Azub Max foto Henry Holmstrand.
Henry Holmstrand liggist i Stockholm recenserar sin Azub Max i en rapport på engelska.
A much too detailed review of Azub Max
by Henry Holmstrand
Time for a new bike
Some of my commutes to-and-fro work used to end with a taxi fare. It would start with a flat tire and progress to dropped derailleurs, chain oil everywhere and parts spread all over the sidewalk. It was during one of these fire-and-brimstone events I decided to get a proper bent to replace my homebuilt widow maker.
What I was after was a tough 2x26” bike for good visibility in traffic, wide tire selection and good capabilities in snow and on forest trails. The choice fell on the Azub Max, a touring-type high racer manufactured in the Czech Republic. It is promoted as a MTB recumbent, and should serve well for commuting and touring. Azub seems to have a fair reputation for quality, not least considering the favourable pricing (<1500 euros for the base model in 2007). As it turns out, this is actually both true and false. Anyhow, I ordered one of these machines directly from Azub (base model), and so begun the long hardship of anticipation.
First impressions... last?
The bike came fully assembled in a rather large box. Only the seat had to be mounted, and handlebars and boom adjusted to proper angles and lengths. My specimen is fitted with over-seat steering to narrow the overall width for smooth cruising between crowded traffic lanes. Hence, I didn’t face any adjustment of the linkage for the alternative under-seat steering.
The first impression was good, but very puzzled. I had ordered a blue bike – the frame in the box was black and basically everything was wrong, although I was initially positively surprised by the general componentry upgrade. Immediate communications with Mr. Galla at Azub clarified that my bike had ended up in the Netherlands, due to a mistake by the freight company (which subsequently called my cell phone and apologized for the inconvenience). I would say that the Azub customer service is good – they respond quickly to e-mails and are available by telephone.
My blue bike arrived a few weeks later and everything looked jolly. Very solid feeling of it all. Perhaps not particularly sexy or elegant, but putatively durable. Ordinary bolts (“in-hex” or “imbus” to be adjusted with Allen keys) are used throughout and give a “serviceable” impression. The only negative about the appearance is the mudguards. The are made from flimsy and ugly silvery plastic... how about a nice glossy black for a more distinguished look? Otherwise the powder coat looks very nice, and the logos too. Plenty of bosses for various mounts and equipment is placed on the frame and helps with lights and cyclo computers. I was happy to see the sturdy rear rack with its very functional and attractive design – it is an extension of the main frame. The kickstand was different from the pictures on the Azub homepage, and probably remains in development as I write this. It is located on the rear axle, similar to the “Volae kickstand Gizmo” from Hostelshoppe.com. The kickstand and the base-model chain rings are the only parts of the bike that a well-known writer would call “sub par”.
Initially I had some problems with the boom length, as my X-seam measures about 117-119 cm. The boom was too short, but a new longer one was sent to me at no charge with a complimentary T-shirt ;). It is recommended that tall persons close to this X-seam ask for the longer boom. Further more, the headset was much too tight and had to be adjusted to avoid a creaking sound in tight turns, and to allow fingertip steering.
Getting to know each other
The rear suspension was something of a deal maker for me. Instead of the straight swingarm used in most Dutch bikes, Azub has developed their triangulated asymmetrical swingarm. They claim it reduces flex, and so far I have no reason to disbelieve that. It has a further advantage in that machine bearings of large diameter (about 3 cm) are used at the pivot, instead of the common bronze bushings or smaller diameter bearings. Looks good too. My bike came with the new frame, which has a pulley at the pivot. The sturdy pulley is mounted on a 1 cm steel axle with allowance for sideway motion to accommodate the chain line at all gears. Several suspension options are available, but I find the basic DV-22 adequate for all situations. No pogo, generally speaking, although this could occur for those reluctant to climb at high cadences. The front fork is a simple rigid MTB type, although several suspended forks are optional. The rear will take a disc brake and corresponding forks are of course available.
There was an extremely annoying noise coming from the rear of the bike every time I digged in for up-hills, wobbled sideways or ran over bumps. The bell was an unnecessary item since people would jump out of my way when hearing the CRACKs and POPs! This was present from day 1 and I initially suspected the seat. It almost made me crazy, and the suggestions from Azub on what to check did not help. Eventually I found the source of the problem – it was the pivot for the rear suspension. I took the whole package apart and gained a detailed knowledge of it.
The bearings are seated in the rear swing arm. Solid aluminum axles protrude from the bearings inwards and are seated in the center part, which is the mainframe mount. Something was not seated properly. I added grease and found that the noise was – FINALLY – gone when test riding. I would say that this pivot design has the potential to work very well, but I am not sure that it is extremely durable. This is because the chain-pulley axle (steel) is threaded into the aluminum axles. These threads hold the package together, and to me these threaded aluminum parts appears vulnerable.
I have regular linear-pull brakes, which are good and pass with no remarks. Sometimes I wish for a disc brake in front, and may retrofit one of these, but to be honest this isn’t necessary for most conditions including heavy-touring down hills. Without any load on the rack, I can brake hard enough to lift the rear wheel on gripping surfaces. One of the bolts came loose at the front brakes after some 300 km. During the disassembly I found no grease and no loctite on the brake stud – bad! I also discovered that the rear swing arm is slightly off-center during some brake pad adjustment. The wheel sits less than a millimeter from the bikes center line, but it is enough to be noticed.
The chain line is fairly clean and gives good performance. Stiffness of the frame is hard to judge, since I have a loooong boom and so put more stress on the tubing. My impression is that frameflex is of no consequence what so ever for the moderately strong rider who puts out a good spin on up-hills. This is a strong frame.
The Alivio gears work nice, luckily there are no twist grips here (personal preference, of course). They are a tad spongy. This is because the cables are completely routed in housing all the length from controls to derailleurs. A crispier feel would be achieved if cable stops were brazed to the frame, thus reducing the housing length and thereby elasticity. On the other hand, one won’t have to worry about dirt (and winter salt!) from the roads.
The seat is of Optima breed and comes in several sizes. It doesn’t stand out in any aspect since it is the basic hard-shell seat. The seat is attached to the frame with the Ideal Position System, a nifty contraption that allows quick yet robust repositioning of the seat with quick releases. It works quite well! I expect it to last and the seat cannot move from the designated position due to clever design. My only comment is that the lowest seat position is very hard to achieve. The lower quick-release lever becomes blocked by the seat itself, and it is hard to slide the seat down to the desired level due to the insufficient precision of the lower seat bracket.
With the new X-long boom I can recline sufficiently for rather “aero” performance, which is the most comfortable. The bottom bracket is place slightly higher than the seat, in my case some 5-7 cm higher, and makes for a comfortable position. Yet, sometimes I wish for the under-seat steering. The cockpit can be a bit cramped and my elbows would like to stretch out after a few hours into the ride. This is individual, and I am fairly tall so do your own math here. A tweener bar could possibly be a good complement, but I feel that the over-seat system “as is” works well. I also find the tilting stem useful, practical and functional. Best of all – the handlebar is solid and high enough for use when pushing the bike! Love this.
The large wheels are a big help in less-than-perfect road conditions, and I suspect that they make for a smoother ride. Best of all, I won’t have to bother with odd-sized tires! There is no problems fitting 50 mm winter tires. Unfortunatley, large wheels will also detract from the sporty feeling of some bents. They are definitely more sluggish in acceleration and steering response. The Azub Max is heavy at 16.6 kg minimum, my setup weighs in at 20-21 kg. Obviously, a few extra kilos won’t do much difference on commutes where I always carry some gear. Even in more spirited riding it is of moderate importance (again, do the math – e.g. at kreuzotter.de). The most effective speed gain would probably be to switch the Schwalbe Marathons for racing slicks. Personally, I enjoy the robust tires.
The high center of gravity, combined with the 26” wheels, yield a stable ride and good low-speed balance. I always feel safe and was struck by the ease of which ice-laden roads could be negotiated with studded Nokian tires. In better weather, the high-pressure Marathons (7 bar maximum) provide decent speed.
The bike responds well to high loads. Touring with 15 kg of gear worked like a charm, it actually behaves better with some extra weight on the carrier. I transported 30 L of water once in a plastic container. No problemo. At all. As a matter of fact, I am toying with the idea to fit low-riders on the front fork. That will work nicely on tour.
The final verdict is that the ride is good – not bad at all, but not outstandingly sweet either. This is the Volvo of recumbents – for better and for worse.
This is a good allrounder and I think it will serve me very well now when all the bugs have been worked out. The design is a good one, it is clean w.r.t. mechanics and service. As shown in the above, there are some problems with the quality control at the factory. In addition to the previously mentioned issues, there are a few misaligned mounting holes for ligths and so on, a snapped chain (for unknown reason), and imperfections of various sorts. The kickstand mount has already started to sag after just 1500 km. Evidently, the attention to details need to be sharpened. My conclusion is that the bike itself is of good quality, but that the apparel and small details are simply not mature enough to warrant perfect function or appearance. Admittedly, this is true for many recumbents.
I would buy the bike again provided that I could inspect and test ride that particular bike at a dealer. I would not buy over the internet. As an alternative, I would spend a little more to get a proven design from a larger manufacturer, or try and find a fairly new used bike of a good brand. However, it might be well worth to keep an eye at the further development of Azub. Future reviews from other customers are needed to get a statistical grip on the quality issues, which are bound to improve.
+Not too expensive
-Some quality flaws
-A bit on the heavy side
More info at:
Figure 2. Note the over-seat steering and the chain pulley that deflects the chain slightly. Many more pictures can be seen at www.azub.cz