I often get asked out on the trail about my bike, and love talking about all things recumbent. Most often I'm asked "is it comfortable?" (yes, very), "How do you steer it?" (the handlebars are under the seat), and "How far can you ride on it?" (miles and miles without a sore butt). I love explaining it all, and a lot of times I explain the differences between the Long Wheel Base (LWB) and the Short Wheel Base (SWB) bikes. I've only ridden Linear recumbents, but I thought I'd share my thoughts and experiences with my Iowa built Linear LWB Limo and SWB Sonic.
The Linear LWB Limo
I've had my LWB Linear Limo since 1995 or so and put probably thousands of miles on it at this point. The wheelbase is 68" from rear to front, and the bike weighs in at a whopping 25lbs (not loaded for touring). I've added SPD clipless pedals, a rear rack for a pair of Ortleib panniers, and done quite a bit of work on a front accessory mount to hold my iPhone and Insta360 camera to record my rides. Despite 25 years of riding the mechanicals have all held up amazingly well, I believe I've only replaced brake pads and a chain over that time, everything else on the bike is original.
The benefit of having such a long wheelbase is comfort and stability. Though it doesn't have suspension, the bike is comfortable over even sizeable bumps. Steering feels easy and steady with little input required. Even at slow speeds (slower than walking sometimes) you can control the bike with little work.
The LWB folds down amazingly well, shocking most who aren't familiar with it. If you remove both wheels, the front fork and rear frame section fold all the way around underneath the main beam. The seat comes right off and everything can be folded or reassembled in minutes with just your hands - no tools needed.
One of the trade-offs of the LWB is speed and agility. It takes a little more time to get going and is not as nimble as the SWB. U-Turns can take the width of an average two lane street and even 90° turns are tricky, requiring a good amount of practice to master, especially when you're clipped in.
The Linear LWB is called the Limo and rightfully so - it's meant for long leisurely rides at a comfortable pace. 50 mile rides are no problem at all, you can ride it all day without any issues. It's an absolute joy to watch the miles breeze by without being hunched over and split in two by a tiny bike saddle.
The Linear SWB Sonic
I acquired my SWB Linear this spring after stumbling across a Craigslist ad too good to pass up. I had always heard that SWB bikes are quicker and more agile, but the trade off is that the steering is a bit more jumpy. This was exactly how I felt on the bike when I took it for a test spin. I was very wobbly for the first 100 yards or so, but soon after that I got the hang of it. After a few laps around the parking lot I bought it no questions asked, and I'm glad I did - after about a half hour on the bike at home I felt just as confident as I do on my LWB.
As I mentioned above, the SWB is more definitely quicker and more nimble - I'm able to navigate sidewalks and tight turns with ease where the LWB would require me to sometimes stop and manually turn the bike in tight spots. I feel like the bike is much quicker from a dead stop which makes me feel safer at stoplights and in traffic. I don't have a large data set, but I do notice my Strava averages are faster, and my personal records are all on the Sonic.
One major difference that I prefer on the SWB is the rider position. With the frame at more of an upwards angle and the cranks on the top, you sit in more of a reclined position with your feet higher. At 6'6" I surprisingly have more room on the SWB and feel much more comfortable - by a noticeable amount.
Additionally, having the front wheel tucked under the bike behind the cranks means it disappears from view, giving the rider a feeling of almost flying. On the LWB the front tire is always in view reminding you that you're on a bike.
The SWB is less stable than the Limo that is certain, riding at any speed I find myself needing to make small adjustments frequently. It's not unrideable by any means, just compared to the LWB you do have to focus a tad more on which way you're going. Also counter-intuitively the SWB doesn't fold as nicely. The front fork is fixed, so the frame doesn't pack down as flat as the LWB. Not a huge issue, but it is a slight annoyance.
I try not to use car analogies, but a good way to picture it is that the LWB is a Cadillac and the SWB is a Miata. You can ride for miles and miles on the LWB at a leisurely pace, watching the landscape float by, or you can zip around on the SWB pulling tight turns and having fun racing down your local trail. Both are great bikes and there are definitely strong arguments for and against both! It really comes down to what kind of riding you are looking to do and rider preference. Just looking for a quick 10 miles on a local bike path? The SWB is a great option. Want to ride RAGBRAI or the Trans America? Load up the LWB with all your gear and go have an adventure!
Having ridden both for some time now I still absolutely love my LWB Linear. I ride #party-pace and am not looking to nab any Strava KOMs, so speed isn't what I'm after. I'm gearing up some long distance rides so the LWB Limo is going to remain my primary bike for years to come. I do grab the SWB for rides with my daughter so I can keep up and navigate the neighborhood, so having it in the garage makes sense for me. Yes, I do wish I could have a more reclined riding position like the SWB, but it's still a wonderful bike and I can't wait to put a few thousand more miles on it.