Cycling – Turning a Tadpole Trike into an Offroad Sandhog

Okay, this had the potential to be one of those “Hey honey, hold my beer and watch this!” moments that have provided amusement for the ladies in our lives.  This one involved a 14.5 mile round-trip ride from the Bluffton Post Office on FM2241 to RR261 to the east/south, to Shaw Island Road, to the end of Shaw Island and then across the dry lake bottom to the ruins of Old Bluffton. It is a Mountain Bike Ride due to the segments out and back on the lake bed which is very sandy in places.  
This ride is not suitable for road bikes, motorcycles or cars/trucks (the latter being subject to some hefty fines if caught.)  While I describe it as a mountain bike route, it is not very technical… except for the deep, soft, sandy parts.


A couple of cycling friends, John Chalmers and Don Senzig rode mountain bikes out from the end of Shaw Island Road, across the dry lake bottom to the remains of Old Bluffton a few weeks ago. They said it was a tough ride because of the stretches of deep granite sand and the eroded dirt path where the sand was not just a deep bike-eating morass.


Since my faithful very low-slung steed, a Catrike Road, is just not gonna do that, I had to get creative to come up with a way to make that ride. We have Peggy’s first tadpole-style trike, a Sun EZ – Tad sitting on the carport collecting spider webs and bird droppings, so it became the basis of a solution to the challenge of being able to make the ride out to Old Bluffton’s ruins.


First the front tires were removed and replaced by Schwalbe Marathon Plus tires. These tires have a thick foam anti-puncture strip molded in, so that the indigenous curse of barefooted Texan Boys, the goat-head sticker (a seed of Satan himself, I am sure) would be frustrated in its collective effort to ruin cycling for everyone in the state. Then the rear tire was replaced by a standard Schwalbe Marathon which has a relatively thick tread and rigid sidewalls to give better push through the sandy stretches and provide fair puncture resistance.  I removed excess lights and made sure that shifting through the lower gears was going to work well and then called John up to see if he would be my guide for the intended expedition. Sounding somewhat bemused that I would even attempt to ride a low-slung tadpole-style trike in the sand he warned me we would be encountering, John agreed to “show me the way to Old Bluffton”, if not San Jose.

Starting from the Bluffton Post Office, the route map – shows the lake as it would look if full.
The route, shown on Google Earth, shows the last 1.4 miles on dry land not under 18 feet of water, and there is another 3/4 of a mile that we did not ride on out to the east.

The tires on the front are relatively low pressure rated and made my Catrike just plain scary to ride as the machine tended to rock and roll about “the roll axis”.  In cornering they made the Catrike exhibit the terrifying understeer of a 1955 Buick as they would deform so far that they looked like they might peel right off the rim. But this mission was not about speed, it was about not sinking up to my eyeballs in sand.  Still, the ride from the Bluffton Post Office where we started, across RR261 to Shaw Island Road and then down to where the pavement ended was a hand-full on that rig. Rather than the understeer that I had experienced with these tires on my Catrike, this beast had more oversteer that a 1955 Porsche, but retained all the body roll of the 1955 Buick. At around 15mph, I just stopped all pedaling out of a very heightened sense of self-preservation. And if the beast was still gaining speed I VERY carefully applied some brakes. And we made it down to the end of the pavement without the loss of any skin. Then it got very different… not the skin part, just the riding surface and terrain.


Leaving the pavement involved dropping off the pavement down a roughly 20 foot-long incline which descended by about 8 feet, with gulches a foot or more deep eroded down through it, on which I barely kept the trike from rolling over. That was short but intense.


We then proceeded east on a dirt pathway beaten (and softened up) by numerous idiots in 4×4 dually trucks seeking a place to get stuck. The many deep tracks suggested that a bunch of those duffuses had succeeded in their quest for hub-deep decomposed granite sand. We worked our way around those and through several long difficult patches of loose, very deep, sand.  At one point I came out of a 50 yard stretch of that stuff, with the trike geared down to its lowest gear and glanced at my heart rate monitor to see that I was at 145 beats per minute.


On my Catrike out on paved roads, it takes climbing a 10% grade for a couple of minutes to get my heart rate that high.  This was tough. My thighs were screaming from the effort, though they handle 30-50 mile rides in the hills with little real discomfort and have made plenty of much longer rides with minimal suffering. This was really tough at times.


At that point, I looked in my rear view mirror and saw that John was a long way back, walking his mountain bike.

I stopped and took a picture back towards John Chalmers as he remounts after a soft/deep stretch.

I stopped, took a picture and rested while he caught up. He expressed some surprise at how easily I had made it through that segment. He noted that with three wheels I could power through the bad spots where the rear wheel would start digging sideways. In those cases he had to bail and walk it or take a tumble in the sand (and goat head stickers), while I just steered into the skid and maintained steady power (no matter how much it made my thighs burn). Since I did not worry about falling over, I could wear cleats and both push and pull on the pedals to keep the power to the rear wheel from surging and therefore digging in. Knowing what he faced, John had not worn shoes which allowed him to cleat in. We had found a surprising benefit to the trike.


We eventually made it down to the area of the ruins. The area would be under about 18 feet of water if the lake were full.

Old Bluffton starts just ahead and to the right. There is more of it to the left and across the peninsula.


Looking south towards the dam from the position of the previous picture, one looks across 5 miles of wide-open, beautiful, sailing water! And the lake is down 33 feet in this picture! Bloody big lake!

There is an old well, foundations of several buildings and lots of broken glass which was, except for a few broken beer bottles (no doubt delivered via dually duffuses),  very old glass from the looks of it.

Mountain Biking, Lake Buchanan, ruins of old Bluffton
John peers down into the old well shaft. Water is there maybe 10 feet below.
Mountain bike, Old Bluffton, Lake Buchanan

As taking ANYTHING from this site is a serious violation of the law, people gather the bits and pieces of glass and metal they find and place them on chunks of old foundations for others to see. This must drive the archeologists mad.


I know that most people mean well. But archeologists want to find it undisturbed so they can see what is with it.... sigh.




There is also the remains of the old cemetery. When the lake was being built, most of those buried there were disinterred and then reburied in the new cemetery on what is now FM2241, about a mile west of the Bluffton Store (which had also been relocated.) There are signs asking visitors to not drive through the old cemetery as archeologists have discovered that there are still some possible graves there… the Dually Dumb-Ass Society members clearly cannot read, since there were fresh ruts where some had been stuck deep and been dragged out.

John and I wandered around, each thinking our own thoughts about the people who lived and died here from the 1850s until around 1930. There was a ferry at one time for crossing the Colorado River at Bluffton on the way from Burnet to Llano. Later a bridge was built, but what ever may be left of it is still well below the surface of Lake Buchanan.  A couple of miles east there was once a salt seep which was VERY important to settlers.  Soldiers at the fort in Burnet were shown this by Comanches (they were not ALWAYS taking scalps.) Old Bluffton was supposedly sited to be near both the salt works and a stretch of the river which would accommodate a ferry boat.

After a while we climbed back aboard our trusty steeds and started pedaling back towards the Shaw Island area. We followed a different path back, hoping for a bit less deep stuff to deal with but both had to walk through one area.

The trike performed well and all went quickly until we arrived at the short steep wash out that connected the lake bottom to Shaw Island Road. When the lake is up, this is kept smooth and is a neighborhood launching ramp. I made it about 2/3 of the way up when, with my left front down in a deep wash the trike’s right wheel began to come off the ground. I stopped and carefully extracted myself from the trike while John chuckled about my near-rollover. I then dragged the darn thing up and onto the pavement.


John and I stopped briefly once back on the pavement at the end of Shaw Island.

We stopped for a couple of minutes for me to make some adjustments to try to make riding the “dirt-trike” on pavement less “exciting” (it was better, but still nowhere near as stable and quick as the Catrike). Then we rode on back up to RR261 and on to our starting point at the current Bluffton Post Office.

It worked!  I had, with little effort, turned a tadpole trike into a pretty good way to go where mountain bikes often bog down.  John was impressed and said so, but I want to make it better yet. To make the EZ-Tad a better machine for this type of ride, I need to try putting a 20 inch BMX bike tire on the rear wheel and maybe on both fronts to keep from sinking into the deep and loose stuff, but the handling on the road may get even scarier with those changes. I guess it is inevitable that no one machine will perform well in sand and at high speed on pavement.  Still, I just must try to make it work even better!  More later as that develops.

The ride was, in total, 14.56 miles in length and took 2 hours and 9 minutes including the time we spent walking around looking at the ruins.  My heart rate Maxed at 153BPM with an average of 110 and I burned 896 calories (but it felt like more to my thighs during those stretches of soft/deep sand.

10 responses to “Cycling – Turning a Tadpole Trike into an Offroad Sandhog

  1. Hi Don,
    First of all: happy new year to you!
    I really enjoyed reading this post, especially as I have been on my bicycle in that area before. But, of course, I’ve never seen Lake Buchanan that low.
    Best regards, and safe bicycling,

  2. Happy New Year, Don! Epic ride. Let’s hope it becomes impossible to repeat before 2012 is done.

  3. What a trike trek! Love the photos. I think I will just hike out there on foot.

  4. Bill Rogge . That is a real trip. I did not realize that the machine you were gona ride is/was a 3 wheel (barly) simular to your regular 3 wheel machine.I assumed it was a regular 2 wheel bike. I found this article very interisting.
    Please excuse the spelling.
    Thanks Unk Willy

    • Uncle Willie,

      I like trikes because if I want to stop and have a couple of beers I don’t worry about falling off my ride later! German logic, ja?

      Don Bynum – Sent from my Xoom.

  5. Pingback: Texas Bicycling Daily News Roundup January 2nd «

  6. I have a Sun EZ3 that I am putting 20″ Bell / DuPont Kevlar MX tires on so I can go off road, p/n 1002013. I have Schwalbe Big Apples on it now. I expect a BIG diffeence! We will see.

  7. Hi there! I just would like to give a huge thumbs up for the nice info you have
    got right here on this post. I will be coming again to
    your blog for more soon.

  8. Thoroughly enjoyed the article on the old Bluffton ruins.
    My Mother L.V. Nobles Delz was born in Old Bluffton and lived there until the lake was being built, my Grandfather W.F.”Buck” Nobles was one of the residents that helped move the graves to the new cemetery just before he moved the family to a ranch near Lone Grove. My Grandfather and his brothers were pioneer fencebuilders in Llano County and my Great Uncle Len Nobles was the Church of Christ Minister in that area for many years.
    Thanks, enjoyed the info !

    • Gary,

      I have met some of your relatives here in the area and know one well enough to consider him to be a good friend. Your family has deep roots around here.

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