Saturday, October 14, 2006

Volae Expedition

My Volae Expedition [Lrg frame & Med fiberglass seat] showed up on Friday the 13th - how lucky! The box was pretty beat up on one end, but the bike was packed very well and suffered no damage. Workmanship on the bike was excellent and I liked the paintjob a lot. Setup was a snap. Just install the front wheel, adjust the handlebars and the seat. With a bit of fiddling I was done in half an hour.

I swapped out the stock 90mm stem for a 110mm Salsa stem to get my arms stretched out a bit more. I think I could even go to a 120mm or 130mm stem. Other than that the bike was comfortable to sit on, but the position felt pretty extreme in my living room. Although I have ridden recumbents before that was several years ago and all my riding lately has been on diamond frame bikes. My last SWB bent was a Vision R-40 and I recalled how squirrelly that bike felt. I was hoping the Volae would handle better. It was time for a test ride.

I started out in the parking lot at work planning on doing a bunch of riding there before trying it on the road. However, I pushed off and within 10 pedal strokes was clipped in and felt fine. Throwing caution to the wind I headed out on the open road immediately. The bike handled well and I quickly learned to be very light on the steering.

I am not a huge fan of SRAM Gripshift, but it worked just fine. I kept turning it the wrong way and ended up in the wrong gear, but that was just user error. Shifting was crisp and quick front and back. The drivetrain was fairly quiet except in some gear combinations - I need to investigate a bit further. The rear disc brake was a squealer. I have since cleaned the rotors and pads, hopefully solving the problem.

The seat was very comfortable and the position did not feel extreme at all once underway. The bike is quite nimble and corners really well. I can do a u-turn on a side street with no troubles. The only downside is that you cannot unweight the seat and absorb bumps with your body like you can on a DF bike. This makes for a bit of a rough ride on bad pavement.

I did two short rides to get used to the new bike before heading home along my normal commute route. This is a 25km highway ride with two long gradual climbs, several short steeper climbs and three long downhill sections. I have ridden this same road hundreds of times on my Cannondale R800 road bike and average between 26-30km/h. My average speed on the Volae was 28.3km/h. I was really happy because I was riding at night with marginal lights so I couldn't charge the downhills like I would on my commutes and the Volae is at least 5lbs heavier than my R800. On long gradual climbs I was able to keep a similar pace to my R800, but I was 2-4km/h slower on the steeper climbs. I assume that the better aerodynamics of the Volae allowed me to make up these deficits on the flats and downhills.

The Volae fit easily onto the C-train for the ride into downtown and once in town I was totally comfortable mixing it up with nighttime traffic. Starts and stops are no trouble. I can put both feet on the ground with a 31" inseam and the hardshell seat almost fully reclined.

I didn't feel any pains or discomfort due to not having my "bent legs" yet. The next day my legs felt great. The adjustment period I thought I might have to work through seems to be pretty minimal.

Overall I am really happy with this new bike. My two concerns were that it would not be stable enough to ride comfortably when tired and that it would not be fast enough. Both of these fears were unfounded. I am looking forward to my first 100K ride!

One last thing - riding my previous bents (Vision R-40 & BikeE) I felt like a bit of a geek on a weird bike. On the Volae I feel like I am on a high performance bicycle and all the feedback I have received has been really positive. I don't know any other way to put it, but this bike looks serious. That may sound a bit frivolous, but if you don't really like the asthetic of your bike are you going to want to ride it enough to train for a 1200km brevet?

BROL Volae Expedition Review

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