Last week I had the opportunity to test out the 26" Campeur prototype by doing a tour of the Great Alleghany Passage and C&O Canal. The union of these two trails provides a continuous stretch of 335 miles, almost exclusively free of vehicle traffic, from Pittsburgh, PA to Washington, DC. I have been drooling over doing this route for the last couple of years, and was thrilled at the opportunity not only to bike it, but to be able to build up a Campeur in my size! As a 5'5" employee in a company of mostly 6'+ giants, I take what I can get.
I built up a 49cm Campeur frame with our new Short and Shallow bars (fitting, I thought) with Sram brake levers. I threw on 1.5" Kenda high pressure tires which would give me speed on the smooth and even GAP, and grip/comfort on the more rugged terrain of the C&O. I used our Drillium crankset and paired it to an 11-32 9 speed cassette which provided a much wider gearing compared to that of my road bike. It not only looked great, but helped me climb and descend as expected in a long-distance touring build. For the saddle, I used my trusty VO Model 3 - the same one I've used on every ride for the last 3 years because it's best friends with my bum. The same goes for the Sabot pedals, which I switched off my daily driver. The Sabots are perfect for me as I've been known to ride in flip flops in addition to minimal tennis shoes - and in fact ended up doing about 70 miles of the trail in flops. Why? Because I like to feel the wind between my toes.
Igor went on this adventure as well, investigating the touring capabilities of the Pass Hunter for himself. We transported the bikes to Pittsburgh via train, arriving in the city at midnight during a torrential downpour. We managed to reassemble our bikes and ride to a stealth camping spot up in the mountains of the Pittsburgh Zoo, where we set up our tent and hit the hay by around 3 in the morning. After getting a restful 3 hours of soggy sleep, we hit the roads to seek out a hearty breakfast and a hot cup of coffee. After shaking off the chills and lack of sleep, we began the first leg of our journey on the GAP by mid-day. The first 20 miles or so of the Great Alleghany Passage were uneventful - almost sidewalk-esque - but that's what you get when you start a trail in the middle of the city and need to breech its suburbs. After we did, though, the trail opened up to a beautiful scenic expanse, dotted with small trail towns that catered to the consistent stream of through-bikers and day-trippers. One of the best aspects of the GAP and C&O is that free hiker/biker campsites, complete with bathrooms and potable water, are periodically spaced along the trails offering a convenient, yet still rugged, touring experience.
I had a blast with the bike which is MUCH different than my usual mixte ride. It felt agile, even when loaded with all my gear, and instantly made me want to race. In fact, I blame the Campeur for finishing the trail almost 2 days ahead of schedule. I was comfortable and fast - making me able to put in big miles but also stop and see all the glory that the GAP and C&O have to offer:
The GAP was awesome - wide, flat, smooth, orderly, and had great vistas. It used to be a train line, so I had a great time pretending I was choo-chooing up the mountainside. But it was also predictable, and did not test the full capabilities of the Campeur. Through the GAP, I can say the bike is fast when pushed, and climbed well both in and out of the saddle, even when fully loaded. I can definitely speak to this aspect of the ride, since the first 125 miles of the GAP is up hill.
Once we reached the Eastern Continental Divide, the trail plummeted for about 25 miles into Cumberland. I tucked into the Short and Shallows and pushed myself and the bike to the max, covering that ground in what seemed like minutes. The 42cm drop bars were comfortable for extended periods in the drops, which were not too deep but allowed for considerable leverage. I felt fast, and I loved it. They fit the 26er well - little bars for a little bike - but I could definitely see them being utilized by anyone that wants a more comfortably aggressive position.
Once we arrived in Cumberland, we got a monster lunch, and started on the second leg of the trip - the C&O Canal. I instantly found that I am a whole other rider on the C&O, and that's truly where the Campeur shined. The C&O is primarily double track packed earth and gravel - rough and full of potholes, branches, and roots. I found myself hopping between the two tracks, angling the bike back and fourth to negotiate the more challenging terrain. The 26" Campeur has truly great handling, considering I was riding aggressively with a full rear load. With 1.5" tires, the bike took a beating and carried on. It felt like a work horse on steroids, able to carry a heavy load and run with it. The C&O is rough terrain, created in an era without heavy machinery for clearing, and intended for donkeys hauling barges rather than bicycle touring. But that's what gave it its beauty. Each turn of a corner provoked a gasp of awe to leave you, and I had to stop myself from setting up a photo-shoot every 5 minutes.
Here are a few more I couldn't resist stopping for, though:
Altogether the frame was balanced, handled well, and felt spry - with or without a load. I've been riding the 26" Campeur prototype as my daily driver for the last couple of days, and I can say I'm kinda in love. Not only can I trust it for touring, but it's an eye-catching city bike as well. Might have to snatch this one for myself - although this post might be a dead give-away that I've been holding on to it for a touch too long.....oops.
Here's a bonus picture of me doing shadow puppets in Paw Paw Tunnel:
More photos from the trip can be found on Igor's Flickr: https://secure.flickr.com/photos/eccentricvelo/sets/72157645841938538/