January 25, 2013
Today's guest post was written by BRYAN J. BALL, editor of BentRider Online.
We all know that recumbents are becoming increasingly more popular among touring-oriented cyclists. The reasons for this are many. Recumbents are very comfortable for long journeys and are getting better and less-expensive every day. But despite their growing popularity, there really aren’t that many recumbent manufacturers focusing exclusively on the touring market. Lots of recumbent models work very well for touring, but bike travel is still an afterthought for many companies. One of the few that has a laser-like focus on this segment is a small builder from Upstate New York called Linear.
Linear didn’t begin life in New York. The company actually first started building their instantly-identifiable bikes in Iowa in 1985. Since day one, their signature features were the rectangular aluminum beam frame and their underseat steering system (USS).
Peter Stull, owner of The Bicycle Man, acquired the company and moved it to New York in 2002. The bikes he builds today retain a lot of that distinctive Linear look, but are light years beyond what was ever built in Iowa. When Stull took the reins, he kept what everyone loved about the classic Linear and moved the rest into the 21st Century.
Linears are designed and tested using techniques that would put a lot of larger recumbent manufacturers to shame. When Linear first moved to New York, Stull made extensive use of the local engineering school to refine the design. Now, all of that work has been moved in-house with a dedicated design engineer and a large fatigue tester designed and built by Purdue University on the premises.
The frames that come out of the small Linear production facility are now some of the most highly-tested and reliable available on the market. The rear end of the bike has been especially beefed up to handle the weight of larger riders and large touring loads. In order to eliminate another failure point of the older design, Linear now uses seats from RANS, a fellow recumbent manufacturer. A portion of the frame welding and CNC work is contracted out, but Linear is still committed to doing everything in the USA.
Despite their robust nature, Linears aren't particularly heavy. I don't think they'll ever fall into the "featherweight" category but they are a pound or two lighter than their nearest rivals.
The new Linear regime is also firmly committed to staying true to their niche. While Linear does make one model with more conventional overseat steering (OSS), Stull has largely chosen to stick with the USS system that Linear is known for. Long wheelbase (LWB) recumbents with USS were some of first recumbents to have any real impact in America. Bikes from Avatar, Ryan, Defelice, Infinity and Linear were some of the first bikes available to U.S. buyers. Linear feels that the reasons for their initial popularity are still valid today.
“USS is the most relaxing hand position going. For a short ride OSS is fine but after a long day's ride I much prefer USS,” explained Stull.
In recent years, Linear has begun producing the “Roadster,” a short wheelbase (SWB) bike in addition to the well-known long wheelbase (LWB) “Limo” model. This newer, smaller Linear has been well-received by owners and the press and won the 2011 BentRider Online Bike of the Year award for its excellent handling and commitment to the shrinking USS segment. There is also a lower version of the Limo called the “Limo LR” for shorter riders or those who just like to ride a bit closer to the ground.
As Linear continues to add new models it remains committed to the touring market. Stull told me that future folding models will maintain that focus.
“Touring riders are a growing segment of our business. Partly for this reason we are working on a new folding frame Linear. At the moment we are fatigue testing a prototype. It's doing well. The steel front fork on it collapsed, the folding frame has no visible damage,” Stull said, while talking about the company’s next big project.
Linear has made a few other changes for 2013 that don't involve the new folding model. The company is moving away from a traditional powdercoat and will be offering their bikes in a black-anodized finish with reflective sticker panels. The overall look is a bit industrial in the daytime but is very nearly impossible to miss once the sun goes down. There is also talk of changing the shape of the frame extrusion in the near future.
One of the other areas where Linear stays true to its touring base is in its component selection. A lot of modern recumbents come with 52-42-32 road cranksets. Recumbents are often heavier and a bit slower than the bikes those gears were designed for. Linear equips all of its models with a 48-38-26 crankset which is much more appropriate for most recumbent riders, especially those planning on riding with fully-loaded panniers.
For such a small manufacturer, Linear competes pretty well on price. They're definitely not "inexpensive," but a new Linear starts at about $2,500. More information can be found at LinnearRecumbent.com.
Photos by Bryan Ball.