I’ve had the Fuego for almost a year now, so it’s high time I put some thoughts down on it. Dave McCraw has already posted a detailed review of the stock Fuego compared to other similar recumbents here, so I’ll take a different angle. He’s also got a lot more pictures than me, so if you’re thinking about acquiring a Fuego read his first! Then come back (or don’t), and I’ll talk about what have I’ve changed from stock over the past year to make it even better.
First then, a general introduction. Behold; the Nazca Fuego.
This model had two years of heavy use when it came to me from Laid Back Bikes, and I’ve put a respectable mileage on it since then. Generally regarded as a semi-low racer, it’s rear wheel drive, has rear wheel suspension and has above seat tiller steering. Brakes are cable-actuated discs, the seat is fully adjustable via quick releases and there’s a rear rack and optional pannier rack under the seat.
When I had my first test ride on recumbents, I thought I was after something blindingly quick and uncomfortable – a lightweight ninja machine that would hunt down roadies uphill and leave them for dust on the descents. I quickly realised I wasn’t, not least because I need to carry a fresh change of clothes into work every day and therefore need a rear rack. I also thought that if these recumbents were as comfortable as everyone claimed I might fancy doing a bit of touring on them rather than the upright, so the ability to carry a bit more luggage would be cool. But I do like fast as well, because being overtaken by people with shaved legs hurts regardless of the bike you’re riding1.
The Fuego ticks all these boxes so emphatically the pencil rips the paper. If you want a stable, comfy, affordable HPV which can carry a full touring load yet keep up with the road bikes on the weekend jaunt and fits into the average tenement flat, I’m not sure you could find a better choice. And you’ll still leave everything behind downhill.
Assuming you’ve read Dave’s review and are well up to date on the pros and cons of the stock Fuego, lets look at what I’ve changed in the pursuit of the perfect all-purpose HPV.
The stock tyres were Schwalbe Marathons, which are great heavy duty tyres, with a useful reflective tyre wall. They are pretty slow to spin up mind, so I’ve stuck on some Duranos. These are definitely quicker, have slightly better grip and I’ve still only p*nctured once (ok, twice, but the other time was a pothole so severe it also knocked the whole wheel out of true, so it hardly counts). Less durable mind, so you’ll be buying them more often.
There’s now a Shimano XT derailleur, which offers great performance for a sensible cost. The cable line is also much better than other options around this price point. The cassette is a SRAM 11-23 road offering, which gives much closer ratios for easier spinning, and the chain is SRAM’s nickel plated PC991 which resists the salt of the roads considerably better than most. The suspension has gone from a coil spring to an Epicon air shock, which is half the weight and considerably smoother and quieter. Finishing off the drivetrain tweaks at this end there’s a Terracycle idler and much less chaintube. I’m uncertain about the chaintube changes – there’s a touch less drag but bizarrely a lot more chain noise. This could probably be reduced by increasing the tension on the derailleur tensioner to remove some of the chain slap.
You’ve also got my magical hydration system, which consists of a bladder in the rack pack with the tube held in place by two retracting hand gel bungee things.
This works brilliantly, if I say so myself. I’ve cable-tied two bottle holders either side of the rack for either extra water or my breakfast. These sit behind my shoulders so don’t add any extra drag, but unless you’re considerably more acrobatic than me you can’t reach them on the move. Finally, there’s the business end of the Magicshine rear light (just at the top of the suspension), with the battery just visible between the seat and rack pack. Aim it downwards to avoid blinding everyone behind you.
At the pointy end, the crankset has been swapped for a Deore mountain bike offering. You lose a little off the top end, but combined with the road rear cassette get a much nicer distribution across the range. Note that due to the length of chain and middle idler there’s no need to worry about crosschaining gears, so you can happily sit in the big/big cog combination (or small/small) without any additional drag/noise. This is useful, as the front derailleur remains pretty heavy to move. This must be something to do with the cable routing, although I haven’t been able to improve it much despite some fettling. Given the twist grip shifters changing the front gears can be a bit of a wobbly experience until you get used to it, although swapping to some trigger offerings would help if it bothered you.
The use of an XT front derailleur rather than a Deore was just because the offer on at the time made it cheaper – I’ve yet to find any performance difference.
You can see the reflective tape I’ve added to the cranks in an attempt to comply with the requirement for pedal reflectors. Works well from the front, although is clearly invisible from the back as I’m in the way. All a bit pointless given in any kind of dim visibility the bike is lit up like a Christmas tree, but it hopefully reduces any chance of a driver getting off on a technicality in SMIDSY circumstances.
Lastly there’s Supernova’s excellent E3 front light, driven off a SON hub in the front wheel. This is all the front light you’ll ever need (or, admittedly, want to pay for), delivering oodles of light onto a well defined letterbox pattern. Note the slightly lower recumbent postitioning of the light (as opposed to the handlebars of an upright, for example), means the letterbox reaches much further in front of you whilst still illuminating the area in front of your wheel. Bit of a Brucey Bonus, there.
So, I’ve made plenty of changes – have I reached recumbent nirvana, or is there still something missing?
Well, it’s very close. The drivetrain is still a little loud, and my current setup requires a plastic deflector on the front fork to prevent the return chain chewing into it on the granny ring. It’s also undeniably chunky, so you better be in good shape if you’re planning on sprinting up hills or racing carbon framed uprights.
However, I’m not sure what I’d change. I like the comfort given by the steel frame and suspension and the convenience offered by the rack options, and I wouldn’t reduce either of these just to make it a bit lighter. The seat is low enough for real benefit in a headwind, and yet not so low that you feel uncomfortable in city traffic. With luggage on the racks under the seat the thing rides like it’s on rails, and looks pretty smart as well given the black/orange colour scheme of my Carradice baggage. The lifting tiller adds a few grammes, but also makes getting in and out much much easier and allows a smooth-looking rolling dismount. And it’s still hardly slow, and being low down and leaning hard into corners makes everything feel much faster anyway.
My one sentence summary? A very nearly perfect HPV if you want to do a bit of everything on the road.
1 I can confirm however that it is not possible to catch a roadie in full flight when caught unawares on a Raleigh Twenty. But by all means try.