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More Bang for your Bentís Performance Buck

By Jose A. Hernandez


I'm sure you like to get your money's worth. That's why you looked for a recumbent bike that looked good, was a joy to ride and appeared to be a good value. It was not an easy decision. There were so many models to choose from, and so many factors to consider. Your value equation was not limited to money, the physical properties of your bike or its handling characteristics.  It also included a number of subjective variables, not the least of which were intricately tied to your emotions, or simply put, how a particular bike made you feel. Yet, the complexity of choosing your recumbent bike did not deter you and, one happy day, the dim light at the end of the bent decision tunnel grew brighter and promised to transform itself into the bike of your dreams.  But as soon as you managed to pedal out of this tunnel, you found yourself lost in an incomprehensible maze of bicycle components and accessories. The cycling world is ostensibly saturated with a plethora of propaganda about components and accessories that promise to enhance your performance. You've seen the sales ads that claim to turn you into an Olympian biker as long as money is no object and you happen to be the most gullible biker in the world. 

I felt that there must be an easy way to find out how to get the most bang for your performance buck. So I put together a panel of experts, asked for their input and immediately discovered that this subject is even more complex than I initially suspected.  There are no absolutes and the value formula is plagued with an infinite number of variables. I realized I was in "trouble" the moment I asked the panel to  "identify which components can best improve a bikeís performance for the money". I immediately realized that I had to limit the scope of my "mission". At the time, I did not realize that the term "performance" meant a lot of different things to different people. Some of our experts felt that enhanced performance can be equated to enhanced comfort and some felt it could be equated to improved handling. Of course, they were right. Performance is all of those things and more. But I was looking for components that would give you the most SPEED for your money and I obviously needed to simplify the selection criteria. I wanted to find out how I can go FASTER without spending a fortune. So I rephrased the question and, in an attempt to simplify my quest, challenged our panel of experts to limit the amount of money they could spend to NO MORE than $100. So we ended up with: "What components will give you the most speed for less than $100 bucks?"

 This is what our experts had to say:

Bryan J. Ball of BentRider Online fame:

For $100? Hmmmmm... Tires. Faster rolling and lighter tires. Or a cheap set of clipless shoes and pedals. If you're inventive then you might consider coroplast fairing. I hate the looks of the stuff but people make some pretty amazing fairings out of it. Even though $100 won't do much in this department, the BEST place to throw money at a bike is in a good set of wheels. Wheels are by far most important place to loose weight. Lighter or more aerodynamic wheels will be felt much more than a fancy rear derailleur. A total drivetrain overhaul to gain two or three more gears or 100 grams will cost a lot of money. Also, really look at your bike and try to decide if it's really worth it. Sometimes it is much more cost effective to save up and replace the whole bike in one shot. What else is there? Well, how 'bout a Heart Rate Monitor? It's an essential tool for training if you want to get faster quicker. or is it quicker faster?

Peter Stull, The Bicycle Man:

These are my first 4 thoughts: 1) Clipless shoes & pedals, you can sometimes get used Look pedals & closeout shoes at a wedgie shop for under $100. 2) Recline seat further for distance speed, recline less for sprint speed. 3) Build a coroplast tailbox (especially if you could use some luggage room). 4) Build a simple coroplast fairing (especially good if it's cold and/or wet.)

Mark Mueller, the man behind the awesome Windwrap fairing:

I would say that for $0 to a few dollars you can improve aerodynamics these ways:
If you don't have a fairing and you want better aerodynamics:
1. Lean your seat back as far as seems comfortable and still allows you to push well on the pedals.
2. Get you arms tucked in as much as possible.
3. Maybe some dollars here--Don't wear loose clothing that flaps in the breeze. . Make adjustments to your bike and clothing that reduce frontal area.  Lay the seat back more. Wear clothing that does not flap in the breeze
4.  Make a fairing for less than $100. Not only can a fairing improve your speed it can also make riding more comfortable as well as provide a space for storing things you might want to carry. Several of my fairings for my Madriver Recumbent were made of Coroplast, an inexpensive and easy to fabricate material. My favorite had a flip up Night Sun headlight and a glove compartment. This fairing went back far enough that it provided nice rain protection. The hardest part was making the mounting hardware. I made that rendition out of steel but have made later versions of PVC pipe using string to cut it by heat friction and the kitchen stove to form it. It was surprising the amount of speed increase that can be had with a fairing that has segmented pieces that form the nose. Your fairing won't be the most beautiful around but it likely to improve comfort and aerodynamics.  A tailbox, which can be a rear fairing, can be built to increase speed, carry things well and can be made of cheap materials like Coroplast. Check out my quick and easy tailbox page for ideas:

Pictures of the Madriver with various coroplast front fairings.

If you have a fairing, do what you can to be close behind your fairing.
1. Don't lay the seat back so far. Try adjusting your seating position and the fairing so that you are as close to the fairing as possible and behind the fairing as much as possible without increasing frontal area. The general rule is that front fairings work best when what they fair is close behind. You are essentially drafting your fairing. Drafting is what high-speed racers do to decrease effort. They follow in the slipstream of the racer in front of them.
2. Get your arms behind the fairing.
3. Adjust the fairing back as far as is comfortable and operable.

Fritz Mueller, President of the South Broward Wheelers, a South Florida Bike Club: This is an interesting question, and the limitation of $100.00 makes the budget really tight. If the upgrades are to be used to enhance the performance of the bike, I would probably use the money to upgrade the tires and tubes. Many high quality bikes still come with pretty much low end tires, and the addition of new, high quality tires will do more to improve the performance and comfort of the bike than anything near that cost. I would spring for either Michelin Axial Pro or Continental Grand Prix 3000 tires, with Continental latex inner tubes. The main thing is to get lightweight tires so that acceleration will be improved, and usually these tires will enhance the resiliency of the ride as well.This is more critical on a diamond frame bike, since recumbents usually have frames that are flexible enough that ride quality is not a problem. But good, sticky tires will make the 'bent corner with greater sure-footedness, and improve braking traction as well. That's my opinion, if I had $100.00 to upgrade a new bike, it would be spent on the best tires and tubes that I could get.

John Bendit, a Recumbent Bike Builder in the South Florida Area

First, Iíd consider a home built fairing and second, my vote goes for narrow high pressure racing tires.

Shari Bernhard, of legendary recumbent fame:

There are many factors that affect speed, exclusive of rider capability, but the most important ones are:

1. Bike weight (especially rotational weight)

2. Wind resistance, and

3. Pedaling efficiency.

Making the bike lighter would be the next best thing, so take the $100 and enroll at Weight Watchers to lose 20 lbs. :-)  It's true that making the bike lighter, either by component changes or losing weight, will be the next big thing, but light components are EXPENSIVE, and .25 grams here, a half a gram there seems silly when one is several pounds overweight. Now, rotating weight is the more important weight to be aware of, so lighter wheels would make the most of your money. You might want to think about lighter hubs, tires or bladed spokes. You also might want to consider disk wheel covers. Check the bike catalogs for prices. My opinion. That and $2.50 will get you a nice latte! :-)"

BJ Strass, otherwise known as "Brother BJ"

Make your own tail fairing. Fairings are the way to make a bike fast other than losing weight and riding more (2 sheets of coroplast, razor knife, zip ties). Or get panniers to go touring. Donít worry how fast your going, slow down and see the countryside. It it all fails, just send the money to me, I will ride with you slowly and yell "WOW! Youíre really going fast! 

Well there you have it. Do you agree with our panel of experts? I must say that I agree with most of what they said except for one thing: The suggestion that getting rid of my perfectly round gut would improve my speed is contrary to something brother BJ taught me many moons ago when he said, 'Hey, you're not fat, youíre just more aerodynamic".

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