Sunday, August 17, 2014

HP Velotechnik Upgrades

The great Eddy Merckx once said "Don't buy upgrades! - Ride up grades!"

Indeed wise words from one of the best bicycle racers the world has ever seen.  If the goal is to go faster on a bike that is some good advice to follow.  Because I'm not a bike racer at all my aspirations are a bit different.  One of my goals;  the one that brought me to recumbent bikes in the first place, is comfort.  In this post I'd like will write about a couple recent upgrades I've made to my recumbent in pursuit of rider comfort that I have found worthwhile.

My bike came stock with a 52 tooth chainring on the triple crank for a high gear.  I've ridden the bike over 3,500 miles with that big ring and have long since come to the conclusion that the bike is over-geared for me.  I'm not a powerful rider.  My strength lies in long steady endurance.  For the first hour of a ride while I'm fresh I could turn the 52 tooth gear utilizing most of the cogs on the cassette in the back.  As the miles add up and fatigue set in I found on longer rides I was shifting to the bigger cogs if not shifting down to the middle ring in front to make pedaling easier.

At the Harris Cyclery website I found just what I was looking for;  This fine 48 tooth chainring made by French component maker Specialites TA. The ring is exquisitely machined in the classic style and bolted up perfectly to my 130mm bolt center crank.  I long ago shifted to a 50 tooth ring on my road bike and found that gear better suited to my riding but for the recumbent I decided to go a couple teeth smaller still to a 48 tooth trekking size ring and now I find I use a much greater range of the cog set.  Multiple hours of riding and I'm still turning the 48 comfortably.

Riding up grades is easier too!
 A second upgrade for the summer that I can't believe I waited so long to do is this HP Velotechnik adjustable headrest.  

I ordered the rest from the Hostel Shoppe were I originally purchased my bike.  This component also easily bolted up to the Body Link seat back to existing threaded sockets.  

A slotted carbon fiber strut allows the height of the rest to be set and an alloy top piece can adjusted to various angles to dial in perfect fit.

On the first test rides my 13 year old son came along.  He has developed into a pretty good rider himself and I am proud of him.

Local Loop
Ride Time:  58:24
Distance:  11.79 miles
Average Speed:  12 mph

Kokosing Gap Trail
Ride Time:  2:12:23
Distance:  26.77 miles
Average Speed:  12.1 mph

On these rides I let my son set the pace.  I was impressed with his steady cadence.  Gone are days of his inexperienced speed up-slow down riding style.  On the 13 mile return trip back up the Kokosing trail he actually raised our average speed by 1 mph! 

Over the last week I've put in some more miles fine tuning things for maximum comfort and efficiency on the bent.  One thing that didn't occur to me right away was to recline the adjustable seat back to capitalize on a more aerodynamic position.  When I first got the bike I tried reclining the back all the way but found that with out a head rest the position was just too laid back to be comfortable.  Ever since I simply left the seat adjusted to its most upright position which struck a good balance in comfort. 

Now with the head rest installed I can lower the seat way back and take all the stress off my neck muscles which used to have to hold my head up.  I rotated my handle bars back just a touch to make up for the recline and now I notice I seem to slice even better through headwinds.  Before using the head rest I thought rough road surfaces and bumps would transmit annoying vibrations up through the rest but that's not the case at all. The foam cushion does a great job and I only have to pick my head up for the biggest surface irregularities. 

B & O Trail
Ride Time:  2:21
Distance:  37.3 miles
Average Speed:  15.8 mph

Quarry Loop
Ride Time:  3:27:10
Distance:  50.29 miles
Average Speed:  14.5 mph

So while I have increased the comfort level of my bike substantially I'm also surprised that I may have made it touch faster as well.  Checking back through my records this recent ride of the Quarry Loop was the fastest yet on the recumbent.  The only time I've bested this time was in 2007 when I rode the Lemond road bike on the loop at an average speed of 16.32 mph finishing the 50 miles in 3:10.


  1. Hi,

    I too wonder why the head support is an option. Since i bought it, I am much more relaxed, especially uphill.
    I also ordered a flag and added a mirror; seeing the bent down flag in the mirror is especially rewarding: it means that the relative wind is faster than 50 kph (31 mph)!
    I still have to test the transparent aerodynamic shell, which is a bit expensive, and I hope that it brings some protection against the rain.

  2. I like the aero water bottle holder.

  3. And I have the opposite problem... I want to change my big ring up front from 50 to 52, or maybe even 53. I'm ok with the set up the way it is when I'm on my own, but soon as I start to ride with the fast boys, I need a bit more speed on the flats, and o'course on the descents, too.

    I am a bit jelly that you get to enjoy good rides with your boy. My youngest son is 11, and he had become quite the rider by the time he developed a speed wobble and crashed travelling quite fast downhill last year. Now he figures he is safer on a longboard... :S

  4. Dear RCT,

    Congratulations on your nice looking short wheelbase recumbent, and its upgrades.

    Most recently, I have built myself a "classic" randonneur-style bike, with the Velo-Orange Polyvalent frame and an eBay 1998 Campagnolo Triple x 9-speed Chorus Gruppo. I am very "house-proud" about it! One has to admit, Starley's diamond frame is a very robust design.

    But your SWB recumbent looks equally great. I have a c. 2001 bicycle, the bicycle with the unfortunate, unspellable name, "BikeE"; BikeE, which can be rendered either "Bikee", "Bike E", or "Bike-E" on eBay. Not a lot of good thinking there in creating the company name and logo.

    I got this bike from a guy who had a better one, [perhaps a Rans Lightning or something-or-other?]. He wanted to give it away, but I said I couldn't do that, so I paid him $100 in about 2007 for this blue behemoth. It came with a scratched up Zippr fairing.

    I rode the bike a few hundred miles at most, I liked it, but it had two bête noires, first, I'm short, 5'4" on a good day, and this behemoth, is the LWB model. Turning it around feels like turning around the U.S. Presidential limousine in front of Britain's 10 Downing Street--i.e., one hell of a chore or backing and filling!!

    Second, the AD-5 rear shock, has almost from the beginning, been a real headache and pain in the ass!! It has been rebuilt at least twice by bike-shops, but it's been blown out again, and I feel like I'm riding with my ass directly on the pavement.

    Anyway, thanks, RCT, and more later. I love your Ohio Penitentiary photo essay. Excellent.

    David Pearce,
    Washington, D.C.

    1. Thanks David!

      I like the Velo-Orange products too. Tells me you are a man of impeccable tastes. If I didn't have a garage full of bikes VO would be at the top of my list. As I get older I find myself drawn to the classic styles of bicycles with lugs and such.

      About my short wheel base recumbent I'll admit most of my decision making when I bought the HP Velo was based on how good it looked. Of course HP's reputation for good design and quality builds sealed the deal. My first recumbent was a long wheel base bike also. It was good to learn on but it was heavy and didn't fit with what I wanted out of a recumbent. The SWB designs are much more responsive and sporty and I'm happy as ever with mine with the recent additions.

      Thanks for your comments and contribute any time.