Bicycle Network: Bikes 'n' Bits
What are they and what are they good for? Gear guru Mark Horner looks at a few locally made models for people taking the laid-back approach.
Recumbents are bicycles or tricycles designed with a reclining pedalling attitude. Usually the rider pedals forward, rather than down as on an upright bike.
Why this arrangement? Wind resistance makes it difficult to ride faster than 30km/h on an upright bike without effort. By pointing the rider feet-first, recumbents reduce wind resistance significantly, which means you can travel faster with less sweat.
The layout of the machine allows more sophisticated gearing than on an upright bike and recumbent’s often-smaller wheels are arranged to allow more effective braking than on uprights, especially with the disc or drum brakes now commonly fitted. It is very rare to roll or flip a recumbent trike because you are low to the ground.
What about climbing hills, an area in which recumbents are supposed to lag behind upright bikes? Ben Goodall from local manufacturer Tri-Sled, points out that until recently, recumbents suffered from a lack of sophistication in design: components were not optimised for weight or ergonomics therefore hill-climbing ability suffered.
But things are changing. Lighter components and a greater range of riding positions, allied with more sophisticated gearing and braking systems, make newer bikes and trikes more efficient on steep slopes than models of even five years ago.
And what about in the wet? All the manufacturers I interviewed admitted that you do get wetter lying down than sitting up. But when you’re travelling feet-first, windchill is much less than on an upright. You also only have one wheel to throw spray directly at you and this can be easily fitted with a mudguard.
So why aren’t they more popular? There is a common perception that recumbents are hard to see on the road, hence dangerous in traffic. Safety flags are a popular option, and definitely make recumbents more visible to other road users.
The relatively high price could also be a turn off. Most models cost more than $3000 (the entry level model we looked at was $1800), quite pricey for the average rider.
What are the options?
I examined six tricycles from the three major companies that produce or distribute recumbents in Australia. The Greenspeed ‘GT3’ and ‘X5’, the Tri-Sled ‘Gizmo’, and a model imported by Tri-Sled called the ‘VTT’, and the MR Components ‘Swift Touring ’ and ‘Adventure Swift’.
Greenspeed is the larger of the three local companies, and a major player on the world stage, with agencies in Europe and America – where about 75% of the products end up. With approximately 11 models and variants, Greensled manufactures a machine to suit most purposes. I chose a basic model, the GT3 – now made largely in Taiwan – and the newer X5, an all-rounder developed to be a multipurpose machine.
Tri-Sled and MR Components are smaller than Greenspeed in terms of volume produced, but these manufacturers add their own innovations and refinements, which tailor their recumbents for specific uses.
Tri-Sled’s signature model is the Gizmo, but the company also imports a Taiwanese model dubbed the ‘Very Treadly Trike’ or ‘VTT’. At $1800 it is the most affordable model I looked at. Tri-Sled trikes have a reputation for speed and endurance event-winning performance.
MR Components offers the Swift Touring, for long-distance and general use, and the Adventure Swift, which is fitted with suspension and off-road tyres for all-terrain adventures.
Generally, the more you recline, the less wind resistance you will encounter. However, if you are lying too far back your pedalling is less efficient and you may have greater neck strain. So one of the most important things if you are considering a recumbent is to find the most comfortable and efficient seat angle for you.
Thirty to 40 degrees is the most common angle for a general-purpose commuting/touring machine. Both Tri-Sled and MR Components offer a moulded shell seat (an option on the MR Components Swift and Adventure Swift), and Tri-Sled uses an advanced foam overlay for comfort and breathability on the Gizmo. Greenspeed is beginning to add this as an option but not on the GT3 or X5.
Each company makes or adapts several models to cope with the demands of commuting, touring and racing. The Greenspeed GT3 and X5 both fold up to fit into a box the size of a large suitcase. The Tri-Sled Gizmo comes standard with an bolted coupling, but can be fitted with a hinge on request. MR Components Swift and Adventure Swift will separate for travel, but less neatly than the others.
All the recumbents reviewed have a boom (the part that supports the cranks and pedals) adjustment allowing the trikes to be fitted to people of different leg lengths, and there are touring racks available as an option, which will take two large pannier bags and whatever you care to strap to the top.
The Adventure Swift from MR Components has suspension units (Spring and Damper) fitted to all three wheels. This makes it an ideal machine for travelling rougher terrain.
All models are customisable with fairings (enclosed, moulded plastic body shells shaped to decrease wind resistance), extra accessories and component upgrades able to be fitted at the factory. All the manufacturers I visited are happy to accomodate with variations to standard models.
Recumbents support your body better than an upright bike, especially tricycle versions. This is good for people with mobility or balance concerns. More power is transferred to the pedals by bracing your back and bottom muscles against a broader seat area. A larger support area reduces impact on body pressure points while you are on the bike, resulting in less contact point fatigue, abrasion and stress injury.
Trikes can be customised to be hand-powered, or electric-motor assisted, or fitted with mobility aids or carriers for crutches, wheelchairs and so on. But it would incur extra cost, depending on the degree of modification. Tandems are also available.
Of the trikes sampled, the Greenspeed GT3 seemed the best suited to the day-to-day commuter grind, with predictable steering, well-evolved geometry and solid and time-tested construction. The X5 offers refinements that Greenspeed’s years of manufacture have honed.
Tri-Sled’s Gizmo was perhaps a more exciting trike to ride, with nippier steering, good acceleration and a very well-thought-out seat. The VTT gets people on a recumbent for an entry-level price. MR Components Adventure Swift takes recumbent design in a totally different direction, with exciting possibilities for backcountry touring
|Model||Greenspeed GT3||Greenspeed X5||Tri-Sled Gizmo||Tri-Sled VTT||MR Components Swift Touring||MR Components Adventure Swift|
|Track||29.5” (75cm)||29.5” (75cm)||65cm||Contact supplier||65cm||65cm|
|Width||32.7” (83cm)||32.7” (83cm)||74cm||Contact supplier||Contact supplier||Contact supplier|
|Wheelbase||39” (98cm)||39” (98cm)||100cm||Contact supplier||100cm, variable||100cm|
|Length||69” (175cm)||69” (175cm)||190cm||Contact supplier||Contact supplier||Contact supplier|
|Height||27” (68cm)||27” (68cm)||Contact supplier||Contact supplier||Contact supplier||Contact supplier|
|Turning circle||12’ (3.7m)||12' (3.7metre)||4.5m||Contact supplier||2m||2m|
|Seat and angle||Open mesh on frame, 40 degrees||Open mesh on frame, 30 degrees||Carbon fibre with urethane mount points, open cell foam padding, angle not listed||Fibreglass with moulded foam cushion, angle not listed||Open mesh on frame, 40 degrees||Open mesh on frame, 40 degrees|
|Seat height||10” (25cm)||10” (25cm)||17cm||Contact supplier||Contact supplier||Contact supplier|
|Ground clearance||2.6” (7cm)||2.6” (66cm)||80mm||Contact supplier||Contact supplier||Contact supplier|
|Wheels||16” x 1 3/8” (37–349) alloy rims Primo Comet 16” x 1 3/8”, 80 psi tyres||Disc hubs, 16” x 1½” 40-349, 14G stainless steel spokes, Scorcher tyres||Contact supplier, options available on request||Disc Hubs, Stainless Steel spokes, 20” x 1.25” Alex DA 16 front wheels, 26” x 1.25” rear wheel, Primo tyres.||Joytech hubs, DT stainless steel spokes, Velocity triple V 20x1.5” (406) rims, Tioga Comp Pool 90psi tyres||Joytech HQ alloy sealed bearing with push button quick release hubs, Velocity triple V 20x1.5 406 rims, DT stainless steel spokes, Tioga Comp Pool 90 psi tyres|
|Brakes||Sturmey Archer Drums||Disc 4-pot Gator||Contact supplier||Avid Digit 5 Disc||Tektro 821 V||
Tektro 821 V or disc on request
|Gears||27 speed – Shimano Capreo||27 speed – Shimano Capreo, Shimano 105||Contact supplier||Shimano Tiagra front /Deore rear||Shimano Ultegra bar-end shifters, FD22 front, Acera rear||Shimano Ultegra bar-end shifters, FD22 front, Acera rear|
|Cranks||Shimano Tiagra 52/42/30||Shimano 105 52/42/30||Contact supplier||Alloy 52/42/30||Dotek 60/50/40||Dotek 60/50/40 (alternatives available)|
|Freewheel||Shimano 9 speed, 9, 10, 11, 13, 15, 17, 20, 23, 26.||Shimano 9 speed, 9, 10, 11, 13, 15, 17, 20, 23, 26.||Contact supplier||SRAM 5.0 9 speed 11–32||Shimano 11–34 HG 50||Shimano 11–34 HG 50|
|Frame||Cro-Mo 4130 tubing||Cro-Mo 4130 tubing||Cro-Mo 4130 tubing||7005 Aluminium Alloy||Hi-tensile steel, blaze blue powdercoat||Hi-tensile steel, blaze blue powdercoat, Front suspension RST Coil Shock 70mm. Rear RST coil shock 100mm travel|
|Weight||38lbs/17kg||36lbs/ 16.5kg||14.5kg||14.5kg||From 17kg||From 20kg|
Mark Horner ends many days with grease smears on his face. He divides his time between fixing bikes and supporting rides. When he’s not working on or around other people’s bikes, you’ll find him out riding his own.
This article first appeared the December 2005-January 2006 issue of Ride On.
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