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Getting Some Miles on the Long Haul Trucker touring bike

July 30, 2009

Next week is vacation in Southern Florida, but before leaving, I burned a couple of vacation days to get out and ride a bit.  Since I just picked up the Surly Long Haul Trucker touring bike yesterday, it only seemed natural to take it out for an extended test.  Prior to leaving, I had to make some additions first.

I don’t feel that I’ll really need the pannier rack on the back of my Cannondale Road bike anymore, so I removed it and placed in on the LHT.  Not given to a lot of mechanical work, it seems I never quite have the right tool or part for the job however, so it took me a bit to get the mounting sorted.  I finally bit the bullet and re-bent the top bracket to make it work around the brake system on the LHT.  I’m not real good at thinking outside the box mechanically, like I do electrically or with computers.  Guess I didn’t get the mechanical aptitude gene from my father.  It was pretty satisfying though when it all came together!

What I really like about the way the pannier rack fits on the LHT is there is plenty of room behind the pedals without hitting the bags.  This is due primarily to the much longer chainstay on the LHT.  I think it’s something like 2″ longer on the chainstay and about 3″ overall on the wheelbase.

After I mounted the water bottle cages on, I loaded up the panniers and headed out for a ride.  The only problem… a train of storm cells would be racing through the area all day.  Well… it’s not like riding in the rain is new to me… lol!  Considering the possibility that I might ride from Morrow all the way up to Xenia and back, I packed lots of food, changes of clothes, large bottle of Hammer Gel, and 3 bottles of water.  In addition to the various tools and supplies that I threw in for “kicks and grins”, the extra weight was in the neighborhood of 30#.  I mean… what good is a test ride on a touring bike if you don’t load it down a bit, right?!?  In actuality, it was still way short of the self-supporting touring riders we’ve met that were carrying 85-100# of gear around, but I had to start somewhere.

My first task when I hit the road was to ride on a particularly hilly portion of Mason-Morrow Road that parallels the Little Miami Trail just prior to Morgan’s Canoe Livery.  I wasn’t warmed up yet, but wanted to see what the low range was capable of doing.  While I got my heart rate moving a smidge, I also had plenty of high RPM spinning without feeling any strain on my cold muscles what-so-ever.  I wasn’t breaking any speed records, but I didn’t have to walk the bike uphill either!.  Definitely a nice piece of kit!

I was surprise how much flexing in the frame that I could perceive when I hit bumps.  Between steel frame and the 37 mm wide tires, I wasn’t getting those butt and wristing numbing shots up into my body.  However, the balance and nimbleness still require some getting used to.  I’m still familiar with riding a “twitchy” road bike that darts and turns on a dime.  Between the loaded panniers and the longer wheel base, I had to be more cautious on the leans into the turns or turning my body to look backwards.

My overall average speed seemed to be down considerably.  While I didn’t have the computer hooked on the bike yet, the trail is clearly marked in half mile increments and I had the time on my cell phone.  My average was around 10mph, but it felt very steady, and a pace that I could pedal all day if need be.

Due to my later than expected start, I opted to turn around in Spring Valley, just 7 miles short of Xenia… so no Metric Century (62mile) rides today.  It didn’t seem prudent with the expected afternoon storms and the time I would be getting back to lengthen the ride at all.  So far, the ride was providing me with plenty of feedback, most of it quite positive.

I did have one small self-induced problem…. damned testosterone anyway… where I wanted to get back on the trail from a rest stop.  There was a short steep incline that was hard pack and cinder.  I looked at my tires, that aren’t smooth by any stretch, and figured I could “mountain bike” up the short incline to the trail…. well… that was the intention anyway… forget the fact that I was on a heavy bike… one that I couldn’t shift quickly.. and with loaded panniers… well… I didn’t really build up an adequate head of steam (although on my road or mountain bike it would have been plenty of room)… and just as I reached the apex, almost up to the grass next to the trail… I stalled… since the trail was a bit of a “cut” up the hill (or it would have been impossibly steep to consider), I did a slow motion fall into the side of the cut.  My bottom foot came out of the clipless pedals, but my top foot stayed.  So I pushed back up with my right arm and right foot into an upright position… did a quick look around to see if I’d embarrassed myself or gone undetected… and quietly headed back down trail and regained my composure… lol.

By the time I got back to Corwin, the rain was just starting to come down, so I stopped for a bite to eat.  Apparently I’d been eating enough on the trail from supplies that I had a hard time getting all the food down, but by the time I was finished, the rain was done for the moment.  However, not more than 3 miles underway, and the rain proved to be a bit more of an annoyance, so I donned my rain jacket.

Despite the rain, I took a detour off the trail to check out the Corwin Nixon covered bridge near Caesar’s Creek (across the Little Miami River).  The stop was also a nice respite from the rain.

As I got back near the vehicle, I had a nasty little surprise on the trail.  Just as I passed underneath a tree, there was a tremendously loud crack/snap like an extended rifle shot echoing through a valley.  Jerking to my left to look around, I watched a rotten tree fall down across the trail just 1-2 seconds after I passed… dang… that was close!!  Was really glad I’d put a plastic bag over my leather seat so that the “stuff” that was scared out of me didn’t ruin the seat… lol!

Getting back to the car in Morrow, I REALLY felt like continuing down the trail, perhaps to South Lebanon or Kings Mills, but looking at the time decided not to.  This was all good and well because just as I got everything loaded back into the vehicle, the skies opened back up and the rain came down with a vengeance.

I’ve gotta say… this was an excellent first serious ride on this bike, and the Surly Long Haul Trucker is looking to be everything that the reviews led me to expect.  With the addition of the Brooks saddle that I’m still breaking in, I logged about 50 miles today.  I could just as easily see doing 70-100 miles on this bike, especially after I get used to it.  Today I had several miles left in me, and it was nice to get off the bike still wanting more, compared to most of my 30-40 mile rides this year on the Cannondale road bike where I agonized some of the last miles and almost felt like walking the final distance to the end.  I expect that Penny will start getting jealous in pretty short order and want one of her own before long!

To the journey!!

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