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As a Street Machine owner, I am occasionally asked questions about the bike by people contemplating buying one. There are also a few questions that I asked other Street Machine owners when I was contemplating buying one. These are my answers to those questions (last updated 18/06/03).
When I've offered solutions to various problems, you'll often be able to find pictures on my Helga pictures page.
With mudguards, lights and two racks my bike weighs in at 43lbs. But if you want a full sus bent with a solid seat (and I did), then it's gonna be heavy. The Challenge Twister, which I also considered, has a specified weight of 35lbs, but a similarly equipped Twister tested by bentrideronline.com weighed 42lbs.
The weight will be a concern if you enjoy climbing, but I seldom need my lowest gear. Once you've got used to the bike and developed a smooth pedalling style (it'll take a while before you can maintain the same cadence you're used to on an upright), climbing shouldn't be a problem. In fact, I still climb faster than most wedgie riders.
The bike has a very well chosen range of 27 gears. My gear table (in gear inches) is displayed below, calculated by Sheldon Brown's Gear Calculator for the 26" x 1.5" rear tyre that was fitted as standard. Helga was manufactured in December 2000, older or newer bikes may have different gearing. You may want to fit a smaller granny ring for laden touring on hilly terrain.
The bar end shifters that now come as standard really are the dog's bollocks. I love 'em. It's very easy to change gear on this bike.
It used to come with GripShift as standard. If you find a second hand model with GripShift, make sure you get on with it OK before you buy. This was the one thing I really hated when I went for a test ride.
In heavy traffic, a bent can't filter as well as a wedgie. But I think I can now filter nearly as well on my SMGT as I could on my ATB.
People often worry that they won't be able to see as far ahead on a recumbent as on an upright, because the recumbent rider can't see over cars. This is an issue, but a very minor one in my experience
People also worry about visibility, as the bike is lower than an upright (actually the Street Machine rider is at the same height as most car drivers). Well, if a motorist can see the white lines painted down the middle of the road, he ought to be able to see you. But seriously, recumbents are still rare enough that a driver seeing one is likely to do a double take. Which means that you're far more likely to be noticed than you would be on a wedgie.
Some people prefer a helmet mounted mirror, others prefer handlebar mounted. Either way, it's a good idea to have one.
When I first bought the bike, I couldn't find a handlebar mounting mirror that didn't need to slot into a bar end (not an option with bar end shifters). I ended up buying a helmet mounted mirror, which I found to be about as much use as a fart in a thunderstorm. It was far too small and very difficult to adjust to a position where I could see anything other than helmet and sky. The slightest knock (or taking the helmet off and putting it on a desk) would destroy the positioning. I needed two hands to adjust it, so I couldn't do so while riding.
After a couple of weeks of this, I searched more thoroughly and finally tracked down a mirror that I could screw to my handlebar. I found it in H*lf*rds, of all places. The only mirror that was any use to me at all was also by far the cheapest that I found anywhere.
I didn't find that the helmet mirror noticeably blocked my field of view. I did find that when I took the helmet off I could still see a little green rectangle in the top right of my vision, where the mirror had been. And if I had tried to look in the mirror while riding I would probably have spent a dangerous amount of time tilting my head to a position where I could see something in it while not looking at what was going on ahead.
But YMMV, and people who have tried the 'Third Eye' mirrors usually seem quite happy with them. I'm very happy with my handlebar mounted mirror. ICE makes a fitting for a Mirrcycle mirror which looks useful, but you may need to cut off the handlebar grip to get it on. Alternatively, the Evolution mount from Calhoun Cycles looks like a good way to mount a Mirrcycle mirror without the need to cut.
ADDENDUM: After 2 years using the handlebar mounted mirror, I tried a glasses mounted 3rd Eye (available in the UK from Kinetics). It took a few minutes to get used to, but after a few days I found that it was easier to use, required less frequent adjustment and gave me a better view than the handlebar mounted mirror. I have no hesitation in recommending the glasses mounted 3rd Eye to recumbent riders. However, it has some disadvantages. It creates a blind spot on whichever side it is worn, it is of little use when the sun appears directly above the mirror, and the fixing mechanism is reportedly prone to fatigue.
I found it took about 3 months to achieve the same speeds as I managed on my mountain bike. Andy Welch reports the same. For my first few weeks of riding, I was doing well to average 13mph. My PB average on my commute to work is now 17.0mph, compared with 17.2mph on my ATB.My average speed is restricted by the congestion caused by cars and by the need to lift the bike over cyclepath barriers (which I could ride through on my ATB). When I'm moving I seldom drop below 18mph and have achieved 26.2mph on the flat.
People often report problems with low speed stability on SWB bents. The Street Machine is very stable above 6mph and I have no difficulty in riding too slow for my computer to register (i.e. below 2mph). But I do have a good sense of balance.
The handlebar is very wide, but you'll get that with any USS bike. With the addition of a mirror, it's about the same width as a standard doorway. Which makes life interesting taking the bike through the house.
If you ride cyclepaths frequently (as I do on my commute), then the wide USS handlebar will be a problem when you encounter cyclepath barriers. On a wedgie I can ride through without stopping. I'd probably be able to do the same on an OSS bent (without panniers). But with USS, I have no choice but to stop and lift the handlebar over the barrier.
I haven't noticed this to be a problem. Manoeuvrability in tight spaces is affected more by the fact that the steering is a couple of foot from the front of the bike (as on any SWB bent). Every morning I have to make two right-angled turns through gates not much more than 3' wide. The front of the bike goes through the right-hand side of the gap shortly before the front wheel goes through the left hand side, then the rest of the bike has to follow through without scraping on the gate post. It's an interesting challenge, but after a couple of months I could do it most times without stopping. I now hardly even think about it.
My Street Machine came with braze ons for a bottle cage on the front of the derailleur tube. Not somewhere you'd be able to reach it while riding. I find the top of the boom is a good place for a bottle - I have a cage mounted there with jubilee clibs. N.B. a bottle cage mounted on the boom and pointing towards the rider is pointing slightly downwards. With a regular bottle cage the bottle will gradually get shaken out as you go over bumps. I now use a Specialized Rib Cage, which does not suffer from this problem.
Another good place to mount bottles is the back of the seat. HPVelotechnik recommends drilling holes in the seat for this purpose, but I did not feel comfortable to do so. Instead I bought two compression straps from a camping shop, along with 2 bottle pouches of the type designed to be slid onto a rucksack waist strap or a bumbag strap. I fastened the straps securely round the seat (under the cushion), with the top strap going through the top loop of each bottle pouch and the bottom strap going through the bottom loops. The result is a securely fastened bottle pouch on each side of the seat at the back.
Initially I found that the bottles on the back of the seat were easier to reach while riding than the boom mounted bottle. With practice I have found the reverse to be true.
Another option is to mount a Camelbak or Camelbak clone to the rack or to the back of the seat. I never found this to work particularly well.
Though the manufacturers claim that someone of 1.62m (5'5") can ride the bike, I'd say that that would mean overextending the legs and risking knee/back/ankle injury. I'd say a 30" inside leg is about the lower limit. With a 31" inside leg, I find the boom is the perfect length when it's almost as short as it'll go (without taking a hacksaw to it). If you're 5'0" and thinking of taking a hacksaw to the boom, don't. Even if you manage to reach the pedals, you won't be able to reach the floor when you stop (I know, my wife's 5'0").
Specified upper height limit is 2m (6'8"). I can't comment on this.
I'd strongly recommend ordering the bike with a propstand (although see the next question). It's also worth ordering the airflow seat cushion (for use in summer but not in winter) and the Schmidt hub dynamo with Lumotec lights. It all adds to the cost, but I'm glad I did it.
I ordered the bike with rear rack and lowrider rack, planning to take the lowrider rack off and put it back on only for touring. But then the bike came with the propstand fitted to the bottom of the lowrider rack, meaning I can't take the rack off without getting a longer stand. Possibly worth bearing in mind, but not a major problem.
The lowrider rack has a plate welded to it for attaching the stand. This works well, but after 2 years of daily use the plate snapped off my lowrider rack. The alternative stand mounts by the rear axle, and is apparently prone to breakage. I was also told that it would interfere with the mounting of my BoB Yak. I tried extending a standard bike stand and mounting it in front of the rear wheel, but it wasn't strong enough.
Anyway, I soon found that I could manage perfectly well without a stand for everyday commuting. But when I tow my daughter's trailer, I need a stand. I have found a solution that is almost better than the original stand. I use a 29" length of 32mm diameter PVC waste pipe, with a section of old tyre gaffer taped to one end to act as a foot. I tuck the other end under the upper seat bracket. I have a bungee wrapped round the top of the rack, which I slide the stand into when it's time to ride off.
Although this stops the bike falling over, it doesn't stop it rolling. So I also carry a couple of small bits of wood to use as chocks.
The review in the August 99 issue of Cycling Plus summarises with: "The Street Machine runs seriously close to setting the standard for SWB full suspension recumbents. Its suspension makes it safe, comfortable and efficient. My only reservations are around the Street Machine's rigid seat which, by description, has to fit the contours of your back to work well".
Of course the seat comes in 3 sizes, so it's important to get the right size. If you find the bike uncomfortable on a test ride, the seat's probably the wrong size. Mine fits the contours of my back perfectly.
Some people worry that the narrow back of the seat may not offer as much support as the wide mesh seats on some other bikes. This occurred to me the first time I saw the similarly shaped moulded seat on the Challenge Wizard. I can assure you that the seat on my Street Machine is extremely comfortable. I'd say that the level of support is superior to any mesh seat that I've tried.
Yes, it's adjustable between 30° and 40° to horizontal. I always ride with mine at 30°, though some people prefer the more upright position for climbing and riding in traffic.
If you have access to back issues of Cycling Plus, read Richard Grigsby's review in the August 99 issue. The section on comfort starts: "Bearing in mind my preference for mesh-covered frame seats I was pleasantly surprised with the rigid seat on the Street Machine". He goes on to say: "Basically, you sweat using this seat. On long trips getting back onto the bike is a soggy experience until your sweat-soaked top warms up!". I suspect he probably didn't have the Airflow cushion (which is washable).
I strongly recommend the Airflow cushion. I generally sweat quite a bit, but I have yet to experience a sweaty back on the Street Machine. If I feel the seat with my hands when I get home after my 5.3 mile commute, I don't notice any dampness, though when I asked my wife to feel the seat after a warm evening commute she was able to detect some slight dampness in the lumbar support region if she pressed hard on the cushion.
OTOH, the Airflow cushion is not suitable for riding in the rain. The water gets in at the top and soaks through the cushion, so you'll end up sitting in a puddle. Not a major problem, as it's easy to switch between the Airflow cushion and the standard foam cushion.
Michael Nelson reckons the seat pad made by Optima (known in the US as Yellowbike) is more comfortable. I haven't tried it, but it may be worth bearing in mind.
"Recumbent Butt" is the numb bum felling that may come from riding a bike where your entire weight is resting on the seat. It tends to be more of a problem on bikes with a more upright riding position.
If I wear padded shorts, I don't get recumbent butt on the Street Machine. If I use the Airflow cushion I don't get recumbent butt, except, for some reason, when I'm wearing waterproofs. Using the standard foam cushion (which I only use in winter and wet weather), at first I would start to get recumbent butt after about 5 miles. This no longer happens.
I've not seen the Dragon, so can't comment.
The hub gear is a very appealing idea. I don't know how much of a benefit it would be. The Challenge bikes also have Sachs 3x7 gears, and IMHO are much more comfortable than the PDQ, so may be worth thinking about. If it wasn't for the expense, I'd like to do away with derailleurs altogether and try the Rohloff 14 speed hub gear. I haven't found derailleur gears to be a problem while commuting though.
Quite a few. I'd decided by the middle of 1996 that it would have to be either the Kingcycle or the Street Glider. But by the time I decided I might be able to afford a recumbent, neither of these bikes was still in production. The HPV mailing list had also persuaded me of the benefits of full suspension. On a wedgie you can bend your knees to take the shock of bumps and potholes, or you can bunnyhop over them. You can't on a bent. If you have no rear suspension, the shock of any bumps or potholes hit by your rear wheel will go straight up your spine. I've suffered from back problems in the past, culminating in a slipped disk, so I really didn't want to take any chances.
Of the bikes that had been available when I did my research a few years ago, the Pashley PDQ seemed the best bet. I visited London Recumbents in Spring 2000 to test ride one, and to see if they had any other bikes that looked promising. I sat on a Challenge Twister, then on a PDQ. The difference in comfort between the two seats was so striking that I didn't even bother riding the PDQ. I tested the Challenge Twister, Wizard and Hurricane.
The Twister is similar to the Street Machine. The Wizard is similar again, but with OSS. The Hurricane is a lowracer, very similar to the HPVelotechnik Speed Machine, but half the weight. The Hurricane was by far the most fun of any bike that I've ever ridden, but at the time it didn't strike me as a terribly practical commuting or touring machine. (With a couple of years experience of riding a recumbent daily, if I was buying another bent now I'd probably choose the Hurricane for commuting). I decided that once I had the money, I'd buy a Wizard.
Then someone on arbr mentioned the Street Machine and I decided it was worth a look. I test rode one and found that it was even more comfortable than the Wizard, though didn't seem quite as responsive as I remembered the Wizard being. But it was 4 or 5 months since I'd ridden the Wizard, so not easy to compare. Since I'd had to visit London anyway to test ride the Street Machine, I thought I'd visit London Recumbents again that afternoon to try the Challenge bikes again. But I couldn't find it.
There were a few reasons I chose the Street Machine over the Wizard or Twister, one of them being that London Recumbents seemed to be in a different place every time I went to London. I didn't feel comfortable about doing business with a company that kept moving. It was also much easier to find information about the SM, since there are more English language websites about it. At the time the Challenge website was only available in Dutch, and about the only information on the London Recumbents website was their address and phone No.
Yes. There are a lot of bumps and potholes on British roads. The suspension on the SM absorbs them very nicely. I don't think that my back would enjoy riding a bike without suspension for too long.
Dunno. Even with the No Squat design, in the early days I noticed some pogoing while trying to accelerate quickly in too low a gear. But that was while I was still getting used to the bike. It certainly hasn't happened recently. I doubt that any other suspension design is any better.
I couldn't find any either (except on WWW, which means relying on monitor colour reproduction). I found a very useful chart (which sadly no longer seems to be available at Hobby Specialists) to work out the equivalent colours for the little tins of paint sold in modelling shops. I chose my colour in Humbrol modelling enamel, then used this chart to find the RAL code.
I'm very happy with it. I doubt you'd regret ordering a Street Machine. But make sure you take one out for a test ride first, just to be sure. And remember that the seat comes in three sizes. If you get the wrong size, the lumbar support will be in the wrong place and you'll be very uncomfortable.
Richard Grigsby (who wrote the August 99 Cycling Plus review) is an experienced recumbent tester and a former British recumbent racing champion. He also happens to own Avon Valley Cyclery, where I do most of my bike shopping. I haven't spoken to him about the Street Machine, but when I popped in there with it his staff told me that it's among his favourites of all the bike's he's ridden.
Follow some of the other links on my recumbents page. It's also worth searching Google, or searching the archives of alt.rec.bicycles.recumbent.
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