HURRY UP MT VENTOUX
By Ben Sherrat, Lifecycle Brighton
This was my golden opportunity to test the SL in anger, and as I rounded the last curve there it was, my summit of Le Mt Ventoux at about 1500m, a huge snow drift that stubbornly clung to the upper slopes. I was a little disappointed to say the least. For the last 55 minutes or so I had been kicking the SL up the slopes of this unforgiving mountain and I was getting into the swing of how well the bike went uphill. The acceleration when I kicked was unlike any recumbent I have ridden, if I felt I was running out of low gears all I had to do was to kick a bit and the thing shot up the hill, simple as that. I had prepared the bike with just 9 gears for ease of assembly on our "family" holiday and had figured (after testing up Ditchling Beacon) that a 60tooth chainring ought to do it coupled with a 11-32 cassette. I was able to take out a day from our base in southern Provence to do a quick blast up the Geant de Provence so I had one chance at a crack at the top and this was it.
Starting about 20k away from the base, the Ventoux is an impressive mass that looms up dominating the skyline for miles around, at 1909m it is a relentless climb once you are on the slopes, I chose the route up from Malaucene as it looks on the map to be a shorter steeper climb and I really wanted to blast apart the myth that Recumbents can't climb, also I would be returning the same way and there are a few long straights on that side of the mountain that would really let me fly on the Hurricane, if it handled well at speed!
I have owned Hurricanes since 1998 and have lavished them with top end bits and pieces but I have only ever achieved about 26lb as the lightest ever build, and at great cost. I have always maintained that the Hurricane is the best handling BIKE that I have ever ridden having really pushed the handling to its limits and beyond on several occasions. The Hurri has always rewarded me with razor sharp directional stability, the best braking in the business and a flickability that would put a Ducati to shame. It is a really compact little bike, and when pointed downhill turns into a Street Luge. I have been downhill at a shade under 60mph in favourable conditions in Dorset and the bike was solid as a rock at that speed. Ventoux is a bit of a different beast with smooth alpine roads and a slight altitude advantage. I wanted to see how the SL compared to its heavier stablemate both up and down hills. I am relieved to report that not only did it respond like a scalded cat to input from the pedals on the way up.
Once I was in Malaucene, the only way is up, on the lower slopes you can't see the mountain, just a beautifully smooth road heading upwards to the next hairpin in the sky, all you can do is sit in and grind and smile through gritted teeth as you pass other cyclists. Climbing on a recumbent is always regarded as being hard work and it can be, you are overcoming gravity! But, it is not really any harder than climbing on a roadbike with equivalent weight. There are advantages too, you are rigidly fixed in the seat, freeing up your heart to power your powerhouse quad muscles and not the complicated muscular feat of pulling on the bars and honking on the pedals. With a bit of practise you can lift your bum out of the seat to honk on a recumbent if you are suffering. I am convinced now that the SL allows you to climb like a roadie, putting pay to the myth once and for all. You just need to be trained to use your legs differently.
Anyway back to Ventoux, I had noticed that there were signs up saying that the road was closed up ahead at Mont Serein, though I was assured by an American cyclist in Malaucene that the road was passable by bike.Should have asked a local! I was slightly worried by the signs but carried on, bathed in sunshine, dancing on my back, up the mountain. Climbing on a recumbent allows you to see around you even though your heart is pounding in your ears, though it is important to stay focussed if you want to make good time. At about 1000m altitude I started to notice snow in the woods on the side of the road, this built up as I gained altitude until There were great drifts as tall as me. So, as I reached the Ski Station at Mont Serein and rounded the bend I saw the road swallowed up by snow several feet thick going off in the direction of the summit and that was the end of my climb at around 1500m. All that remained was a few photos and to point the bike down hill. Photo's done and I headed back down hill.
I clicked up through the gears as I headed down the 11% slope until I span out (after about 100m!) Then gravity kicked in, my world became the road in front of me, the bike seemed to accelerate like a motorbike way faster than I have ever been before, you hear of tour de France riders hitting 70mph plus down Ventoux and I think that I must have been close to that. I had a car following me that I left behind at 60mph! The bike just lapped it up, the cornering and handling were just like on my old hurricane, I lifted my hands off the bars at around 60 and it was fine, I was flying. The bike was fitted with Challenge's new lightweight braking system and this was severely tested at I hauled the bike down to tackle the hairpins on the lower slopes. They squealed like a banshee as the pads overheated and I stopped a couple of times and cooled the rims off in the snow. I think that for riding in the Alps I would have preferred Disc brakes and a 400gram penalty, just to allow for maximum speed on descending and later braking. It seemed to take seconds to get back down to the warmer air of Malaucene and the flatter surrounding countryside.
Despite being foiled by the snow, the Hurricane SL had more than proved that you could comfortably climb, fast if you want, on a recumbent. It was also a dream at speed, slicing off a third of the bikes weight has compromised nothing, it is the best handling bike that I have ever ridden.