A Tour of Somerset

29th April 2001

by Rob Hague

Saturday was the first time I've taken the GLR our for a good ride. Not a training ride against the clock but a real, going places, sort of destination in mind ride. A chance to see how the GLR copes on open roads, on brisk climbs and for a longer duration that I'd tried to date.

I left home in the direction of Cothelstone Hill, a climb of not quite 250 metres but with some tough sections. This was the first time I'd tested the GLR against a real climb. I was getting a little concerned as I dropped to the 'small' chainring (the only time I'd used the 52t ring previously was climbing the other side of the same hill). I ended up in 1st gear on the toughest part of the climb and holding a cadence of 50 rpm. Not good but not bad.

The descent down into Bridgwater and out of the other side was fine. On smooth open roads the GLR is really at home, picking up speed easily and holding it. The gentle climb onto the Polden hills was unnoticeable! I simply held my speed and cadence and rode straight up the climb. I only dropped a gear nearing the top.

From the Poldens I picked a route heading out onto the Somerset Levels. These roads can be a blessing and a curse. Beautiful riding in still weather or a real nightmare with a headwind. Reduced effort into those headwinds was one of the first benefits I found to recumbent riding. The GLR was happily cruising in top gear. The villages tend to be built on the higher ground in this area. It was previously marsh. This means that following the road between villages takes an undulating route. I'm sure I remember these brief climbs being much tougher last time I rode through the area.

At Wedmore I decided to extend my ride to take in Cheddar Gorge, one of the more spectacular limestone gorges in England and home of the cheese of the same name. Being a Saturday I was unsure how busy it would be, Cheddar being a major tourist honeypot. The access road to the gorge seemed pretty quiet and, after a tea break, I found out why. All of the footpaths are closed to walkers because of Foot&Mouth. Temporary fences have been erected along the edge of the road to dissuade people from heading off the tarmac. Unfortunately nobody had bothered to put a notice up for the goats who had climbed over the wall to see what the notice and the fence were all about.

After eluding the goats I continued up onto the Mendip plateau. After 3 or 4 rather harsh (first gear) and wet corners the climb settles down into a steady 1-in-10. This slope seemed ideal for the GLR and it seemed keen to accelerate up the climb, requiring me to keep upshifting to keep pace. Accelerating on a hill? Bizarre!

As I reached open ground I saw the reason for the wet roads. Heavy black storm clouds. One was heading away north and the wind was picking up. A side wind seemed to make little difference along the ridge. Losing height down into Wells on the main road meant that I could give the GLR its head. Unfortunately this was also into the wind so 40mph was as much as I could manage.

Heading from Wells towards Glastonbury and the Tor I could see the black cloud approaching and feel the windspeed increasing. Then Glastonbury and the Isle of Avalon slowly faded away to white. One minute it was there against the black sky, next minute just white. Then the hail hit. I was just turning onto the bypass so there was nowhere to hide. I tucked in tight to the kerb and kept riding. The pelting of the hail, the intense cold and the poor visibility meant that I wanted to pull off and find shelter but there was nothing close by. Then, as suddenly as it arrived, it cleared, the sun came out and it was summer again!

From Glastonbury the road skirts Street and picks up the eastern end of the Polden hills before dropping down onto another area of the Somerset Levels. Here the road surface was rough and the wind felt fairly constant. I noticed that the work I had to do against the wind changed quite markedly with only a small difference in angle of the road. It seemed that when the road turned 30 degrees out of the headwind I was almost able to coast even though I was still riding into the wind and I could see the effects of the wind in the trees and feel it on my face. I wonder if that means I've not got the tailbox design right...

From Burrowbridge, another church astride a natural hillock, I was able to pick up some smaller back roads to take me towards home. Skirting the edge of Taunton the last few miles felt pretty tough. This was my longest ride this season and I'm not sure when I last did more than 50 miles in one go.
Distance: 80 miles, average speed 16.2mph.

The GLR makes one fast day tourer! I could easily be convinced to set this machine up as a more serious touring machine. The low profile works well into the wind and keeps the cruising speed high. I'd be tempted to add a Type I mountain drive to give some lower gears for the hills, as I do like heading into the hillier parts of the country. It might even be worth trading the two front rings/mech/shifter for an MD and a single 67t as I'm only occasionally using the 52 but would like a lower gear when I've needed it.

The 20 degree seat angle is first class. I've found it comfortable for racing and race training but after almost 5 hours in the seat with only a single tea break it still felt perfect. 20 degrees and a low seat height will not be to everyone's taste - be warned - on such a low trike it can be a little difficult to work out complex road lane and junction markings in an unfamiliar town.

I did notice a little more brake steer than I would like coming down into Wells. This was with a ground speed of 40mph and an air speed of maybe 60mph so could have been the aerodynamics.

In my touring (upright) bike days I always used to consider that 100 miles was about as far as I like to do in a day. And 15mph to be a good average - usually my best. Sure, I've been as far as 180 miles in one day, but after 100 I always wanted off the saddle. Yesterdays 80 mile/16.2mph jaunt took me further and faster than I've ridden before and left me wanting more. I'm already planning a longer run for next weekend, weather permitting, of course!