My recumbent, ready for short tours

Yesterday, on a rare warm day in February, I took my first real, as opposed to testing and learning, ride on my Actionbent GC24a recumbent. I rode for about two hours. My route included roads from one lane to the shoulder of an expressway. it was mostly flatish, but there were grades up to more than 10%. Except for climbing steep grades, I had no problems other than a noisy chain when it was on the big ring.

I've changed the front and rear derailleurs - to XT and LX - and the front rings - to 50-38-24 - and added lights, a seat bag, a rear rack to prepare this bike for short tours.

Delta Mega-Universal Rack

The rear rack was a bit of a challenge, but the rack recommended by Actionbents can be made to fit. I mounted its legs to the same mounting bolts that attach the rear seat support to the rear fork dropouts. I had to replace the existing M8-30 bolts with M8-50 bolts in order to do this. The legs fit nicely in the dropout as you can see in the image above.

I had to enlarge the mounting holes at the front end of the mounting straps in order to mount them to the M10 bolt on the rear seat mount. That bolt was long enough to handle the extra hardware. At the other end of each strap, I had to drill a new hole to attach the straps to the rack plate. The slots in the the straps did not come close enough to the end to work in this application. Even with the holes very near the end, the rack is tilted forward a bit because the straps aren't quite long enough. It is much easier to mount the rack to the seat support when the seat is removed. The steel straps are hard to drill with just a hand drill. I managed, but I'd recommend using a drill press and industrial quality drill bits.

The seat with the open cell foam cushion removed to expose the mounting bolts.

There are four pairs of bolt holes in the fiberglass reinforced plastic seat. The front set is covered by the leftmost piece of 'velcro' in the image above. The next set is used to mount the seat to the hardware that mounts to the frame. The third set is used to attach the rear seat mount and the fourth, and smaller, set of holes is designed for mounting a headrest. I used that set to mount my old handlebar bar bag to the seat back. I also mounted - glued with Goop - a Planet Bike SuperFlash taillight/flasher.

The mounting bracket for a PlanetBike Blaze 1 W headlight, Gooped to the BB

The Blaze headlight on the bracket

A riders eye view of the Blaze's light pattern on its low power setting
This image was taken with a wide angle lens

I did have a problem with the headset on this bike. I wasn't able to tighten it down properly because the shouldered washer (?) that the stem bolt went through was hitting the top of the stem before the headset preload was high enough. I fixed that by replacing that washer with a flat steel washer.

The one remaining issue I have with this setup is, as I mentioned above, chain noise when the chain is on the big ring. This noise is caused by the chain bouncing into the top of the front derailleur cage. The problem is a result of the fact that the stub the front derailleur mount on goes back at a much sharper angle than the seat post on an upright bike.

The problem

The same area on my commuter bike.
Notice how different the angles between the chains and the derailleurs are
Also notice that I had the cable on the wrong side of the bolt on the derailleur arm on my commuter bike!

This kind of stub angle is common to a lot of recumbent bikes, but the chain line on this bike is flatter, because of the straight frame design, than on most SWB recumbents. I'll have to raise the derailleur just enough to keep the chain from hitting and hope that doesn't hurt the shifting too much.

The front of the fender was notched to engage a brazeon at the front of the rear fork and Gooped in place.

Parts of yesterday's ride were on damp road that had been snow covered a few days ago. Some of the salt that had been spread on that road can be seen in the image above. My 'new' fender will keep that from happening in the future. I also plan to mount a fender for a 20" wheel on my front wheel to help keep the front of the bike and the chain cleaner.

My new rear fender

The back of the fender was cut to fit into the space formed by the middle support rod and the top plate of the rack and the fender was bent to allow it to snap it into place.

The crank from my touring bike uses the same, wide, BB as the original crank
Notice the 20 tooth granny and the gap between the derailleur and the rings.
Because of that gap, I need to overshift a bit to get into the middle ring from the granny or the big ring.

I adjusted the height of the the derailleur to give a bit of clearance between the chain and the top of the derailleur's cage when the chain was on the big ring. This is not the way to get crisp shifting (!), but it is the best I could do. I also shortened the chain another four links and now I can use all 8 cogs in any front ring. Big-big and little-little drag the chain against the rear brake arm, so they really aren't usable, but it doesn't cause any harm to shift into them.

My bent climbs MUCH better with a 20 tooth granny!

With my new climbing abilities, I decided to try my standard loop ride over Town Mountain and Elk Mountain. This loop has about 1700 feet of climbing in roughly 20 miles. I rode up Old Toll Rd to Town Mountain Rd, then over Town Mountain and down to the Blue Ridge Parkway.

I had to walk part of one hill just before I got on Old Toll. That hill has a 15% grade and, although I did ride partway up the 15% section, it was hard on my knees, so I decided to push my bent up the last 150 feet or so. I was pleased that I had been able to ride the earlier part of the hill which is about a 10% grade. I was also pleased that it wasn't difficult to push the bent up a steep slope with one hand on the seat back and the other on the handlebar.

Looking back over my bent from the top of Old Toll Rd
I've climbed about 800 feet vertical at this point

My bike on the Parkway at Craven Gap

I zoomed - somewhat cautiously ;-} - down to Craven Gap where Town Mountain Rd ends at the Parkway and then rode north to the next gap Bull Gap. Bull Gap is the last exit from the Parkway before the road to Craggy Gardens which is another dozen miles, with roughly 2000 feet of climbing, farther north. The Parkway is currently blocked just past that road. From Bull Gap, I climbed up to the high point on Elk Mountain Scenic Highway.

My bike at Buzzard Rock which is near the highest point on Elk Mountain Scenic Highway

From Buzzard Rock back down to the start of Elk Mountain Scenic Highway, less than a mile from my house, is a spectacular descent. I did it at least 10 mph slower than usual today. The bent is great fun to ride, but its handling is a bit touchy even at high speeds. I've gotten much better at low speed riding on it, although I did stop on one steep hill to let a vehicle pass because I couldn't keep a straight line at about 3 mph, and my moderate speed riding is now almost as steady as riding my regular bikes. Coming down a steep - up to 12% grade - road with lots of sharp corners and bad pavement, is still an adventure on the bent ;-}.

I'm very pleased with my recent progress at bent riding. In the last week, I've gone from having to focus very hard just to ride on a flat road to being almost ready to do short tours. I've been working on learning how to ride it for a month - admittedly, January, which is not an ideal month to learn to ride a new kind of bike - and did not expect to reach this point so soon. The warm spell - it is about 40 F warmer today than it was a week ago - that started five days ago certainly helped.

The new cockpit view

Now my view ahead has a water bottle, instead of the crank, and an asymmetrical set of controls. There is another water bottle mount on the front of the derailleur boom. My new rear shifter is not indexed. It is a great, NOS, Suntour Sprint downtube shifter mounted on a Paul's thumbie mount to make a thumb shifter. For me, this is a big improvement over the grip shifter it replaced. It shifts much more smoothly and it allows me to use eight or nine speed cogs.

I'll probably make my controls symmetrical again. If this set up doesn't cause me problems for my damaged wrists, I'll replace the other grip shifter or, if it does cause me problems, I'll go back to grip shifters. If I don't go back to grip shifters, I'll get some new grips, but, for now, I've just filled in the space where the right grip shifter was with friction tape.

The new side view

Now I have two water bottle cages, mounted using Minoura cage adapters. The front one is mounted above the front derailleur and the other one is mounted near the top of the stem. I would rather have mounted that one lower, but, if it was any lower, my legs would hit the cage if I pedaled while turning.

I also have a new, Planet Bike, front fender and new, Azonic, pedals. The pedals are similar in size and shape to the Crank Brothers 5050XX pedals that I was using, but are lighter and, for now at least, have all their studs in place.

When used on a DF bike, pedals with studs are dangerous to clothing and legs. Last summer, using a pair of 5050X pedals with only two studs on each side, I tore my socks and my leg warmers and painfully scraped my leg. This is not a problem on the recumbent since the only parts of my body that come in contact with the pedals are the soles on my feet. It will only hurt if I try to pedal barefoot ;-}!

Azionic Fusion pedals with four, removable, studs in the front and three at the back

Crank Brothers 5050XX pedals with all but one of their removable studs removed.

My bents new SRAM derailleur and 165mm Shimano Sora crank with 50-38-24 rings and outer plate clothing protector

The Sora front derailleur that came with my bent is a perfectly good derailleur for a road triple, but a very poor match to the SRAM grip shifter on the bent. The cable pull required by a Shimano road front derailleur is so short that the indicator on the grip shifter didn't even get up to the middle of its range when shifting from granny to big ring and it took a very strong grip to shift it.

The XT that I replaced the Sora with has a lighter spring and takes almost twice as much cable pull, so it was much easier to shift. However, it still wasn't a good match for the grip shifter since it only moved the indicator to just above the middle of its range. The new SRAM takes even more cable pull - I didn't expect this - and uses the entire range of the grip shifter. It shifts easier than the XT and its cage shape works better on the bent.

In the image above you can also see the handle of the Topeak Mnt Morph pump that I've mounted on the frame between the BB and the Steerer, the bottom of the water bottle holder mounted on the derailleur stub, and the top of the Blaze 1 W light mounted on the BB.

The interference problem between the rear derailleur and the dropout plate which causes problems shifting into the smallest cog.

Yesterday, I spent half an hour filing on the part of the dropout which interferes with the derailleur body rotation and prevents shifting to the highest gear. Now, using bigger rings, the problem is even worse. I'm going to have to remove a quarter of an inch by one inch slice of the, roughly one quarter inch thick, steel plate that the dropout is formed from - roughly along the line formed by the spoke behind the bottom part of the blue plate in the image above. That will be a pain to hacksaw! This is definitely a design error on this frame. Even removing the extra metal at that point may not completely fix the problem in the big ring, but it will make the shift into the highest middle ring gear more reliable.

In the image above you can see the end of the quick release for the axle and the mounting point for the derailleur. On my road bike these two points are much closer together - 2 cm apart instead of 4 cm. On my touring bike they are about 3 cm apart. I think this wider spacing hurts the rear shifting, but is necessary because the axle is mounted well above the center of the rear chainstay and the chainstay is much larger than a normal chainstastay - it is actually a fork that must support most of the weight of the rider and the bike. The part of the rear dropout plate that extends below the 'chainstay' makes the interference between the chainstay and the derailleur worse.