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Mountain Audax

Snow drifts on the Way of the Roses

In 2000 I had been pedalling a daily 11 mile commute, summer and winter, rain or shine for well over a decade. Over this period using a succession of different bicycles I had suffered my fair share of minor bumps, injuries and close encounters with inconsiderate or myopic drivers.  Finally a potentially serious fall on black ice forced me to make a complete review of my journey to work.   Reluctant to give up the exercise benefits of cycling commuting I decided I needed something safer that would cope better with traffic and winter conditions along my usual route.

Back then my new Trice XL recumbent trike was a complete revelation; it proved to be no slower than my hybrid bicycle along my usual commute and had the bonus of being completely impervious to cross winds on the A470.  Since 2000 the trike’s superior comfort, braking and stability along with its wide “unusual” presence on the road has empirically proved it to be a far safer mode of transport.

In the company of Chris my wife on her own XL, our trikes have carried us (with camping gear) reliably and in comfort on excursions over many thousands of miles covering the length and width of the UK and Northern Ireland.  Tours abroad have included rides from Bergen in Norway north to cross the Arctic Circle, the full length on both New Zealand Islands, from the Mediterranean Coast to the English Channel across France, and in the summer of 2011, 2293 miles along the continental section of the North Sea Cycle Route. You can read about our tours and see photos by clicking here

In 2012 our tour plans had to be abandoned due to the terminal illness of close family member leaving me looking for an alternative challenge that did not take me away from the North Wales Area.   Although knowing absolutely nothing about Audaxes I elected to have a go at an event that was advertised in the local press as part of the Wales festival of Cycling. Although I knew I could cope with an extremely hilly 130 km ride, I had far less confidence about completing the route before the final cut off time.   A minimum average speed of 12.5 Km/h did seem reasonable until I realised it had to include enforced delays at checkpoints and rest breaks.  

On the day of the event with every surplus component stripped off the XL to save weight, I set off using the trike’s speed advantage on the downs to keep pace with other riders on conventional bicycles.  As the only rider on a trike, the first flattish 20 km was relatively easy, but I soon fell behind on the first long steep climb.   Thereafter I lost more time on the many big hills that followed particularly on the final pull up the Horseshoe Pass.  However by using a strategy of riding almost continuously and only briefly stopping to get my brevet card stamped I did complete the ride successfully in 9 hrs 45 min.

With an average speed of only 13.3 Km/h (and no café stops),  it was clear that I needed a faster and lighter trike if I was going to complete longer Audaxes with plenty of time to spare.  I found my solution after a test ride at ICE’s base in Falmouth on a new Vortex.  It was love at first sight, so much lighter, faster and responsive than my old trusty XL.  

With some degree of optimism I decided to christen the Vortex by riding the 81 miles of punishing hill climbs in the 2012 Wild Wales Challenge.

Although very fast on the flat and extremely fast on the downs it was as I expected somewhat slower than conventional racing bikes on longer strenuous climbs. Despite regretting having an overdose of cake at the preceding feeding station I found the classic climb up Bwch Y Groes (Wales’s highest mountain pass) straightforward.  I was able to crank the Vortex up steadily without stopping while passing some other cyclists pushing their machines.  Many had stopped part way, only to find that the gradient too steep to start again without falling off!  I finishing the event with a comfortable margin and as the only recumbent rider in the event ended up being featured in a number of locations on the Wild Wales Website!

Over the last few months my Vortex has reliably carried me to successfully complete a succession of Audax events:

1st September – Gwynedd Traverse – 200 km – 11 hrs 49 mns

16th September – Momma’s Mountain Views – 137 km – 8 hrs 15 mins

11th November – Cheshire Safari – 165 km – 9 hrs 10 mins

20th October – The Brenig Bach – 107 km– 6 hrs 10 mins

After investing in some high powered LED lights:

16th December – Winter Solstice – 200 km – 12 hrs 05 mins

24th February – Newport 200 – 201 km – 10 hrs 43 mins

In early April, in the company of two riders on conventional bicycles we completed the 170 mile Way of the Roses Coast to Coast cycle route in a leisurely three days despite unseasonably strong and cold headwinds.

I was thankful that I had not elected to use the heavier XL after dragging and carrying the Vortex along a 1 km stretch of remote mountain lane completely blocked by a succession of high snow drifts.

I regarded my entry to the ETAPE Caledonia this May with a degree of trepidation.  Having never attempted a “closed road event” before, I had every confidence that I could complete the 131 Km route with nearly 2000 meters of climb, but had far less certainty about achieving a minimum 21 km/hr average speed with past Audax timings only avenging about 18 km/h including rest periods.  I knew that the downhill speed of the Vortex would get me back to the finish with relative ease provided I could get beyond the “king of the Mountains” hill climb and not have my timing chip confiscated by the dreaded sweep car.

On the day over 4200 riders were due to leave Pitlochry at 2 minute intervals from 06:30 am.   As rider number 5096 (and the only trike entry) I was placed almost at the back in group Z, due out at 07:20.  I eventually got away at 07:30 but despite careful preparations my cycle computer stopped working within a few hundred meters from the start.    Having no idea of my average speed, once out of Pitlochry, the undulating route alongside Loch Tummel and Loch Rannoch seemed relatively easy going.  With no oncoming traffic, no navigation issues and no drag from a safety flag, the speed of the Vortex on the flat and downhill allowed me to constantly pass other riders.  Very few were overtaking me except on the longer uphill sections.   It was altogether different on the long “King of the Mountains” hill climb but once over the top, the speed advantage of the Vortex on long downs got me to the finish line well ahead of my expectations raising £614.50 for Marie Curie Cancer Research. 

My official time on the 81 mile route was 4 hrs 57 mins 26 seconds positioned 2317 out of the 4180 riders who finished.  On the flattish I km sprint section my time was a respectable 1 min 51 seconds position 1288.  On the “King of the Mountains” section it was a leisurely 13 mins 18 seconds at position 3616!

Having just completed the hilly 100 km Ffestiniog 360 and with little opportunity for an extended tour this year, it’s going to be similar events all this summer!

Not to mention a few Audax events as well.

As far as I know, on every event to date I have been the only recumbent trike rider taking part.  There was a two wheel recumbent on the Newport 200 which failed to finish and I passed another on the ETAPE Caledonia, so it would be nice to have another trike for company!