October 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.
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.
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.
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.