Thursday, 3 May 2018

The Woodman, by Cruzbike

Just to recap, the Cruzbike build was finished in mid-March and then the weather turned crappy again, but by the time the Woodman came round, I’d managed to get about 350km of Cruzbike in my legs on a mix of short local loops of 25km and turbo trainer sessions of an hour to 90mins. I think I’d had two longer rides of about 50km each as well.

The woodman, on 14th April was going to be my first real test of the combination of bike and rider I’m intending on deploying on my summer tour.  All is not lost if it goes tits-up and I find the thing un-rideable, as all the components came off a road bike frame which is now sat in the bikeshed awaiting tidy up. 

 Aims for this ride
  1. Test the comfort over long distance/duration. The woodman is 112km, vs my longest planned tour day of 146km, and a club ride of 160km.
  2. Test average audax speed on the new machine.  Barring mechanicals, p*$nct%res, route screw ups, I normally expect an audax speed of about 25km/h
  3. Test the gearing on hills, the route heads out amongst the rolling lanes of Essex and has about 850m climb on the routesheet
  4. Enjoy a day out in the sunshine
Firstly apologies for the lateness of write up, my aim is normally to have it done the following week, but I ended up spending three days offshore instead due to someone else’s scheduling screw up with me the only person available to step in.  Losing three days of a week tends to compress the rest of what you need to do in a “head down, ruck over” mentality, to use a phrase from my university days.

As usual, I contemplated extending the ride a touch by taking the train from Ely to Stansted airport, but on a Saturday trains are few an far between that early in the morning, who’d want to be going on holiday on a Saturday of course!.   Drive it was therefore, with the first task to load the car.  I drive a Land Rover Discovery, which has a truly capacious boot, with a road bike fitting in with the front wheel off, and handlebars turned, but no need to drop the seats. The Cruzbike has a very similar wheelbase, is unlike the M5 Low Racer, I was anticipating a relatively easy task of getting it in there, but expecting to need to drop a seat to accommodate the swivelling front end, a bit bulkier than a roadbike. 

It didn’t help that I got distracted with the commonwealth games watching England win their netball semi-final by a single point on the last play of the match (they later went on to win gold of course).  It also didn’t help that I’d not anticipated that the Cruzbike, whilst of the same length as the roadbike, shorter by about 25-30cm than the M5, was a great deal taller than either of them due to both headrest and handlebars, so my plan to just roll it into the back of the car was completely scuppered.

Cue 15 minutes of me twisting, turning, rotating, re-orienting and generally buggering about as I tried out my new 3-D puzzle/MENSA test.  I eventually managed to get it in with the rear wheel off and the boom twisted round to the left, and canted over like a sailing boat on a tack.  Blankets were used to protect the back of the seat from the drive side of the bike, and when the door was closed, there was no chance of anything moving. I managed to knock the front dynamo light out of alignment at the same time, which is something to think about for future occasions.   

Although I left home later than anticipated, I was still in good time to arrive, sign in, get some breakfast and meet up with Phil White who’d wanted a look at the new machine with a view to perhaps buying one himself, if only he could get his head around the horrific import duties from the USA (about 25% in total at the time of writing).  As I drove, the day turned from pleasant to pretty good with a nice clear blue sky and anticipation of a great early spring audax. 

Phil was quite impressed by the machine, particularly the weight, even in audax setup, and the genuine use of off the shelf components.  Although not the sleekest machine in the Cruzbike stable, the positioning of a 750mm water bottle under the S40’s handlebars was a bit of a clash with the abdomen of those less svelte that I am.  I’m not sure how those of us with significant reserves have fitted into a V20.

After a few more minutes of general pre-ride chatter, last minute drinks, a dash to the car for the forgotten route sheet (Garmin GPS backup!) we were ready for the off.  I was the only recumbent of a quite sizeable field (about 90 starters all told).  Usual good briefing from Tom, including the COR section (more of that later), and we were off though the leafy lanes of Great Dunmow. 

Cue first challenge, getting balked at a roundabout, trapped the wrong side of a group with cars crossing, I’d ended up 2km into the ride on an uphill cross traffic start in the wrong gear and wheel spinning like crazy.  I have to say that no panic ensued, simply wait for a gap in the traffic and Flintstone across the road to the safer side which was also flatter, and make a less than elegant, but functional restart. 

I was soon moving back up through the field, on a nice early flat section, enjoying the warm sunshine, but perhaps pushing a bit too hard too early with what was to come.

The route as always was superb, with a mix of nice Essex lanes, crossing major roads, or making use of the off road cycle paths alongside, and the occasional forays into villages or smaller towns with opportunities for sustenance and controls.  The first of which, I almost missed as I was concentrating on getting up a hill, making sure I was making use of the gears most efficiently  (30/39/53 up front and 12-28 on the rear), I missed the left at the traffic lights and sailed on into town only to be rudely told by the Garmin “Off Course”.  I lost about 3-4 minutes waiting for a gap in traffic to turn round and the heartening “Course found” reply.  There it was, the Queen’s Head, next to the bank, easy enough to remember until I stopped and could write it down. 

 Now into to the really small and windy lanes of Essex and starting to get a bit more rolling as well.  Despite having done a series of 4 rides down there in the winter I was still seeing some new places and new roads.

The Cruzbike was handling it all perfectly, in great comfort and decent pace.  Compared to the M5, forward visibility is much better, and much better than the head down position of a road bike, with pothole and gravel spotting much easier.  It even handled an impromptu ford with no issues whatsoever, along the aptly named Watery Lane where the brook was overflowing into the road for about half a mile, with one patch about 6” deep across it.  Unlike the upwrong rider I was following, no need to unclip and hitch up my feet to keep them dry, and the resulting spray kept my legs nice and cool for ten minutes.  Despite being a glorious day of 18+ deg C, there was still a lot of water around from the previous few weeks of rain.  

Ingatestone was the mid-ish point and with a commercial control, a good point to stop in at the local co-op for a quick control, or one of the plentiful cafes for those of a more laid back approach.  I did the co-op, only to be stuck at the back of a queue behind someone checking 30 lottery tickets, or so it seemed.  In any case, a good opportunity for a breather and a nice fresh croissant to manage the blood sugar levels.

Aha! But I have forgotten to mention the two COR (comedy off road) sections. One on essentially perfect, but unregistered roads through Hatfield forest, sending the Garmin into a perpetual loop of re-routing until it decided it really was on a road again.  The second, just before Ingatestone was much better COR value, along a concrete, but bumpy track and then through a farmyard.  The S40 and pilot were coping OK with the rough stuff, geared down on 28mm tyres, but come the mucky stuff, of 2” deep (I hope it was) mud next to a dungheap, traction was lost and with road tyres would never be regained, so reluctantly feet down and push 500m or so.   To its credit the S40 is much easier to push than the M5 I own.

Ingatestone was a welcome rest as already mentioned, but on leaving I was feeling a sore knee for some reason, so geared down to take the strain off, amid thoughts of my first ever audax DNF. I managed to distract myself from thoughts of knees though by fiddling with my heart rate strap and pulling the sender unit off the strap in the process.  Cue much fiddling around inside my jersey, riding one handed until I could secrete it in a pocket. Oddly my knee was no longer a problem. 

The upcoming hill into Danbury was in my mind, would I cope with my 30/28 or would I cave and walk?  In the event Danbury was a steady slog but nothing spectacular, Galleywood on the other hand, bloody hell!  My legs felt sapped of all energy and I had to stop for a breather and a drink at the top.  I did pass folks on road bikes on the way up both though.  I was later told that part of that climb up to Gallleywood was 12%.  

From that point on, nothing much more than a trundle round the lanes of Essex, some familiar from earlier rides.  I was playing cat and mouse with another rider, for about 25km, with me catching him, then on two occasions either stopping to check blood sugar or missing a turn and him leapfrogging me again.  In the end he was home first by a minute or two, but we both got to tuck into the superb scones at the arrive

As usual a great route and a great ride, superbly supported by the weather, although I was down to dregs of water in the bladder in the last 15km, and not confident at that point to pull the bottle out of the cage on the move (since then a newly acquired skill).

  1. The S40 is a great long distance tourer, and I can’t foresee an issue on tour, respectable audax speed maintained (5 hours elapsed for 112km
  2.  The stock seat cushion is far too squishy, leaving bruising inside my shoulder blades – ventisit pads on order
  3. The 12-28 is a bit ambitious for touring.  12-32 now purchased, but not yet trialled
  4.  Fun was maintained

Monday, 2 April 2018

Cruzbike 4 - the final build, and learning to ride it

So here's my final spec

- Ultegra triple on 170mm cranks - 52/39/30, BB9000
- 10sp cassette - I have both 11-25 and 12-28 - 12-25 normally stays on the trainer. One is a 105, the other SRAM
- chain is ultegra 10sp, with reusable quick link
- 105 RD
- Tiagra FD (only road triple that still seems to be around)

- Dura-Ace bar end shifters - Indexed on the RD, friction on the FD
- Brake levers are TRP RRL SR - brown hoods and drilled Al levers, with a nifty little button to slacken off when you need to remove a wheel
- tape is a nice Fizik orange to match the hoods and the orange accents on the frame
- cables - all Shimano except the rear brake which was from a cheaper DIY store - for the length
- outers - Clarke - I bought big reels in the sale - enough to last a lifetime, but only in black
- Brakes - a very old set of Tektro 521's with salmon KoolStop pads – this will be the first upgrade to give me a bit more reach.

- rear - Exal LX rim with shimano dynohub, disc capable
- front - stock Shimano R500
- Tyres - 28mm Conti GP 4 Seasons - now my standard all year round tyre
- Pedals - Shimano SPD compatible mounted after about 50km.
- Mudguards are SKS raceblades, with an SKS MTB downtube mudguard bolted to that threaded insert under the frame and an MTB fork crown neoprene thing to protect the rear frame.
The two things that gave me the biggest PITA factors of the build were 1) mudguards as always, but doubly more so being a back to front recumbent with no mudguard eyes at front and 2) the rear brake
A bit of time fiddling with cockpit set up as below

Also equipped with a rack for touring, panniers and radical banananananananananana bags as necessary. The Carradice Carradura rack bag is enough for Audax and day rides. 
You can follow the overall build progress here

And on to Learning to Ride

14th March
Oh man! How much fun is that!

I didn't do the carpark drills, flintstoning, roll downs etc. I'd intended to, but wanted to get a feel for the handling first. In the event, 3 failed wobbling starts and I'd got the hang of the initial pedal steer on start up, or at least enough to get going. About 1km down a quiet single track lane, wobble, wobble, wobble. Think - relax, relax, relax and the correction of the pedal steer becomes more instinctive rather than a fight. Visibility is great and the ride is nice and smooth.

Gears are indexing nicely, mudguards need a little attention. 

I've a feeling this will be a very comfortable audax bike. Plan tomorrow is a quick 10-15km depending how I get carried away or not. I will do some handling drills as well though, I think it may be a while before I'm comfortable enough to try drinking on the move.

Weight of the S40 - as pictured - 13.5kg
Weight of my M5 - as pictured - 16kg

Now the training starts for the summer tour.

15th march
my local 10km loop today, mostly LH turns so no crossing traffic here in the UK.

Damn, this thing is fast! Hit 36km/h with a following breeze in the middle ring, with flat pedals and a boom a touch too long. Too long boom meant that my feet were floating around on the pedals and back of one knee was uncomfortable. Moved that back in by one notch when I got home. Overall was 10km at 27km/h, average HR 141.

Noted a couple of things to take care of, including retightening the brake lever anchor bolts and sorting out how to make the radical tail bag sit right without fouling the rear mudguard.

Did some practice starts as well. Overall the learning curve is quicker than either my first recumbent or the M5, so far. I'm not sure how quick I'll be to change to clipless pedals, but audax in April?

19th, 21st, 23rd & 24th March Turbo trainer sessions on either Taxc RLVs or easy/steady sessions learning to spin.  Tedious, but the weather in March in the UK was appalling, low light levels and my busiest period at work

25th March
Having been stuck on the trainer all week due to crappy weather and pressure of work, I finally got out on the S40 today :)

Did my 25km test loop, conditions were cool and overcast with a light wind. My best averages last summer for this were:
DF Audax bike 30.9km/h, 48:39
M5 - M-racer - 27.8km/h, 54min
Today, on the S40, 28.5km/h, 52:15

That's with 100km under my belt, mostly on the indoor trainer, in Audax set-up. That was with a very high cadence, deliberately undergearing to help manage my wobbles as the lower gear = lower pedal pressure = less wobble. Still had a few moments of wobble, correct, wobble, over correct, head towards the ditch etc.   The S40 is much less aero than the M5, but seems much easier to get the power out.   On that loop, my audax DF with full mudguards, rack and rackbag seems to have been the faster of all three bikes so far.

I can't work out why the M5 is so slow - seat angle is about 25degrees, similar to the V20, it's heavier, but so slippery I smoke DFs on any downhill without even pedalling. I've done a very quick audax on it but on that loop it doesn't seem to work well. I think the DF time was set in quite strong wind conditions and it seems that the DF gains more downwind than the recumbent gains upwind or crosswind.

I'm pleased with the S40 though, so early in the learning curve, much more to come from there I think.   Also followed this with 15 mins of car park drills, very worthwhile and will be repeated. Right hand turns proving harder than left hand turns.

Update to build, added cable ties around the base of the front triangle to keep things together while changing wheels/repairing punctures etc

Garmin trace here

31st March – Turbo session
25th-30th was full-on 12hr plus days at work, 7/7.  Next chance to get on the bike was therefore 31st March, and guess what, rain all day.  Now I’m no fair weather audaxer, but I don’t see the point of going out in the rain just to prove a point. It if starts raining while I’m out, that’s a different matter altogether and you just cope.  

So, instead, 90 mins on the turbo trainer. Tacx RLV, Pacific Coast Highway.  Found the need to use the full range of gears, inc the 30x25 (I have a 28 on the road cassette so a bit extra in the bag), I think partly because of not being able to use the upper body as effectively with the front end corralled. 

One thing I did learn though was that the seat base was not quite adjusted to my tastes. With my experience of the m5, I tend to start off upright and then drift downwards/forwards.  The seat pan was about midway forward and just not quite supporting the glutes, so causing quite a case or recumbutt.  That’s now been extended all the way forwards. 

I now also have a much better idea of how I’m going to fit the dynamo lighting set up and the USB-werk, need a little more speaker wire for it, none in my spares box and the DIY shop was out.  My reflective tape and frame protection “helicopter” tape arrived in the post, a very useful £10 purchase from E-bay.  The plan is to attach the dynamo cabling to the frame with the heli-tape rather than cable ties everywhere.  

Sunday 1st April 
Fittingly, the 100th anniversary of the Royal Air Force, my dad served 28 years, my uncle just as long and several cousins.  I almost joined but ended up in engineering in industry instead. 

The weather dawned atrocious, overcast, drizzly/showers, but what the heck, I’m getting out anyway. Time to give this thing a touring comfort test as well, picking one of the roads I typically wouldn’t ride because it has cracks across the width of the road for the entire length, perhaps every 30-50 yards.  I think this is where a lot of roads around here were originally laid as concrete slabs and then covered in tarmac. As everything settles then the cracks open up and cheap repairs etc. On the M5 this is spine jarring and on a roadbike wrist and neck jarring.  

28mm tyres on the S40, yes you feel every bump, but its bearable.  There seems to be a lot more frame flex in the S40 Al frame vs the Chro-mo M5 with massive rear stays. The more upright touring position also gives much better visibility of the upcoming potholes.

The weather was actually much worse than I was expecting, damp, showers, temps down to about 4C and a biting NW wind.  The loop was out in a northerly direction, and then a long drag back to the south/south east before heading back west and a short NW leg back home.  Route was mostly rural on some nice small generally traffic free roads, but in some cases too narrow for passing.  

First challenge came early on, as the main road took a sharp left across a bridge, but I wanted to take a “right” on the top of the approach road to stay on the same side of the river.  Of course as I approached it, two cars from my left necessitated a stop (right turns crossing traffic in the UK) resulting in an uphill RH turn from stationary on a greasy road.  My first experience of front wheel slip, such fun!

The rest of the ride was much less fractious by comparison, including a couple of right hand turns.  I think me and the bike are coming to an agreement now.  It’s no longer a clash of those two 80’s wrestling heavyweights Mick McManus and The Bomber Pat Roach, now more of a couple of schoolboys tussling in the playground, neither quite strong enough to land the final blow.  
Still not ready yet to drink on the move, and my next long ride will involve a hydration bladder and tube clipped to the headrest tube.  Hand signals, adjusting the mirror etc all OK right now, but that’s as far as it goes. 

Overall impressions, 230km in so far, about 100km of that on the road.  
I'd been riding an ICE B2 for a year, twin 26"/700c wheels, big and heavy and an ideal trainer. By comparison the M5 out of the box was almost unrideable. Restricted seat positioning meant I had to cut the boom - still needs a bit more taken off it as I want to shift the seat by about 50mm to improve the vision further. With a very reclined angle, and that long tiller the steering took quite a bit of getting used to as is quite twitchy. Low speed handling was very challenging to start with, but at speed downhill and in a straight line it's like it’s on rails.   I'd say it took me a good year/1500km on it to feel really comfortable, and I had a "aha" moment in slow heavy traffic one day when I suddenly realised I was doing OK with it.

First impressions on the S40 are that I'm finding the transition much easier right now.  Perhaps 3 years of riding 'bents, perhaps the slightly more upright position.  Would I recommend an S40 recumbent as a first recumbent for learning, perhaps not.  I think the mastery of both MBB and recumbent balance together could be a bit too much.  A T50 by comparison, one less thing for the hands to deal with, more upright and feet easier to get down, perhaps more rigidity in the frame similar to a stick bike, perhaps I need to ride one some day.