enough to take MTB tyres and disc brakes and ride off road…

[in depth review to follow shortly]

Optima High Baron


The classic Baron lowracer got a 700c front wheel in this update, merging the best features of stretched low bikes with the advantages of full-size wheels.

Rides like a dream but not the most adaptable…

Click for in-depth review

Bacchetta Corsa


The archetypal stick bike – light, stiff, very high and relatively hard to handle. Not easy on the eye, but may be friendly to a tight budget.

It could hardly be a 700c bike comparison without one stick bike, after all 🙂

Click for in-depth review

Versatility

When it comes to options, two of these bikes stand head and shoulders above the rest: the RaptoBike Midracer and the MetaBike.

The MetaBike can be equipped with disc wheels and 26″ or 29er MTB tyres (there’s clearance for my 2.1″ knobblies in the carbon disc fork), or with caliper brakes for 26″, 650-, and 700C road wheels.

The RaptoBike Midracer can only accommodate a 700x25mm tyre to the rear, but can go much larger at the front (and if you drop down to 26″ or 650- size, both ends can be very chunky). As well as caliper and disc brakes, both ends will accommodate cantilever / v-brakes.

Both the MetaBike and RaptoBike Midracer will take a standard pannier rack in addition to seat-based bag solutions.

In contrast, the Corsa, High Baron and Gaucho only support caliper brakes and take relatively narrow 700c wheels only (although if you *never* want full size wheels, you can buy a 650C Corsa or a Gaucho for 26″ or 24″).

The High Baron and Gaucho won’t take a pannier rack easily (update: you can order a Gaucho with rack mount braze-ons as an option). You can at least fit the Corsa with specialist pannier racks that hang between the wheels.

Efficiency

The Gaucho’s rear suspension makes it an outlier in terms of overall efficiency. I don’t want to pretend that I have any meaningful measurement of this, but it is noticeable to me when I ride a suspended bike over a rigid one. (I still completed Paris-Brest-Paris comfortably on the Gaucho, overtaking countless riders up and down hill).

The Raptobike, meanwhile, is very stiff but the chain is directed through such a large angle that I can’t help but assume that a small proportion of power is being skimmed off the top. (But is it a significant amount? This is an assumption that I’m desperate to examine with a second power meter, if anyone wants to lend me one!)

Simple factors can be more complex than you might think – for instance, even the supended Gaucho’s drivechain is straighter than the Bacchetta Corsa. Despite received wisdom it seems that Euro frames may (at least sometimes) have a straighter drivetrain after all.

The Corsa is noticeably at home on the open road, rolling easily – partly redeeming a bike that I found so bad in traffic that it’s the only one I wouldn’t consider commuting on (and I commuted for years on a lowracer). Subjectively, I can’t help but feel the giant-size open cockpit is compromising performance a little.

Both the High Baron and MetaBike deliver in spades on the efficiency front. The Baron is lower and more stretched out, has triangulated rear stays and a huge internal gusset welded into the bend of the frame. The MetaBike has fat tubes and the distinctive triangulation at the head tube gives it legendary stiffness, while the drivetrain has one fewer idler on the return side of the chain (three VS four on the Baron, including the idlers in the rear mech).

I’m not sure how significant return idlers can possibly be, but at gunpoint I’d probably give the edge to the MetaBike overall, although I think the aero difference between two riders could easily swamp the difference between the two bikes.

You can get a good idea of the height and length differences between the two bikes from the following photo:

HB-meta

Handling

Every recumbent handles differently, and not always in a good way.

Even between these five superficially similar 700C bikes there are major contrasts, and while I believe you can learn to master any bike, that doesn’t make things equal. Plenty of people have shoes that don’t properly fit them too.

That said, I’d be the first to admit that some aspects of bike handling are subjective, so I want to be clear that I’m obviously drawing on my personal preferences here.

The weakest bike by a country mile is the Bacchetta Corsa. The open cockpit interferes with tight manouvering – the excitement of stabbing your thigh into your handlebars while carving round a bollard is… considerable. The huge height of the bike really made it awkward in stop-go traffic and had me scrabbling at the ground with the tip of my shoe on multiple occasions: I’ve written specifically about stick bike seat height issues as a result.

giantstick

On the open road, the only time I would worry about the Corsa is slow speed climbing, for fear of kicking the bars, while slow speed hill starts might well be impossible. You can get a mini-Corsa on smaller wheels that would presumably help, but then it wouldn’t be eligible for a big-wheel roundup, catch 22…

Both the Gaucho and Raptobike have a much more civilised demeanour and I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend either. The Gaucho’s suspended rear end gives it a very ‘planted’ feel and you shouldn’t underestimate how nice that is when you’re pouring on the miles. I finished Paris-Brest-Paris on the Gaucho with no injuries or discomfort whatsoever (although I did fall asleep while descending the Roc, and found myself bouncing along the verge, still upright!)

The Raptobike does present the danger of mangling your clothes and/or inner thigh on the power idler, and that might be significant for some (I found it contributed to knee issues over great distances). It’s a very direct-feeling bike, otherwise.

The MetaBike is possibly the biggest disappointment I’ve had in recumbent handling.

Having read so much about these bikes taking the BentRider forum by storm, I had pretty much convinced myself I was going to buy the Laid-Back demo the moment it arrived (I’d spent the best part of a year doing trials and hadn’t found anything to replace my RaptoBike lowracer).

Unfortunately I found the MetaBike sharp to a fault – even sharper than my upright DF racer. It just wasn’t a reassuring bike to ride, for me, and this killed the enjoyment that riding such a stiff frame should bring (and believe me, I really wanted to like it!).

With the collapse of Challenge killing off the hugely-anticipated Chamsin SL, I was considering buying a MetaBike regardless and just adjusting my expectations, but at the last minute the High Baron came into the picture. (Challenge are theoretically still in business, but no sign of a Chamsin SL.)

For me, the Baron has almost flawless handling. It corners so assuredly at high speed that it frankly embarrasses most other bikes, while the rock solid cockpit gives you the confidence to pour on the power. Despite being low and stretched out, it still manoeuvres well around tight obstacles, and of course it’s effortless to dab.

Unfortunately there’s a real issue with the Baron’s brakes, especially at the rear. It’s very difficult to get them set up to work satisfactorily, and indeed I still put up with poor braking in exchange for the bike’ great performance otherwise.

Another Scottish randonneur demonstrates that some people will make the opposite judgement (indeed, DarkerSider went on to complete London-Edinburgh-London rather nicely on his MetaBike!)

Weight

Unless your own bodyweight is extremely low (say < 160lbs / 70kg), weight shouldn't determine your choice between any of these five bikes. It simply won't be a defining factor in their performance. Since I know you are interested despite my good advice, the Corsa and Metabike lead the pack in terms of how light you can go with unlimited cash. The High Baron trails a little behind, followed by the RaptoBike Midracer and finally the Gaucho. If you need further reassurance, I wrote up a comparison between the High Baron and CA2.0 in weight terms and suggest that, while the difference is real, it’s no big shakes:

Say I was to climb solidly with my long-lost twin for an hour – the version of me on the CA2.0 would nose ahead by around 0.13 miles, or 208 meters. To combat this, the version of me riding the High Baron would need to average 254W instead of 250W (unfortunately this is not much above the 1% quoted accuracy of most power meters, so let’s not take the test to extremes).

Of course, there are reasons besides performance to enjoy a light bike… just don’t overplay it to the point that you buy a bike which is compromised for your needs under the impression that a pound or two will make any real difference to your performance on it.

Conclusion

I made my choice and am now the proud owner of a red Baron… however, that’s not to say that I would recommend the Baron to absolutely everyone.

Perhaps this is a bit of a cop-out, but I really think that a range of riders would make different (valid) choices if they tried these bikes out back to back. Your intended use and personal preferences mean a lot, they’re just hard to score with a single number (unlike the ubiquitous but insignificant weight reading!)

The best thing you can do is get in touch with an experienced dealer who can talk you through your options, and potentially arrange demos.

In this case all five bikes came through Edinburgh’s Laid-Back-Bikes. Get in touch with David Gardiner and he’ll be pleased to help with any enquiries.

Readers may note that, as ever, I haven’t included cost as a basis for comparison. That’s not to say that all these bikes cost the same, but I prefer to avoid misleading specifics, especially to an international audience…

ICE trike polar attempt…

ICE Trikes unveil a custom 3×26″ fat trike designed to take on the South Pole itself…

Purpose-built 3×559 “fat trike”

Pretty awesome press release from ICE today revealing a £20k custom trike designed to make an attempt on the South Pole shortly….

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It’s geared low enough to climb 1:3 grades and looks to be running three 26″ wheels with fat bike tyres.

Really looking forward to hearing how this works out…

See White Ice Cycle for all the details!

Azub Origami review

The Origami is a robust, fairly upright dual 20″ recumbent with a really neat, fast and tool-free fold…

Sprightly folding recumbent

The Origami is a robust, fairly upright dual 20″ model from Czech manufacturer Azub.

As the name suggests, the twist is the ability to fold up the Origami into a compact layout, something that many would welcome considering how awkward your average recumbent is to move about, being six feet long and all…

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This model appeared briefly in the Edinburgh showroom of Laid-Back-Bikes and I took the opportunity to poke it around a bit… I didn’t take the bike for more than a quick spin however as it was already earmarked for a keen customer.

The build is robust and definitely catering for the utility / commuting market rather than the long distance or speed crowd (although I daresay you could do quite a daily mileage on it if you chose). The general finishing of the frame is of a high standard, the cable routing is good and aesthetically it has a crisp, pleasing look:

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The bars are neat and comfortable, with good quality cabling and trigger shifters for the Alfine hub and front mech. The tiller is a folding one – this is an essential part of the overall fold so you have to put up with the inevitable bit of flex there (but on the other hand, it means you can dismount without turning the bars, as well as folding the bike tight):

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A sturdy twin-leg kickstand keeps the bike stable while you fold and unfold it – it’s also just a generally handy thing for a utility bike to have – no chance of falling over while loading panniers or sitting propped against a wall!

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At the rear there’s a sturdy pannier rack. You can also see the telescopic pole that supports the back of the seat (and sets the seat angle) in this pic:

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The fold

The rear dropout has a split metal bracket attached which forms half of the clever part of the folding mechanism (as an aside, this will also protect the mech from impact if you drop the bike on its right side, something I’ve had the pleasure of doing to all too many bikes):

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One side of the front wheel skewer features a flat plate that mates with the rear dropout plate when the bike is folded, preventing it falling apart:

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See below for detail of the wheel mating system. This keeps the bike tight when it’s being moved about, and is very effective indeed (as well as fast!):

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Hinge detail: it’s quite a burly affair so no fear of it coming apart while you’re riding about. Note also the very bling red anodised QR skewers that adjust the bike:

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The fold is pretty fast and slick, and importantly tool free; although not without hazard to the paintwork as you swing the seat about (care or practice required!)

I haven’t seen anything to compare with this in the two wheel world – simple and easy enough that you might actually do it on a daily basis (and since you don’t have to carry around the seat separately, I can even see the argument that this is better than the ICE flat fold):

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You *might* get this on a train past a suspicious conductor… certainly it would be much easier to get into a variety of smaller types of car!

There’s a strap which keeps the bars tucked sideways against the side of the frame, so they don’t flap around either.

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Ride Quality

After all that time spent discussing the fold… how does it ride?

The Origami’s relatively short wheelbase makes it very manoeuvrable and the steering is well balanced – you can use one finger to corner and direct the bike around potholes and the like (more than one finger might be an advantage should you prefer to ride through them).

The wide gearing shifted quickly and without fuss. I’m not totally convinced about the longevity of any hub gear (long story…) but that’s hardly a recumbent-specific issue. This model was just fine when I put it to the test.

Speed-wise it occupies a similar part of the spectrum to the Bromptons of the upright folding world – it won’t set you on fire (or perhaps: if you’re on fire, you might not be able to ride fast enough to put it out!) but it’s not offensively slow for a utility bike by any means.

I found the ride to be comfortable enough, if not plush – but take that with a pinch of salt as I didn’t ride for many miles at a time as you’d need to to expose that sort of issue (possibly you wouldn’t either?)

At the end of the day you’ve probably got some pretty specific requirements if you want a folding bike and the Azub’s excellent fold does put it at the top of the leaderboard in that respect. The pleasing handling is a bonus 🙂

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Sebastiaan Bowier: fastest human ever

VeloX3 hits 83.13mph at Battle Mountain 2013…

VeloX3 hits 83.13mph at Battle Mountain 2013

Congratulations to HPT Delft / Amsterdam who have managed to clinch the world record at the eleventh hour of this year’s Battle Mountain event.

It’s the third attempt by the Dutch team (who are supported, amongst others, by RaptoBike) to take the crown from Canadian Sam Whittingham.

Rather than copy and paste their press release like everyone else has, I’ll just direct you to the press release 🙂

I mainly wanted to share these excellent pics by team photographer Bas de Meijer:

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Recumbent efficiency

Even if you aren’t able to go as *fast*, are you more efficient on a recumbent bike (even while climbing)? Yes indeed!

Go further per calorie – by going laid back

I’ve been putting in the miles on one of my upright bikes recently, ahead of a race where riding recumbent isn’t an option.

I thought I’d spice things up by swapping a session onto the High Baron, using the same PowerTap wheel to see whether I could make anything interesting of the data.

As I suspected, I was faster on my upright than on the High Baron. I wasn’t going flat out on either bike, since I’ve been doing ten or more rides a week – I was only subjectively investing the same effort on each. The outcome mainly reflects training on one bike (many hours) over the other (very little)… the specific effects of training shouldn’t surprise anyone.

What is more interesting is to compare the power I had to use to achieve each performance.

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The route is a little under 25 miles with just over 1300ft of ascent (40km / 400m). Overall, I managed 17.5mph average for 230W on my upright, compared with 16.7mph for 168W on the High Baron.

I think there was more of a headwind on the High Baron ride, but since that only advantages the recumbent, let’s assume that wind conditions were the same:

Each recumbent mile cost 36.2kCal, versus 47.3kCal for each upright mile.

If I’d been racing myself, I’d obviously have won on the upright, but that’s just one way of looking at a performance. What if I was riding an ultra-distance event where I’m mainly limited by how much I can force myself to eat and how little sleep I can survive on?

For every 36 miles ridden on my upright I’d be an extra 11 miles further down the road on my recumbent (for the same effort) and once performance becomes limited by something other than absolute power (i.e. limited by fuel, fatigue, comfort, or any similar factor) that’s really going to tell.

Even on a 200km brevet my average power in the closing hour or so can be as low as 150-175W. I can achieve that on either type of bike, and then you’ve got to think of the next 200, 400, 1000km…

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Convergence on hills, as expected

I’ve previously compared the performance of recumbent and road bike in ‘ideal’ conditions (flat without wind) and found a large advantage in favour of the recumbent (250W vs 150W for the same speed).

On the other hand, I’ve also previously bemoaned terrible performance on all-out hill climbs (the MetaBike took 36% longer), where absolute muscle recruitment and platform efficiency is paramount.

It would be expected then for a mixed route / mixed conditions performance to show much less advantage than the ideal case, depending on the proportion of time spent climbing and the proportion at high speed (where aerodynamics offers significant benefit). A flat TT would be very close to the 100W advantage shown in my earlier test, while a hilly ride would be closer to break-even, or perhaps to disadvantage the recumbent altogether, as in the second test.

Pleasingly this is the case for the rides in question: I was 0.8mph faster on upright for 62W extra, which is a much prettier picture than getting the same speed for 150W extra!

If I isolate the hillier section of the route I see 14.1mph for 350W (upright) against 10.6mph for 245W (recumbent). The lack of absolute power is dramatic, but again, only important if each second counts for its own sake (as in a road race or head-to-head hill climb).

Much more interestingly, the efficiency gap has closed right down, to 89.4kCal per mile (upright) against 83.2kCal per mile (recumbent). But…

The recumbent is still more *efficient* on a 10mph climb, albiet *slower*

Since so many people seem prone to equate slow climbing with poor performance it’s hard to emphasise this too much.

If you’re touring you’re hardly going to ride for four hours dead then stop wherever you are at the roadside. You probably have a destination and getting there a few minutes either side is not important compared with getting there in comfort or for less sweat and toil.

If you’re riding an ultra distance event, it’s not likely that you’re so strong that you can maintain high wattages for days at a time; it’s more likely that you want to get the maximum ‘bang for your buck’ when it comes to spending your body’s limited capacity for exertion.

Only if you’re racing over fairly short distances does absolute power outweigh efficiency.

If we buy into the hypothesis that recumbents reduce the muscle mass you can recruit by isolating your legs (which is one possibility) you can see that they really will start to shine as the miles rack up.

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Caveats

Other than the obvious (small sample size, indicative only…) the big caveat here is that I’m still measuring power at the wheel and not at the crank. This means it’s possible that one or other of the bikes is systematically under-reading the effort required. What if the much feared phenomena of drivetrain or frame losses mean that the recumbent really requires an extra 50W at the pedals to hit 250W at the cranks?

It’s impossible to answer this question without access to a crank-based meter at the same time as the PowerTap… if anyone has both and would like to run a few tests, get in touch!

For my part, I don’t really see how such a large difference can be accounted for through drivetrain losses: for starters, an idler that sucked out 50W would get as hot as an old-fashioned incandescent bulb, which is patently not the case.

Certainly there are many questions about recumbent performance that remain unanswered, but hopefully this chips away at another aspect of the problem (even if it raises as many questions as it answers!)

Any comments, as ever, gratefully received…