Smoky Mountain Recumbent Rally 2013

regroupingThis past May saw the second Smoky Mountain Recumbent Rally – and from here on, I’m just going to call it SMRR, to save on typing! I was expecting it to be an enjoyable event, simply because I had such a good time last year. But, there’s always that concern about sequels not quite living up to the success of the predecessors. So, was SMRR II a flop or a hit? Continue reading

2013 ICE Vortex

yeehawWhen I first read about the Vortex, I thought: this is not the trike for me. Right there on the website , it says: “… one of the world’s most desirable racing trikes.” I’m not a racer – I’m a tourist! But then last year I did somewhat “race” at Calvin’s Challenge. And truthfully, I wasn’t so much racing anyone, as I was just curious to see just how far I could go in 12 hours. As it turned out, my lack of preparation took its toll. But I did have fun, and it caused me to take another look at this “desirable racing trike”. What did I find? Read on! Continue reading

Thomas Wolfe was Wrong: You CAN Go Home Again – But You Might Not Want to Stay!

I suspect many of you are like me – I’m never completely satisified with what I have now, and I often wonder if what I used to have was better – perhaps even better than what might come in the future. While that doesn’t stop me from perusing the announcements of new products, whether it be computers, televisions, bikes or whatever – I do like to look back, too. I look back at things I never had – a penny-farthing, for instance – but also at those things that I did have. And, in this case, still do: a 1976 Schinn Super LeTour 12.2. I haven’t ridden that bike in perhaps 30 years, but every time I spot it in my basement, I wonder: are my recollections faulty? Was it as fun to ride as I remember? Finally, I decided to re-visit my past, to “go home again”, to the bicycle that led me to where I am today.

But before I could actually ride the thing, I had some searching to do. Namely, to find the front wheel! Years ago, decades even, I took a class at a local bike shop in elementary bicycle repair. I know, I know, you can stop laughing now. But at one time, I did try to learn how to do all my own maintenance. In this case, it involved removing the bearings from the front hub and lubricating them. I do recall that I did succeed, but took the front wheel off when I mounted the bike in an exercise stand – at that point I had bought another bike, and I figured I’d use this one indoors when the weather was bad. Trouble is, I have no idea where that wheel went! Luckily, my mechanic Walt Smith came to the rescue – he had a similar wheel he wasn’t using, so I put it on the bike.

I do want to make clear that just about everything that was done to render this Schwinn road-worthy was physically done by Walt. I mainly watched, took pictures, checked my email, that sort of thing. I did buy the parts that needed replacing: chain, handlebar tape, brake pads, tires and tubes, etc. Walt not only installed all these, he supplied the cables, too – and all I had to do was buy him lunch at the Cracker Barrel! Not a bad deal at all.

It probably took him less time than it did for me to get used to downtube shifting again – perched up so high off the ground, leaning down to shift and worrying that I’d reach too far and put my fingers in the front wheel – but the old memories weren’t buried so deep after all, and it wasn’t long before I was cruising along the subdivision streets near Walt’s house, feeling the past come alive again. Was it as good as I remembered?

Short answer: yes! The bike is probably lighter than anything I’ve ridden in years, at just about 26 pounds. It’s nimble, accelerates quickly, and I found myself thinking, I bet I could ride a century on this thing, just like I did back in the 70’s. On the following Sunday, I susprised our group by riding it instead of one of my recumbents, and it was difficult not to speed ahead – it looked like today’s reality was actually better than yesterday’s memories! Even the bottle generator lights still worked!

But, after 25 or 30 miles, I was beginning to have other thoughts, impressions that began to push into the foreground. I began to understand again just why I “went recumbent”. Yes, the bike is quick, handles nicely, and so on – but it soon became more than noticeable that parts of me were hurting! The palms of my hands, my wrists, my shoulders, my neck, and yes, my ass – I began to shift positions on the bars, on my saddle, things that I now remembered with even greater clarity now that the past was returning to the present.

Yes, it’s fun to look back and revisit the joys of years gone by. And sometimes we discover things that improve the present, while other times we just get a reminder of why things turned out the way they did. I appreciate even more what a great bike that Schwinn Super LeTour 12.2 is, and how it led me from simple rides around the block to centuries and more – and to recumbents. I am sure I won’t just toss it back in the basement to lie untouched for another 30 years – but for now, I’m back in the present, and looking forward to the future. Who knows, maybe I’ll trade it in on something I’ve never owned – anyone have a penny-farthing or a crank-forward they’d like to trade for a classic Schwinn?

Catrike 700

Have you ever looked at something, a car, a house, a person, and thought: no, that’s not for me. That’s not my style, that’s out of my league, that’s more than I want or need, and so on. And yet, when you get closer, when you drive it, when you walk in that front door, when you talk to that person, you find that you just might be wrong, at least enough to cause you to take a closer look. Sometimes that turns into a need to experience it more, as you find that perhaps you didn’t know yourself as well as you thought. That is a good description of my reaction to the 2012 Catrike 700.

I consider myself more of a tourist than a racer, someone more interested in putting on panniers instead of wheel discs. When I look at the Catrike lineup, I look at the Road more than the Speed, the Expedition more than the 700. And the Musashi? Not at all! And yet, those of you who have been following my reports know that I am now the owner of a Musashi, and love it. So, in retrospect, my reaction to the 2012 Catrike 700 shouldn’t be all that surprising.

At first glance, there are more similarities than differences between the Expedition and the 700. They both are tadpole trikes with aluminum frames and integrated seats, they have small front wheels and a larger rear one. A closer examination shows that the Expedition has 20″/406 front tires coupled with a 26″/599 rear. The 700, on the other hand, is 16″/349 and 29″/700c. You might shrug your shoulders and think – not much of a difference, really.

And then you sit on the trikes, and that’s when you notice a few more things. While the Expedition has you 10″ off the ground, and with a recline angle of 37 degrees, the 700 puts you a bit closer, at 7″, and with a more laid-back 27 degrees. Is that a big deal? And, though you woudn’t know unless you got out a tape measure, would the fact that the Expedition is a little shorter in wheelbase and wider in track, make a noticeable difference when you are riding? One way to find out …

This is the usual progression as you walk down the aisle of a well-stocked recumbent dealer. You look at the various bikes and trikes, some strike your interest more than others, and you evaluate them based more on preconceptions of not only them but yourself as well. You won’t get a definitive answer to your questions until you take that test ride – or should I make that plural, because you won’t be satisfied with just one. And that’s a good idea – don’t come to a decision too soon. You may find that you really like, for example, the Catrike Expedition – many do. But now’s your chance to see if those “minor” differences with the 700 are all that small after all. You may find that you don’t know yourself as well as you thought.

The lower seat may not seem to matter so much, and the nearly imperceptible to the naked eye wheelbase and track dimensions even less so, but when you couple those with the ten degrees of recline difference, the effect is more than noticeable: it’s dramatic, an eye-opener.

The first few moments of riding didn’t reveal much (no brake or pedal steer, but I wasn’t expecting any) to me, but the first turn did – and the sharper and faster I rode, the more I kept telling myself, I must find another phrase instead of that hackneyed “on rails”, but that is how it felt. Stable and quick, the 700 seemed to be challenging me to see just how far I could go in trying to get it up on two wheels. That’s one of the things I try to discover when riding any trike for the first time, to experience the limits, to make it almost instinctive, how fast and sharp I can ride without being surprised by a wheel lifting. With the 700, that limit is more than I’ve encountered before.

The components are of good quality: front chainrings of 30/39/52, and rear cogs of SRAM 12-36, giving a top gear of 113.9 and a granny of 21.9 gear-inches. Brakes are Avid BB7 discs. Derailleurs are Microshift in the front, and SRAM X-9 10-speed in the rear. Tires are Schwalbe Kojak and Durano. Weight of the trike is 33 pounds, and the rider weight limit is 250.

Riding my normal test route, with its various hills and turns, I found myself behaving more like the racer that I am not, pedaling more than coasting, braking later, wanting to see just how fast I could go. Instead of daydreams of quiet tours in some bucolic countryside, camping gear strapped on the back, I found myself thinking of Calvin’s Challenge, and riding 200 miles in 12 hours. That’s not me, I’m a tourist, not a racer, and yet …

Yes, the 700 and the Expedition are very simlar – and I have ridden and reviewed the Expedition before, and liked it a lot. Judging by how many I see on the roads, I am not alone in my feelings about that trike. And yes, the 700 may not be for everyone – the lower seat and increased recline angle may not be to everyone’s liking. I didn’t think I would like it – it’s just not “me”, I’m not a racer, etc. And yet … when I rode it, when I felt (a placebo effect? Maybe, maybe not) faster, I thought: I really like this trike. And I think all of you should give it a try. You may discover you don’t know yourself as well as you thought.

Catrike 700
Pros: Fast, agile, makes you feel younger and more athletic
Cons: Recline angle and seat height may be just a bit too much for some
Cost: MSRP of $2750 with standard paint of silver or black, other shades $100-$150 more.
For More Information: http://www.catrike.com/catrike_700.html

TerraTrike Sportster

by Larry Varney
Co-Editor, ‘BentRider Online

One recumbent trike manufacturer that has seen much success in recent years is TerraTrike. Part of the reason is price: it is difficult to find a competitor who has a better product at a lower price than, say, the Rover. And yet, some people wanted a little bit more – and then they unveiled the Rambler. Both of these trikes offered features that many buyers wanted, especially a comfortable ride on a trike that did not force them to squat very low. Yes, both trikes have been big hits, and while many of the more vociferous owners rebelled against any talk of “performance” – after all, they were riding them for far better reasons than “speed” – there were some out there who were thinking, how nice it would be to have the no-squat attribute with not just a bit more speed, but considerably more. In fact, these buyers would be willing to pay more, too. The result? Come join me in a ride on the new TerraTrike Sportster.

The Sportster is undeniably a TerraTrike. It caters to those riders whose primary concerns are ease of entry and exit, coupled with a low bottom bracket and a seat that doesn’t have them straining to hold their head up. When you sit down on this trike, you aren’t looking at the road ahead between your knees. The variable recline angle of the seat ranges from the modestly laid-back angle of 40 degrees, to a nearly upright 70. And you may be forgiven if you think: this is just another TerraTrike – what’s the big deal? Start pedaling and shifting, and you’ll find out!

Let me be clear about one thing: this is not the fastest trike I have ever ridden. The hands on the grips are off to our sides, and combined with the recline angle, we present a pretty big target for the wind. But even with that, this is a very quick trike. I was impressed! Shifting up through the gears (8 cogs and 3 chainrings; this is the basic model, there are others with more), the acceleration was noticeable. Toss in indiscernible brake steer (Bengal disc), and a turning circle that is among the best I’ve encountered, and you’ve got an enjoyable, fast ride. Not the fastest, but hardly slow. The direct-steer was precise, it tracked well, and while I prefer to have my hands and arms in closer to my body, the position on the Sportster was comfortable. I would not have a problem taking this trike out to do a century.

I’ve mentioned comfort and speed, two pluses for the Sportster. Another is ground clearance. At 7 inches, this is the trike I would pick for traversing grassy fields, loose sand, and crushed limestone trails. Combine this with a seat height of 14.5 inches (bottom bracket, too), and you have a very lofty perch, There are some potential drawbacks to such a “tall” trike: stability in tight, fast turns. I have mentioned the turning circle (12 feet in diameter). A trike this tall, with a track of just 34.25 inches, can result in a lifting of an inside wheel. I do want to point out that this lifting is not abrupt, and you really do have to be either very tall, or almost deliberately turning so fast and abruptly, that you want to raise that wheel – which I did, of course. In anything approaching normal riding, this didn’t happen. And when it did, it was very mild and easily controlled.

The attention to detail on the Sportster is good, as are the components. As mentioned, there are other models that cost more, and the components are a bit higher in grade, as you would expect – but this lowest-cost model is nothing to turn away from.

I wondered at various times just what was making this trike faster than other, similar TerraTrikes. The weight is in the mid-30’s, which is good but not the complete explanation. I won’t claim to know completely just how they made such an improvement, but part of it may be due to the angle of the chain to the first idler. In prior TerraTrikes, that angle is quite extreme, with the result that power is being lost while pedaling. On the Sportster, that angle is much less severe. Toss in the larger rear wheel, and the result is a fast trike.

My bottom line opinion of the TerraTrike Sportster? Aerodynamics of the seating position keep it from being even faster, but only the real performance nuts will have a problem with just how fast this trike is, and it’s definitely a spirited trike. With a granny of 25 inches, you won’t have trouble with most hills, unless you are weighed down with a touring load that is probably twice what you need. A top gear of 118 inches is quite good – if you find yourself “spinning out” on flat ground, you maybe want to look at some of the other variations of this model. Regardless, give this newest TerraTrike a good look. I think many are going to find it very difficult to resist.

TerraTrike Sportster
Pros: Comfort, speed, ground clearance and price
Cons: It is possible get an inside wheel off the ground, in “spirited” riding
Price: $2199 for the tested, base model
For More Information: http://terratrike.com/sportster.php

America’s Most Beautiful Bike Ride and the “Ban” on Recumbent Trikes – Sometimes It’s a Good Idea to Ask!

by Larry Varney
Co-Editor, ‘BentRider Online

We’ve seen it all before – bicycle events, tours, clubs – with rules against recumbents, based on nothing but prejudice and ignorance, if not downright malice. And here is yet another: a gorgeous tour, if the location and name have any credence – “America’s Most Beautiful Bike Ride” – and they won’t allow recumbent trikes! Right? Wrong! Whether it’s an email from a friend, something overheard while wandering through a local bike shop, or even a post in a forum on ‘BentRider Online, it’s always a good idea to ask questions. And that’s what I did – I went to the person who would most likely know the facts, Curtis Fong, the Event Director himself. and here is what he had to say:

The key issue is Safety for all bicyclists and motor vehicles
on the roadway.

The roadways around Lake Tahoe are extremely narrow with
no shoulders and when you have over 3000+ bicyclists sharing
the road with each other and motor vehicles, there is very little
room to pass. Recumbent trikes seem to have a little wider
rear foot print than 2 wheeled bicycles. Continue reading

Atomic Zombie

by Larry Varney
Co-Editor, ‘BentRider Online

When I first saw those words, I thought to myself, it must be a bicycling version of “Ghost Rider”, with Nicolas Cage in flames, a rictus grin shining out of the fire. And while I do think this would make a nice movie (not to mention a t-shirt and hat), it’s not at all what Atomic Zombie is all about. What they do, is enable us to make some really nice bikes and trikes, at very reasonable costs. And what sort of bikes, and how do they do that? Read on! Continue reading