Climbing on a Recumbent, Part II

As promised, here is Part II, to go along with Part I.


Part I mostly focused on the hardware side of the recumbent climbing equation, and here we’ll talk about the human element (meatware). The bicycle is, after all, the perfect blend of (wo)man and machine, and neither should be ignored.

Disclaimer: For the sakes of reasonable brevity and intellectual honesty, I have restricted the scope of this write-up to the lessons I have learned and information that I have confidence in. I may not address the lessons and information that you would have included in such a write-up, but that’s not because I don’t think they are valid.

Also, the pedaling techniques described below are specific to bikes with the BB equal in elevation to the bottom of the seat or higher.

Power to weight ratio

E-assist bikes notwithstanding, the rider is the engine, and is also the single heaviest component of the bike-rider system. And, when climbing, overcoming gravity is the single biggest source of resistance. Rolling resistance plays some role, and even aero drag too on relatively gradual slopes, but I think most people reading this are willing to put those factors aside for purposes of this conversation.

So, obviously, power-to-weight ratio is highly deterministic of your climbing speeds. The bike contributes some mass, of course, but reducing the weight of the bike often comes with a downside (more on that subject in the future). Reducing the mass of the rider through diet and exercise is never a bad thing. And training to increase your power output will help you on every part of your ride.

Lower Power on a Bent

Many recumbent riders with power meters who spend time on both upright and bent platforms report lower power on the bent, even over non-short time scales (5 minutes and longer). The magnitude of this difference is reported to be fairly extreme by some, with bent FTPs only 70% or 80% of their upright FTP. Some riders find that they have similar power vs. duration curves (beyond highly anaerobic efforts) for both types of bikes, but those riders seem to be fairly rare. The fact that we don’t see a particularly broad consensus suggests to me that there is either 1) hope for training/experience/conscious effort to bridge the gap, or 2) unchangeable / genetic factors that are different from person to person that are at work to explain the variability. I like to think optimistically that item 1) is at least partly true. One can hope.

The reasons for the power deficiency may be complex, involving several factors. For those measuring power with hub based meters, the bike they ride may even play a role (i.e. think mushy seats and flexible frames). But I would suggest that most of the difference is physiological and even bio-mechanical/neurological (in terms of technique and use of muscles).

One leading candidate is the difference in cellular perfusion rates due to postural differences between upright and recumbent cycling. Perfusion is the movement of oxygen and fuel from the bloodstream into the muscle cells, and the reverse process for the removal of waste products. Obviously the faster this can occur, the more power the muscles can produce. There have been lots of studies confirming the effect that posture has on perfusion rates, and resulting exercise performance, and elevating the legs or other wise lowering blood pressure in the legs has been shown to be problematic in those studies. Here is one such study. Now, I am not aware that any of the studies were done using experienced recumbent riders, however random study participants are much like new recumbent riders, and perhaps much like old recumbent riders who never really overcame their power deficit. It seems possible that lower perfusion rates are due to lower hydrostatic blood pressure when in a recumbent posture.

Another theory is that our lungs just don’t work as well when recumbent, and there is evidence for this. Here is one such study.

And here is another study that also reinforces the theme you are starting to see developing here. And here is another. There are other studies out there along these lines. Do some Googling if you remain unconvinced.

It is not clear if training in a recumbent position can stimulate adaptations that at least partially compensate for these sorts of phenomenon. Maybe, and maybe not. There are no studies that answer this question that I am aware of. But IF recumbent training CAN help provide compensatory adaptations, then you should train on a recumbent if you want to be your best on that platform. My own personal experiences with switching back and forth between recumbents and uprights suggests that I can’t do more than half of my riding on my upright bikes in the last month or two leading up to a long and difficult ride on the recumbent (like randonnees), if I want to be at my best. It might be ideal that I spend most, or even all, of my time on the bents in that time.

Bent Legs

Many recumbent riders tell the tale of how long it took them to get their ‘bent legs”. But what does that even mean? I’m not saying bent legs are not real – I’ve experienced it myself. I suppose I would define bent legs as meaning your legs muscles are grossly adapted to the act of riding a recumbent, such that any difficulty you had at the beginning you no longer really registers as being present. So it’s likely at least partially a psychological adaptation as well as a physical adaptation of your leg muscles. Pessimistically speaking, it’s a bit like saying time heals all wounds, whereby you no longer think about or remember how strong you used to be when you rode an upright bike. Positively speaking, it could mean you have gained a certain level of confidence in your ability to tackle what the road dishes out, and perhaps even learned some pedaling techniques for riding a recumbent properly. Or maybe even it’s as simple as learning to relax well enough that you keep breathing properly. Many people don’t breathe well when tense.

My take on adaptation time is that one’s leg muscles can be grossly adapted in as little as a couple months or less, but that smaller refinements occur over the course of a couple years at least. Perhaps even longer. In my case, I don’t think I ever stopped refining how I approach riding a bent, going on 14 years now. Why is that? Well, I actually believe you have to learn to pedal differently on a bent compared to an upright bike, and unfortunately it seems to be a less intuitive /natural technique for most people.

My approach to pedaling on an upright is pretty “dumb”, mainly just a push-push approach, and the most effective and efficient technique (verified with studies, by the way) is what most riders naturally fall into, without much effort, and certainly not much thinking. For some unknown reason, this just doesn’t translate well to recumbents at all. On the bents, my pedal stroke needs to be much more uniform. It needs to be because you will totally overload your quads if you use the same upright bike pedaling approach of relying on the power stroke only. You will know you are starting to get some bent pedaling technique down when you start getting sore hamstrings and hip flexors. However, by far the most important muscle group to work on using is the glutes. Especially if you are riding in an open body angle for good aerodynamics, it take some real practice to re-engage the glutes again on the bents, and this is critical since they are one of the most powerful and fatigue resistant muscle groups in the body. Humans have big butts for a reason – use it.

How does one do this? Well, I believe that’s mostly a mental thing, whereby with conscious effort and practice you can unload the quads and make the glutes do their fair share on a bent. This may sound silly, but it’s simply a matter of trying to use your glutes and not your quads, hamstrings, or anything else. The best way I have to tell you to do it is to concentrate on having your knee move forward on the power stroke, don’t think about your foot moving (although it will, of course). Your brain can tell what muscles to fire the strongest / which to prioritize. This requires more concentration at first, and over time it can become a habit. By just concentrating on your upper leg’s movement (i.e. hip extension), you’ll prioritize the muscles that extend the hip (i.e. the glutes).

Here are some additional tips / visualizations to try:

  • Near the end of the power stroke, with the crank approaching 3 o’clock, think about using the glutes to drop your whole leg down to 6 o’clock. Then, use the hams and hip flexors to bring the pedal back to 9 o’clock again for the next power stroke going from 10 to 2 o’clock.
  • De-emphasize the ‘push’ (the quads), significantly emphasize the ‘drop’ (this will engage the glutes), and only very modestly emphasize the ‘pull’. The ‘drop’ should actually make you use your glutes as much as your hams. Just like a runner’s push off, or the kick in classic XC skiing technique.
  • At the bottom of the stroke, think about your whole leg dropping down, as opposed to the traditional ‘foot scraping’ imagery. The former will engage the glutes and minimize the hamstrings, where as the latter will fire the hamstrings.
  • Caution: The hams and hip flexors shouldn’t be emphasized too much. They seem to wear down quickly. And trying to use the hip flexors to pull the leg back is hard on your lower leg – specifically the shins. I literally could not walk on one leg after my first 600K because I had overused my hip flexors and the front of one of my lower legs was so inflamed and painful that I could no longer stabilize my ankle enough to walk.

When using my glutes, my ability to climb, perform anaerobic spurts, prevent muscle breakdown on very long rides is greatly improved. Spreading the load more evenly among more muscles (instead of just hammering my quads all the time) seems to help with these issues. Not to beat a dead horse, but smart use of gearing is also critical for managing the load on your leg muscles on a bent.

One more interesting note about bent legs, and how durable they are once you get them… I started bent riding in earnest in 2008 and only rode bents for about 5 years, but in 2013 I started riding my DFs again, but only very occasionally. By 2014 I was 80% upright. In 2015 and 2016 I was 90% upright. In 2017 I was probably only 50% upright. Since 2018, I have been consistently been about 70-80% bent. I noticed something in the course of going back and forth between platforms – my bent legs never ever went totally away. And neither did my ‘upright legs’, for that matter. I don’t feel like I have lost much when I jump on an bent after a long stretch of upright dominated riding, nor the reverse. Now, if I ride a bent after a long stretch of upright-only riding, it feels like a small setback for perhaps a month or two, but it’s not anything like when I first started in 2008. Essentially, I got my bent legs years ago, and despite less riding of my bents at certain points in time, they have mostly stayed. This suggests to me that getting bent legs is primarily a neural adaptation, and much less so muscular in nature. It’s well understood that neural pathways are much more durable than training adaptations. It’s just like riding a bike.

So, are the riders who see bigger differences between the upright and bent power levels merely those riders who never took the task of learning how to ride a recumbent to best effect, and instead relied on their old upright bike riding patterns/habits? My hunch is ‘mostly, yes’.

Seat Fit

This was touched on in Part I a bit, but again I will note that how well your seat fits you can significantly affect your body’s ability to generate power, not to mention strongly influence your overall comfort. In general, I recommend using as much lumbar hump as is comfortable. Done right, it makes it so you can assume a ‘bridge’ type pedaling style a significant portion of the time. Without that lumbar lift, your butt stays weighted much of the time, and it seems to me that restricts the use of the glutes a bit. Maybe it even reduces blood flow to the glutes or even the rest of the legs?

There is no simple formula – one needs to play around with different lumbar pads – different positions, thicknesses, etc. to get it right. Other than leg extension, this is probably the most important aspect of recumbent ‘fit’ – at least for bents with laid back seats. And it’s one that often gets ignored. Again, it’s obviously a comfort issue, and that is probably job #1 for any seat, but there is definitively a performance aspect to it too. My observation has been that the more laid back one’s seat is, the more important it is to get the lumbar support just right (in terms of performance).

Part III

I decided there will be one more part to this series. There I will talk about some recumbent climbing myths.

Posted in Uncategorized | 5 Comments

Climbing on a Recumbent, Part I

Big topic. Lots to say here; not a simple topic. But it’s winter, so I have sufficient time to sit on my chair-shaped ass and crank it out (no pun intended).

Climbing is seen as the Achilles heel of recumbents. I only partially agree with that perspective. From almost 14 years of mostly recumbent riding, much of that time thinking critically about recumbent bikes and their practical use in hilly terrain, I feel like I have finally reached recumbent climbing nirvana. Or at least something approaching that. It’s still hard work, of course, as it is on any bike, but I no longer feel like I am at a disadvantage. Some recumbent riders don’t give the process of learning to climb well on a recumbent the attention it deserves or the persistence it requires. They either avoid hills, or resign themselves to hating them and/or crawling up them at significantly slower speeds than they do / would on an upright bike. Some may feel the disadvantage is essentially unchangeable, so why even try to change it?

I don’t want to dwell on this, but I have to get it out of the way right up front: part of the problem is purely a a phantom. I suspect a fair number of slow recumbent bike climbers are nearly-equally slow upright bike climbers. It’s a fairly rare thing for a recumbent rider to spend a fair amount of time on an upright as well as a recumbent so that they have purely apples to apples climbing performance figures from which to do a proper comparison. Now, for the few examples I have seen where the rider uses both platforms contemporaneously, and has tracked their performances (at least informally), some riders have seen minimal difference in performance between the two types of bikes, and others definitely have (with the bent being slower). So the general lack of proper comparative data is definitely not the only explanation for all of the complaints; there’s got to be something very real to the “fact” that recumbents are slow climbers.

Thinking big thoughts on long climbs…. 😉

I suggest we work the problem from both angles – hardware and meatware. Hardware meaning the bike, and meatware meaning the body and mind of the rider. In order to make this more manageable, this first post will concentrate on the hardware. Part II will talk about the meat, as well as doing some bent climbing myth-busting.


The bike’s design and configuration matters. On recumbents it may matter nearly as much as the rider him/herself. I have owned and tested enough different recumbents to know there are pretty significant differences in the climbing speed potential of various recumbent designs.

Stiffness: This is a biggie. Many bents are noodles, and I have consistently found that the stiffest bents are the best climbers, not the lightest ones. The stiffest bents only get close to the stiffness that one finds on a DF. Light weight helps, but not if it’s at the expense of stiffness. Not having too soft of a seat or seat pad is important too. Not only does this suck up energy (mostly hysteresis of the materials), but it can even mess with your leg extension during high pedaling force efforts.

Are there any quick and dirty tricks for “measuring” the stiffness of a bent’s frame? Yep. Try this: With one leg on the floor (or with your bike in a trainer), and the other on the pedal in the middle of the power stroke (roughly 12 o’clock position), and both brakes firmly locked, apply modest pressure to the pedal – just to take up all slack in the power side chain. Hold this for a second or two – then apply a large static force to the pedal. Watch to see how much your foot moves, or how much the chainring moves relative to your front derailleur. Whatever amount it does move is due to flex in the frame, crank, idler deflection, etc. (However, note that this will not illustrate seat flex.) I like to call this frame deflection under pedaling forces “wind up”. If you do this dirty test to compare different bikes, even if you could somehow push with equal force each time, you’d also need to have the same crank arm to chairing size ratio each time, and you’d want to use the same leg to push with each time. Even without the ability to push consistently, you can feel the difference in flexibility between machines. It’s not scientific, but it’s a bit better than guessing.

So when it came to designing my own recumbent, stiffness under pedaling was the single biggest design priority. By the way, what makes the Zevo‘s frame stiff? It’s:

  • Partial triangulation (full triangulation would be even better).
  • Alignment of the power side chain with the frame tubes (chain tension produces less bending moment).
  • Alignment of the front portion of the power-side chain with the highest pedaling force direction (BB reaction force produces less bending moment).
  • Using fairly thick walled tubes (1.6 mm instead of the more typical 0.9 mm).
  • Using fat tubes where possible (chainstays mostly, in this case; the chainstays are 1-1/2″, whereas the main frame tubes are a more typical 2″. The bracing tubes are also 1-1/2″, probably bigger than they need to be.)
  • Using large rear cogs that permit the use of relatively large chainrings for a given gear (smaller chainrings increases chain tension which produces much of the frame flex during climbing).

All of this frame tube-chain alignment basically concentrates stress on the corners (well, at the idlers, actually), but that’s where we have the triangulation to help manage that. I didn’t do any FEA models on the Zevo, but that would obviously be ideal. I am sure the seat of the pants design has lots of room for optimization. The reason the lower main tube and the stays don’t align better with the powerside chain than they do is for chain clearance using 50T-51T cogs in back. All designs are compromises.

Now, before someone named Jan suggests that frame flex can actually help climbing, let me point out a flaw in extending this concept from uprights to recumbents. Upright DF style bike frames are inherently very stiff, given their full triangulation, and the length of frame that needs to resist chain tensions is quite short. Even the most flexible DFs are more rigid than the stiffest RWD bents in terms of resisting bending in the vertical plane from pedaling and chain tension forces. That said, twist chain FWD bents, and even more so MBB designs, can get pretty close to DF-like stiffness. I don’t know if ‘planing’ effects on uprights actually help them climb faster, but I am quite sure this is not at work on recumbents. As to why a stiff frame actually helps a bent rider climb…well, this is complicated. It’s very well may NOT be mostly elastic hysteresis losses in the frame material, as most metals are fairly efficient in that regard, but rather there may be something about a flexy bent that makes it harder for the rider to produce power.

One theory about why a flexy frame messes up your ability to put power into the pedals during high torque efforts has to do with how our muscles work when cycling, as opposed to during isometric exercise. When cycling, running, rowing, and similar activities with cyclical muscle use, the pause between muscle contractions is critical for blood to nourish the muscles. Blood flow is impeded by muscle contractions, so much of the fuel is delivered to, and wastes removed from, the muscles during the pause between contractions. When you have a stiff bike, you can use a strong, concentrated contraction to add power, and you don’t need to maintain pressure on the pedals as long past the point of effective torque (when the lever arm gets short) to make sure the wind up in the frame gets redirected into the chain once the pedal force/torque is inevitable reduced, later in the power stroke. This results in a longer pause that allows the muscles to be better nourished, and be more ready for the next contraction. Hence, power is higher for a given level of perceived exertion, and endurance likely improves too. The opposite happens with a flexier frame. I theorize that riders can feel this flex, even if it’s not entirely conscious, and instinctively will adjust their pedaling to try to account for it.

Now, some folks have suggested that you can measure any frame losses by simply using a power meter at the crank (or pedals) and one at the rear hub, and see what the differences are when riding. However, this won’t capture the effect that flex has on the rider. The losses I am talking about already do their dirty work “upstream” of the crank or pedal based power meter. The rider on the flexible bike will just work harder to render the same power, or to perform the same total amount of work in joules needed to get up a given hill, as measured by the power meter at the input side of the drivetrain. Now, it’s true that elastic hysteresis losses in the frame would show up in the results, but that very well may be the smallest source of loss. Focusing solely on hysteresis, thinking that’s all that’s going on, will lead to bad conclusions.

As suggested further above, it’s not just a matter of frame stiffness, other elements in the “load path” of pedaling forces need to be stiff too. The load path is not just the intentional force on the pedals and resulting tension in the chain, but the reaction forces against the seat back need to be considered too. In terms of managing energy losses in these reaction forces, mainly it’s seats, seat pads, and seat support elements that need to be stiff. I am not a big fan of mesh seats and foam pads for ideal power transmission (again, mostly hysteresis type losses; especially for non-metallic materials in the load path).

Another thing that can cause huge losses is poorly designed rear suspensions (on RWD bikes). Chain tensions that actuate the suspension even a little bit (which is essentially all suspensions to some degree) will absorb power. Suspension elements (shocks springs, and elastomers) are designed to have damping (elastic hysteresis) on purpose, after all.

Low Speed Handling: This is a big topic all on it’s own. (I am starting to question putting all of just the hardware stuff in one post…) Not having to work as hard to balance really does help one climb on a bent. It’s something that upright bike riders take for granted. Struggling to track straight and stay safe on the road can be quite distracting/ unpleasant and can force one to climb at a lower or inconsistent effort level. I think this is intuitively understood by most bent riders. What produces good low speed handling? Smart steering geometry, reasonably small tiller distances (but not TOO small), having low enough gears to maintain a reasonable cadence, having a bike with a reasonably short wheelbase and balanced weight distribution, and not having a radical seat angle. RWD as opposed to FWD (either MBB or twist-chain) helps a little bit too.

Before we go further… Disclaimer: Bicycle dynamics are exceeding complicated, and I don’t claim to have it all figured out. In fact, I am pretty insecure about this topic. I live in the eastern foothills of the valley of despair on the Dunning-Krueger competence vs. confidence curve. I welcome critique of my analysis, but be aware that those critiques accompanied by force-acceleration / fee-body diagrams are a little more welcome than those that aren’t. Bike handling also involves the inner workings of the control system – the human mind, so it’s likely remain at least a partial mystery for some time.

My observations have been that not being over-geared helps with balance. I suspect this is because the higher the pedaling forces, the greater the twisting of the frame with every pedal stroke, and the more one tends to move around in the seat and/or pull on the handlebars. These phenomenon produce asymmetries in the bike-rider machine and indirect steering torques that disturb balance, and for which our (intentional) steering movements need to try to correct.

On the flip side, if you pedal at a very high cadence when climbing, this can cause it’s own problems with handling. Because we pedal in an alternating pattern the mass of our legs accelerating to and fro’ produces a ‘force couple‘ that tries to rotate the COG in an alternating pattern of clockwise and counterclockwise. The faster you pedal, the more of these rotational force couples you have to resist and the speed at which you have to try to correct for them increases as well. Pedal smoothness, and even Q-factor and the size/mass of your legs, accounts for something, but this effect is at work to some degree for everyone. I personally find the right climbing cadence range on a bent to be about 70-85 rpm. (Note: This is partially preference driven, and may even be indicative of the design of the particular bents I ride, so don’t get hung up on the numbers themselves.) Such a cadence range is high enough to preserve my legs and prevent frame twisting, body movement, and discourage bar pulling, but low enough to prevent excessively fast and frequent force couple disturbances.

The bike’s steering geometry also plays a role in how disruptive pedaling force couples are to the steering. The force couple is resisted by the contact patches of the two wheels, but only the reaction at the front wheel is disruptive and felt directly. That reaction at the front tire is transmitted to the frame by way of the head tube. It seems the further further the head tube is away from the COG, the longer the lever arm is, and the resulting force at the front contact patch is lessened. The Zevo’s head tube is quite far forward. This was necessary for the steering geometry I wanted, despite it not being ideal in terms of tiller distance, but it may have a fringe benefit in the form of pedal force couple resistance.

Regarding the effect of wheelbase and weight distribution on and low speed handling, intuitively (and intuition is sometimes totally wrong) it seems that wheelbase, strictly speaking, doesn’t really matter, but instead the dimension of relevance is the distance is between the center of gravity (COG) and the front contact patch. The shorter this distance, the better. Having a fairly short wheelbase and balanced weight distribution (the latter being important for good handling at all speeds) assures that the COG to front contact patch will be short. A longer dimension there promotes oversteering somewhat like flop does, with the strong back and forth steering movements flop tends to encourage, but through a different mechanism. Here, it is due to a ‘muting’ effect caused by the lever arm the steering forces have to use to place your COG over the center of the bike being too long. Imagine conducting an orchestra with a 3 ft. long stick with a 1 lb. weight on the end of it. Now imagine conducting the orchestra with that 1 lb. weight in the palm of your hand. The 3 ft. long stick would make quick, precise movements of your hand much harder to do. Quick, restrained, and precise steering movements are what is needed to ride slow in a stable manner. Here is another thought experiment: If your COG was directly above the front wheel contact patch, it would be laterally accelerated the same amount as the steering wheel, regardless of forward speed. With the COG positioned rearward, the lateral acceleration is lessened. The further back it is, the more it is reduced. The balancing forces imposed on the COG are muted the further it is away from where those forces are produces. Slower forward speeds slow down the effect too, which is why its harder to balance at low speeds than higher ones. More muting means strong steering movements are needed to produce the same balance correction.

By now it’s painfully clear that the human control system is critically important in all of this. Is there a way to support that system so it can do it’s job? Yes – and it’s primarily by allowing the vestibular system, which is responsible for the task of giving us our sense of balance, to do it’s job in the way that our evolution intended. Which is to say, upright, walking on our own two feet. Sure you are riding a recumbent bike, but that doesn’t mean a 10 degree seat angle is best from a balance perspective. When crawling up a steep hill, a super low seat angle is not going to help you keep the bike on the straight and narrow. Most folks riding bents with low seat angles already know this intuitively.

Ok – last variable for this sub-topic of low speed handling: what’s wrong with FWD? Well, nothing in general, but it does have a disadvantage in low speed handling. When the wheel exerts a propulsive force, pushing backwards on the road to drive the bike, the road exerts an equal and opposite force on the wheel that points forward and this functions as non-centering anti-trail force, similar to flop, although the magnitude of the non-centering force has nothing to with steering geometry but the current inertial load and amount the bars are turned at any given moment. The sloppier you pedaling is, the stronger and more disruptive this ‘pedal steering’ tends to be. Twist chain FWD bents have an additional force to contend with – the steering torque produced by chain tension. To some extent you can get used to it and naturally correct for it in the steering, but nobody’s pedaling is perfectly smooth enough to make it anything like a constant torque – it’s going to rise and fall with every power stroke, and that is disruptive to balance, at least occasionally. MBB, is of course, prone to pedal steering – it’s fundamental tot he design in a sense – but those experienced with MBB often claim this to be as much of a stability benefit as liability- with the mass of the legs adding their own form of damping and control at low speeds. I don’t know how universal this experience is.

Body Geometry and Positioning: This subject starts to flirt with the meatspace topic that is promised in Part II, however it is critically important to have one’s position on the bike dialed in just right, along with the bike having a geometry that is well suited to one’s own preferences. Keys are body angle (aka hip angle), BB elevation above the seat, and the seat angle. Not everyone recognizes how these things affect their performance, and not everyone has a bike that has these things set up for best power output. I have ridden enough different bikes to know what works for me, and the Zevo design and how I have it set up reflects that.

So what works for you, dear reader? Sorry to say, there is no good substitute for trying different recumbent bikes, at different states of your development, and seeing what seems to be work best for you and your body. Keep in mind that what works best for you now may not be the thing that works best for you later on, down the road.

However, that doesn’t mean that there aren’t some fine-tuning efforts that can’t be performed in an effort to sharpen the saw a bit. One thing that is probably under-appreciated and underdiscussed is the topic of seat fit – most critically lumbar support. Here I am assuming that you are riding on a short wheelbase recumbent with a relatively reclined seat angle, say 35 degrees or less. Ideally the lumbar support is such that your sacrum can float a little bit when putting on the gas in a significant way. In reality it’s still touching the seat – but rather it’s unweighted. At least somewhat. This allows a more natural and active pedaling motion that seems to more easily allow the glutes to be used, unloading the quads. Too much work concentrated in too few muscles is the bane of recumbents. Ok, that’s more meatspace talk… You’ll have to wait for that.

Avoiding a Single-Minded (Simple-Minded?) Focus: A good bike design, even one intended for riding Appalachia where the climbs can be steep and the rate of climbing on most courses is in the 50 to 90 feet/mile range (like where I live), cannot be totally focused only on climbing. The bike and rider requires good aerodynamics too if the goal is to be efficient and fast on the course as a whole. I submit that a good recumbent design will be one that preserves good aerodynamics typical/expected of the bent platform so that it can gain time on a upright on non-climbing parts of the course, while not losing much time on the climbs. This sort of strategy may inform the seat angle used, or even how big the front wheel is or how high the BB is. By personal example, if I wanted to absolutely optimize climbing, I would use a little more upright seat on the Zevo, but the angle I am using (about 25-26 degrees) is a best overall compromise for me and where I live.

It’s not just about aerodynamics, either. Even handling-related things like having good weight distribution, non-skinny tires, and good visibility of the road ahead can affect overall speed, when the road conditions are not pristine. A lack of confident handling at moderate and higher speeds can hold you back. It all adds up on a real world course.

I guess I am a realist above all else.

Getting to the nicest spots often involves some going up…
Posted in Uncategorized | 5 Comments

Opinions on Recumbent Bike Gearing

The topic of gearing comes up a lot in conversation between cyclists. So many people trying to tell others that what they have on their bike is the best set up.

I think the most important (but least satisfying for those who like simple answers) thing to realize right up front is that gearing is personal. There are many factors affecting gearing choices – how strong of a rider you are compared to your weight, what the terrain looks like where you ride, how long you ride and how hard your like to ride (e.g. do you want to, or can you even afford to, go anaerobic in short, steep hills?), what cadence and crank length you prefer, how aggressively you like to ride on downhills, the power transmission efficiency of your bike (e.g. mostly an issue of frame stiffness), how aero your bike is, etc.

That said, I can still tell you what I like and why, and I can use some points of reference to what I use on my bents and upright bikes in the same terrain. Specifically, I am talking about my aero, 2-wheeled bents (the Zevo and the two Wishbones; but NOT the P-38, and certainly not the Windcheetah) vs. my reasonably light upright road bikes with me perched on top of them in a fairly un-aero manner (I ride with about a 45 deg. torso). My rides are mostly 2-3 hours, but I have occasionally indulged in randonneuring activities. With that little bit of context and the disclaimer that what works for me and where I ride may not be best for you (gearing is personal, right?), here it goes…

In my mind the major requirements for gearing are:

1 – Sufficient total range
2 – Gaps between gears in the back are acceptable
3 – The shifting pattern is user friendly

Regarding criterion #1: On a bent, I want a total range of about 18 to 125 g.i. (694%) On an upright I am content with about 28 to 110 g.i. (392%) So, two things here: the total range is a lot greater on a bent, and my bent low gear is about 2/3rds the upright low gear. The larger top gear is simply due tothe better aerodynamics of the bents. Why is the low gear so much lower? For me, this is almost entirely due to preferring a significantly higher cadence on the bent (80-85 vs 55-60 rpm, roughly). For most people they are going to also be going slower on a bent. It’s taken me 13 years or so to climb just as fast on a bent as on an upright. This was partly about equipment, and partly about adaptation and technique. More on that topic in the future – let’s not get distracted here. The other factor is that I use my bents for long distance riding. The gearing needs to account for potential fatigue and need to approach one’s effort level on a long ride differently than on a short one.

Regarding criterion #2: I can handle jumps in the 15-16% range or less, but want to limit 20%+ jumps on the cassette as much as possible. If I lived in a flatter place these jumps would be annoying, but where I live the road grade is constantly changing, so tight gaps just mean a lot of extra shifts, mostly. By way of a simple example, if I find myself in a slightly too low of a gear but I see the road turning upwards I don’t need to shift to a larger gear, I just need to be slightly patient.

Regarding criterion #3: For me means I am not doing a ton of front shifting. I think that’s a pretty common sentiment given the popularity of 1x drivetrains. On a bent, this means having a range of about 30 to 105 (or more) without needing to change chainrings. On an upright, I am ok with about 40-90 without needing to shift due to the aero and cadence differences between platforms. Not doing too much front shifting mostly boils down to having a wide cassette but also having a “primary” chainring that is a good size – not too small or too big.

In terms of actual drivetrains, I currently use 3x gearing on all of my bents. I concede that with modern 11 and 12 speed wide-range cassettes, a 2x can work just as well. All of my bents are 9 or 10 speed in the back, except for one. There is no particularly good way to meet all 3 of my criteria with 9 and 10 cogs in the back without the use a triple crank. I don’t know why people hate triples so much on non suspended road bikes.

I have a 48-42-32 crank with a 11-50T 12-speed cassette on my main squeeze (the Zevo). I do a lot of rides in the 42 the whole time. The chainline to the 42 is better than the 48, so I don’t use the 48 a whole lot. The 11-50 has a couple jumps that are big, but I live with it. This gearing setup is a little overblown, with lots of overlap, but I like it. My ideal 2x gearing on a bent would probably be something like 48-32 double crank with a 11-50 12-speed cassette. That would work well, I think. On an upright bike, it would be more like 44-30 with an 11-32 10+ speed cassette. Although, the 48-32 crank on the bent setup is a marginal shift. A 44-30 isn’t much better, but it’s certainly do-able.

Now, the gearing ranges I have described are for general use. In the specific context of rando, you can take 10% or even 15% off your high gear and you probably won’t miss it very often. But for sure don’t sacrifice that low gear. My setup tries to satisfy both the need to crawl up a long steep hill halfway through a randonee, but also to allow me to go all out down a long, not-so-steep downhill during a typical 2 hour ride.

As I implied above, a 1x drivetrain wouldn’t really work for me. If you look at what is possible with a 1x, it’s hard to get the range that I want. Even if I used a 9-50 e-thirteen 12-speed cassette (the widest range I know of), that’s still only a total range of 555% on a 1x drivetrain. Falls quite a bit short of the 694% I would prefer on a bent – violation of criterion #1. Plus the jumps on a cassette like that are getting pretty bad – violation of criterion #2. If you could live with the jumps that might be do-able. For a gear range of about 20-111 using a 36T chainring.

Not to be a broken record, but all of this is based on my preferences and riding conditions. Yours very well may be different. Although I will say I have long, steep climbs to contend with – not something most bent riders can relate to. Even if they have them around, they avoid them.

That’s a good segue into how I arrived at needing a low gear of about 18″ (although when I was fitter I could survive with a 20-21″ gear). I actually arrived at it through experience, but there is a pretty sound physics and physiological basis for it too. I live in the ridge and valley section of PA , in Altoona PA, specifically. If you want to go from one valley to another, you often have to climb over a ridge that separates the two valleys. Except for main roads which are no fun to ride on, most of the climbs are on old wagon trails that were never graded in the modern sense of the word. They just slapped pavement on them at some point in time. Those climbs are not too terribly high – usually between 800 and 1,200 vertical feet gained, but that’s usually over 1 to 2 miles, so the average grades are pretty steep – usually in the 11-13% range, and they aren’t uniform – so the steepest bits are often in the 15-20% range. Those bits usually don’t last more than a couple hundred feet, though. That means the climbs will often have some shallower 4-8% parts here and there. Now, the reality of my limited athletic abilities is that my power to weight ratio at FTP (functional threshold power; roughly equal to lactate threshold or anaerobic threshold) on a 12% grade yields me about 3.6 mph. And to keep a cadence of at least 70 rpm at that speed requires about 18 gear inches.

If I don’t keep my power in check, that one ridge climb will really mess me up metabolically for a good while afterwards, possibly for the rest of the ride. My leg muscles can also get blown out and it can take a couple hours to recover from, with poor performance all that time. So if you have to do a climb like that every couple hours on a long ride, you’re in trouble. You never really recover and you suffer along. Not going anaerobic and keeping the pedal force/muscular effort down to a reasonable level by keeping cadence up is critical for endurance over a long ride. High power and high pedal force means you damage your muscles and you switch away from more fat metabolism to more sugar metabolism. Not a good thing for enduring a long ride. If I rode shallower grades and/or my power-to-weight ratio was better, or if I didn’t care about blowing up on a hard climb, I wouldn’t need such low gears.

To elaborate on this a little more in the context of randonneuring….to endure, you don’t really want to engage the fast twitch fibers much, if at all, so yo need to keep the pedal force low enough that the slow twitchers can handle the load by themselves. Long distance cycling is mostly a matter of fuel intake, tolerating being on the bike a ton, and being mentally strong. The fuel intake subject is highly influenced by what your working muscles are actually using for fuel (which is a function of the effort, and your prior training), and the ratio of fat vs. glucose metabolism that’s taking place. You can’t eat enough to keep up with what is being burned, so you gotta make very good use of your body’s fat stores. That’s not going to happen if you are redlining up each steep hill.

Ok, that was a little rambling, and specific to my wants and needs, but perhaps it got you thinking a little bit about your own gearing setup, or about the factors that can affect gearing choices. Here are some pics. People like pics. Words are boring.

The Zevo
On top of the 2nd highest mountain in PA
Lots of short steep hills in the valleys
Riding gravel in Rothrock and Bald Eagle SFs is a series of mountain climbs and descents
Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Tiller Distance Effects in SWB Recumbent Handling and Design

Here’s another post regarding short wheelbase recumbent bike design.  This time we will focus mostly on tiller distance, and what effects it has on handling.

Tiller distance, as I and most other people define it, is the distance from your hands (when positioned in the normal spot on the handlebars) to the steering axis, as measured along a line that is perpendicular to the steering axis.  Sometimes this is thought of as how far your hands are behind the steering axis when the bike is viewed from the side.  While this is one obvious aspect, hand width adds to it too.  Tiller length is a dimension that lives in 3D, and as a result, the true tiller distance is only observable in a 2D image when looking in line with / along the steering axis. Tiller distance is the radius of the arc your hands travel along when you steer the bike.

A word about nomenclature for a moment.  Notice I am using the term ’tiller distance’ to help distinguish it from the handlebar/steering type of nearly the same name, tiller steering.  This is sometimes also known as ‘preying mantis’ (PM), or even ‘hamster’ steering (but hamster is debatably slightly different).  All recumbent steering types I have ever seen, short of a joystick or tank type steering, have some amount of positive tiller, unlike upright road bikes which normally have negative tiller.  Beach cruisers have positive tiller.  Make sense?  Ok.

Tiller distance is an important factor that helps determine how a recumbent bike handles.  Basically, for good handling, you don’t want the tiller distance to not be too much, and not too little, although too little is a fairly rare problem.  Just to be clear, however, tiller is one factor among at least a dozen others that influences bike handling, so let’s not oversell its importance.  These numerous variables are being considered one at a time, because to try to understand them all at once would be overwhelming for just about all of us.

I postulate that if tiller length is excessive, you tend to have low speed handling problems.  My theory is that as you try to balance the bike and make small, precise steering corrections, your hands have to move a relatively far distance when you have a long tiller distance  to affect the same balance correction. This tends to produce overshoot. And you have to then correct in the opposite direction to compensate, and you might overshoot in that direction too.  Too often, you end up rapidly swinging your hands left and right repeatedly, overshooting each time, and it’s just about the most unpleasant thing you can imagine.  As 2-wheel bent riders, just about all of us have experienced this.  You are really not in control in such cases. Shorter tiller distances calm this down and help you make more precise steering corrections because the inertia of your hands/bars/brake+shift levers/stem are less at work. They are less at work because they only need to move a shorter distance to affect a certain steering correction, and have less chance to be accelerated to a speed that requires a challenging deceleration to be made.  As a result, choosing lightweight brake levers, shift levers, grips, and handlebars can help with this issue a little bit.

Now if you go too far and you have an extremely small tiller distance, you start to have a different problem with overshoot – but this time it’s due to a lack of leverage at bars. To overcome friction at the contact patch, you might need to apply too much force to the bars – again, it’s an effort that is hard to modulate.  And if there is enough leverage/tiller distance to prevent that specific problem, you still might find high speed steering to suffer (i.e. be ‘twitchy’), because even tiny movements of the hands can cause oversteering.  Imagine trying to hold onto the riser/steering tube just above the headset and trying to steer from that location.  Sounds impossible, right?  Probably is.

The Zevo only works well with superman / open cockpit (OC) / tweener bar type steering because of how far the head tube is pushed forward in order to accommodate the particular steering geometry I wanted (steep steering angle + negative fork rake). If I had put tiller / PM /hamster steering on that bike, the tiller distance would have been huge, and this would have resulted in poor handling.  Superman / OC / tweener steering is normally set up with the rider having straight arms, and this cuts down on tiller distance by about 8″ or so compared to tiller steering.   Said another way, for a given bike, superman steering has roughly 8″ less tiller distance than tiller /PM / hamster steering since the bend at the rider’s elbow goes from about 80-110 deg. to about 10-20 deg.

I should note that Bacchetta stick bikes are another bike design that has a far forward head tube, and works best with OC than tiller steering, for the reasons mentioned above. 

Now, I could have made tiller steering work with the Zevo steering geometry, but it would have required an indirect steering setup (like is commonly seen on USS bikes). For purposes of tiller and how it affects control, this brings the steering axis back to where the actual handlebar pivot, behind the head tube of the bike. But I didn’t go this route, because I personally prefer the feel / ergonomics of superman / OC / tweener steering anyway. Avoiding the complication of indirect steering is icing on that cake.

Long tiller distances tend to go along with another design problem that affects low speed handling.  The further the center of mass is behind the steering axis, the more difficult it is for steering changes to affect balance, which also encourages overshoot / oversteering.  Why is that?  Well, imagine this – the rear wheel doesn’t steer, all it can do is pivot around it’s contact patch, so when a given balance correction is made by steering the front wheel, any mass located directly over the rear wheel cannot be given as much lateral acceleration by that given steering correction as mass that is located right over the front wheel.  Of course, what matters is where the center of mass / center of gravity (COG) is located, and typically this ends up somewhere close to the rider’s navel, assuming the bike and luggage are reasonably light.

The counterpoint to wanting your COG far forward are issues of weight distribution (to be covered in a separate, future post), and issues of pedal steer.  Pedal steer is the tendency for the act of pedaling to create steering input. This usually presents itself as a wobbly sensation. My observation has been that the further forward the rider’s legs are relative to the steering axis, the greater the pedal steer.   The act of pedaling causes your legs to primarily accelerate and decelerate in a front-to-back manner with every pedal stroke, however there is always some amount of lateral movement at work too.  It should be noted that some riders have more of this lateral movement in the pedaling than others, but it’s present to some degree with everyone.

Somehow, the Zevo seems to have resolved this conflict.  The COG is seemingly close enough to the steering axis that its steering is responsive and efficient for affecting balance, yet there is zero pedal steer.  (I was expecting some pedal steer before I actually rode it, so that was a nice surprise.)  However, upon further consideration, I think the error in my thinking is that it’s not the distance of the COG behind the steering axis per se that slows your ability to make balance corrections, but the distance behind the front tire contact patch.  That’s where the forces between the bike and road are actually exerted, after all.  If that concept is correct, then it helps explain how the Zevo can resolve both issues (steering-balance response and pedal steel) at once.   The secret is the reverse rake.  It pushes the steering axis forward (for minimizing pedal steer), but keeps the rider COG pretty close to the front contact patch for good balancing.

Getting back to the main subject – tiller distance….  I postulate that tiller distance wants to be somewhere in a sweet spot, and I would estimate it to be somewhere in the 8″ to 16″ range, generally speaking.  Of course, a little less or little more can certainly “work” too, but most designs want it to be somewhere in this ballpark.  To refine this further, if you have really steep steering angles (e.g. 80 deg. and higher), you can more easily tolerate a figure near the top of that range. Slack steering angles (e.g. 70 deg) tend to make the bottom of that range more appropriate.  But why?  Why is that the steeper the head angle, the more tiller you should have, to provide steering stability?

The steeper the head angle, the fewer the number of degrees the steering needs to be turned in order to effect a directional and balance change.  (A constant wheelbase is being assumed.)  For a ‘proof’ of this, try this thought experiment:  If the steering angle is 90 deg, rotating the bars 45 deg. causes the front of the bike to have a new heading 45 deg. off of the previous heading. Now, imagine the other extreme – a steering angle of zero (i.e. horizontal). In that case, no matter how much you rotated the steering, you’d have no change in direction. All you’d be doing is changing the camber angle of the front wheel, not actually steering the bike into a new direction.

Practical evidence of the same is the following: My two Wishbones, each with quite unconventionally steep steering angles (about 80 deg.), have hard interference, and tons of soft interference, yet I never have any trouble with either when actually riding them. Whereas, bikes with no hard interference, and less soft interference, have made these overlaps known in practice. It doesn’t seem coincidental that those bikes had steering angles in the low 70-71 deg range, typical of most current SWB recumbent designs. 

I will also note that both Wishbones have long tiller dimensions (with somewhat wide OC / tweener bars), yet it doesn’t bother me. I certainly don’t feel like I am swinging my hands and arms around a lot when steering. Their low flop geometry may be helping here too – I don’t make a lot of unintended over-steers trying to balance the bike.

So, in a way, if one were to keep the tiller distance short on a bike with a steep steering angle, then this means your hands would not move very far (arc length being short), making the steering seem “twitchy” / overly responsive. However, if you lengthen tiller, the more your hands need to move (arc length) for a given rotation angle of the steering, thus reducing the “twitchyness” of the design.  

The Zevo’s tiller distance is about 14″.  On the long side of average.  So, while the tiller distance on the Zevo is not particularly short, it’s seemingly partially compensated for by the steep steering angle which seems to reduce the number of degrees you need to turn the bars to affect a certain balance correction.   

Striking the right balance in tiller length against other design choices is probably the right path.  Extremes should be avoided.  Unfortunately, the interplay of the multiple independent variables associated with the overall handling characteristics of a bike makes any sort of ‘formula’ one might be tempted to develop quite complicated, and possibly underivable from a practical point of view.

In all of the above, I haven’t attempted to make any claims about which of the two steering/handlebar types I think is “best” – OC / superman / tweener vs. tiller / preying mantis / hamster.  I believe handlebar / steering type selection should be mostly an issue of personal ergonomic preference.  Whichever you find easier to make fine steering movements is best for you.  But as was alluded to above regarding the steering type on the Zevo, you do need to consider the bike design and the resulting tiller distance before going away from the steering type the bike was originally designed around.  Some bike designs work much better with one or the other, but those designs with the head tube/steering axis closer to the rider are a little more versatile and can work ok with either steering type.  Examples of this are the Metabike and the Schiltter Freestyle.  

Posted in Uncategorized | 5 Comments

The Zevo Recumbent Bike

Somewhat recently I posted about the ideas behind the semi-novel steering geometry of the Zevo.  But what about the rest of the bike?  What’s it like, in a general sense, to ride this thing?

Before I go further, I should note that I was holding off on finishing this up because till recently I had been using the bike with a temporary fork, and although the two critical dimensions of the temporary fork (axle-to-crown and offset/rake) were quite close to the final, intended design, they weren’t exactly the same, either.  With the new fork now fitted and some miles have passed underneath me since, I feel like I can properly comment on the handling.   I’m also gonna take the time to discuss the design as a whole, because there is more to a bike than how it handles (although that’s pretty damn important, in my opinion).

Before I started down the path of designing a bike, I had articulated the following list of wants and needs in a recumbent bike:

1. Body angle of about 140 deg. with 25 deg. seat:  This is an entirely personal thing, as it’s the position I have gravitated towards over the years as what works best for me, while maintaining a good balance between aerodynamics, power delivery, and comfort.  I worked out that this would require a BB height above the seat of about 9.0 inches or so.  For someone who does a lot of climbing, it’s harder to tolerate quite as low of a seat angle. I spent some time years ago running about 18-19 degrees and while it worked well on the flat and gentle uphills, it didn’t feel good on steep climbs. I felt it also reduced my ability to see traffic, road conditions, etc. For me a good compromise is about 25 degrees. 

2.  Seat height no higher than 23 inches:  Somewhat similar to considerations of seat angle, being able to see and be seen is affected by the height of the seat.  Having ridden both mid- and high-racers in the past, as well as several different very low trikes, I have come to the general conclusion that I feel more confident in traffic situations and other less than perfect scenarios being reasonably high up.  The limiter being a seat low enough to make starts and stops easy by making them flat-footed, not tippy-toe affairs.

3. Low flop steering geometry for excellent low speed handling:  You’ve read enough about that already here:  

4. Clearance for 2″ wide 650B or 32mm-700c with fenders, front and rear:  I wanted the versatility of an efficient road going setup, as well as one well suited to gravel / mixed-surface riding.  I have always been most interested in versatile bikes, and the Zevo is not meant to be a specialized, single-use machine.

5. Made of steel or titanium, and very durable and suitable for gravel roads and general abuse:  I don’t want to baby this thing.  If I feel like riding on Rothrock rocks, I’m gonna do it.  If I design this thing right, I’ll want to ride it for a couple decades.  It’s gotta last.

6. Stiff under hard pedaling / climbing:  I find this to be the most important issue for good climbing on a recumbent.  So many recumbent bikes and trikes flex like big bows under chain tension, and you can feel this mush in the pedals.  In my experience this does nothing good for a recumbent’s ability to climb.  I was hoping to achieve stiffness through a combination of three things. First, I didn’t skimp on material usage.  I used wall thicknesses almost double what typically is used in 2″ diameter steel stick bents, for example. I used 1.55 mm thick tubing for the three main tubes instead a more common 0.9mm. This almost accounts for the reduced modulus of elasticity of Ti compared to steel.  Second, I aligned the powerside chain line as close to the main tubes as possible. The angle between them doesn’t exceed 10 deg. or so. This required a second power side idler, but I used high quality oversized toothed idlers and mounted them in a very rigid way to the main tubes. This, of course, minimizes the bending moment on the tubes.  Lastly, I triangulated as much as I could, and at the location of the powerside idlers, so the reaction forces at the idler bolts would produce the least bending.  Another nice effect is that the direction of force during the fat part of the power stroke has the first segment of powerside chain almost exactly in opposition. An FEA model would be a nice thing to do to back up my seat of the pants engineering, but I don’t have access to the software or the expertise to use it. I need to find a college student who needs a project.  Some folks will howl about the extra power side idler saying it sucks up power.  Obviously, I am not so sure about that.  Unscientifically I will note that my Windcheetah has two power side idlers and doesn’t have a lot of drivetrain drag, and climbs very well, partly I think because the power side chain follows the main tube very closely.  Velomo also has a double idler bike (Hi-Fly). I am encouraged that I am not the only arrogant dolt trying this.

7. Ability to take a 50T rear cog:  This also has its roots in wanting to climb well.  But it’s not just about getting a low gear, but by getting a low gear using a reasonable large chainring.  The smaller the chainring, the higher the chain tension.  The higher the chain tension, the greater the frame flex.  I also thought it might be nice to have a bike with a single or, at most, double chainring.  A monster cassette makes that practical.

8. Rear Wheel Drive and Weight Distribution of about 55% rear and 45% front:  I feel this produces the best handling, and this is especially important for non-pavement use.  Both wheels need good weight distribution, and when going up steep hills that may not be paved, or may not be clean and dry, demands RWD.

9. Braze-ons where I want them:  It’s a custom bike.  Why not?

10. All external cable routing for ease of maintenance:  As you can probably tell, I am a pragmatist.  I like the looks of a sleek racy bike with hidden cables, but I don’t really want to live with one of those.

11. Clearance to the rear wheel for a seat bag:  Some dual 700C bikes with reasonably low-elevation, laid back seats can’t take my favorite form of baggage due to conflict with the rear tire.   This wasn’t a deal breaker, but I really wanted to try to sneak this one in if possible.

12. A “Future proof” rear dropout system:  Industry standards, especially for disc brake bikes, are in flux.  I wanted a dropout that could be converted from the QR wheels I currently use to 12mm 142mm TA, or perhaps some future standard that hasn’t been pushed on consumers yet.  The finished bike ended up with Paragon sliding dropouts, as a result.  

You can name any number of commercial bikes that can hit half, 2/3rds, or even 3/4ths of these items. But not all. I also had the urge to just simply come up with my own thing. I had some ideas floating around in my head for quite a while.   So that’s when I decided to see if all of these could be satisfied in a single design.  In the end, I am happy to say the answer was ‘yes’, and became the Zevo.  Of course, if you have perused this blog, you see the types of rides I like to do.  Obviously, the design criteria was shaped by those.  This bike is for me, after all.  I could care less if anyone else wants a bike like this (although folks are more than welcome to emulate the aspects that appeal to them in their own design).

So how does the bike handle?  Initial riding impressions were very good. The bike felt weird for the first minute or two, but that sensation went away very quickly and I really liked how it felt. At very low speed you need to more deliberately steer it. The bike doesn’t flop into the turn at all, you need to guide it fully through the turn. At first I thought this aspect of the handling was odd, and the steering felt a little heavy to me, but that quickly faded and then it just simply felt calm. At 15 mph and higher it feels like a lot of other bikes but below that the handling and feel barely changes, unlike most other bikes which markedly change in their handling behavior the slower you go.  At high speed and in fast turns it’s incredibly solid and confidence inspiring.  In fact, I think it’s a little dangerous because it inspires a level of confidence that my actual skills can’t fully support.   I’ve got about 1,000 miles on the bike at this point, and these initial impressions have proved to be lasting.  The bike is just easy to ride.  It’s the first dual 700c bike I have ridden that didn’t feel clumsy or ponderous. I can claim, without exaggeration, that this is the best handling recumbent bike I’ve ever ridden. It’s just so stable that it makes balancing the bike a mindless task, even at walking speeds.

The bike is a very good overall performer, and is quite fast. I wish I had more hard data to share, but I just have been riding it and not worrying much about speed. I did track my rides for the first month, though. Data from then shows it to be a little faster on mixed terrain rides than the Wishbone RT, which was previously the fastest bike I’ve ever had. On my one benchmark route, I managed averages in the 18.1 to 18.7 mph range, where the RT on that route was typically 17.7 to 18.2 mph or so in the month prior to getting the Zevo rolling. So about 0.5 mph difference. That benchmark route has no major climbs but a bunch of shorter, very steep ones, with an overall climbing rate of about 64 ft/mile.

Regarding frame stiffness under hard pedaling, the bike feels extremely stiff and solid.  On steep climbs and during hard accelerations and the bike just simply goes.  No mush in the pedals at all.  I will say it’s very slightly shy of the rigidity of the Wishbone Classic, but that bike’s stiffness is otherworldly.  On the Zevo, I can see a little lateral movement of the boom when pushing very hard.  Doesn’t seem to be twisting or moving down at all – just side to side a little.  I think the flex is real because I can sight the BB and f. derailleur post against the head tube as I am held very still in the seat.  It isn’t enough to be felt in the pedals, so it doesn’t strike me as a bad thing.  I get the impression that might even add to a nice, springy feedback sensation I experience at certain cadences and power outputs when climbing. Speed-wise, it’s every bit the equal as the previous climbing Champ, the Reynolds Wishbone. The Zevo might have and edge. It’s too close to call. The Zevo is pretty clearly a bit better uphill than the P38, though.

That said, the bike better be stiff.  It’s not light.  I knew it would be a little chunky, as I very much wanted to err on the side of stiffness and strength. I am a firm believer that even a couple extra pounds that makes a frame stiffer will pay back more than the weight penalty will take away.  Now, I do think it’s possible to have a frame so stiff that the extra weight is simply wasted and offers no benefit. I am not sure if we are at that point here or not. Might be close, but not quite. I think I’d have to build a lighter version of it and see if the stiffness is compromised too much.   However, logically, even if I am carrying around 1 or 2 lbs of extra/unnecessary weight in the frame, it’s not going to slow me down much since it’s slightly less than 1% of the total system weight. Here is where I remind myself that I need to lose about 15 lbs.

I also need to remind myself that this is actually a prototype.  Even with some small flaws there and there, all of the major design goals were achieved, and I feel a big weight off my shoulders. I had risked so much time, effort, and money into this gamble. I knew it was possible it would turn out to be a dud. I have generated  a list of things that I would change, but they are all minor things so far.  I am a perfectionist which is both a blessing and a curse.  The probability of me personally commissioning another one anytime in the next 5 years is low.  V1.1 is up to someone else to finance.  If that’s you, I’d be happy to do the CAD work to revise the design to suit your slightly larger x-seam, weight/stiffness priority, seat height / BB height relative to the seat preference, and preferences related to braze ons or other features.  

I would be remiss if I finished this write up and I didn’t give some credit to the bikes of George Reynolds that partially inspired the Zevo.  George’s bikes are super stiff, climb amazingly well, and handle great.  The Zevo’s steering geometry took the design of the Reynolds Wishbone and extended it to a relative extreme. The steering angle on the Zevo being a good 6 degrees steeper, and with more negative rake.  Hats off, George.  You really were onto something with your designs.

Further Information:

For the insomniacs in your life, here are some videos of me on the Zevo:

If the inbedded links below don’t work, go here:

Also, compare the beginning of this video of me on the Zevo… (which you’ve seen already)   …to this video from 5 years ago of me on the same section of road on the Metabike:

The difference in handling is plain to see, actually.

Here is a BROL thread about the design evolution:

Here is a Google picture folder of the Zevo in various states of completion and environs:

And lastly, here is a video of me talking about the bike:

Posted in Uncategorized | 5 Comments

Steering Geometry of Short Wheelbase Recumbent Bikes

I’ve been riding and studying recumbents in all their forms intently for about 12 years now, and ideas have been slowly forming in my head regarding what they should and should not be, mostly specifically in the non-MBB short wheelbase bike category.  And as I have learned more, and my opinions started solidifying, I realized that what I really wanted to ride simply didn’t exist in the current market, nor in the last 30 or 40 years of recumbent development (as best I could tell).  So as a result, I decided back in February I wanted to design my own short wheel base recumbent bike.

The Zevo is the result.  90% designed by me and built from Grade 9 titanium by Carver  (


There were a number of design goals with this bike, and there are several unique (or at least quasi-unique) features, but at this time I am going to focus on one of them – the steering geometry.  It has a very steep steering angle and a reverse rake fork.  Ok, what the fudge is that all about?  I was striving for stability at all speeds, but with the main target being low speed.  I want to crawl up stupidly steep hills in more or less a straight line.  Recumbents have a deservedly poor reputation for bad handling at low speeds, with many contraption captains making tons of steering corrections in a desperate attempt to ride straight, but failing miserably unless the grade wasn’t too steep and they could keep their speed up a bit.

I believe the main problem is that the vast majority of short wheelbase recumbent bikes use steering geometry that is essentially derived from upright bikes, and this is probably a mistake.  Upright bikes have a number of different constraints related to traditional upright rider positioning, the desire to have forward stem extensions for the bike to handle well with the rider out of the saddle, clearance between the toes and the back of the front wheel, and reasonable weight distribution both seated and standing.

As a result, most short wheelbase recumbent bikes have head tube angles in the 70-72 deg. range, and fork rakes somewhere between 40 and 48mm.  This usually leads to trail figures between 58 and 70 mm, and flops in the 18 to 22 mm range.  Trail-to-flop ratios are usually somewhere between 3.0 to 4.0. Ok, what does all that mean?  Be patient, and remember to come back to these representative numbers after reading further.

Obviously, recumbent bikes have a whole different set of constraints, and additionally have different design requirements than upright bikes, and it seems objectively dumb to just recycle head tube angles and fork rakes that upright bikes use, without considering how things perhaps should be different.  The only advantage I see is so you can use stock forks.  But before we consider alternative geometries, let’s review some some basic terms and variables – head tube angle (sometimes called steering angle), trail, rake (sometimes called fork offset), and flop.  Please pardon my sorta crappy drawings included herein.

In the drawing immediately below, you can see how trail, rake, and head tube angle are defined.  Near the bottom, you can also see how that if you turn the bars to the left or right, the effect of trail is to center the steering.  Trail is the lever arm with which rolling resistance drag at the tire’s contact patch with the road is exerted through to create a steering torque that seeks to center the steering, so you can to roll straight down the road without having to constantly put lots of attention into doing so.  Since riding straight is what we want to do the vast majority of the time, trail is our friend, our buddy.  Note that the higher rolling resistance is, the higher the centering force of trail.  You can think of trail centering as being ‘powered’ by rolling resistance.


In this first sketch above, rake is shown in it’s typical, or positive direction.  But rake can be negative too, and turn the other direction, towards the back of the bike.  Like this:

negative rake

So, trail, head tube angle, and rake are as defined / shown above.  But what about flop?  Flop is probably the least well known of these four variables.  Flop is the vertical distance the end of the fork and the front wheel axle drops when you turn the bars.  It’s measurement is standardized to the drop that is produced by turning the handlebars 90 degrees.  See the following diagram:


I postulate that flop is evil, and flop must be defeated.

Why is flop not a good thing, generally?  Well, it is critical to understand that flop fights against the stabilizing force of trail.  Trail wants to center the steering as noted above, but flop wants to do the opposite and take any small turn of the bars and turn into a bigger turn.  Flop does this because Mother Earth is always trying to bring us down (literally), and flop helps gravity out by lowering the elevation of our center of mass.  Flop also makes the steering torque higher because it forces you to do work to lift the front end of the bike (and rider/bike system center of mass too, of course) when you try to straighten the handlebars.  This likely leads to over-correcting by most riders.  Too much force leads to overshoot, so to speak. Because flop is ‘powered’ by gravity, the heavier you are, or the more forward biased the the bike’s weight distribution is, the worse flop gets.  The following image is an analogy of the effect of varying degrees of flop has on the rider trying to pilot his bike in a straight line.

Flop Analogy

Riding a bike with lots of flop is riding on a knife edge.  A little turn of the bars makes it feel like the bike is trying to take that little molehill nudge and turn it into a mountainous directional change.  Gravity is working with flop to bring you down a hill, in a semi-literal sense.  But what happened to our buddy trail – why didn’t he keep the bars from flopping way over just because we wanted to make a small steering correction?

The self centering force provided by trail increases with speed because the rolling resistance drag force is proportional to speed.  Flop is an essentially constant force, that is independent of speed, because gravity is a constant.  When speeds are decent, the self centering force provided by trail is high enough to win the battle over flop, and the bike feels stable.  BUT, when speeds are low, the center force provided by trail gets weaker, and flop can win, encouraging over correction on the steering.  Again, you’ll end up looking like the stereotypical bent rider zig-zagging all over the road.

But what if we find a way to have a reasonable amount of trail while minimizing flop?  In that case, the meager trail force at low speeds is enough to keep you tracking straight up the hill.  Is that possible?  Heck yeah, it is.

To further your understanding of the interplay between trail and flop, try playing with numbers in this calculator:

For a given wheel and tire size, there are only two independent variables among the four remaining variables (the four we’ve been talking about – head tube angle, rake, trail, and flop). The head tube and and the rake themselves aren’t of any particular importance, in a sense. They, in and of themselves, don’t dictate how the bike will handle. What actually matters are the trail and flop figures. So a bike designer – if they have access to custom fabrication on forks in particular – should really start with a clean slate and choose a head tube angle and rake that provides the trail and flop they are looking for, while also working around other constraints in the overall design of the bike.

Since I commissioned the Zevo with a custom fork, I saw no reason to simply get what I thought would be best.  I ended up with a very steep head tube angle of 85 degrees, and a fork with a negative rake of 40 mm, which is not a common figure in high clearance forks like I was seeking to use.  This geometry gives me very low flop and a little higher than average trail.

To help understand the give and take among head tube angle, rake, trail, and flop, consider some examples – and use the calculator to check my work if you want:

Example No. 1: You will see that if you enter a 90 deg (vertical) head tube angle, it doesn’t matter what the rake is, you will have zero flop. And in this case, the trail will be equal to the rake multiplied by -1. In other words, a positive rake of 40 mm would give you a negative trail of 40 mm (bad!). A negative rake of 40 mm will give you a positive trail of 40 mm (good!).

Example No 2: If you have zero trail, you will also have zero flop, regardless of what the head tube angle is. Let’s assume a 700C wheel with a 28 mm tire. A head tube angle of 65 deg with a rake of 14 5mm gives zero trail and zero flop. A head tube angle of 45 deg and a rake of 242.5 mm has zero trail and zero flop. A head tube angle of 80 deg. and a rake of 60 mm has zero trail and zero flop. I could go on but you get the idea. Now, a bike would be very ride-able with zero flop, but it’s much less so with zero trail. You need at least a little bit of self centering – at least a little bit of positive trail.

Example No 3 (the most important one): You can achieve the same trail figure with different combos of head tube angle and rake, but the flops won’t be the same. Let’s assume a 700C wheel with a 28 mm tire. Let’s try a 72 deg. head tube angle and rake of 45 mm – this yields 64 mm of trail (a very average figure) and 19 mm of flop. This is a 3.36 trail to flop ratio. Now, let’s try a 77 deg head tube angle and 15 mm of rake. This gives you the same 64 mm of trail, but flop of only 14 mm, for a trail to flop ratio of 4.57. For a given speed, you have the same stabilizing force in both scenarios, but reduced destabilizing force in the steeper HTA / smaller rake option. The Musashi was like this, and I liked the low speed handling  of that bike very much.  Big Cat used a 76-77 head tube angle and a small rake fork.

The upshot of all of this is that the amount of flop you get for each mm of trail greatly increases as head tube angles get slacker (lower).

So this leads us to steep head tube angles to minimize flop.  I am not entirely sure that we shouldn’t go Full Monty and to simply have a 90 deg. head tube angle and use whatever amount of negative rake is needed to get the desired trail number (along with zero flop, of course).  The design of the Zevo started out this way, but I chickened out and reduced the head tube angle to 85, and with the negative 40 mm rake fork got me the trail figure I wanted, which was about 70 mm, and a very low flop of 6 mm. This is a whopping trail-to-flop ratio of 11.66.  Compare these numbers to those typically used on short wheelbase recumbent bikes listed near the top of this discussion.

There was another reason to avoid 90 deg. head tube angle – that is that it pushed the head tube so far forward that it would force direct steering to have a negative stem extension (i.e. have it come back towards the rider). There is nothing wrong with this per se, but it would look bad to my eye, and it would increase the tiller dimension too.  Even for a person who doesn’t care about the looks of a negative stem extension, there is a downside to having too much tiller. We’ll talk about tiller’s role another day.   A head tube angle of 90 degrees also eliminates the stabilization / self centering offered by whatever weight the riders hands and arms exert on the end of the handlebars, although it’s true with the head tube angle only 5 degrees away from vertical, the Zevo design won’t have a lot of that phenomenon at work.

Also, what is the downside of trail? It IS possible to have too much of a good thing. We’ll save that for another time too.

Lastly, I’ve made flop out to be the enemy of good handling.  I am not yet convinced that is actually ideal to eliminate it completely.  It should help with turning – that is when you intend to turn the bike, you can let flop do some of the work of turning into the turn.  Without some flop, will the bike feel too stable, and resistant to making turns?  I am honestly not sure yet.  The counter point is that flop is going to fight you when you want to turn the bars straight again.  I am hedging my bets that any reluctance to turn at low speed is worth the clear upsides of straight line stability and ‘overshoot prevention’ in the specific context of recumbents.

Coming soon – trail, tiller, and how the Zevo actually rides. 


PS:  If you think I am full of crap, maybe this guy will have some credibility with you:

Posted in Uncategorized | 10 Comments

Metabike Daemon Impressions


The Daemon is the most recent incarnation of the Metabike recumbent bike. I recently had a chance to keep a Metabike Daemon and ride it for a couple weeks. I owned, rode, and loved a previous generation of Metabike for about 6 years, and I was intrigued to see how the changes in the design that spawned the Daemon turned out.

First, the big picture hasn’t changed. It’s still a Taiwan built (by Performer Cycles), Z-framed SWB high racer made from type 7005 aluminum. Some details are the same too. It still has huge tire clearance in the back, a rear disc brake mount, telescoping boom, fixed seat (with a couple position options), integrated headset, internal cable routing in the boom and main frame tube, and telescoping seat stays that are joined together near the top for lateral rigidity. The shape of the chainstays and how they connect to the central main tube is essentially the same. Head tube angle (steering angle) with a road fork is 72 degrees. These are all good things that I am glad were kept.

So what were the changes? Well, I don’t actually have my old Metabike anymore to take precise measurements, so I am going to have to go partially by memory, and some information provided to me by RBR. Seat is lower by approximately 2″, with the bottom of the seat rim 23″ high. Wheelbase is longer by about the same amount, now at 45.5″. The bottom bracket, when fitted for my 42.5” x-seam, is 9″ above the bottom of the seat rim, or about 8″ above the top of the seat pad, about a half inch lower than it was before. The somewhat iconic triangulating boom brace is gone. The boom is not dead level, but is slightly upsloping (about 7 degrees). The front outer portion of the boom is 60 mm diameter, 5 mm larger than before.  (Note:  The diameter of the curved, middle frame tube hasn’t changed, and is still 60mm, as before.)  The chainline is a little more complicated now, with three return idlers rather than one. The fork steerer is now tapered, instead of straight 1-1/8”. Other changes became evident on the road….

Frame stiffness has improved, which improves climbing. Metabikes have always been known as pretty damn good in this department, but the Daemon is considerably better. There is less mush or ‘biopacing’ in the pedals on steep grades. The fatter tubes which are possibly thicker too (not entirely sure), plus the power side chain aligning more closely with the main frame tube and boom are the likely reasons. The front triangulation may be gone, but the other frame design changes clearly more than make up for it. The bike climbs very well. It’s very nearly as effective uphill as both my beloved square tubed Reynolds Wishbone Classic and my P-38. One variable to keep in mind is the front chainring size. The small ring on my test bike is a relatively large 39T, and this helps keep chain forces that work to turn the bike into a longbow, in check. If I had tried the bike with a granny ring and smaller rear cogs, I would have no doubt felt a little more give in the frame when climbing and accelerating hard.

The bottom bracket is at a more typical height than before, and this will likely make more people happy than the previous bike, which had a BB height that was higher than average relative to the seat. It was probably a bit much for some folks. I should say this wouldn’t have been my personal choice. For whatever reason about 8.5 to 9.0 inches of difference feels right to me and seems most effective for power generation, but I suspect I may be an exception. Note that taller riders will end up with a little higher BB as they will need to extend the boom more than I.

I was surprised that this bike has more soft (heel) interference with the front wheel. In fact, with 28mm tires, 170mm cranks, and my 42.5” xseam, I am only about 2 mm away from having hard interference between crank and tire. Hard inference really should be avoided, while soft interference is par for the course with SWB designs. I don’t find it excessive, but not everyone is equally sensitive to these issues. But this does suggest that if you have a significantly shorter x-seam than me, you will probably want to plan for the use of shorter cranks. Notably, there is clearance to mount the seat further forward than it was on my test bike, and would permit another 1.5 to 2 inches or so of shorter x-seam (say, 40.5” to 41”) before cranks shorter than 170mm are needed to avoid hard interference.

New riders to Metabikes would often comment on the presence of a certain amount of pedal steer these bikes possessed. That is, the act of pedaling would create a noticeable amount of steering input. Given time, this phenomenon would tend to subside for most riders as they adapted to the machine, but the Daemon doesn’t have any of that, even when first riding it. I am not entirely sure why that’s the case, but it’s certainly a good thing. My best guess is that the revised geometry places the rider a little further behind the head tube and front wheel, so that leg imbalance forces produce less torque on the front end of the bike. It seems that the extension of the wheelbase was accomplished primarily by moving the front wheel forward relative to the seat, rather than extending the rear wheel backwards. This would also explain the slightly reduced heel clearance.

Overall, the bike has a more relaxed and planted feel, with less of a “sharks with frickin’ laser beams attached to their heads” kind of attitude about it. It’s more of a mutated sea bass vibe instead. Translation: At moderate and high speeds, it’s somewhat easier to ride than the original Metabike, and demands a little less skill and concentration from the rider to keep the bike on-course. At low climbing speeds, I didn’t get the impression that as much had changed. The handling is a little floppy, as it is with most recumbents. The Daemon isn’t any worse than most other high racers in this way, just not all that much better.

Ride quality is fairly rough. This is not surprising for an efficiently stiff bike made from aluminum with high pressure skinny tires as I had fitted on my test bike. The very thick Ventisit-like seat pad takes off the edge pretty well, but if you ride rough roads, you should take advantage of the impressive level of versatility that the generous frame and fork clearances offers and mount some fatter tires. With lots of fast and fat tires on the market these days, this should not have any negative effects on the bike’s speed potential, but will improve ride quality and safety. It even makes the bike suitable for gravel road excursions.

This may surprise some due to the number of idlers and the presence of a chain tube, but the drivetrain does not have excessive friction. The tension in the return path is so low that the three idlers don’t seem to create much drag. Rather they just work very well to control the chain and keep it out of the way, especially when using a clutch type rear derailleur. There is no chain slap and no interference with the fork or front wheel. On the power side of the chain there is a single idler – standard stuff for a SWB highracer. The chain tube offers very little noise or drag surprisingly, which is probably due to the unconstrained manner in which it is attached, allowing it to exactly follow the chain’s ‘natural’ path.

The only downside to any of the frame and proprietary parts that I see is that the idlers are only of so-so quality. The return idlers lead a pretty easy life and will likely do just fine, but I wonder if the power side idler will hold up as well over the long haul. A Terracycle idler could always be retrofitted, but note that a TC idler is bigger in diameter than the stock idler, and the seat would need to be raised with some rubber washers an additional 1/4” to 3/8” or so for clearance.

I should note that the Daemon was conceived as a dual 700C highracer, but since it has disc brakes front and back, any pair of equal sized wheels would work if you wanted an even lower seat and/or less soft interference with the front wheel. My test bike has a dual 700C wheelset, and is how most riders my size and taller will probably want to outfit their Daemon.

However, one experiment I conducted was to use a 559 front wheel while keeping the 622 (700C) rear wheel. I did this because it is how I rode the most miles on the original Metabike I owned. As with the old bike, I found this change tightened up the slow speed handling and made heel strike a near impossibility. The 1” smaller radius wheel steepens the head tube angle (steering angle) by almost 2 degrees, reducing both trail and flop. If you don’t use a high clearance cross fork like my test bike had, and opt for a shorter road fork instead, you can achieve a similar result with a 700C front wheel, as the fork’s axle-to-crown length would be approximately 1” less (say, 370 to 375mm vs. 395 to 400mm). It should be noted that the 559 front wheel also drops the seat by a half inch, and lowers the bottom bracket relative to the seat by 3/4”.

The Daemon certainly makes for a good option for those seeking a versatile, performance oriented bike for general fitness riding, club rides, centuries, etc. I think it would also be a good choice for randonneuring or credit card touring where the emphasis is on riding and covering ground efficiently, when accessorized appropriately.

All in all, I can say it’s definitely a forward evolution of Metabike design. The fabrication quality is still there, and the design has improved. In talking to Rob Gentry of RBR, he seems to think so too, and as a result, it seems unlikely that any more frames of the original design will be produced going forward.

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

HV to BV 200K

First 200K of the year. Happy Valley to Buffalo Valley.  2nd time I have done this perm.  Last time was last summer when I was fit and the days were warm.

On this day we had clear skies, but a headwind no matter which direction we rode, and a 30 deg. F. temperature rise.

I wanted to ride this permanent as a test of sorts.  A test to see if I could ride the Eastern PA Rando’s Fleche on April 9th without suffering inordinately.

While I got through this ride ok, my conclusion is that, while I probably could survive it, I typically need more than just survival to strive for.  The 200K was too difficult, and I certainly could not have kept going for another 100 miles after we stopped without suffering a decent amount.

I rode 3 days later, and it didn’t seem like I got any big fitness boost from the 200K.  One ride can only do so much, right?  When I told EK I was thinking of bagging the Fleche he said “ikillu…take that into consideration.”   Sheesh.  I never knew rando was so dangerous.


Hairy John






Rt. 164



RB Winter



Climb up to Hairy Johns



Kellermobile at our beer and hamburger stop.



Bible Road? Don’t remember.



2 miles from the finish as the sun set.


Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

The (Current) Fleet

Somehow I have become a bike collector once again.  Several different times in my life I have purged the redundant machines accumulating in my garage only to have new redundancies appear a few years later.  I guess addiction to novelty is my underlying problem.

I currently have 6 bikes.  There isn’t actually all that much redundancy here, although there is a bit, yes.  I thought it might be cool to post some pics of each of them that haven’t made it onto this blog along with a preceding description of the bike’s raison d’etre.  (Did I spell that right?)   I am going to spend most of my time on the newest to me bike in the bunch (the Volare).

Here they are:

1983 Spectrum:  A racy(-ish), traditional road bike on skinny tires and no fenders for nice days and not-too-terribly-long rides when I want to go fast(-ish).  I ride my tubulars on this bike during much of the summer.  More limited gearing and stretched out position makes this bike not a particular favorite for long or steep climbs.  Aesthetically this bike hits all the right notes for me.



77′-78′  Schwinn Volare:  My Eroica daydream bike with fenders, super low gearing, and overall condition that doesn’t demand being wiped with a diaper after every ride.  Think of it as my winter / rain bike.  For those times when I don’t want to get the Spectrum or Moulton dirty.  It’s a 1977 or 1978 model – not sure which, with Reynolds 531c tubing (good stuff!).  They were built by Panasonic for Schwinn, at a quality level matching the USA built Paramounts, so they are often referred to as the ‘Japanese Paramount’.

This is a good backdrop to indulge certain ‘retro’ proclivities I possess. I bought it as a frame only and the bike once had orange paint throughout (ok, not exactly – it had chromed / unpainted head tube lugs and fork crown, fork tips and rear stay ends). But apparently they chromed the whole bike and then just painted over top. Well, the bond between paint and chrome must have been poor (obviously).  Probably a surface prep problem because the chrome underneath is as glassy and smooth as chrome is actually meant to be (and unpainted).  You know, I thought about taking off the rest of the paint and just simply having a chromed bike (which would be lovely), but I am liking the ‘beausage’* look so I may just leave it like this indefinitely…

* = beauty through usage

Initial build kit included:
Rivendell ‘Silver’ branded (Tektro 539) Brakes and Grand Compe loopy cable brake levers
Nitto Dirt Drop stem and B132 Rando bars, 44cm width
Suntour Cyclone shifters and rear changer
Dura-Ace seatpost
V-O bottom bracket
Sugino crankset
Suntour Winner Pro 7 speed freewheel

Handling on this bike is great. Riding no hands is easy, and the steering is quite neutral. Turns when I want it to turn, goes straight when I want to go straight. But regrettably it has a speed wobble that randomly shows up (quite oddly) only at moderate speeds (15 to 20 mph range).

In other areas of the riding experience, the Volare is nicely flexy and rides light, and just comes to life underfoot, just like my dearly departed Vitus 979 from the days or yore. I would even dare say that it ‘planes’ in the Jan Heine sense of that word.  I think I may finally know what he is talking about.  I even double dare say it rides better (and is faster too) than the Spectrum and the Moulton.  What a bargain.  I only have about 400 bucks invested in this thing and it’s probably my nicest riding bike.

 Oh, as for the pedals, yes they are SPDs, and I do have a nice set of Campy record pedals (early 80’s vintage) with chromed steel toe clips and white leather campy toe straps in the parts bin, AND I have a pair of black cleated leather shoes in the closet, but I am not really tempted to use them.  I am not THAT retro, and  I think modern pedals and shoes are the bees knees and I wouldn’t go back except for some kind of special Eroica type event. I used to don toe clips and straps for occasional group rides back in my racing days (early 90’s) just to mess with people. But I don’t ride with anyone anymore who would actually be impressed by that  (do I?).


A relatively recent shot.  I have swapped out the stem and have a better wb cage mount now.


The bike doesn’t mind getting dirty. And more importantly, neither do I.


As I bought it.  Photo taken by the seller.

2015 Moulton:  When I feel like being contrarian but not so contrarian that I hop on one of the recumbents.  It offers a pretty different ride feel from the Spectrum and Volare for obvious reasons.


The Moulton climbs very well despite the weight penalty.  I am used to even heavier ‘bents though.


Yeah, I ride it in the rain sometimes.


Unterhausen takes a quick test ride.

1987 Bianchi:  Soon to become my beater bike for retro-styled mountain biking or gravel rides when I choose the upright format.  I got this bike in about 1992 or so.  Used it as a road touring bike and as a winter training bike for a lot of years.  I don’t ride this one much, but I can’t bear to part with it.


This is a fun bike.

2008 Bacchetta Giro 26 Gravel ‘Bent:  For off-road / mixed surface recumbent riding.  For touring  (if I ever actually do that), or for dirty conditons / rain recumbent riding.  In the past I have raced, rando’ed and credit card toured on this thing.  It does it all.


At Calvin’s Challenge.  Say Hi to Reddan in the background.


Gravel roads, here we come.


2012 Metabike:  Dedicated purpose paved rando machine.  Makes the miles fly by.


My main choice for rando.  By a lot.


Pee break.


Pre-Fleche porno session.

Posted in Uncategorized | 4 Comments

This has nothing to do with riding a bike

  • 1st time you listen, you’ll hate it.
  • 2nd time you listen, you’ll hate it.
  • 3rd time you listen, you’ll hate it.
  • 4th time you will think it’s bad.
  • 5th time you will find it interesting
  • 6th time you’ll like it.
  • 7th time you’ll love it.
  • 8th time you’ll think it’s the best album ever made.

Posted in Uncategorized | 3 Comments