Provence Tour: Technical Glitches but Proof of Concept



A

Artemisia

Guest
Back since Friday from touring Provence on my recumbent trike, Widdershins.
Here's a non-exhaustive performance account.

I was able to prove that Widdershins, folded, bound and wrapped up in a
slipcover, can travel perfectly happily on French TGV lines and is
within regulations. Despite the fact that I was occupying a prodigious
amount of space, no one even commented. Many kind people offered to help
me with the luggage, and even the staff seemed perfectly at ease with
this cargo. The only recommendation is that Widders must always travel
First Class, where there is much more space. Luckily I had taken that
into account.

Widdershins also surprised me with his outstanding performances in
traffic, both on large roads (against my wishes, I ended up on the
Nationale 7 between Caumont and Avignon), and within towns. I bought him
as a touring bike, I return with a suspicion that he aspires to be a
city-bike. These are areas where Flyzipper fails me altogether. Widders
is impeccably polite at traffic lights, stopping and restarting on
command. He waits his turn to enter roundabouts, permits me to signal,
and then gets quickly out of the way of faster traffic. He can even inch
his way at 20 metres per hour through pedestrian quarters, respectful
and patient behind old ladies with their walking cages, who do not even
notice there's a metallic orange monster arachnid just behind them.

However, I'm not really finding him comfortable over distances, and here
we have some glitches to work out. The worst was the excruciatng pain
caused by the SPD pedals and clip-in shoes. This was torture after the
first few kilometers. A long discussion in the cycling newsgroups helped
somewhat, as I was able to adjust the position of the clip to hurt less,
but these still are not comfort shoes by a long way. The SPD shoes also
meant that I couldn't really walk anywhere.

I feel the road much more than on an upright bike. I especially hate the
configuration of a cambered road, cycling lane on one side, and ditch
just next to the lane. All my effort goes into keeping out of the ditch,
and however flat, such roads are always uphill.

The wireless bike computer (Sigma BC2006 - piece of shite) also conked
out after the first 6km. It was new, an essential navigation tool, and
this was infuriating. On the upside, I discovered what it would have
helped to know from the beginning - no need for a wireless, it is
perfectly possible to position a wired model on the mudguard mount. So
Widders now has a bog standard Sigma 1600, just like my other bikes,
courtesy of a very nice bike shop in Vaison la Romaine.

Travelling with Widdershins is a *****. I have to allow about an hour
and a half for the dismantling or reassembly - a VERY far cry from the
90 seconds folding time advertized on the Web site! "Quick release
levers" is a joke. The central lever, that permits the bike to fold or
holds it rigid, works or not, entirely on its own terms, and in its own
time. You might get lucky and compact the bike in half an hour - or you
could be there, struggling in a pool of sweat, until the train has left.
The wheels too, are very tricky to remove and replace, and every time
they have been out of the bike they get "voilées" - I don't know the
English expression - it means that they stick in the brakes and do not
turn fluidly. On the way into Vaison, the left wheel was so stuck that
the trike was drawing to a halt on downhill runs! When he delivered the
trike, my Darth told me that this is because the brakes must absolutely
not be touched, or the levers activated, when the wheels are not in
their axels. All very well, but it is pretty much impossible to edge
them in or out without touching the brakes, and you have no control over
what happens to the levers when the covered bike is being squeezed into
a train compartment or a taxi. The manual says that the brakes should be
blocked with the clips used in delivery - but I was given no such clips.
I tried bits of cardboard on the way back but they didn't stay in. This
is a big glitch to sort out because I cannot go to the Darth to get the
brakes readjusted every single time the bike has been folded.

Trike apart, the trip had its ups and downs. The base hotel in Avignon
was so far out of town that once you were there, you were its prisoner.
It had a restaurant, but this was pretentious and exorbitantly priced,
with portions so small as to be insulting. On the day of arrival I
hadn't eaten all day. The entrée was four little steamed asparagus tips
and four prawns with a dollop of pesto in the middle; the main course
arrived with an enormous papillote which proved, on unwrapping, to
contain about 3 tablespoons of overcooked fish. Plus despite
systematically starting at 7:30 they never could get me served in time
for the weather report at 8:45. Never has so little food taken so long
to serve. In compensation, this hotel had a lovely pool. But no sooner
in, than I destroyed my beloved Timex Ironman watch, which was supposed
to be waterproof and wasn't at all. So first day in Avignon was all
about getting a replacement watch and a real lunch. After a day of
trekking papal cobblestones in 30° heat, I still had the 6km walk back
(not confident enough yet to use Widders), and very sore feet. It
forced the realization that the most precious things in life are cool
water and shade.

Another big annoyance was that the maps and routes provided by the tour
company were impossible to follow. As usual, 50% of my time on the road
was spent being lost. The first day, I made a concerted effort to follow
the instuctions, which took on little paths through fields. There was an
ambiguous or outright wrong turning every km or so. This was so in the
middle of nowhere, that I could have disappeared from the earth and
they'd only find the body three years later. The worst was a gravel path
that was completely blocked with enormous puddles, about 15 inches deep.
Widders, all 25 kg of him, had to be _carried_ through the brush, and
this for over a kilometer. Moreover, although I had a GPS, it was
useless because the stupid thing (TomTom, not recommended) only knows
about routes for cars. After that, I stuck to Départementales - they may
not be so pretty but at least there is some hope of _signposting_, and
the dangers from passing traffic ultimately seemed to me much less than
those of facing uncharted wilderness alone and without instruments. In
retrospect I think this kind of route is only practicable on guided
tours. I suggested to the company that they provide customers with the
option to rent a GPS system for trekking - there is one made by the
company IGN which also makes trekking and ordinance maps. The wench
actually _laughed_ at this suggestion, because she "couldn't imagine"
people on _bikes_ using a GPS system. Shows you where they're at!

I never even saw the town of Orange apart from the hotel and a pizzeria
in the central plaza - the drama of that day was finding a shop to sell
me a new bike computer. Nothing open in Orange, since this was Monday
and any excuse to be closed is good in France. I headed off to Vaison
and had another foodless day. The only restaurant I passed refused to
serve me because it was _already_ 2pm.

Vaison la Romaine was my favorite stop of the trip. The hotel was right
in the central plaza and there was a cornucopia spread of eateries. Also
the town had an excellent, OPEN bike shop, beautiful Roman ruins, and on
Tuesday, a famous market. I visited a statue, a rather unflattering,
scowling one, of the Emperor Hadrian, one of my tutelary deities (not
having a nose never did much for anyone). And that day, I decided that I
would not even attempt the 65 km distance to the next stop, Isle sur
Sorgue, because my tortured feet could never bear it and because the
taxi that was transferring my luggage could transfer me as well. That
was great - a day of peace. And the hotel at Isle was extremely
luxurious. Same thing about being prisoner because it was too far out of
town, but at least this overpriced restaurant was reasonably good, and
had portions of normal size.

A 21 km stint around the Luberon the following day, up to Fontaine la
Vaucluse and back, was cool and pleasant. Finally, the trip back to
Avignon. Here I was faced with a decent Départementale as far as a town
called Caumont. Then, there were three choices: try to follow the
far-out-of-the-way route through tundra provided by the company (and
again risk getting lost or dying of heat exhaustion), try an
alternative, shorter route that visibly cut through some rather menacing
elevation lines, or do as the nice man in the news shop advised: just
follow the nice signs and take the nice straight road, marked in orange
on the map, straight to Avignon.

So that's how I ended up on the Nationale 7 on a trike!

Hey, it wasn't nearly so bad as you might think. The cars were very
courteous and there was plenty of room; indeed, most of the time there
was a navigable shoulder. I was able to cruise Widders at around 23 kph
for most of the trip - he even hit a high of 35 kph. The roundabouts
were orderly and the signs clear. The only part I didn't like was the
entry to Avignon where the traffic became much more congested and the
hideous industrial wasteland around seemed to go on forever. But I found
a delicious restaurant in the town center and had a nice rest before
proceding out into my wilderness hotel once more.

Now I'm back doing laundry. At Antony market this morning I bought
lovely fresh things with a Provençal slant - artichokes, tomatoes, lots
of herbs, some beef fillet for carpaccio, whiting fillets, asparagus and
gorgeous goat cheese. Gotta go cook!

EFR
Ile de France
 
P

Peter Clinch

Guest
Artemisia wrote:

> I feel the road much more than on an upright bike. I especially hate
> the configuration of a cambered road, cycling lane on one side, and
> ditch just next to the lane. All my effort goes into keeping out of
> the ditch, and however flat, such roads are always uphill.


My first go on a kettweisel I spent some time riding into the kerb...

A bike has a lot of steering done quite unconsciously by leaning, but
you can't lean the trike so all of the steering has to be by direct
steering. It is often said that it's easier for a novice to ride a
trike than a bicyclist because there's no "unlearning" of steering to do
(this is much more the case on an upright delta than a tadpole 'bent,
but the difference is still there).
But it should go away with experience as you simply learn how the
steering works and do what's needed unconsciously. Don't worry, just
get more time on it.

> The wireless bike computer (Sigma BC2006 - piece of shite) also
> conked out after the first 6km. It was new, an essential navigation
> tool, and this was infuriating.


Never have bothered fitting a computer: while the information can be
interesting it's not really "essential" for touring.

> Travelling with Widdershins is a *****. I have to allow about an hour
> and a half for the dismantling or reassembly - a VERY far cry from
> the 90 seconds folding time advertized on the Web site!


It is typically the case with this sort of thing that practice makes
perfect. I can fold a Brompton in 15 seconds, first time I tried I had
to study it for quite some time before I realised the sequence order was
crucial. So practice...

> "Quick release levers" is a joke. The central lever, that permits the
> bike to fold or holds it rigid, works or not, entirely on its own
> terms, and in its own time.


QRs are an industry standard and really /are/ quick release... *if* you
have the tension set properly. If the nut opposite the QR lever is too
tight it'll be a ***** to move either way, if it's too loose then it
will come undone at random. So you do need to fiddle about with the
tensioning nut on the opposite end of the bolt to the lever, but once
you've got that fettled then QR really is easy and works very well.

> my Darth told me that this is
> because the brakes must absolutely not be touched, or the levers
> activated, when the wheels are not in their axels. All very well, but
> it is pretty much impossible to edge them in or out without touching
> the brakes, and you have no control over what happens to the levers
> when the covered bike is being squeezed into a train compartment or a
> taxi. The manual says that the brakes should be blocked with the
> clips used in delivery - but I was given no such clips.


I think by "touching the brakes" he just meant the levers: if having the
pads hit the brakes ruined things you'd really be in trouble... every
time you braked! But it is important not to hit the levers with the
brake out as they'll adjust themselves fro where they hit something,
usually the disc but with no disc in place it will go wrong.

So get onto HP Vel and have them send you their locking clips. Point
out you didn't get any and you're having trouble without them.

Pete.
--
Peter Clinch Medical Physics IT Officer
Tel 44 1382 660111 ext. 33637 Univ. of Dundee, Ninewells Hospital
Fax 44 1382 640177 Dundee DD1 9SY Scotland UK
net [email protected] http://www.dundee.ac.uk/~pjclinch/
 
A

Artemisia

Guest
Peter Clinch wrote:

> So get onto HP Vel and have them send you their locking clips. Point
> out you didn't get any and you're having trouble without them.


Good idea. I've been trying to contact the Darth, but no answer on the
phone this week, so perhaps they're all on vacation. HP Vel gives me
someone else to nag!

EFR
Ile de France
 
G

gotbent

Guest
"Artemisia" <[email protected]> wrote in message
news:[email protected]
> Peter Clinch wrote:
>
>> So get onto HP Vel and have them send you their locking clips. Point
>> out you didn't get any and you're having trouble without them.

>
> Good idea. I've been trying to contact the Darth, but no answer on the
> phone this week, so perhaps they're all on vacation. HP Vel gives me
> someone else to nag!
>
> EFR
> Ile de France


If you have Magura brakes, the plastic whatits that keep the pads from
closing together can be purchased directly from Magura through one of their
branches. Trying to get some for free from the dealer/manufacturer is a good
idea as Maggy overcharge for the little bastards like they were some
precious body part like a liver or a kidney. Good luck with your quest.

gotbent aka frvt rider


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