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secondsummertours.com » 2009 » August

Monthly archive of August 2009


RANS F5 Pro recumbent review for RTR Magazine

The beginnings to this particular recumbent review was a long – if a bit circuitous – journey that began with a much different form of transportation; one far removed from my passion all things two wheels. Ironically, I didn’t know much about bicycles or recumbents when my dad introduced me to the RANS name through his own particular love of flying many, many years ago.

But you didn’t come here to read about that other face of RANS that includes a full line of aviation products … probably a good thing since their recumbents won’t set you back six figures like the outlay needed to go airborne with one of their winged wonders.

RANS got their start in the recumbent genre in 1974 with a pedal-and-sail-powered three wheel recumbent (and having ridden through blustery Kansas weather many times in RAAM, I can attest to the advantages of having of a bicycle with a sail option!).

Their recumbent offerings have expanded dramatically in the ensuing years – with over-seat-steering (OSS) being the cornerstone of their short and long-wheel base (SWB/LWB) models. They’ve also developed a reputation for innovative – and comfortable – seat designs that have won over a huge following; impressive considering how outspoken recumbent riders are when it comes to the ‘best’ or most ‘comfortable’ seat.

Team RANS, the four-person recumbent bicycle team in this summer’s endurance cycling event Race Across America (RAAM), put these three decades of R&D efforts to the test – riding over 3000 miles in 6 days, 3 hours and 40 minutes, placing first among the four person teams. The team averaged nearly 21 miles per hour, with the next four-person team, riding upright bicycles, arriving about 7 hours later. Having suffered severe neck pains during my own RAAM solo adventures some 20 years ago (on a conventional time-trial bike); I can attest to the “neck” advantages of a recumbent design in long-distance events like RAAM!

As I’ve noted with previous reviews for RTR, I’m not your traditional recumbent ‘expert’ but I do feel like I have a lot of experience with cycling products in general; and was involved for a good many years with recumbents at Burley Design Cooperative. This was, of course, before they dropped the ‘cooperative’ part of their name and became a corporate entity that dropped all product lines except for the bread-and-butter trailer products. (Editor’s note: Rob has been involved in the cycling industry for over 30 years, including a stint with Burley Design Cooperative and Shimano; and a four time participant of RAAM – finishing second to Austrian Franz Spilleaur in his last race. He now is the owner/operator of Second Summer Tours, a bicycle touring business to exotic destinations).

I’ve also called upon the expertise of several recumbent specialty dealers to get their guidance and perspective on this review, figuring that a single person reviewing a product is generally somewhat limited in giving a full perspective of the pros and cons of a given model.

At last year’s Las Vegas Interbike show (you can see a RTR blog of this coverage at www.secondsummertours.com), I had an opportunity to check out the RANS booth and their outstanding ’09 lineup. While my mission at that particular show was tandems – not recumbents – I had my eye on a few of their top end recumbent ‘racers’. So you can imagine my surprise, and delight, when the ‘keys’ to a new RANS machine were handed to me by RTR editor Chuck Coyne. “Just put together a review of the loaner”, Chuck told me. Such a deal …

Some of you are probably already familiar with the F5 moniker, the popular Rans 650 wheel racer. The F5 and F5 Pro are nearly the exact same frame; with the Pro being set up with 700 wheels. Rick Steele of Gold Country Tandems told me that the “rest of the world will eventually follow Randy’s lead on the use of 700c wheels since 650c sources are drying up. So much more wheel and tire choices with 700c obviously”. Rick knows the fame of the RANS name, and added, “I have been selling Rans in NorCal probably longer than anyone”.

Another long-time fan of RANS, Kirk Newell of Kirk’s Bike Shop here in southern California, commented that “like other Rans models, it (F5 Pro) represents a solid value with good quality at an affordable price”. He did include one disclaimer that I would eventually have to concur with, “high racers are certainly not for everyone …”.

Most high racer fans will appreciate the oversized joint, constant chord rear stays, integrated idler mount, and tight boom length of this model. While all my personal bikes sport carbon fiber cores, there are still plenty of those that find ‘steel is real’ for their two wheel enjoyment. Of course, exotic materials come with a hefty price tag these days, so maybe financial and comfort issues still make this a good material of choice for the racing recumbent crowd.

The F5 Pro does come with a substantial increase in price over its 650 brother, with much of this difference coming from a more sophisticated component package – including a pair of really nice American Classic 350 Sprint wheels, Ultegra crank, and 105 road brakes.

If you have previous experience with 650c wheels, the 700c wheels are probably the first thing you’ll take note of with the ride of this recumbent. I like (prefer actually) the ride characteristics of a 700c wheel setup, and don’t have issues – like some – with getting the wheels up to speed (and I have spent a fair amount of time with 650c wheels to appreciate the differences and advantages between the two sizes). Most folks agreed with my initial observations that the braking does seem to improve with 700 wheels; as well as providing a less-harsh ride.

Most importantly, as Rick noted above, the selection of tires and tubes just can’t be beat – and having been stuck once or twice with my Bike Friday’s unique 20” tire/tube configuration, I know the hassles of tracking down replacements while away from the home shop. While it wasn’t an issue for me, some of you will find seat height isn’t going to work for you with the larger wheel configuration.

After getting comfortable with the wheels, my attention turned to the Hoagie seat – standard for either the 650 or 700c models. It’s a very comfortable, lightweight steel design which attaches with their new V-clamp system. I found the setup to be, as the company describes it, to be “tight in all the right places”. And having experienced firsthand the issue of problem seat clamps with our Burley bikes years ago, I can fully appreciate the seat-clamping performance of the ’09 Rans line.

The official company line on the design features of the F5 Pro follows this take: “The lightweight steel framed seat attaches to the bike with our new V-clamp system. The system features a highly criticized (by the competition, go figure!) quick release pins. The system is tight in all the right places. Look a little closer (and) you will see the system is precisely made to avoid such play. The fit of the attach angles is within a couple thousandths. Clamping performance has been trouble free. This is due to having two top crossing bolts, to maximize the clamping pressure for the given area. I am glad to see the B-Boys have adopted the same idea on their seat clamp. The convenience (of) keeping your seat location is well worth an extra bolt”. A really nice feature, I quickly found, is being able to remove the seat in seconds.

When I asked RANS rep, Carl Boldra, his perspective on the bike,
he stated, “What isn’t to like (with the F5 Pro)? Let’s start with the paint scheme … two tone which is a first (for us)”. And let’s face it, many of us want our bicycle to have a bit of wow factor and style. You’ll get that and more with the F5 Pro – it looks sharp and ‘racy’.

And like Carl, I also found the overall smooth lines – and 4130 chromemoly frame – contributed to a ride that “soaks up rough roads” but is still “nimble and response” when turning. Carl claims “either bike (650c or 700c) is a piece of highracer heaven”. Well, o.k., I did ask him for his opinion…

The stable and predictable handling is due, no doubt, to oversize bearings and the double idler that contributes to less drag. The component group, combined with a carbon fork (reverse brake adapter for better brake choice/handling) and Hoagie seat, has Carl claiming that “100 miles (will) seem like a scenic drive”

While I did find the machine well-suited for longer excursions, I have yet to find any bike that makes a fast 100 mile century a scenic drive!

So how does it ride? And how do my impressions relate to your own level of cycling interests?

This is a machine for what I would term ‘serious’ or ‘sport’ riders – those folks that want to go fast (or at least quicker than most ‘comfort’ recumbents designed for easy recreational/cruising applications). The ride is stable and smooth – I didn’t find any noticeable twitchiness to the handling of the bike on my faster group efforts; and once I got the F5 Pro up to speed, found it to roll along at a nice clip. I found getting the bike ‘dialed in’ (a term I learned years ago from cycling icon John Howard) to be easy and straightforward – a bit of a first for me with the recumbent genre!

I was pleasantly surprised with the total weight of this machine (especially for being steel); I think this contributed to that ‘fast’ feel I enjoyed when on the F5 Pro. I’m more used to heavier recumbents that are a real drag (no pun intended) to get up hills. No problem(s) here with the F5 Pro. Just picking up the F5 Pro to load in the car told me that this wasn’t going to my usual recumbent ride!

The F5 Pro is a fun bike to ride because, for me, it’s a recumbent that rides like my other ‘race’ (traditional) road bikes – it’s a complete, high-performance package that I can look forward to getting on for a day of fast pedaling. I realize that ‘fun’ isn’t a real technical term but most of us got into cycling because that’s what we were looking for in exercise/ride options.

I didn’t have any issues with the F5 Pro component package – not a surprise here as most parts here have been upgraded from the typical lower end stuff that hangs on most recumbents (causing poor shifting performance, among other negatives). I’m used to Dura-Ace stuff on my conventional bikes but, as was the case here, have found the less-expensive Shimano grouppos like Ulegra to be a great option in keeping overall costs reasonable while maintaining the ride qualities any serious biker is looking for.

As mentioned earlier, I like the ride of 700c wheels but your mileage – er, ride – might differ. And the sizing might be an issue for some of you. Which leads to one of the biggest complaints I hear from many riders wanting to see if a particular recumbent works for ‘em. Finding an IBD locally that specializes in recumbents can be a HUGE challenge for riders wanting to do a test ride. And this is one bike that you’ll want to ride beforehand to make sure you can get your own dialed-in fit.

One of the first things I learned from many years of selling and working with Burley’s recumbents, is that this is truly a niche market. Just as interesting to me during those Burley years, were the numbers of riders that always wanted to make just ‘one’ more change to any particular model we offered to make it ‘just right’. Many traditional IBD’s that we sold our product to related their frustrations with selling recumbents because of the high level of service required to get a bike out the door. O.k., I’ll get off the soapbox now.

But if you’re interested in a high racer, find yourself a dealer willing to stock a good selection of recumbents, and take a test ride of this sporty machine. I think you’ll come to same conclusion that I did that the F5 Pro is a lightweight package that delivers superb style while giving you the tools to go as fast as you want at your next event or group ride.

Actually, the more I think about it, airplanes and bicycles aren’t all that dissimilar … something that a couple of brothers with a bike biz in Kitty Hawk could attest to.

Just the facts: MSRP is $3,500, with a really cool silver/charcoal paint scheme. RANS lists the bike weight at 24.5 lbs but my machine weighed closer to 26 pounds (with the usual accessory ‘junk’ like a Garmin computer, etc.). Rider weight limit is 260 lbs. (whew … I won’t have to diet to ride this bike!).

Editor’s note: Rob encourages all of you to come out for his next Second Summer Tours trip with your new RANS machine, and let him know what you think about the ride (just don’t tell him that you have a suggestion for one small change to the bike to make it just right).