Valoria II: Building a new recumbent

This is Valoria:

I can’t remember how she got the name. Something to do with valkyries and heading off into wild territory, I bet. I purchased her almost on an impulse from a stranger at my workplace, just a few weeks before my first long-range bicycle tour. I am very glad I did. It was life-changing.

Valoria is an original Giro 20 recumbent – the first version that Bacchetta made. Her frame is steel. She’s got an Old Man Mountain rack on the back, in a shape that the company no longer makes: Old Man Mountain racks do not have handles any more. That sucks because the handle is a great way to move around a recumbent — like grabbing a kitten by the scruff of the neck.

Valoria’s seat has braze-on eyelets underneath it, for attaching a rack directly beneath the seat. Giro no longer includes those braze-ons, and no one makes the under-seat rack any more. If you want another one like it, tough luck. Also, all the Giro 20s nowadays have the headset and idler wheel in a different place, closer to the front. This affects the geometry of the steering. The handlebars are also several inches wider. If you want a set of handlebars like the original Giro 20, you either find an original Giro 20, or you give up.

She is truly a one-of-a-kind bike. So why am I even trying to replace her?

The short list:

  1. She does not have disc brakes, and there’s no way to retrofit them.
  2. Her shifters are very worn out.
  3. She’s got more steel in her than I need. She’s rated to carry 280 pounds, and I only tour with 250 at the very most.

That’s it. Not a long list. But it was item 1 that did the trick. On the trip from Colorado to Ohio, I hit the v-brakes at the same time I hit a pothole, and the pressure cracked my front rim, cutting my tour short. On the New Zealand tour, I did a number of descents through very long, windy mountain roads, with fast-moving traffic, and a full load of gear. I couldn’t actually slow down as much as I wanted because I didn’t have the hand strength to grip the v-brakes hard enough!

A few close calls in Oakland were enough to force the decision. I wanted disc brakes, period.

And so, I began a dialogue with Zach Kaplan, master recumbent builder, fleshing out the details.

First question: Did I want an entirely different brand of recumbent, or another Giro 20, in the modern style with disc brakes?

Me:
My current bike doesn’t have a suspension and isn’t very easy to disassemble. If I wanted to get these features, what other bikes should I consider?
Zach:
There are other touring oriented bikes, with full suspension and custom heavy duty racks and factory option generator lighting systems, such as those from HP Velotechnik and AZUB. They are heavier than the Giro 20 though and much more expensive. One of them, the HP Velotechnik Grasshopper fx, folds but the folding is designed for taking on trains. It doesn’t come anywhere close to to fitting into a case that wouldn’t incur an oversize charge on an airline, so in that respect it’s the same as the Giro.
Me:
Yes, assembling and disassembling the Giro 20 for plane flights is a hassle. What about the Lightning P-38? The P-38 comes apart and packs into a suitcase. Does that save a lot of time and labor?
Zach:
The P-38 Voyager with the S&S couplers that fits into a suitcase takes just about as much work and time to disassemble and pack up as a Bacchetta, just fits into a smaller airline legal case. The P-38 with case is very close to the airline maximum weight limit and I’ve known of people who have had to put the chain and pedals in another piece of baggage to keep the case under the weight limit.

Some further research confirmed this. I found a few videos of P-38 owners packing up their bikes for travel, and no one managed to get the task done in anything less than an hour, despite plenty of experience and practice.

Me:
Hmm. If it’s about the same amount of work, then the most the P-38 could offer me is space savings. For the Giro, taping the CrateWorks boxes closed and shipping them to our destination made their bulkiness irrelevant for the actual ride. We’d have to send the P-38 case ahead of us in the same way.
Zach:
That’s true.
Me:
Is the P-38 similar in comfort level to the Bacchetta?
Zach:
The P-38 seat is similar in comfort level to the Bacchetta Recurve seat. Other than the S&S coupler option, the main advantages of the P-38 are it is lighter weight and has a lower seat height which makes it easier for shorter riders to put their feet down.
Me:
How does it compare for loaded touring?
Zach:
For unloaded riding the P-38 is a bit higher performance due to being lighter weight. If you want to use it for loaded touring, the P-38 has some major downsides. It isn’t compatible with an under seat rack, and the frame – being made of of small diameter, thin walled tubes to save weight – is relatively flexy torsionally so not designed to carry heavy weight on the rear rack. As a result, it doesn’t handle that well when heavily loaded.

So, it looked like the P-38 was too light. At the other end of the spectrum, I knew the HP Velotechnik bikes were all quite heavy. I’d done test-rides with the Speed Machine, the Street Machine, and the Grasshopper. The suspension felt luxurious, but in my touring, I just never spend that much time on rough roads. Besides, the way HP Velotechnik prices their frames and parts, I would pay almost $2000 more for a bicycle whose only additional feature is a suspension. Not a clear winner over the Giro 20.

In fact, no matter how many other options I looked at, I kept coming back to the Giro 20. It seems I was not going to replace Valoria — I was going to reincarnate her!

The choice made, Zach and I began to hash out the details.