And, now, for the Rans XStream. First, I include pictures because the X-Stream is a fine looking bike. Note the Zipp 404 wheel in front! It’s also got Q-Rings and a low-profile, aero front brake with the Shimano 105! That bag behind the seat isn’t just convenient to hold things, it also makes the bike more aerodynamic, saving about 7 watts at 24 miles per hour! I can even GET to 24 miles on hour on this bike! The seat angle is about as low as it can go on this bike, which is about thirty degrees!
(Other racing recumbents go to lower seat angles, down to around twelve degrees, but the tradeoff seems to be less climbing power. By design, the XStream wants to hit the sweet spot between aerodynamics and climbing power.)
Yesterday, I rode 53 miles on the XStream. Today, I rode 31 miles on the XStream. I can say without reservation that it is the most comfortable two-wheeled bicycle I’ve owned. Since comfort is high on the list of things I like about a bicycle, this is incredibly important. After more than fifty miles, I had no recumbutt! This is great news! Even on the Sun EZ-Racer, with it’s fat, squishy seat, I got recumbutt after about forty miles. (Recumbutt is a numb butt from sitting in one position for so long. It’s nothing as bad as upright cyclists have to endure, but it’s not pleasant.)
The XStream is also the fastest bicycle I’ve ridden. This is unsurprising since in 2009 a four-person team won the Race Across America on X-Streams. Seriously, this is a fast bike!
(Unfortunately, there was a kerfluffle over whether or not the time should “count” because recumbents were “a kind of cheating” AFTER they won the race! Even though they were allowed at, y’know, the start of the race and recumbents had been allowed to race before. Except that until the XStream no recumbent had the audacity to win – only after victory did it become cheating after years of it not being cheating? And no one seems to think that aero carbon frames and time trial wheels are “cheating,” though they are as removed from the typical riding experience as a recumbent bicycle! As Randy Schlitter – one of the designers of the XStream and an excellent racer who are part of the team that year – said, “By having the official standings ‘adjusted’ there is no need to seek out faster mounts. It has since become my opinion RAAM is useless for advancing the bicycle form. It only serves to vent some testosterone for a very limited bunch of people.” Eventually, the team would be given the recognition they deserve on the official standings, but it was too little, too late and Rans has not gone back to the Race Across America. Which is a shame, because I’d love to see a Vendetta vs. XStream match-up on RAAM. But it’s hard not to take Randy’s words to heart, too.)
Clearly, the bike is fast. Is it the fastest bike out there? Yes? No? Maybe? What is faster? A bike that does a great time trial but sucks with a cross-wind, or one that climbs well but doesn’t do flats great? A bike that’s great at sprinting, or one that excels at endurance? What is speed? But any bike that wins RAAM must be taken seriously. And in Dayton-area terrain, its a goer.
In particular, on the “Beavercreek run” – which is between my place and Beavercreek, and represents the course I’m most likely to go alone because I have appointments there – my average speed on the Sofrider was about 13.7 miles per hour. My first go at the Beavercreek run on the XStream – and this is after twenty miles already put in – my time was 14.7 miles per hour. I consider this remarkable because I’m still a little clumsy on the XStream and walked it across several roads rather than get pressured by traffic. Not only did I beat my best Beavercreek time, but I also got my highest mile split speed of 23.5 mph, and my second highest, too, at 22.3 mph. On level terrain, I was going between 18 and 19 mph – that was true both today and yesterday. And nowhere was the XStream slower than the Sofrider. When I am more confident on the bike, I fully expect these speeds to increase, of course.
And, not for nothing, going down to Waynesville, I made it there in under an hour. That’s a first, too.
I’m not ragging on the Sofrider, though! It’s apples to oranges. The Sofrider isn’t a racing bike. The XStream is five pounds lighter, and I’m in a more aero position! So, this is not a criticism of the Sofrider, which is a fine bike, but simply some details on how quick the XStream is relative to a faster bike with the same rider over the same course! (Also, apparently, you CAN buy speed on bicycles. Which is probably the reason no one wins the Tour de France on a $200 bike from the sporting goods store.)
In fact, this bike is so good. . . what would any other bike really get me anything more? The XStream is a good all-around speed-oriented bicycle. And it begs the question of. . . how much is enough? Next year, sure, I could likely rationalize to myself getting a Optima Baron. But they don’t do as well in endurance racing . No one is winning the Race Across America on an Optima Baron. So, if you’re racing an hour around the velodrome, you’ll rock. But if you’re on a century in traffic? Less so. The X-Stream is an excellent all-around bicycle. It can even manage fast touring!
For me, absolute top speed isn’t important. As I said in yesterday’s bicycle-related post, after feeling safe, I want to feel comfortable. The XStream is comfortable. It is also fast. The fastest? The real answer is “maybe” or “depends on the situation.” It’s certainly fast enough. However, it might hard to find another bike with a better combination of speed and comfort. The long wheelbase of the X-Stream smooths out bumps in the ride very well, and the thirty-degree seat angle and high bottom bracket means I’m pretty aero.
In the interest of an honest critique, I could see how this bike isn’t for everyone. It has a long wheelbase, so it’s a bit of a pain to transport, and it doesn’t have the best turning radius out there. If you’re going to do a lot of precision maneuvering, this isn’t the right bike. And, because of its laid-back position, there is a fair bit of steering tiller – which one learns, but again limits maneuverability in tight locations.
(On the other hand, I can just sit up in the seat at speed and look over my shoulder. This is a useful trait in a recumbent bicycle. I find myself more confident in traffic – at least at speed – with this bike than any other I’ve owned because of the relative ease with which I can look around.)
There is a learning curve for low-speed maneuverability. My balance is pretty good, so this isn’t much of an issue for me, but if you’ve got dodgy balance it could be a thing. Also, for narrow maneuvers, the steering yolk sometimes offers knee interference, though this is common with many racing recumbents.
Lastly, starting uphill takes some getting used to. On an upright bike, you can push off, swing your foot around, and hit the pedal and. . . zoom, you’re off. You can’t do that with recumbents and combined with the low seat on the XStream, starting uphill can be a pain. But this goes for all racing recumbents, without exception. However, it’s one of those things you get used to with some practice. Nothing is perfect in this world!
(On the other hand, again, it is very easy to stand up on this bike. It’s at the right height to be very easy to get on and off. I find myself just walking it across streets where I’m unsure if I can start quickly – usually because I’d be going uphill and don’t want to be pressured by the traffic. In many ways, it is a civilized bike.)
Overall, given how and where I ride, though, the pluses FAR outweigh the minuses. I love this bike. I’m not sure if it’s easy to love, but it’s my kind of gal. The bike’s name is Emu, because Ethelred the Emu was very certain that this bike is READY.
I will not be so arrogant as to say that this is my last bike EVER, but it’s a mighty fine bike. It’s the kind of bike that people sell because they want to try something new and end up regretting it. This one is a keeper.