Recumbent types: low-, mid-, and high-racers

Last November I covered the various types of recumbents based on length. To review, the long wheel base (LWB) ‘bents are super comfy machines made for putting in long touring miles in a fairly upright seating position, whereas the short wheel base (SWB) ‘bents tend to be more versatile bikes used for racing, commuting, or just about anything else.

The SWB versatility is largely due to the variety of designs out there. Today I’ll cover some designs as they relate to the rider’s seated height from the ground.


Low-racers

You’ll often hear SWB ‘bents categorized as low-, mid-, or high-racers. Low-racers seat you very close to the ground— so low that you can balance yourself by placing your palms down. They’re aerodynamic and fast bikes that are good for flat tracks, but have fallen out of fashion in the recumbent community. A low-racer is difficult to ride given the seat’s nearly horizontal position, and isn’t too visible to traffic on the road. Builders are forced to get creative with the drivetrains and complex chain lines given the limited amount of space between the rider and the ground. They often have a small 20” or 16” front wheel paired with a larger 700c rear wheel. Performer Cycles and M5 still have some low-racer options.

A Performer Cycles low-racer model. Note the highly reclined and low position of the seat, as well as the complex chain line that requires 3 idlers and protective chain tubes.

High-racers

High-racers are also fast bikes, and offer much better visibility in dense traffic. They tend to be light-weight and have simple, straight chain lines. They have dual 700c wheels, and their frames are usually American-style “stick frames” exemplified by Bacchetta or European-style “s-frames” such as the Pelso Brevet and Schlitter Freestyle. The largest disadvantage with high-racers (especially stick frames) is they don’t easily accommodate short riders. If you are under 5’9” or so, you’ll likely have trouble getting your feet down at a stop on a high-racer. The problem is as you slide the seat position forward along the frame’s tube to be able to reach the pedals (which are positioned at an elevated level), you are also sliding the seat higher from the ground. The S-frame design helps alleviate the problem a bit by sloping the frame tube down. Most recently, Metabike introduced a novel multi-tube high-racer design (the Mystique) with a seat height that allows riders as short as 5’6” to get their feet down (being 5’8”, this particular bike is appealing to me as I’ve always wanted a high racer but I’m not tall enough to feel safe on one).

Given the high seating position and bottom bracket (i.e., where the pedals are), high-racers aren’t made for off-road terrain where you may need to quickly get your feet down to avoid falling over (that being said, there is one crazy exception out there).

The Bacchetta Corsa (left) and Pelso Brevet (right) are two examples of modern high-racers with dual 700c wheels. Note the respective stick and s-shaped frame designs, as well as the simpler chain lines requiring only one idler under the seats.


Mid-racers

As you may expect, mid-racers fall between the two extremes. They’re the most popular choice of SWB ‘bent since they offer much of the visibility and aerodynamics of a high racer without limiting rider height. You’ll find options for racers, commuters, and tourers in this category, along with a variety of options in wheel size, suspension, seat type, drivetrain, and steering to accomodate all sorts of riding and terrain. Take a look at Azub, HPV, Lightning Cycles, and Performer Cycles for good mid-racer options. Most of my recumbent bike experiences have been on mid-racers, and my current everyday bike is a commuter-type mid-racer design (I’ll talk about it in a future post).

My favorite stocking stuffers for cyclists

With the holiday season already here, why not do some shopping for that special cyclist in your life (or simply treat yourself). Here are a few of my all-time favorite bike accessories. Some are more recumbent specific, while others are appropriate for just about any bike.

Safety

Loud Mini Horn by LoudBicycle

If you ride in traffic, ringing bells and using your voice just doesn’t cut it. I absolutely love this thing. It uses micro-USB charging and a universal go-pro mount (so you can mount it just about anywhere you have the space). They offer button extension cords, which are really handy for long recumbent bikes. And most importantly, this thing is LOUD (125 db) and sounds JUST like a car horn. I kid you not. Nothing is more satisfying than beeping an inattentive driver with this. At $169, the Loud Mini is certainly not cheap, but it’s the best horn out there as far as I’m concerned and worth every cent the instant you have to use it.

Quad Amber and Red lights by Dinnotte Lighting

Dinnotte Lighting is a well regarded company run by Rob Skaff up in Hampton NH. Rob’s been manufacturing high performance LED lights for over a decade with the idea that bike lights need to be as bright as car lights to be effective. I like the unique, compact design of their Quad line of lights, and their latest models provide convenient USB-C charging. Their amber lights are more visible to motorists than typical white lights during the day time. Get the Quad Amber headlight + Quad Red taillight package for $349. These are lights meant to last a lifetime, and Dinnotte offers reasonable battery replacement or trade-in services.

Ultralight Mirror by D+D Oberlauda

This mirror is made in Germany and can be hard to find here at times. It often goes by different names (usually the Ortlieb Ultralight Mirror or the D+D Oberlauda UltraLight Mirror). It’s designed for touring and commuting or just about any situation in which there’s a need for greater visibility. Hands down it is the best mirror out there. It’s extremely light (2 oz), provides a really wide field of view, and it’s easy to adjust on the fly. The way it mounts is quite versatile which makes it a great mirror for recumbent bikes where you sometimes have to get creative with your mirror placement. I’ve gone through many mirrors over the years and consistently come back to this one. It is reasonably priced, and currently $24 at ModernBike.

Cargo

Fastback Carbon Slim Seatback bag by T-Cycle

For the recumbent rider, sometimes you need a compact bag to hang over the back of your hard shell seat just to carry some essentials. I use this bag to hold my phone, keys, wallet, and a few other small things on my commuting recumbent. It’s a very simple bag with a convenient Velcro attachment system, and its slim profile allows it to fit over the back of even the most reclined hard shell seats. T-cycle has these for $90.

Tech

AirTag Bike Mount by Project4AGZE

If you’re an iPhone user, do yourself a favor and pick up an Apple AirTag or two. To mount one to your bike, I recommend a mount by Marshall of Project4AGZE on Etsy. There are tons of mounts out there, but his are good quality, handmade in USA, and durability tested by Marshall himself over thousands of miles and races. These mounts fit behind the water bottle cage, and are so slim that they’d likely go unnoticed by a bike thief. You can pick one up for $8.99.

Fashion

Helmet Visors by DaBrim

In case you’re not drawing enough attention riding your whacky recumbent bicycle, add one of these helmet visors by DaBrim. If it’s not apparent in the picture, they are huge and look absolutely ridiculous. That being said, yes I have a bright yellow one. I don’t wear it often, except on those long sunny summer rides. These things do an amazing job keeping the sun out of your face, especially on a recumbent where you’re not hunched over looking down at the road. Available for $34-$45. Strangely there are no pictures of me wearing one that I could share…

The Psyclists visit the Delaware River

The Psyclists went on their longest ride to date last weekend, covering 28 miles of the D&R towpath along the Delaware River.

Starting at Washington Crossing State Park in Titusville NJ, we travelled north on the towpath past historic Lambertville and stopping for coffee at the Borsch Belt Deli in Stockton. We reached our half way point at Bull’s Island Recreation Center where we crossed the Lumberville-Raven Rock Bridge. There’s a beautiful view of the river valley from the pedestrian-only 5 span suspension bridge. From there we headed back, this time going southbound, along the Pennsylvania side of the river.

While the condition of the NJ towpath made for very easy riding with well packed fine gravel, the PA side was in dire need of maintenance on the northern end. Once we reached New Hope on our way back down to Washington Crossing, the PA towpath did improve dramatically.

Here’s our route on Garmin.

Recumbent types: Cadillacs vs Corvettes

In the next few posts I’ll review the major design choices and terminology of 2-wheeled ‘bents.* These won’t be exhaustive in-depth technical reviews, but by the end you should be able to ID almost any recumbent you see by one or more of these defining features.

One of the most visible differences between recumbents is the length of their wheel base. Specifically the location of the crankset (where you put your feet to pedal) relative to the front wheel determines whether the bike has a short or long wheel base.


Long wheel base (LWB)

When the crankset is positioned behind the front wheel, it pushes the front wheel farther out and gives you a long wheel base recumbent. For the most part, the LWB ‘bent is an entirely American phenomenon, and I suspect that has something to do with the US’s immense size and love for the open road. These bikes are ideal for long tours, and I like to think of them as the Cadillacs of recumbents. Their long wheel base helps soak up the bumps without the need for complex suspension. Their cranks are positioned lower than the seat height (i.e., so your feet aim downward), making them easy to learn. The seats are relatively upright to give you a good view of the road ahead. The frames are often made of steel, and can handle heavy loads. They typically have a larger 26-29” rear wheel paired with either an equally large front wheel or a smaller 20” wheel.

The physical dimensions of a LWB do pose some potential problems. For one, the wide turning radius gives it a slow response time and doesn’t make a LWB suitable for narrow and windy bike paths. One also needs quite bit of space to store such a long bike, and of course transporting a LWB can be problematic without a large SUV, pickup truck or minivan.

Unfortunately the LWB is a dying breed with only seven companies currently producing them. With so few remaining I feel compelled to list and link to each of them. They’re each quite unique and beautiful designs. We’ve got the Bacchetta Bella, the Carver Ti-Glide, the Linear Limo, the Longbikes Slipstream, the Rans Phoenix, the Recycled Recumbents Mach 2, and the Sun Seeker EZ Sport. While the used market is full of classic LWB bikes, those interested in a LWB should really consider keeping them alive by supporting one of the remaining companies.


Compact long wheel base (CLWB)

The CLWB, as the name suggests, is a shorter LWB bike with a small 20” rear wheel and even smaller 16” front wheel. The crankset is located very close behind the front wheel. Back in the late 90s and early 00s, they were the most popular type of recumbent as they were low cost and very easy to maneuver, transport, and store. The most popular recumbent bike of all time was the Bike-E, a mass-market CLWB sold at many bike shops across the US. Sadly by 2010, lower priced trikes started to become popular, squeezing the already niche entry-level recumbent market into oblivion. You may still be able to find a new Maxarya or Sun EZ-Classic, but otherwise you’re relegated to finding a used Bike-E online if you want a CLWB.


Short wheel base (SWB)

By bringing the wheels closer together and putting the crankset out ahead of the front wheel, you get a relatively compact and versatile recumbent bike. If LWB ‘bents are the Cadillacs, then SWB ‘bents are the Corvettes. They are not much longer than a standard DF bike, and most of them can be transported on standard car bike racks. Some SWB bikes allow for more sporty positions with reclined seats and higher cranksets, and have more responsive steering compared to their longer counterparts. They are lighter and faster compared to LWB ‘bents, and their frames are usually made out of aluminum tubing or carbon fiber.

The SWB may be a bit difficult to learn to ride. Your feet are higher off the ground, the steering may feel more “twitchy” compared to a LWB, and you’ll experience a bumpier ride with the front wheel pulled in much closer to you. You also have to keep an eye out for “heel strike”— when your heels hit the front wheel during slow speed tight turns. Routing the long chain from the very front of the bike to the back in a way that does not interfere with the steering or the rider can lead to very complex chain management with multiple idlers and chain tubes to guide the chain. You’ll find there’s quite a variety of SWB styles where differences in wheel sizes, suspension, and drivetrain placement will dictate the ride quality and purpose of the bike (racing, touring, commuting, etc).

Today there are probably a couple dozen SWB brands worldwide. In the US you have Bacchetta (recently acquired by Bent Up Cycles), Cruzbike, Lightning Cycles Dynamic, Linear Recumbents, Metabike, and Schlitter. International brands with US dealers include Azub (Czech Republic), HP Velotechnik (Germany), M5 (Netherlands), Pelso (Hungary), and Performer Cycles (Taiwan). Beyond that, there are some very interesting European brands, but unfortunately they don’t have a US presence.

In my next posts, I’ll delve a bit deeper into the diverse selection of SWB bikes.

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* Again: not a recumbent expert, just a slightly obsessed fan. So if you are an expert reading this, please leave a comment if you spot anything incorrect or have anything to add.

Cycling the LHT

The Psyclists spent a couple hours this morning exploring Mercer County’s beautiful Lawrence Hopewell Trail (LHT).

The LHT is a mix of paved and gravel trails running through Lawrence and Hopewell Townships, and offers safe, off-road access for cyclists, runners, and hikers to enjoy nature. The trail is a member of the Circuit Trails, a 750-mile network of trails connecting communities in the Greater Philadelphia Region. It is still a work in progress, but is very close to completion with just 3 miles left of the 22 mile circuit.

From Princeton we headed south along the D&R Towpath until we reached the LHT connector trail that took us to the historic Brearley House. From there we passed through Bristol Meyers Squibb and the Lawrenceville School campus, and headed into downtown Lawrenceville. We continued north through Village Park before reaching the most scenic segment of the ride through Mercer Meadows. There we visited a few more historic sites (the Pole Farm, the Hunt House) before looping back and stopping at the Gingered Peach in Lawrenceville for some tasty baked goods and coffee.

If you’re interested in doing this route yourself, note that there were a few trail segments with deep pockets of fine sand/gravel making riding a bit tricky at times. Yours truly did manage to fall over once, but thankfully I don’t have far to go from the low seated recumbent!

Here’s the entire route on Garmin.

Not a large turnout today, but we had fun regardless!

Psyclists inaugural ride

Yesterday a few members of the Princeton Psychology/Neuroscience cycling group (the Psyclists) convened after a long pandemic hiatus for a relaxing ride along the Delaware and Raritan (D&R) Canal.

The D&R Canal State Park consists of over 70 miles of multi-use, car-free paths along the historic canal. The route of the main towpath goes in a U-shape starting north in Milford and traveling southward along the Delaware river all the way to Trenton before curving back north passing Princeton on the way up to New Brunswick. The trail consists of crushed stone and packed dirt, and is best suited for hybrid and mountain bikes. As far as casual/recreational cycling goes, it is one of the main attractions of west/central NJ.

Courtesy https://www.dandrcanal.com/trails

Yesterday’s ride took us from Princeton northward for 6 miles to the small town of Rocky Hill. There we visited Buy the Cup, a locally owned coffee shop, before reversing course and heading back. Despite the recent flooding in the area, the towpath was in surprisingly good condition and the meandering geese stayed out of our way!

Here’s our route on Garmin for anyone interested.