The Bike

It's a 1998 model RANS Rocket. This style of bike is known as a recumbent (a.k.a. "bent") and has many, many advantages over an upright bicycle. The Rocket is a short wheelbase, 20" front and rear wheel, above seat steering configuration model. Mine is exactly the same as this one except it is black. RANS manufactures many types of recumbent bicycles as well as kit aircraft.

Why a recumbent?

Probably for the same reason that I use Apple computers and drive a Honda Insight: they each offer superior performance and excellent efficiency. There are innumerable benefits to owning a recumbent:

  • Riding position - The seat is a far cry from the "wedgie" seats common to the typical upright bicycle. This seat has a heavily padded bottom and mesh back that is very comfortable. The rider position allows for better visibility and the arms and hands are in a relaxed, natural position rather than being tortured by the handlebars. Even after a full day on the bike nothing but the legs are sore. Nothing beats the comfort of a recumbent.
  • Aerodynamics - The frontal area of the rider is reduced by about 30% and there is no "pocket" of air like upright riders have at their waist. Since 90% of the effort exerted by a cyclist goes to overcoming wind resistance at speeds over 15 mph, this is a significant difference. Recumbents are inherently faster than uprights and hold all land speed records for human powered vehicles.
  • Light weight - This model weighs in at 25 lbs. which is comparable to most touring and racing bikes. This cycle is forged of extremely durable steel that gives it a very strong frame. Weight savings come in the form of smaller wheels and less frame material than that of a typical upright. The only thing that is comparably heavier is the seat and extra chain length.
  • Parts availability - A misconception is that the parts on this bike are unique to only 'bents and are hard to find. The opposite is true! Most components on this bike are the same as those found on mountain bikes whose parts are more common than road bike parts these days. The wheels and tires can also be replaced in a pinch anywhere that children's bikes are sold. I read of a person on tour who bent a front rim. In a bind, he went to a K-Mart on a Sunday afternoon (when the bike shop was closed) to buy a new wheel but they didn't have any so he bought an entire BMX bike on sale for $35.00. He took the front wheel off the bike for his own use and left the rest of the bike at the store for spare parts. Every part that I have upgraded or had to replace was purchased from regular bike shops.
  • Safety - Recumbents are inherently safer than uprights. The rider can see more of his surroundings which makes collision avoidance easier and he is closer to the ground in case of an accident (shorter distance to fall). Motorists tend to notice and yield to recumbent riders more since they are such unusual vehicles. In terms of touring on a recumbent with a trailer, the center of mass is closer to the ground than an upright with panniers making for a very stable ride. Read more at the safety page.
  • Fun Factor - This bike is just plain fun. People notice. People ask questions. People want to ride it - really bad!

Why this model?

This configuration matches my riding requirements and looks decent too. Other configurations look simply goofy. I wanted a bike with the same wheels front and back since it is easier to carry only one size spare tube and tire. The short wheelbase 'bents are more maneuverable, are generally lighter, and look better than long wheelbase recumbents. I find the above seat steering to be more natural and comfortable than below seat steering and provides a location for a mirror, computer, GPS, radio, bell, and headlight. Mounting these items on a below seat steering model is difficult at best.

RANS has a repuation for building high quality bicycles with superb features and handling. They have been in the business for a long time and pioneered features that other manufacturers have since copied.

How does it perform?

I find the ride to be exhilarating and quite fast. I can cruise on a flat, level road with no wind at a sustained speed of 22 mph for a few miles but can sustain 17 mph indefinitely. My top speed on such a road is around 25 mph. Recumbents are quite unstable going up hill at extremely low speed so my minimum speed is 4 mph - that's when I dismount and use shoe leather. Hill have to be quite steep for walking to be in order. My top speed down hill is 41 mph. Anything faster than 30 mph is very hairy with the trailer, though.

My average speed over varying terrain on a loop is usually 15 mph. I regularly climb a total of 800' in a 20 mile loop and average a little better than 15 mph.

With a load and net elevation gain my speed drops somewhat due to additional air resistance and rolling resistance of the trailer. On fully laden trip from Lock Haven to State College, PA I averaged 13.8 mph. It was a 36 mile trip with a net elevation gain of 720' and I was hauling 65 lbs of gear (too much) in the 11 lb trailer. On 45 mile training rides with the gear I am taking I average 15.2 mph with a total of 1120 ft of climbing.

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Updated 3.29.03
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Lawrence J. Flint