Because it is there? That was one of the best answers I could come up with when family and friends asked why I suddenly had to ride from Cleveland to Cincinnati in one go. I was referring to the Ohio to Erie Trail, a collection of gravel tow paths, Amish Country farm roads, and bicycle rail-trails that loosely link up to form one continuous path from Cleveland to Cincinnati or vice versa. Due to the fact that I live close to the trail in Cincinnati, I’m quite familiar with one quarter of it, but in all my years living here I’ve never explored the entire route.
A few years ago I actually ordered the collection of maps to potentially plan out a ride, but for a number of reasons it never happened. That is, until the build for this review bike started coming together and I realized it would be a perfect chance to put in a lot of miles in a short amount of time, and check this ride off the bucket list as well.
We operate with a pretty lean crew here at Bikerumor, which means the ability to go for an extended ride where you’ll be mostly off the grid is pretty limited. Because of that, the number 72 popped into my head while planning this ride. As in 72 hours seemed like a reasonable amount of time to ride 367 flat-ish miles, without being away from the site for too long. Technically, the Ohio to Erie Trail (OTET) is 326 miles from end to end, but I planned to ride back to my house after reaching the Ohio River. Since I preferred to finish at my house, that meant starting in Cleveland which meant that I had to get there first.
Since I planned to start on a weekday and it would be an 8h+ round trip drive for anyone to drive me to the start, I ended up looking for an alternative way to get to Lake Erie. That’s when I stumbled on the Ohio Trail Shuttle run by Brian Peters. Brian offers multiple options for pick up and drop off, and for me, he was able to pick me up at 7am in order to get me to the trail head by noon. An end to end shuttle runs $125, but I did the math – it’s cheaper than renting a one-way car, and way more convenient than anything else. You also get to ride in a comfortable Ford Transit van with your bike safely stored inside as you prepare for your ride. If you’re considering an OTET ride and need transportation, it’s definitely worth the price.
Time to get started
After being dropped off at Edgewater Beach park and taking the obligatory photos and dipping my wheel in Lake Erie, I had no choice but to hop on my bike and start pedaling. Leading up to this ride, I only managed to get a few rides in on the completed Why Cycles PR, so this would truly be a trial by fire.
One of the things that makes the PR a great bike for an adventure like this is its geometry. Sitting somewhere between a full on race bike and a sit up and beg comfort road bike, the PR seems to be comfortable in a wide range of settings. That was quickly apparent when the paved bike paths and streets of Cleveland changed into the gravel tow paths of the Ohio & Erie Canal Towpath Trail. At 5’8″, I found that the medium PR frame fits very well with just a tiny bit of toe overlap while running the bigger tires.
While much of the gravel was fine and fairly compacted, there were plenty of sections where it was rough enough that a race oriented road bike with smaller tires would have been seriously outgunned. This was especially true for the sections with detours due to trail improvements which had large, chunky gravel that had signs warning riders to walk. Of course I rode through everything, but just barely in some sections. The 28mm Continental GP5000 TL tires (which really measure 30mm on the Zipp 303 Firecrest rims) were as small as I would want to go for this section.
Over the years my road bikes have collected more dust, but the Why PR has changed that. I think a lot of that has to do with the clearance for larger tires which provide a comfortable ride in almost all conditions without giving up much in terms of outright speed. In fact, combined with the 303 Firecrest wheels, this bike feels incredibly fast in most situations.
That speed, especially in a straight line helped to check off some big days over the course of the ride. Due to my late start on the first day, the roughly 70 miles of gravel, and limited hotel options, I posted up for the night in Massilon, OH. The next day proved to be one of my favorites of the trip as the OTET forces you through miles of picturesque farm roads through Amish Country with hardly any cars and a few decent hills. Out there with limited cell signal and sometimes no people for miles, it pays to be self sufficient. Thankfully, I didn’t need any of my tools or spares for the entire trip as the build was flawless.
A (minor) brake issue
Weeks after the ride though I did have an issue with the SRAM brakes which turned out to be a fairly easy fix. While riding, the front brake lever started pulling closer and closer to the bar – the brake would still engage, but the excessive pull meant the lever bottomed out against the handlebar and eventually caused the brake to become very weak. It turns out that the pistons had gummed up with dirt or debris and going through the disc brake pad advancement procedure (page 93 of the manual) with a little Speed Clean on the pistons fixed the issue. I performed the procedure once, and it’s been good since.
Other than that, there have been zero issues with the bike and I haven’t even had to charge the eTap batteries with more than 1,000 miles on the bike. Update: Apparently, I posted this two days too soon in terms of the battery life. My Wahoo ROAM GPS showed me a neat trick that I didn’t know it could do today as it flashed a low battery warning for the AXS group. I don’t know how much battery is actually left, but this warning popped up before my ride, and after an hour and a half, both derailleurs were still working. But hitting ‘more’ on the ROAM shows that both derailleur batteries are critical.
I first built and charged the drivetrain on April 26th, so the batteries lasted until August 24th with at least 1000 miles of riding.
eTap – don’t forget the Blips!
Overall, the eTap group has been excellent. After the initial learning curve required to figure out the shifting (left or right buttons move the rear derailleur up or down, hit both at the same time to shift the front derailleur), it quickly becomes second nature. You also quickly get used to the ability to just hold down one of the buttons to shift up or down multiple gears on the cassette when coming to stop or preparing for a climb or descent. But more than anything, I absolutely love the Blips. I had no idea how much I would actually use them, but after riding with them for a while, I immediately miss them on any other bike. Being able to quickly grab or drop a gear without moving your hands from the top of the bar is surprisingly useful when climbing or even just riding along. If I were to build another eTap bike, it would absolutely include a set of Blips. Also, compared to SRAM’s previous hoods, the shape of the eTap AXS hoods are excellent. The shape is comfortable without any hard edges, and the textured hood works well without gloves to provide plenty of grip even when soaked with sweat.
Between the Blips, the hood shape and lever adjustability, the Zipp Service Course SL Ergo-80 profile, and the thick Zelvin Big40 bar tape, I was incredibly pleased with the front end of the bike. I have some issues with hand numbness and I ride without gloves, so the extra thickness of the Big40 tape (plus an extra strip up top) was welcomed. The Farr Aero Bolt-on was useful, though not quite as much as I expected. It could stand to be a little longer for road bike geometry, though it worked great on a marathon MTB set up that I used recently which is really more of its design focus.
While I don’t recommend swapping out your saddle days before a ride of this length, I was happy I did. The Specialized Power Pro saddle kept me comfortable for hours on end. Saddles are a very personal thing, but for me the shape of the Power saddle and its short nose work for me.
In terms of gearing, the wide range of the 46/33t crank and 10-33t cassette proved to be plenty for even a loaded bike that weighed more than 30lbs. I probably could have used a larger chainring set, but the 46-10 combination was stout enough for most high speed riding. Having the 1 to 1 ratio is good for days that you feel like spinning up climbs with a heavy bike. Shifting is effortless and precise, and while it might not be as quick as some of the faster drivetains, it was never an issue. Thinking about the shifting more critically, it might just be your perception since the button press is a quicker movement than pushing a paddle. You press the button and have to wait for the shift to complete, whereas as soon as you’re done pushing the paddle, the shift is completed. So the shift speed might not actually be different, but the way you perceive it changes.
As you might expect, when riding hundreds of miles in a few days, comfort is paramount. Thankfully, the PR build delivered in nearly every way. The frame offers the refined ride of titanium, but without being too springy or inefficient. The PR is one of the stiffer titanium frames I’ve ridden, but in a good way. Get out of the saddle to sprint, and the PR rewards you with near instant acceleration. But at the same time it’s all-day comfortable so you feel almost as fresh at mile 120 as you do at mile 1. It’s also versatile enough to load up with enough gear to do a three day credit card tour one day, and then strip it down the next to do a fast road ride with your friends.
Continental GP5000 TL – no flats, no problem
Surely some of that comfort was provided by the wide tires and thick bar tape, though the GP5000 TLs have a fairly firm ride feel. To me, Continental tires have always been on the firm side, but that’s offset by their durability. I have yet to puncture these tires, and that includes riding through a lot of glass, sharp gravel, dirt trails, extremely rough roads, and more. They also seems to hold pressure fairly well with only a drop of 2-5psi per day when inflated to 80psi with a typical portion of Stan’s liquid. Continental recommends 65-94psi for the 700c x 28mm size, and I found myself riding them around 70psi for days with a lot of gravel to 80psi for days that were mostly pavement. Based on their durability, grip, and size, I have been extremely happy with these tires.
The same goes for the wheels that those tires are mounted to. This is the first pair of Zipp wheels that I’ve used that seem like the complete package. Most of that is due to the hubs – in my experience, Zipp hubs have usually been the weak point of the wheels but these are different. They’re simple, reliable, durable, and fit just about any dropout combination you could want. Even after many hard miles there is zero detectable play, and the freehub offers quick engagement.
The rims are also noteworthy in that they provided noticeable aero benefits for much of the ride without feeling like a handful in crosswinds. They’ve also held up to countless wheelies, drops off of curbs, offroad and gravel abuse, and generally hard riding on a daily basis. The days of your carbon wheels being “race day only” seem to be long gone. I have used these wheels every day since I built this bike, and even though they’re often covered in mud, they still ride as good as new.
Initially, when I set out to do this ride, there were a lot of unknowns. I had never ridden anything this distance unsupported. The bike itself had just a handful of rides on it, and none were anywhere near as long as I had planned to ride. What would the trail conditions be like? Would the weather hold?
But after rolling back into my garage after successfully pedaling for 367 miles in well under 72 hours, a number of things became clear. Most importantly, you’re always capable of way more than you think. I had never ridden 120 miles in a single day before, but after seeing the odometer click over 120 I realized that I easily could have kept going. To me, that was one of the biggest goals of this ride – to find my perceived limits and ride past them.
And then there’s the bike. Often, builds don’t live up to the expectations built up in my head, but in this case it surpassed them. I honestly don’t think I could have built a better bike to meet my goals for this ride with the exception of adding top tube mounts to the frame for a bolt-on gas tank style bag. I’ll dive into the gear selection for this ride in another post, but in terms of the bike, the PR was exceptional. The ability to only run SRAM eTap drivetrains (until Shimano or Campy comes out with a full wireless group) may be a limiting factor for some, but the Force eTap AXS group has proven to be worthy of the build and it’s far more affordable than its RED level counterpart. The ultimate review criteria is whether or not I would add this to my personal collection, and I really don’t want to send the PR back home, so I think I’ll have to make this one a permanent addition to the fleet.