As seen in RTR Issue #21 - Spring 2006
Review #130 Turner
Long-T| An Innovative Approach from Milt Turner
by Brian Zupke
There are a lot of ways to ride a bike: touring, racing, social, transportation, utilitarian, etc. And for different types of rides there are different types of bikes. But what if you donít have enough $$$ to keep a stable full of bikes but like doing a variety of rides? What you need is a bike with a split personality. The Turner T-Long recumbent is such a bike. Re-configurable, you can switch between short wheelbase (SWB) to long wheelbase (LWB) in a matter of moments, allowing you to tailor the bike to fit your ride.
The bulk of the T-Long frame is a single horizontal tube. The front wheel and forks, pedals and front derailleur are connected to the front and the handlebars and seat are connected to the back of this main tube. Two rear triangles supporting both the back wheel and the rider are also connected to the back of the main tube. The T-Long comes with under-seat steering (USS) but is also available with over-seat steering (OSS).
When configured as a LWB bike, the front wheel sits in front of the pedals and the fork is connected to the handlebars by an adjustable steerer rod. In the SWB configuration the front wheel and fork are connected directly to the handlebars (the steerer rod is removed) and nothing sits in front of the pedals except the main tube.
the T-Long from LWB to SWB is simple:
Despite having no suspension, the bike is fairly comfortable. Bumps and holes werenít as jarring as I expected - leaning back in the seat while going over bumps helped reduce the shock. If I were riding rough roads daily Iíd consider a bike with at least rear suspension or ride with a lower tire pressure and sacrifice speed for comfort, but for most streets and bike paths the T-Long was comfy enough.
The seat is padded fiberglass and is mounted to the bike in two places: bottom and lower back. The seat bottom has three sets of holes, which makes the seat somewhat adjustable in the forward/backward direction. The seat rear is attached to a seat stay with angle brackets, and since the seat stay is in a fixed position the possibilities for adjusting seat tilt are somewhat limited. The as-tested bike required extensions to place the seat in its rearmost position. The seat also ended up being tilted a little too upright. Iíd be inclined to replace the fixed seat-stay mounting position with adjustable seat stays to provide greater adjust ability with seat position and tilt. However, the fixed position seat stay is part of one of the two rear triangles which significantly contributes to the frameís stiffness. Even though the seat was not very adjustable it was still quite comfortable. The seat height was low enough that I could easily rest my feet on the ground when stopped, yet high enough to provide ample visibility (both seeing and being seen) when riding in traffic.
The molded seat doesnít provide any water bottle cage mounts. To add them youíd have to either drill holes in the seat, wrap something around the seat (like a slip cover), or mount water bottles to a rear bike rack. There was room on the front derailleur post for a water bottle cage, so I added one there. It was a little difficult to reach while pedaling, but not while coasting. Itís also an ideal location for using a headlight with a water bottle cage battery (with the light attached to the front fork).
The USS put the handlebars in a very comfortable position at my sides. That kept pressure off my hands (as do most recumbents), but it also prevented arm and finger fatigue normally caused by having to hold them up in front of me (as required with OSS). Very little effort was needed to keep the bike balanced Ė it was easy to steer using just my fingertips. Slower speeds did require a little more effort to maintain balance, but not significantly. The handlebars were about 1Ē too short for me Ė longer extensions would be ideal, but since the bar-end shifters effectively extend the handlebars an additional inch and the arm position is relaxed, steering was still very comfortable. As with most bikes with USS, the steering is constrained to a small angle due to the handlebars hitting either the frame, seat or rider. Some situations required me to either perform a series of multipoint turns or to simply lift one end of the bike off the ground and swing it in the desired new direction.
The limited range of steering also made the bike a little more challenging to handle in heavy stop and go traffic. Although the range of motion was the same in both the SWB and LWB configurations, the impact was less severe in the SWB configuration since the shorter wheelbase resulted in a tighter turning radius. The benefits of USS significantly outweigh this limitation and most of the time itís not even an issue.
One drawback with some USS configurations is there is usually no decent place to attach a computer. But since the T-Longís handlebars mount to the stem above the main tube, a computer can easily be mounted to the stem. My Sigma computer can be configured to mount either on the handlebars or stem with the proper orientation for the display. Since the stem is very close to the front of the seat, I had to lean forward to see the computer, but it was still within easy reach.
The T-Long comes with a Shimano 105 8-speed cassette, along with a triple crankset. The small chainring had sufficiently low gearing to climb steep hills without straining my knees. Steering was more of a challenge at slow speeds, but I never lost control and never had to put my foot down. The top gear is high enough that I didnít spinout even at faster speeds (~30+ mph). I spent most of my time in the middle chainring, using the small chainring only for steep climbs and the big chainring on flats and downhills. The index shifting for the 8 speed cassette was quick, crisp, and clean. It was also easy to change gears for the triple crank using its friction shift. The bar-end shifters were easy to operate while still maintaining control of the bike.
The top chain sometimes rubbed on the idler pulley that keeps the bottom chain taut. It only happened when the chain was on the smallest chainring in the front and the higher gears were selected in the back. The rubbing was easily avoided by switching the chain to the middle chainring and to the lowest gears which overlap with the higher gears for the small chainring. However, Iíd be inclined to add a short extension bracket to lower the idler pulley about a half of an inch.
Looking at the Turner web site, the photo of the T-Long does have the idler pulley extended below the main tube by about an inch, so either this is an improvement that has been made since the bike was provided for review, or the bracket was simply not added to the review bike.
The location of the top chain resulted in the occasional chain tattoos on my right calf. Usually this happened when I stopped (especially when standing, straddling the bike with my body turned to take pictures of approaching riders). A nice long-term solution would be to run the top chain through a plastic tube attached to the frame.
Still, it resulted in some of the coolest chain tattoos Iíve ever seen.
In the LWB configuration, the T-Longís brakes performed admirably -- plenty of stopping power without a lot of exertion. In the SWB configuration, I found it quite easy to lock up the rear wheel since there was significantly less weight on the rear. I had to adjust my braking from even pressure on both brakes to significantly more on the front and significantly less on the rear. The front brake also required more pressure due to the brake cable having a severe bend in it. It would be better to shorten and reroute the brake cable for the SWB configuration, but I wanted to be able to restore the machine to LWB so I left it intact. If I were going to be switching between SWB and LWB frequently, Iíd get separate brake cables for each.
The T-Long handled well in both the SWB and LWB configurations. I was able to coast for short distances without touching the handlebars, but I had little control over direction as any movement such as pedaling, or reaching for the water bottle would send the bike off in another direction. Stability was a bit better in the SWB configuration Ė I was able to control steering by leaning, but significant movements such as pedaling interfered with that control. All this balancing was only possible at higher speeds Ė it was impossible to ride no-hands at slower speeds.
With its tighter turning radius and quicker response, I found the SWB configuration better for riding in city traffic. Heel strike can be an issue if you have big feet (like I do). My heels would hit the front wheel while turning sharply at slow speeds, but this was easily avoided.
Although less-maneuverable, I found the long wheelbase configuration more comfortable over longer distances and better suited for carrying loads. I attached a Burley Moose rack to the rear for towing a Burley Piccolo trailer cycle or panniers. The T-Long handled the trailer cycle (with a fairly active child rider) quite as well as other recumbents Iíve tested. The bike also provides a generous amount of room for hauling gear on the bike rack. I also towed a full utility trailer (50-70 lbs) that hooked to the rear axle. The bike handled great and had a nice set of low gears for hauling loads uphill.
Overall, the T-Long is a very nice ride. The shortcomings Iíve mentioned can all be easily addressed. My favorite aspect is the ability to switch between SWB and LWB, allowing me to have maneuverability when I need it and comfort when I can. On top of it all, the T-Long is reasonably priced Ė especially when you consider youíre really getting two bikes in one.