If I was only allowed to keep one recumbent, this would be the one

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Overview

My cycling career has had a long hiatus – nearly 25 years of not doing that much, due to back, neck and knee problems. I have maintained some degree of reasonable fitness, mainly through commuting miles, short rides and a lot of walking, but the pain of riding uprights has meant that I did not do any serious cycling for a long time. In 2016 I stopped riding uprights altogether as they had become too painful to ride, even a nice ‘comfortable’ hybrid with front suspension. This was the start of my recumbent adventure.

The Fuego was the first recumbent that I bought. After doing a substantial amount of research online and spending a lot of time perusing the excellent reviews on Dave McCraw’s Site, I  ended up on a try-out tour with David Gardiner at Laid Back Bikes in Edinburgh. I had already decided what I wanted out of my first recumbent bike – reasonably fast, flexible, comfortable and capable of carrying plenty of luggage for commuting. The Fuego stuck out from the crowd with regard to these criteria and was available to demo at LBB, so off I went for a try out. LBB do very reasonably priced multi hour ‘tours’ that take in some of Edinburgh’s surrounding countryside, maybe a stop for lunch somewhere and some excellent chat and cycling craic with David himself.

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The Fuego was easy enough to ride that I was able to set off on the tour after just 30 minutes practice under David’s guidance, having never sat on any recumbent prior to that. It’s a fairly reclined bike so this is testament to how beginner friendly it is, as opposed to any great skill on my part. We also took an ICE Sprint (tadpole trike) and swapped between the two throughout the tour, and I tried a high racer (Performer 700) later on. I really enjoyed the Sprint as well but it was the Fuego that immediately felt right for me at that time.

An order soon followed and 6 weeks later I was the proud owner of a nice new shiny Midnight Blue Fuego in the large size frame. At the time of writing this, I have put around 5000 miles on the bike. It has been everything I had hoped for and more.

Bike Details

I specced a few upgrades from the standard Fuego. I went for the XT model, which was 3 x 10 speed. I upgraded to Shimano hydraulic disc brakes (standard is Avid BB7 mechanical disc brakes), and added the pannier side support racks. I put on a large seat, and went with the Ventisit pad. Tyres were Schwalbe Kojaks. Everything else was stock.

Nazca Fuego
The bike in the Laid Back Showroom prior to me getting it dirty (photo courtesy David Gardiner at Laid Back Bikes

Since then, I have changed a few things and the bike has been through a couple of different evolutions. Once I started structured training and getting myself fit again, the racks and mudguards came off, skinny road tyres went on, and I pushed the envelope as hard as I could. You can race this bike (it is very aero) and it is pretty fast with the right tyres, but that is not where it excels. It’s weight and flexible steel frame along with the increased rolling resistance of the small front wheel will always work against you in pure speed terms whenever you encounter hilly terrain.

If I was going to keep this bike for racing, I would get a lighter wheelset and carbon seat, replace the suspension with a lighter air shock, remove or reduce the chain tubes and put tubeless tyres on it for comfort and decreased rolling resistance. With these modifications you could definitely use this bike as a serious racer – particularly in windy conditions when everybody else is suffering and you are so low to the ground that you are able to hide behind every small roadside protrusion. In a flattish environment this bike is very fast and will keep up with pretty much anything,  but even with lighter components you’re still going to suffer a bit on the hills due to the extra weight and flex of the bike frame and suspension. Conversely, on downhills you will be faster than pretty much everything out there. Speed isn’t everything though, and you might find the superior comfort and position on this bike outweighs the weight penalty for climbing.

I have now added the Cruzbike V20 to the stable and so the Fuego has been reverted back to doing what it does best, which is being an excellent reasonably fast, all-weather, comfortably riding recumbent with the option of carrying lots of luggage.

I removed the pannier side racks and installed the heavy duty rack that can take proper panniers. I bought myself a nice set of Ortlieb panniers that also fit perfectly on the Quetzal (my previous Altura panniers don’t fit the racks on the Nazcas, the hooks are not wide enough for the rack tubes and so the quick lock won’t engage). I put the mudguards back on, and went from skinny tyres back to the chunky and more durable Marathon Racers. I also took the step of replacing the tiller with a set of Nazca open cockpit bars, which has been a fundamental change to the bike set up, documented here and here.

All the details below are based on this new set up.

Frame

The frame is the large size, which is slightly more stretched and lower than the medium size frame. I had tried the medium frame on the tour at LBB and it had felt a little small – the large frame is definitely a better fit. If you are over 6′, I would consider this size. It is made from cromoloy steel (rear dropouts are stainless steel) and mine is in Midnight Blue which is a very pleasing colour to see in person – the paint has a nice depth to it. The powder coat looks as good as new after 5000 miles, apart from round the quick release wheel lugs, which have seen some paint flake off with repeated use of the turbo trainer QR and taking the front wheel off to put the bike on the roof of the car. I was a little disappointed by this, perhaps it is a one-off as the paint seems pristine and very well applied elsewhere on the bike. I have remedied the damage with some add-on paint of my own. I have now just left the beefier turbo QR skewer on and don’t bother swapping when I take the bike out (this is my main structured training bike and it spends a lot of time on the turbo).

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Pannier rack, seat QR and geometry QR

One of the great features of this bike is its quick and simple adjustability without the need for any tools. The frame can be ‘stretched’ between three different geometries using a 3 notch ladder and a simple QR skewer. The shortest decreases trail and makes the bike slightly more compact, the longest increases trail and makes the bike more stretched out and flatter. Handling characteristics don’t seem to change a huge amount between the three positions – I certainly haven’t noticed much difference. I tend to leave it on the middle setting. If it’s really windy and you want to be a bit more aero, you can stretch out the bike a bit and get the seat a bit flatter which is cool.

The frame has a kickstand attached which does what it says on the tin. It does however rattle and ricochet like crazy when going fast down hills making an unholy racket – I fix this by putting a small Velcro strap round it which takes an extra second or two to undo when standing the bike up / getting ready to move off.

Suspension

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Suspension and swing arm

The suspension is a straightforward, coil spring type that is adjustable for preload and rebound. It is basic (i.e. no frills and not overly expensive) but does the job very well. I can’t imagine why you would need a more refined suspension unless you were going off road, and being a coil spring, there is no chance of you getting stuck with a blown air shock 30 miles from home. Some people replace with air shocks to save a bit of weight, but I’d rather the dependability of a simple coil spring shock.

The suspension does not have any perceptible movement when powering up hills – if there is any power loss it is too small to feel or see under normal pedalling conditions. Any force on the bike is more or less parallel to the road when you pedal hard, which is perpendicular to the axis of the shock, so it has been designed very well to stop energy being lost that way. When you hit big bumps, the shock works very well to smooth them out. It also reduces road chatter more than I would have expected. I didn’t really notice how much work it was doing until I cranked up the preload as far as I could to simulate having no shock as a test. Coming down my local fast hill, I could barely see as my eyeballs were being vibrated so much. Suspension definitely works and this bike is designed to take advantage of it – use it!

Seat

The seat is the Nazca large size fibre-glass seat and has a Ventisit seat pad. You can lose about half a kilo by getting the carbon version. The seat is pretty comfortable and supports the upper body well. I added an ICE VTX neck rest which is an essential item for me. I have no idea how people can ride recumbents without these, maybe I am just puny in the neck muscle department. I have now installed several of these on my bikes and they are great neck rests. Recommended by David at Laid Back Bikes.

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VTX Neck rest

Like the frame, you can adjust the seat recline with a simple QR skewer. This has a fair degree of adjustability. Combining both adjustment skewers, you can put the bike from fairly upright and compact to stretched and flattened in a matter of seconds. Very cool! Do bear in mind though that dramatically altering the seat recline does have a slight knock on effect on the distance from your hips to the bottom bracket, and you might end up needing to move the boom a centimetre or so. This is also quick to do using an Allen wrench but probably not something you’d want to do mid ride. I tend to make incremental adjustments and then leave it once I’m happy.

If you put the seat as far back as it goes, you may find the lip of the seat starts to give you a little bit of bother on the back of the legs, something with slightly less of a lip would be better in this situation. I almost always have the seat in about the middle of its range though, and here the seat is very comfortable. You can’t have it all ways – if you made the lip less, then at more upright positions you might slide off the front of the seat which clearly wouldn’t be ideal either.

One other thing to bear in mind is that there is a practical limit to how far back you can put the seat as you need to leave some space for the suspension to do its work. I cracked the back mudguard by putting the seat too low and hammering the mudguard with the back of the seat on the bumps. I used the mudguard as an emergency buffer to stop the seat hitting the tyre, but it dramatically shortened the life of the mudguard!

Drivetrain

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Front Derailleur and Crankset

The drivetrain is Shimano Deore/XT 10 speed. 170mm cranks, 48/36/26 triple chainset with XT front and rear derailleurs. The rear cassette is a Shimano 11-34 MTB cassette. The front derailleur attaches to a derailleur post on the boom and the rear derailleur installs without the need for a cable loop, which is nice. The use of chain tubes keeps the chain protected from the worst of Scotland’s mucky roads, and out of the way of legs. This setup gives me a gear inch range of roughly 20 – 114 inches, which is enough to get up even the steepest hills in the Borders and a reasonably high end that will get you to around 40MPH at around 120RPM.

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10 Speed Shimano MTB Rear Sprocket and XT Rear Derailleur

Chain tubes tend to get very gunked up inside if you don’t clean them regularly – I’m not sure how much extra friction they add but it’s definitely not a frictionless setup. I recommend stuffing a rag through a link of the chain and pedalling it through the chain tube several times with added degreaser to keep the tubes clean.

Wheels

Wheels are fairly sturdy, high spoke count and built to last. I don’t need or want low spoke count ultralight wheels on this bike – the roads are terrible and I want my wheels to be dependable. The hubs are Shimano XT. Current tyres are Schwalbe Marathon Racers which I have found to be more puncture resistant than Kojaks with very little speed penalty. I have also ridden this bike shod with Schwalbe Duranos for about 3000 miles, and they are MUCH faster than either Kojaks or Racers. This suggests that if you put something like Schwalbe Pro Ones on, it would be faster still. Rolling resistance on smaller wheels is higher than on large wheels, so if speed is your bag then consider the lowest rolling resistance tyres you can find for this bike.

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Marathon Racers are undeniably chunky and clearance on the mudguards is very tight – this is about as big a tyre as you could comfortably fit on the bike without taking the mudguards off. The mudguards are SKS. The front mudguard has an occasional habit of popping out of its housing on the right hand side, so its always worth checking it before you move off – a quick push in now and again keeps everything squared away. I have tried gluing it with no success, still looking for a permanent fix for this!

Handling

This bike is very easy to ride. If you’re not used to it, then having a small front wheel can feel a bit twitchy at first as you can turn very sharply, and steering movements tend to be a little quicker to deploy than on a bigger wheeled bike. It is however very manoeuvrable and can be turned quickly. I found the bike quick to learn. Yes I had quite a few falls in the first few weeks, but that was mainly because I was trying to do stuff before I was ready, such as climbing 20% slopes with sharp bends with a lot of shopping in the banana bags before I really knew what I was doing. Also, things like looking round at a junction – handling is different from an upright and I discovered if you use the same movement you end up in the ditch 🙂

You can spec the bike with either tiller or open cockpit (aerobar) steering. I have tried both and much prefer the open cockpit steering. Both work very well on the Fuego and my preference is not a criticism of the tiller, just a statement of my personal preference. I rode several thousand miles with a tiller and never even considered the idea of changing, until I bought the Quetzal and experienced aerobars. At which point I immediately wanted to swap 🙂

With a tiller you can literally turn as sharp as you want as there is no leg / bar interference, but with the aero bars this isn’t the case, so turning circle is a bit wider. However, the aero bars allow much better precision and a more natural feel, as you are turning using basically the same muscles and action as you would on an upright, instead of a side to side movement that tillers require which isn’t so intuitive and uses different muscles. As an Alexander Technique practitioner, I have concluded that aerobars are much more in line with what I would consider good upper body use, allowing you to keep the chest open and shoulders wide which helps you breathe better. Tillers tend to make you scrunch up across the shoulders and chest which might be more aero but is not something I like.

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If you have a tiller, you can dial in the handle bars to pretty much exactly where you want them. The tiller angle is adjustable with a bolt, and you can adjust the tiller length as well. Again, I tried a lot of different positions and ended up with the tiller as high as I could put it without impeding my vision. This seemed to make control easier and was a comfortable position to hold for long periods of time. The aero bars aren’t quite so adjustable, with the ability to move the stem in or out of its housing and to rotate the bars ‘towards and up’ or ‘away and down’ from your hands. There is no adjustment to move the entire assembly forwards or backwards like you could do with the Schlitter J Bars, for example. If you have short arms the aero bars may not work for you – best to check before committing.

One of the greatest features for me on this bike is the sweet spot it occupies between steering stability and flexibility. On most dual large wheeled recumbents, there is a certain amount of heel / wheel overlap at the bottom of the pedal stroke that can cause the heel to catch on the tyre when turning too sharply – more generally known as ‘heel strike’. This occurs to a greater or lesser extent on different models depending on the individual bike’s geometry, but most suffer from this problem to some extent. In general use it isn’t normally a problem, but if you are going up steep hills and flailing around a bit, or turning sharply on a steep slope, it can mean either stopping and walking round the corner or catching your heel on the wheel at low speed and losing balance. Worst case scenario you fall off into the path of a speeding oncoming car on a 20% single track road while wavering around at 3 mph – been there, almost done that. I was climbing a steep hill on the Quetzal tandem with my wife and we nearly ended up on the road in front of a fast moving car.

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Heel strike is one of the issues that seems to affect most high racer recumbents and the general advice is ‘learn to deal with it – it will become a non-issue with time’. This may be true if you don’t regularly have to cycle round sharp bends on 15-20% gradients. However I personally find heel strike quite objectionable, particularly since some of the roads I cycle are very steep and have sharp turns, and I have inset feet that exacerbate the problem. Ultimately it is one of the reasons why I chose a Cruzbike V20 over all other high racers – zero heel strike due to the MBB format which feels to me like the way a bike should be by default. It has many other advantages as well, which I will detail on the V20 page. To me, this is something that should be designed out of recumbents so kudos to Cruzbike for doing just that.

If you do go with a bike that has heel strike issues and it bothers you, you can dramatically reduce the problem by using pedal extenders, if your knees will tolerate them. This is my solution on the Quetzal and it makes everything much less stressful (although there is still the possibility of hitting the wheel so you need to be aware of what you are doing). I actually discovered I prefer having my feet slightly wider so I have pedal extenders on all my bikes. I use the extenders made by Highpath Engineering which are nicely made and feel like they will last. You can get versions that screw on with a crank spanner and also ones with a hole in the end and adaptors to screw on SPD pedals that use an Allen wrench.

The Fuego occupies this lovely sweet spot where there is almost no chance of heel strike due to the small front wheel, yet it is still easy to control, forgiving, easy to get in and out of and can move at a cracking speed. You can catch your heel on the wheel if you try to do a U turn on the lid of your toilet seat, but other than that you’re pretty safe. I suppose you do need to bear in mind your XSeam – I have 46″ which means the boom is out further than it may be for others. The smaller your XSeam the closer your feet get to the wheel as you need to pull the boom in to get the correct distance to the pedals. All in all though, I think the small wheel format more or less removes a lot of the issues with heel strike and if you choose the correct size frame for your XSeam you shouldn’t have any issues.

Once this bike gets up to speed, it rides absolutely beautifully – ultra stable and the feeling of scything through the wind just a couple of feet off the ground at 50 mph is in my opinion unbeatable. You can get a feel for this in the ‘Descending Lauder Common‘ video I previously posted.

Luggage

You can add a stack of luggage to this bike. By default you can put up to 7KG on the day rack behind the seat. This rack bolts directly to the seat using 4 bolts, so I wouldn’t stress it too much. I have noticed that over time the holes can get slightly ovalled and you start to get a few crackling noises from the bolts moving in the fibre glass. It took me an age to track that one down, I thought it was the suspension. Keep the bolts tight!

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You used to be able to get the pannier side support racks which I had originally (see photo at the top of this page), but I don’t think Nazca sell these any more. They are basically there to allow you to put banana bags on without the bags catching on the frame and chain, and they work very well for very little weight penalty. I did notice that the bottom of the right hand bag got very oily, due to proximity to the chain.

I now have the heavy duty pannier rack on the bike which allows standard panniers to be carried. It should be noted that these run pretty close to the ground (it is a semi-lowracer after all!), so it may affect how low you can recline the seat when in luggage mode.

Fuego with tiller, pre conversion
Parked outside Asda with some shopping for the dinner

None of the luggage options seem to have much effect on the handling of the bike. Banana bags hang very centrally and the bike still handles very smoothly. The image above shows the previous incarnation of the bike with the tiller and banana bags. I haven’t yet tried with fully laden panniers on the new pannier rack, but I expect it to be similar given that they will hang low and towards the middle of the bike. This is a super stable bike and I would comfortably load it up with a ton of luggage and cycle it on busy roads.

Comfort

This is one of the most comfortable recumbents I have ever ridden. Because it is so adjustable, you can really try out a lot of different positions and find the one that works for you. I started with it fairly upright and went progressively lower until I was reaching the limits of the bike. Over time I have pulled it back up a bit but still fairly reclined.

The frame itself flexes quite a bit, and when pedalling on the turbo I can move the boom substantially from side to side. Just leaning to the side can flex the frame enough for the rear disc rotor to rub on the pads. Unlike the V20 which is utterly rock solid and stiff, the Fuego with its long boom, suspension and steel frame has a lot of give in it, which translates to more comfort at the probable expense of some watts not making it to the rear wheel. It’s a selling point of the bike though, not a disadvantage – it’s a very comfortable bike to ride.

Final Comments

I have said to all who will listen that the Fuego is a classic design and I am amazed that so few people across the pond seem to talk about Nazca bikes. They are not the lightest bikes but they are built to last. I have ridden mine over some brutal roads and cattle grids at high speed and completely destroyed the stock headset (it’s now been replaced with a Cane Creek model which I hope will survive a bit longer) but the bike itself has been completely reliable. It is one that occupies a very nice sweet spot in the market. It is wicked fun to ride on descents, it can be very fast when kitted out correctly but can also be set up for more relaxed riding on chunkier tyres and a more upright seating position. You can do about 95% of this configuration without any tools and you just need your multi tool from your bag do the rest.

It can carry a lot of luggage and handles very nicely. It is a very forgiving bike to ride and, coupled with the fact that most parts of the bike are widely configurable without tools, it is a perfect first recumbent bike as you can try out a lot of different positions in a way that you couldn’t do on other, more specialized designs. This is more important than some beginners might realize – you may change your riding style considerably in the first year of recumbency, and you won’t really know what you like until you’ve tried it. Having one bike that covers a lot of bases is a good way of saving some money.

I don’t think you could ever call any recumbent bike ‘cheap’, but the Fuego is a very reasonable price for what you get. Every time I think of something to change about the bike, I consider the consequences and see that it would adversely affect something else to a greater extent. This is what I mean by it being in a sweet spot – nothing is totally specialized but it does everything really well. Changing anything about the bike would make it less of an all rounder and that’s what it does best.

A great bike and I love it!

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