Evening all. So, as I sit here in the dark, I realise I'm probably overdue a review of the Schlitter Encore that's recently joined my stable. Well, before we get going on that, there's a few things I need to disclose that might colour the value of this post. Firstly, Dave McCraw I ain't. Although a fairly accomplished 'bentrider, my exposure is limited and I'll likely not be comparing like for like. I don't have his experience or knowledge, so my apologies. Next, when I say 'limited', what I mean is since switching exclusively to 'bents in late 2008, I've logged somewhere north of 50,000 miles on a variety of bents, mostly dutch, all with suspension, none with 700c wheels, no high racers, mostly balloon shod, and with rubber that disregards rolling resistance and weight in favour of avoiding spontaneous anaerobics. I have just over a thousand miles of over seat steered experience, but its all on a bike that's considerably longer and at least 25 kgs heavier than the encore. All in, the Encore has a lot of firsts for me. So, with all relevant disclosures out of the way, what can I share? Purchase: If you're considering your first 'bent, you should know that buying a recumbent doesn't really fit into today's 'on demand' retail experience. Its very rare that the bike you're buying will exist before you purchase it, and the whole industry is plagued by an 'actuation lag' that can keep your investment firmly in the ethereal for at least a couple of months after ordering. If you're accustomed to walking into a store, handing over some cash and wheeling out on your shiny new steed, this can be a bit of a bind. Similarly, more often than not you'll get to curate the components:- handpicking derailleurs, bottom brackets, brakes, hoses and crank sets as the answers to an ever expanding list of questions slowly come in. What works on uprights won't necessarily work the same when the chain is 3 times as long, the derailleur post an unusual size, the crank arms shorter, the power train deviated by jockey wheels and pivots, the brake levers upside down, the gear levers inverted, and both at least two metres from the rear hub... I've developed a technique that blends bike shop style RRPs with a hopeful guarantee of fit, and the occasional 'too good not to try' bargain from close out sales of online retailers. Either way, I tend to ratio about 50% spare parts after any build. In this regard, Schlitter seems no different from any other boutique manufacturer. Yes, the Encore gets the supreme attention to detail that you'd hope for on a tiny production run. Yes, each Encore is individually tailored to match its owner. Yes, each Encore is beautifully finished and smartly thought out. But when you commission a bike like this, what you gain in quality you lose in speed of delivery. Against a conservative delivery estimate, mine was probably still 2 months late. That's two months spent wondering 'will X work with Y' regards shifters and derailleurs, cassettes and chainrings, hoses and brakes and... well, you get my point. Comms were excellent throughout and I cannot fault Julien or the Schlitter team for their ceaseless attention in providing updates or answering my increasingly nonsensical questions. Score here, neutral. It is worth the wait, and that is strong praise Set up Here's where the Encore shines. There is no standard Schlitter. The frame you commission is built to fit you, and even after it arrives you can interchangeably use 130 or 135 dropouts, 26", 29", 650b/c or 700c wheels, 23mm skinnies or 42mm knobblies, discs or callipers, mudguards, conventional racks, seat packs, or whatever you can stuff in your pocket. With a second set of wheels and judicious sprocket choices, you can have your fast road bike double as your commuting tourer. Per my opening comments, I've already got commuters covered, so saw my virgin 700c as a chance to go fast. That meant speccing an ultralight racing seat (under 20 degrees) and a lot of shopping. With so many choices ahead of me it made sense to me to begin narrowing the choices by setting a few components in stone. First up were the wheels. I've long hankered after a truly pretty wheelset (too much utility in my world) and being freed of unusual sizing constraints I was able to choose something that met all of my needs. That meant: - black/white/red colour combination to match the frame (coordinated bikes go faster) - deep rims (envy brought about by too many sightings in town). - disc rotors (I'm too accustomed to the stopping power of BB7s to want to try callipers). These compulsions cut through the potential option paralysis, and I ended up with a pair of disc specific FFWDs which are shockingly light. I paired them with a set of Schwalbe Durano Plus Etapes (hesitating briefly over the yellow decals) as I'm not yet quite ready to go full on weight weenie when it comes to durable rubber. Next up was the drivetrain. The measurements I gave the builder assumed 165mm cranks, and the SRAM Red Exogram GXP 53/39 offered me a decent top end without compromising on weight, stiffness or (the all important) colour palette. Bar end shifters give me resilience and simplicity, and the standard recumbent pairing of mountain range cassette (SRAM PG1070 11-36) with a long cage rear derailleur afforded me geriatric compatible climbing. That pretty much enforced my choice of front derailleurs, and stopping briefly to fit a braze on adapter to bring the Encore's native 28.6mm band-on post mount into range, the SRAM red brought me home. Sheldon says the gear inches are 28.5 to 126.6, the gain ratios 2.2 to 9.7, the speeds 5.1mph at 60rpm and 45.2 at 120. At the point when all of this arrived, I'd not yet received the frame, so Sheldon's word (as ever) was all I had to go on. I'd recently fitted a hydraulic front brake on my commuter, and loved the feel so looked to recreate that front and back with the Encore. This was probably a mistake, to be honest, as when the frame arrived I realised it meant unpicking the carefully threaded internal cable runs, dismantling the brand new hydros, and fitting new 2 metre hoses. I also couldn't find a fork to go with the desired 140mm front, so ended up with a 160. Finally getting the chance to sit on a part assembled bike, I soon found the flip side of the boundless variability. The open cockpit allows considerable adjustment of bar angle, height, and reach. The seat can be moved fore and aft by about 5 inches, the front lip up and down a couple of inches, the shoulders by more like nine. Although the frames are sized individually to match each rider, there's no marking telling you where anything goes, and you can't help wondering whether the millimetre perfect boom length and careful front/rear weight distribution has been realised in one's approximation of placement. For me, micro adjustments to bike setup have a close parallel in the lumbar support dial of my first car. Previously utterly ignored, I once stumbled across the adjustment whilst sat at lights, and since touching it have always been conscious that its not quite right. I find an inherent danger of dissatisfaction in constantly tweaking things, and after an initial bedding in period tend to just leave my body to get used to it. If you're a tweaker you'll have a lifetime of fun ahead of you. If you have unusual proportions, worry that you're too short for a high-racer, or too tall for a stick-bike, I'm pretty sure the Encore has got you covered. Score here: Brilliant. Non suspension aside, you're only limited by the depth of your pockets. The ride For the first month of ownership, domestic and business obligations meant the furthest I travelled on her was back and forth to my local bike shop. Given that's less than a mile, I didn't really get the chance to stretch her legs. Last weekend, I finally got the opportunity to give her a decent run, taking in a 4 hour dash through Kent lanes to bag our first 100km. All caveats aside, how did she fare? Bad stuff first: Well, I certainly noticed the absence of suspension, getting a buzz in my hands and back from the chipseal. That's to be expected from high pressure skinnies and a super rigid frame, so no minus marks here. I've not set her up as a tourer, and I got buzzed no worse than I'd expect. Suspension and big rubber has spoilt me here, I feel. She's twitchy at low speed and prone to wandering off her line, though that is more likely to be my inexperience rather than an innate fault in the bike. The route gave me ample opportunity to test the handling, performing a prolonged negative descent at below 5mph, and an adrenalin fuelling downhill at close to 40mph. I ran out of bravery before I ran out of gear inches. I suspect moving the seat forward a touch would help with the balance, but all in there's nothing there that experience won't conquer. Forward visibility through the J-bars is not anything like as good as the out of sight/out of way undersea steering that I'm used to, but still works in most circumstances. It was a touch frightening being tucked in behind my buddy, as there wasn't really opportunity for me to see the floor between his rear wheel and mine, and his body blocked the view of the road ahead. Again, this is probably just a case of getting used to things, and learning where to position myself. Its much better than my other OSS bike in this regard. The bar reach as I'd estimated it was probably a little long. The 'superman' style riding position is more tiring to me than the USS I'm used to, and I should probably bring it back in a few inches to see if that improves things. Now the good stuff: She's more social than the StreetMachine (the drivetrain hasn't yet developed all the purrs and clicks and clanks of my normal ride) and brings my head much closer to the ears of my roadie friend. I'm not worried about being 'high enough to see' as none of my bikes are really low and most drivers can see paint markings on the road. She's more generous than the Furai. There's no chain/wheel/pedal interference, and although both run north of 110psi, the Encore feels much faster. She turns sharper than the Seiran, and you can feel far more of the power get transferred to the road than either of the Challenge frames allow. Her spin up speed is close to ridiculous. My ride buddy is much more accomplished, far fitter and considerably stronger than I, and yet, I don't feel I held him back at all. On the flat or (even better) a slight descent, she'd ramp up to speeds I would not have thought attainable for the effort I'm currently capable of. And once she's there (and believe me, just resting a foot on the pedal will summon the horizon and chuck it under your wheels) she seems content to stay that way. I was never really conscious of pushing on the flat. Just a fly eating grin, and the occasional grunt from my buddy. If I ever get back to fit, she is going to trouble an awful lot of roadies. I'll report back in when I've had the chance to take her out again. For now, I have to suspect I'm the only thing holding this bike back. Score for ride: Excellent. I specced her as a fast day bike, and she most certainly is. Details: As built, 11.34 kgs ready to ride, mostly towards the front. I'll look to add another 70g to that in a pair of bottle cages mounted to the seat back, as I suspect this will become my long distance ride of choice. And now, pics!