Rain or shine, every Saturday in Santa Cruz, California at 8 am sharp, a training ride for roadies takes place. It’s called, appropriately enough, The Saturday Morning Ride and it’s been a tradition for over 25 years. I’ve been on this ride a few times. It’s a rush. When the weather’s good the group can exceed 100 athletes including Olympic hopefuls and professionals. The leisurely promenade through town gradually becomes an all-out dash fifteen miles down the road. It’s difficult and prestigious to win this sprint, a high-speed affair thanks to the big pack and the long gradual downhill at the ride’s end.
I was lucky enough to be there the day Freddy Markham came out on his Easy Racers Gold Rush. Most of the regulars were there that morning and none of us knew what to think about Freddy being in the pack on that rolling rocket. There was no sitting in behind him to get sucked along because his streamliner was so low-profile, so close to the ground. And it was worrisome to think what might happen if he made an aggressive move in the bunch on such a long-wheelbase rig. We didn’t worry long because Freddy methodically worked his way to the front. And when he got there — he took off. I think we all thought the same thing, something along the lines of, He’s not going anywhere.
We were wrong. Repeatedly, the top guns went to the front revving the pace, in the process sawing off half the group and stringing out the rest. But, even with the hammers trading pulls, we couldn’t close an inch on Fast Freddie and he blew across the line many lengths ahead of the first wedgie.
It was that image that came first to mind when Easy Racers’ founder Gardner Martin offered his newest model, the TI Rush. I also wanted to be the first writer/rider to test the first production titanium recumbent. After all, there’s only one negative to titanium: high price. The TI Rush, equipped with Super Zipper fairing and Shimano parts for example, runs a spouse-shocking $5,279. But before you decide it’s not worth the hassle of trying to convince your significant other that you need it, consider that titanium is an amazing material. It’s light, durable, resistant to corrosion, beautiful and wonderfully lively to ride. In fact, my favorite conventional mount, a Litespeed Vortex, which is made of ti has been such an awesome performer that I often tell people it’s the only bike I’ve owned that almost pedals itself.
Easy Racers’ TI Rush has similar ride qualities. You feel the light weight (26 pounds 15 ounces without the fairing) immediately. But more noticeable is the way the frame floats over rotten roads, absorbing small shocks that otherwise would vibrate your fillings loose, a feature that translates to much less fatigue on long rides.
There’s also the wonderful feel of titanium, which truly seems to help with pedaling. It’s almost as if you’ve purchased a built-in tailwind. I once held a scrap piece of titanium and tried to bend it. I flexed it well past the point that a steel sample would have yielded. Instead of bending, the ti piece sprung back as straight as it had been. I believe it’s this resilience that contributes to pedaling. The frame kicks in with a little boost for each foot thrust.
This is noticeable any time you accelerate and every time you climb. And, it’s not simply the novelty of riding a new material. Each and every time you get on this ’bent, the feel is there. All the people I let try the bike commented on the surprisingly easy pedaling.
Titanium has other advantages. Once of the nicest is that it can’t corrode. Pedal the TI Rush in the rain all you want. Shoot, take it on dirt roads or through the snow. Tie it to your yacht and spin through distant ports. The moisture, mud, sweat, toxic ocean air — conditions that would trash a steel or aluminum bike — won’t faze the titanium at all. And all it’ll take to spit shine the brilliant polished finish is a little soap and water. Longevity like this is a super feature, particularly if you’ve ever retired a bike due to the frame rusting or corroding.
The TI Rush is built of 3Al/2.5V titanium tubing by Steve Delair, the same framebuilder who designs, constructs and sells Rotator recumbents. Craftsmanship on the pre-production prototype I tested is very clean. The frame configuration is basically identical to the aluminum and steel Easy Racers designs with a triangular main frame construction and twin bottom tubes adding lateral rigidity and a custom look.
My only gripe is slight difficulty removing the rear wheel. But Easy Racers has already addressed this on production frames by moving the brake bridge forward and reshaping the dropouts to ease wheel removal.
One word pops into my head every time I head out on this bike: civilized. The wide padded seat, the chopper-like wheelbase, the low stance and the luxurious Zipper fairing make one feel protected and pampered.
Partly it’s because the cranks are low (13 inches off the ground) making it very comfortable to plant your feet. A major contributor is the windshield, which blocks gusts, bugs and debris from blasting your face and body. It’s a treat on cold or wet days or when fighting a headwind. It makes me want to try even more protection such as Easy Racers’ full fairing kit. This $695 option, one of the most popular upgrades offered by the company, includes a special Zipper fairing, rear rack, rear support and a Lycra sock that envelopes rider and bike providing free speed. Interestingly, it only adds about 5 pounds and is easy to remove and tuck into the fairing (or a bag) should extreme sidewinds cause handling problems.
In a recent issue of RCN, there was an article about the Easy Racers seat and how it could numb one’s bum. I experienced a certain amount of posterior paralysis initially. I’m used to mesh seats and this seat is a multi-ply foam platform with a carbon/Kevlar base. It’s easily adjusted by loosening two nuts beneath that allow the seat to slide forward or back (back angle can be adjusted by loosening the clamps holding the rear strut). There are even three sizes of seat bottom available for different-shaped riders.
The shape of the seat bottom feels perfect, just wide enough for support without interfering with leg movement. And the padding soaks up big bumps. But sitting on a foam cushion takes some getting used to. I rode with cycling shorts and regular shorts and had minor numbness under my sit bones for the first week of rides. During the second week however, the numbness was less bothersome. I believe that if you ride regularly enough, the numbness will disappear.
A recent option from Easy Racers is the Cool Back, a mesh design seat back (the frame is made of welded stainless-steel tubing) that mates with the standard seat bottom. This option adds $100 to the bike price. It’s cooler than the foam seat and it cradles your back more. You sit in this seat whereas you sit on the other design. The Cool Back offers additional support but the foam back touches less of your body. Plus, the foam back is narrow, allowing a rider to apply body English on different parts of the seat to control the bike better when cornering hard. If you’re an aggressive rider, you’ll probably lean toward the regular seat. If you’re more touring or comfort oriented, you may prefer the Cool Back.
Like the seat, the handlebars are quite accommodating (three sizes are available), sitting right where you want your hands and controls to be. Steering is stable so that it’s easy to ride one handed if you’re inclined to cruise resting an arm in your lap. Shifting can be located on the bar ends with fingertip levers or mounted inboard of the grips with twist shifts or thumb levers. I like the two bottles mounted on the handlebars, which are easily reached and watched for checking the water situation on long rides.
Having most recently spent my time on an ultra-quick short-wheelbase ’bent (Lightning R-84), I half expected to be bored by the TI Rush. The steering is certainly more mellow. But that’s expected from a 69-inch wheelbase. Fact is, you can almost ride this bike no-handed, it’s so determined to pick the right line for you.
You master the feel of the long wheelbase quickly. You only need to tip the knee on the side you’re turning to out slightly to make surprisingly tight slow-speed turns.
If you’ve ever ridden a tandem, you have an idea how a long-wheelbase bike can excel on descents. Speed increases stability so you sail down hills fearlessly. I’ve been tearing around corners I’ve braked around in the past dropping ride partners and on one occasion, a trailing car (gotta love that). Some of this extra speed is thanks to the Zipper fairing, which seems to allow a top end considerably greater than without. But you only feel comfortable at these higher speeds because the TI Rush road manners are so civilized and manageable. Sweeping through corners, there’s total control.
You can really roll up the miles on flat terrain. Again, the fairing cuts down on headwinds and airborne debris so you feel like you’re cruising along surrounded by a forcefield. I notice a reduction in wind noise, warmer hands, feet, legs and torso and just feel generally more refreshed at ride’s end. Of course, having a wind break adds to average speed and I cruise along comfortably at 17 mph average speed on rolling rides.
Climbing is better than most other long-wheelbase recumbents I’ve tried but slightly less sprightly than the quickest-climbing short-wheelbase ’bents. I’d attribute the improvement to the lightweight and responsive titanium frame. I attacked several 2,000-foot ascents and was able to maintain a steady pace over the top, even overtaking a tourist on a conventional mount one day.
Easy Racers’ Gold Rush, which has an aluminum frame, has been a great selling model, so I rode one to compare its ride with the TI Rush. I expect this is a decision many buyers will face. There’s a major difference in price but only a slight ride difference. What I feel is increased stiffness, and less liveliness from the frame when you accelerate. This is not to put down the Gold Rush ride. The bike handles superbly as you’d expect from such a popular ’bent. It’s just that the titanium frame pushes the performance a notch farther. Whether it’s worth the $2,000 added cost or not only you can decide.
Commenting on the TI Rush componentry would be irrelevant, because my test rig is set up with a mix of ’98 and ’97 Shimano parts. Easy Racers will build the bike with your choice of components. The frame comes with a pump peg, making it easy to bring along an inflator, and there are the two bottle mounts I mentioned. I wish for a way to carry some gear so I’d recommend getting a seat or handlebar bag to tote a tool kit, jacket, food, etc. (A neat feature is that some panniers will mount directly on the seat struts, meaning no rear rack is needed.) I also couldn’t seem to keep from striking the chain with my right calf when the chain was on the large chainring (it gets a lot of use on this bike). A friend fashioned a leg/pants protector out of a piece of Cordura and two Velcro straps. He puts this on before riding as a grease catcher. Another approach might be to add a spacer between the pedal and the crankarm to slightly move your leg away or even to adjust the cleat to hold the foot outward slightly.
When you buy an Easy Racers bike you also receive a goodie bag, which includes tools for adjustments, spare nuts and bolts, a tube, derailleur cable and assembly video, which includes riding tips. You might consider one of ER’s carbon fenders as well if you plan to ride in the rain, because it’ll protect you from crud thrown off the front wheel.
With such noteworthy machines to sell, it’s not surprising Gardner Martin and Easy Racers are doing well. I picked up the TI Rush at the new 10,000-square-foot facility located near the Watsonville, California airport. Being familiar with Gardner’s former digs, basically a spruced-up barn, it’s great to see such a bustling new factory and hear that production is expected to triple, now that they have the space to improve efficiency.
Like any major bike manufacturer, stations are set up assembly-line fashion, with stock and supplies stored near each step of the build process. On one end are racks with tubing for building the frames and the welding stations where the frames are hand built on fixtures. In another area workers painstakingly assemble the various components that make up the seats such as the lightweight carbon base and the composite foam pads and the Lycra cover that gives the seats a professionally finished look (it’s removable for laundering too).
Two rooms off the main factory floor house the painting area and grinding and polishing station. The wheelbuilding center sports Park Tool Company’s new ultra-precise truing jigs, piles of spokes, hubs and rims. Overhead hang a hundred or so frames waiting to be built and shipped to owners around the country and beyond. Workers in the center of the work floor man workbenches and repair stands pulling parts from bins beneath to assemble the various model ERs they happen to be working on.
As you might expect, Gardner has more ideas than he has time to bring them to fruition. He plans to go after another speed record (Martin’s bikes were the first to break the 50- and 65-mph barriers); is considering tandems (he’s built a few already), maybe a new model (I’m sworn to secrecy) and then there’s that airplane on the drawing board. Judging by the success he’s had and the stellar performance of his latest offering, I’m certain whatever he launches next will be a huge hit.
200 Airport Boulevard
Freedom, CA 95019
|Type||LWB above-seat steer (ASS)|
|Seat height||21 inches|
|Bottom bracket height||13 inches (ground to center of spindle)|
|Weight||26 pounds 15 ounces (without fairing)|
|Frame||triangulated 3Al/2.5V titanium|
|Fork||chrome-moly steel Unicrown|
|Seat||carbon/Kevlar base; foam padding; Lycra cover|
|Crankset||Shimano Ultegra triple 30/42/52|
|Bottom bracket||Shimano Ultegra sealed|
|Derailleurs||Shimano Ultegra (front); Shimano XTR (rear)|
|Shifters||Shimano fingertip (handlebar end)|
|Cassette||Shimano XTR 11-30 8-speed|
|Wheels||700C Matrix (rear); 20-inch Sun (front)|
|Tires||Cycle Pro (rear); Continental (front)|
|Hubs||Shimano Dura Ace 32 hole|
|Brakes/levers||Shimano Ultegra sidepull/Tektro|
|Warranty|| frame: lifetime; fork: 5 years;|
seat: 1 year; components: 6 months
|Fits riders||5´ 2´´ to 6´ 4´´|
|Price||$5,279 (as tested)|