Tag Archives: recumbent

Alfie goes to the Maas River

The weather in Germany has turned hot.

Anything much over 22 degrees and it’s too hot for the Velomobile (at least for someone with as much personal insulation as I have).

So Alfie has been getting a few more rides recently, mostly in company with his new friend the Steintrikes Wild One (which seems, unfathomably, to not have a name).

A few exchanges of SMS yesterday morning with fellow-triker Klaus and a cycle ride was arranged for the late afternoon – with the Netherlands as our destination.

Once again I drove Alfie to Klaus’s house (he lives 20km away) so we could ride from there. It makes more sense than meeting up somewhere underway, especially as Alfie easily fits into my Honda Jazz with the back seats down. I have now also improved my skills at handling him when folding and didn’t end up covered in oil this time!

trike in car

Last Thursday evening I also rode with Klaus and on that occasion when I unfolded Alfie he had a few minor problems – partly related to his advanced mileage I think. This time, with my improved skills in lifting him folded, after I reassembled him he seemed unscathed. Which was good as this ride would also see him cross the 20,000 mile mark.

Klaus had plotted a route for me which is one he rides occasionally.

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What I hadn’t noticed initially is that it goes up a pretty steep hill almost straight away. And boy was I slow – it was 29 degrees, I had spent all day at my desk working before heading out, and I am rubbish up hills anyway.

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This was cycling across the Süchtelner Höhen, this very inconvenient moraine that is in the way if you want to go west from Viersen. There are lots of different routes across it of various steepness but Klaus sent us the Höher Busch route which is through some woodland so not asphalted. He took a wrong turn and we started going down a nettley path so had to turn round again – recumbent trikes and nettles and other similar vegetation do not mix well.

Anyway I was slow going up the hill – this is not news but previously I have blamed the fact that it is because I am on a recumbent trike (known for being slow up hills). When I am cycling with someone else on a recumbent trike and they are whizzing off into the distance when going up hills this rather shows that my slowness might be down to the rider rather than the machine!

However I am quicker downhill than Klaus. We had discovered this on a previous ride, that I freewheel downhill much faster, and had discussed a little whether this was because of differences between the trikes or maybe that the Wild One’s tracking wasn’t perfect. I had a great idea to do a test by swapping machines before a downhill and seeing if the ICE Sprint was still quicker.

The answer was no, with me riding the Wild One it went much faster down the hill after we crossed the A61 Motorway. The obvious reason would be that I have greater mass (= heavier) than Klaus but this would clearly be embarrassing for a lady so instead we have been trying to work out other reasons for this speed differential. We are currently working on the hypothesis that I am way more aerodynamic than him. I like to try to fool myself from time to time!

Anyway, having struggled up the side of the Süchtelner Höhen (and seen two other recumbent trikes going past but they didn’t stop for a chat) and had our race down the other side, we were now on flat territory rolling through Bistard, Boisheim and the unfortunately-named Schaag. There is a church in Schaag that I haven’t yet visited as part of my Churches in Kreis Viersen challenge but as we had 70km to ride and had only left Viersen at 5:15pm I thought it best not to delay us by stopping to photograph it.

I learned a few useful bits of information from my riding partner today when discussing the different roads. In the UK we have motorways, A Roads and B Roads (do we have C roads? I think not, I think they are just ‘unclassified’). Anyway, in Germany I have seen A roads, B, L and K but didn’t know exactly how these were specified. It turns out to be quite simple – A = Autobahn (I did know that), which is motorway. B = Bundestraße which is a national road. L is a Landesstraße which are the major main roads within a country and K are something to do with Kreis (district), I didn’t pick up the exact word. So the B, L and K roads are all of the quality and speed we would call an A road in the UK, but I guess different departments pay for maintenance/upkeep. Or something.

From Schaag we headed out into some very flat farmland towards Bracht which I have visited a few times (but from a different direction).

Whilst we were trundling along beside a road I suddenly realised that Alfie must have crossed over his magic 20,000 mile mark (unfortunately the mounting point for my bike computer wheel magnet thingie had snapped a few days ago so the trike’s trip computer wasn’t working, I only had my Garmin). So I stopped to take a photo of Alfie after his 20k miles – he doesn’t look too bad for having travelled that far in three years, all weathers.

Alfie at 20,000 miles

I’ll be writing a blog post about the 20,000 miles in due course.

Klaus made the mistake of saying to me that he doesn’t like riding in groups normally because it’s tricky to ride safely with other different bikes (a well known problem for recumbenteers – exacerbated by the fact that all you see in front of you are people’s backsides) but that he found it much easier to cycle with me. As we were riding side-by-side at that time I did a quick swerve towards him to see how he reacted. The answer was quickly, and nearly steered himself into a ditch. Oops! I wouldn’t have hit his trike (I am too sensible for that!) but clearly caught him out. Later in the ride he tried to do the same to me but I didn’t budge – I am made of sterner stuff (or more trusting?). Either that or I am now immune to this as yesterday I was cycling with an upright bike whilst I was in Penelope and there was a braking issue and the cyclist crashed into the side of Penelope. No harm done but after that I was feeling fairly invincible as of course I was entirely protected within the shell of Penelope. But the basic situation is indeed that two trikes riding together find it much easier than a trike with an upright bike (or even recumbent two-wheeler) as the speed and braking profiles/performances are much more similar.

From Bracht we crossed under the B221 and then headed through the hamlet of Heidhausen before entering the Brachter Wald. I feared we might find lots of mosquitoes but there weren’t any – it was probably too hot for them! The journey through the Brachter Wald is a long, slow downhill which gets steeper at the end until the border with NL where you have to do a 90 degree right turn through some traffic calming. I decided to see how fast Alfie would roll downhill with me on board – we managed to hit 47.9 km/h which was a bit disappointing (I did 60km/h when going down a short hill back in England a couple of weeks ago). I think it just isn’t hilly enough in Niederrhein to really get going. Which is actually a relief.

We crossed the border into the Netherlands at the De Witte Stein pub where we had been with the Trike Treffen group. There’s nothing obvious to make you realise you are in NL until you travel a bit further and come through the towns where you see different road signs and also slightly different designs in buildings.

I was now in a phone blackout though (I don’t use data when roaming) which meant all went very quiet on my phone – my husband is currently doing a sailing challenge of going round the British Isles (well, halfway round). He has just joined the boat in Oban in Scotland and they are making their way down the west coast. He’s been sending lots of iMessages to update his location and send photos of the amazing scenery – but once I crossed into the Dutch phone area it all went quiet. Which felt quite odd really.

We rode through Reuver and were soon at the Maas river, where we had to wait for a minute for the ferry.

Maas Ferry at Reuver

It is worth noting at this point that there was an ice cream van selling ice creams near the ferry point but I said nothing. Klaus’s last blog post suggested I kept whinging about lack of cake on our rides so I had resolved to be quiet about the fact he seems to ignore the need to refuel whilst underway. Which was mostly successful, in that I didn’t whinge, but an ice cream at that point would have been fab!

We rolled onto the ferry and the chap who came to take our 60 cents for the crossing had a good chat with us in multiple languages (a mixture of English and German, we couldn’t quite fix on what language we were going to speak).

Here are the trikes on the ferry as we have almost reached the other side. It was a chain ferry and the river is probably less than 100 metres wide at that point.

Trikes on Maas Ferry

We got off the ferry (I had an unexpected bit of heel strike due to the steep ramp, which might explain why the heels of my cycling sandals seem to be coming unglued) and then headed into the little village. There were several cafés and Klaus asked if I wanted to stop for a drink. I said no as we weren’t yet halfway round the tour and then checked on my Garmin – it said 25km to go, and we’d already done 29, so I changed my mind. Halfway point is a good time to stop.

Trikes at tea stop

We found a nice café with some shade (it was still really hot) and stopped. I ordered a cup of Teewasser/hot water for tea with milk and miracle of miracles, that is actually what I got! In Germany I usually don’t get any milk, despite specifically asking for it, and then have to wait for ages for them to remember. But I had my tea and then a glass of water and enjoyed a bit of a break from the sun.

It was time to get going again so we headed off on the road alongside the Maas. It’s not just a cycle path, there were some cars and quite a few mopeds whizzing along. There were also loads of roadie cyclists in packs. We weren’t overtaken that often though because we were riding at a decent pace. At one point I heard a nasty grinding noise from the back of my trike when rounding a corner – only to discover that I still had my parking brake on. It’s not a very effective parking brake but it does make you work harder if you ride for two kilometres with it on!

What was annoying was I could see that my light was flickering (I have a front light permanently burning on Alfie as it’s from the dynohub). I couldn’t tell if the fault was from the dynohub, the cabling or within the light itself but a bit of fiddling suggested that it might be the on/off/senseo switch which might possibly have experienced some water ingress in the last three years. It seemed to sort itself out after another 10km but it’s something I need to watch as I didn’t have a backup light with me – I will need to start carrying a torch as well in case something happens to the light.

The other thing I noticed was that my Garmin was counting up with the ‘distance to destination’ field. This is because we were doing the track the reverse way round than normal and I hadn’t realised this. So when we stopped with 25km to go that was actually false – we had another 35km to go. Well at least I had enjoyed my cuppa by the Maas.

I didn’t actually know where I was a lot of the time – just following someone else makes for very easy routefinding (unless they lose you!) but meant I kept asking where we were. This roundabout had a useful series of signs on it so I could tell roughly where I was.

Roundabout in NL somewhere

The section cycling along the Maas seemed to go really quickly for some reason – perhaps because it was a fairly fast, wide track. The views across the river were very nice and there were even some hills in evidence.

The plan was to cross the river again in Venlo on the motorway bridge (the A73). This is a shared motorway/bike bridge and is quite impressive.

Bridge crossing at Venlo

You feel well separated from the traffic which is good.

Trikes and traffic crossing Venlo bridge

From there Klaus wended a route through Venlo to the east and I was completely lost. I kept thinking I recognised sections but then was in unfamiliar territory again. I assumed we were heading to the Glider Airfield which is the route I always take out of Venlo but no, we were going by Leuth instead. We crossed back into Germany, passed another as-yet-unvisited church in Leuth and then headed towards the De-Witt-See, joining the Bahnradweg (which I cycle at least once a week) to head back.

This is such a great bit of cycle track – smooth, straight, wide enough for two trikes side-by-side (mostly) and not very busy at 9pm at night. We whizzed along, passing Sassenfeld where I had a week’s holiday in August 2012, then the top edge of Lobberich before heading towards Grefrath. Because our final destination was Viersen rather than Kempen we left the Bahnradweg before Grefrath and had to go up a bit of a hill – which seemed unexpectedly hard! – before heading to Hagenbroich, around Vorst and then to Süchteln on the Nordkanal route before arriving back at Klaus’s place. As usual he sped up for the last few miles (presumably thinking about home cooking and cups of tea and things like that) so it was all I could do to hang on. A booster rocket would be useful to help me keep up in these situations.

Alfie was packed away into the car in no time at all but I needed a few minutes’ breather before heading off as I felt really tired after the last few miles. I’d run out of water which probably didn’t help. By the time I had driven home I felt back to normal fortunately and had a very good feeling after such a good cycling workout.

Just under 70km for me and I burned over 2000 calories which was a bonus – and only had a cup of tea on the ride!

Klaus records his track with an iPhone App and I have here the two data files side-by-side when imported into my cycling software. The calories figure is wrong for Klaus’s side (the right hand side) – somehow my software is reading the wrong thing. His software gave him 1800 calories for the ride.

Distsance Data combined

And here is the elevation information – the iPhone app does not record this very well as you can see! (Again, my info is on the left, Klaus’s on the right)

elevation data

I was back at the car at 10pm so we were less than five hours on the road which wasn’t bad for a ride of this length and with a fairly good stop. Klaus usually rides these distances without stopping but I like having a loo break and a cup of tea if possible. I am still slightly amazed that I yet again didn’t manage to have a cake though!

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Filed under Alfie the Trike, Cycling in Germany, Six Wheels In Germany

Penelope goes to Hinsbeck

My ride today was actually one of the rides where I am visiting different churches in Kreis Viersen (I am trying to bag all 112 churches this year), but it turned out to be such an enjoyable ride I thought I’d do a short write-up now rather than adding lots of extra info to the page on the churches (which is still under construction).

Today is Easter Monday and, being Germany, shops are shut – but cafés aren’t. The weather was reasonable – about 18 degrees and hazy cloud but no sign of rain. The wind wasn’t too strong either.

So after walking the dog and doing some work this morning I decided, at 11:30, to head out on Penelope and just follow my nose.

For a change my nose took me due west towards the Netherlands. However I decided to try to bag a few churches on my list and so set my Garmin GPS to take me to Abtei Mariendonk, a monastery/cloister that I have visited several times before but not since I’ve moved to Kempen.

Here’s my track for the day:

Monday 21 April Track

I had a very enjoyable fast (downwind!) cycle to Mariendonk which is just four miles away or so.

A few days ago a German chap contacted me through my blog as he lives locally (in Viersen) and rides a recumbent trike and realised that we will probably cross paths. I had a look at his blog (http://3-rad.blogspot.de/) and noticed that he cycled to Straelen just a few days before I went there – and on his way he visited Mariendonk.

This is what he said about it:

Hinter Grefrath liegt das Kloster Mariendonk. Von Ferne sieht das Gebäude sehr schön aus, es entpuppt sich aber dann als ein von funktionalen Gebäuden umgebenen Klosterbau… naja doch nicht so der Hingucker. Eindrücke und Informationen gibt es hier www.mariendonk.de.

In other words… it looks nice from a long way away but is surrounded by rather functional buildings as part of the monastery.

Here are my photos:

Abtei Mariendonk 1

And here are the functional buildings where I parked.

Abtei Mariendonk 2

It all seemed very quiet and closed (although on a previous visit I spotted several nuns cycling out of one of the buildings) so I carried on.

The initial plan was to head for another Church Waypoint on my Garmin at Vinkrath but I saw some signs to Hinsbeck, which I had visited previously and was a bit further away, and I thought that would be a nicer trip today.

Hinsbeck is on a hill which is gentle one side and steep the other. Fortunately I was cycling up the gentle side so my speed didn’t drop much below 13kph.

As I got almost to the top of the hill I looked across at Hinsbeck. It has two church spires – the Catholic Church is clearly winning the Tallest Spire race though!

Approaching Hinsbeck

The spire of the Protestant church is just about visible in the trees on the left.

And here is the elevation profile so you can see the hill:

Monday 21 April Elevation Profile

The two churches in Hinsbeck are just a stone’s throw away from each other but it looked as though the route was easiest to go to the protestant church first so I headed that way.

Hinsbeck Evangelische Kirchegemeinde

It was yet another modern building and yet another that I didn’t find particularly pleasing to the eye (not that it matters when you’re inside, of course). My (limited so far) experience of visiting churches in Niederrhein is that the catholics have good all the attractive tall buildings and the Protestants have concrete buildings that look mostly less than fifty years old and are generally tucked away in residential streets rather than being in the centre of town. I shall obviously research this a bit more as part of my Churches Challenge.

Here is Penelope outside the church.

Penelope at Hinsbeck Evangelische Kirche

This is the church noticeboard which gives an idea about what’s going on in Hinsbeck

Noticeboard for Hinsbeck Evangelische Kirche

And here am I with Penelope.

Helen and Penelope outside Hinsbeck Evangelische Kirche

Clearly I didn’t take that photo myself – I accosted a passing couple and asked them to take the picture. Which they did. And then we ended up having a great chat for about three quarters of an hour. I was telling them about my Churches Challenge and about living in Germany and cycling Penelope, they were talking a lot about some of the beautiful churches to visit around here, a little bit about the history and more. It was really good to talk to Herr und Frau Herrmann, and they let me take a picture of them at the end.

Herr und Frau Herrmann

Time was marching on now and I was rather hungry, it being 13:30. I quickly popped to the Catholic Church a few hundred metres away which was also shut/locked.

Hinsbeck Catholic Church

There didn’t seem to be any cafés or similar open in the centre of Hinsbeck so I decided to start heading back and to get something in Grefrath.

There is a quick route to Grefrath along a main road from Hinsbeck but I decided to take the Bahnradweg (disused railway line cycle path) instead which starts in Lobberich, at the bottom of the hill from Hinsbeck. So I whizzed down the hill, rode into Lobberich on a fast road, and found the beginning of the Bahnradweg.

I spent ten days staying a mile from the centre of Lobberich (Nettetal) so am pretty familiar with this bit of the route – it was good to visit again!

I joined the Bahnradweg which is generally a lovely smooth tarmac which allows a velomobile to go nice and fast!

This is looking back at Hinsbeck with the Catholic church spire very visible again.

Looking back at Hinsbeck hill

So I now started zooming along the Bahnradweg. I could get up a pretty good speed between the road crossings – at one point I was cruising at 45kph (that’s 30mph-ish). It felt good! I was also pleased to note that the fallen tree that had caused me an issue had been cleared away.

One thing I did discover is that my hooter/horn thing, which is a very high-pitched squeal, is useless for warning people that I am coming. Most people don’t seem to notice it. I like to make some noise so they know I am passing and don’t get too surprised when the Purple Peril passes them. I need to investigate an alternative hooter – it looks like various things are available on Ebay for not too much. Perhaps I will find something at SPEZI Radmesse on Saturday (a bike exhibition for weird bikes and their various accessories).

Anyway, I was getting hungry now and wondering if I would find anywhere open in Grefrath when, rather fortuitously, I passed a sign for a café which was open on Easter Monday, right beside the cycle path. So I turned off and parked Penelope and went for some food.

Here’s the café.

Cafe on the Bahnradweg

Here’s the food.

Easter Monday cake

I actually fancied some soup or something but it was just a cake café so I forced myself…

Then it was back on the Bahnradweg, past this piece of Easter Artwork which was on a television.

Happy Easter Artwork

After Grefrath the Bahnradweg isn’t as good – the route is more twisty (presumably the railway was rather more dismantled) and there are some ruts in the tarmac because of tree roots, but it was still a very enjoyable ride despite being into wind.

I arrived in Kempen and decided to ride straight through the middle again – on the cobbles, of course. I stopped for a bit to chat to several people who all asked me about the velomobile – they all seem to assume I must have an electric motor in there. I have to show them it’s just my legs and they are all amazed. The next question is ‘how fast do you go’ and when I said I went at 45kph today (and that was on the flat) they are very surprised. When I say my average is 18kph (as it was today) they still seem to think that’s fast. In the UK that would not be considered fast at all!

I decided to do a slightly different route out from Kempen rather than just running along the cycle path on the main road so I took a cross-country path. Which, it turned out, had a railway crossing. The barriers are always down – you have to press a button to request it to be raised. But, of course, the button was too high for me.

Railway Crossing Call Box

So I got out, pressed the button and a real man answered and said something unintelligible and then the barrier raised and I cycled through. I went into St Hubert in the hopes of finding Café Poeth open so I could buy some bread but it was shut so I went home empty handed (but had some emergency french stick in the freezer, fortunately).

Today’s ride was 2 hours six minutes for 24.14 miles at an average of 11.5mph. Calories burned were 1,072 so the reduction in calorie burning of the velomobile (compared to Alfie the trike) continues. With a velomobile you’re always nice and warm, don’t get rained on, go faster… what’s not to like? The burning fewer calories seems to be the only downside so far!

I have decided that I’ll only bag a maximum of three churches per ride so I don’t get to them all before the end of the year. It’s a great excuse to visit all the different parts of Kreis Viersen and hopefully I’ll find a few that are open that I can visit soon.

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Filed under Cycling in Germany, Penelope the Velomobile, Six Wheels In Germany, Trikes & Velomobiles

Penelope goes to Schwalmtal

I’ve now had Penelope the Versatile Velomobile with me for a week and have done a reasonable amount of riding in her to slowly get the hang of riding a velomobile rather than my recumbent trike. She and I had done 73 fairly easy miles and apart from a slight bit of pain in my knees (which isn’t uncommon but meant that I didn’t do much riding over the weekend to give them a rest) I was enjoying my new mode of transport.

One thing I did need to get for her was a decent lock – the curly Abus lock I have for Alfie is a bit inconvenient for a velomobile. Alex, who sold me Penelope, had an excellent chain system which worked really well so I decided to buy a lock like that myself. It was an extra bargain when I discovered that German ebay sells pink chains!

Penelope's lock

The way that this is used (that Alex showed me) works really well – the lock is fixed around the structural metal T-piece that attaches the seat to the velomobile.

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And then you shut the lid, pull the chain through and attach it to a handy lamp post or railing.

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This is very secure and has the additional bonus that people can’t open the lid of the velomobile and get in.

Anyway, today was to be a longer ride. Friends Gabriele and Rolf, who I’d met in England last year on LEL, agreed for us all to meet at Rolf’s house in Schwalmtal. I would cycle over from Kempen, Gabriele had a rather longer ride from Bonn (but she’s a very fast audaxer). The plan was to meet at 3:30 and as it was 20 miles there I thought it best to give myself two hours as it would be my first long ride with the velomobile.

Rolf had plotted me a recommended route (well, he had supplied two, so I decide to use both, one each way) and this is my outward journey:

Outward route

I stopped off at the Griesson de Beukelaer factory in Kempen to buy some easter choccies for Rolf and Gabriele.

I then made the mistake of trying to take the cycle route ring that goes around Kempen slightly outside the main centre. It’s a great route on a normal bike or on Alfie but it had rather too many gates to stop cars which were very tricky in Penelope. In the end I gave up and used the main roads.

On the way out of Kempen I found myself waiting for ages at a traffic light, only to realise that this one did require you to press the button (the ones in Kempen itself tend to have a lights phase for bikes anyway). This can be tricky in a velomobile but fortunately I have long arms!

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Whilst I was waiting for the lights I had a message from Lara, who lives downstairs, to say that Poppy was helping her with the lawn mowing.

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I thought I might be out for rather a long time so asked Lara if she would take Poppy out to the garden late in the afternoon – Poppy was clearly getting a much more interesting expedition. Lara also took her for a walk later which was great, and then Gudula (the landlady) took her out for another walk!

My ride went through Oedt and then on very quiet roads to Hagenbroich. So far the ride was fine and I was extremely glad I had the velomobile because of the weather. Today was a super-windy day with forecasted gusts of up to 40mph/60kmh. It was certainly a very strong wind which also brought with it occasional rain showers but the velomobile is just the right sort of vehicle for this –  you stay warm and mostly dry and the wind doesn’t have that much of an effect.

I had debated whether to put the roof on the Versatile for this trip but thought that as the wind was so strong it might be best not to (Peter told me his roof had once blown off). Besides, the sun was shining most of the time. During the sharp showers that rained on me a couple of times I just zipped up the cover around my neck, put a hat on and I stayed comfy and dry and warm. Much, much better than on exposed Alfie!

After Hagenbroich I started to climb – and climb, and climb. I thought Niederrhein was flat! But no, there was a quite significant hill, and I found that the Versatile’s lowest gear wasn’t as low as I’d like. I wished for one or two lower gears but had to make do with what I had, winching myself up slowly.

You can see the elevation profile for the entire ride (there and back) here:

Elevation profile

The green lines are my speed and the red lines my heart rate. But you can clearly see that first significant hill!

I felt pretty knackered after climbing that but then had the delight of the accompanying downhill which was tempered by the gusty wind which blew Penelope around a bit. It was a slightly white-knuckled descent but I managed it. I notice my maximum speed today was 24.1mph so that’s not actually that fast – on a straight, smooth road on a non windy day I would have done much better!

The last bit of the journey through the Schwalmtal area had rather bumpier roads which were mostly quiet tracks (I was following Rolf’s route) and the blowing dust off the fields made it quite hard work. I realised I wouldn’t be there at 3:30pm but ended up only being ten minutes late. Gabriele was already there and drinking tea with Rolf – when I arrived the cakes made an appearance:

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Very yummy! Rolf had also made a cheese and bacon quiche for us!

I selected this chocolate cream cake slice to have with my Tetley Tea.

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We had a really good chat, organised our plan to go to Spezi (the German weird bike exhibition) in a fortnight’s time, discussed the things I have been unable to find here (decent potato peeler, non-expensive towelling bathrobe, cutlery drainer) and where I might find these elusive items.

After our chat we had worked up an appetite again so it was time for Cake Slice 2. This time we went for half slices and I went for the healthy fruit option – some apple cake. Yum! (There was a pear in my previous chocolate/cream cake so that was pretty healthy too, really).

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It was approaching 6:30 so time for us to get back – Gabriele had a four hour ride back to Bonn (100km away) and I had my 30km ride that would take me two hours (or so I thought!)

Gabriele first showed me that she had learned to get in and out of her Quest XS velomobile without using her hands. Rolf and I agreed that neither of us were gymnastic enough to do this!

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Gabriele has Busch & Müller IQ lights in the front of her Quest – this is a tempting upgrade as the lights on Penelope are a bit of a disappointment compared to Alfie’s B&M IQ light.

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Here’s Rolf peering at Penelope as Gabriele is about to set off.

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We left together but Gabriele turned right where I turned left after just 100 metres so I was on my own, hoping to get back before dark (8:30pm).

This was my route back, slightly different and including the old railway line from Nettetal-Lobberich to Grefrath.

Return route

So I headed off, hoping that the return route would be less hilly. And it was – the railway route smooths it all out nicely!

But I am getting ahead of myself – here I am at the top of a short gradient (which seemed extremely hard work) to get onto a bridge over the motorway, the A51, looking at what should be a nice speedy downhill.

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Except it wasn’t. Bump Bump Bump went my left tyre – a familiar sound. Oh dear.

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A puncture. I’d probably had it for a while but had been riding so slowly that it didn’t really notice but it did explain why the incline had felt so hard!

So I did my first puncture repair on Penelope. Peter had made me this fantastic little wooden chock thingie to lift the wheel off the ground and it worked excellently. I popped the disc cover off the wheel (it’s just fabric stretched over a hoop) and took the tyre off. The tyre was a Schwalbe Tryker and didn’t look in that good condition really – there were threads showing at the edges. I found a massive flint that had pierced the tyre and also cleaned out a few other minor stones. Trykers have RaceGuard rather than GreenGuard puncture protection and it was easy to see that it is less robust than the GreenGuard on the normal Marathons.

Still, it only took me ten minutes and the rain held off until I’d finished and was back in the warm Velomobile.

Here is a rainbow over the hill I was about to climb.

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…except that this version of Rolf’s route took a very long, winding approach to the hill so that it wasn’t really that noticeable. I was soon on the disused railway bike path and with the wind now nearer my tail I whizzed along briefly, enjoying (for a two mile stretch) an average of 14mph, much faster than my normal 10.5-11.5mph speed.

Until I had to stop for this.

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This was actually quite a significant problem. With Alfie I could lift him over, Penelope is too heavy. I had a go at dragging the branch but it wasn’t going to work – it was still largely attached to the tree.

In the end I had to drag Penelope backwards past the top end of the branches (the right hand side of this photo) but it was all a bit nasty and there were some unpleasant graunching sounds against her paintwork (which appeared, fortunately, to be unmarked).

Still, I had overcome that obstacle and I rode on through Grefrath, heading out then on a main road (not the rest of the railway route this time) to the western side of Kempen.

The going seemed to be pretty tough again, especially as the wind was at my eight o’clock so should be helping. I stopped to check the front left tyre again.

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Another one.

So I changed the tube again, pumped it up, then faffed about a bit with my phone (which was running out of battery and getting its knickers in a twist). I texted my landlady to say I was delayed and I hoped Poppy was OK – she said Poppy was sitting on her lap watching TV so was clearly OK! She said she could come and rescue me if I wanted but I replied that I was fine – punctures aren’t that big a deal. I plugged my phone into my battery charger, then before I got in I checked the tyre again – it had partially deflated! Oh no!

I couldn’t face changing it AGAIN, without having moved an inch, so I pumped it up again and headed off. After about 400 metres I had to stop to put some more air in. I carried on again, this time I had to put more air in at 300 metres and the valve had gone rather wonky. I managed to ride to the pedestrian bit of Kempen (another 200 metres) before I had to stop. At least now there were shops with lights on (as it was now dusk) so I wheeled Penelope to a particularly bright shop (which was closed but had lights on) and put her up on Peter’s excellent chock and changed the tube again to my third and final one.

I found the puncture – it was in an entirely different place to the first one and the second one. Weird!

I had four miles to go and wasn’t at all sure if I’d get there with an inflated tyre – experience suggested not. The Tryker tyre had not appreciated being run flat and I’d need to change it when I got home (I had two replacement Marathons in the garage so that wouldn’t be a problem).

So I put the tube in more in hope than expectation, pumped it up and zoomed off as quickly as possible, on the most direct route, often in the road rather than on the cycle path. I had all my lights on now as it was dark.

When I stopped at some traffic lights there were a few  youths on bikes beside me. I asked one of them if he could see if I had a puncture (you can’t see the wheels from inside Penelope) and he said no. Phew!

I pedalled on, lifting the lid so I could lean out to check the tyre at the next traffic lights (still up!) I rode on, getting nearer and nearer home.

When I turned into Escheln for the final mile I was very relieved – it looked like I would be OK on my third and final replacement tube. And indeed I was, I made it to the garage with three inflated tyres. I was feeling pretty knackered by now, as you can imagine.

Here are the various readings every two miles for this trip – including heart rate and calories burned. You can see that 33-34 miles I burned loads of calories – I think that was partly through riding on a flat tyre and then having to pump it up a lot!

Here it is in imperial:

HR data etc in Imperial

And here’s the metric version for you continental types!

HR data etc in MetricI put Penelope in the garage, leaving all the holey tubes stuffed behind her seat. That’s the great thing about a velomobile – there’s loads of space for stuff!

Although I’d had a rather hard work journey home, I’m not sure I would have attempted the journey at all on Alfie with the weather forecast. The wind would have been really evil in an open recumbent and the rain wouldn’t have been much fun either. Gabriele commented to me that with a velomobile you don’t have to worry about what you’re wearing as you’re always warm enough and you don’t get wet. I tend to get quite smelly when I ride Alfie in the winter because of the waterproof jacket which is rather boil-in-the-bag, even though it’s a good quality breathable one. I did all my riding today in just a cycling t-shirt and light cycling trousers and was always warm enough. However I do need to carry a waterproof jacket in case I get a puncture in the rain!

When I got back Poppy was still in with Gudula. She seemed pleased to see me and came up to my apartment with me and promptly fell asleep. She’s totally shattered and hasn’t moved for two hours, she has just been cuddled up to the imaginitively-named Bear.

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It was great to see Rolf and Gabriele and do a bit of a longer journey in Penelope. My knees held up OK too, although they might complain a bit tomorrow. Total distance travelled: 37.72 miles in 3 hours 44 minutes. The Garmin switched off for about half a mile so those figures are a slight under-read but that’s OK. Average speed 10.1 mph, lots of which is me riding on a flat tyre. And the best news of all – 2,490 calories burned. That’s more calories than were in the cakes I consumed!

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Filed under Cycling in Germany, Penelope the Velomobile, Six Wheels In Germany, Trikes & Velomobiles

40,000 miles and a change of tyres

I’ve cycled a fair distance in the last five years – 42,000 miles – and have done the vast majority of that distance on one type of tyre, the ever-popular Schwalbe Marathon. But six weeks ago I decided it was time for a change, and time to fit the Panaracer Minits Tough tyres that I had bought two years ago after a recommendation from fellow trike rider John Eady.

Left to right: Panaracer Minits Tough; Schwalbe Marathon; Schwalbe Marathon Plus

Left to right: Panaracer Minits Tough; Schwalbe Marathon; Schwalbe Marathon Plus

The previous 40,000 miles hadn’t been entirely with Schwalbe Marathons though. The trikes were originally supplied with Schwalbe Marathon Racers (the ‘faster’ version) but I found they were puncture prone and swapped them for something a bit better after 1,000 miles on the original trike, especially as they were already down to the canvas at that point. My second trike kept its original Marathon Racers for 500 miles until I had two punctures in one ride on those and I took them off and swapped for Marathons.

I’ve also run Schwalbe Big Apple tyres (which are extra fat and comfy) on the old Trice Q for 1,000 miles but they, too, suffered from early wear and less puncture resistance and they were also really hard to get on the rims evenly – they often had buckles in the sidewall which were very awkward to get out.

After several people had recommended Schwalbe Marathon Pluses I also tried those.

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Never again! They may be virtually puncture proof (although I did get one puncture with them) but they are very hard to fit and the rolling resistance is awful – you feel like you’re cycling through treacle the whole time! They knocked a mile per hour off my average speed which was far too much, especially as a puncture repair only takes about ten minutes and I sometimes didn’t have punctures on normal Marathons for several months. The 1mph off my average speed for a month works out at nearly six hours of extra riding each month for the distances I was regularly doing!

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So anyway, I’ve done about 36,000 miles overall on the reliable and reasonably puncture-resistant Marathons. I like them!

After 3,000 miles of riding they can look like this though:

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Where I live we are ‘blessed’ with country lanes with millions of tiny flints. The Marathon tyres pick up the flints and embed them in the rubber but rarely let them right through, fortunately!

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However, if you do get a puncture it’s important to find the corresponding sharp spot in the tyre to remove the flint or thorn that is almost certainly embedded in the tyre else you will get another puncture immediately with your fresh tube.

The Advantages of Marathons:

  • Comfy – I buy the 1.5 inch wide versions which are narrower than some but they still give a comfortable ride
  • Fitting – they go on the rim fairly easily and don’t seem to get the awkward buckles that I get with the Big Apples, for example
  • Puncture resistant Greenguard – this is fairly effective.
  • Rolling resistance – not too bad, you don’t feel like you’re having to work too hard to get the trike moving.
  • Longevity – these tyres last for 3-4 thousand miles on my front wheels which is fairly good. Obviously in winter they get more cut up but in summer they do very well. The rear tyre lasts between 6 and 10 thousand miles usually (it has less weight/wear).

Still, it’s always nice to have a change and I’d heard a lot about how different tyres can help you to go faster. I’m more tortoise than hare so faster sounded good.

I had bought the Panaracers two years ago and immediately thought ‘they are too thin to provide any puncture resistance’ so had put them in the shed and mostly forgotten about them. However, we appeared to be in a bit of heatwave with no rain at all and I thought the sunny, dry conditions were ideal for fast racing tyres and so I’d give them a go.

What are the Panaracer Minits Tough like?

They look good!

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Note that there is no reflective sidewall detail so these would not work well for me in Germany (I’d have to buy some spoke reflectors instead if I wanted the trike to have these in the Fatherland).

They also run at higher pressures than the Schwalbe Marathons – between 65 and 100 PSI (4.5-7 bar).
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As a consequence the ride is harder and rougher but definitely quicker!

There was also a slight issue of failing puncture repairs at this high pressure. I usually patch my tubes over a dozen times before throwing them away – the patches generally work really well. However when I first fitted the Panaracers and pumped them up to 85psi it caused one of the patches to fail and I had to change the tube. This patch had worked perfectly well in the Marathons at 60psi.

They were 1.25″ wide rather than the 1.5″ of the Marathons, 1.75″ of Marathon Pluses and 2″ of the Big Apples. This meant I had to do a whole new lot of bike computer calibration to to Garmin satnav as my wheel diameter had changed!
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They were also significantly lower profile. This meant they looked pretty smart!

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However the low profile had both advantages and disadvantages. The main advantage was in cornering as they cornered much better; the Marathons tend to squirm around a bit if you corner really fast on an adverse camber but these Panaracers felt more secure and solid. They were much sharper turning in and had less understeer – they made the trike feel more stable (not that it feels unstable usually).

The disadvantage was that I had more examples of heelstrike, something I get occasionally on the trike (my heel hits the floor during the pedal stroke because of a bump or something). This happened far more with the Panaracers. It’s never a real problem, as such, but can be a bit startling.

The Panaracers are very easy to get on and off the wheel rims. I can get them on just using my hands (I don’t need tools) and they are easy to get off using a tyre lever. Comparing this with various travails with Schwalbe Marathon Pluses was quite interesting!

One extremely noticeable difference between the two types of tyres was the noise. Finally my trike made that high-pitched whooshing sound rather than the deep rumble that normally followed me around. The slick tyres at high pressure with a hard rubber compound sounded utterly different – they sounded fast. They also sounded rather noisy, particularly when riding in situations were you could hear echoes (such as beside brick walls) and it was something it took me a long time to get used to.

The tyres were £22 each when I bought them two years ago so more expensive than the Marathons but I thought it worth a punt.

So overall I liked them and I particularly liked the increase in my average speed by 0.7mph. Over my average of 750 miles per month that’s a not inconsiderable time saving. It was great to go out on a thirty mile ride and to average over 13mph for the whole ride – when I started triking five years ago I would be lucky to average 10mph for that distance, so I was now saving nearly forty minutes on that distance.

However there was one big problem with these tyres, best exemplified by this photograph.

Flat Panaracer Minits 2

This was a very familiar sight, both in my shed (like here) and out and about on the roads.

In the dry the tyres were reasonable, getting punctures now and again but generally being reasonably reliable as long as I didn’t go off road or through gravelly patches, but as soon as it rained… pfffffffft, instant puncture! I’m writing this blog post on a rainy day when I had three punctures in 18 miles – that’s no fun at all!

One advantage of the tyres not having a puncture guard layer is that the flint or thorn or whatever causes the puncture isn’t usually in the tyre any longer when you go to change the tube so getting back on the road is quick, but today’s punctures two and three were caused by the same tiny flint, so it’s not always the case!

I also found that after just 1,203 miles (when I changed the Panaracers and put Marathons back on) that there were some pretty significant cuts on them.

Cut Panaracer 1

This deep slice had actually been on this tyre for three weeks and hadn’t caused a problem but the tyre is bulging a bit at this point and I expected it to fail in the near future if I hadn’t taken the tyres off.

Cut Panaracer 2

And the real evidence of the puncture situation is here, in my little spreadsheet of all punctures for Alfie the trike. Notice how the Panaracers seemed to struggle on the left hand wheel which is usually in the cleaner road surface. When I fitted them I’d had 2,488 miles without a puncture and I had an instant patch fail with the new tyres – the maximum distance I travelled between punctures was 399 miles – not good. I once did 6,200 miles between punctures on Schwalbe Marathons on the old trike.

Bike Spreadsheet - Alfie punctures

So despite enjoying my extra 0.7mph average speed with these tyres, as soon as the rain falls I end up at the side of the road changing the tube or (as happened today) phoning home for the Broom Wagon. The tyres are fast, good at cornering, easy to get on and off and a fair price but I feel that after 1,000 miles they have too many cuts and holes and that I want to be able to ride in drizzle or rain without being concerned that I’ll get yet another puncture.

So what for next summer?

A very kind Dutch velomobile rider gave me a set of Schwalbe Kojak tyres which are fast but look to have a harder and thicker compound. Next summer I shall try those and see how it goes. I won’t be buying the Panaracer Minits Tough tyres again.

I am also aware that Schwalbe now do the Tryker, a tyre especially for trikes. This is now the standard tyre that ICE fit when supplying their new trikes. I expect I’ll buy a pair of these to try out in the near future.

Oh, and throughout all this the rear tyre has stayed as a normal Marathon. I change the rear tyre every 6,000 miles or so and the current one’s been on since May (2,500 miles) and looks pristine.

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Filed under Alfie the Trike, Trike maintenance, Trikes & Velomobiles

Ko2Ko – Koblenz to Köln

Here is the map of where I have got to so far on the whole tour:

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Quite a long way really!

And here’s today’s ride, also a long way.

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Once again I had a hotel room without breakfast (which was 8,50€ extra so I didn’t bother), so I was out of the door at 8am ready to head off on my rather long journey. This was the longest planned day of my tour and I wanted to make sure I was underway without too much faffage.

I didn’t choose the most direct route to the bridge over the Mosel as I wanted to see Deutsches Eck again, so I pootled along the pedestrian/cyclist bit beside the Rhein.

I wouldn’t fancy this job – there are chaps on that contraption right under the bridge!

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I also caught sight of another recumbent, a Challenge Wizard.

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I arrived at Deutsches Eck and Alfie had a look at the Mosel (left) and Rhein (right) in the misty morning.

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After Deutsches Eck it was time to head over the Balduinbrücke. I’ve done this loads of times so have finally got to grips with where to go by bike to avoid steps and stairs etc; however, when I got there the bridge was being resurfaced and there was one-way traffic only, although fortunately bikes could still go over in the north direction.

I was now the other side of the Mosel and was on familiar ground – we had a week’s holiday here in Neuendorf last September. On that holiday we had watched them building an enormous flood barrier – I thought this was an ideal time to check if it worked. It did!

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The cycle path had some diversions because of the flood barrier building and so I followed those signs which took us along the quiet roads from Neuendorf to Kesselheim.

In Kesselheim there’s a short bit through a woodland which was rather pretty.

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However, at the bottom, where the cycle path starts following the river, there were two chaps working on clearing up after the flooding and their van was completely blocking the cycle path. They were very friendly and offered to help me lift it round their van but they warned me that other chaps from their work detail were further up the path and I might do better on the road. I’d stopped next to a flight of steps to the road and so they lifted Alfie up for me, including heaving him over a barrier. The young, talkative chap had very oily hands after this (he’d gripped a bit of the chain) and I apologised but he said it was no problem, he was at work and was meant to get his hands dirty!

So now I was cycling along the road towards St Sebastian and Kaltenengers. This road was nice and quiet and led easily to Urmitz, at which point I took a short cut (the main road does two sides of a triangle). After Urmitz there’s a long stretch of road with nothing to see except for this rather unattractive chimney.

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Although I saw the cycle path again at Weißenthurm I decided to stay on the road to be safe and whizzed along all the way to Andernach.

I’ve cycled through Andernach several times but always on the cycle path. it turns out there’s a fairly large town lurking behind the path including a lovely pedestrian precinct crammed with shops and some old buildings and an old arch and tower (Runder Turm).

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I’d spent a lot more time today looking at the map (after yesterday’s missed opportunities) and realised that after Andernach the cycle path goes the other side of the railway to the river so is therefore away from the flooding zone. So at Andernach I rejoined the path

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Which does some complicated manoeuvring to end up under the road (the B9 again).

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I’d thought vaguely about stopping for breakfast in Namedy but it didn’t seem to have any shops so I continued on.

After Namedy there was a nice bit of country route with fields all round. I had forgotten how attractive this section of the Rhein route can be!

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I was getting close to Bad Breisig which has lots of restaurants/cafés so decided to stop there for breakfast. I rode through Brohl-Lützing and then had to do the fiddly under-the-railway-line underpass which has some rather sharp bends!

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I’ve photographed this marker several times as I can never work out what the scale is. At this point I was about 40 miles from Köln and 23 from Koblenz so it just doesn’t add up!

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Edit: John Cave who I meet below has contacted me subsequent to his tour to say that this is the distance in Prussian Miles (i.e. 7.5km). Thanks John!

I arrived at Bad Breisig and noticed a Thorn Tandem parked up. I commented to the chap that you don’t see many of those in Germany and he replied that he didn’t speak German – another Englishman. We had a nice chat; he and his group of four in total had ridden from Andermatt (the beginning of the Rhein) and had taken several days in Frankfurt to let the flood waters get out of the way. They were hoping the worst was now over as they had originally planned to camp but had been staying in hotels due to washed-out campsites. Their bikes were as muddy as Alfie!

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I have had a mention in their blog too: http://rhine-sourcetosea.blogspot.co.uk/2013/06/andernach-to-koln-warm-and-flat.html?m=1

They headed off and I settled down to breakfast – Sachertorte!

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The waiter was very chatty and was telling me about Sachertorte (I think he said he was from Austria) and also about the flood waters which a week ago had been up to the bottom of the steps of his restaurant. Everything looked perfectly normal and he said they’d all worked really hard to clean up.

When I headed off I could see the evidence of the clean up – presumably a road sweeper or something has been along and piled the mud up on the right hand side.

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There was an unexpected bonus in that this surface is usually pretty bumpy with the gaps between the bricks but as they had all been filled with silt it was all a bit smoother!

After a couple of miles I met this chap who was from Japan (I think) and riding to Budapest. He was asking me about campsites further down the Rhein but unfortunately I couldn’t help him with much info apart from what JenM had told me about flooded campsites.

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He said there were problems with the path about 3km further on so I bore that in mind.

I remember this little bridge just after Sinzig.

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But round the corner was some rather deep water on the path.

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I supposed this was what the Japanese chap had warned me about but I’d have a fair detour to go back and avoid it.

While I was faffing an elderly gentleman arrived behind me on a rickety old bike and set off into the water. If he can do it then so can I, I thought.

I’m writing this so I clearly survived but it turned out to be deeper than I expected and deeper than the water on the way in to Worms. The hubs of my front wheels were underwater and I was once again holding the banana bags up out of the water as much as I could, although they both dragged through the water a bit when I had to steer. I had wet feet and Alfie’s mudguard flaps got a good clean!

There was about 100 metres of water so I was most relieved when I got to the end – where there was a group of four cyclists contemplating going through. I recommended they went on the road at this point (Interestingly, when I got to my hotel this evening everything in the bags was dry – clearly the insulating tape over the holes in the bottom did the trick!)

The people waiting at the flooded bit told me all was fine towards Bonn except a bit muddy so I headed off, enjoying the fact the sun had come out and it was a beautiful day.

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This is the apporoach to Remagen – a weird dark stone thing on the far riverbank.

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Oh look, there’s one on my side too!

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Clearly it used to be a bridge. Wikipedia tells me that the capture of this bridge by American troops was a very important part of World War 2 as it was the only significent bridge still standing over the Rhine from the West into the heartland of Nazi Germany. It collapsed into the Rhine ten days after its capture but by then it had been used to move lots of heavy artillery etc.

I continued on, really enjoying the day and the chance for speed on tthe smooth Radweg. This is the Apollinariskirche,

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And across the river from Remagen is Erpel.

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Auntie Helen was pleased to see somewhere named Unkel!

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More blue skies!

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I saw this and thought of my cycling friend Tomsk who runs an Audax (a long-distance cycling event) called the “Asparagus and Strawberries”. It’s not 100 metres though, but 300km. Or is it 400…

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I liked this random arch on this building somewhere near Oberwinter.

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And a view of a pair of castles across the river – these were at Bad Honnef.

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More cycle path.

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The castles again.

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And again, from a different angle. The lower-down one looked fabulous!

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And here is Bad Honnef with tour boat disguised as Moby Dick.

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On the approach to Bonn I discovered evidence of German efficiency in the clean-up efforts.

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There was still a fair bit of muck by the side of the path though. Sometimes I had to put my right-hand wheel through this if passing some other cyclists so I felt like I was still getting a bit mucky.

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I arrived in Bonn having ridden 40 miles and with 25ish to do. It was time for lunch (1:30pm) and so I stopped at a rather posh café as my attention was drawn to its sign for waffles.

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I looked out over the river as I had my waffle and cuppa.

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It was time to set off again, I wanted to get to Köln before it was too late to give me time to have my customary wander around before dinner.

At Bonn the official cycle route crosses the river to the other side but I wanted to stay on this side (it was a shorter distance, plus I was going to do a short-cut across a meander) but I found the signage rather lacking once the main Rhein route had gone.

I also found a rather dramatic gate blocking the way, even though this was cycle path.

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I squeezed by on the right hand side, following in the wheeltracks of hundreds of bikes.

Unfortunately, two miles later I met this obstacle I couldn’t safely negotiate.

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This was at Graurheindorf and there were plenty of decent roads so I gave up with the Radweg and became a motorist for a bit!

At Uedorf I rejoined the Radweg although it was quite mucky.

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And then at Urfeld I was a bit unsure of where the route was and was concerned about getting stuck somewhere. I decided to take the safe option and use the roads again, which would probably be slightly further but a bit more predictable. I ended up going round the other side of this monstrosity.

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I rejoined my old friend the B9 (the road that went to Mainz from Worms), although this time it had a cycle path beside this. A brief look at the map showed me I could follow this road all the way to Köln, missing out the meander at Sürth and Weiß, so I decided to do that.

I liked this unfortunate name in Wesseling – it works in German but sadly not in English!

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And I really liked this huge flowerbed outside a rather boring-looking industrial unit in Godorf.

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My Garmin was now set to head to my hotel and I only had seven miles to go, hurrah! I sped along the cycle path on the B9, being a bit careful when setting off from stationary as my right knee was slightly complaining if I put a lot of pressure on it. I’m being careful with it this evening and expect it to be back to normal tomorrow.

The last few miles went very quickly and I passed the bridge for the A4 Autobahn.

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And look what I could see in the distance – the twin spires of Köln Cathedral!

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The route in on the left bank is fully of new, shiny, glass-fronted buildings and posh cafés. There are a few old things though, like this crane with a sign hinting at my weight after eating all those cakes!

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I followed the path, knowing where I was going and looking forward to seeing the cathedral up close again. I had decided against going straight to my hotel – I wanted to arrive at the central point in Köln, having left the central point in Koblenz that morning.

This is some of the back of the cathedral.

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The front door.

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I went up a side street to try to get more of a view!

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My hotel was a mile away although there were lots of one-way streets which my Garmin insisted I took the right way (it didn’t realise there were cycle paths both sides) so I probably did a bit extra.

I arrived at the hotel Leonet Novum, having done my longest day of the tour.

Imperial:

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Metric:

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My total tour distance is (roughly) 672 miles/1,081 kilometres.

The very helpful receptionist chappie unlocked the luggage storage room and helped me to lift Alfie in (he had to be tipped on his side as the door was too narrow) (Alfie, not the receptionist).

I had been slightly concerned about this hotel as it was ridiculously cheap (33,50€ including breakfast) but it was absolutely fine! The wifi works well, I have my own bathroom and my room is larger than I expected. My window is very high so you can’t really see out of it which probably partly accounts for the price but it doesn’t bother me at all.

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I had my shower and washed my clothes. I noticed that the seam on the backside of my favourite lycra shorts seems to be coming apart – oh dear! Too many cakes! Or too much sitting down, perhaps.

I am displaying very effectively the disadvantages of recumbent cycle touring with regard to an even suntan.

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I was pretty hungry so headed out early for dinner. I found myself at Rudolfplatz which was clearly a very cool bit of Köln as it was heaving with young people and very vibrant and exciting.

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I had a pizza which was very good value too.

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I had a little walk around afterwards to get the feel of the place. I’ve always found Köln a bit disappointing, and too full of English people/Americans, but this bit of it was much more appealing (although too noisy and towny for me).

I bought myself a banana from Rewe and couldn’t resist a pastry too for my dessert!

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Tomorrow I am finishing my Rhein riding by going to Kempen (which isn’t on the Rhein). What I shall probably do is ridde to Düsseldorf (or Neuss, the other side of the Rhein to Düsseldorf) to ‘join up’ my ride as I started out at Dü a couple of weeks ago. I’ll then head cross country to Kempen which should make it a shorter day at probably under 50 miles. I’ve been invited to go to the choir singing evening in Sankt Hubert again (which I did when I stayed in Kempen in March) which is rather lovely! And then it’ll be riding from Kempen to Venlo on Thursday morning and catching the train back to the Hoek van Holland. The holiday is nearly over!!!

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Filed under Cycle Tours, Cycling in Germany, Konstanz to Koblenz, Trikes & Velomobiles

New touring luggage – Radical Banana Bags

In just under a month’s time I’m off on another long cycle tour in Germany – Konstanz to Koblenz – and, as most cycle tourers are, I’m always on the look out for things to make touring a bit easier. The other week I was idly perusing the most excellent blog of Dave McCraw (known on the yacf cycling forum as EdinburghFixed) and I came across his review of the Radical Banana Bags. I clicked, read the review and was immediately interested.

As much as I love my Vaude panniers which have given me excellent service over several years, there are some drawbacks to panniers on recumbents. Well, the drawbacks are the same on upright bicycles (you can’t reach into the panniers when travelling along), but on an upright you’ve usually got jersey pockets and a bar bag or tri bag to put things like phones into. On a recumbent you don’t have those options. In winter there might be forward-facing pockets on your winter jacket (I have three on my Altura Attack jacket which gives room for phone and gloves and keys) but in summer when you might just be wearing a jersey and shorts, there’s nowhere convenient to stash your phone whilst triking. If, like me, you regularly stop to take a photo, having to extract the phone from a pannier is a major pain. ICE trikes do have a small pocket in the seat but I find that my phone tends to drop down into it and it’s hard to extract, plus I might easily forget it and leave it on the trike when going into a restaurant or whatever.

Vaude Panniers 1

Vaude Panniers 2

The other thing about panniers is that they render the trike very difficult to move when not actually riding it. The centre of gravity is forward of the seat so with such a weight on the back it becomes very hard to pick up and wheel. I usually take the panniers off and stick them on the seat, but they have a tendency to roll off. They also make the rack wings creak a bit, as you can see from the angle.

Vaude Panniers 3

These panniers also slightly obscure my vision in my mirrors as they stick out so far.

When not on tour but doing general daily leisure cycling I tend to use my Radical Alfa sidepods, bought five years ago when I got my Trice Q. They are showerproof rather than waterproof but have never let rain in. They hang off the seat rather than the rack and – best of all – have zips that you can reach whilst riding so I can grab my phone if it rings. They can also be slung over your shoulder when leaving the trike so can be easier to carry than full panniers. They’re only 25 litres though (as opposed to 45 litres for my Vaude pannier set), which is enough for my usual daily rides to get bread and a few other groceries but not suitable for a bigger shop (when I take the panniers).

Radical Alfa sidepods

They attach to the headrest at the back of the seat although have a tendency to droop.

The view from the rear shows that they are much more sleek and give less wind resistance, plus the weight is on the seat so the trike is easy to lift by the rear rack and wheel around without any issues of weight.

Radical Alfa sidepods rear view

I had long been thinking that some much larger sidepods would be really handy for touring, but hadn’t actually done anything about it (like looking at Radical’s website). Dave McCraw’s excellent blog post spurred me into action and I visited Radical’s site. The Banana bags (larger versions of the sidepods) come in three sizes – Small, Medium and Large (there’s a surprise) – and the price differences between the three are surprisingly small. The Large bags are a whopping 70 litres – almost three times the volume of my current sidepods – so they looked like a great option for touring. I have always managed to fit everything in my 45 litre Vaude panniers for touring but a little more space might give more options for packing stuff.

Radical’s website did warn:

NB: Often too big for bikes with 2 x 20″ wheels.

(Interestingly, it’s only when copying this text to put in this blog I’ve noticed it specifies “two x 20 inch wheels”; I read it at the time as “bikes with 20 inch wheels” which could conceivably include a trike).

The bags looked great. A bit pricey but I get a heck of a lot of use out of this stuff. I was just a bit concerned whether they would fit my ICE Sprint. Dave McCraw’s review had been done with some bags loaned by his local recumbent bike shop, Laid Back Bikes of Edinburgh, about whom I have heard only good things. I thought I’d ring Laid Back and see if they still had the bags available and if they would fit. I had a good chat with David Gardiner there who kindly took some photos of the bags on a Sprint and sent me the pics. Yes, they fit, although without a great deal of ground clearance, but the bags he had in stock were now sold. We had a good general chat about recumbents, as one does, and I will definitely be recommending Laid Back Bikes to others again (and have indeed already done so to a friend looking for a recumbent).

So I decided to go ahead and order some bags from Radical in the Netherlands. In red, of course, to match Alfie’s paint job. The process was painless (well, as painless as spending 250 Euros can be) and my early birthday present arrived just a couple of days later.

They are Omnifit which means they fit hardshell or mesh seats as they have various adjustment options.

The straps were already fixed to one set of the plastic 3-bar slide buckles so I just slung the bags over the seat, tried to size the straps correctly and see where I got. I had to remove the flag to put the Banana bags on as they don’t have a click buckle thingie like the sidepods do.

Banana bags wrongly adjusted

Banana bags wrongly adjusted

You can see that the rearmost strap sits over the rack on the trike, rather than attaching to the seat. Despite doing this they were still very close to the ground and I was a little concerned about general ground clearance on tour – if they were going to be dragged through mud my belongings would not survive very well!

I was very pleased with the mesh pocket on each side but it was when looking more closely at the pocket that I noticed another set of 3-bar sliders outboard of the pocket. And when I opened the bag to have a look at the internal structure I pulled out a magic piece of paper.

Radical Bag Instructions

It would have been handy if I found this before I started! A clear explanation that I had to use the other set of slider buckles for a mesh seat (which I have).

So I quickly changed them round and things were much better.

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There’s much more ground clearance – and these bags are empty. When they’re full of touring kit/shopping they’ll be wider and a bit higher off the ground. I have lost access to those nice mesh top pockets though!

So they looked good and I have high hopes for touring. Except… the pesky requirement to remove the flag each time I take them on and off. My trike’s flagpole got run over by a car (when it unexpectedly flew off the back of the trike) and doesn’t separate into its three parts very well any longer. I try to just leave it be. These banana bags are missing the click fastener that their smaller brethren, the sidepods, have.

Here’s the strap sitting on the rack of the trike.

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You can see the arms of the rack holding the bags away from the back wheel, very handy.

Anyway, I had an uncharacteristic lightbulb moment! These straps are adjustable/removable, why don’t I put a click fastener in the middle of this strap?

So after spending the grand sum of £1.67 for six 3-bar sliders and £1.99 for two side release buckles (plenty of spares for if I got something wrong), and picking up the bit of 50mm webbing that had been lying on the road a mile from home (it appears to be the remains of a seatbelt) I was good to go. I had intended to buy a bit of webbing rather than cut up Radical’s one but my husband remembered seeing the discarded seatbelt and it was still there when he next went past. It’s a bit dirty and a bluey-grey rather than greyey-grey colour but that’s not a major issue!

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So anyway I got the kitchen scissors out and cut the webbing at its cleanest part, giving myself two lengths that my careful measurements had suggested would be about right. James then sealed the ends for me with his gas gun.

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And here is the result (with Radical’s original black webbing beside them)

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It was a matter of moments to assemble them correctly, attach them to the Banana Bags and then sling the whole lot over the trike seat, clipping in the rearward strap without having to remove the flag. Hurrah!

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Eh voilà – ready to go!

So it seemed sensible to do my first ride with these with a fair bit of stuff in the bags. I was due a trip to the charity shop to donate some unused clothing so I sorted out the clothing, put it in a plastic sack and stuffed it into the bag. It fitted easily – here you can see Alfie ready for the off.

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We headed to Colchester with a three mile ride to the charity shop. All seemed very easy, the bags weren’t noticeable as I rode along and didn’t obscure my view in my rear-view mirrors, even though the left hand side bag was fairly well stuffed.

One thing I do notice when riding with different panniers/bags is the change in road noise. On a trike with a 20 inch rear wheel your head is fairly near that wheel and you consequently get a fair bit of road noise from the tyre and mechanical noise from the gear/chain/derailleur/chain tensioner. Whenever I’ve been using one type of pannier for a while and switch to another I notice the change in noise. With the Radical Banana Bags I felt like overall noise was reduced (they buffer the noise from my chain tensioner) but that the noise that was reaching me came from a fairly narrow corridor (up the middle of the rack).

As I arrived at the charity shop I had to bump up a low kerb which I did at speed – and grounded the left hand side Banana Bag. This is obviously the disadvantage of them being low and also the weight wasn’t evenly distributed between the two so the left one had sunk a bit lower. There’s a slight scuff on the bottom of the bag now, nothing significant. If this happens more frequently I might put some duck tape on the bottom just to protect it.

It was very easy to get everything out of the bag as the zips open very wide. After giving the shop assistant the clothes I headed off to Aldi (it was Bike Stuff day). I wandered round, not buying much bike stuff but instead taking the opportunity to buy bulky items – lots of bags of puppodums, some big bags of crisps, popcorn, fresh bagged salad etc and a box of 36 Weetabix. It all fitted in just one side of the Banana Bags but mindful of the issue earlier with the heavier side slipping lower I evened out the weight a bit (Weetabix and bike bits and my tools on one side, food and phone etc on the other). The bags are lovely and easy to carry around when off the bike as there are two handles in the middle – the weight distribution is about right and I can carry them with one hand. I haven’t tried slinging them over my shoulder yet as hadn’t felt the need.

The trike is also easy to wheel around with the bags in situ. It’s not as light as with the Sidepods, which was to be expected, and if I took really big strides my knee might hit the banana bag, but it’s massively easier than wheeling the bike with panniers so that’s an excellent result.

I headed back home with my Aldi goodies. The combined weight wasn’t all that much and the trike didn’t feel any different than it did unladen (whereas pannier weight tends to be more noticeable) so I took a longer route home.

Here am I, back home with probably 40 litres worth of bags of popcorn, puppodums, salad and crisps.

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I did a small further adjustment to the middle strap of the bags when I got home – I shall probably do a couple of other fettles over time, but overall I’m happy with the bags and I think they’ll be really useful on tour. They wouldn’t be good for a winter tour when it’s likely to rain but I expect them to survive the odd shower OK and I will probably wrap my clothes in plastic bags when inside the Banana bags anyway.

For those who never carry large loads and tour with less kit than me, the 45 litre Medium size bags would probably be easier to manage (without the issues of them hanging low) but at only a 10 Euro saving over the Large bags I felt the Large were better value for money.

I’ll be off on my Konstanz to Koblenz trip in just over three weeks so the Banana Bags will get a real baptism of fire then – keep reading my blog to find out how I get on!

An update

The marvels of the internet means that, following the initial posting of this blog, a couple of recumbent cycling chums and I got into a discussion about how I could perhaps raise the lowest part of the bags so they don’t scrape on the floor again.

Of course, the obvious solution is to raise the bags up the seat by attaching them further back on the rack. So I thought about this a bit more and came up with the following idea, using parts that I already had – another 50mm buckle, 3 sliders and the original piece of webbing from Radical that I had taken off.

I attached either part of the clip buckle to a long piece of webbing, wrapped it around the rack and made sure it was fairly tight.

Mount without bags

What you can’t see from the photo above is that there are some bits of metalwork under the rack that mean the arrangement has to sit where it does (perhaps slightly further back than I would have liked).

Here is a view from the back so you can see how I’ve done it.

Mount without bags from back

And from the side.
Mount without bags from side

And now I am attaching the bag, which I can do one side at a time.
Clip removed one side

And here it is with the bags attached. It pulls a fair bit as the contraption is a bit further back than is ideal, but it’s a big improvement.
Clips in place

A view from ground level. The bag on the right hand side of this picture was full of stuff and is not that low.
trike from ground

And a side view.
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Interestingly I was able to use the pocket on the top of the bag with this arrangement. It was also noticeable that my arms slightly rested on the bags.

I have ordered 2 metres of 50mm webbing to see if I can let out the middle strap a bit more as I may be able to attach it to a different set of clips which could make things sit a bit more comfortably, but overall this seems to be working well and cost me precisely nothing! It is also quick to remove the gadget on the rack which I will need to do if I use the dog basket.

Edit after my first tour using these bags.

So I have now done a cycle tour using the new Radical Banana Bags and they don’t look as new any longer – mud, rain, grot and dust are all over them, which is to be expected. But how did they perform?

Overall I was reasonably happy. The large volume is very handy as I was able to bring back some cakes and chocolates on the last day which I could fit into the bags. They are definitely easier to ride with than panniers on the rack (the weight distribution is better) and the wind resistance issue also helps as they are tucked away more than normal panniers. I also found it handy that I could put my phone in the pocket and get it out again whilst going along (although it could be tricky to do up the zip).

Unfortunately my tour dates clashed with the heavy rains around Bodensee and there was a lot of driving rain and also some flooding. The fact that these bags aren’t waterproof was noticeable at the end of some days with water pooled in the bottom and the outsides of the plastic bags that I wrapped my luggage in wet. However the bags dried pretty quickly (always by the next morning).

The bigger issue was the fixing. Over the course of my 16 day tour I changed the fixing. In the end I found it best to fix the bags to the trike rack whilst empty (i.e. with no weight in) and I connected the straps directly to the rack. No quick-release, I had to thread the sliders manually, but everything stayed in place. Once it was tightly fixed I could put the contents in the bags. This meant, of course, that all my luggage was strewn about for people to see which wasn’t always ideal and would not have been possible in the rain. I didn’t sort this out until I’d ridden for about eight days so was struggling a bit before then with getting the rearmost strap tight enough to hold the bags up and away from the ground and floodwater.

More significantly, I noticed after about ten days that there were a couple of holes in the bags. The photos aren’t great but you can see a bit of daylight where daylight should not be!

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I was able to patch these with insulating tape once the bags had dried but it was rather disappointing.

I expect the holes developed through grounding or perhaps scraping against a stick or some other object on the cycle path (there was a fair amount of debris across the paths in places due to the flooding in central Germany).

I will be touring again in September and if the weather forecast is for mostly dry then I will take the Banana Bags but if there’s a reasonable amount of rain forecast then I will take my Vaude panniers. So these banana bags are a useful addition to my luggage library but are not the perfect solution by any means!

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Filed under Alfie the Trike, Cycle Tours, Cycling in England, Cycling in Germany, Trikes & Velomobiles