A plush, stylish cruiser that will turn heads wherever you go
Anybody who knows me will tell you that I am a fan of Nazca bikes. They are extremely comfortable, nicely adjustable, very predictable to handle and you can ride them through brick walls without worrying about them breaking. The stock component sets are decent quality without being silly expensive and the frames are bombproof cromoloy steel. All this means that when me and my wife starting thinking about getting a tandem to bridge the significant power output difference between us, a Quetzal was top of the list to try.
The list was admittedly quite short, because my main criteria for any tandem we bought was twin big wheels to roll over the ‘interesting’ road surfaces in the Borders. This limited the choice of recumbent tandems that we could theoretically try out without leaving Scotland to .. erm, one. Laid Back bikes have one in the shop that’s available for demo. That’s a stroke of luck, eh!
To be fair, we did have the option of waiting a few months for a demo Azub Twin to appear at LBB (as reviewed here by Dave McCraw), but I was itching to get something before the summer was over (this was back in spring 2017), and the small front wheel of the Twin was not something I was keen to have regardless of how good the rest of the bike is (and I gather the Twin is pretty good and similarly bombproof to the Quetzal).
So a demo try out of the Quetzal was in order, at which point we discovered that the stock Quetzal configuration doesn’t fit my wife – at 4’11 and a 35″ XSeam, her legs are just a little too short to have a comfortable leg extension even with the stoker BB pulled back as far as it can go. The tandem was otherwise incredibly easy to ride and great fun, but was just too big for my wife to be comfortable.
So it looked like we were possibly going to have to look elsewhere, but I first put out a plaintive shout to Nazca via LBB to ask if there was anything that could be done. Nazca told us to leave it with them, and a few weeks later they got back to us with a new configuration that had been designed, tried and tested by them in just a few weeks. This new design involved moving the stoker BB to a different part of the bike frame and an alteration of the chain line to accommodate a stoker with very short legs. The usual stellar Nazca service! We were delighted, and a couple of months later we took receipt of our satin black Quetzal with its unique custom configuration.
Neither of us have ever ridden anything remotely like this bike before, and so we have been learning as we go. It’s been a pretty good journey so far.
There is no getting around the fact that the Quetzal is a beast of a bike. The first thing you will think when you try and manhandle it around is how heavy it is. Lifting the back end by yourself will feel very different to lifting your standard recumbent around. When you try and turn it around in a tight space, you need to watch that you don’t gouge holes out of walls / car doors / young children with the front boom assembly, because it is also very long.
You have to remember though that it is designed to carry two people plus a whole load of luggage, and it is engineered accordingly. It is not a lightweight tandem designed for pure speed. It weighs around 30 KG – so basically in the same ball park as 2 Fuegos which isn’t that bad when there’s 2 of you pedalling it. Just bear in mind that it is more the kind of bike that you can use to come down an alpine pass safely whilst heavily laden with luggage, or for touring across varied road surfaces where reliability and comfort are important.
Ours was specced with a few upgrades from stock. We went with a Rohloff 14 speed hub gear instead of derailleur and chain rings. We upgraded to large size disc rotors and Shimano hydraulic brakes. We added a third ‘drag’ brake on the back wheel, which is a V Brake controlled from a lever on the stoker’s bars. We haven’t really needed to use it much as we’re not in the alps, but we use it occasionally on very steep descents just to keep things a little more controlled. The seats are a large on the front and a small on the back. We got 155mm cranks on the stoker crankset for my wife’s shorter legs. I put the standard ICE VTX neck rest on my seat which is a great little neck rest, very comfortable. The usual Mirrycle mirrors on both front and back bars, although I have recently tried the smaller Zefal spy mirrors which are less obtrusive at the expense of slightly less visibility. I think on balance I prefer the Zefal – they don’t jut out as much and just look cooler 🙂
The wheels are 26 inch with Schwalbe Big Apple tyres. You can get a 24 inch version – see my comments below on why you might choose one over the other.
The handlebars are the same open cockpit ‘aerosteer’ bars you can get on the Gaucho or Fuego (It was my experience using these on the Quetzal that prompted me to change from tiller to aerobars on the Fuego.
Front and Boom
Let’s start at the front. The captain’s position on the bike is similar to that on a Nazca Gaucho high racer. The front boom is adjustable in or out to accommodate different leg lengths. A single chainring is used at the front – we have an internal gear hub so no front derailleur is required, but in any case this would be at the stoker’s chainrings and not at the front. So it is a clean, minimal setup and the chain runs down the left to a ring at the stoker’s BB.
The chain line is split in two – front and rear. It uses 2 chains as per the usual tandem set up, with all the gear changing funkiness at the back inside the Rohloff hub. The chains are connected at the stoker’s crankset in the middle of the bike via a chainring on the left. There is no independent pedalling on this model – if one person pedals, you both have to pedal. Likewise for coasting. It takes a bit of time to dial into each other’s style and make this second nature.
The stoker Bottom Bracket is adjustable for different leg lengths, and this is the area where our Quetzal differs from the stock configuration. On the stock model, the BB is attached to the bottom frame tubes which gives a lower leg position, a longer reach and more space between the knees and the captain’s seat. I would say maybe 37″ XSeam would be the absolute minimum you could comfortably ride as a stoker in this configuration. On our bike, Nazca have moved the BB up to the higher tube, which significantly shortens the distance from the seat to the pedals and makes the bike rideable by much shorter people.
I have ridden this bike with my 9 year old daughter on the back with crank shorteners, to give you an idea of how much shorter you can go. There is an implication from doing this customisation though – there is much less space for the stoker’s legs behind the captain’s seat, so long legged riders would not be able to ride as a stoker without banging their legs off the back of the seat. It does give a more closed hip position as well, which may or may not be to your liking. For us, it is perfect.
The seats are standard Nazca glass fibre seats – large on the front, small on the rear. The large seat is exactly the same one I have on the Fuego, and is very comfortable. The small seat is, I think, the ‘comfort’ model, with a wider seat pan. We have Ventisit pads on both.
The front seat is supported by 2 telescopic seat stays adjusted via a set of bolt holes on the stays. Adjustment requires taking 4 allen bolts out, sliding the seat to the position you want, and then putting the bolts back in. The plate holding the 4 bolts also contains a bottle cage, which can be used by either the stoker as-is, or by the captain if you add a hose to the bottle and run it up the back of the seat.
I tend to have the captain’s seat on the most laid back setting. I find on any bike that too angled a seat gives me recumbutt, and so flatter is definitely better for me. Others will prefer the seat higher. The adjustment ranges from ‘quite upright’ to ‘reasonably laid back’. The range is pretty much spot on – any more laid back and the bike would start to become a bit difficult to handle due to the amount of mass you are trying to balance, and it gets harder to see over the handlebars.
The rear seat is fixed to the suspension swing arm assembly, and can be adjusted through 3 positions via a laddered QR skewer that adjusts the geometry of the whole back end. It is therefore not as adjustable as the front seat but provides a useful range that I would classify as midrange, neither too upright or laid back. I’m not sure how much difference the suspension geometry adjustments make on a bike this size, but we put it in ‘as stretched as possible’ and left it at that, as it gives the most reclined position for the stoker’s seat which is what my wife likes best. The rear seat positioning is very nice in that it puts the stoker completely in the wind shadow of the captain, keeping aero drag down. Two fixed handlebars are provided. The drag brake is attached to the right hand stoker’s handlebar.
On the back is a heavy duty pannier rack that is rated up to 30 KG. The usual Nazca rear light comes as standard.
There is a kick stand to keep the bike stable, and this has been one minor issue I have had with the bike. With the suspension geometry stretched out, the kick stand is not adjustable enough to balance the bike securely (it doesn’t go short enough), and I managed to topple the bike in the garage which damaged the seat stays – I had to order new ones. To use the stand in this configuration you need to find a slight dip at the side of the road to put the kick stand into, otherwise you run the risk of a topple. You have been warned! It’s on my list of things to do to find a stand that will go a little bit shorter.
The frame is a significant piece of engineering in its own right. It is extremely robust and you have the feeling that you could use the bike as a battering ram to good effect. There is a lattice structure of triangulated frame struts along the length of the bike which I presume has been done to ensure you can carry a stack of weight on the bike without fear of breakage. It really feels like a solid bike and I would imagine that touring over rough roads with full luggage would not be a stress at all. We went for the satin black paint job which is very nice. Smooth and silky, and it looks very classy.
The frame can be split in the middle for one of two purposes – folding the bike in half or splitting it into 2 separate pieces. The frame is joined by 4 large bolts in the middle, with the 2 halves mated together using 2 sturdy plates that are hinged using 2 more bolts.
Folding the bike in half requires only that you unship the stoker’s chain from the mid chain ring, and then take out the 4 bolts. The bike can then be folded into a package half the length of the full bike – small enough for me to get it into the back of a Volvo V50. And to prove it, here it is in the back of the car, the night before the Tour de Lauder 2018. I did have to remove the stoker’s bars and loosen the front bars as they were catching on the sides of the boot. Maybe 10 minutes either end to fold / reassemble. You need one allen key and 2 sizes of spanner. Just don’t forget or lose the bolts!
Splitting the bike into 2 pieces requires a little more work. I’ve never actually tried this, but David Gardiner at Laid Back Bikes has done it when transporting his Quetzal around Scotland on the train. He had the following to say –
“For my one, I put the bike into gear 14 or 1 and then take off the Rohloff click box.
Disconnect the rear BB7 brake which has a cable splitter. If you have hydraulics then you need to take the lever off of the bars and that stays with the hose to rear. Both these may involve cutting zip ties or flicking out tab (which is very footery).
The link / timing chain between front and rear needs to be lifted off. Gloves useful as it will be very oily. The drive chain at front can stay on. You have the new left and right sided design so one chain is away from other which makes it easier.
Then it’s a question of taking out the four frame bolts – 8mm and 10 mm spanner plus 4 and 5mm Allens key (I think). Last of all take out the hinge bolts.
Voila you have two half bikes.”
David reckoned 10 minutes to do this if you’re used to it, 20 if it’s your first time. So on ours it might take a little longer as the hydraulics would make things a little more complicated. However, the fact you can cut such a beast of a bike in half to pack it away is pretty darn cool!
The suspension is a dual coil shock with a very robust swingarm arrangement. The suspension doesn’t really affect the captain so much (i.e. you will still feel it if you plough through potholes), but provides significant comfort to the stoker and protects the bike overall from large impacts. We haven’t used this bike with a lot of luggage yet, just day rides with relatively light panniers, but it’s clear that this suspension will cope with a fully laden back end. The rear rack moves in conjunction with the stoker’s seat (they are all part of the same suspended assembly), so the shock needs to be able to deal with significant weight. I can’t imagine wanting to put an air shock in here – when you consider the potential for loaded touring pothole impacts, coil shock is definitely the way to go in my opinion. The suspension is adjustable for preload and rebound. To be honest we haven’t needed to adjust it much – just leave it nice and plush and off you go.
As mentioned above, the drive train is split into 2 parts – front and rear. The front chainline is on the left hand side of the bike, whereas the rear chainline is on the right. Previous models had both chainlines on the right hand side, but having them on separate sides has the advantage of enabling the use of a triple chainring (for the version with a standard derailleur setup obviously!), as the timing chainring is on the left hand side of the bike. This is a good upgrade from the previous design, if you intend to go down the derailleur route.
Because this bike uses a Rohloff Speedhub, the drive train is very simple – one chainring at the front, a double chainring in the middle to connect the front and rear chains, and the Rohloff hub at the rear. The gears are controlled via a twist grip shifter on the captain’s handlebars. I have noted that you need to keep this gear cable well lubricated or it becomes quite tiring on the hand twisting all the time.
The Rohloff gives 14 evenly spaced gears. I have to admit I am still undecided on the Rohloff and whether it was the best idea for us. Compared to a 3×10 XT setup (the other option available from Nazca), the gearing range on the Rohloff is more limited – the practical range is around 3-30 MPH. On the Fuego (same size drive wheel, same 10 speed XT setup), the top end is extended to 40 MPH. Because we live in a such a hilly area, we do end up spinning out quite a lot on the descents which is not something either of us like that much. I knew this was going to be the case before we ordered the bike so it wasn’t a surprise. I felt the Rohloff would be the better option in the long run.
We could change the chainring sizes to get more top end, but what you gain at the top you lose at the bottom, and 15% hills need a low gear. In flatter areas or if you just don’t care about keeping pedalling all the time, this of course would not be an issue. For touring, I can’t imagine why you’d need more. It’s just that I am a speed freak and like to go down hills as fast as humanly possible. I also like to keep my legs spinning down hills rather than let them cool down and get a little stiffer for the next ascent.
The other thing about the Rohloff is that it is super sensitive to changing gear when under load, and going down through the gears when hitting a steep hill requires both riders to back off the pressure on the pedals completely or the gears can ‘jam’ which is the last thing you need. This happens particularly when going from gear 8 to 7 due to the way the internal mecahnics of the planetary gear works, but happens more frequently at low speed and high torque on steep hills. I am trying to avoid the need to call out every gear change but we have not yet developed enough of a sixth sense between us to know exactly when I am about to change, so I find I need to shout sometimes in these situations. I will occasionally just let the bike coast to the final target speed whilst simultaneously changing 3 or 4 gears at once. Much easier if you don’t mind losing a few seconds on each roller.
Now it’s important to note that I’ve never ridden any other tandem, recumbent or otherwise, so I do not know how easy it is to change gear on a standard derailleur setup with a bit of pressure on the pedals, but my feeling is that it would not be so fussy. I just don’t have enough experience to give a properly informed opinion either way. I can say that with time my gear changing is improving and becoming less of an issue. The trick to seamless, quick changes appears to be to change exactly in the dead spot of the pedal stroke, so you have to get tension loaded into the twist shifter so it is on the point of shifting, and then be super fast as you go through the dead spot. This will only work if you have the captain’s and stoker’s pedals properly in phase. I think putting them out of phase would make the Rohloff harder to use.
On the other hand, the Rohloff has many significant advantages over a standard derailleur setup. It is pretty much indestructible and very low maintenance – all you need to do is an oil change once a year. I imagine you would chew through cassettes and derailleurs pretty quick with the forces exerted by 2 riders. You can change gear with the bike stationary. Great for when you were distracted by the thought of that delicious ice cream and parked the bike in 14th gear. Simply twist the shifter back before you move off. The chainline is much simplified and there’s basically no parts to break or maintain.
So overall I don’t know which would have been best for us – perhaps with time the Rohloff will become so second nature that I will look back at this review and chuckle at my own ignorance 🙂 I can say that it has functioned flawlessly so far. Every online review I have ever read says how great and reliable these gearboxes are. It’s a no brainer for a dedicated touring setup.
The wheels are 26 inch with a high spoke count as you’d expect on a tandem. They are currently sporting Schwalbe Big Apple tyres and I pump them to 60 PSI which gives a sublime ride quality. The bike just cruises over everything unlike the Fuego which with skinnier tyres and the small front wheel, makes you feel the road a lot more. Cattle grids on the Fuego can be a hair raising experience as some of them have big gaps at each side which the small wheel can ‘fall’ into, but on the Quetzal you barely even notice them. Small cracks in the roads can be ignored, too. The big wheels roll beautifully and the tyres soak up so much of the road buzz. After a week last summer on the tandem I felt like I could never go back to skinny tyres – it was just such a pleasant experience.
You can get a 24 inch version of this bike. This is suited to riders with shorter legs, although I didn’t think the 26 inch version was that high. I think it puts the seats around an inch higher than the 24 inch version.
David at LBB very kindly lent us his 24 inch Quetzal for a week while we were waiting for ours to be delivered, so I spent a good bit of time on the bike for that week. When our bike arrived, I was able to compare the two.
The 26 inch version rolls a little better, and feels slightly more stable. I guess due to the slightly increased gyroscopic stability of the larger wheels. The 24 inch version on the other hand feels slightly more nimble.
The 24 inch version had almost no heel strike, compared to the 26 inch where I can catch my heels on the front wheel quite easily. I put pedal extenders on the captain’s cranks which reduces the possibility of heel strike significantly, by giving you an extra inch of clearance between heel and tyre. In the beginning, I didn’t realise just how much concentration can be required to keep 2 people upright on a 30 KG bike when wavering around at slow speeds on steep hills. If you haven’t ever done this, then note that it requires more skill and concentration than a solo recumbent. You really feel the extra weight of your stoker and corrections become more critical. It helps if your stoker sits straight and keeps power steady and predictable.
Having just done the Tour de Lauder sportive in April 2018 on the Quetzal, I had a mishap with my right pedal going up a hill – the pedal worked its way loose from the extender and came off, sticking to the bottom of my shoe. The extender thread was damaged in the process and I couldn’t get the pedal back into the extender, so I had to take the extender off and ride with just the pedal as normal. I was a bit stressed about this, because 5 miles from the end of the sportive there is a very steep hill and I was concerned about keeping the bike straight with my foot so close to the wheel again. However, it turned out to be a non issue – we were down to 2.5 mph at one point but we got up the hill unscathed. I think this shows that like anything, practice on this bike leads to good low speed handling and I am now considering taking the extenders off again as you do get slightly better power delivery without them, less rotational weight and so forth. If I am comfortable down at 3 mph without them now, then that’s probably good enough. Tight turns are still a challenge – as they are on any large wheeled recumbent with a fixed front boom – the usual solution is to unclip the inside foot, pedal one legged and ask the stoker to pedal hard.
Overall, both ride very similarly, the 26 is slightly plusher feeling and the 24 is slightly easier to control, although it is a very subtle difference. In terms of rim and tyre choice you have a greater selection with 26 inch wheels – something to consider. My own recommendation would be that the 26 is good if you are not planning on lots of urban tight cornering or spending a lot of time climbing very steep hills, and you don’t worry too much about heel strike. If any of these do not apply, consider the 24 as it’s just that bit more forgiving in terms of heel strike and easier to turn. Both are beautiful to ride. A test ride is essential to appreciate the bike’s handling. If you’re used to recumbents you will literally jump on and ride away without any problems. It is a breeze to ride and very stable.
In terms of our 26 inch bike, our experience after nearly a year has been nothing but positive. We have had a long winter in which we didn’t get out much, but as mentioned earlier, we have just finished a sportive on the bike and I was happy mixing it up with road cyclists on narrow single track roads, although the jokes about the stoker not putting in any effort got lame pretty quick! Wherever you go, you will turn heads, be pointed at, be asked lots of questions and have kids shout ‘cool!’ at you as you ride past. It is not a bike for an introvert! Cars will leave you more space than you could dream about riding an upright bike.
The bike is very stable at speed, and doesn’t require much concentration until you get down to around 5 mph. Below that you need to keep your focus on keeping the bike straight and body English becomes important – those little wiggles from side to side are what keeps the bike tracking well on steep climbs. You will find the physical aspect of handling the bike a bit more demanding than a solo bike – all the little adjustments you make on a solo bike need to be a little more exaggerated on the tandem, so get proficient before you try to throw the bike round a bend at 45 mph!
However, overall the bike is supremely easy to ride, it just glides along with no twitchiness at all. Turning tight corners is harder due to the longer wheelbase, so you need to practice a little more and be aware of what you are trying to do. Pay attention to where your feet are and angle your inside heel up to get over the tyre on tighter bends or unclip as described above.
Over time, you start to develop an affinity with each other’s riding style, and it adds an extra dimension to the act of cycling that you just don’t get on a solo bike. We find ourselves going for miles without talking, just enjoying the shared experience of pedalling through the countryside. The bike hums along nicely, the Rohloff giving out its distinctive ‘whirr’ in gears 1 to 7.
Food and Drink
In terms of hydration solutions, the Fastback Double Century bags fitted well on the captain’s seat of the standard model, but with the custom BB position, the stoker’s feet catch on the bags so it wasn’t a viable solution. I hacked a cheap Decathlon bladder pack to bits and hung it off the back of my seat. I fix it round the seat stays to keep it out the way of the stoker’s legs, and now have the ability to store a large water bladder plus a lot of food (which your friendly stoker will be happy to feed you with as you cycle along). 3 litres of water and a big bag of homemade flapjacks – that’s you set for a day on the bike. My wife puts a similar bladder in the rack top bag behind her, with the hose attached to a handlebar with a retractable badge holder. You can of course put panniers on and take a lot more luggage with you for longer days or tours.
In terms of speed, it is difficult to judge how fast you might be on your Quetzal with your combination of captain and stoker. All I have is our experience as a mixed ability couple. My wife is half my size and not as strong. On a hilly 50 mile ride with around 3500 feet of ascent and a lot of rollers, an effort level that might result in around 18-19 mph for myself on the Cruzbike yields about 13-14 mph for us on the Quetzal. The difference would be less on flatter terrain. Our speed has started to come up as my wife gets stronger and more used to recumbent cycling (this is her first recumbent bike). I do think you could be a fair bit faster with 2 powerful riders, and you can really motor along on the flat and downhills (47 mph down Lauder Hill last weekend!), but this is a bike that is always going to be better at cruising rather than racing and it is designed with that purpose in mind. On steep hills, it helps to keep a high cadence. You cannot mash this bike up hills at a low RPM – there is too much weight to push and you would destroy your knees. I learned quickly that as the stronger rider, you need to adjust your speed expectation accordingly, or you end up in the red and exhausted very quickly. I also learned that the difference between a comfortable ride at a decent effort level and a full scale assault on the legs does not result in as much speed improvement as you might think, unless the stoker is able to put in a similar increase in power in which case the speed starts to rise much more noticeably.
This bike was bought to allow two very different strength riders to spend time together on the road. Our experience with Nazca has once again been great, and they have provided us with a bespoke solution that works perfectly for two very different sized riders. Over time the experience of tandeming has grown on both of us, and we always really look forward to going out for a ride on this truly fantastic bike. It is very easy to ride, has been completely reliable, is made to a very high standard and we hope to get many years’ service out of it. Twin big wheels are definitely the way to go in my opinion, and you can cruise all day on this bike in complete comfort regardless of road conditions.
If you’re in the market for a recumbent tandem, I thoroughly recommend trying the Quetzal. You can’t get more fun out of two wheels.
I’ll leave the last word to my wife and stoker:
“When David mentioned ‘recumbent tandem’, I thought he was slightly unhinged. I had just got back on my mountain bike after a period of significant ill health, and I was over the moon that I could still ride my mountain bike. At one point I had given up on the idea of being able to build up stamina and cycle significant distances. By this time, David was riding a recumbent bike, and it soon became clear that it was difficult to cycle together. He was also much faster than me, and I had never wanted to ride a recumbent. He persuaded me that a recumbent tandem would be an excellent opportunity to do something that we both enjoyed so much together.
I was dubious but he was very certain. David sold his beloved Fylde guitar to help finance this adventure and we got on the bike together…..
Well? This has been one of our best adventures together. I can’t thank him enough for giving me this gift to be able to go out cycling with him. The bike is sturdy, stylish, and above all, shed loads of fun! So far I have been conscientious enough to put in my effort. It’s a heavy bike and up hills can be difficult, but then the down hills are superfast and exhilarating. I want to put in the hard work to improve my core strength so I don’t mind climbing hills – it’s a great challenge, although all up and no down could be demoralising! The bike itself is very comfortable and clearly excellently crafted. Thank you David, my husband, thank you David Laid Back Bikes, and thank you Quetzal”.