Sun Bicycles EZ Speedster
Easy Racer’s & Sun team up again to assault the SWB Arena
By JOSE A. HERNANDEZ
Once upon a time, not too long ago, I’d pride myself with my ability to identify just about every recumbent model on planet Earth. Those were the good old days when Recumbent Bicycle models were as numerous as the fingers on my hand. But those days are gone forever. I now fear that the number of bent models might actually exceed the number of functional cells in my brain. Worse, I’m also starting to suspect that a bunch of bent companies just don’t care about my very embarrassing bent-model to smart-brain- cell ratio. Easy Racers and Sun Bicycles can certainly be grouped under the aforementioned category.
As followers of the Easy Racer’s/Sun Bicycle story know, the new Speedster bikes were preceded by a fairly wide array of compact and long wheel base bents of low bottom bracket fame. But Gabriel DeVault, a relatively new member of the Easy Racers’ Designer team thought it was time to venture into the sporty world of Short Wheel Base recumbents. In designing the Speedster, Gabriel took advantage of everything he learned from a life-long interest in the engineering of all sorts of vehicles, his previous experience doing 3D modeling for a robotic company, the computer network skills he picked up during the “dot-com” era and, the immense knowledge he’s gained from working with Garner Martin, the legendary Easy Racer genius. In Gabriel’s own words: “Gardner has been the biggest positive influence in my life in quite some time (indeed, many people) and I gladly consider him my mentor and I his protégé'. Through him I have been allowed to really expand my repertoire of skills and meet some incredible friends. I am lucky enough to count Fast Freddy Markham and Matt Weaver as friends now, and pick their brains at every possible opportunity”. The Speedster series therefore mark the company’s audacious entry into the world’s gladiator’s arena of affordable SWB bikes. The truth be told, the arena I’m talking about hasn’t been built just yet but, TRUST ME, the gladiators are coming!
This review is a blend of my own opinion as well as that of a number of bent riders from The South Florida Recumbent Rider’s club. Whenever you see a “we” in this article, it pretty much means that the observation was also shared by themajority of my test pilots. “I” statements are mine and mine alone. I’m also including a few comments from Arthur Nassau, a local bent rider who rode both the SX and the AX quite extensively and took the time to prepare a mini review for my benefit.
But before getting into the meat of this review, I really want to extend a special word of thanks to all my “test pilots”. You know who you are but in case you’re as forgetful as I seem to be, THANK YOU Willie, Fl George, Sergio, Peyton, Walt, Joe, Kevin, Arthur, Rea and Susan! I also want to thank Gabriel DeVault for putting up with my numerous emails and endless questions. Gabriel’s candid and honest view of his own creation is really admirable.
The Speedsters come in three metal flavors and colors: The hi-ten steel frame model (SX) is blue, the chromolly frame model (CX) is red, and the aluminum frame model (AX) is silver. As you probably already expect, the SX model is the most economical model while the CX and AX are their middle of the road and top-of- the-Speedster-line models, respectively. For our review, we received the SX and the AX models, which gave us a chance to do a side-by-side comparison, something that we rarely, if ever, get to do.
Most of us thought that Speedsters bikes are meant to satisfy the needs of folks who look for an affordable entry/intermediate level SWB alternative. But as I became more familiar with these bikes, I realized that these bikes also fill an often overlooked but real recumbent rider need - more on that later.
It’s the FRAME, stupid
The frame is of course the most important part of any bike. The Speedster’s frame is also its most striking feature. Whether you’re looking at the base CX or the fancier AX model, you immediately realize that these bikes combine a rare mixture of strength, style and elegance. The bike’s triangulated frame and muscular appearance really does inspire respect and admiration. The main tube is square but, chances are, you won’t notice this because it does not extend beyond the head tube and the boom tube is round. Moreover, the “squareness” of the main tube is mostly concealed by the seat mount, and two small diameter “side tubes” which run from the bottom bracket shell to the rear chain stays. These two tubes support the boom and add lateral and vertical rigidity to the frame. The extensive triangulation of the frame limits passive suspension quite a bit, especially on the Aluminum mode and I’ll revisit this point later.
All of this triangulated strength adds a bit of weight to the frame and, at least in theory, comes with a miniscule aerodynamic drag penalty too, but for the most part, this is of no consequence to most “normal” recreational riders. On the upside of the weight issue, Sun Bicycles designed these frames to easily support a 300-pound rider but I think they’re being conservative. I see no reason why this frame could not handle a significantly heavier rider. This brings me to the often-overlooked real need that these bikes fill. When you look at the weight range of most SWB bents, you note that they’re designed for the “athletic” types, or those who’re lucky enough to tip the scales at less than 250 pounds. The selection of recumbent bikes that support the more robust riders is really limited and, I think it is safe to say that SWB bikes designed to safely carry a 300-pound rider are pretty hard to find.
All Speedsters come with a chain ring guard, a safety feature that is rarely employed by Short Wheel Base Bents. But you just can’t please everybody. One of the statements I extracted from Arthur’s mini review read: “If I owned a Speedster, the first thing I would do is dispose of the chain ring guard”.
The EZ Speedsters also come with a pair of pedal extenders which are meant to decrease, but won’t completely eliminate, the chance of a heel strike during a tight turn. These pedal extenders may also benefit folks whose knees hurt because their hips are really wide or have a “toe out” inclination.
The new Sun SWB’s employ a pivoting stem riser to facilitate entry/exit to/from the bike’s cockpit that is pretty similar, though not identical to that of the popular P-38 from Lightning. The handlebar/stem setup consists of a pivot joint, a straight alloy stem riser, a wedge stem and handlebars of the open cockpit kind. The wedge stem is secured to the stem by tightening the top bolt which jams the wedge inside the stem riser tube and also by locking a pressure collar at the top of the stem with a quick release lever. The pivot joint can be locked in place with a quick release lever. The handlebars are attached to the top loading wedge stem via a pair of bolts. While I think this setup is more complex than I think is necessary, it does provide for an infinite range of handlebar adjustments. With so many moving parts, anyone can find the right handlebar position or angle. On the downside of this setup, we noticed that the stem riser creaks and squeaks as you ride and some of us found this to be a bit distracting. Apparently this is a “first batch” type of problem and will be corrected as soon as possible.In addition, the list of “standard equipment” includes a pair of chain tubes to keep your legs nice and grease free, and fender and rack mounts to keep you dryer and help you carry all of your cycling paraphernalia. Last but not least, the bikes employ a cross over idler that happens to be my favorite chain management apparatus. This idler is attached to the bottom of the seat so that you can slide & adjust the seat to your heart’s content without ever getting in the way of the chain’s trajectory.
All Speedsters use the same seat that’s employed by all of the
other EZ bikes. Adjusting the seat’s recline is an easy/fast process and,
adjusting your leg extension requires only that you release a couple of quick
release levers and slide the seat to your desired position. We found
the seat to be comfortable and supportive enough, but I actually thought that
this seat works better on the other low bottom bracket (BB) EZ bikes. I
think that short wheel base bikes of medium to high BBs tend to be a bit more
demanding of their seats than their low BB counterparts. The
Speedster’s seat base angle cannot be adjusted, so the area
around my tailbone seemed to get the brunt of my weight, something which I
thought Sun Bicycles should be able to correct by allowing for a slight tilt of
the seat base or perhaps by providing a nice tailbone cutout. I also wished the
seat had a firmer lumbar support. Of course, comfort (like
beauty) is in the behind of the beholder and it so happens
that NONE of my test pilots complained about the seat. In
fact, Arthur’s perception was completely in harmony with that of the other test
pilots: “The seat is excellent. The ability to set the back independent of
the seat, the thickness of the foam and the Velcro straps that allow you to set
the lumbar area as hard as you desire make it perfect for me.”
Components & Drive Train “Trivia”
When it comes to components, I only care about one thing: They need to work and they need to work reliably. I don’t care if they are a little bit heavy or don’t come with classy names. If they work, I’m a happy camper. In fact, I usually dread writing or talking about bike components. For some reason, this topic just does not get my juices flowing and forces me to keep this section shorter and less detailed than perhaps it ought to be. But if reading a part list floats your boat, you could just visit http://www.sunbicyles.comand knock yourself out!
The one thing I have come to expect from Sun Bicycles is that their components work just fine. Because of this, I must say that I am A- Okay with the ALL of the parts utilized by the Speedster models.
As already mentioned, the Speedsters come in three flavors. The components of the SX model are pretty much at the level of the original Steel EZ1 Compact Long Wheel Base (CLWB), which means they’re admittedly at the “low-end” of the spectrum. The level of parts used by the other two models (CX and AX), is directly proportional to the retail price of the bike. Thus, the AX has nicer component parts than the CX, and the CX is slightly better than the SX.
All of these bikes employ slightly different SRAM shifters. Shifting the AX is crisp & quick. Shifting the SX is just fine though the process is not as smooth or as silent as that of the AX model.
The drive train is not really noisy, but since it employs a couple of chain tubes, it does purr like a 25-pound cat as you ride. After a while the purr blends with the static noise of the background and most of us just ignored it or used it to go into a trance.
The front and rear brakes of the SX are Tektro V brakes and they REALLY do work great. In fact, I really can’t see the difference in function and feel between the Tektro V brakes and the fancy top of the line Shimano V brakes of my Bacchetta Corsa.
The AX comes with dual Avid disc brakes which are simply awesome and an integrated headset which is quite stylish. Though I was somewhat familiar with all the good stuff folks say about the Avid mechanical disc brakes, it wasn’t until I test rode the Speedster than I came to understand what Bryan Ball has been raving about for the last few years. I just can’t say enough good things about these brakes. They’re as powerful as you’ve heard they are. They feel great and made me feel safe. Not less importantly, they are sooooo easy to adjust; I can actually center the brakes and adjust the brake pads without having to call 911. Believe you me; I may have just become an active member of the Give Me Avid Disc Brakes or Give me Death cult.
First batch blues
We could not find any water bottle mounts on either the SX or the AX bikes we tested but this was apparently a first batch oversight. Also, as previously mentioned the stem riser creaks a little while riding. Both of these issues are being addressed by Sun Bicycles and should be corrected as soon as possible.
That said, we were quite impressed with the stylish appearance and the overall workmanship of the Speedster bikes. We all thought that these bikes are nicely finished with a good paint job; good looking welds and appear to be sturdy, durable and practical.
The Speedsters are infinitely adjustable and average-sized folks should be able to find their sweet spot. Theoretically, these bikes should fit riders with an X seam ranging from 38 to 46 inches. But the X seam is not your only consideration. The seat recline angle and the stem adjustment also come into play. I happen to be on the short side of the X Seam scale, and had to move the seat too far forward, shifting more of my weight to the front wheel. This seemed to cause an initial wobble or twitchy feeling on “take off”. I asked Gabriel for his thoughts on this. As per a note from Gabriel: “I have noticed that you can change the feel of the steering a good bit by pivoting the stem and h-bars forward and aft. Maybe play with that a bit and see what it does for you. I personally like it lined up with the steering axis”. Gabriel’s recommendation was right on the money. Soon as I aligned the stem according to his instructions, I felt right at home. I also found that a slightly more upright position allowed me to push the seat a bit further back and this also contributed to a more stable ride. My wife Susan is only 5’ 4” and she also found that a more upright position and a slight stem handlebar adjustment completely eliminated the initial feeling of instability. What all of this means is that if your X seam is less than 40, you’ll need to be a bit more conscious of your seat’s fore & aft position, recline and also the stem angle.
Thus, based on my own experience as well as what I observed from the experience of my test pilots, I would say that if your X Seam is in the 41 to say, 44 inch range, you’ll readily enjoy the stable ride the Speedsters are meant to provide.
Although none of us felt that winning HPRA races was a design objective of these bikes, most of us felt that, as equipped, the Speedsters’ speed performance is adequate for recreational rides, touring or commuting. These bikes are really designed to be practical and durable. The strength of the frame and wheels is immediately obvious but as pointed out before, these very strong parts are also a bit heavy. The most economical SX is the heaviest as it tips the scale at over 40 pounds while the more expensive AX model is about five or six pounds lighter. The Kenda tires, in combination with the disc wheels also have a noticeable heft. The SX employs low pressure 65 p.s.i. Kenda tires while the AX employs the 100 p.s.i. version of the same tire. The Kendas are good all-around tires but they do seem to offer more rolling resistance than other readily available tires on the market. Because of this, both the CX and AX models seemed to accelerate and climb lethargically. However, once you you’re up to speed, maintaining a decent cruising speed was not difficult. Though the Speedster’s climbing performance was not spectacular, these bikes did come with enough low-end gears to get us over the infamous South Florida bridges. The following quote from Arthur’s mini review is quite descriptive of the bike’s performance. “I was reluctant to ride the Speedster for any distance with the strong winds we have been having of late. While I was confident of traversing the intercostals bridge to the west I was afraid I would be walking back over the bridge for the first time. Not the case. In the ten mile ride that I took, the west bound bridge was literally a breeze and the return, while a bit of work at 10 to 11 mph into the ocean breeze, it was not much harder than my much lighter bikes.”
I consider myself to be a rider of “average” fitness and skill and I had no trouble maintaining about 14 MPH w/ the SX or 15.0 MPH with the AX for more than 20 miles but don’t forget that your own “mileage” may very well vary. As I mentioned before, these bikes have a great frame and thus, I suspected that a simple tire swap could result in higher speeds. Being the pseudo scientist I tell myself I am, I went ahead and replaced the AX’s Kenda tires with a front Comet Primo and a Panaracer rear tire. Not surprisingly my maintainable cruising speed jumped to about 16.5 MPH. Although the tires I chose for my test had lower rolling resistance than the Kendas, there are even better tires out there, like the awesome Stelvios, which, I’m almost sure could do even better. Just think how much faster you can get these babies to go if in addition to replacing the tires, you were to replace the wheels…
Many of us thought that the SX model had a much softer and kinder ride than the AX. I personally felt that the AX was really stiff and its ride was rather harsh, especially when riding on a rough path with fully inflated tires. In fact, the AX actually tried to eject me right off the seat after I hit a bump while cruising at somewhere in the neighborhood of 12-14 mph. According to Gabriel, at 186 pounds, “ I may not heavy enough to engage the bike’s passive suspension”. As I continued my “experiment”, I found that decreasing the tire pressure to about 80-85 when riding the AX on rough paths was the prudent thing for me to do to in order to tame the AX’s rigid frame. Alternatively, the “prudent thing to do” may have been to watch out for that nasty bump but, where is the fun in that?
As far as short wheel base bikes go, we found the EZ Speedsters to be quite user friendly, mostly because new riders can adjust the seat in a less threatening upright position and the bottom brackets are more or less at the level of the seat. We found the bike to be quite stable at any speed. The bikes also corner predictably. In all probability, the road grabbing qualities of the Kenda tires contributed to our feeling of confidence during fast/sharp turns.
Once again, I’d like to illustrate just how user friendly this bike is by including another quote from Arthur: “Since the SX is an entry level bike, I looked for an entry level rider to try it out. Fortunately, I didn't look far. My neighbor Mike has not ridden a bent except for a short spin on our street. He is 38 and quite athletic. He's also a car salesman so I didn't care if he took a few falls. Mike got on the bike, circled around our street a few times, and then was off for a 12-mile ride with my wife, Ti Joe and me. The ride included two bridges and lots of Fort Lauderdale Beach traffic. As we were riding, I noticed that I had reclined the seat and didn't raise it before giving it to Mike. He said it was fine and peddled off like he was riding bent all his life. By the time we were on the last few miles home, he was out front enjoying the beach scenery. At the end of the ride he said that he felt as good as he looked on the bike.”
Ok, so which Speedster should I buy?
As I think you’ve figured out by now, if you decide that a Speedster is in your future, you might have a tough time choosing which one to buy. For the most part your final choice might just come down to three questions:
1. The type of “surface” you ride on most of the time. If you ride on rough surfaces, I would say the SX or CX are likely to give you the most comfy ride but if you ride on smooth road surfaces, then go ahead and spend a few more bucks on the “classy” AX model
2. Your recreational budget, which often means, the imaginary restraints imposed on you by your non cycling spouse. The obvious solution to this is to simply buy a 2nd bike for your spouse. This trick is pretty effective but if it fails, you might have to trade your spouse for a 2nd bike or sell your spouse and get the Speedster you really want.
3. Your mental state. If you’re a bent nut, just buy ALL of them! Hey, I understand your dilemma. One bent is NEVER enough and, speaking with authority, I assure you that your condition is easily controlled with a few pills.
Whichever flavor you choose, The EZ Speedsters received a good grade from all of us and we think they have earned your consideration.
SUN EZ SPEEDSTER
Highs – Nice handling, attractive, well made, durable, quite adjustable for average riders, great for “robust” riders, affordable
Lows – Shorter riders might need to play with the cockpit lay-out a bit, relatively heavy bikes w/ heavy wheels and sticky tires, sluggish acceleration with Kenda 1.5 tires, rough ride on aluminum version
MSRP Speedster SX $699
Speedster CX $999
Speedster AX $1499
More Info: http:\www.sunbicycles.com