On this lovely day, April 12 2017, I attached my iPhone to my recumbent bike and used an app called “OSnap!” to take a picture every 3 seconds on a 30-mile bike trip. A few of the frames are upside-down, I guess going over bumps affected the phone’s uppy-downy sensors. Music is “Curley Shirley” by Otto Sieben.
I love bikes. Bikes allow me to procrastinate. I go on long country rides that benefit no one but myself, yet I appear virtuous because our culture elevates “exercise.” And while I’m out on those rides, in a semi-meditative state – exertation? meditatiercise? – I compare my bikes to each other. Which is my “best” bike? If I could only have one bike, which would it be? Questions of no urgency to anyone, even myself, but since I had the time (because I was procrastinating) and the little notebook and pen I carry with me, I decided to rank my bikes.
Here are my criteria:
Portability/Storage: can I take it on trains, planes and automobiles? Can I store it indoors?
Nimbleness/Maneuverability: how well does it navigate tight turns and bike lanes designed by psychopaths?
Wind resistance: I hate wind. Wind slows me down. Wind is the mountains of Illinois.
Safety: Many factors here: how well car drivers see/respect you, how far you might fall, are you likely to get thrown over the handlebars, how likely is the carbon frame to explode? And how likely is the bike to get stolen if you have to ride it somewhere?
Cargo: How much stuff can I carry, and how easy is it to carry it?
View: the view from the bike is a huge aesthetic consideration. Also, how easy is it to see other traffic?
Quietness (Noise): another huge aesthetic consideration. I love a peaceful, quiet ride.
Not listed: cost. An important consideration for obtaining a bike, but since I already own these I don’t care what they cost originally.
This exercise allowed me to think about my bikes even more! And now you can think about my bikes too.
Note: this information should be presented in a table, as originally conceived. But I don’t have a GUI table editor for WordPress, and I haven’t even updated my WordPress for a long time, and I really should switch to Square but oy would that be a lot of work.
total score: 68
Lightness (Weight) 5
Wind resistance 2
If I could only own one bike, it would be a Brompton – and when I lived in New York, it was. The Brompton’s small wheels make it the most nimble, maneuverable bike I own, and it’s surprisingly zippy. I love the comfortable upright riding position, which affords a great view in traffic. The steel frame is solid and safe and will last forever, however like most bikes it’s almost invisible to cars on the road. Since it folds quickly and compactly it never has to be left outside, making it easy to store and almost invulnerable to theft. A small front mounting block holds a convenient carry bag, and the rear rack can hold a lot of stuff with a low center of gravity keeping it stable. And it’s quiet!
Carbon fiber road bike
total score: 52
Lightness (Weight) 10
Wind resistance 3
In 2007 a friend of my Mom’s bought this beautiful, high-end, custom, carbon Trek Pilot S.P.A. W.S.D. sport/road bike. In 2013 she traded it to me for some art quilts. It was the first high end bike I’d ever ridden, light as a feather, like riding the wind. It was also too small for me, and even after maxing out the seat post and handlebar adjustments it gave me backaches and wrist pain. After discovering recumbents I decided to sell it. Not for the money – its Blue Book value was only a fraction of its original price – but because I thought it was a great bike and someone shorter than me should be riding it. A cycling friend bought it and discovered cracks in the carbon frame, inspiring this poem:
O little cracks of carbon
in once-expensive frame.
Trek says the warranty is void
We think that that is lame.
There was a little top tube bag
that, when removed, revealed
how carbon is inferior
to metal that’s annealed.
Paying thousands for a carbon
bike frame may be dumb.
At last we understand
why people buy titanium.
Neither the dealer who originally sold it nor Trek would honor the warranty or replace the frame, so my friend returned it to me. I could have tried selling the components, but instead I decided to keep them and get a super-discounted new frame from Nashbar. It’s currently at a local bike shop – NOT the obnoxious shop that sold the Trek originally – undergoing a component transplant. Not everything is compatible: I had to buy a new headset and seat post, and the shop is getting a new bottom bracket, crank and front derailleur, but everything else can be switched.
Since the new frame is larger, there’s a good chance it will fit me more comfortably and I may upgrade its score. I don’t expect most scores to change though. The new frame, like the Trek, is carbon (don’t judge! It was almost 80% off!) which means it’s lightness is high (10!) and its safety is low (1!). Road bikes like this are incredibly vulnerable in traffic, almost invisible to drivers, and when they do see you they’re usually angry at you for having all that vulnerable exposed flesh. A bike like this is also easily stolen when locked outside, and carbon is of course breakable. Diamond frame bikes also put up a lot of wind resistance, in contrast with the faired recumbents I prefer these days. But this bike should be just as light and whisper-quiet as before, and I hope someday to take it on a morning train upwind and then get blown the whole way home.
total score: 58
Lightness (Weight) 2
Wind resistance 7
Steel is real, and there’s a lot of it in this long heavy sturdy comfortable touring bike. It also has a very effective fairing. The Tour Easy is possibly the easiest recumbent to ride, and although I haven’t loaded it with cargo yet, I have the rack, panniers and frame bags to do so. At about 6 feet long it’s not nimble, and it requires some space to store. I’m not strong enough to even try to carry it on a train, and it doesn’t fit in a car, although I have a special trailer for it I got in the deal (I don’t drive, so it’s for sale). It is safer than a regular upright bike since it’s more visible in traffic – its resemblance to a chopper motorcycle makes it stand out – and it’s very solid. You’ll never fly over the handlebars, and if you fall to the side you don’t have far to go, being low to the ground. The upright seat is very comfortable and gives a great view for a recumbent. What’s not so comfortable is the lifted arm position, similar to how I have to raise my arms to use my Cintiq. Better than a road bike, but not as comfortable as under-seat steering. It is noisier than I’d like, especially from wind on the fairing. It would be my main distance bike if I didn’t have theâ€¦.
total score: 61
Lightness (Weight) 1
Wind resistance 10
In every category the Mango scores either really high or really low. It’s by far the fastest ride I own, largely due to its incredible wind resistance. (By “fast” I mean fast for me. I am not a fast rider. I am not an athlete. Even in the Mango I don’t go as fast as the really fast road cyclists around here.)
The Mango’s slippery shell means lots of cargo space, with no panniers or bags needed. The downside is noise: the shell amplifies road vibrations, and the sound of the chain echoes inside. You get even more wind resistance with the optional hood (“Toerkap”), but that makes it so noisy – and claustrophobic – I’ve given up using it.
I ride with the top open, which means a fabulous view. The only reason I rated its view 2 points behind the Brompton’s is that it’s quite low to the ground, making it harder to see approaching vehicles behind ridges. On the other hand, car drivers see the Mango very well. They give it lots of room when passing, perhaps regarding it as another car, or a shiny hard object that could damage their car. The resentment many drivers express at the exposed flesh of road bicyclists seems absent with the velomobile. Mostly they say “YEAH!”, “LOVE it!”, “Can I take a picture?”, etc., while ceding plenty of road space. That, plus the stability of 3 wheels which you pretty much can’t fall from, earn its high safety rating. And it’s comfortable! Especially on the hands and arms, which endure no strain thanks to the central steering joystick. But it’s got a huge turning radius and isn’t nimble at all; it weighs 60 pounds empty; and its Portability factor is zero. You can’t take it on a train, subway, or bus, and a plane is out of the question. It’s best transported by itself, but I do have foam blocks and straps that allow it to be carried on the roof of a car. Although it fits (just barely) through most doors, I couldn’t regularly navigate it up the steps to my home, so it requires a garage for storage.
Unlike the Brompton, which is at least adequate for everything, the Mango is extraordinary for one thing only: going long distances fast. In the end it rated 6 points behind the Brompton. If I could only have two bikes, they’d be one Brompton and one velomobile. Everything else is just icing on the cake.