I just returned from 4 1/2 days riding the portion of the Oregon Outback route from Klamath Falls back to Bend. Here is a link to a route description posted by the rider who planned the route and first rode it: http://velodirt.com/portfolio/the-or…utback-part-i/
. The whole route goes from Klamath Falls to the Columbia Gorge, 363 miles. I plan on completing the rest of the tour later in the summer but didn’t want to be away from the shop for too many days.
The total distance I cycled was 235 miles, with 7000 feet of elevation; 95% of the tour was dirt. I averaged 10.5 mph, and was surprised I ended up doing it that fast because it was probably the hardest, most grueling off road tour I’ve ever done. Not because of the miles or elevation, but because so much of the surface we were riding on was soft sand, cinders or gravel. Plus, trying to keep up with a bunch of bike racers who were mostly all half my age was challenging. I shuttled down to Klamath Falls with 9 other riders in a local mountain bike shuttle company van. I was the only recumbent rider, having chosen the Azub Max recumbent bike for the trip. There were 3 fatbike riders, and most everyone else was on regular mountain bikes set up bikepacking style with frame bags; one rider was on a cross bike pulling a Burley Nomad trailer.
It’s recommended that at least 2.1″ tires are used on the route but having ridden it now with 2.1 Kenda Small Block 8 tires on the Azub (the max size it will take) I can tell you it would be MUCH easier with at least 3″ ones.
I’m always interested to see how different machines compare with each other in terms of efficiency in various riding conditions, so this tour was a great opportunity with such a diversity of rides and riders. I ran one set of Ortlieb bags on the under seat rack and one small duffle with shelter and sleep system on the rear rack. Most everyone else had lighter-weight bikes and gear but were carrying light backpacks as well.
Generally, I was slower (but not the slowest) on the climbs, but much faster on the downhills, and usually faster on the flats. Once the speed hit over 14 mph or with headwinds, I had the advantage. The fatbikes, all of which were running 29×3 Surly Knards, ruled the many really soft sections on the first 75 miles. The route starts on the OC&E rail trail in KF but this is nothing like rail trails such as the Katy trail. It’s wild, remote and un-maintained, as in barely passable in some sections. Riding up to 70 miles plus a day was challenging to say the least. For a good portion of the route, the surface was rough enough to really appreciate the full suspension on the Max. No one else had full suspension, and by the end of the tour, even the seasoned bike racers were dealing with major butt pain. At no time did I have any discomfort other than being really tired and having somewhat sore legs. Several riders bailed out on the second to last day and took a shorter route back to Bend due to knee and butt issues.
The Max is set up with underseat steering so all day comfort was wonderful, but I might have preferred above seat steering because of the increased confidence with my hands in front for some of the 45 mph descents on loose gravel. Also on the very loosest section where I had to drop my tire pressure to 25 psi to even continue riding, the OSS might have made steering control a bit easier.
I took way too much food, and carried some items I should have left home, so overall I could have dropped at least 8 lbs, making the climbs faster and easier. After all my years of bike touring I should know better. When I first loaded the Max up, I was going to do the ride with my Ortliebs on the rear rack, but the handling proved way too squirrelly. I put the expedition underseat rack extension on and with the weight now under my seat, the handling was superb.
Overall, the Max performed admirably. It is the perfect recumbent in my opinion for remote off road tours like the Great Divide Route, but the softer riding surface on a good portion of this trip ideally calls for more tire flotation and fatter tires. There were very few sections on the Great Divide Route that had anything nearly as deep sandy and gravel as this route has so for most applications (if you can leave the un-needed crap out of your bags) the Azub Max is a fast, comfortable, rugged, and capable touring bike for getting off the beaten path.
My buddy Paul and I left the shop a week or so ago on an S36O tour. If you’re familiar with the term S24O, it refers to a sub 24 hour overnighter. I’ve extended that to be a sub 36 hour overnighter. This concept is related to getting out for short quick bike tours that are simple and local. A lot of folks think of cycle touring in terms of riding from one ocean to the other. The concept of shorter tours brings this wonderful pastime within the scope of more riders and fits the schedule and lifestyle of far more of the cycling community.
We ended up leaving a bit late (about 1:30 in the afternoon) as Paul’s decision to go was last minute, so we rode over to his house and he tossed his kit into his Radical designs cyclone trailer ( quick packing is always a trailer perk!) and we were on the road. He pulled his trailer with his ICE Sprint RSX with hardshell seat, and I rode my Azub 5 (almost identical to the new Azub Six) with Ortlieb panniers.
Our route was a loop from our shop in Bend, east to Prineville Reservoir, down the Crooked River canyon to Prineville, then west to Redmond and back home to Bend. Total distance, just over 100 miles and a couple thousand or so feet of climbing.
We kept a fairly brisk pace leaving town, and stopped at Alfalfa Market to grab a couple beers to have with dinner and continued up some substantial climbs to where we topped out before the screaming descent to the reservoir.
I always am interested in how one style of bike or trike performs in relation to another type of machine so it was interesting to see how the bike with panniers rode in relation to Paul’s trike. Some folks, myself included, consider that a trike will be slower than a bike in most cases. In this case, a somewhat high performance trike pulling a trailer was pretty much equal in performance to a full suspension, fairly heavily built touring bike with panniers. Paul, weighing in at around 30 lbs less than myself, usually has the edge on climbs; I usually have the edge on the downhills. We are pretty evenly matched on the flats.
We rode a fairly brisk touring pace out to the reservoir and for an end of the day reward, dropped into a screaming 45 mph downhill to the dam. Fast and twisty, we dropped like rocks toward the canyon. What was surprising, was that in an even Steven, no pedal roll out test between the trike and bike, we were perfectly evenly matched! Around a couple of the hairpins though I backed off from Paul because he was taking them so fast, his trailer was sliding sideways like a rally car through the turns. If he lost it and wadded it up into a ball, I didn’t want to be a part of that!
We stopped at the dam to admire the view and continued down into the canyon in the evening light.
Reaching the perfect campsite at a BLM campground a few miles down canyon, we set up camp alongside the river, cooked dinner, and enjoyed a campfire and a shared flask of single-malt scotch before turning in. It was a delicious 42 mile ride that day.
After a wonderful night’s sleep next to the sonorous lullaby of the nearby river, we woke up just before the sun hit our tents. The temp climbed above freezing as we packed up and headed down to Prineville for a mid morning brunch at a great local cafe.
Heading toward Redmond on the same route the ACA TransAm route follows we took the back way through Redmond and headed south along one of the Oregon Scenic Bikeway routes into Bend. We ended the trip at just over 60 miles for the day.
We averaged 13.5 mph for the tour, a comfortable pace that is a bit faster than my overall average I used to ride when I toured on a DF bike but in a whole other universe where comfort is concerned. The Azub is set up with a MEKS/SASO carbon fork and a rear shock which smoothed rough spots and cattle guards on the road more than Paul’s rear suspended ICE trike did, but the Azub, to be fair, has much more suspension travel. Even with the hardshell seat, Paul has no complaints about his trike. It’s an almost perfect balance between performance and comfort. And the Radical Designs trailer is a beautiful piece of kit and performs wonderfully, even when drifting sideways around hairpin curves!
After this short tour, I would have to say that after touring for almost 40 years of my life on nearly every conceivable type of touring machine, the Azub 5/6 is hands down the best touring bike I’ve ever ridden fully loaded.
As to which is better to tour, trike or bike, I don’t think for the most part there’s a substantial difference in performance between the two. What it comes down to really is what you prefer to ride. Which makes you happiest rolling down the road? If I’m doing a tour that includes substantial sections of dirt, my preference would be towards the bike, but other than that, it’s a pretty even toss up in relation to performance and efficiency.
I’m going to try and do more of these short two to three day tours this summer. Just as most backpackers don’t think they have to set out on the Appalachian Trail to do a backpacking trip-they regularly plan overnight trips out on weekends. There’s no reason to not consider doing the same on a bike (or trike).
By Mark Waters
The 13th of October in Oregon is normally a bit late in the season to take off on a four day cycle tour but that’s just what my riding buddy Paul and I decided to do to take in the fall color and get a good hard ride in before the snow flies.
The route is an Oregon state cycle route called the old west scenic bikeway and has maps online similar to the route maps from the Adventure Cycling Association showing campgrounds, food, restaurants, etc. With a total length of 176 miles and 8200 feet of elevation gain, it’s not a walk in the park, but neither is it beyond the capabilities of an average fit touring cyclist. It’s also doable as a credit card tour since there are lodging facilities spaced at reasonable distances along the way.
We decided to ride the route in the opposite direction from recommended because in doing so we’d gain a major tailwind advantage over 3 of the 4 days riding.
Since I own a recumbent cycle shop in Bend OR., my obvious choice of mount was a recumbent. Specifically, a GT3 Greenspeed trike with Arkel RT40 panniers. Paul (who works for me part time and recently was bitten by the trike virus) rode his ICE Sprint RSX and pulled his gear in a Burley Nomad trailer.
We had friends visiting from Alaska and wanted to have a farewell breakfast with them, so it meant we got a late start on our 3 hour drive to our starting point near Dayville, OR. Dayville is on route 26, which is part of the Trans Am cross country ACA route that’s so popular with coast to coast riders.
Once loaded up and ready to ride, we started with a helpful 20 mph tailwind combined with a mild 1% downgrade. We found 18 to 25 mph an easy cruising pace to the nearly non-existent town of Kimberly, OR.
After turning the corner to head east to Monument, our destination for the night, my Mirrycle mirror decided to stress fracture and eject itself on a short 30 mph downhill! Since I only ride with one mirror and those of you that ride recumbents know how vital a mirror is, I retrieved the unbroken glass portion of my mirror and with the saw on my Leatherman tool was able to modify it and reassemble it so it actually worked far better than stock. It no longer vibrates so bad on chip seal roads that I am unable to see what’s behind me. We have had very bad luck with Mirrycles breaking in the shop when assembling them and will be doing research in the future to find a better mirror for recumbent cycling.
Our first night’s stay in the very small village of Monument was a very wet one; it poured rain off and on all night. The weather was cold but the folks that live there were as warm as can be and very helpful. We were directed to stay in the town park on a nice grassy lawn and we were told we could use the rest room in the county building. When I tried the rest room door and found it locked, Lonnie from up the street called down to me and offered her vacation rental bathrooms for our use and then even offered us use of the house for the night free of charge! I declined because we had just picked up a new tent that I wanted to test out. We were considering selling this line of ultralight shelters in our shop and what a better test run than a cold rainy night out!
The company that makes the tent, Titanium Goat, in Ogden, UT, is one of three or four small manufacturers that produce ultralight floor less tents; they also have a line of collapsible ultralight wood burning stoves that are designed to be used in the tent. Let me tell you, having a warm dry space to duck into early and socialize and be comfortable after a long day’s ride is a revelation. It totally changes your perspective on camping out on late or early season bike tours when the days are short and the nights can become very long when the only warm place is being zipped up into your sleeping bag. The tent weight is 3lb. 7 oz., and the titanium stove weighs only 1 lb 10oz! The total weight is about 5 lbs and the very spacious 102 sq ft was awesome for 2 people and gear.
Waking up to a damp 39 degrees I lit the stove and within seconds was toasty warm and comfortable in short sleeves and outside of our bags making breakfast (oh, and you can cook on it). Our first night out in Monument wasn’t too cold (about 45), but it rained cat and dogs. A perfect test for the new tent as it turned out and it kept us dry and comfortable.
After leaving Monument the road climbs pretty steeply for about 2200 ft. in 10 miles. With a chilly tailwind pushing me uphill for the most part it took me a bit longer to reach the top than Paul. This was to prove the case for the rest of the trip. Earlier in the summer I was in much better shape since I was riding almost daily with Paul, but for 2 or 3 months I got side-tracked with business trips and sailing and kayaking and really slacked off on riding; consequently, I found myself paying the toll on the longer, steeper climbs. Especially hauling 40 or so pounds uphill, I was 1 to 2 mph slower on the climbs than my buddy. Fortunately Paul is a patient guy and was waiting for me at the top and ready for a screaming descent into the tiny town of Long Creek.
Paul hit 46 mph on the way down whereas riding the Greenspeed with the smaller wheels and shorter wheelbase kept my speed to no more than 40 mph. When your butt is 4″ off the pavement, 40 feels like 80! When non recumbent trike riders see a touring trike they assume that they are too slow to even consider but at the end of our tour my average speed, according to my Garmin, was 12.1 mph for 176 miles and 8200 vertical feet of climbing. About on par with my average speed when I have toured on upright touring bikes but WAY more comfortable. Paul’s average was a bit higher at 13.7 mph. This was Paul’s first mufti-day cycle tour, so he kept a very fast pace considering the load of gear in his Burley Nomad trailer. It may be a bit slower on the climbs riding a trike but way faster and more fun on the downhill. Kinda like a street luge with camping gear!
At Long Creek there’s a little cafe with excellent food, and after stuffing ourselves and chatting with the very friendly and sociable natives we were off again up Hwy 395. Now we were facing a quartering crosswind that slowed us a bit. Riding into the wind on a recumbent isn’t as traumatic as on an upright touring bike. The panniers on my trike actually have the effect of making me MORE aerodynamic rather than less. On a regular tour bike they stick out and create drag, but tucked in behind me, they are like a tail sock which streamlines the airflow behind me to amount to less drag.
The road for the next 20 miles was my least favorite type of riding: screaming descents followed by grinding steep uphills. Soon though we were on one of the best roads I’ve ever ridden, County Road 20. Paved, this road climbs at a very gradual grade for almost 50 miles. Averaging a brisk 14 to 17 mph, following a beautiful clear river, we decided to camp early at a great riverside campsite next to the road. Traffic was so scarce, no more than 3 cars went by the whole time we were there.
As soon as the sun went down, the temps dropped pretty quick. Having the woodstove in the tent made for another great evening hanging out someplace warm while temperatures quickly dropped into the 30s. When we woke up in the morning, Paul had a coating of ice on his windscreen.
The ride up County Road 20 was the best fall ride ever! We rode 25 miles before we were passed by a vehicle headed in our direction. Sunny, clear skies and gorgeous scenery combined with a slight tailwind which made for a brisk uphill cruise. We then headed east on Hwy 26 where the cross country Trans Am route passes through and began the endless climb to the Dixie Summit at 5300 ft.
A half mile below the top I experienced the dreaded bonk and was forced to stop and refuel with large quantities of mint M&Ms. Replenished, I got to the nearly 3000 ft. descent in Prairie City where Paul was waiting a the local saloon. After a most welcome meal we headed to the Depot campground in town to set up camp for the night. It ended up being the coldest night of our trip with a good amount of ice coating the inside of the tent by morning. The Titanium Goat wood stove made short work of the icy interior upon waking. One cannot grasp what a luxury instant heat is when waking up to an icebox while camping out. I never even had to leave my sleeping bag to start the stove!
After one of the best breakfasts I can remember having while touring through a small town, at Chuck’s Diner, we headed the 55 miles back to Paul’s truck.
The elevation loss over the 55 miles is about 800 ft. Not a lot, but enough to make for a fast last day’s ride. Most of the time I was averaging over 20 mph. That’s with a full touring load on a “slow recumbent trike.” Paul was feeling more like taking it easy due to a bit of knee strain, so for once, I was waiting for him at our lunch stop in Dayville.
The only section that lists a caution for the route was going through the canyon before turning up Route 19 to our vehicle. It mentions minimal shoulders which is accurate, but it only lasts for about two miles.
Overall I’d say this ranks as one of the best short tours I’ve ever ridden. Because of the combination of beautiful scenery, low volume roads, and well placed towns for resupply, this is a must do
By Paul Carew
On the 15th of October 2012 Mark Waters, proprietor of Backcountry Recumbent Cycles in Bend, Oregon, and riding partner Paul Carew set out to see a portion of Eastern Oregon’s countryside from the saddle of recumbent trikes. We thought the Old West Scenic Bikeway Tour would be a great start for a greenhorn to bike touring such as myself. We folded our trikes and loaded our gear into my pickup and departed Bend shortly after 9:00 am and headed east on I-26. Not quite sure where we would leave our vehicle to start our trip, we pulled into the parking lot of the Thomas Condon Paleontology Visitor Center located on Rt. 19 in the John Day Fossil Beds Monument. Not sure what our options were for leaving a vehicle for several days, I went in and explained our objective to a park official. She smiled and said excitedly, “Sure, you’re welcome to park at the Cant Ranch Historic building, park HQ parking lot just up the road from the visitor center!” Nice!
One catch…the lot gate gets locked after 4:00 pm, so plan your tour return accordingly.
Like a turtle with its house on its back I hooked my Burley Nomad trailer to my ICE RSX trike and with my traveling compadre Mark Waters riding his trusty Greenspeed GT3 adorned with ample sized panniers, we headed north. As we followed the river through the incredibly scenic John Day Fossil Beds Monument valley with 176 miles of undiscovered adventures ahead of us we picked up the pace. The goal for
our late Monday morning start with a 30% chance of showers that evening was the town of Monument Oregon roughly 32 miles away. Well, Mark was right about our clockwise direction of travel, with a 20 mile an hour tailwind blowing west to east we rolled into Monument, dry and with daylight to spare. After an adult beverage, we were clued in by the convenience store owner that there was a park around the corner that allowed free camping, wow! Free camping! The park was actually the town common in the center of Monument which was surrounded by residential houses and where the local children gathered to play on newly constructed playground equipment. Curious about our funny
looking bicycles a few of the local kids came over and insisted on riding our trikes; well, maybe future customers. Before night fell and the rains came, Lonnie, a local woman, offered her unoccupied trailer as shelter for the night. Despite us turning down her gracious offer, she insisted that we were welcome to use the bathroom facilities for the remainder of our stay. We chatted with Lonnie the next morning before we departed Monument and she warned us that the east bound road out of town was under construction and to be careful of large trucks. She also warned us that it was a never ending uphill before dropping over the pass and heading into Long Creek…she wasn’t kidding! As I rode out of
Monument that morning, I couldn’t help thinking about the hospitality and kindness of small town Oregonians which was very heart warming and somehow assured me that all was still right with the world.I need to get out on the road to connect with that feeling more often.
As we entered the town of Long Creek at the intersection of Rt. 402 and I-395 we indulged in a local cafe for great burgers and some of the best home made mixed berry pie ever, which had to be eaten with a spoon!…with a scoop of homemade vanilla ice-cream…yum!!! Heading north on I-395, we encountered some of the longest rolling uphills that would have challenged the best of riders stamina.
The reward would be a well-deserved 4 mile downhill to Rt. 20 which heads east, better known as the Middle Fork of the John Day River, a 50 mile canyon following the river east. We found a campsite within the first mile or two and decided we’d set camp before the sun went down. With the sun quickly dropping below the ridge above camp, I managed to muster enough energy to scramble up the hillside to the east to absorb a few last warming rays. As I wandered the hillside, I was unaware that I was being watched. Two unbridled horses wondered what a stranger was doing on their hillside. They caught my eye, calmly, I spoke to them and they wandered closer until I was patting noses. As we
were getting to know one another, I heard what I thought sounded like a donkey bray; sure enough the cutest little donkey also wandered over. He hung his head next to me much like a dog looking to be patted, so we all became friends. The 180 degree views from the high ridge
proved well worth my efforts and as the long Juniper shadows stretched toward the darkened canyon below, I headed back to camp. Temperatures dropped into the mid 20’s that night and the next day I woke to a thick coat of frost on my fairing, which softened as the sun came up. Thankful for Mark’s recent purchase of a revolutionary new wood stove heated tent, the wait wasn’t uncomfortable. After breakfast and a second cup of coffee I just toweled off my fairing and we were on our way, just another stellar day!
The day proved to be the highlight of the tour. As we pedaled southeast along the winding Middle Fork of the John Day River, my helmet barely 3 feet off the pavement, I gazed upward at Fall’s bright yellow Larches towering 100 feet above, the long miles of the day fading behind me. At the end of Rt. 20 and the intersection with Rt. 7 we knew we were in for an uphill struggle, 6 miles worth, south on I-26 up to Dixie Summit before heading west to Prairie City. Alas, the hardest and most discouraging miles thus far, maxed out on low gears. We dug deep to deal with the demons all riders face on long ascents. The summit was a welcome site to say the least! A quick bite and water, an extra layer and I
shifted into the highest gear I had! Time for a well deserved 10 mile downhill into Prairie City… Wah-hoo! As soon as we reached town I asked at the nearest gas station “Where can we get a pizza and a beer?” “Don’t know if they serve pizza, but they have beer, one block on your right.” the attendant responded…works for me! Classic–dead animals mounted on the walls and a hand carved, dark wood bar that went on forever, with a table or two of local hunters gathered round bragging of the day’s kill… Two orders of pulled pork sandwiches and an IPA while I viewed the assortment of historic black and white photos that adorned the walls. Refueled and a bottle of Bushmills in hand, we headed out to Depot Park and another cold night, totally exhausted from the day’s ride!
The fourth day was a challenge for me, 50 miles of basically flat and downhill terrain on I-26 back to John Day Fossil Beds Monument. We took off like a shot, averaging 18 miles an hour, cruised west through the town of John Day and Mount Vernon, then like a wall the pace seemed to be my heartbreak hill, Mark continued the blistering pace. When I finally caught up with him in the sleepy little town of Dayville, he was eating that piece of pizza we couldn’t find back in Prairie City. The last 15 miles and the coast through Picture Gorge were a relief, the beautiful lighting reflecting off the river taking my mind off the last mile or two to the truck. Physically I was relieved the tour had come to an
end. Mentally I was still on the road for days afterwards, what a great trip! As a novice tourer, I would say the trip was a great success, no major breakdowns, lots of wonderful camping sites and most of all we hit four great late fall days of cycling weather.
Not hard to believe…one week later and we’re talking about skiing…!
By Mark Waters, BRC owner
“Same tour, different trike!”
The old West Scenic Bikeway is the longest state-established bikeway in Oregon and may well be the most scenic and bike friendly of all. Making a sweeping loop in eastern Oregon, it covers 177 miles with about 9000 ft. of climbing.
I rode this same four day tour last fall around the same time with a trike riding friend, Paul Carew, and it looks like this will become an annual event on my calendar. This year I went solo, picked another trike, and used a trailer instead of panniers. Most of the roads this route follows are on low volume rural paved roads with regular opportunities for food, water, and camping along the way. Both years I chose to ride a recumbent trike and it was interesting to compare the different models I rode, as well as evaluating going solo vs. riding with a companion, and using a trailer vs. panniers.
Last year I took one of my favorite trikes for touring, a Greenspeed GT3 with Arkel RT 40 panniers; this year I rode our shop ICE Adventure FS demo, pulling a Burley Nomad trailer. I enjoy trying different things, partly for my own interest and partly to expand my experience base so I can relate real world testing of gear to help give the best advice to our shop customers. Both trips, I’ve had perfect sunny fall conditions, although getting a bit nippy at night. Last year we had more favorable tailwinds which helped get my average speed close to 13 mph, but both years the temps fell to the low 30s/upper 20s at night. This year I decided to bring a warmer sleeping bag—I bought a 6 degree down Sierra Designs bag right before leaving and it actually proved to be a bit too warm. I also brought a warmer down jacket which made hanging out around the fire at night and getting out of my sleeping bag in the morning more tolerable.
Because of the bulkier cold weather gear, I decided to use a trailer instead of panniers. The limitation of most trikes for touring is the capacity to carry only one set of rear panniers, so you end up piling gear up on top of the rack, not great for keeping your center of gravity low.
I’ve used the Burley Nomad before on an 800-mile winter tour I did in Florida a few years ago. Trailers can be a bit cumbersome at times but having the ability to toss your gear into them, like loading a big car truck, makes for easy packing and access.
The usual way to ride this loop is counter clockwise, but I prefer to go clockwise, making use of the wind direction by keeping it at my back. Going clockwise also makes the camping space out perfectly for the 40-45 mile days.
Day 1) I parked my car in Dayville at the bicyclist friendly church in town and hit the road. Last year, riding with my buddy Paul, I was pushing the pace more, not wanting to hold him up (even though he still was waiting for me a few minutes at the top of most of the climbs. I can never keep up his blistering pace on hills—my suspicion is he has a tiny motor hidden somewhere on his trike, but I haven’t found it yet). My goal this year was to ride at a comfortable touring pace and enjoy the scenery, which was stunning. The cottonwoods and larch trees were in full yellow fall splendor.
I spent the first night in the town of Monument in the city park. There’s a great little grocery store there where I picked up some less than healthy dinner and turned in at sundown.
Day 2) The day’s work started out pretty much right off the bat with a 2200 ft. climb. Grinding steadily up out of the valley, the views got quite spectacular with fall colors everywhere the eye could see. After about an hour and a half, I topped out to ride down to the little town of Long Creek and an awesome burger at the Long Creek Cafe.
One of the wonderful things about this tour, in addition to the beautiful country it goes through, is the lack of traffic on most of the roads. Except for highway 26 and 395 (both of which mostly have a nice wide shoulder), there are so few cars that pass by, you might think you are riding on a wide bike path!
Riding 395 north after lunch, I remembered that this portion of the route is a rolling climb; eventually, I was rewarded with a 1000 foot, 40 mph luge run down to Hwy 20. 20 follows the middle fork of the John Day River for about 50 miles with about 1000′ elevation gain, but the grade is so low and steady I found I could average around 12 or 13 mph all the way up to the junction to Hwy 26.
I camped for the night further up the middle fork than we did last year at a site that was more open, hoping for early morning sunshine to warm my tent. After sluicing down a bit in the ice cold river, I ate supper and hung out around the fire. A flask of homemade Kahlua made by my cousin hit the spot and I turned in early. The winter sleeping bag was definitely too warm…better than being cold though.
Day 3) Arose for the third day’s ride to clear and cold skies. At the turn west on 26 I encountered the Austin House Café’ & Country Store at Austin Junction—they have truly epic and delicious burgers. This is a must stop for any cycle tourist doing this route! Last year, I wasn’t able to eat at Austin Junction (sadly, closed that Monday) and ended up bonking big time on the steep climb to the top of Dixie Summit. Only the the better part of a bag of mint M&M’s kept me going. This year, fueled by the mega burger, I fairly flew to the top. In fairness, this year I was in much better riding shape than last year, it wasn’t all the burger. I’ve set “bike shop” hours (12-5pm, Wed-Sat.)because I love to ride and stay in shape—I want to maintain my enthusiasm for riding recumbents so I can share that passion with my customers and friends.
The descent from Dixie summit is near 2000 vertical feet and always a blast, whatever trike you’re riding. Averaging about 40 mph for most of the way down to Prairie City, I was passed by only one car and was able to fully take in the beauty of the valley as I blasted downward.
Prairie City has a town campground where I stayed on my first long bike tour in 1977 when I rode the Trans Am route (then called Bike Centennial). The campground is still there and has undergone some improvements over the years.
After setting up my little solo tent for the night, I rolled back to the downtown area (all three blocks of it) and went to what has got to be the absolute best Mexican restaurant ever, (and believe me, I’ve been to my share) Maria’s. The carne asada is to die for and the flan is made from scratch. I even partook of their perfect margaritas, something I will only do when riding a trike back to camp-no worries about falling over.
Day 4) After another frosty night, I arose to a lovely heated bathroom and shower, then packed up camp and rolled into town to Chuck’s Diner. The place has awesome breakfast and I was treated as one of the locals by all the friendly folks having their morning coffee. Prairie City Oregon is one of those few small towns that are not only surviving but thriving. It has vibrancy you don’t often see in small rural areas anymore.
The last stretch of miles along Hwy 26 to my car in Dayville was a very gradual downhill most of the way, so I was able to keep up a pretty good pace of 15-18 mph without a lot of effort. With winter closing in fast, I knew this would probably be the last trike tour I’d fit in until next year. Arriving finally back at my car, I felt a bit of sadness that the ride was over so soon. After loading my ICE trike and trailer and heading for home, I had several hours to think about my experiences.
To sum up the differences between last year’s and this year’s ride:
Solo vs Company-
Solo: less complicated, freedom to do and go as I pleased, less pressure to ride at another’s pace so I didn’t keep them waiting (usually a self-imposed pressure), more introspective experience.
Company: safer, someone to drink scotch with around the campfire, inspiring riding with a faster friend, a shared experience.
Panniers vs. Trailer—
Panniers: less likely to carry too much crap so lighter, faster, etc.; also more aerodynamic than a trailer. Shorter overall length and less cumbersome in some situations (such as transporting everything up to a second floor motel room).
Trailers: as easy to pack as a car trunk. Open it up and toss it in…Can carry a small dog in some designs if you want your best friend to tag along; motorists think you might be pulling a small child behind you and may be less inclined to kill you because of that. And, You get to carry the case of beer back to camp!
*If you are traveling with a significant other who is only doing this because it’s your dream, you can lighten the load and mood by carrying all your sweetheart’s stuff as well. Oh boy! (Somehow, this “rational” thinking has not worked to date in persuading my wife to tour with me…)*
Greenspeed GT3 vs. ICE Adventure FS-
Greenspeed GT3: light, nimble, zippy and fun to ride, rear rack made especially for the trike keeps the gear close to the 16″ wheels so CG is kept low to the ground, the handling with 30 lbs on the back is fabulous. 16″ wheels seem to climb really well. Solid mirror mounts left and right and very well designed fenders that don’t move, shake, vibrate or do anything but keep the rain off your bad triking self. A bit squirrelly handling over 45 mph., probably because of the small wheels and short wheelbase. For me, most comfortable seat ever! The lumbar support is perfect, the mesh is suspended with shock cords for mega road shock dampening for a non-suspended trike, and the way the seat angle goes to vertical at the top means you have a reclined and aerodynamic seating posture without having to use a neck rest to support your head. Folds up nice and small for easy transport. Not much ground clearance for off pavement riding. For some, riding rough and broken pavement may prove too harsh a ride.
ICE Adventure FS:
High ground clearance for off-pavement riding when needed, and better vision for seeing the scenery over guard rails. Adjustable seat angle. I had it more vertical for steeper longer climbs and more reclined for punching through headwinds. Stable handling over 45 mph but higher CG than the Greenspeed so cornering requires more care. With full suspension, riding rough cracked pavement and especially cattle guards means higher comfort.
The ability to carry a side-mounted handlebar bag is a huge plus for a serious touring trike. Only one other trike manufacturer, Azub, has this factory option on their trikes. If you are touring long distances, especially if you are using the excellent Adventure Cycling Association maps for your tour, you need to have easy access to your maps at every branch in the road. Plus it’s a great way to have quick access to phone, wallet, rain jacket, snacks and so on. The Adventure is heavier and a bit slower overall than the Greenspeed.
Both trikes can be ordered with drum brakes. I think they are the best option for loaded trike touring because of their simplicity and durability. They don’t have the ultimate stopping power of disc brakes, but in all the thousands of miles of trike riding and touring I’ve never felt like I needed more brake power than I get from 70 mm Sturmey Archer drum brakes. (FYI—Azub is now the only trike manufacturer that now offers 90mm S/A brakes as an option for heavier riders or those who want to get more stopping power.)
The bottom line is, pretty much whatever trike you have, you can tour on it. I started riding trikes specifically because I suspected they might be the best of all possible ways to tour under my own power. Almost ten years later, I’m so glad I took the three-wheeled plunge! Now I own a recumbent cycle shop and I’m helping folks find the right tools to equip themselves for their own adventures. Many of these folks might not be capable of riding a DF bike or even a recumbent bike long distances, especially carrying their own gear, but a trike makes it possible for everyone to venture out into the great wild unknown and find themselves renewed.
A few months ago I signed up to go on a self-supported tour organized by the Portland Wheelman cycling club. The tour was over Memorial Day weekend and went from Vancouver, WA east to Biggs, OR. The route snaked along the Columbia River Gorge on the WA side, crossed over to Oregon and then back west to Portland again, totaling about 240 miles over four days.
The ride was limited to 50 riders and 42 showed up to start–the cold and rain weeded out a few.
I was the only recumbent rider on the trip, having chosen to ride one of my favorite trike: a Greenspeed GT3 with Arkel RT40 bags. I’ve been cycle touring since 1977 and this was the first time I’ve ever done a tour with a large group. Most of my touring has been either solo or with one close friend or my spouse, but I thought it would be fun to try a ride with a large group. I had little to no experience as to how riding a fully loaded trike would mesh with folks riding diamond frame (shortened to d.f. from here on out) bikes–it would be interesting to compare relative efficiency.
Most of the riders were quite fit and cycle regularly. Almost everyone had previously done extensive loaded touring before. Most riders were 45-65 years old, with a few very fit twenty-somethings to boot.
When the group gathered at the start, there was some curiosity about my chosen ride and the usual discussions about width and visibility on the road. I enjoyed the opportunity to expose people to another approach to cycle touring.
We were sent a cue sheet by email so I had that with me but since I was unfamiliar with the area, I opted to ride with one of the tour organizers and his wife for the first section. It was starting to drizzle a bit as we left and headed down to connect with route 14, which follows the Columbia river over city streets and back roads and some very rough and broken pavement. The bumps had me thinking maybe I should have brought the ICE Adventure FS demo from our shop! However, the GT3 handled it ok and no worse than the rigid frame Surly Long Haul Trucker touring bikes ridden by my companions. I have been riding my GT3 sans fenders, since my hometown, Bend, is on the dry side of the Cascades. Now, facing possible rain every day for the next four days, I was regretting my decision not to order a set of fenders from Greenspeed USA for this trip. At least I had a rear fender, and the spray off the front wheels was not going into my face.
After our first stop, I fell in with a group of four women I dubbed the “Wild Girls,” based on various schenanigans that shall remain unreported here. They were all teachers and, except for Katie, who was doing her first loaded tour on a carbon road bike, they had done many trips before. I generally like to ride at a brisk pace when I’m touring and the women were clipping along at a nice speed. We passed some other riders in the process as we rode Hwy14 east toward our first group campsite for the night. We had a slight headwind most of the day so that helped the pace, but when we got close to the Bonneville Dam I found I was having to work not to drop the others. I was spinning along between 22 and 26 mph and ended up at lunch close to 30 minutes ahead of my companions.
Over the course of the first day, riding with folks on d.f. bikes, the differences between our chosen rides became apparent. As I expected, trikes will be slower up long climbs and faster on the descents. What surprised me was the degree of the difference between trike and d.f. performance. On short climbs, there appeared to be little to no difference in the riding effort. On longer, steeper climbs, say 700 to 1000 feet of elevation, I would be slower than the fastest of the Wild Girls, but not as much as I would have thought. Cindy, who was very fit (last year she rode a century per day in every state over 50 days) would top out 100 to 200 yards ahead of me, but then I would pass her within a quarter mile after reaching the top and, unless I deliberately slowed down, wouldn’t see her or any of the women again until a lunch stop. Over the course of the four day ride, I rode with a number of other very fit riders and the climbing dynamic remained consistent.
The aerodynamic advantage of trikes, especially when riding with panniers, was much greater than I expected. Whereas on a d.f. bike with bags, you have an aerodynamic disadvantage, creating drag and turbulence, on my Greenspeed, with the RT40s tucked behind me like a tailsock, plus the slight added weight of the trike, I was so much faster and more efficient it blew my mind. And the minds of many of the other riders in the group as well! This was especially the case on some of the very steep luge run descents I did.On our third day, riding from Hood River to our last camp, the wind was blowing out of the east as it normally does at 20-25 mph. We left Hood River after lunch at an awesome brew pub and a stop for groceries, and headed into the wind. The Wild Girls started to ride a paceline and I stayed at the back for a bit but ended up coasting so much I was constantly riding my brakes. I thought I’d try letting them get at least a minimal draft off me and I’d pull them. Unfortunately, this didn’t work at all—because of the lower wind resistance on my trike, I found it too hard to match their speed. Soon I decided I was being more a hindrance than an assist and took off for camp. On the flats, I was averaging 18-20mph, whereas my companions were struggling to maintain 11-12mph. The wind was often blowing over the guardrail I was riding next to, but my low position on the trike kept me well-shielded.
Having toured extensively on both d.f.s and recumbents (bike and trike), but never before having a direct comparison of the relative efficiency of the two modes of travel, my conclusion from this trip is, “Why the heck would anyone want to tour on a diamond frame bike?!” I can understand the traditional appeal of a regular bike–I still love the way a beautifully made, lugged steel custom d.f. looks. And some cyclists still think the d.f. bike is the only “real” bike, whereas I have concluded that trikes, and recumbents in general, can be considerably more efficient and comfortable for cycle touring. I saw firsthand that recumbents are not only more comfortable (the group was vying for who got to sit on the trike at dinner rather than on the hard picnic table seats!), but faster overall. And if a trike is this much faster, a recumbent touring bike, such as a Tour Easy or a Lightning Phantom would be that much more so.
Touring is not racing, but maximizing efficiency either gets you to camp at the end of the day quicker and fresher, or gets you further down the road.
Since our trip I’ve had two riders from the group contact the shop about buying a trike for touring, so maybe I even opened a few minds over this fun weekend. It was certainly a great way to kick off a season of recumbent touring!