Making hay while the sun shines

High above the world in west Devon

High above the world in west Devon

The last few weeks have seen Michele and I making a concerted effort to ride our trikes as much as possible. This has meant both of us travelling around more than usual in order to share the experience and to improve our trike specific physical fitness and skill-set. We have been blessed with some pretty good weather in which to come to terms with our new toys and there has been much folding and unfolding in order to transport the trikes from one house to the other as well as to various trails around the area.

For me this has meant balancing other things in my life to create the space to ride whilst accepting that I’m not going to feel great in the near future. The physical tiredness I’ve been suffering all winter continues and whenever I ride I need at least one whole day of doing very little before I begin to recover. My old pattern of riding two/three times a week seems to still be working and this weekend saw us ride on two consecutive days for the first time. This came after a couple of days when I had to bail out of other plans in order to rest. It seems that was a good idea and that having given myself the space to rest up I recovered, something I’m never quite sure is going to happen.

Michele has shown a resolute determination and a great deal of joy in learning to manage her trike. She has now reached a point where she can fold and unfold it herself, something that seems quite daunting initially as you stare at the plethora of red quick releases. There’s been a lot of fun  had attempting to ride through gates and barriers without getting off and only two obstacles have forced us to manhandle the trikes rather than ride through them so far.  Even so, simply lifting the rear has been enough to see us on our way.

Lots of minor changes are taking place. Each trike has a handlebar bag mounted behind the seat. Although not entirely convenient I don’t like the side-mounts available from manufacturers. The downside to this is that the rear rack is then restricted. I’m sure there’s a simple solution and when I find it I’ll let you know. The seats keep getting tweaked for comfort and ideal positioning. Both are getting more laid-back, mine a little more so than Michele’s, and both trikes now sport a mirror on each side, something I always intended to do.

It’s a simple case of the more you ride them the more they feel normal. Initial differences and comparisons are quickly forgotten as you accept that they are just different, especially climbing hills. I’ve been avoiding proper hills since I purchased the trike and have just started to take on the local climbs as my muscles and tendons adjust to the different pedalling demands. It seems the best approach is to select the granny ring straight away and accept that you will climb anything over 10% using the smallest gears.

Meeting the locals!

Meeting the locals!

Last weekend I rode to Orchard Cafe where I was intending to meet Michele for lunch. The best laid plans of mice and men meant that having rigged her trike in Bideford, and then realised that the seat was still at home in the shed, Michele had to return to Barnstaple to collect the offending item. I ended up riding from Hatherleigh to the Cafe where I had coffee and cake before continuing to Torrington where I met Michele. We then rode back to the cafe in appallingly wet and windy conditions before taking lunch and riding back to Bideford in the ensuing monsoon. This experience can only be compared to lying in a bath with all your clothes on!

Prior to this I made the decision to change the gearing to something lower. Even allowing for the fact that I will become much fitter in recumbent pedalling terms over the coming months I felt Kermit to be over geared. Most manufacturers fit a small ring of 30 teeth along with a cassette of 11-32 teeth ( assuming you have 20″ wheels). A big ring of 48 teeth is fairly normal for trikes as you tend to use a wider range of gearing than a mountain/trekking bike. For most European touring (not the Alps) this is fine but Devon and Cornwall are exceptional in that there are so many hills of 15-25%. In my opinion this requires much lower gearing if you intend to tour with a load as I do.

Without getting too technical you can’t fit a much smaller chainring than the 30 tooth one provided without reducing the size of the largest one as the rear mechanism can only cope with a certain range of teeth before problems arise. This meant losing some top-end speed for touring ability, something I’m more than happy to do given the type of riding I undertake. Using bits and bobs from the shed, and having consulted  http://www.sheldonbrown.com for technical advice (along with www.techdocs.shimano.com where I checked the limits for my group set ) I cobbled together a chainset of 22/36/44.

Pilot gig on the Taw estuary

Pilot gig on the Taw estuary

The difference is quite startling and even with two loaded panniers I found I could manage the steep hills that lie between my house and Orchard Cafe on the Tarka Trail.  Gradients of 20% aren’t easy on anything and I was thrilled to manage those I came across with a little more effort than I would expend on my upright bike. Crawling winch-like up a hill seems odd on a trike. As you don’t have to balance you don’t expend energy concentrating on keeping going as you can stop when you like should you wish to. On the flat and downhill I seem to travel a little faster than I do on Irene and once I fit my computer I may be able to confirm that. Overall, journeys aren’t taking me any longer and I was amazed when I rode to my doctors last week that I arrived in almost exactly the same time as I would normally despite having allowed myself an extra half hour to get there.

I have to admit that I was pretty tired by the time we got home on Saturday but I haven’t ridden much at all this winter and this was to be expected. I was so impressed with the gearing that I ordered a new chainset for Michele’s trike in order to lower her gearing as well. As I write this it’s sitting on the kitchen table tempting me to get the spanners out. I did have to adjust the boom and seat to take up the chain slack created by the use of smaller rings but this was easier than shortening the chain and allows me to revert to the original gearing should I choose to at any point.

Out on the trails we are loving the trikes more with every ride. Stopping to look at the view we simply sit back and rest our ankles on the pedals. There is no discomfort and  no pummeling from uneven surfaces on wrists, neck, and back. The trike just seems to absorb it, helped no doubt by the fat Big Apple tyre I fitted to the rear of each as I mentioned previously.

On Tuesday I rode twice, once with Michele, and then later on while she was out Pilot-Gig rowing. For those who don’t know what a Pilot-Gig is, it’s an open boat that was once used to row out to ships with  the Pilot on board. The first to get there won the prize, providing the pilot to steer the ships safely into harbour. Out of this was born Pilot-Gig racing. The world championships are held in the Scilly Isles each year where hundreds of crews take part. Michele is a social rower with no aspirations to race. She loves being out on the water and whilst she was I took Kermit out to gently cruise along the adjacent Tarka Trail taking photo’s and generally chilling-out.

With four rides completed between Saturday and Wednesday evening I was getting tired. While we sat eating lunch on Wednesday my emotions reared up and bit me when I least expected it. The trigger was a piece of music, nothing particularly pertinent to me, but from a period of time when I was extremely troubled.  It opened a tiny crack in my defenses, one through which my emotional disturbance could boil up and show me its presence. Although a relatively minor event it shook me and left me feeling out of sorts and exhausted. It was time to take a rest from physical exercise for a couple of days. To go from being shut-down to completely emotional shakes me to my roots. It’s unexpected and when it happens this way it comes as a surprise. It’s a kind of a warning shot across my bow, it serves to act as a marker, letting me know it’s all still there and hasn’t gone away.

Woodland on the Granite Way, Okehampton, Devon

Woodland on the Granite Way, Okehampton, Devon

I woke the next day feeling tearful and exhausted after my sleep was disturbed by nightmares. It was duly noted as I went about my weekly shop and returned home to the peace and quiet of my Hatherleigh haven.  On arriving home sleep was the order of the afternoon. I woke for the second time feeling brighter and more settled knowing I could happily do nothing for the next couple of days. Routines would now come back into play, settling the ship and allowing further recovery.

I had intended to go camping this weekend but I’ve abandoned that in favour of being at home and taking a couple of rides from there. There is nothing to be gained from pushing myself at the moment and from home I can do as I please. Michele and I are planning to go away camping next weekend, weather permitting, and I’m going to have to spend some time sorting equipment and deciding how we are going to carry it. Trevor, my faithful Carry Freedom Y Frame trailer, is still up in Scotland with Nick  who is servicing it. I hope it may be returned before the weekend but we may have to resort to other means in order to transport our gear.

One thing that has become abundantly clear is that trikes carry loads extremely well. Without balance issues they are quite capable of carrying everything including the kitchen sink should you wish to. AZUB make a secondary rack that allows a set of front panniers to be carried close in behind the seat. This position would be ideal for carrying heavier items and would keep the centre of gravity more forward than loading everything onto the main rear rack. From my limited experience I feel that a fully loaded trike would be more difficult to manoeuvre through certain types of barriers due to the extra width on the rear end. For that reason I’m going to use the trailer which can be easily unhitched in these circumstances.

My final ride this week led me across the hilly lanes to Dartmoor. It was the Saturday of the bank holiday weekend and I knew there would be plenty of people around enjoying the Devon coast to coast and the Granite Way. The route includes many long hills and some steep sections that would test my legs and fitness so it was no surprise that I felt a little nervous at taking this on with a recumbent trike. One of my favourite rides, I’d put off doing it until I had a good few miles in my newly formed recumbent legs. I need not have been worried as I climbed all the climbs steadily and effectively without any distress or feeling that my legs would give up at any moment. The downhill sections were a revelation as the trike became a mini cruse missile, accelerating fast as soon as the road pointed downwards.

Taking the view, Tarka trail, Barnstaple, Devon

Taking the view, Tarka trail, Barnstaple, Devon

Kermit made lots of friends during the ride with people stopping to talk to me everywhere I pulled over. The section from Hatherleigh to Dartmoor was all but void of traffic and the wild flowers showed the hedgerows and Devon banks to their most colourful best. Arriving at Devon Cycle Hire I stopped to talk to the lovely couple who run it. Tea was had, along with a good natter, and then I picked up the Granite Way which would lead me back to Okehampton from where I picked up the coast to coast for the run home.

Last time I rode this route on Irene it nearly killed me so there’s a great joy in feeling that I’m getting stronger and fitter again. It was a cold ride with the sun only managing to show its face after I got home. It’s always good to see so many people riding. There were couples, solo’s, families, and groups, all out on their cycles and all armed with the usual questions:

“Don’t you feel vulnerable down there?” “No, I get treated better than when I’m on my bike.” “Is it hard on the legs?” ” Yes, you have to acquire the specific recumbent fitness needed in order to enjoy it.” “Is it comfortable?” “Yes, incredibly so, we even sit here to eat lunch.” Several people took me up on the chance to take a ride on Kermit. They all returned grinning saying that their legs hurt! We certainly know that feeling but like anything else it does get much better with practise.

Until next time……..

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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