Recumbent - Touring on a recumbent

This case study comes from Wayne Estes. Wayne has over 23,000 touring miles behind him on both upright and recumbent bikes.

My bike is rather unusual. The bike is a "Speed Ross" recumbent made in Cornwall, England in 1998.

The main reason I ride a recumbent bike is because it is much more comfortable than an upright bike. My particular touring setup is also very aerodynamic because most of the gear is in the slipstream behind my torso. The bike climbs more slowly than most bikes because it's slightly heavier, but it doesn't slow down as much in a headwind. For me, headwinds are the most depressing aspect of bike touring. I like climbing mountains on a bike because climbing gives me a reward: an exhilarating descent and good views on the way up and down. But there is no reward after pedaling into a headwind all day long. So I appreciate riding a bike that is faster in headwinds than most other loaded touring bikes (upright or recumbent).

Below is a list of the features of the bike and my touring gear. Most of the items are visible in the photo above.

  • Short wheelbase, above-seat steering recumbent
  • "Tweener" handlebar that wraps around my knees (and limits how sharply I can steer)
  • All-mesh seat (no foam seat cushion to get wet)
  • 20-inch (406mm) front wheel, 36 spokes
  • 26-inch (559mm) rear wheel, 36 spokes
  • 1.75 inch (47mm) Conti Top Touring 2000 tires allow me to run low pressure on gravel roads
  • Ballistic 600 elastomer suspension fork compensates for rough ride of the small front wheel
  • Corrugated plastic splash guard prevents the rear wheel from slinging water on my butt
  • 20-36-48 tooth chainrings and 11-28 tooth cassette (lowest gear is 70 rpm at 3.9 mph)
  • Rear derailleur is Shimano Nexave, which can handle my 45 teeth of chain wrap (every gear is usable!)
  • "Jump Stop" gizmo for reliable shifts to the 20 tooth chainring
  • 258 links in the chain (that's one reason recumbents are heavy!)
  • Nashbar "SPD clone" pedals
  • Bar-end shifters
  • V-brakes with Kool-Stop Salmon brake pads
  • Brake booster on the rear brake
  • 4 bottle cages. The 3 large bottles are 1-liter "Zefal Magnum".
  • Topeak Combo Master Blaster pump attached to frame with "Twofish pump blocks"
  • Ciclosport CM-414alti computer, which has altitude and temperature functions
  • 2 pouches attached to the seat contain tools, spare tubes, and cable lock
  • Rack is a no-name Blackburn look-alike that came with the bike
  • Madden Buzzard panniers, with 74 square inches of 3M 6187 flourescent yellow reflective material glued to the rear
  • Sleeping bag on top of rack in a HydroSeal waterproof stuff sack, with a small safety triangle glued to the rear
  • Large fanny pack (Mountainsmith "Tour" model) on top of the sleeping bag

As Wayne mentioned in his commentary you can easily see how much more visible these reflective patches make the bike during dark or overcast conditions.

I keep valuables and quick-access stuff in the fanny pack and take it with me whenever I am away from the bike. The fanny pack attaches to the bike with four compression buckles. The waist strap buckles snap onto mating compression buckles that are attached to the panniers. The two bottom straps of the fanny pack snap onto compression buckles that are attached to the rear of the rack. The fanny pack is attached very securely to the bike, but it can be quickly removed by unsnapping four compression buckles. When riding without the camping gear I slip the fanny pack in the elastic mesh that normally holds the sleeping bag on top of the rack. That arrangement is somewhat cumbersome because I have to pull back the elastic mesh to get inside the fanny pack. So it's somewhat inconvenient to get to my camera, map, food, etc.

The fanny pack can carry two water bottles which is very useful for hiking. The fanny pack substitutes for a handlebar bag which I can't use on this bike because it would obstruct my view of the road. While riding the bike the fanny pack is much less convenient than a handlebar bag because I can't access the fanny pack while sitting on the bike. But the fanny pack is far more convenient to carry around when I'm off the bike. The thing I miss most about not having a handlebar bag is that I no longer have a map visible while riding. Now I must stop to look at a map. The side view photo shows a blue fanny pack that I used until last year. This year I got a new black fanny pack because the zipper was tearing apart on the old one.

The "bike equipment" pouches are permanently attached to the back of the seat, so I always have tools, spare tubes, pump, and a cable lock even when riding without the camping gear. Unfortunately I'm not nearly as visible from the rear when I bike without the camping gear. The unloaded bike (with "bike equipment" and empty water bottles) weighs 39 pounds. The loaded bike weighs more than 90 pounds when the water bottles are full and I'm carrying two days of food.

I feel that my cargo capacity is more than adequate with two large panniers. Almost half of the main compartment of the left pannier is available for food. I chose not to use front panniers because:

  1. It is very difficult to attach a rack to a suspension fork.
  2. The ground clearance would be very low because of the small front wheel.
  3. Front panniers would increase the aerodynamic drag.
  4. I don't need more storage capacity.
  5. The bike handles very well as it is.

Even without front panniers, I still manage to have about 50 pounds of stuff hanging on the bike. Because the recumbent body position puts more body weight on the front wheel, my front/rear weight distribution is probably similar to an upright bike with front panniers. My only concern about putting all the weight on the rear is that it puts a lot of stress on the rear rack. But I've never broken a rack so far... Note that my panniers are "reversed". That puts the "rear" exterior pocket on the front, which improves the bike's handling by minimizing weight behind the rear axle. I attach the panniers to the rack as far forward as possible. Obviously there is no concern about heel clearance.

Wayne Estes

Wayne is riding the recumbent and I am riding the upright bike. You can see how Wayne's gear being behind him on the bike can make a significant difference when considering wind resistance.

Copyright © 2004 - 2011James Noble All rights reserved.