A nice pair for your Scorpion fs 26

Dear Robert,

I ride a sleek blue-gray HP Velotechnik Scorpion fs 26 with white accents that is the ninth or tenth love of my life.  It has a body link seat, rear rack…all whistles and no bells.  Will a pair of HPV’s Moonbiker panniers mount properly?  If not, which others might be my pleasure?  My only requirements are that they look as attractive as the trike and have excellent capacity.

Yours truly,

Dear Zing,

You’re right to require that a pair of panniers look as good as the trike.

Usually, the Moonbiker or Radical Design panniers are suitable, but not this time: they won’t lay properly on the Scorpion fs 26’s uniquely shaped rear rack.

However the Ortlieb Recumbent Panniers are a very nice pair, with 54 liters capacity.  They are attractive, waterproof, aerodynamic, with a fiddle-free mounting system.  As you might imagine, they’re not cheap but, like most Ortlieb products, you’ll want to hold onto them for the long-term.

These Radical Design bags are also good choices, though with less capacity.  They’re attractive and a great option if you don’t feel ready to commit to one or the other: if you have trouble choosing, go with both for 35 liters total volume.

With Body Link seat: Solo Racer wide (10 liters) or Banana Racer (25 liters)

With Ergo Mesh seat: Universal Racer (10 liters) or Banana Racer (25 liters)

Have fun, and play safe,

Radical Design Universal Racer

Radical Design Banana Racer

Radical Design Solo Aero

Robert Matson
New York City Recumbent Supply
The Innovation Works, Inc.
copyright 2013 Robert Matson

Reader question: Ortlieb Recumbent Backpack or Radical Design Rack Bag?

Dear Robert,

I have an HP Velotechnik Speedmachine, using one Ortlieb Classic Plus.  In time it made the rack bend and it touches the rear triangle when the suspension works.  Wanted to move to a rack bag- more aero and balanced.

Read your article about the Ortlieb Recumbent Backpack, but the Radical fits me more IF its convenient to fit to the rack. So how is it compare in that area?

Thanks a lot,
Aero and Balanced

Speedmachine mit Untenlenker
HP Velotechnik Speed Machine

Dear Aero and Balanced,

Congratulations on your good taste as demonstrated by owning a Speed Machine. Before we talk about bags, I need to say that I’m surprised that the rack of your Speed Machine has become bent on one side to the point that it touches the rear swing arm when the suspension is compressed. Have you overloaded the rack? Have you been carrying cinder blocks in your saddle bags? Or sand? Is your rack broken? Is your bike broken?

The contemporary design of the Speed Machine and its rack are such that it’s hard for me to imagine how they could come into contact. Though, I suppose if you actually bent the rack, and twisted it sideways, and bottomed-out the suspension, you could make the two come into contact (while voiding your warranty).

Keep in mind that racks (and the bikes on which they are mounted) have payloads and intended usage. If you exceed that payload, or use the thing for something other than that for which it is designed, you may break or bend the thing, whether it’s a rack or bike or shock or wheel or whatever. The rear rack of the Speed Machine has a maximum payload of 55 lbs. (not kg, but lbs.). The max. payload of a Speed Machine is 286 lbs. (not kg.), including you and whatever bricks and cinder blocks you’re carrying. Bending of the rack (or whatever) shouldn’t occur as long as you don’t overload (and thereby damage) the rack (or whatever). At least, this is true for HP Velotechnik’s machines. For other manufacturers, this may not necessarily be the case.

[Later.] To satisfy my curiosity — could it be true that the HPV SpM’s rear rack can touch the swing arm? — I went over to the shop’s demo Speed Machine here, which has a rear rack that has been (properly) installed and which rack (and bike) is neither bent nor broken. I sat on the rack, all 165 lbs. (not kg.) of me in order to bottom out the shock and see if the rack can touch the frame or swing arm. It doesn’t. It doesn’t come anywhere close. Nor does it jiggle. Nor does the rack bend when I sit my ass on it. If you have a Speed Machine (or any HP Velotechnik) where the rear rack contacts the frame or swing arm, then you have a damaged machine or rack. Was your bike assembled incorrectly? Was it in an accident? Did your cousin run over it with his car and not tell you?

Rackbag Extended
Radical Design, Rackbag Extended

Ortlieb Recumbent Backpack

As for the Radical Design Rack Bag versus the Ortlieb Recumbent Backpack, they are both great, durable bags and I’ve used both for hundreds of miles. They are equally easy to mount and un-mount to the rack-top. The RD bag has a nice capacity (30 liters), is lightweight (720 grams), and is water resistant (waterproof fabric, but no waterproof zipper or seams). The Ortlieb is almost half the size (17 liters) and is comparatively heavy due to the excellent waterproofing (980 grams) — it’s so waterproof it’s nearly a dry bag — and the backpack straps are a cool thing; the Ort. also has nice pockets for organizing and a port for the hose from a water/drinking bladder. Both will give you some aerodynamic benefit. The rack on the Speed Machine is short compared to that on touring bikes like the Street Machine or Grasshopper, but my experience has been that both bags fit fine.

In summary, I’d make my decision based on capacity and whether I was riding/living in a wet climate.

All best,
Your Recumbent Bikologist.

Robert Matson
New York City Recumbent Supply
The Innovation Works, Inc.
copyright 2013 Robert Matson

What I’m riding in town these days.

This is a Cruzbike Sofrider loaded with groceries, including kale and swiss chard.

For the past few months I’ve been riding a Cruzbike Sofrider around town as my city “beater.”  The Sofrider is a capable commuter and touring bike, but it’s not immediately obvious how properly to attach luggage.


I’m using an Old Man Mountain Sherpa rack, here shown with standard Axiom rear panniers packed with groceries.  The Sherpa is a well-made, versatile and strong rack that you can install in the manner intended by the manufacturer, which is what we want to do for best results.  I’ve attached the rack’s vertical struts to threaded bolt holes just forward of the rear dropouts.  The forward “horizontal” supports attach to the rear caliper brake bolts.  This is a secure fitting and allows for a decent real world payload.  It is easier to install a seatpost-mounted rack, like the Topeak models, but their typical payload ratings of 20 lbs. isn’t enough for (my) grocery shopping.  For those concerned about weight, be aware that the 32-ounce Sherpa is not lightweight.  Also, note that the rack is rated for a payload of 40 lbs.  My belief is that the rack will support a heavier payload for a short time, but for a longer trip I’d stay below the 40 lbs. payload rating. (Errata: I had  originally written in this post that the luggage is fully suspended when using the Sherpa rack, but the luggage is not suspended since the rack is attached directly to the rear wheel.  If one were to use a seatpost-mounted rack, then the luggage would be suspended.)

Seatback bag.
I’m using a Radical Designs Solo Aero on the back of my seat.  You can buy it from New York City Recumbent Supply.  This is an excellent, well-made, capacious bag of 12 liters volume.  That’s about half a good-sized daypack.  It quickly slides down over the seatback and comes off just as fast.  With the carrying strap it’s easy to manage.  Reflective tape on the back.  Comes in five pretty colors.  I love it.

Wearing a lock.
Another detail that makes the Sofrider good for a city bike is that there is a hole in the frame where you can string a lock.  While riding, I loop a chain-style lock two-times through the frame and under the seat.  The lock hangs a bit loose and sometimes makes noise, but it hangs out of the way of the wheels and contributes its weight in a useful place — right under the seat.

Where are the fenders…
I haven’t gotten around to adding fenders and I’ve suffered for it.  I need to add them soon.  The last rain was cold and wet and dirty.

Sherpa installation.
On the Sofrider, I want to keep the weight forward of the rear wheel as much as possible so the front wheel doesn’t lose traction on the hills.  So, I’ve mounted the rack backwards, with the rear of the rack turned to the front, to bring the carrying rails as far forward as possible.  Then, I mounted the vertical supports such that the curve of the vertical adapter moves the rack forward of the rear axle.  I have also used the fender mounting holes in front of the axle.  This is not so much to move the rack forward as it is to allow me to use my front wheel Pitlocks on the non-drive (rear) wheel.  The installation would be stronger if I attached the vertical supports to an extra long quick release through the axle, but I much prefer to keep the wheel locked.  So, I guess I’m living on the edge a bit.  If I had done this for a customer, as opposed to for myself, I’d have used extra long Pitlock skewers through the axle and mounted the rack’s vertical supports on those extra long skewers, because that is really the right way to do it.  Notice that the mounting rails on the Sherpa come well forward of the rear axle.  It’s easy to load the panniers so the weight is forward of the rear axle.  When the rack is installed like this, the front drive wheel maintains a good grip on the street even with heavily loaded panniers.

Have fun and stay healthy,

Robert Matson
New York City Recumbent Supply
The Innovation Works, Inc.
copyright 2012 Robert Matson

Radical Design recumbent bags. Now available here.

I’m very pleased that the first Radical Design bags arrived.  I had high hopes because they also make HP Velotechnik’s excellent panniers, but they’ve more than exceeded expectations.  Wow.  Designed very practically for recumbent riders, the bags are light, attractive, aerodynamic, well-made, and highly adjustable to fit nearly any bent.  Made in the Netherlands, for real.

Radical Design’s Banana small side panniers with 40(!) liters capacity.
Depending on your seat, a rear rack may not be required
for carrying groceries or minimal touring gear.

Radical Design’s bags are unique in that many do not require racks (but some do).  Some slip onto seat backs (no tools required), some simply hang from the seat, and others, especially the larger sizes, while they do require a rear rack, do not require an underseat rack, reducing weight as well as overall cost.  In addition, several of the designs are easily mounted on bikes that do not easily accept racks, like Cruzbikes (CB Quests come with a rack).

The panniers are streamline-shaped and are either tucked under or behind the seat, or partly in the slipstream.  I’ve done day-rides with the large panniers and prefer them over standard frame touring panniers which tend to feel like you’re dragging bricks through the wind.  While I continue to be a fan of waterproof Ortlieb panniers, Radical Design offers a larger suite of products designed specifically for recumbents, greatly increasing the options for bent riders who need to carry stuff.

Radical Design’s Solo Aero 12 liter seatback bag.
That’s a fabric bottle holder on the side.

There is an enormous variety of bag sizes, styles, and carrying capacity, from small, medium, large, and extra-large.  There are small bags for day riders, medium bags for commuters, and their large panniers for touring have as much capacity (70 liters) as an expedition backpack.  Seat back bags come in several different designs to fit nearly every recumbent seat, whether narrow or wide, mesh or hardshell.

Radical Design’s 30 liter Rackbag Extended weighs only 720 grams.
Serves as a soft-shell tail box for improved 

They also make attractive and roomy rack-top bags.  Unlike the rack bags designed for standard frame bikes, which are generally of small capacity, Rad D’s rack bags take advantage of the fact that they sit in the slipstream, where large doesn’t matter (if they’re light).  In fact, large can be better: these rackbags serve as a  soft-shell tail box, improving the bike’s aerodynamics and speed while providing ample low-weight storage.

Here’s an interesting comparison.  Radical Design’s Rackbag Extended, versus the excellent and rightly popular waterproof Ortlieb Recumbent Backpack-Rackbag, versus Topeak’s MTX TrunkBag DX:

Bag / Capacity / Bag Weight
Radical Design’s Rackbag Extended / 30 liter capacity / 720 grams
Ortlieb Recumbent Backpack-Rackbag / 18 liter / 980 gms
Topeak MTX TrunkBag DX / 12.3 liter / 1020 gms

There are people who pay huge bucks to save that much weight on their bike and get this kind of aerodynamic improvement.

For those who prioritize color and style, the bags come in five attractive colors: “dusty” yellow, tomato red, blue (royal blue?), “dusty” Dutch orange and then flat New York black.  (New Yorkers, listen, you no longer  have to choose between black and black!)  All bags have good reflective strips.  Water-resistant, but not water proof, making them lighter in weight, but if you’re riding through a lake, put your laptop and sleeping bag in a dry bag.

Contact me for more info. and to get some.

Have fun and stay healthy,
Robert Matson
New York City Recumbent Supply
The Innovation Works, Inc.
copyright 2012 Robert Matson

Ortlieb recumbent backpack: got one, love it. But check your rack size.

Not me, not my pony tail, but it is a nice photo of
Ortlieb’s recumbent backpack and panniers in action.
(External link. Photo thanks to therandonneeshop.com).

Review: Ortlieb recumbent backpack. Got one, love it, but verify size of rear rack.

I’m a New York City Ortlieb dealer, just so you know.  Call me biased, but if I thought there was a better bag, I would have bought whatever was better. The Ortlieb recumbent backpack is the bag I use as my racktop bag.

On a typical day-long ride, it carries my water bladder, the day’s clothes, food, maps, rain gear, “ten essentials”…. Coolest thing is that it sits in the slip stream and I’m convinced it gives me a slight speed increase in the same manner as the very cool (but now discontinued) Terracycle tail sock.

The Ortlieb bag has nifty backpack straps that attach (click, click, click, click, easy) to turn it into a surprisingly decent daypack. Water bladder drinking tube goes through a standard-sized sealed hole so pack contents stay dry in the rain. The reflective patches are 3M or similar quality — VERY bright and positioned for good reflection both to back and sides. All in all, it’s a great bag. I wish it were cheaper, but when you see it, you’ll understand — very high quality and built to last.

Rack size can be an issue. I use it on a 4 1/2″ wide, 18″ long HP Velotechnik rack (as on the Grasshopper, Street Machine or Scorpion). It’s designed for racks of this dimension, pretty standard for Euro bents. It wouldn’t work as well on a narrower rack like a Tubus or a shorter rack.

The Ortlieb “recumbent backpack” on a Grasshopper fx,
on the George Washington Bridge, during a two-day trip
through Harriman State Park. Nice bag.

Hope that helps.


Robert Matson
New York City Recumbent Supply
The Innovation Works, Inc.
copyright 2012 Robert Matson

How much capacity required when touring light?

“Would you like four panniers or two?”

A customer — who rides a sky blue Volae Century ES — named Wylie (see her excellent blog Couch Surfing Cook) sent me a link to a nice site about long distance touring: www.skalatitude.com.  This blog, written by a female cyclist touring solo, contains tips and ideas that apply to anyone, male and female alike, who wishes to bicycle far.

She specifically directed me to an entry about lightweight cycle touring with only two panniers, a minimal amount of carrying capacity.  It challenges the notion that long haul cycle tourists need the capacity provided by four panniers.  This is a welcome and interesting voice in the discussion around ultra-light packing as we continually seek knowledge on how to travel “better.”  (I define “better” as “safer, more fun and more expeditious,” just so you know where I stand.)  Is it better to pack minimally and light?  Is it better to pack for comfort and security?  How do we pack and prepare for the most common and/or serious pitfalls?  Do we carry a water filter or iodine?  What goes into our first aid kit?  Synthetic or down jacket?  Tent or tarp?  Shoes or sandals?  Each of us determines our own comfort zone in the continuum.

Before I get into a discussion about bag capacity, I’ll make clear my position on the subject of packing for preparedness: I pack for safety above all else because if I don’t arrive safely, I don’t arrive.  Secondly I pack to have fun, because that’s why I do trips.  Thirdly, I pack only the essentials that I’ll need to get where I’m going.  I carry tools to repair every element of my bike.  I carry water purification and a stove when I’m in remote areas.  I always have backup lights and batteries.  I carry a first aid kit that is larger than my Western Mountaineering sleeping bag and I know how to use it thanks to Wilderness First Responder training.  And, fortunately, at this time, I’m healthy and strong enough that while I do count pounds, I rarely count ounces; bike weight is of minor concern.

Going forward now, I’d like to delve into a specific aspect of the article, concerning the writer’s two-pannier baggage carrying system, and translate it for short wheelbase recumbent bikes.  Sometimes the wisdom about bike touring needs to be translated over to the recumbent frame.

How much capacity do we need and where do we mount it?

Optimal bike handling (a.k.a., safe bike handling) is retained by loading the weight near the center or gravity and low to the ground.  So, on a standard frame (“SF”) bike, generally people load a bike in this order: 1. frame packs (water bottle cages, seat bottom, center triangle); 2. top of the rear rack; 3. handlebars; 4. large panniers on the rear rack; and 5. small size panniers on the front fork, if necessary.  All the while, one seeks to keep the weight low (food, water, tools go at bottom of rear and front bags).  Unlike bents, SF bikes lack the option of mounting low rider packs in the center of the bike.

On a short wheelbase (“SWB”) recumbent, optimal handling is retained by loading as follows: 1. low on the back of the seat (at the center of gravity); 2. frame packs; 3. small panniers under the seat; 4. large panniers on the rear rack; 5. rack top; and 6. high on the back of the seat.  As on a standard frame bike, a bent handles best if you place heavy items as low as possible.  Unlike SF bikes, SWB bents rarely accept panniers on the front fork.  As for traditional handlebar bags, they are generally unmountable and all the bent-specific versions I’ve seen are minuscule.  (If you know of an exception to this, send me the link [rmatson AT theinnovationworks DOT com].)  I suggest loading bents in this sequence because one’s upper body weight is not available (as it is on a SF) to comfortably counter-balance a lopsided load (e.g., top heavy or side-weighted).  Also, an improperly loaded bent may tip at low speeds or in slow sharp turns, and no longer track easily when guided by hand, as when walking through a train station or up a steep hill.

In terms of carrying capacity, a challenge for SWB riders is that large size “rear” panniers — usually the first panniers we’d load on a standard frame bike — will scrape the ground on steeply angled turns when mounted under the seat, in a bent’s first loading zone.  So, the first bags we load are small capacity panniers under the seat.  What I find is that those are quickly filled and, even for just a weekend tour, I soon need another bag on the rear rack, whether it’s a rack-top bag or a rear pannier (or two).  As a result, even on short trips, it is not unusual for me to use a four- or five-bag setup, but with half-full bags!  My objective is to properly distribute the weight so the bent handles well.  Optimal handling translates directly into safer riding which, since safety is my first priority during a trip, is paramount to any other consideration, including whether a half-full bag adds wind resistance or an unnecessary pound of weight.  What is interesting is that a good bent, properly loaded, will handle almost identically to how it handles without any load and it is precisely this quality that makes a (good) bent a welcome traveling companion.

Here’s a photo of my bag setup for a two-day bike camping trip in rainy weather but moderate temperatures (50-70 F day, 40-50 F at night).  It shows two small underseat Ortlieb bags plus a rear rack bag with bungee net to hold rain gear.  On the frame I’ve mounted a bike lock (since half the trip was in urban areas), odometer, map and pepper spray.  I carry a water bladder, the day’s food and extra warm layers in the rear rack-top bag which is an Ortlieb recumbent backpack.

HP Velotechnik Grasshopper fx loaded for an apx. 160-mile weekend trip, from Brooklyn, NY, to Harriman State Park and around about and back.

Here’s a photo of your humble servant looking “high-vizible” and slightly unshorn.

New York City Recumbent Supply owner Robert Matson.

As for analyzing what to pack and how to lighten the load, I will hold off for now but will continue to post articles on that subject as I find or write them.


Solo Female Cycling Around the World

[The same] Solo Female cycling with “only two panniers.”  Includes her gear list.  I like the way she picks up and adapts gear that she finds along the road.

Recycling the World
David publishes his gear list from two round-world trips. Both gear lists are streamlined and small. Him and his wife Julie have some nice photos too.

Robert Matson
New York City Recumbent Supply
The Innovation Works, Inc.
copyright 2012 Robert Matson