"They seem ready to do whatever it takes to make sure I am a satisfied customer."
I wrote that about Vision in my review of the 1998 dual suspension R-44. It turns out it was absolutely true. More than a year after I first bought the bike, and after they replaced the first frame (which had a mis-alignment of the rear suspension arm which caused it to shimmy), I was still not satisfied with the handling of the bike. As a result, they offered to swap the frame out for a 1999 hardtail R-44 frame. They even gave me my choice of colors. All I would have to do is ship the bike back to them and they would move the parts to a new frame.
Since I had a tour coming up about 5 weeks from when I was making these plans with Vision, I suggested that they send me the frame and that I move the parts over myself, so that I could be assured that the bike would be ready in time for the tour. This was ok with them and I soon had a bright yellow 1999 frame at my door.
With a little help from the local bike shop (installing the headset cups... or is that races?) I soon had the bike assembled and ready to ride. The bike was set up with 8 speed Rapidfire shifters, cantilever brakes, and a front suspension fork. While I had originally planned to put a wider tire on the rear than the Ritchey 26x1 that had been on the suspension bike, I did not get a chance to do this before riding it. To my surprise, the bike rides just fine on this narrow, high pressure (100 psi) tire.
The 1998 suspension frame had a longer wheelbase than my original 1996 R-40. The front wheel was still in the same place relative to the rider, but the rear wheel was several inches further back. The 1999 frame, in contrast, has the rear wheel in a similar position to the older non-suspension frames, but the front wheel has been pushed forward about 4 inches. This has a subtle but noticeable effect on the handling of the bike.
After a few WHIRL rides that were completed without incident, I took the bike and headed for western Maryland for the 1999 Cycle Across Maryland Tour (see ride report linked from Cycling page). The bike handled great. I out climbed most of the other riders, putting to rest the mistaken notion that recumbents can't climb. Well - actually it's true... recumbents can't climb. They just sit there motionless until you get on them and pedal. With the right motor on board, recumbents can climb just fine. Of course all that climbing has its rewards. This bike handled descents at up to 43 mph with no problem. Each one was more fun than the last, as I became more and more confident in the high speed handling of the bike. The 30 tooth granny ring and 28 tooth largest cog barely cut it for the steepest of the hills. I probably could have used a 28 tooth ring or a 32 tooth cog - or both.
The longer wheelbase does create more of a heel overlap problem with the front wheel. I did hit my heel against the tire a few times when climbing very slowly, but it wasn't that big of a deal. At any speed over about 6 or 7 mph you would never turn the wheel far enough to hit your heel.
In conclusion, having ridden the Vision SWB bikes in most of their configurations (no suspension, full suspension, front suspension, and both over and under seat steering) this is my favorite setup. The new longer wheelbase is a real improvement over the previous designs, but the difference is subtle and the bike still very rides very much the same. The front suspension is a great addition, even though it is heavy. It really smoothes out the ride. The lack of rear suspension, even with a narrow tire, was hardly noticeable. I'd recommend anyone interested in a Vision recumbent to go with the hardtail/front suspension setup. I also personally prefer the above seat handlebars, but the under seat bars have their own advantages.
If you have any questions about these bikes, please feel free to e-mail me.
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