Taking the ElliptiGO Arc to New Heights

January 6, 2017

As well as providing an account of some epic mountain riding on the ElliptiGO Arc, this article is also aimed at giving a detailed example of how one ElliptiGO rider travelled abroad with his bike on a family holiday, using a specialised multi-purpose bike box to transport his ElliptiGO. We are often approached by customers who want information about bike boxes that can be used to travel by plane with their ElliptiGO bikes and thought this information would be of interest to such inquirers.

Billy Grace is a 45 year old ElliptiGO rider from Jersey, who decided to travel to Tenerife with his ElliptiGO Arc over the 2016 Christmas holiday, to take on some of the biggest hill climbs in Europe…

Billy’s household actually has 3 ElliptiGOs. The newest is the ElliptiGO Arc, which Billy uses for commuting to work – and also for his shorter, more intense workouts. He started with an 8C but as he progressed into ultra distance challenges and his wife Jane started to use the ElliptiGO on  an indoor trainer, they got a 11R.  Jane uses the ElliptiGO exclusively indoors to supplement her marathon running training.  Billy commutes to work on any of his ElliptiGOs and uses his 11R for long distance cycling events.

‘Billy’s mountain’

Billy’s challenge for the Christmas 2016 holidays would actually be a multi-faceted one, with the logistical challenges of travelling with an ElliptiGO (and his whole family), as well as the physical challenge of taking on the big hills in Tenerife (in between the usual family holiday engagements).

The bike riding challenge would culminate in a 35k climb of Teide from the sea shore at Los Cristianos, climbing 2200m at an average of 6,3% with virtually all of the climb a steady incline between 5% and 8%. Transporting the ElliptiGO Arc by aeroplane would be the logistical challenge.

What would the perfect flight bike box for an ElliptiGO look like?

Billy decided that the perfect flight bike box does not exist whether it is for a road bike, mountain bike or ElliptiGO. It is always going to be a series of compromises. The weight and length of an ElliptiGO make it a little more challenging to carry on a plane, but with research, flying with a GO is still achievable.

Here is Billy’s account of the journey (in his own words)…

After researching the market I found a suitable box, but it was only available from Australia – and I live in Jersey, Channel Islands! I tried to find a similar box closer to home, but failed. So I went for the Australian option and ordered it online.

 

The EnviroBikeBox comes with good pedigree, being used routinely by the Australian National Cycling Team. Jack Zhang, of the company, was easy to deal with. The box has a number of unusual features. Firstly, it is expandable and can be made into three lengths 140,160 or 180 cm (by using the pieces in different ways but with three sets of lids/bases). This is of interest to the ElliptiGO rider. The Arc can fit a 140 cm box, but will fit with less disassembly into a 160 or 180 cm box. I am yet to test the Long-stride (ElliptiGO 8C or 11R) bikes in my new bike box, but because the box length can be adjusted I believe they can also be disassembled to fit into the box.

External dimensions of the box in cm are 140cm (L) x 80cm (H) x 30cm (W) with internal length of 136cm and internal width of 28cm. There is some give in the width due to the nature of the plastic boarding used which is what makes me think the Long-stride might fit with removal of the drive arms.   The box is made of twin plastic board and claims a weight of 5-6kg – but realistically one is looking at it being a little heavier in operation, but still a very light box.

The extra cost options are well worth having: wheel envelopes x 2 (although they can be cut down if desired, for our 20 inch wheels). Removable wheels are great for the box. You may well end up in a situation where you have no suitable trolley (as I did on this trip in the pouring rain at Gatwick – also testing the waterproofness of the box) and the box works best when pushed on the optional removable wheels. It may not fit through a doorway on a trolley.

Each airline sets its own widely varying conditions as to the carriage of bikes and the terms must be studied carefully based on the airline ticket you have bought. You are never going to make anyone’s day easier by turning up with a large bike box, so it is important to study the detailed requirements of the carrier (and potentially each airport and other transport modality you are going to use) as you think through your trip from home to destination.

While initially it may appear patronising or tedious to consider each step, I shall go through them as there is a chain of events to get your bike safely to your destination – and back – and you must get it right at each stage. The basic ‘rules’ are to comply with all technical rules and make life as easy as possible for those who have to deal with you.

For its first trip, I was flying EasyJet with my family from Jersey – London Gatwick – Tenerife and return. Firstly the cost. At Christmas 2016, EasyJet charged £35 per flight – so that was £140 (but it has now gone up to £40 per flight). EasyJet set no stated maximum dimensions, but there is a weight limit, as there is for any non-cargo item of 32kg. The 32kg can be pooled with other bought luggage allowances (eg you buy the usual 20kg, so have 52kg). In itself 32kg is easy to achieve with the Arc. I think that it is possible to make 23kg, but that would involve stripping the Arc of a lot of kit and putting that in other baggage.

Step 1: disassembly. Firstly you need time – and practice. If you attempt this without leaving adequate time, then you will either do an inadequate job (so that you cannot transport the bike at all – or safely), damage your bike, or annoy your family (by spending all of your time on your bike), or impact on the completion of your pre-holiday work. This is not a good start to a family holiday, where you want to fit in some riding, or fair to your own colleagues, clients or customers (who need your attention before you go away). I practised beforehand and got my Arc boxed up in plenty of time, so that it did not impact on anyone else. We know from long-distance cycling trips that packing should not be left until the last moment otherwise mistakes are made, vital kit forgotten – and equally vital sleep missed!

You will need a 15mm wrench or pedal wrench and other professional grade tools well-suited to speedy disassembly, without damaging the bike or the screws/fixings. Remove the axles from the drive arm and swing arm. You do not need to remove the foot platform separately.

Front wheel is obviously removed. However it is necessary to remove the rear wheel as well – and ideally the derailleur. If the derailleur is not removed then you have to carefully fold it under and adjust the cabling to fit the bike in the box and accept a greater risk of damage by not being able to fully protect the derailleur. A failure to protect each item may mean that the bike may be unusable when you arrive at your destination.

Protection was achieved with bubble wrap and similar spare packaging (from online purchases) coupled with packaging from the ElliptiGO delivery box, velcro straps, pipe insulation and a swimming woggle – whatever is light and practical and available. Spacers should be put in the drop outs. Remember to also protect the box from the bike. The minor damage suffered on this trip was to the inside of the box from the bike. Kick-stand is removed and mud guard, after removal of the rear wheel. Handle bars and stem are obviously removed in the usual way.

You can turn forks inwards to adjust the fit but it will fit with the forks either way in a 140cm box. Chain should be covered. Wheel skewers removed. Extreme care should be taken in carefully removing and storing any screws and carrying spares. Tyres need to be deflated for travel. Ensure that you have a travel pump with enough power and a pressure gauge. Take spares of all items that might be needed. Do not take anything not permitted by the airline or the airport. If these items are in your bike box then your bike may not fly. Lighter weight tyres might be necessary eg Schwalbe Marathon Plus 560g versus Schwalbe Durano plus 315g. However you need to make sure that your tyres are fit for purpose for your destination.

A 140cm box will go in a VW T5 transporter passenger van with third row seats folded up or removed. We were able to travel in comfort to the airport with six large hold cases, six generous hand luggage cases, six passengers and the bike box. Having to go the airport in two vehicles is just extra hassle you can do without. I have not experimented with whether there is safe and legal way to secure the box to my VW or Westfalia bike racks but that offers a possibility for transporting the 160 or 180 cm box but you also need to be able to get it from the airport to your destination accommodation.

Mutllingual fragile stickers and large print laminated address/flight details were applied to the box as an added precaution. Liberal application of “fragile” tape was added. Extra tape was applied to seal certain joins (on the pieces that make up the box) and to stop bulging at the top (which makes fitting of the lid easier). This is important, in case you have to remove it to show the contents to customs, or it is inspected (not in your presence) and customs have to refit the lid. Make it easier for them, as you should for everyone you have to come into contact with in this whole process. The box is not lockable. The bike should be insured – and a receipt and travel documents carried to prove that it has had relevant taxes paid and is simply being transported for holiday (and not permanently exported/imported).

 

The full foot platform assembly weighs 2.16kg each so weight could be saved if these are put elsewhere as they have to be removed and are particularly heavy.

As well as meeting airline criteria, the box must meet airport criteria and these should be checked. Usually, bike boxes need to be booked in at an oversize luggage counter, after being weighed and tagged at the main luggage counter – but each airport may have its own arrangements and this is not always the case. Extra time must be allowed to get through these procedures when you check in.

Bike boxes are loaded onto the luggage belt lying down, so the height of the box has to be able to fit onto the belt. The 80cm height of my bike box seemed to fit reasonably snuggly. If the box is heavier than 32kg then you run the risk of it simply being rejected by the airline or the airport – but this may also depend on the type of ticket and the airline being used. The heavier it is, the more hassle it is for the handlers, so take this risk at your peril. I may customise the bike box in the future to make it easier for the handlers to carry (which avoids the likelihood of the box being moved about inappropriately or dropped heavily). If you are travelling on your own then think through how you will transport your bike box together with your other luggage from home to check-in.

Collection at the other end may also be at an oversize collection point, so allow time for this and check the box carefully on collection, reporting any damage before leaving the collection facility. Ensure that any taxi or rental vehicle you book is big enough to take the passengers, luggage and the bike box – or that other form of transport will accept the box. You will need somewhere to store the bike securely at your destination, to store the bike box and to perform the assembly in conditions of good visibility.

Care should be taken with reinserting screws on the bike, so that damage is not done and they are not lost in fitting them. Respect the fact that you may be riding the ElliptiGO in a foreign country and have in play all safety devices for the GO and for the rider – lights, helmet and visibility. Make sure you know the restrictions or requirements for day and night riding in the country you are riding in and comply with them. As a foreigner on a bike you are vulnerable. Ensure that your travel or other insurances cover you for anything that might happen while your bike is in transit, in use or in storage.

Before your first proper ride, perform a test ride at your accommodation and double-check your reassembly for safety (and to ensure that your bike is ready to perform reliably). Have a copy of your instruction manual with you and comply with all safety requirements carefully: you are dissembling the bike and riding in a foreign land, or new place. Both present potential risks. Ensure that your bike is fully serviced before your trip. Remember all the accessories you need to have the most enjoyable use of your ElliptiGO in your destination. Expect not to be able to purchase or replace any item while away.

Obviously, every step of the process needs to be reversed for the return trip, so the same provisos all apply, particularly allowing for extra time at each stage and change your laminated address/flight details.  Minor damage was caused to the box by the bike, as I have mentioned, but nothing that causes me concern – and I shall take more care next time. Bike boxes are always going to take a battering during transit and the construction/design of this particular box means it is not going to last forever. This is an intentional part of the compromise (not a criticism) but it now has four flights under its belt and I am pleased with it.

Now for the riding…

There is only any point of going to the expense and effort of acquiring a bike box and taking your Arc away with you if you are going to get some significant use out of it.  Otherwise, it is simply easier and cheaper to rent a basic bike and maybe ride out of the saddle whenever the mood takes you. If there is an ElliptiGO rental available then that presents another option in some countries. I have borrowed an ElliptiGO on previous trips to Tenerife and I’ve heard there are rental options in some parts of Spain and the Canary Islands.

Although originally a runner, I have ridden basic hotel hire bikes on holiday in the Canary Islands for a number of years.  Until I became involved in long-distance Audax cycling, through my ElliptiGO riding, those rides were usually relatively short, but hilly. That is easy to achieve in Tenerife, as the whole island is practically that part of the Teide volcano which peaks out above the Atlantic ocean.  Teide is in fact the highest island in either the North or South Atlantic at 3718m.  The highest point which can be reached by road is 2350-2400m but from the south the road peaks at 2200m before levelling and dropping down slightly into the crater before it eventually rises again.  My definition of climbing Teide is to do the continuous climb from the sea shore to 2200m.

Following my introduction to Audax long-distance cycling in 2014, I rode the Teide road from sea level to 2200m in one continuous climb (by bike) at Christmas in 2014.  This was the scene of my revelatory experience of riding my hotel hire bike, trying to hold off an overtaking cyclist on a road bike, and rising out of my saddle to prolong the chase by what I thought would be a mere few seconds.  Powered by my ElliptiGO legs, but still very much to my surprise,  I remained out of the saddle for the next half hour until I reached 2200m.  The cyclist was left way behind. I later learned that some cyclists actually use ElliptiGO training to improve their hill climbing on conventional bikes.

The next step for me was to try climbing Mt Teide by ElliptiGO – and I was lucky enough to be able to do this successfully on an ElliptiGO 8S (at Christmas 2015). Another year on and I had another challenge.  I got an ElliptiGO Arc and had two months experience on it before flying with it (and the family) to Tenerife for Christmas 2016.

 

Living in Jersey, Channel Islands,  I get very little in the way of practice for large hill climbs, but do my by best on and off the ElliptiGOs to prepare. Since the 2015 ride I had taken part in the ElliptiGO European and World Championships on the mountains Revard and Palomar respectively.  I had also ridden Alpe D’Huez and Revard again in training, so my experience of big ascents by ElliptiGO had multiplied.  As a successful member of the ElliptiGO Ultra Endurance 2015 PBP Team (1230k/90 hours – Paris Brest Paris) I also have the advantage and experience of long rides, so the prospect of pacing for a 3-4 hour climb is a relatively routine prospect.

The two new challenges were travelling with the ElliptiGO by aeroplane and the fact that I would be doing the hill climb on an ElliptiGO Arc, rather than the Long-stride version which has more efficiency over long rides than the Arc.  I consider that I am still serving my ‘apprenticeship’ on the Arc and had gone into a relative rest season after the various ElliptiGO Championships and the learning phase on the Arc.  Ultimately, every rider has got to find the set up which works best for them on the Arc for the particular ride they want to do.  The Arc also demands respect, being more intense in the thighs than the Long-stride version.

Trying to cram as much climbing in on the Arc resulted in some soreness after the first three days in Tenerife, but I was doing extreme climbing and have an extensive ‘back catalogue’ of running injuries, so I reduced the pivot setting (step height) from my usual level 4 to level 3, for the rest of the trip.  I have not adjusted the default foot setting of 2.5 since getting the Arc.  My shoe size is Euro 41 or 42 and my height is 1.74m.  My handlebars were set at level 10 for this trip. I still think there are plenty more adjustments to potentially be made, until I am confident that I have the best fit.

The first few days had climbing on slopes of up to 15% in gradient. It becomes a full-body experience to climb for extended periods on such steep gradients on the ElliptiGO Arc.  Following six days of riding, with a cumulative ascent totalling just over 5,000m, I took a rest day on 31 December and checked the route for the next day’s main climb to the top of Mt Teide.  The other days of climbing had allowed me to work on my climbing technique for the Arc, which differs from the 11R. I also worked on gear selection (and my ideal heart rate numbers – which would act as a limiter on my effort level).

For those that know Tenerife: I decided to start just before sunrise from a point in Los Cristianos which gave me the most direct route to the TF 28 mountain road, turning left onto the TF 51 to Arona at La Camella, heading up to Vilaflor where the road becomes the TF 21.  I then followed the TF 21 up Teide until I reached 2200m.  This route is a 35k climb at 6.3% with a full 2200m of ascent from sea level.  The gradient is fairly steady in the range of 5-8% which is a nice range to operate the Arc within.  My cautious schedule was 4 hours, although I hoped to be able to maintain an average of 10kph (to get me up in 3.5 hours).  My average speed stayed around 11kph and I kept an eye on all my data streams, while staying tuned to how I was feeling.

The execution of most the ride was mundane.  There was nothing to report for the first three hours.  I know the road and everything proceeded smoothly.  After pushing harder from about 2.15 hours into the ride, my quads started to ‘blow’ at 3.00 hours into the ride.  When that happens on the mountain it is difficult to recover, while still climbing.  I eased my legs through the last 10 minutes, looking for the least problematic gear before, reaching my target in 3 hours and 13 minutes (see ride data on this link).

Vilaflor (elevation 1400-1500m) is the highest town in Spain

Most of the climb was done using gears 1-3.  I find there can sometimes be a tendency to ride the Arc with a forceful contraction of the quads. This tendency has to be modified for long mountain climbs.  Too high a cadence can also cause problems. The problem you are trying to avoid is cramping in the quads which can cruelly end your ride.

It is necessary to wrap up warmly if you want to enjoy the descent of Teide. One can get very cold while coasting down such a long mountain – not exercising at all (and still covered in sweat). The descent is exhilarating though. I retraced my steps in 49 minutes, so 80% up and 20% down, completing the whole 70km ride in about 4 hours, without incident.

I had 1.9 litres of zero-calorie electrolyte drink with me, plus energy bars, on top of a large breakfast.  On Teide I always carry an emergency pack with a whistle, head torch, phone and energy bar in my cycling top.  This is to cover the possibility of a cycling accident.  I wore a high-visibility vest over my wind top for the descent.  It is also important to remember (when departing before sunrise) to apply sun cream.

My preference is to ride the whole climb without stopping, as I did last year on the ElliptiGO 8S, so kit needs to be organised in advance to make this possible.  This year I had to stop momentarily to put more clothes on, as the weather was colder than normal, even as I climbed.  Emergency clothing and other precautionary items (including waterproofing of key items) is needed when venturing into remote mountain territory.  Although a tool kit was carried, the Arc performed wonderfully for the climb, as it did for the rest of the rides I did.

Billy Grace.

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