Death Valley  by Trike

I decided it was time to try out that new hip on the climbs into and out of Death Valley, California. It was over a year that I had my right hip replaced  ( result of a hip dislocation/ fracture in my teenage years). The last time I climbed Towne pass, I had climbed Onion Valley the same day. For me that was the proverbial straw. That night I tried to fall asleep in my van and just couldn't because of severe hip pain. Would it be different this time? I am still hoping some day to be able to finish  the Furnace Creek 508 on my recumbent trike. Wishful thinking? Hopefully not.

The climb to Randsburg ( the third climb in the Furnace Creek race ) was to be the warm up. Riding the Catrike Expedition, loaded with panniers, it took one hour and seven minutes. On my DF bike, minus 20 pounds excess bodyweight and 10 years younger, this would have taken me 40 minutes. Not too bad for a trike.

Next up some flat riding in Panamint Valley, 19 miles in 1:34.


Finally Towne Pass, 3250 feet climbing in 11 miles. Three hours and 7 minutes! Wow!! That was nearly 2 hours longer than my usual 1:20. I must admit I was tired, cold and miserable. On top of that, there was headwind some of the way  especially near the top. But no hip pain! Next morning I climbed Towne Pass from Stovepipe Wells 5000 feet in 16.7 miles. A whopping 3:26 climbing time with a very strong but COLD tailwind.. 

Looking back from the 1000 feet mark towards Stovepipe Wells. Wind swept sand and dust over the Death Valley sand dunes


That's it, no more Furnace Creek 508 for me. Climbing 5000 ft with a speed hovering around 2.9 miles an hour takes more patience than I have. Riding a trike is completely different from riding a two wheeler. It takes a completely different mindset. Forget about speed, keeping up or setting personal records. This takes all the fun out of riding a tricycle. Load the panniers  with cold drinks, ample warm clothes, lights, iPods , gourmet energy bars and enjoy the scenery, GPS receivers, bike computers, mirrors etc.etc. Comparing trikes with DF bikes and how to keep up with the spandex and shaved legs crowd is a recurrent theme on the Bentrideronline and Catrike bulletin boards. To me there is simply no way one can compare the two. True enough we all want to go faster with the same amount of effort, but even Lance Armstrong is not going to beat a DF bike uphill. Even on flat terrain the trike is slower by marked increase in rolling resistance, continuous side to side motion of the front wheels and even with headwind there is increased air resistance with most trikes versus DF bikes with aero bars and aero wheels. The Greenspeed SLR might be the exception, but who will ride that one on the roads in California?  While struggling up Towne Pass from Stove pipe I was astounded how slow I was considering the 30 miles/hr tailwind. Look at the pictures above how the flagpole bends forward as opposed to the position of the pole on the picture at the Ballarat Memorial  I could hardly keep my footing while getting off the trike in that wind. You simply have to have a speed high enough to factor out  rolling resistance to benefit from this tailwind. I remember climbing Towne Pass once from the other side in 53 minutes on my super light titanium Spectrum DF bike with tailwind. That is over 12 miles/hr average on a 11mile 3250 ft climb. Even with hurricane force tailwinds, the trike is still going to be slow.

Hwy 190, Towne Pass in the distance

Four days later I was back. This time my wife Linda  agreed to SAG and we went straight for the climb to Towne Pass. I was less tired and conditions were better. Two hours and 16 minutes. Fifty one minutes faster ! Is there still hope for the Penguin?

The steep climbing 12-15 % starts at 2500 ft and continues to 3500 ft

Very deceptive , this is at least 10 %

Are we there yet?



 Alas! Next morning I rode from Furnace Creek to Dante's View, 5700 feet in 25 miles,  4 hours 19 minutes. A veritable death march ending with a 15-20 % grade for 1/2 mile.

Next time I will take the tour bus!


I nearly ran out of air. I had completely forgotten how steep that last part was. On a DF bike you get out of the saddle and "sprint" up. Not so with a trike. Each vertical foot is paid for in HEAVY coin. By that time Linda was so fed up and bored, that I did not dare ask her to follow me the next morning for the entire climb from Stovepipe Wells to the summit of Towne Pass. Instead I only did the last 2795 ft in 7.6 miles from the Wildrose turnoff, in 1:51.

What did I learn from these few days riding the climbs in Death Valley? Unless I can loose the 20+ pounds and unless I am willing to creep along for 48 hours on the Furnace Creek course with no other rider in sight, there is no way I will be able to finish the 508 within 48 hours. Actually, I doubt very much that anyone on a recumbent trike will be able to finish this 508 mile long course with 36000 feet of climbing within the required 48 hours. I am sure a young, lean and mean machine will be able to do it, but that is not the type of rider which will gravitate toward a recumbent trike. I will have to change and  learn to "smell the roses" , take in the beautiful scenery and actually enjoy traveling rather than racing the Hwy's .  Subsequently I will be less inclined to ride where the traffic is obnoxious, the scenery boring or when the conditions are indifferent to adverse. That will be a change!! 









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