Longbikes Slipstream review
For a few years, the long wheelbase market in the US was pretty dead. Old stalwarts like the RANS Stratus and Easy Racers Tour Easy were doing as well as ever, but there weren’t too many major new players on the block. In fact many of them were disappearing.
With the demise of BikeE, that all seems to be changing. Many riders that probably would have bought BikeE’s in the past have turned toward hot selling new budget long wheelbase bikes from Sun Bicycles or even to RANS’ new lower-priced Velocity Squared. Forthcoming lower end LWB’s from Cycle Genius and Burley are sure to make the long wheelbase even more popular than it already is. With a revival or growth in the low-end that is almost sure to trickle upwards when these new riders look to upgrade, things look very good for the entire long wheelbase segment.
In the middle of all this growth and resurgence, it looked as if one manufacturer had been left in the lurch.
Greg Peeks’ Longbikes company has never really met the high expectations of its owner or those of the buying public. When Peek bought the license to Dick Ryan’s much respected designs a few years ago, everyone was hoping for great things. The first few Longbikes-made Vanguards immediately gained the respect of the recumbent market due to the high level of craftsmanship that was Peek’s crew put into the bikes. The first few new models that Peek designed himself (SWB Eliminator and Vanguard-based Slipstream) were also well received.
However, despite the acclaim Longbikes weren’t exactly selling like wildfire. Peek also had a continuous string of problems with keeping welders under his employ. After struggling along for a couple of years, he finally took the plunge and moved some of his production overseas. While he was at it he made many improvements to the Slipstream model and refocused the company on that particular bike.
Slipstream Part II
This new Slipstream long wheelbase is not entirely built in Taiwan. Actually just the frames are made there. They arrive at Longbikes’ Colorado facility unpainted. Peek inspects the frames himself and powdercoats them in house. All finally assembly and packing is also done by Longbikes.
Regardless of where they are made, they look great. The level of finish is just as high as the old Longbikes and as good as anything out there. All of the custom machined parts look fantastic. The powdercoat is also very thick and seems pretty resistant to scuffing and scratching. The new Slipstream should be just as durable as the Longbikes and Ryans that preceded it.
This new Slipstream frame has a bolt-on rear triangle similar to the rear section used on the Eliminator SWB. This does not appear to compromise the frame rigidity and should make the bike easier to ship for the traveling tourists that this recumbent is sure to appeal to. S and S couplers are also available as an option if you want to make the bike break down any smaller.
Peek also made a major tweak to the seat on this new Slipstream. There is a hinge where the seat back and seat base come together that allows the rider to adjust for hip angle. This is a feature that I wish more recumbent builders would incorporate. The seat mesh is held on with thick adjustable Velcro straps, much like the old one was.
The original Slipstreams came with a great component spec. Longbikes has tried to keep that standard alive with the new bike.
The standard set-up uses Shimano LX and XT derailleurs and Dura-Ace bar-con shifters. Avid disc brakes are standard as are Longbikes-branded cranks and hubs. The sealed bearing hubs are laced to Alex rims that are shod with Kenda Kwest 100 psi tires.
Everything on the bike performed flawlessly. Bar-cons always work great with Shimano derailleurs and the Avid discs never fail to impress. Our test bike had the Ultegra crank option but I did get a good look at Longbikes’ own forged crankset and it seemed very nice to me.
One component that did get my attention was the hubs. They say Longbikes on them but the Taiwanese firm, Quando, makes them. Some of Quando’s hubs have been pretty good but they’ve also made some real junk over the years so I was a bit concerned. These appear to be the same Quando hubs that HPVelotechnik used on their bikes and thankfully they are some of the company’s best work. The sealed cartridge bearing hubs look very nice and roll quite well. The freehub on the rear is a bit loud but did roll smoothly.
The Kwest tires are also not among my favorites due to their weight but they are pretty durable and seem to fit the bike’s function-over-form persona quite well.
As Greg Peek says on the Longbikes web site, “I don’t like wimpy components.” As usual, “not wimpy” translated to “not light.” It’s tough to make a featherweight bike that it as tough as the Golden Gate Bridge. The Slipstream weighs about 36 pounds.
It costs about $69.50 a pound ($2,499 for all of you that slept during Math class). That’s not terribly cheap but it is a bit less than the old Slipstream and the build quality is as good as any other bike in that price range.
If you want to fully outfit the bike for touring, you can do that right through your Longbikes dealer. Aerospoke wheels, a fairing, kickstands, fenders and excellent Tubus racks are all factory options.
A Makeover, Not A Lobotomy
All of these changes have not affected the Slipstreams personality. It is still a touring-oriented long distance cruising machine.
The overall ergonomics are very similar to the original bike. The hand position provided by the adjustable bar ends is ideal. The bottom bracket is higher than that of an Easy Racers or Ryan Vanguard but it’s not too high for all day cruising. The seating position is quite open and quite natural.
The seat however is a bit different than the initial Slipstream’s was. First of all is the adjustable hip angle. This is a very nice feature that allows you to angle the seat base angle independently from the seat back angle. The seat mesh is pretty similar to the old bike. I had to fiddle with the Velcro straps quite a bit in order to both eliminate recumbent butt and stop them from digging into my lower back and the back of my thighs but I did eventually find a happy medium. I never was able to get as comfortable as I am on a RANS seat or Easy Racers Kool Back but I did feel like I could spend all day on the Slipstream without cursing anyone’s heritage. Longbikes does make an optional seat pad and cover if you don’t like the sling mesh affair.
Ryans and Longbikes have always been known as stable rides. This new Slipstream won’t ruin that reputation. Low speed handling is not bad at all for a bike of this size and at high speed the bike is rock solid. There was initially some play in the bikes indirect steering unit but I narrowed it down to a loose connection on the tie rod near the head tube and once I fixed the problem, it never returned.
While testing out the bikes high-speed stability on some long downhill runs, I was very thankful for the Avid disc brakes. Avids are my absolute favorite disc brakes and they make a great addition to the Slipstream. I’m sure that they would be much appreciated by anyone carrying a full touring load down out of the Rockies.
The Slipstream’s stiff frame will probably be appreciated while going up into those big mountains. A 36-pound bike is never going to be a mountain goat, but I was fairly surprised at how the Slipstream handled the hills. As I said, the low speed handling is good and it does come with gears that should be low enough when the bike is naked. Add a touring load, and you’ll probably have to get some lower gears by changing the granny ring to a 26 or so but as long as you’re not expecting to smoke too many roadies on the Alpe de Heuz you probably won’t be too disappointed with the bike’s climbing ability.
In fact the bike’s overall performance is not bad at all. It’s obvious that the bike is primarily aimed at touring and not racing but with a better rolling set of rubber like the Continental Grand Prix the Slipstream would probably make a decent mount for club rides and fast day trips.
‘Predictable And Reliable In Almost Every Way’
The above quote comes from my December 2000 review of the original Slipstream but it easily applies here also. The Slipstream is not a terribly exciting machine if your looking for flashy and exotic but it is a very reliable and worthy companion for any serious commuter, touring rider, or ultra high mileage cyclist.