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Speed Ross / Orbit Crystal recumbent bicycle review


Between 1998 and 2006 I had two Speed Ross recumbent bikes (sometimes people like to call them HPVs or Human Powered Vehicles). I found them to be marvellous machines to ride, which is why I bought a second after managing to break the first.

The first Speed Ross

The first Speed Ross that I owned was a very early model with solid fibreglass seat. I bought this one second hand and used it for commuting, racing and a bit of touring until it eventually fell apart.

Racing at Hillingdon circuitRacing at the World Championships in Brighton

While it was involved in an awful lot of adventures, such as touring in Exmoor, London to Cambridge, a fair bit of racing including the HPV World Championships in Brighton, it was not a "lucky" bike, and broke several times. The first thing to break was a connection between the seat stays and the seat. After these were repaired, the handlebars very amusingly came away in my hands just as I arrived at work one day (having been weaving through traffic on the way), then the bottom bracket casting under the seat broke apart and the boom fell off when I put the added weight of a front fairing on the bike !

It'd done a lot of miles, and it required a lot of ingenuity to keep the bike on the road. I learnt to braze (not terribly well, mind you) and also made fillets of steel to strengthen the handlebars and add to other bits of the bike to try to keep it together. I also had to bolt a piece of steel under the seat to keep that together. The aluminium boom had to be welded back together elsewhere.

You might wonder why I persisted with the old Ross, but it really was a wonderful bike to ride !

The Second "Speed Ross"

I eventually reached a point where so many repairs of differing quality had been made to old bike that I no longer trusted it. However, I still wanted a Ross. I was lucky to be able to buy one of the very last "Orbit crystal" framesets which I built up with many of the same components as the older Ross had used. This turned out to be a much better bike. I think it's fair to say that the later Ross bikes and the Orbit bikes were much more robust (mine never gave me a moment's trouble).

Racing in Palmer Park velodrome, Reading

Also, the newer bike with its mesh seat was much lighter than the older one (just 12.5 kg), the seat being more reclined made it more streamlined and the new bike was considerably faster. I now started to do reasonably well within my class at the BHPC races and this bike also twice made the journey to the Dutch Cyclevision HPV competition in Lelystad.

I had a triple chainset on the older Ross, but found that this provided an excessive range of gears. I fitted the new bike with just a single 46T at the front and a 12-28 7 speed block at the rear. This resulted in a range of 43" through to 100", which provided a low enough gear for any hill and a high enough one that I could ride as fast I can ride. It also keeps things simple. I fitted a front derailleur fixed in a single position after a nasty fall when my chain came off on the Eastway circuit and I fell on the hairpin due to trying too hard to catch back up with the group I'd been with before !

Much to even my surprise, adding a basket fairing at the back also made the bike faster and I used to race with the basket fitted because of this (but not with the trailer, of course).

Videos

Two videos, both of which show the yellow Speed Ross. Hillingdon / Hayes in June 2002. I came fifth out of eighteen in my race, third in "sports class":

Two hour BHPC race in Castle Combe in May 2002, in which I was 25th out of 41, sixth in "Sports Class":

The results are here and here.

Equipment

I used double sided flat / SPD pedals on both my Speed Ross bikes.

I tried a few different tyres. On the back I used various racing tyres from Michelin or Specialized, but on the front with the 20 inch wheel (ETRTO 451) there is a much smaller range available. I tried the IRC Roadlite and found it incredibly fragile, but the Primo Comet worked very well. This was probably the best tyre in that size at that time and that is what I used most of the time. It's quick (quicker than the roadlite), has adequate grip and lasts well. These days perhaps a Durano or a Stelvio (if you can find one) would be quicker.

Regrets...

This was a wonderful bike and I wish I'd kept it. Oh well. You can never go back... I now ride and race a Sinner Mango Velomobile, which is actually much quicker. I also still have my Pashley PDQ.


Our webshop has a special section with some of our favourite parts for recumbents, including tyres and lighting.

I have also toured on recumbents and you can read those stories on the bicycles page.

For more bikes, ride stories etc., return to my bicycles index.

The reason for selling bikes was so that we could emigrate to the Netherlands. We now live in the wonderful cycling location of Assen, Drenthe and run cycling holidays.

Netherlands Cycling Holiday