Long Bike Tote review

I got a chance to review a new product: the Long Bike Tote hitch rack. The Long Bike Tote is built by Tom and Lucia Howorth, near Fort Worth. The Howorths aren’t recumbent riders; they’re tandem riders. Tom wanted a hitch rack that would hold his tandem low and nicely behind a small vehicle. He never found one, so he built one. A couple of area bike shops figured out the rack works for a recumbent, too. And Rick Gurney at Plano Cycling, knowing I had a garage full of recumbents, called to see if I wanted to get with the Howorths and possibly test and review one.

I already use a hitch rack to transport my bikes. The rack I’ve been using is what I’ve considered to be the best recumbent hitch rack ever made: the later vintage Sportworks recumbent rack, called the Sportworks Universal Bent Bike Rack. This rack uses two ratcheting arms, is the sturdiest built rack I’ve ever seen, lets you load or unload a bike in 5 to 10 seconds, and holds it very solidly.

Of course, even the Sportworks has its limitations. Besides not being made any more, too long a bike won’t fit on it. And there is the issue of how long a bike you can carry sideways with the wheels on, anyway. I won’t attempt to pronounce the maximum wheelbase a bike can have, and be safely transported sideways. But I will say that, for me, that length seems to be about 66″. That’s the length of my wife’s prototype Xstream, and also the longest length the Sportworks Universal Bent rack will carry without modification. That was one of the factors that led me to purchase the prototype for my wife, rather than a production Xstream. It’s over 3″ shorter than the production Xstreams, and while it was too short for me to get the recline I wanted, it’s plenty long enough for my wife.

The overall length of the Xstream is 92″, and my Tacoma’s mirrors measure 83″ tip to tip, so the overhang outside my mirrors isn’t too much on the truck. That mirror measurement on my wife’s Corolla is just 76″ though, and even the Xstream’s length is a bit bothersome on it. I had modified an old style Sportworks recumbent rack module (the kind with the two spring arms, like the bus racks) to hold my Nimbus, and then my Stratus XP. The Nimbus had a 68″ wheelbase (and 700c wheels, which made it even longer overall), and my SXP has a 71″ wheelbase. I did not feel comfortable at all, carrying either of those bikes on the rack, even on my truck.

As soon as I saw the Long Bike Tote rack on their website, I had one of those “Why didn’t I think of that?” moments. The Long Bike Tote uses a fork mount for the front of the bike. I had not seen that done on a sideways-carrying hitch rack before. That instantly shortens a bike by 12 or 13 inches. I headed right out to my garage and modified the old style Sportworks module to carry my SXP with a fork mount on the front. That reduced the overall length of the SXP from 97″ to 85″, and it felt MUCH better behind my truck. And the Long Bike Tote gives the option of removing the rear wheel too, resting the frame on a support, which can shorten a bike even more for transport. With the rise in popularity of the dual big wheel long wheelbase recumbents, and problems transporting them, this seemed like a worthy product to review.

When I spoke to Tom, he mentioned his desire to get the Long Bike Tote in front of the recumbent community, and expressed his willingness to make some modifications for a recumbent version. I told him that I really wanted to be able to carry two long wheelbase recumbents on the rack (the website showed only an add-on for a short bike). I also felt the distance between the two bikes on the rack needed to be greater, because of the large seats on recumbents, and I asked about more sideways adjustment for the second bike, to help with centering, and eliminating interference between the bikes. Tom put together a prototype for me to try out.

The rack works very well. The front bike tray has multiple mounting holes, so you can adjust it side to side, depending on whether you’re removing both wheels from the bike, or leaving the rear wheel on. It has holders for the wheels, which you can slide to wherever works for your particular bike. It has a wheel tray on the end with a velcro strap for the rear wheel (and it looked like the maximum width tire that would fit was about 1 1/2″), or if you remove the rear wheel, you use a support with a rubber v-block on top, and velcro, to hold the frame instead. The height of this support can be adjusted. The rack has a removable pin which will let it tilt down so you can access the rear of a vehicle, and is available for either a 2″ or 1 1/4″ receiver.

The rear bike tray is held in place with a clamp, so it can be infinitely adjusted side to side, to help avoid interference with the front bike. We tried my SXP and my wife’s Xstream on the rack, with the rear wheels left on, and also with the rear wheels removed. With both wheels off the Xstream, it measures 68″, well less than the 76″ mirror distance on my wife’s Corolla, so sits nicely behind the car. The bikes feel solid on the rack, but with the bikes just attached to a fork mount, and either rear wheel or lower frame, I had the urge to add a strap up higher to help secure everything, and Tom said that he also ties the bikes that way. Also, if you take the rear wheel off, you need to add some kind of chain keeper, to keep the chain from slapping against the bike frame as you drive.

So there you have it, my thoughts on the Long Bike Tote. For me, I still like my Sportworks rack best. I’ve become spoiled with the 5 to 10 second loading and unloading time for most of my bikes on it, and now that I’ve copied Tom’s idea and modified the old vintage Sportworks module, I can even carry my SXP (or a future production-length Xstream) on it, without feeling like it’s sticking out too far. But, I also liked the Long Bike Tote rack, and would recommend it for people looking for a recumbent hitch rack, especially those with the long wheelbase bikes that are so long, they defy being carried sideways with the wheels on. Tom and Lucia Howorth also seem like great people, and I wish them well with this new venture.

Here are some photos. There are more on the Long Bike Tote website.

Stratus XP and Xstream on the rack, rear wheel left on the Xstream.

Stratus XP, both wheels removed.

The Xstream, both wheels removed, fits nicely behind the Corolla.

Multiple mounting holes on the front bike tray, a clamp for infinite adjustment on the rear bike tray. That post on the rear bike tray is a wheel holder.

LSR Cleburne 200K brevet

Something over 40 riders left Cleburne at 7:00 am this morning to ride either a 200k, 300k, or 400k brevet. I rode the 200k. As tough as the hills are on this route, I knew that would be all I wanted today. It was 67 degrees with the wind already blowing at start time. I can’t remember the last time I started an early morning ride just wearing shorts and a short sleeve jersey. It stayed cloudy all day, and the wind blew harder later in the day.

The 200k version of this route is an out and back that goes from Cleburne to Glen Rose, then from Glen Rose to Bluff Dale, then back. It goes down Goatneck Hill early in the ride, then climbs it near the end. It is a hilly route; there aren’t many flat miles. I knew from the beginning that I would be riding most of this ride by myself. It was a given that the only way I was getting up all these hills was by spinning my way up them, at a slow pace. With me being the slowest rider up the hills, and probably the fastest down the hills, it was not a day for me to be a social butterfly. I chatted and said hi to everyone the first few miles, then watched them pedal off into the distance on the first hill.

Peggy, Steve, and Nelson were still at the Glen Rose control when I arrived, so I left with them. After they all stopped briefly in front of the Dinosaur Valley State Park for Nelson to take a photo, they soon disappeared in the distance ahead of me. This stretch of the ride is the hilliest, with two big climbs just before Bluff Dale. But the hill that was the toughest for me was a short, steep hill just after Dinosaur Valley. As tough as it was going out, it was even tougher coming back. Before I reached the top, I was in my lowest gear, at 4 mph, with a cadence just over 70, and my heart rate was over 170. There’s not much left in the well at that point. I definitely need more hill work. But I did pedal up every hill, without stopping. I was thinking that this ride would make a good annual benchmark. As long as I can pedal this route without walking a hill, I haven’t slipped into too terrible of a fitness level.

Peggy, Steve, and Nelson were still at the Bluff Dale control when I arrived. We left at the same time, they continuing on for their 400k, I turning back for my 200k. With the two climbs near Bluff Dale soon behind me, I was feeling better about my prospects of finishing strong…….. until my struggle up the hill near Dinosaur Valley. That was a reminder to save something for Goatneck Hill, near the end.

When I arrived back at the Glen Rose control, Jim Rimbey, Cheri Brown, Debbie Breaud, and another rider (who’s name escapes me now; he was doing his first 200k) were still there, so I joined them for a good bit of the remaining miles. I fell back enough during the Goatneck climb that I never quite caught up with them again.

This was a good training ride for me, and the scenery is really nice, with Brazos and Paluxy river crossings, and great views of the hills and valleys in this area. But it was also a reminder that my hill climbing sucks. I finished in 10:17. My on the bike time was 9:26, so my time spent in controls wasn’t bad. I was just slow. My gps showed 6,041 feet of climbing. My heart rate average for the entire ride was 143; that probably explains how tired I am. I ended the day with a great dinner with Mark and Linda Metcalfe, and headed home.

Some random thoughts from the ride:

* If you are slow enough, there are plenty of rando droppings on these rides; I never did have to buy water.
* I think I could have walked some of these hills faster than I climbed them on the bike, but I just wasn’t willing to do it.
* At 4 mph climbing these hills, even grazing cattle drop me (but I do reel them in when they run out of fence).
* At 4 mph with a 30 mph crosswind, I seem to be a bit wobbly.
* While bombing down hills at 40 mph and climbing the next one at 4 mph, it occurred to me that if I had a device installed for counting gear shifts, I would have set a world record for a 200k.
* Small chainrings and large cassette cogs are good.
* I am more wiped out after this ride than I was after October’s 300k.
* I wonder if anyone has ever designed a point to point 200k permanent that is all downhill.