Jerry Boyer: Crossing America on a Giro 26
I just completed riding the Adventure Cycling Southern Tier route and wanted to share some of my thoughts about the performance of the Bacchetta Giro 26. To prepare for the tour I reduced the size of the small chain ring to 26t, added a Windwrap fairing, increased tire size and quality (Schwalbe Marathon 26 X 1.50 front, Schwalbe Marathon Plus 26 X 1.75 rear), installed under seat pannier racks and suspended a platypus hydration bag inside the seat mesh of the seat back. I added fenders front and back. Also, at my wife’s insistence I added a flag for better visibility and safety. I left with an Adventure Cycling Tour group from San Diego on March 24 and arrived in Saint Augustine, Florida on May 24. Sixteen riders left San Diego. I was the only recumbent rider. Nine wedgies and one recumbent made it to the beach at Saint Augustine, Florida.
One of the things that impressed me the most was how incredibly stable the Giro 26 was when fully loaded, perhaps even more stable then when not under load. The basic bike performed well. I had the expected difficulties in keeping up with my upright comrades on the mountain climbs but was able to hold my own on rollers, flats and blew them away downhill. The first 5 weeks of the tour were incredibly windy with gust reaching 30 – 35 miles per hr. some days. My flag blew off in the California desert. It was difficult for me to judge whether the fairing was helpful in the wind or added to my wind resistance. It was certainly helpful with a tailwind, acting like a sail, and at times seemed to be helpful in cutting through headwinds. Overall, though, my impression was not favorable under these extreme wind conditions. Cross winds going down some of the long mountain passes made for some squirrely descents. When the main aluminum support snapped off during a gust in Texas, I was happy to roll it up and mail it home. My Arkel under seat panniers worked out extremely well as long as I remembered not to try to ride through standing water more than 4 inches deep and to not lean too much when taking downhill hairpin curves.
All of the articles on touring that I read emphasized the importance of beefing up your tires to better carry your load and to stand up to the rigors of differing road conditions. I was surprised when I met my group in San Diego and saw the tires that many of them were using. Most still opted for relatively skinny roadie type tires. I must admit that I worried about the advantage that they appeared to have with rolling resistance, until they started having flat tires and wheel problems. This is a testimonial for the Schwalbe Marathon and Marathon Plus tires. I did not have a single flat tire during the entire 3178 mile ride, while my comrades had as high as 5 per day. There were 5 riders that had to deal with broken spokes, several had to replace tires that were cut up by road debris, and there was one broken rim.
The platypus bladder suspended between the seat proved to be a very efficient way to carry an additional 100 oz. of liquid. The fenders were a nightmare. As many of you know, installing fenders on a recumbent can be tricky and usually requires some modifications to make them fit. They were constantly rattling apart. Tire clearance was not good and my tire tread would pick up pebbles and dirt that would get stuck under the fender. It seemed like I was constantly stopping to fiddle with the fenders. After weeks of frustration, the front fender was left in a camp ground dumpster in Arizona. The back fender fulfilled its destiny when it came apart for the last time in front of a roadside dumpster outside of Las Cruces, NM.
What changes will I make for the next long tour? I brought my Giro 26 in 2004 and the front fork has less tire clearance than that used in the newer models. I plan to switch out my front fork for a newer one. There is only about ¼ inch clearance between the bottom of the fork and the Schwalbe Marathon 26 X 1.50 tire. I had a problem with pebbles, sand and dirt packing between the tire and the fork. I know that many of you swear by your fenders but I won’t put fenders on again for a lengthy tour. Of the 54 riding days, there may have been 2 – 3 where fenders would have been helpful………………………not worth the weeks of aggravation trying to keep them on. I would not put the fairing on again for a tour. I plan to keep the fairing for use in cold weather, because there is no question that it cuts down on the wind chill. But, in retrospect, under the conditions that we experienced during the first 4 – 5 weeks of the tour, I think the fairing was more of a problem than helpful.
The bottom line……………………the basic, stock Bacchetta Giro 26 with minor modifications (smaller chain ring, sturdy tires) is a capable, comfortable touring bike. By the end of the tour the bike had won the admiration of many and one of the group members ordered a Giro 20 for his wife and decided to trade in their upright tandem for a bent tandem.
I also want to share an observation about preparing for an extended tour. While physical conditioning is important for riding cross country, far more important, particularly if traveling with a group, is your sense of humor, tolerance for differences, ability to compromise and negotiate, and willingness to immerse yourself in the moment by detaching from the electronic umbilical cord and keeping your cell phone turned off.