A Ride Home from London

by Rob Hague

(This is Rob’s account of his first trip on his GTS in 1998. It is slightly adapted from the original, which was posted to the IHPVA Trikes list on 20th December 1998).

My new GTS trike arrived in the UK last week. I won't go into the detail, but after managing 12,000 miles in 3 days the couriers made rather a mess of things and took almost 6 days to deliver it the last 3 miles...As a result, what was intended to be a leisurely week's ride home, visiting friends on the way, became a two day trip.

But what about the trike? Well it is rather a hybrid... It has a GTS frame (the Greenspeed Trike Sports frameset) with a slightly higher than normal 35 degree seat. This has been fitted out with GTR running gear, hydraulic disk brakes and a custom rear rack. The intention is to give me a machine that falls somewhere between the GTS and GTR; a light weight long distance touring machine suitable for long distance Audax type riding, medium weight touring with luggage mounted on the machine and heavy weight touring/general load hauling (I don't drive) using the custom trailer hitch built into the rear rack.

I collected the machine from central London and rode home to Somerset over 2 days. This meant I covered 70 miles on the first day and 90 miles on the second. During this trip the machine behaved perfectly, with the only problem being a flat caused by a picking up a sliver of mirror in the rear tyre.

I was a little worried about the prospects of riding through central London on machine with the seat about 9 inches from the ground but there was no problem. The traffic behaved just fine and I never felt in danger. Heading out through Eton and past Windsor Castle in the cycle lane I was cheerfully waved through by the several groups of police. I guess they don't get many recumbent trikes visiting!

Once beyond Eton I was able to wind the machine up some. I am not really that fit at the moment but found it easy to get up to 17.5 mph and keep it there on the clear roads. With some training the machine feels like an 18mph cruise should be entirely reasonable. Heading into the Berkshire Downs the road started to head upwards. No problems! With the help of the Greenspeed folk I had arranged for close, yet wide range gearing. This is achieved by using an 11-24 7sp cluster, 30-42-52 chainset and a 3x7 hub. I had found with the tandem that an 11-30 cassette provided us with width of gears that we needed but frequently gave us rather large steps between them, particularly when climbing or riding into the wind.

Heading down into Goring the descent is rather dramatic and let me test the descending ability of the machine. The low seat height between the 20 inch wheels gives formidable handling allowing me to ride rather harder in the damp conditions than a bike would allow. A 30 degree seat angle would further improve the handling but when I tried it I found it just too uncomfortable for my neck.[1]

Climbing out of Goring into the Chilterns was rather a different matter. The climb was rather tough and after 55 miles I was starting to tire. This meant hitting the low gears. Even without taking the 3x7 hub gear out of 2nd the steep climb wasn't too bad. I look forward to hitting the seriously hard climbs of Exmoor over the Christmas break! The drop off of the hills into Wantage was also an excellent test of the new hardware. The road drops in a series of steep hills each followed by level runs. The GTS got up to 45mph on this section of the ride and even though carrying my weekends luggage in panniers on the back of the machine and the weather conditions being rather damp and dismal, the handling was perfect! I arrived at the Ridgeway Youth Hostel at dusk, tired but pleased with the performance of the GTS.

Day two started with relatively quiet A roads allowing the miles to be clocked up quickly. Again the trike quite happily cruised at 17.5 mph for as long as I had the strength and the surface remained smooth but my average was somewhat lower. Nearing Devizes I came onto familiar territory. Riding along the rolling road along the north edge of Salisbury Plain towards the White Horse at Westbury I really appreciated the handling of the GTS compared to my previous rides along the same stretch. This run appears to be relatively flat on the Ordnance Survey map but actually rises and falls almost constantly. This means that it greatly rewards an aggressive style of riding; that is trying to pick up as much speed on a descent as possible to climb the following climb. My old '95 model Trice had suffered on this stretch by not handling well enough at speed to allow such riding without constantly touching the brakes. The GTT copes fairly well but with my usual riding partner we do not have enough power to make the top of the climbs without resorting to low gears. The GTS, with its better high speed handling and lower c-of-g coped excellently with the sharp drops, tight corners and damp surface. On only a couple of the climbs did I need to drop a significant number of gears and I frequently found myself accelerating away from following motor vehicles on the drops. They passed me towards the tops of the climbs but with more training perhaps...?

It was as I approached the White Horse that I picked up a shard of mirror from the wet road. It was in the rear tyre. At least it was easy to see and I am already practiced in swapping a 3x7 hub'd wheels. The GTS has no rear brake to complicate the removal.

As I reached the high ground of the Mendip hills the weather turned to drizzle and fog. In this poor weather the disc brakes performed just fine, although they did tend to be a little noisy. I have yet to ride a disc braked trike that isn't noisy in the wet. There is no loss of braking power, just the whine... It is especially troublesome around horses, which are sometimes freaked out by a recumbent trike anyway!

The remainder of the ride, to within 12 miles of home, was uneventful. At that point, with 90 miles covered, things went wrong. Because of the poor weather I had been running my British Standard (ie. UK legal more-or-less) rear LED and a modified Vistalite front LED for the whole trip. I also carried a second rear LED and a Lightman. As it became dark I turned the backup lighting on. When I turned on my main SLA lighting, despite having been charged since its last use it just faded and died. I don't know whether I missed switching the socket on or what... It has worked just fine since. A charging light is a requirement for my next system! At least I had the backup dynamo that I had made a bracket for. It had worked perfectly on my test run in London before departing. That was in the relatively clean and dry though. In the mud and drizzle it just slipped along the tyre providing only intermittent light.

At this point I was pretty much stuck. Only 12 miles to go but the next 2 of them were on one of the fastest, busiest A roads that I ride. I decided to abort and take advantage of the ETA recovery service that I have paid the subscription for for the last 2 years. This company provide a vehicle relay service for motorists and also, unusually for cyclists. Within an hour their van arrived, we loaded up the trike without a problem. I arrived home, unfortunately not under my own power, but at least safe and sound and with 160 miles under my belt . Perhaps December, with 8 hour days, is not the best time for a tour of Southern England, but I did get the chance to put my new machine through its paces. All I need now are longer days, warmer weather and more miles in my legs!

[1] Rob now rides a 30 degree seat GTS and finds it very comfortable now he's got used to it.