eBent Recumbent Cycling

A Bent Look at Self Contained Touring

TerraCycle’s Longbikes Slipstream Idler Kit

with 6 comments


5/12/09 Update: I can’t recommend this idler kit for the Slipstream. I have done a bit of riding with them now and have to say I am not impressed. The concept is good but the reality is increased noise and an idler that doesn’t seem to follow the chain line very well. This is an expensive upgrade without significant benefits.

TerraCycle offers a Longbikes Slipstream Idler Kit that looks very nicely made. It replaces the rubber idlers seen on most recumbents with coged idlers that have high quality bearings. TerraCycle claims that the better idlers provide improved efficiency and quieter operation. This improvement is not inexpensive, $154 for the kit.

I agree with TerraCycle’s explanation of why good quality idlers are important but I am not sure how noticeable the improvement will be for most riders. I have ordered a Kit and will document my experience.

The kit is not easy to find at the TerraCycle web site, the link above will save you time finding it.

(more description of the kit and TerraCycle’s explanation of why high quality idlers are important follow)

TerraCycle’s description of the Longbikes Slipstream Idler kit:

This idler kit upgrades both idlers on your Longbikes Slipstream. This kit replaces the Power Side idler with a smooth, efficient 15T Power Side Idler. A special bolt and adapter bushing enable the idler to float side to side with the chain for less noise and greater efficiency. The return side uses the existing bracket, but a new stainless steel idler shaft bolt lets the new return idler float as well. As always, this kit includes complete instructions, and everything you need for a smoother, quieter, long lasting chainline.


Powerside Idler


Return Idler

This is the famous TerraCycle return idler used in our kits. It is built to last for thousands of miles. We have not seen a worn out one yet! Constructed with a lightweight aluminum bearing carrier, industrial quality urethane bed to keep the chain moving smoothly and quietly. ABEC 7 bearing to keep everything rolling effortlessly.


Idlers are the bread and butter of TerraCycle- it is the most of what we do and what we think about day in and day out. We spend hours on the phone every week with customers looking for more out of their bikes, and we are successful at getting them that benefit. Years have been spent developing the TerraCycle idlers, and without tooting our own horn, we probably know more about idlers and chain lines for recumbents than anyone in the business. Years of experience talking to riders, plus our own experiences with everything from streamliners to touring bikes, has taught us a lot about what makes recumbent chainlines work better. TerraCycle idlers have been recognized as the finest available. Each idler is made here in Portland, Oregon in our own machine shop with complete dedication to detail and quality.

CNC machined idlers with tight tolerances deliver more power to your drive train and are quieter, smoother, and allow the chainline to run with less vibration. The drive train is one place on a bike that deserves the best parts you can afford. Because of the long lengths of chain that recumbents have, a quality idler system is really key. The industry standard has been to use inexpensive molded plastic rollers that are highly inefficient at transferring chain power to the rear wheel. Bumping chain along a hard non-toothed surface on the power side makes no sense at all. Everywhere else in the power side of your drive train (chainrings and cassette) toothed cogs are used- why should the idler be any less important? Running a loaded chain over a non-cogged surface causes friction and power loss as the chain attempts to dig itself a groove in the plastic idler, or worse yet, with harder plastic idlers, the chain bumps its way along on the way to the rear or drive wheel. A chain has a very specific shape that is designed to run on only one thing when loaded- and that is a cog. Don’t let anyone tell you anything different because any good engineer will tell you that simply isn’t the case. The shape of the molded non-cogged power idler is probably better designed for lines on a boat. Unfortunately our bikes aren’t run with ropes, we have chains, so what we run that chain over shouldn’t look like something designed for rope.

There is an exception to the cog rule and that is for the return chain which is only loaded by its own weight plus the tension from the derailleur arm spring. In this application a non-cogged idler is an option if it is well made/has high quality bearings and is not prone to premature wear. Our return idlers use the same industrial urethane material in the beds as is found on the most expensive warehouse rollers. Because the return chain tends to wander side to side within the idler without the higher loads our floating return system allow the change in chain angle to be accomodated as you change gears. To illustrate the issues with molded power idlers for longevity we recently received a call from a customer on a cross country trip who called us from a remote location in Indiana telling us that his stock idler system had completely disintegrated rendering his bike un-rideable. Many customers report that their stock idlers are wearing out in a matter of a few months. Our belief is that drive train components should be much longer lived and more efficient than this, which is why we design our idlers to last the life of your bike.

Some manufacturers are using softer plastics in an attempt to fool you into thinking that the idler is working better because it sounds quieter than the harder plastics, but again don’t be fooled, you aren’t gaining anything and maybe even losing even more power than you imagine. Lower noise does not automatically equate to efficiency. While we are on the friction topic, chain tubes cause friction on a chain. No matter how nice the tube is (and there is a wide range of tube qualities out there) you are still running a chain on or through a surface it isn’t optimally designed for. Chain tubes wear out and it really isn’t smart to run a chain though a variety of angles between your crank and your rear wheel through lots of tubing. However, if the goal is to keep your pant leg free from chain grease on a commuter bike, then by all means the trade off in efficiency is probably worth it. The number of customers who call asking us to help them get rid of the multiple feet of tubing their bikes came with is phenomenal. We use chain tubes on a very few of our kits, basically where the bike and the chainline absolutely require it. We use high quality, low noise/low friction tube, keep the lengths short, and flare BOTH ends of the tube to reduce entry/exit vibration. If you think about the thousands of pedal strokes you do annually, and then think about power robbing idlers, or multiple/long lengths of chain tubing, it makes no sense at all!

We know performance riders who brag about the latest wheel set or special crank as they attempt to squeeze a little more speed or a few more miles out of their rides with the same amount of watts into the pedals, but then we see plastic idlers on those bikes and think- Wow! There’s some energy being wasted that could be turned into power!

Lots of companies brag about their involvement in racing, and to add our note to this, TerraCycle sponsors several teams, including the very successful RAO Speedwagon Recumbent Race Team which has for the last two years won the recumbent division, plus a first and second overall in “Race Across Oregon” which is known as the hardest pre-RAAM qualifier in the nation (539 miles / 45,000 plus feet of climbing / Non-Stop). Each of the team bikes, from Streamliner to High Racer, have TerraCycle Idlers on them, because the team knows that when you are racing on a course that challenging you can’t afford anything but the best in your drive train to ensure no amount of energy is wasted. We pushed the team riders to their limits riding so many miles very fast with so much climbing and very little rest. This kind of performance demands that you gain those critical minutes for every hour of pedalling, because in the end the winning margin can end up being very small. TerraCycle has for multiple years now supplied idlers to teams competing in the ASME races. The engineering students build a variety of HPV’s and need efficient and powerful chain management to get the most out of their vehicles in this very demanding competition. We pride ourselves on helping the engineering students with our state of the art idlers in a variety of configurations to meet their needs.

TerraCycle idlers initially cost more, but if you factor in the longevity, and the fact that they are not prone to failure, plus the pedaling efficiency you will gain, then they really are a great value. All TerraCycle idlers utilize industry grade ABEC-7 bearings- which are replaceable- as well as industrial grade urethane beds on the return side. Idler plates are machined aluminum and high grade polycarbonate. All fasteners are stainless steel. Idler cogs are 6Al/4V Titanium or 7075 Aluminum. Each idler is fully rebuildable if that ever becomes necessary (so far we have only had to do two of these in five years and both of these were due to damage caused by accidents). All Terracycle idlers are fully warrantied for five years. No other manufacturer comes close to that kind of guarantee. The diameter of our standard 15T idlers is 2.75 inches or 70mm and use 8mm bearings. We now offer 13T(2.4in/61mm OD), 14T(2.5in/65mm OD), and 23T(4.0in/101mm OD) idlers as well, for special bikes/trikes (velomobiles, FWD setups, etc.). We have idler replacement kits for most brands of recumbents and experimenter kits for homebuilders or those bikes not listed.


Written by Roland

March 31, 2008 at 7:19 am

6 Responses

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  1. Looks promising. I have wondered why Longbikes supplied the rubber idlers on a bike that otherwise shows such attention to detail and uses high quality components.
    Perhaps they thought that since the Slipstream does not have radical chain routing that it was not needed.
    In any case, when the idlers start to show wear, I will replace them with the Terracycle kit.


    April 2, 2008 at 8:39 am

  2. I just replaced one of the idlers on my slipstream last year that had seized up. I’m curious if anyone has used the Terracycle idlers and if there was a noticeable difference. Due to the price, they’re not something I’m going to upgrade to unless I notice a performance difference.


    April 2, 2008 at 2:01 pm

  3. I expect to have mine on in about 2 to 3 weeks. I don’t expect an immediate … ahhh! But will let you know what happens.


    April 2, 2008 at 2:40 pm

  4. Hi – any word on the Terracycle idlers yet? I’m considering jumping…


    May 4, 2008 at 10:54 am

  5. Hope you saw Slipstream Idler kit – Part 2.

    Installation was very easy and quick. The lower part of the chain is definitely deflected quite a bit if you use the existing guard as shown in the instructions. Enough that I have considered using an add on guard like the one supplied with the upper idler. Since the guard hasn’t moved the deflection must have been there before and I just never noticed it.

    The new idlers are definitely quieter.

    I am sure there has been an affect on pedaling effort but it is not one that I can sense at this time of the year.

    Spring is arriving late here in New Hampshire and with a good bit of cold weather and rain, so I don’t have many miles on the idlers yet.

    The idlers are very nice but seem quite expensive.


    May 5, 2008 at 11:19 am

  6. […] Powerslide Slipstream ebent.wordpress.com […]

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