Alleweder tour 1996 Italia : Crossing the Alps

As a Flevobike employee I own an Alleweder, an almost 'prehistoric' model as several years ago the 365-days-cycling award had been won with this very bike.Together with three of my workmates, Theo, Allert and Peter, we commute between Lelystad and Dronten every day. (2x20km). People say, well, in the vast flats of the dutch polders with it's well maintained bike-path's and the continuous winds an Alleweder may be a good option, but anywhere else....I myself had found out that I particularily liked riding my alleweder in densly populated areas as well, but a hollyday trip, heavily loaded bikes with steep mountains, what would it be like?

I wanted to visit a dutch friend who emigrated to Italy, several years ago, delivering a present to the birth of his first child. Magliano Alpi -a 100km southeast of Torino- therefor was our destination. Theo wanted to meet the challenge.We imagined that some additional gears and a rear brake would be useful, so we changed the 65t chainring for a 42/52 combination, and replaced the rear hub with a 3x7 Quarz model from Sachs including a disc brake. Together with a cog-set from 12-28 teeth this offered a gear-ratio from 1.6m to 8.7m. The disc-brake keeps the tires from getting hot while braking on steep an long descends. After having put some new tires on the rims, we stuffed some spare tires, tools and our camping gear into our bikes. Even sleeping matresses, tent and the rest of our luggage were stowed away with ease as the Alleweder has plenty of cargo space but now were facing the annoying fact of having to move two Alleweders with an overall gross weight of 50kg/110pounds. It turned out to be no problem at all - we made it all the way to Cologne (275km) the first day!

The following day we continued our trip along the Rhine river, as we could find our way more easiliy along the river. Unfortunately in some places the bike path turned out to be dead end an we got stuck in harbour areas and private or industrial properties several times. In some places they would not even be wide enough for our bikes, so several elderly lady's on a "Radtour" got frightend to death when when we passed. But the overall reaction on our showing up was fairly positive, nevertheless many people suspected us of having installed a hidden engine inside...

The next night we spent in Bingen. From here we took a 'shortcut' to Straßburg as the Rhine would have forced us to make a huge detour on it's way to Mainz otherwise. Furthermore we had been told that the 'Alte Weinstraße', ahead of us on this route would be especially nice. But, as wine is grown on hills, immediately after having left the river we faced our first steep ascend. We had to get used to climbing in the first place: shifting back and sneaking uphill at a cruising speed of 10km/h. Well, if you keep on going, you get there anyway. The weather is just gorgeous so we arrive at Kehl (near Straßburg) with sun-burned faces. The bike path from Straßburg to Basel/Switzerland is pretty boring and ugly as it leads alongside industry-sheds and goes straight along the Rhine-channel for about a 100km. But a steady wind from the north helps us to pass through here very quickly. In Switzerland we pass the Murtensee and suddenly find ourselfes riding several kilometres on the circuit of the EC '94 at Laupen. After our first 'mountain', 800m/2624ft, we descend to the Lake Leman resp. Genève. Exceeding 80km/h starts to appear pretty normal to us by now. We find a nice campground on the lake in the town of Montreux, unfortunately in september it' s too cold for a swim already. A motorcyclist warns us from snow on the mountaintops...(we'll find out...)

An then comes the day! Climbing the Grand St. Bernhard pass (2500m/8200ft) by Alleweder! Theo suddenly got problems with his knee and his Achilles-tendons but we decide to go for it. The first 40 km climb to Martigny goes all but effordlessly, so we decide to have a good meal first before going on. As we continue our climb the road gets steeper and steeper.Theo's moral consolidates as we have only another 7 km to go. (plus another 600m/2000ft elevation!) It's kind of strange to hang eternally in those long off-cambered curves at a speed of 8km/h. One mayor advantage of a three-wheeler on these steep ascends is that one can go as slowly as one wishes as balance does not have to be maintained by the rider. So you can ride (relatively) relaxed at speeds of 6 or 8km/h as long as you got a good gear. As we're half way through a Belgian couple strengthens our spirit and we reach the top after a bit more than an hour. To motorists questioning us we pretend it's been no problem. Well, it hasn't after all!

And then...the descend! The road lays allready in the shade as we're speeding down. Suddenly we notice a burning smell and a strange ticking sound from our wheels. We stop to investigate the problem. The brakedrums are glowing and the ticking sound is caused by the spokes, they sound like a hot car engine. We solve the problem by temporarily removing the wheeldiscs and continue our downhill at full speed. That's one of the moments that makes riding an Alleweder so special, at speeds between 60km/h and 95km/h we virtually fly down to Aosta! An Italian couple at an "Alimentari' (grocery store) where we do our shopping for the night almost causes a traffic jam as they admire our bikes with lots of Italian "ah's'"and "oh's'".

Following the scenic Aosta-valley we are approaching Torino. On our way, we spend several kilometres with some Italian race-cyclists who are virtually 'blown away' on descends, but on the following ascents they allways catch up again. Torino is, as we expected, a wild chaos of Fiat' s, scooters and motorcycles but we manage our way through without severe damage. All of a sudden we get stopped by an attractive female police agent, who wants to inspect our bikes but as we got no engines, everything is allowed and the Alleweders pass the technical inspection without any problems. After a long day's ride we arrive at Magliano Alpi. Here a refreshing shower and a pasta meal awaits us. Feels good!

My friend, who is pretty much "italianized" by now, didn't get the message of our trip, although we had spent quite a few kilometres on bikes back in Holland:"Nice little car, but why don't you install an engine...?".

After seven days of pedaling and a distance of 1350 km a day of rest is welcome. We visit the market at Mondovi (by car), dipp our feet in the lokal brooklet and the resting day is almost over again. The next morning we're leaving early in the morning with beautiful wheather and a cool wind from the north, heading for Lago Maggiore. As many Italians go on a bike trip on sundays, we get enthousiastic reactions whereever we show up. Even two attractive women pull over for us.... but - as St. Gotthard pass is expecting us the following day- we decide to go on.

The climb to St. Gotthard is not that steep but endless. Leaving Locarno, the lowest point in Switzerland (270m/886ft), you have to climb to an elevation of 2150m/7054ft on 100km. The motorway leads through a tunnel by now, but on the former route cycling is a pleasure. Although the descend has only a mere 5%, we soon reach more than 90km/h on the three lane road. At 95km/h I start braking but Theo goes for the 100! As the road starts to get narrower and the number of curves is increasing he has to give up at 98.5km/h. After having taken a close look to the map, I decide to go for the "three-passes-tour" Grimsel-Furka-Susten the next morning. As we cannot find a campsite before our final descend we decide to permit ourselves the luxury of a hotelroom this night.

I could not get a good night's sleep as those Swiss winter-blankets a way too warm if you are use to an old, worn out sleeping bag. Theo takes one day off as I start the next morning at sunny wheather. The 14 kilometres to the Sustenpass take 90minutes, I had expected a bigger difference in climbing performance without bagage. My average speed only increases an estimated 1km/h! Well, I forgot to remove my sleeping bag... The descend is breathtaking, although the knowledge that I will have to climb it all up again (plus more) is kind of annoying. The climb to the Grimselpass is more difficult already but I get there. On my way I always meet the same people again who are doing this trip by car. On the following descend I enjoy the wonderful scenery as I have good view on the Rhone-glacier. On my climb up to the Furka-pass I make use of my lowest gear for the first time as the last kilometres ascend at 14% but I would not let my speed drop below 7km/h. After my last descend without crash barriers or guard rails but with "safety-fences" at eye height instead, I meet Theo back in the village of Wassen. From here we finally desend to the Vierwaldstättersee. After 140km and 3400m/11154ft of altitude I finally feel some redemption of my urge to cycle, I even have slight problems to match Theo's speed. As halfway the cooking proces the gas burner stalls due to gas shortage I have a hard time but Theo solves the problem by gathering a few dripples from each of the eightteen hoses of the nearby gas station, which enables us to get the maccaroni boiled to an edible stage.

Our way home through France, Luxemburg and Belgium goes quickly and without problems, just the French police wants to inspect our vehicles again. But we get an escort to a nearby campground in return! The fact that the weather has changed to clouds and rain by now does not bother us at all: at 10�C we still wear shorts. After 17 days and a riding distance of 2800 kilometres we arrive at Lelystad only to commute to Dronten the next morning to get back to work again.

We definitely enjoyed the trip in a fully faired recumbent tricycle. One feels the additional weight on climbs and when accelerating but as long as you have a good gear that means no problem. What you get in return is excellent wheather protection, cargo space and improved braking performance as you can brake on three wheels. Therefore you feel pretty save in the Alleweder. Furthermore you can climb as slowly as you wish to, without balance problems.

We are planning to go on a similar trip next year, but by then we will be riding C-Alleweders!

Greetings, Ymte Sijbrandij

(translation Peter Kreuder)