It always seems a shame to put up a post without a photo or two within it. Perhaps I’ll have chance to add one later. What follows is likely to bear relation to many people who have been bitten by the recumbent bug. One is never enough. I think the reason is clear and normally unspoken…. For all the advantages of riding recumbent, the challenge is which design of bike or trike to choose. When you have a choice with anything in life you have to play the pluses against the minuses – but with ‘bents the designs we have today, I am not aware of a machine out there which has the breadth of utility of a conventional diamond-frame design. With my 531 steel tourer, a little gentle off road is OK, riding with a group of roadies is OK and it’s good for commuting to work, pulling a kiddy trailer and of course it excels at touring. But if such true versatility exists in a ‘bent I have yet to see the design to achieve this. I would however be delighted to be corrected on this, dear reader.
My recumbent journey started with a trike. I opted for full suspension as it had 20” wheels and being a ‘bent I could not hitch myself out of the saddle for pot holes. It was supremely comfortable and an enormous amount of fun. It was fabulous for commuting and OK for short local day rides. However for longer day rides or touring the mechanical inefficiency of having three wheels on the road, the losses into the suspension / chain tubes and the weight meant that 40 miles felt like 60, especially when hauling panniers or a baby trailer. I did take it on a tour which I really enjoyed, but it was too hard work up hills with a load. As I say, 40 miles felt like 60. It was however great in the snow and I think it is this capability that I will miss most, but probably only for one week every five years. She is now sold.
My downfall was looking for the most efficient long distance, hill climbing machine on the market. There seemed to be two designs considered to contend for this prize. The Lightning P38 and the Metabike. I did get to sit on a P38 thanks to a kind young lady in Edinburgh who dropped into Laid Back Bikes (LBB) when I was there for a test ride. But in that short time I simply could master riding it. Also, it had a 20” unsuspended front wheel which from my experience is just not practical on British roads where we don’t so much ride on the left of the road as ride on what is left of the road! Whilst I was at LBB I tried a Nazca Fuego (20” unsuspended front wheel) and whilst this was great in many ways, on Edinburgh cobbles it did seek to shake out all my fillings! So having tried a few designs I opted for the Metabike, where the 28” wheels take the edge off the British roads without having the inherent inefficiency of mechanical suspension. It was and is great, but as I said it was also my downfall. This showed me just how fast and efficient a ‘bent could be. It doesn’t have suspension or chain tube losses, it isn’t heavy and yet the frame is braced and stiff. It allows me average speeds, over the same route, some 2 mph faster than my standard touring bike. So I found I did not need to compromise efficiency to enjoy the laid back posture of ‘bent riding, from then on the days were numbered for the trike.
However, whilst the Metabike is truly fabulous for day rides and touring, and if you are a regular reader you’ll know I rode along the Pennines / Spine of the England in the summer, it is not ideal for commuting in stop / start commuter traffic. So what to do if I want to keep my ‘bent muscles working between tours, have the pleasure of a laid back commute into work but not be peddling something I know is far harder (less efficient) that I know it could be? It was time to research a compromise machine. Something easier to balance in stop/start traffic, good over potholes and yet not as inefficient as the trike… I guess it should be no surprise that my choice was to be the recumbent which is the most popular in the UK. Others also must have been looking for a versatile machine, and perhaps it is what I should have started with too. That said, hindsight is always 20:20!
So three weeks ago I went for a long drive to test ride, then purchase and bring home a second hand HPV Streetmachine GTe. The first thing it needed was a change of drive chain to lose the grip shifts and 8 speed rear mech. My thanks to the ever helpful Richard at ATR Cycles for his advice and speedy work upgrading me to bar end shifters, cable oilers (ready for the winter) and rear cassette. She is now a great ride. Not as efficient as the Metabike, but on the spectrum from suspended trike to High Racer I know I am far closer to the High Racer end of the range. And for me efficiency really matters, not just as a concept but because my commute home involves picking up my son in his trailer and then cycling up hill to get home.