Recumbents and Hills

a.twiddler

Über Member
Or, my Linear and hills.

Yesterday I went to Newcastle (Staffs) on the old Linear. I went via an indirect cycle friendly route and included a steep road which runs through Halmer End and Alsager's Bank before getting over the top and going downhill through Knutton into Newcastle. There are no indications such as chevrons on the OS map to indicate any ridiculous gradients and since I hadn't met a hill I couldn't eventually climb on this recumbent to date, I was up to the challenge of getting over the top.

Now that I have access to a lower gear range including a 20" bottom gear (which is kept as the nuclear option and rarely used) I felt that I could tackle anything my upright can manage, even mild off road if the comedy dimensions of the frame would let it fit through any barriers.

Anyhow, the trip went well for the most part. The road was pretty much all uphill anyway once into Staffordshire, and a gradual (and not-so-gradual in parts) climb brought me to Halmer End where the gradient steepened. It slowed me down, but I had plenty of gears in hand so felt optimistic at this stage. I carried on through Halmer End to Alsager's Bank where the gradient steepened again. I began to find not problems in keeping going, but a struggle to keep the front end pointing where I wanted it to go. I glanced over my right shoulder at one point, and the front wheel wandered to the left, causing me to stop. I restarted and found it took all my concentration to stop the front end wandering, even with fiercely concentrating on a point far up the hill rather than the road in front. Eventually I reached a slope of at least 20% and just couldn't keep a straight line. I got off and pushed for about a hundred yards to where the slope eased to a more moderate 14% or less and was able to ride from there over the top in a fairly normal manner.

I was a bit disappointed about that. The key seems to be the ability to keep going above 4mph as once you get down to 3mph it's a bit hit or miss unlike a conventional bike where you can maintain balance and direction almost to a standstill.

The rearward weight bias and lightly loaded front wheel seems to be an issue. Whether lower tyre pressure in the front, or a bag of spuds at the front would help, I don't know. Compact LWB bikes such as the Bike-E are reputedly even more prone to this problem with further rearward weight bias and a tiny front wheel. I don't think it's just me, I think it's the design. Fortunately it has enough virtues to outweigh the drawbacks for me. An occasional walk up a hill is not the end of the world, despite what my younger self would say about needing to ride up anything without getting off, or even getting out of the saddle.

I am curious how highracers, lowracers and other SWB recumbents manage on such extreme hills, potentially having more centralised weight distribution. Is it a balance thing, related to your head being relatively low, or is it an inherent recumbent thing? Even tadpole trikes have issues on really steep hills, depending on the design. They can climb really slowly on low gearing but can have rear wheel traction issues.

Despite that surprising hill climbing revelation, the 44 mile odd trip was quite enjoyable overall and taking 5 minutes to descend what took me 35 minutes to climb was quite a buzz, as was the high geared low effort trip back to Cheshire down the lesser hills I'd climbed on entering Staffordshire.
 

byegad

Legendary Member
Location
NE England
I had an AZUB-4, SWB 20/26" and mine had 81 gears. It had a gear range from 150" down to 15". In the lowest gear I could just about balance at 2.6mph, according to the on board computer. Like any other bike there's a limit to how low you can go and 15" was most definitely it. In a higher gear, like 20", and pushing the pedals rather than spinning, the front wheel would leave the ground at that speed, but using a deliberate spinning in 15" gear at the same speed it didn't.
 

Ming the Merciless

There is no mercy
Location
Inside my skull
I have a lightning P38 and it’s fine even on Hardknott type gradients. The front wheel not lifting is all about weight distribution and cadence. You don’t want too high a torque, but you don’t want it too low either. Front wheel drift on steep gradients is a problem affecting uprights as well. It’s why you have riders sat right on front of their saddles leaning over their bars trying to get up the grades, without lifting front wheel or losing traction.
 
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a.twiddler

a.twiddler

Über Member
So .... a SWB can lift its front wheel if provoked. The LWB Linear might be sensitive to the effects of the front wheel lightening due to the pulsing effect of pedalling uphill, but at 88" long it would be a sight to see if any daylight could be detected between it and the road. The point about lower gearing allowing smoother pedalling might hold a solution. The 20" gear might be enough to actually propel it uphill but for smoothness and ability to hold a line perhaps lower is better. It would tend to lead to even lower speed using the same legs as before which might become self defeating.

It's possible lowering the front tyre pressure slightly and somehow unloading the rear carrier and putting weight forward might help. The frame size of my Linear is a medium but to accommodate my short legs the seat is already well forward, so perhaps it's already at its optimum weight distribution for its type. The largest cog on my rear 7 speed cassette is 28T but Shimano did one up to 32T which might make a difference. This could lead to other problems with having to replace the enormous part worn chain, RD capacity, etc

The Big Apple on the front has noticeably calmed down the front end in terms of twitchiness. I wonder how much further I might have needed to push it uphill with a 37C on the front?

It's a really weird sensation once the mph drops below a certain critical speed. Whether the pedalling at low speed somehow causes unwanted body movements to be transmitted to the USS bars, whether my reactions to the distant front wheel suffer from a time lag at these speeds which makes unwanted inputs worse, or I just can't react fast enough, the result is as if I've suddenly forgotten how to ride a bike, and I have to stop.

Maybe the solution is as simple as just finding a nearby hill and getting in loads of practice at getting up it as slowly as possible. In traffic I can ride really slowly in anticipation of traffic lights changing or stopped vehicles moving before I get to them so that I don't have to put my feet down then relaunch. Adding in the load on the frame and pedals, this ought to be a transferrable skill for getting uphill.

Thanks for the input! Keep it coming, it's useful to hear other recumbentists' experiences.
 
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dave r

Dunking Diddy Dave Pedalling Pensioner
I have a lightning P38 and it’s fine even on Hardknott type gradients. The front wheel not lifting is all about weight distribution and cadence. You don’t want too high a torque, but you don’t want it too low either. Front wheel drift on steep gradients is a problem affecting uprights as well. It’s why you have riders sat right on front of their saddles leaning over their bars trying to get up the grades, without lifting front wheel or losing traction.
It happened to me once a long time ago on my upright, I've never ridden a recumbent, my regular ride was the Coventry Road Club medium ride but I would sometimes go out with a touring club, everybody but was on triples with bottom gears like dinner plates, near Banbury one afternoon climbing towards the Herb centre I had to go off the front, I couldn't go that slow on my bike, a bit further on it was becoming obvious my bottom gear wasn't low enough and I might have to get off and walk, at the same time I started to have trouble keeping the front down, I finished the climb without stopping in the end, at the time it felt like I was driving the back wheel under the front.
 

404 Not Found Anywhere

Well-Known Member
I can confirm that the BikeE turns into a recumbent unicycle on relatively modest gradients! If anyone wants advice on buying one, I’d say to get an XL size frame. The L (which was the standard) is especially prone to unicycling if you are anything above slightly less than medium height.
 

numbnuts

Legendary Member
Location
North Baddesley
Rear 11-32
with the 20 you will have to mod the cranks to make it fit, but it's only a quick job

View: https://vimeo.com/7203326
 
Yep this is definitely a problem, but actually, one that decreases with skill and practice. Keeping it upright at slow speeds is a real art, but can be learned. I got so I could almost track stand my Linear on level ground, which helps build skill for climbing. One trick is to not be afraid to use steering movements that would seem excessive on a normal bike, while still avoiding overcorrection. Another, paradoxically, is to keep the bars almost still, but weight shift from one to the other to use body weight. When to use which strategy is the dark art! The Linear is never going to be a great hill climber, but practice can make a difference I have found.

My SWB lowrider is less of a problem, but can still ‘stall out’ on steep gradients. I was doing OK if slowly up a notorious local hill the other day when I was momentarily distracted by something interesting in the hedge -instant stall!

Of course, as tricycle riders like to point out, theirs is the ultimate solution to this particular issue!
 
OP
a.twiddler

a.twiddler

Über Member
I have noticed that exaggerated and quick movements of the bars can give a few more yards of straight lining eg to reach an easing in gradient just when you think you are going to have to stop. I haven't tried the weight transference thing yet but if it works I will certainly use it. On level ground and in traffic I can almost trackstand when it comes to waiting for lights to change or for a vehicle in front to move. Of course on the level you can keep pushing on the pedals against a little pressure with the back brake but that's not something you can easily do going up a steep hill. It seems to tighten up the frame and steering. Though maybe a light finger pressure on the brake might be enough.....

That is why I found it so surprising that steering control was lost at extreme slow speed up a very steep hill. I thought that I'd cracked that issue, certainly I thought that I had low enough gearing to climb anything if the steering could be persuaded to behave. One of my thoughts was maybe it just needs more practice, but finding a suitable extreme hill near me is not so simple. Many people probably just walk up difficult hills when riding diamond frame bikes anyway but I still have that nagging sense from my younger days that you ought to remain seated if you have the gears and just ride up everything as a matter of principle, no matter how slowly.
 
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a.twiddler

a.twiddler

Über Member
Well, today I followed your lead by putting a 24T stronglight ring on the front to replace the 28T that was there. The rear has a 28T biggest cog but the hub gear reduces the gearing by 15% in low which now gives me a bottom gear of approx 17.5 inches instead of 20-odd which might make the difference in smoothess next time I have an excuse to climb that hill.

It may be that it's a gear too far and it's not possible to actually ride that slowly but it was cheap, it's an easy mod to make and worth it if it just tips the balance if you'll excuse the pun. Just need a test ride now in case the changer needs a tweak, or the chain needs a link out. Chain should be OK as big/big hasn't been affected but small/small might need more wrap. It's a very long and saggy chain which up to now has worked well with no need for idlers.
 
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a.twiddler

a.twiddler

Über Member
Following a modest test run I can confirm that the gears change and run as easily as before. Just need to have a go at a proper hill now.
 
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