Touring on a Recumbent Road Bike: Taking on the Blue Ridge Parkway with Cruzbike S40s
From the very first Cruzbike recumbent road bike kit back in 2005, we've noticed that these bicycles are great at climbing hills and mountains. Fifteen years and thousands of bikes later, Cruzbike owners have confirmed time and again that they climb faster on their Cruzbikes than on any of their other recumbent road bikes. To test the latest model, we put four experienced Cruzbike riders on the new 2021 Cruzbike S40 and turned them loose on some of the hilliest and most beautiful roads in North America. Fortunately for me, I was one of them, and this is my report.
We convened at a motel in Front Royal, Virginia near the north-end of Skyline Drive, which runs along the crest of the Blue Ridge Mountains within Shenandoah National Park. Roger volunteered to be our SAG driver and mechanic. The four riders on recumbent road bikes were Ken, Larry, Maria, and Jim, each riding a Cruzbike S40. We also had three traditional road bike riders with us: Alvin, Barrett, and Jill.
None of us had ridden the new Cruzbike S40, which had been shipped by air in advance of the main shipment coming by ocean freight. The evening before we started, Roger tuned up the bikes and helped us adjust the boom, handlebars, and headrests. These were all stock S40s, with 1x 11-speed 11-42 cassettes, 42T chain rings, and 165 mm cranks. The tires were 700c x32 inflated to about 60 psi.
We would ride the entire 105 miles of Skyline Drive on the first day, and then start on the Blue Ridge Parkway on Day 2. Here's a map (from ridewithgps.com) of the 576 mile route going from Front Royal, Virginia to Cherokee, North Carolina:
And an equally impressive elevation chart showing about 60,000 feet of climbing and descending:
The maximum grade on the Parkway is 8%, though we measured a couple hills pushing 9%. Fortunately, most of the long climbs were in the 3-5% grade range. We took seven days to cover the distance, beginning at around 7:00 AM each morning and finishing in plenty of time for showers and a nice dinner every evening. The longest single climb was 13 miles, leaving Virginia's James River Valley going up to Thunder Ridge.
How did our recumbent bikes ride with all that climbing? We all loved the new Cruzbike S40. The index shifting was crisp and reliable. Maria and Ken had their chains drop a couple of times to the outside of the cassette on the first day. The B-screw of the derailleur was set too far in. Once we backed that out, no more chain drop. The flat mount mechanical disk brakes (new for 2021) were fantastic when needing to slow down, and some of the descents were very fast and curvy, with surprise potholes. Having great brakes was a necessity.
The gear range was perfect. In the big 42 tooth cassette cog, I could pedal uphill at a sustainable pace even when tired at the end of a long day. On the downhills, I could pedal up to about 30 mph, then above that speed, I would just coast. Top speed on the downhills was about 42 mph.
If I were to be climbing these same hills with a lot of gear in packs, I would probably want a bit more low-end gearing. I really like the simplicity of a 1x system, so I would probably swap out the 42T chainring for a 38 or 40 tooth ring.
This is the first Cruzbike S40 with thru axles instead of skewers. We did this to 1) enhance the stiffness of the drivetrain, making an already highly efficient drivetrain even better; and 2) improve stiffness when cornering at high speeds, which we did plenty of while descending on the Appalachian switchbacks.
The big 700c x 32 tires and the thick stock cushion made for a very comfortable ride. The Viscoset headset is also new for 2021. I didn't really notice it while riding, which is the intent. The bike handled well and did not seem twitchy at all. I don't know how much of that is due to the Viscoset headset, or just my extensive experience on these bikes. I think beginner riders will appreciate this upgrade the most. It seems to make the bike easier to learn to ride.
Once during the week, we came to a road block where the Parkway was closed due to a washout. We loaded all four S40s on the Saris rack after packing the three traditional bikes inside the van. We still had room to squeeze all of us into the van and drive about 25 miles to get back on the Parkway past the closure. Therefore our ridings stats will be a little shy of the totals given by ridewithgps.com for the whole route. That's Alvin in the photo with the bikes on the van. Alvin has ridden the entire Blue Ridge Parkway 13 times. He mostly rides a traditional road bike, but knows how to ride a Cruzbike. In 2017, he set (and still holds) the Texas Time Trials recumbent bike record in the 26 mile event on a Cruzbike V20 recumbent racing bike.
To get all four bikes on the rack, we removed the backrests and rotated the handlebars for the two bikes in the middle; an easy job taking about 5 minutes per bike.
Here are some photos showing the bikes (and their colors) during the trip:
a cool selfie from Larry.
Maria's bike seemed to change colors with the lighting.
Ken and Maria all smiles at the end of another day of riding.
Maria and I lived in North Carolina for 25 years, so we stopped for a photo when we crossed into our old home state.
Eating was a big part of the enjoyment of the trip, whether it was by the side of the road overlooking a lush valley, or in a diner, like this one in Fancy Gap, Virginia.
The weather was almost perfect the whole week. On the last day, we hit some cold rain. This was also the day that we climbed to the highest elevation on the whole ride (photo below). Here are all the riders: Larry, Jill, Barrett, Alvin, Maria, Jim, and Ken. Larry is a pro at these rides and did a lot of extra miles before and after everyone else was resting. This was Ken's first trip like this and he did really well, certainly beat me up a lot of the hills, but as we frequently joked "this is not a race!"
My fourth trip along the Blue Ridge Parkway was another fantastic journey with wonderful people. I feel very lucky to be able to make epic rides like this. As long as I am able, I will continue to challenge myself to do them. Thanks to Jill and Larry for organizing it, and to Roger for the safe driving and great SAG support.
Learn more about road cycling, adventure and the Cruzbike S40:
Beautiful bikes! Great scenery!
Hello, love this story I bet this was so awesome to do. My son and I have ordered the S40’s can’t wait to get it and give it some big spins, I have been a bent rider now for I think 10 or 12 years now, and I absolutely love them, so much more comfortable, safer, and just sooooo much fun to ride. I have a Vision recumbent now and I did a 2,000 mile ride around Lake Michigan, with a side trip to Tennessee, I had pretty much flat country to ride in except the Traverse City area, and wow they have some big long hills, I got most of my work out there climbing hills coming in to the city and visiting my Aunt. That is one reason we chose CruzBike, generally bents are not very hill friendly, and long hills make you feel like your having massive Coronary LOL, but you do learn new tricks and techniques on hill climbing and develop or train your leg mussels to act in a new way. And this where I see with your CruzBike the ergonomics makes it a little easier to climb hills and to pour on speed for flats. Again love your story and stats of the hills you guys climbed, like to see more. I just had to share my hill climbing experiences with you all. Thanks and keep having fun.
All the best
Beyond impressive. Many years ago, I rode Skyline Drive in sections, about 25 miles out and then back to the parked car. Those uphills are work and those downhills can go on for miles! Today, my old Silvio 1.0 would be more comfortable on Skyline Drive, but those S40’s, with simple effective gearing, would be king of the mountains.
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