Tour Prepping A Recumbent

Oct 18, 2012

Today's guest post was written by BRYAN J. BALL, editor of BentRider Online.

In some respects, recumbents are superb touring bikes. They’re supremely comfortable and allow you to stay on the road all day. The view from the seat also helps you catch sites that you may miss with your head hung over a set of drop bars. However, some of them do require some unique solutions when it comes to gear and equipment. Here are a few things to get you pointed in the right direction.

RACKS

Most conventional non-suspended recumbents will accept an off-the-shelf rear pannier rack as long as it’s a fairly adjustable one. I’ve had very good luck with the Axiom Odyssee Disc. It’s very adjustable, sturdy and fairly inexpensive. You can order them at almost any bike shop.

On some recumbents, especially long wheelbase models, you may find it best to carry your heavier items underneath the seat. These “mid-ship” or “underseat” racks can allow you to get a very even and balanced ride. With a good mid-ship rack and some proper planning, a long wheelbase recumbent can actually be a more stable gear hauler than a conventional bike.

 

 

Some companies offer underseat racks for their bikes as factory options but if they don’t, the TerraCycle Easy Reacher is by far your best option. They’re designed to fit several different makes and models. They’re not cheap but the quality is unmatched.

If you’re riding a suspended recumbent, you’re usually left to whatever factory options are available. Fortunately most prominent makers of full suspension recumbents design their bikes with touring in mind and offer very nice, but often expensive rack solutions.

PANNIERS

Now that you have that nice new rack installed, you may have discovered that standard panniers don’t fit that well. This is especially true if you’re riding a trike. Fortunately, a few very well known pannier makers produce bags specifically designed for recumbents.

Probably the most popular option right now is the Arkel RT-60. They have a huge capacity, lots of pockets and are very well made by one of the most respected pannier companies in the world. They are rather expensive but they’ll last for a decade or two. Arkel also offers a smaller RT-40 version.

Ortlieb is another company that jumped into the recumbent pannier game a couple of years ago. Their recumbent-specific bags will also put a dent in your wallet but they’re worth every penny. The last we heard, Ortlieb was slowly phasing these bags out of production but they’re still widely available.

The last solution I’ll mention here is from the Dutch manufacturer, Radical Designs. Their bags are a bit less expensive than the other options I mentioned here. They also come in several sizes. You can even find smaller versions that don’t require a rear rack at all. These are perfect for credit card touring on your high-performance bike.

GEARING

The last thing I’ll touch on in this installment is gearing. You’re going to need lots of it. Recumbents have a bad reputation when it comes to climbing. While it is true that most recumbents climb slower than most conventional bikes, it isn’t true that it’s because of the riding position. Once they’ve gotten their “bent legs” many riders report that they can actually generate even more power on a recumbent than they did on their conventional bikes. The truth is that recumbents are usually just much heavier than a standard road bike.

To counteract that weight gain, consider putting the lowest gearing popular on your recumbent tourer. For reasons I will never understand, most recumbent bikes suitable for touring come with 32-42-52 crankset. That’s usually the first thing I get rid of. I’m personally a big fan of the 28-38-48 combo. In Europe, they refer to this as “trekking gears” and many new bikes come with this set-up as standard. I’d also look for a good 11-32 to 11-36 cassette. They’re pretty commonplace now and most mountain rear derailleurs can handle them fine.

Also consider going with a slightly shorter crank. It’s easy to push back against that nice solid recumbent seat and injure your knee while pushing too hard. Shorter cranks seem to help with that issue. I ride 172.5mm cranks on an upright but prefer 165mm or even 160mm on a recumbent.

Hopefully these bits of advice will help you kit out your shiny new recumbent (or a faithful old friend) and get out there on the road. Touring on a recumbent can be a fantastic experience and you shouldn’t let a few nuts and bolts stop you.

Photo 1 courtesy of Axiom.

Photo 2 courtesy of TerraCycle.

Photo 3 courtesy of Arkel.

Photo 4 courtesy of Ortlieb.

Photo 5 courtesy of ICE Trikes.

BRYAN BALL is the managing editor of BentRider Online.

Comments

MDGColorado

Good points Bryan. Just a couple comments.

1. Long wheelbase bents seem to get all the attention as touring bikes, but I found my Rans V-Rex excellent for fully loaded touring. With underseat panniers, it was very stable and handled beautifully.

2. Bent-specific panniers might be nice but aren't necessary. I just used by regular rear panniers under the seat, and they worked great.

October 18, 2012, 11:49 PM
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Anonymous

Bryan,

Nice article.

It would be nice to know which Adventure tours can handle trikes (in the U.S. first). My wife is willing to join me if we can bring our own trikes, but we need to know about Adventure Cycling's transport, security, etc for trikes.

Thanks.

October 19, 2012, 4:05 PM
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Bryan Ball

MDGColorado,

I've done more tours on a long wheelbase but my really high mileage trips happened to be on a short wheelbase. Can't say I have a preference either way.

You're right that regular panniers do often work and should definitely work on something like a V-Rex. They become more and more necessary on trikes with small rear wheels.

October 19, 2012, 4:26 PM
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Mo, Tours Specialist

Hi Bryan -

thanks for your interest in Adventure Cycling. We welcome all types of bicycles on any of our tours. If you are a more beginning/intermediate trike rider, i might suggest looking into our Fully Supported Tours with a beginner or beginner Plus difficulty rating. And in particular our Fully Supported Relaxed tours. Our Fully supported trips provide the most assistance and support to our riders and can accommodate any type of bicycle. Our Relaxed trips in particular include lower mileage and lots of bicycle paths. Check Out:

http://www.adventurecycling.org/tours/tourdetail.cfm?t=EV13&id=354&p=1

http://www.adventurecycling.org/tours/tourdetail.cfm?t=EV13&id=415&p=1

If you have any more questions you are welcome to talk with a tour specialist, give us a buzz at 406-721-1776 and ask for the Tours department.

Thanks

Mo

October 19, 2012, 8:19 PM
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Jimm Pratt (aka the digitalmouse)

Good stuff! Look forward to seeing more recumbent articles here.

After 15,000+ km under my belt with recumbent trike touring, I heartily agree that recumbents offer many advantages for the long-distance tourer: beat seat position, better comfort, stability with a trike, more capacity for cargo, and a blast to ride on a long downhill.

October 23, 2012, 8:32 PM
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Jimm Pratt (aka the digitalmouse)

slight edit: better* seat position... :-)

October 23, 2012, 9:23 PM
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Charlie Roop

From my experiences last year, a 'bent is a wonderful way to tour with one terrible exception. Don't take a trike on the C&O. 95 % of the time you will have a minimum of one wheel out of the track in the grass, much of the time two wheels. Getting to the GAP in Cumberland and the crushed limestone was a real blessing after the C&O.

October 26, 2012, 6:51 PM
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Anonymous

I have done cross country tours on both short wheelbase and trikes. Many of the routes don't lend themselves to trikes due to the width of the shoulders and the placement of the rumble strips

October 27, 2012, 12:35 AM
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Lather

Recumbents have one advantage regarding panniers: you can use some that are much longer (front-to-rear) without having to deal with heel strike. This lets you use a bigger bag, and one that is easier to find things in. The commercial bags have taken advantage of this, my homemade ones are 24" long.

November 2, 2012, 12:45 PM
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Racing cycles

Many of the routes don't lend themselves to trikes due to the width of the shoulders and the placement of the rumble strips

November 9, 2012, 6:17 AM
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Steve Hankel

Brian,

Great article however there is another option as well for touring recumbents. My son and I had to take advantage of it this summer during our Seaside, OR to Bar Harbor adventure. My son was riding a Haluzak Horizon with panniers. On our first day just outside of Asortria he lost control going downhill and slid onto the gravel shoulder. Luckily no serious injury or damage. He had experience some instability on previous descents. The Haluzak and rack just did not have the rigidity to carry the load without getting squirrley. Our solution came in the way of a Burley Normad trailer we picked up in Portland the following day. It worked flawlessly for the remainder of the trip and provided a very stable solution as we hit 40+ on some of the downhills later in the trip.

My cross country steed was an HP Velotechnik Speedmachine equipped with Arkel RT 60, Arkel T-28 (underseat) and Arkel Tailrider. The HP frame integrated racks were superb and very stable.

One other aspect regarding touring, tire selection. My HP was equipped with Schwalbe Marathons and experience only 3 flats over the entire 4,367 miles. I changed tires about half way through the trip. I found that a lower pressure front tire, 85 PSI vs 100 PSI provided a more stable ride on my HP. The lower pressure seemed to be more forgiving of bad pavement conditions and grooves. For me Schwalbe are proven. We encountered numerous other cyclists both riding with and without Schwalbes. One cyclist had 5,000 plus miles on a set of Schwalbe Marathon Plus without one flat. He replaced them when the cord started showing. Some cyclists are Schwalbe reluctant due to their reputation as a hard tire to change. There are some secrets to changing a Schwalbe that make it no more difficult than any other tire however.

Steve Hankel

Champaign, Illinois

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November 19, 2012, 4:12 PM
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Donald Walter

I too have a 1994 version of a Haluzak Horizon (my first bent) that was underseat steering but now above seat steering and a fairing. It is the problem of mono-tube recumbents that they flex too much while with load or at speed. Cyclists following me thought my rear wheel was going to fall but it was only the bike flexing.This bike had been billed a "touring" bent but I classify it a commuter bike only.

August 23, 2013, 8:11 AM
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william

I have been told by a bunch of trike riders that they aren't really very mechanicaly sound to do long tours the mentioned names like cat sun terra and a few others I would like others opinions on this before I spend 1200 to 2000 on a trike for touring

May 15, 2013, 12:35 PM
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Roger

William, if you buy a bike rock standard you can be sure that in some way it will be unsuitable for touring. Manufacturers try to keep costs down so they build street machines to accommodate leisure riders. If you decide you want to become a touring cyclist, then you have to make some decisions regarding the integrity of your components. I talked to lots of cycle tourists on blogs. I researched all the manufacturers I could. I made decisions based on this research and came up with a bike that was good for ME. I paid a lot more than the shelf price for my bent bicycle "the Pimp" because I chose options for comfort, safety and facility which I decided would enhance my touring experience. For example, I have expensive Kevlar tyres which have prevented punctures, I have an internal 14 speed gear hub that keeps my gears out of the dust. I have disk brakes for safety, I have front suspension for comfort etc. I have a quality pannier set and I tow a trailer. My wife commented, "$5000 for a bike?" I replied, "Thank your bank book that I didn't take up power boat racing!"

My advice is to choose the machine you want, then "pimp" it. Shop around. If you take off before you're properly prepared you only have yourself to blame.

July 27, 2013, 9:16 PM
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william

I took your advice and shopped around and I wound up buying a tour easy lwb recumbent whitch it took about a year to get my recumbent legs bow I cant see my self going back to a diamond frame so comfortable and lot better view plus people notice me more there fore give me more room. I geared it for hill climbing and long easy peadling I got 22 32 42 on the crank and 11 to 28 on the back so I also get the speed as well as the climbing gears I average 10 mile a hour loaded and 14 empty

June 9, 2014, 1:02 PM
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Matt

Hey guys.... I'm riding around the world for 5 years n a HP recumbent scorpion 20fs. I have a pair of ortlieb panniers, and after about 2 months of daily heavy riding i find the clips are starting to open up on me. They are made from plastic and just don't seem to be taking the wear. I am ordering the RT-60s now and hope they will fare better. they have a metal rail and i hope that this will give me the stability i need.

October 2, 2014, 11:16 PM
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