It’s a weird thing, the Circe Morpheus.
At first glance it’s a fairly chunky looking utility bike, dominated by that bizarre recumbent front half. Something to potter around on, or maybe haul around the weekly shop having swapped the ‘bent seat for a front luggage rack. However, glide around on it for even a few hours, and the potential for a true mile muncher for two becomes clear.
To be clear, I don’t think this current version is that perfect mile muncher. It’s damn close though, and probably as close as we’ll ever get given the small size of the potential market.
Anyway, before I go all misty eyed, let me run through exactly what the Morpheus is.
PS: I’ve cut and chopped this several times and still can’t get it scan properly. I mean, how do you sensibly review something that’s effectively two completely different bikes stuck together? I’ve eventually decided to go with function rather than by rider, but apologies in advance if it skips about a bit…
Overview and purpose
The Circe Morpheus is an aluminium framed tandem, with an upright (or ‘conventional’) rear position and a recumbent front, which can be swapped out for a luggage bay if desired. The steering and gear changing is all done by the back end, so unusually for a tandem the captain is behind the stoker. This particular model from Laid Back has a Rohloff internal gear hub and disc brakes as well. Shiny.
I’m not going to weigh it for you, because that seems unjust on a bike that isn’t designed to be particularly light. I’ll just say that it’s lighter than my (one-man) steel tourer/end-of-the-world bike, and heavy enough so that it won’t fold up like a paper bag if you drop it. It looks heavier than it is.
I don’t think Circe would mind too much if I said the Morpheus is aimed at the utility end of the market. Use it as a tandem during the day, using the pannier rack to carry odds and ends. Then swap out the front seat, stick on the luggage rack, and nip own to the garden centre later on to bring bag a few sacks of compost for the home-grown tomatoes. Circe also say that the rack has been designed to fit a child car seat securely, so you’d be able to keep an eye on your little darlings as you trundle round.
However, there are two additional features that I think would lend this setup to the long distance market. We’re already on to a winner due to the tandem-ness, giving us more power with the same cross-sectional area exposed to the wind compared to a singleton. Considering the Morpheus against a ‘normal’ tandem then:
- Having the riders in two different positions not only gives you chance to swap around and utilise different sets of muscles, it also means the guy at the back doesn’t spend the entire time staring at the person in front’s backside.
- As your heads are closer together, you can actually speak to one another without the wind being a constant bother. Whether this is to discuss the route or just to stave of the gremlins of tiredness, don’t underestimate how beneficial this could be over truly long distances
So the Morpheus is a tandem, which can double as a cargo bike, and also has this possible third life as a long distance device.
There’s an awful lot of chain in use, so there’s inevitably a slightly draggy feel to the transmission. That being said, it’s not any worse than a rear wheel drive recumbent if you forget to clean the chain on a regular basis, and a good portion of it might be down to the goopy oil in the Rohloff. We’re going to get that changed and see how much of a difference it makes (note from a week later: lots!)
The stoker’s pedals are out front with a single chainring on the end of a sliding boom, with a sensibly placed piece of chain tube keeping the oil off one’s legs. Chain slack is taken up by a manually adjustable idler-on-a-stick thing which pivots to extend the chain line. The angle of the stick is held by a fairly weedy 3mm Allen bolt which slipped a few times when we put power through it. This then causes the chain to derail and get stuck within the guts of the captain’s cranks, which is a pain. If you’re always using the same stoker you could take this out of the equation completely and just run a shorter chain over the top of the idlers. Failing that, I’d be looking to either fit s bigger bolt, or craft some kind of chock to prevent the slip.
The captain has a conventional arrangement which we had no problems with. Freewheeling can be done either be both riders, or by the stoker alone. Happily for me in the stoker position, the captain can’t sneak a cheeky rest whilst I cough up a lung-bursting uphill. This does mean that changing gear requires a quick ‘ease off’ command from the captain, as otherwise the stoker manfully hauls onwards and very little else happens.
The ever-popular Avid BB7s. Cable actuated disc braking at it’s very best, these bring you rapidly to a stop. In fact, it would probably be possible for the captain to fire a sleeping stoker out of the front of the bike, given a good run up.
The front disc appears slightly on the small side compared to the dinner plater-sized offerings on some disc equipped tandems. We’ll see how it gets on with some of the long downhills on the London-Edinburgh-London route, but it had no problems with heat build up on any of the hills we could find in Edinburgh.
Contact points and steering
The stoker’s seat is upright, which puts you in a decent position for all round visibility as well as powering up hills. Given the person sat upright behind you, there would be no aerodynamic benefit to being more laid back anyway. Stubby little hand holds are provided to the sides of the seat, but I only really used them when going uphill – the Morpheus is stable enough for you to do pretty much anything with your arms in the front seat. The seat was a bit too padded for me, but that’s easily swapped out (and indeed, a week later we did just that)
The captain has a similarly upright position, with slightly unusual vertical handlebars that reminded me of tank controls. The bars connect to a push rod which runs under the stoker’s seat to connect to the front fork. There’s a smidge of slop in the setup, but I suspect that’s more down to having a lot of weight directly over the wheel. They worked well enough, so someone at Circe has clearly done their homework, but like any unusual bike give yourself ten minutes to get used to what’s going on. Conveniently your stoker can do any indicating that’s required, leaving you able to keep both hands on the bars.
After a bit of practice the Morpheus is oddly nimble and can negotiate remarkably tight turns. It’s a weird feeling as a stoker, as your feet sweep a wider diameter arc than the front wheel itself. Trust your captain not to smack you into a lamp post or railings…
I’m going to stop there for now. As I’ve mentioned elsewhere, this is the bike we’ll be tackling the London-Edinburgh-London route with in late July, so we’ll be putting a lot more miles in over the next few months.
Expect a more detailed review in due course!
Thanks to Uberuce for the photos.