My bike - Cycling the Austrian Alps on a recumbent - CycleBlaze

My bike

Giro 20 ATT recumbent

My muddy bike after a rather wet ride from München to my hotel on the Isar Radweg
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I was just reading through my trip journal from my first tour in Austria where I rode along the Tauern Radweg. I've long since forgotten the challenges of the ride, recalling only how great the scenery was. Most entries involve me complaining about hills and gravel. While the hills and gravel remain, I'd like to think I'm more savvy about preparing for both and I'll share with you a bit about what I've done to prepare for both items. 

Two years ago I rode about half of the Bodensee-königsee Radweg which was heavy on hills, heavy on rough loose gravel, and heavy on mountains. Given that it was also one of the wettest Junes in recent memory, it was also heavy on rain. Having learned from my first trip to prepare for hills, I had taken to an aggressive training regimine of riding 3,000ft of climbing once or twice a week. While I'll have at most two days of anywhere near that much climbing this year, I've still opted to maintain a similar training schedule, for three months. 

As for rough gravel, I got smart last summer, despite not having any gravel, of mounting  a marathon cross tire with aggressive tread on the back of my recumbent. It's not a particularly fast tire, but it can handle most terrain. I also replaced the somewhat worn front Marathon Racer with a proper marathon green guard which is 1.75" wide and more durable. The bike is a bit slow now, but for touring that's not an issue. I do miss the fast zippy ride of the race tires I sometimes use when riding paved local trails, but those tires are built for speed, not durability. 

My last change for this trip, and one that I should have done 4 years ago, is a change to the front chainrings. Recumbents are incredibly slow climbers due to the geometry of the bike. Gravity and the downward motion on the pedals along with the ability to stand up and use your full bodyweight is a huge advantage on a normal diamondframe bike. I don't have the advantage. I climb so slow I've been passed by roller skiers and runners on steep hills. My bike came with a standard road bike chainring set (52, 39, 30). It's great for flat trails, but that 30 tooth gear just isn't low enough for hills when touring (or for steep hills when not touring!) I tried installing a 24 tooth gear instead and that definitely made climbing more pleasurable. Still slow, but doable. However, chain drop was a major problem. 39 tooth to 24 tooth is much too far and contrary to all the posts online about how it worked for them, it didn't work for me. The last thing I want went grinding up a hill is for my chain to fall off when I bail. So, I took the plunge and shelled out the money to install a mountain bike chainring set (44, 32, 22.) This last weekend I took it for a spin and I have to say it was perfect. I much prefer Wednesday the gearing on the 44 to the 39 I was mostly riding in before. I prefer to coast downhill so having a 52 tooth gear was pretty useless for me. Having the extra bottom gear on the 22 tooth versus the 24 I had before is nice as well. Once I get loaded bags I may need that extra low end. I'm still slow, but at least I don't have to worry about blowing out a knee while pounding the pedals on a 30 tooth ring. 

The last bike related decision relates to which set of panniers I take. This is a lengthy debate for me every year. I have a set of recumbent specific panniers. They have no interior pockets for organizing things and they are not waterproof. They do, however, mount in a way that maintains the balance of the bike. My other set are waterproof, and probably bulletproof as well, Ortlieb panniers. I have a backpack attachment that I can use with them so I can haul my valuables with me when I go for a hike. I much prefer them to the recumbent set, but they mount further back on the bike and negatively influence stability. I could get a special underseat rack to mount them on, but with a small front tire I don't have a lot of clearance there and I think they would end up dragging. Given that I'll have some hilly sections on roads with traffic, I'm planning to use the recumbent panniers this year and I'll keep everything in dry bags. Safety first, right?

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