Thursday, September 6, 2007

Actionbent Expose' (what makes a good bike)

My new wheel with WTB downhill racer hub that pulls apart for easy access to cartridge bearings and spoke replacement.

Action bent Jetstream ASS [what to look for when buying a bike]

Being a car free couch potato with bad wrists, bad back and a bad attitude. I needed a laid back commuter bike. I couldn't find any information other than professional (witch conspicuously left out information about the seat angles) info-merchials, and I didn’t fully under stand what I needed in a bike. I took a chance and got in trouble. If you have a credit card and plenty money for return shipping you can avoid these problems.

This article will reveal what to look for in a bike. But don’t assume that even the most expensive bikes have all the upgrades I put on this one.

SEAT. When I bought this bike I got the plastic seat “up grade” with a head rest. The photos on the their website are deceptive about the angle by not showing the new seat on the frame. The new seat sits at 15 to 20 degrees with no option to move the seat back to a steeper angle. Other people are having the same problem. No one at Actionbent would respond to my inquiries about this problem. I could have propped up the seat with out moving it back but then there would have been too much weight on the front wheel. And even less room in the cockpit.

I had to build a movable seat bracket (and longer top support arms, mounted at a different spot) to mount the seat at 38 degrees and get 50% of the weight on the rear wheel with me on it.

The seat was not made to be set steeper than 40 degrees and I have to look threw my legs under the bars to see the road at 35 degrees or less.

The pad is one-inch thick closed cell foam with Lycra glued on, then held on the seat with Velcro.

I was amazed that it is enough padding for me. It does not soak up sweat like open cell foam and dries quickly after a good sponge down, not that it is any hotter than open meshed seat backs. And the edges are padded, no sharp edges as with some more expensive seats. I also like the head rest, it is soft enough to keep my head from bouncing much.

SEAT BREAKAGE. After 9 months of riding the seat pushed down on the bracket breaking the fiberglass reinforced plastic. I spent $70 on epoxy repair putty. I should have gotten the original aluminum seat. If your weight is under 200lbs you may not have this problem. 

And now several years later the top bracket broke the plastic! So once again I had to fix it with epoxy putty like goop. Don't use the epoxy resin with fiber glass, it is just too messy! Even Bondo is good enough, but Epoxy goop is much stronger.

ERGONOMICS. Laying back at 20 degrees maybe more aerodynamic but the low crank put me in the same position as standing on the pedals of a ubiquitous road bike, with out the advantage of gravity.

50 to 60 degrees on the seat to crank plane (pedal ready to push position) gives the most torque power on a recumbent. Setting the seat at 38 degrees makes an ergonomic angle of 58 degrees with my frame alterations.

I want to build a bike with a seat adjustment at the flip of a lever. I would use 40 degrees for easy terrain and 50 for steep hills.

FIT. I had to buy a folding stem and wider handle bars before I could ride this machine. My knees hit the bars and they wouldn’t accept bar end shifters. And I couldn’t fit into the “begging hamster” position.

Fitting the new bars I striped he threads on the stem clamp, I had to build an adjustable stem riser. It would have been so much cheaper to convert to under seat steering, but the front brake is on the wrong side to attach bars to the front fork. And you can see the stem is above the seat, that would place the bars too high.

MANEUVERABILITY. The turning radius is disappointing; I can turn a tighter circle on my delta trike. Trimming the bar ends may help but not much. Rack and pinion steering would give the tightest radius. I had to bend out the new bars a bit to keep from gouging my couch potato.

Later I learned to push the handle bars forward for a much tighter turn.

FRAME. The frame is the hart of any bike, all components are changeable. I chose this frame for the strength of the triangulated rear end, only the main tube is air plane steel.

‘Dropouts’ are the weakest points of a bike that’s why Rans makes bigger dropouts. I expect to brake these if I do any ‘fully loaded’ touring. They should be made of wider tool steel. The drop outs on my MTB broke before anything else.

After pushing the seat back the pedals were touching the front wheel at my 40” X-seam. I raised the boom by welding a 2.5” extension to the head tube. Which adds about .75” trail (same as adding a front forks with air shocks), it sits at 67 degrees now. And the pedals are now 4.5” off the front wheel; my heals still hit. So maybe I should of gotten a LWB bike.

FOOT CLEARANCE. Most SWB’s have problems with foot clearance for short legs. I think the pedal centers should be 6” or more from the front wheel at your X-seam. It maybe difficult to turn sharply enough that my heal hits the front wheel but when it does I’m going slowly enough that it can be dangerous, i.e.: starting off at a stoplight when I’m struggling to balance.

Raising my feet to the pedals 32” off the ground is not a problem when laid back at 38 degrees. The crank spindle is 4” higher than the seat cup now.

The only bad thing about such a laid back seat is the need to throw my torso forward in an emergency stop, applying pressure to my arthritic lower spine. And the tendency to fall asleep if I don’t keep my feet moving on a silent trail…?

But I can’t go back to a steeper seat angle because it applies to much pressure on my lower spine. I can ride much longer on this seat than any other.

HEAD SET. Once I removed the front forks to lube the headset bearings I could not put it back together until I added an offset folding stem, because the star nut was not accessible. If they had used a threaded headset it would not have mattered. Some of the expensive bikes have the same problem.

I finally changed the head set bearings to a cartridge bearing unit to hold the grease better.

SUSPENSION. When I ride over a good size bump the air can get pushed out of my lungs. Shocks are very desirable for such a laid back seat. I learned to shift the pressure to my shoulders.

PAINT. The bright lustrous yellow very thin powder coat shows off every spec of dirt. I think galvanizing is the only way to keep a frame from rusting.

WEIGHT. The bike is posted at 32lbs; I don’t really care how much it weighs. The best way to burn fat is to build muscle. Low aerobic breathing.

With my improvements it weighs 45 lbs not including 2 bottles of water, 5lb lock and my 10lb bag. All this is nothing compared to my 290lbs. (half of that is leg muscle?) that’s about 350lbs on my tires.

WATER BOTTLES. I wasted several aluminum bottle cages due to bending and breaking before I discovered stainless steel cages.

RUST. I changed as many bolts as I could to stainless steel (some bolts are not available in stainless) because I once had a bolt rust so bad that I couldn’t get it out. Marine grade bolts should be used on every bike. I also set up the controls with slick stainless steel cables with no brakes in the ‘housing’ tubes. (not found on most bikes)

PEDALS. I use BMX sealed bearing pedals. I have no problem pulling down threw the dead spot with out cleats on recumbents. I tried clipless pedal and discovered a spot that I could not get out of the pedals; I fell over and broke my right side mirror.

The pedals that came with the bike are usable for a while, with rubber grips, much better than some cheap pedals.

CHAIN MANAGEMENT. I had to use a longer chain tube from the hardware store to clear my rear fender. The way they route the chain in the photos is just plain wrong. A chain tube is not needed on the return side. There is a really good chain tube clamp that needed a spacer to hold it.

CHAIN LUBE. The only ones worth trying is ‘Demontech’ (with really bad fumes) and ‘Purple Extreme’ (with mild fumes) Prolink is sewing machine oil and washes out in the rain.

GEARS. I used an old Biopace 170mm 24/38/48 with the Sram 11-32 cassette but couldn’t use lower than 20 gear inches with out falling over unless my cadence is fast enough, so I have to walk up the steepest hills. The 30/42/52 aluminum crank set that came pre-installed was just not right for me.

I changed to Q-rings with a custom 14-34 cassette with no big jumps on the low end (34-32-29-26-23-20-17-14 ). I had to go back to the biopace because the Qrings got so corroded the first time I got caught in the rain. Biopace work better than the Q rings at my slow cadence. But what I really need is long crank arms on a ‘Rotor crank’. Fast spinning is for whipping threw the dead zone. But if your cranking slow because you just can’t get a lower gear.

WHEELS AND TIRES. The Actionbent website listed the tires as 1.5” but it came with 1.25” Kenda kwest on 22mm Alex DA16 rims 32 14gauge stainless steel spokes, on really cheap hubs. The drive hub clicks as loud as an old Shimano free wheel.

I used the rear wheel for a few months to find out how bad it is: I had to get the thing trued, and found that there are several different sized spoke nipples, how cheap is that?

I replaced the wheels with replaceable sealed cartridge bearings and 28mm rims, and better tires: Swalbe Marathons.

It infuriates me that the bicycle industry will not make a good high pressure, large diameter 26”combination “street/ trail” tire. My ideal tire would be a 1.75” Kenda Kross at 85psi; simi-slick center strip flanked by rows of knobs for stability on gravel.

WHEEL SIZE. A 20” drive wheel will give you a lower gear and slightly shorter chain. This bike uses a about 2.3 regular chain. (aprox. 128”)

RIM DAMAGE. The rear wheel lasted only 6 months before aluminum flakes showed up in the pads. I think it was a scratch on the rim that started it. But my mechanic says it happens often, and that I may need to replace my rims once a year. I wish I had invested in a bike with disc brakes!!

PUNCTURE PROTECTION. I tried Spin Skin tire liners; But discovered that a used tire with Kevlar belt with the bead cut off works so much better. Two tires together is worth the extra weight and slowness if you’re commuting on winter nights. Combined with thick thorn resistant tubes, I don’t get flats. But I still avoid broken glass.

Green Slime and their liners never worked for me. Mr tuffy liners are thicker than the Spin Skins but with out the woven fabric, and they cut the inside of tires worse, unless the edges are flared by scraping with a knife.

FOOT NUMBNESS. I get plenty toe numbing from pressing on the pedals too hard, but found that by placing the arch of my feet over the center of the pedals it is not so bad. And stiff soled

MTB shoes with thick gel pad inserts help even more (I need lower gears and faster cranking for a lighter touch). But having the pedal ready to push at the same level as the seat cushion is better for blood circulation.

THE RIDE. The first day I spent several hours riding in figure 8’s on uneven ground, falling over several times. It would have been much easier on a flat space with plenty room to turn.

The first time I got up to the high gears down hill I felt like I was going to crash. I really wish I had some training wheels.

After the first four mile ride I was ready to trade it in on a long low chopper bike. After riding to town a few times I felt I could eventually control the squirmy steering.

VISIBILITY. one cloudy after noon some near sighted dolt driving in a trance almost ran me down from the rear. After telling him where to insert his dangerous driving he came back and blamed it on my lack of visibility. Well what am I supposed to do? Use a large police light? The brightest bike light is only a spec at 100ft in the daylight. I got some high visibility lime yellow shirts from Aramark.

I found a 6” diameter LED brake light at the car parts store and set it up with a flasher. But I think I may need a video camera to catch this kind of driver.

Some places the police are blaming cyclists for all kinds of shit.

RIDING THE BUS. The 41” wheelbase of this bike makes it possible to fit into the racks of a transit bus. I tried 3 different buses; on one I had to fold down the bars to keep them off the windshield wipers. The smaller the bus the more the seat interfered with the drivers view. A fold down seat is the best way to deal with this problem. I never know if I will get a space on the bus for the bike so I get there early, the best kind of bike for a bus commute would be a small fold-up carrie-on.

TOURING BAGS. I had to use a Rans front wheel rack as an under seat rack to put the bags in the center of the bike (for better balance.)

COMPONENTS. I foolishly replaced the Tectro levers with Shimano LX that have plastic clips to hold the cable ends, that brake easy. The cheap Shimano Acura rear derailleur may be ok. Even if I did break one off my MTB years ago.

DEALING WITH ACTIONBENT. They answered only the emails I sent about purchasing replacement parts; but not until I sent a snail mail. They don’t like to answer technical questions, but then the folks at Hostel Shoppe didn’t answer my questions about foot clearance on their SWB bikes. Rolf Garthus did ask me to phone him about the questions. But my email is still blocked at the Hostle shoppe because I ask too many questions???

When I sent the money order for the bike I got it within a week, surprising. But after all my town is very close to the wear house. They were willing to post some idlers to me via U.S. Mail rather than UPS. I never did try to phone them.

When they found out that I had changed so many things on their bike, they said, “it takes all kinds”. Well I’d like to see what they say to my face!!

VERDICT. For short rides the only bike that would be more ‘fun’ than a SWB is a center pivot Swing bike, but for long rides a long chopper bike can’t be beat. Buy this bike for a teenager; don’t buy it to save money! I lost track of how much I spent on this bike, just do the math yourself. The only bikes I recommend are the Velotechnik street machine and the Rans v2 formula.

To make a bike easy to balance, 65% of the weight should be on the rear wheel and have a 50 degree steep angle with a long wheel base.

For bad backs the only thing to use is a laid back hard shell seat. More vertical mesh seats can cause a lot of pain for arthritis and pulled muscles.

The crank bearings are regular machine bearings held apart by a tube.        
This looks like they are larger ball bearings than the usual crank ball bearings that are very small, even if they do use two double races to make up for the smallness.

Short crank arms for easyer cranking up hills:


Haner said...

If you can remember, can you elaborate on exactly HOW you made the adjustable seat bracket and support arms for this bike? I recently picked up one of these and am contemplating something similar. Thanks!

Prodromal said...

I made the top brakets out of aluminum flat bar with a drill and file, held in a vise. The bottom of the seat is held in place by two muffler clamps with a new braket welded between them. Time consuming but much cheaper than a machine shop.