Archive for the “Techology” Category
WIth a more than well stocked shed, these days I am only ever on the market for a new bike when an old one breaks or something absolutely exceptional comes along. Or when I am offered a bike to test ride.
Living as I do in an area with equal measure of rural car-lean dirt and sealed roads, not to mention a fortune of off-road riding opportunities that I have hitherto neglected to exploit even to a reasonable minimum, I tend to devote my cycling pleasures pretty evenly between road and mountain biking. I could not live without either and reckon that having the choice keeps my cycling passions alive; mountain and road biking are far enough apart in terms of experience to stop cycling from ever becoming a chore.
Plus, when you allow both road and mountain bikes into your pool, the landscape of stuff over which to geek out is wonderfully broad! I can get just as excited by the astounding perfection of Campagnolo’s (relatively) recent Super Record EPS as I can by SRAM’s gut bustingly brilliant XX1.
So when I spotted my first ever KTM hard tail mountain bike in my local cycling store, I suspect that I must have become something like Toad of Toad Hall: mesmerised; because an hour passed for which I still can’t account.
Like most people with at least a passing interest in off road adventure motorcycling, KTM is one of the main range peaks. Their machines are purposeful, efficient, high performance and expensive. So, not knowing that KTM were also into bicycles, seeing this machine was cause enough to stop and stare. Unlike those badge engineered bikes from Ferrari, Aston Martin and the like, KTM is a serious bicycle maker and has been since the 1960′s. Though the motorcycle and bicycle divisions are completely separate, there is a definite cross over in terms of highly intentional, engineering-first design, a fixation on performance and that wonderful corporate KTM colour scheme! Orange on (carbon) black is my favourite combination and, as far as I know, unique to KTM.
You can’t miss the KTM Myroon 29er bike in any crowd. The frame on this thing is utterly unique.
I love hard tails. I have always preferred them to their dual suspension counterparts. I love the relatively greater manoeuvrability and the potential for a stiffer frame. I love the more direct transmission of power (without the energy sponging that a rear shock usually imposes between the pedals and the rear wheel). I have a theory that us roadies will tend towards hard tails for the more ‘road bike’ like manners that an unsuspended rear usually provides. But hard tails are also a vastly better option for hard fast rides on our endless local dirt roads and fire trails. I love the relative simplicity of a hard tail over the complications of all those linkages and other moving bits that a dual suspension bike necessitates. And best of all, I love the speed. I will always contend that a good hard tail with always be faster than a good dual susser, on fast open trails. Horses for courses though. Dual suspended bikes still rule in the rough stuff and KTM have a range of double bouncers as well.
So, as you can now understand, I am preconditioned to noticing an interesting hard tail when I see one. And this KTM is the most interesting bike I have seen in years.
For starters, the frame is a seriously purposeful, no compromise XC racing machine and XC is my favourite blend. I love going up hills, vastly more than going down. I love going fast and I have a general disinclination to rough single track. My biases are all tuned to the minimal travel hard tail racing side of things, even when I choose not to race. That’s probably because of my dual bike sport passions (road and mountain).
The first, most interesting feature of the new (ish) KTM is the cleverness of its design. Like so many new road bikes of late, the Myroon 29er frame is designed to flex a bit through the seat stays. Actually, you can watch the stays move vertically when you give the seat tube a good horizontal push. That gives the bike an extra degree of suspension without the cost of extra weight and tricky moving bits, and without, necessarily, adding any undesirable frame flex that gets between your pedals and power applied to the real wheel. That works for my Wilier Zero.7 and Merida Scultura SL road frames. And it certainly works for the KTM Myroon 29er. The KTM Myroon carbon layup includes some secret sauce to produce this intentional flex. I believe KTM is using flax in its composite mix to achieve this aim.
As standard, the Myroon 29er comes with a pretty modest kit. The drive train is Shimano 2×10 SLX with an XT rear derailleur. (There is no way I would ever, ever, consider a triple chain ring mountain bike these days -2×10 is the second best thing to happen to mountain bikes in recent years. 1×11 is better still…). Brakes are also SLX. Nothing wrong with that. Shimano SLX is the greatest bang for the buck you could put on any bike; it works flawlessly, without fuss and, certainly, without pretension. The standard wheels, however, are a bit odd. They are Alex rims with Shimano XT hubs. And schrader valves! (what on earth?? – why?). One gets the impression that these wheels are a kind of dummy inclusion, like those demo plastic pedals some lower end bikes come with, designed to get you out of the shop but not much further. Basically, the standard Myroon wheels are a nasty bean counter’s tattoo on an otherwise remarkable bike. They are filling in the space where real wheels are designed to go. The next most interesting feature of this bike is that it comes standard with through axels front and back. It has a nice 15mm front and a 12mm rear. This is pretty much a requirement for the current state-of-the-art. Then there are the 180mm brake discs front and rear. Which is probably overkill but impressive nonetheless. More subtly, the next thing to note is that the Myroon frame sizing is aimed at the tightest rather than the most luxurious end of the dimension scale. The size L in this frame is the smallest L I have ever owned, which means that it is an utterly perfect fit. Though, mind you, you need to watch the seat post length which is less than generous for people with longer legs. My preferred setting has the post out to its maximum extension limit.
But most intriguingly of all, this bike was a demo bike. For the first time in my life, out of something like 20 bikes purchased thus far, I could try this one out before deciding to buy. Or, really, just to go for a ride! I reckon that KTM Australia’s choice to offer demo bikes to their dealer network is a glowing testimony to their confidence in this particular product. So, naturally, I shoved this bike in my car for a weekend of ‘testing’.
I didn’t need a weekend. Or even an hour. Even in its standard set up, this Myroon 29er is so very obviously unique and very, very special. I was sold 5km down the road.
What we have here is a purpose designed thoroughbred XC racing machine with the unique extra dimension of an amazingly compliant ride. This hard tail is more like a 1.5 suspended bike than a single suspended machine. It rides like a firm dual suspension machine but without the added weight penalties and all the benefits that the shorter hard tail wheel base can provide. But it is heavy. In standard dress, this KTM is 13kg, which is heavier than some higher-end dual suspension bikes (my Scott Spark 900 SL dual suspension bike is 9kg ready to race). But let’s be reasonable here: the Myroon has an asking price of $3000! What could you possibly expect?
But there is more to this picture than meets the eye. Much much more. You see, the KTM Myroon range extends from the entry level at $3000 to a top-end, Shimano XTR decked out spec level at around $7500. But, and let me emphasise this next point as emphatically as I possibly can: every model in the range has exactly the same frame. Every bike in the range has the top-end frame. I am not aware of any other bike maker who does this. Everyone else tends to offer frames that are lighter and more technically advanced as you ascend their range. Not this one. The implication is that this KTM Myroon is an upgrader’s dream. Buy this bike at its bargain basement opening price and up-spec as your finances allow. You can end up at precisely the same point as the top of the range as you play the up grade game. This bike comes with one of the best, most interesting carbon frames you can buy from the start. Who else puts their top-of-the-line frame into the bottom-of-the-line bike in the range?
I left my Myroon in standard spec for 6 months. Mainly because I enjoyed it so much as it came. Notwithstanding the heavy standard wheels, this thing is an endless joy to ride. It is fast wherever you go, compliant when things get rough, astoundingly precise when things get tight, brilliant if not spectacularly brilliant at climbing and comfortable wherever you go and for as long as you’d like any ride to last. This thing has put my Felt 29er (the estimiable, range-topping Carbon 9) hard tail back on the shelf. Despite being 2 kg lighter than the Myroon.
It could not, of course, last. The urge to upgrade is like gravity with a bike like this. But it was a good thing that I waited as long as I did. Because three months after purchasing my Myroon, SRAM introduced their XX1 drivetrain onto the Australian market. I can’t tell you how much I have wanted to throw out the front derailleurs on all my mountain bikes… I rode my KTM 280km from where I live to the coast back in April without needing to change out of the large chain ring, even once. That ride netted me around 7 Strava KOM’s up some amazing hills. However, whenever I look down at my front chain rings, I always imagine the little rings to be reminders of the decrepitudes of forthcoming old age. I don’t want reminders like that on my bikes, thanks all the same! Obviously, I don’t go places where little chain rings might be of some use. Like I said, I avoid the really rough stuff where smaller rings might help out. There is much much more to the XX1 11 speed system than just a single chain ring; it’s a hugely researched total drive chain solution that involves a uniquely huge rear cluster, dedicated hub bodies on your wheels and a dedicated bottom bracket (with ceramic bearings no less). Why hasn’t someone thought of a stock single chain ring solution before now?! XX1 is not the same thing as running a single chain ring on a dual ring spider as seen on cyclocross bikes. Or a single ring fixie solution. XX1 is a purpose-designed total system that works on the principle of simplicity and precision. With the 34 tooth chain ring installed (as opposed to the 32 tooth ring that is supplied standard by SRAM), this XX1 set up gives a gear range that is actually wider than the SLX 2×10 gear spread that comes with the bike. I knew what to expect from XX1 as that is the standard set up on my Scott Spark 900 SL (the best dual suspension bike I have ever ridden, and probably, the most exotic bike I own – a story for another post). I had been riding my Spark for a couple of months before making this Myroon upgrade.
So I had to have XX1 on my KTM Myroon 29er! And I had to reduce my bike’s overall weight closer to 9kg than it’s stock 13. So out went all the Ritchey aluminium bits (bars, stem, seat post). Out went those strange Alex wheels. My new spec is XX1, Mavic Cross Max SL wheels, Niner carbon bars, a Botrager XXX stem, SRAM XO brakes (not the trail version, which are heavier and unnecessary given the front and back 180mm disc size I decided to retain) and a Rock Shox RCT3 SID fork (over the standard Reba RL). But I did keep the original Prologo KTM customised seat. It is only 170gm and looks the part anyway. There was only one issue with this upgrade. The XX1 derailleur will not install on the standard Myroon derailleur hanger. The B screw will not reach and XX1 setup is very (very) dependent on precise B screw adjustment. The Australian KTM distributor just happened to have a replacement hanger in stock to make this all work. That hanger was from some other bike in the KTM range (not sure which). So finding the right hanger might, perhaps, be something of a chance (you’ll need to get the right guy on the ‘phone). KTM designs this bike exclusively for Shimano gears. That we found a hanger that works is good fortune, but I am pretty sure you can’t order an XX1 hanger off the shelf.
The result is more of everything that made this bike brilliant in its standard trim. Now it is faster when it was already fast enough! The suspension is harsher but way more precise and efficient. And those gears! XX1 is perfection on this bike. The Myroon is the fastest, sharpest handling, siffest, most comfortable hard tail I have ever ridden. Actually, it almost disappears when riding on rougher terrain. It feels far smaller than it is, and lighter than it’s now leaner 9.5kg might otherwise suggest. It is massive fun! I have never had a bike like this before. It is simply the best mountain bike I have ever owned. This is the bike to take when the urge to take a few Strava records takes hold. And when riding this bike, the urge to take Strava KOM’s is pretty much turned on all the time!
With all the new bits, my Myroon has cost me $7500, but I have lots of spare parts to build a second bike for the wife… That is still competitive for a top-end XC racing hard tail. Without testing every other hard tail on the market, I would simply suggest that it would be a tall order indeed for anything to outperform my Myroon 29er XX1.
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And the winner is…
After a year of research, dreaming and anticipation, and an entirely spurious attempt to apply the Scientific Method to my selection routine, I whittled a short list of five down to one. The backstory to this search is spread across the previous two Bicyclism Blog posts.
To recap. I created a probably once-in-a-lifetime budget for a no-compromise, largely open choice dream bike by way of legal wranglings and small victories over injustices rendered… to fund a bike that could be ranked as ‘The Best Bike I Have Ever Owned’ (or probably ever will own). I wanted a bike without compromises for my intended purpose of riding fast, long and, simply, to experience abject state-of-the-racing-bike-art. For this brief moment in time, I wanted to know how a perfect synthesis of design and performance might feel on the rides I love, in the places that are meaningful to me. I wanted to taste that top-of-the-line benchmark in the flesh.
Naturally, not everyone will agree with the choice I made, and, therefore, with the reasons for rejecting the other bikes on my short-list as my research progressed. As research is my professional thing (though, admittedly, not usually around the theme of bicycles), I am satisfied that my ultimate choice will not be subject to buyer’s regret over ‘what might have been’.
Especially after the real deal arrived on my dealer’s floor.
Let’s face it. A bike like this is as much art as science. But more. It’s the synthesis of both. And like all syntheses, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Razor sharp technology meets wicked good looks. But this art must also live in the real world. So it has to be good on our crap roads. And, as I ride for pleasure rather than for money (as if…) I want my pleasure rewards to endure, and endure, and endure some more. I want some permanent ecstasy to be going on here. Only a real road cycling nut will understand… I wanted a bike where I’d go out for two hours and come back after five… I want a bike that is totally, utterly and outrageously irresponsible!
I have been caught out before with bikes translating poorly from spec sheets onto the realities of the road. My first attempt at a criterium bike flexed so badly, I literally threw it away. My search for an ultra stiff bike once led me to consider walking instead (that bike lasted two days before I took it back to the store). Up till now, the best bike I have ever ridden on our real world rough as guts rural roads was a Pinarello Paris (I have the Prince too, but it is not as good as the Paris for what I do and where I choose to go). I’ve also spent a year riding a 2012 Giant TCR Advanced Rabobank: a pocket rocket where the magic of stiffness and compliance is artfully under control. The Giant is a great, stunning bike. Until it broke. Yes, all that stiffness ended up with a cracked seat stay. So now a 2013 TCR SL 0 Advanced warranty replacement in on the way. But I am nervous about how this latest generation of silly-light, stiff frames will hold up to keen amateur use. I don’t race these days. But I do ride a lot, seven days a week, 20,000km per year. But I’d happily ride twice that if my family would let me. Which they won’t.
So my short listing of The Perfect Bike needed to account for that magical mix of stiffness and compliance that my Giant, apparently, failed. I want feather light, UCI-illegal light weight, but not at the expense of a bike that breaks. But I also want a bike that I can ride for five hours without feeling all bashed up.
What first caught my eye about the Wilier Zero.7 is its unique use of a composite layered with some ‘secret material’ purpose designed to add compliance and resistance to damage (like cracking!). The reviews I read all indicated that this unique ultra tech composite was indeed equal to a seriously fast but seriously comfortable ride. So I rang the Australian importer and had a yarn. They (DeGrandi) also import Pinarello (the Dogma was also on my short list and I have a long standing Pinarello passion with three in my stable right now). I spoke to a guy who was at the world launch of the Wilier in Italy. His advice was that the Zero.7 would give me a ‘sweeter ride’ than the Dogma. It was genuinely compliant on the road. But also silly light and seriously stiff. A magic mix. The holy cycling grail (hail be to Merckx).
And yes, it really does. Look good. Like art. Nude carbon with flashes of red and strategic bits of white. The pictures looked astonishing. Especially with matching Fulcrum Red Wind XLR or Campagnolo Bora deep rim wheels.
So, I shelved my Dogma plans and cut my short list to four.
Which left me to contemplate the Colnago C59. Which, by pure chance, my local bike shop dealer (Mark of Bullen family track racing fame) just happened to get in for a bit of a look. And look and look I did. Despite being dressed, in this case, in blasphemous Dura Ace. (Italian = Campagnolo. End of). It’s a bit heavy. It’s an interesting mix of old tech pedigree (lugs!) but with a nod to the current state-of-the-art. Retro-current art. Lovely. But it does not punch me in the mouth like the Wilier does. It’s more of a nice warm bath than an electric Zero.7 shock shunted through wet electrodes into the pleasure dome of my mind.
I told you my selection process was rather less than a credible application of the Scientific Method…
Which leaves me with three. The Look 695, the BMC Teammachine SLR 01 and the Wilier.
The Look is great value. But kind of weird. But the deal killer for me is the Look crank. I hate non-groupo cranks. With a passion. Having lived with one on my Specialized S-Works Roubaix and my Pinarello Prince. These things never work as well as the official groupo crank. Plus, I am unsure about the Look stem. It might work OK but you are going to be locked in. It’s as ugly as the stem on my Giant TCR. And the ride reports are rather equivocal. As I said, I don’t race much any more and the Look is looking a bit too purposefully pointed at the racing pro. Plus, I have yet to see one in the flesh. Unlike all the others on my short list. Not that my local dealer can’t get me one if I insist. Nothing is too much trouble for the team in my favourite bike shop. They support me like I support them. It’s a synergy thing…
And so for the BMC. I like it a lot. But it’s not a dream bike. I might still get one. But not today. It’s more Giant TCR than super exotic dream machine. To me, the BMC is higher ranked than the Dogma. I love the way they do efficiency and purposeful at BMC. There’s no gimmicks on this stunning bike. It’s a statement of efficiency but I am worried about the ride. As I said, I have just had a bike crack it’s frame on our local roads. To me, the BMC is the most efficient, value winning bike on my list. It’s $5000 less than the Wilier and the Dogma (both at around $15,000). But just as good and an icon of Swiss purposeful design. This is the bike my economist’s mind would recommend. But my university professorial days are gone three years now (after some managerialist dead beat shut my research centre down). I make less rationalist choices these days.
The Wilier is it for me
After drooling over photos of the Wilier Zero.7 for months on end, I wasn’t prepared for the looks of this machine in the flesh. It’s a bit like seeing the Grand Canyon for the first time. Great in the pics but a smash in the face for real. How could it possibly look even better in the flesh than it does on paper? But it does. And then some. And some for more. I’ll try to put it this way. The sensation of seeing my new bike for the first time was just like the feeling I got when I personally met my favourite painting (Hieronymus Bosch’s Garden of Earthly Delights in the Prado Museum in Madrid) for the very first time. And what an analogy through which to describe this bike! Garden of Earthly Delights for sure. If you are a cycling nutter like me. Paradise…in the flesh.
One part of my selection routine is for a distributor that’s responsive to customer needs. DeGrandi is great. I have dealt with them lots of times before (through Mark Bullen at the Armidale Bicycle Centre – that’s them pre-delivering my bike in the photo to the right). No amount of mix and matching is too much of a chore in the Bullen store! So, out went the stock FSA/Wilier branded crank and in with the Campagnolo Super Record real deal instead. Out with the Fulcrum Racing 1′s and in with the Red Wind XLR’s. I want a bike without the need for a future upgrade path. I want everything to be perfect right at the start.
The spec list on this bike is a list of the best bits money can buy. Everything is top of the line. From the seat (Selle Italia’s carbon railed SLR, through to the post and stem (both custom projects by FSA) to Campagnolo’s unimaginably gorgeous Super Record EPS (yes… I did opt for electronic gears). Nothing, but nothing, on this bike is anything but top end. Mt Everest pointy top end. Anything above what’s on this bike has yet to be invented. Or is so impractical to be of suspect use. Which means that yes, it is possible to customise with even lighter parts (freaky light but fragile seat post and seats, skeleton brakes, et al.). But realise this. This bike is already as light as anything available right now. The frame weights 697grams certified by Wilier. The whole bike draped in Campagnolo Super Record EPS and deep rim wheels is still a UCI illegal 6.6kg! So why bother with even more ultra light parts and compromise the strength integrity I can get with stock Super Record? I am not a weight weenie. Did I mention that I have a bike with a frame that has just cracked through use on our local roads??
Before I take you out for a test ride on this thing, I need to explain my choice of wheels. Campagnolo Bora’s are the maker’s intended wheels of choice. Bora’s are wheels for tubular tyres. I had tubulars for years. I am done with glue and my tubular sewing kit. I know they ride like flying in the air. But not for around here… Just to get to my house I have to negotiate 200 metres of anti-socially disposed gutted dirt ruts. And ever since our local ‘Council’ decided to opt for the obscenity of automated pot hole patching cyclist-hate machines, nothing less than a mountain bike is really sustainable on the roads I am fated to ride if my desire is to ever leave my house… No, clinchers or tubeless are the only real options so Bora’s are off the menu list unless I relocate to Sydney’s stunningly beautifully West Head road (which, perversely, is where I went to try out my new Wilier for a week of riding the roads where I cut my racing teeth). Hence my choice of Fulcrum Red Wind XLR’s. Which is the Fulcrum version of Campagnolo’s Bullet wheels (same factory, different graphics and spokes). Which, in turn, are Campagnolo’s clincher version of the Bora’s.
Wheels matter. And the XLR’s are great.
Let me get this Campagnolo lust thing out of the way. I have Campagnolo Record on both my Pinarello Price and my Pinarello Paris. There was no Super Record on offer then. I have bikes with Dura Ace and with SRAM Red. I have a bike with Ultegra too. I use them all. I am, apparently, obsessive compulsive about things needing to click with a serious clunk before I can be satisfied I have affected something to be shut. Campagnolo does the trick. Like a bolt into a death row cell door. You know you have changed gear. You know you are in gear. You know you will stay in gear. Dura Ace is a fop by way of comparison. You change gears with an effeminate quasi, mousy, weakling wimpy click. An apologetic click at that. A click that apologises for the apology of a click it represents. A click that has lost its clicker. And it does not stay clicked for long. Dura Ace always starts to grind away in the indecision of its effeminate location on cogs it seems to despise. I hate the stuff. Passionately! Campagnolo for me. End of. But the new Super Record EPS?? I love it for its outrageous contempt to be a contender on the value scale… I LOVE the way Campagnolo built this stuff first and then contemplated the price. Just like engineers rather than accountants always do. Super Record EPS is the group engineers rather than accountants would choose. It is stupid expensive. More than the price of most people’s cars.
Aesthetics and deep clicking aside, this new EPS Super Record is a revelation for me. I had no idea that changing gears could be like this. Hell, I go for rides just to change gears these days. There’s deep love to be had from this EPS. Unutterable perfection. This stuff is like putting a step ladder on the top of Mount Everest to keep all other contenders at bay. Nothing is as good as Super Record EPS except, perhaps, mechanical Super Record after a two month electricity outage (which is when you need to recharge the EPS battery).
And so to the bike itself. How does it ride? I have a few benchmarks to compare. Is it as good as the Pinarello Paris? In other words, how is the Wilier’s balancing act of stiffness and compliance in comparison with my treasured Paris? Better. More of both. Twice.
How about against the Giant TCR Advanced Rabobank (recently deceased)? Less harsh but just as stiff. So better again. Against my Pinarello Prince? Less harsh again. and twice as stiff. And here is a ring-in through which to seal the deal. I have just grabbed the 2013 Merida Scultura Team SL (as issued to Team Lampre Merida in the Pro Tour for this year). The Merida is THE statement for stiffness and compliance in magical harmony. It’s 1/3 the price of the Wilier. It’s a magical bike. I will be reviewing it next. But the Wilier is one step above, again. I had no idea that it was possible to find a bike with such an astoundingly comfortable ride while being so amazingly stiff as the Wilier Zero.7. This is supernatural stuff. After all, the norm is that you can have one or the other, but not both. The Merida pulls it off. But the Wilier turns this magical mix into a technical tour de force. Nothing that I have ever ridden rides like the Wilier Zero.7
It’s not a radical compact frame but it’s also not Colnago conventional diamond either. The WIlier’s top tube gracefully curves like a lazy Italian lunch into a set of Italian super model seat stay legs. The effect is a statement of compliance art. Big muscular (but not fat) chain stays are of the trendy asymmetrical kind. But without smash-you-in-the-mouth curvy Pinarello Dogma over baked marketing machine overstatement. The big frame architecture feature (aside from the secret but ever so brilliant composite mix) is the humungous BB 386 bottom end. When this bike came out only Wilier and BH were using this new bottom bracket (an 86mm extended version of the already large BB30 as seen on so many new bikes these days). This bottom bracket is HUGE. This is where much of the frame stiffness resides. My Merida also has this 386 BB.
Because the head tube is less bottom heavy than many of the Wilier’s competitors (being of a lesser width than, say, the new Giant TCR Advanced SL 0 I am about to receive by way of warranty replacement for my broken TCR). This gives the Wilier a rather engaging steering dynamic. Some might classify the Zero.7′s steering as being too ‘loose’, or of being ‘nervous’. But it is intentionally ‘light’ in this regard to facilitate steering that is quick in a tight corner; perfect for criteriums and for avoiding blue rinse biddies in their motorised shopping cars (or P Plate bimbos attending to their texting rather than to the realities of the road). The steering is very ‘obvious’ when you take your first ride. I wouldn’t be giving this bike to a first time rider or a mountain biker seeking a conversion to the world of tar. But I am not implying any kind of lack of precision here. The steering this bike has is something to be desired, once you have some racing miles in your legs and head. I can’t imagine a better dynamic through which to keep pace in a fast moving peloton. But it is not like riding on rails for those who might prefer to autopilot down steep hills. You need to stay alert and in control and this steering is the tool through which to keep your descents in tune with the vagaries of any road.
I have invested about 4,000km in this machine so far. I have taken it everywhere and then some. So inspired by this bike, I loaded it into my car for a 1,000 km round trip to my old racing roads of Sydney’s Akuna Bay, West Head, just to see how it might ride on perfect hot melt, rather than our local strips of bankrupted Council Contempt. After 25 years away, I was born again! I am the sort who has 30 plus years of cycling log book data to recall. I have all the hills archived and my speeds were all up on those I was getting when I raced A Grade one quarter of a century before. I am wondering how Eddy Merckx or my hero Laurent Fignon (my racing buddies called me Laurent by way of nick name ’cause I looked like him at the time) might have gone on this Wilier Zero.7 back in their day. Perhaps if they had a bike like this no one would have thought of experimenting with EPO…
And so, I will conclude, my mission was more than accomplished. I wanted the bike of my dreams and got something even better after a year of search through research. Perhaps there are bikes just as good, and there will certainly be bikes just as good in the future, if not better still, but for now, right here in the first bits of 2013, the Wilier Zero.7 is at the top of the tree. This one ticks boxes I didn’t know I had. This is, truly, the bike of at least my dreams.
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A quick question: what’s the best road bike in the world?
Surely this is the ultimate question in the road cycling geek’s big list of things to argue over. There are probably 42 answers… All contestable and subject to revision daily, as more and more bikes are unleashed for our endless temptation.
As with all unanswerable questions (e.g.. is there a God, which is the best State to live in, what’s the best country in the world, who is the world’s greatest author and what’s the best music band in the world?), everyone has at least an opinion. Society is shaped by the way people answer questions such as these. Remember the Spanish Inquisition? That’s one way to answer questions pertaining to God. Or driving a few planes into the World Trade Centre. Or the Second World War, the First World War and even the Peloponnesian Wars. Clubs, tribes and friend circles are defined by localised consensus on how we might answer any of the great unanswerable questions. Football clubs anyone?
Our consideration of the ‘best (road) bike in the world’ is one of these biggies. Not something to go to war over. But a Big One nonetheless. And, as a Big One, there is no universally agreeable answer.
But there are ways of dealing with the utter unresolvability of this question. First, we might, and many do, simply partition their personal answer to country of origin. Eg. the best bike in the world MUST be Italian. Or French. Or from the USA. That’s one approach.
Some might just go by price. What’s the most expensive? Some might go by weight. What’s the lightest road bike in the world? Or exclusivity.
And there are always those extraordinarily tiresome types who use the annoyingly simple metric of simply declaring that whatever bike they might have is, by virtue of their astounding good taste, THE best bike in the world. That’s pretty much the metric many people I know use for answering questions about religion, choice of motor car, musical taste, or the best place to live. Most of us have some biases of this kind that colour, or at least taint our thinking on questions such as these.
And then there are the scientistic types. These are the lab coat set who propose to address THE big questions through the purity of science; measurements, quantification: proof! You’d be stunned to know how many seemingly intelligent people go for this line; that the bogus measurement routine is a valid response to dealing with tricky questions. Academics often suffer this appalling quantitative disease. Why a disease? Because not all the dimensions of any unanswerable question are amenable to measurement.; so insistence on quantification disfigures the rich field of choices that the more subjective realm can inform. And, really, it’s often he case that the best things about the things we are wanting to rank and rate are completely incompatible with measurement. Like the aesthetic dimension. Like all the ‘feel good’ bits that drive our choices.
Besides, who would want a bicycle that an accountant might assess to be the best? Or who would want a bike that a Human Resources bot might determine to be the most Politically Correct?
So… knowing that this is an unanswerable question, and that anything that I might suggest by way of an answer is a single sand grain in an entire beach of prospective, legitimate answers, I feel compelled to have a go because I am on the hunt for a new bike and the bike I want is one without the usual constraints that shape my choices. This is my once in a lifetime crusade to pick the Best bike I can find. Or more precisely, I want a bike chosen without all the usual constraints of money, lack of information, of what’s in stock and what’s not. I want to wallow in my own prejudices, biases and sense of the aesthetic. I am not buying this bike for anyone else! And I am NOT recommending my particular choice to anyone else. This is an entirely personal crusade. The most self indulgent thing I have ever done! (It’s a good thing I hate cars… buying the ultimate bicycle is at best 5% of the cost of searching for the ‘ultimate’ car. Besides, to my mind, the ultimate car is always parked permanently in a wrecking yard…)
I gave myself a year for this search. Research is what I do. So researching this particular question was going to be a pleasurable journey. Knowing that, at the end, there will be NO perfect choice, and that, perhaps, the final choice might actually prove to be unavailable or unaffordable, I wanted at least my search to be uncompromised. It costs no more to search without constraints than it would to search with all those usual qualifiers of economics and the practicalities of the market place to constrain my choices.
My aim was for a short list of Five. To narrow the field, I subscribed to 10 cycling journals and numerous web forums. I tracked bicycle industry news like a zealot. I harassed and harangued every person who’s opinion I imagined was worth a listen (and often some who’s opinion was not). I collected test reports with the dedication of a hypochrondriac searching the web for an imagined disease. I looked, I listened, I visited bicycle shops. Everywhere I went.
I decided from the start to avoid the custom route. I know some would say that having a bike custom made is the ultimate path. But I am not that patient and I want a bike that others might also have. I need the reinforcements of reviews along with the validation that those reviews might provide. Custom bikes are a once off and almost never reviewed by the cycling press. Custom bikes are too exclusive for someone in permanent search of others who might have made the same choice as me… It’s a tribal thing.
To reach my short list of five, I would allow only one simple rule: no bike on my list could be second to any other; just different. It should not be possible to find a better bike than one on my list; just a bike that’s different. Of course, I am not actually defining criteria like ‘best’ or ‘better’ in any measurable way, because at this level, choices are beyond the resolution of quantifiable measurement. This short list of five will be sitting above the altitude of objective measurement. At this level, we are in the realm of the spectacularly, wonderfully, embracingly subjective. I am not buying an office stapler here. I am buying a work of art. A pice of history. A statement. So, I can embrace rather than pretend to avoid my cycling biases. The search is tough. If I were to find any test report that justifiably faulted any aspect of any bike, that bike would not be on the list. But context matters. Criticisms need to make sense and they need to matter. If a bike has a design fault that is repeatable and serious, it’s off the list. If a criticism is about aesthetics, I will be my own judge.
Without even the delusions of pseudo scientific method in place, I had fun massaging my list down to five. Five universally lauded bikes. Five bikes that have never attracted any kind of serious negative comment. Five winners.
Here’s my list:
Pinarello Dogma II
BMC Teammachine SLR 01
Already, you are questioning and arguing my choice! I can hear you from here… Where is the Giant TCR Advanced Rabobank? Where are the top end offerings from Ridley, Parlee, Trek, Cervelo, Specialized, Fuji, Canyon, de Rosa, Bianchi, BH, Orbea, Time, Merida or Merckx? And did you notice my Italian bias? As I said, this is my choice and me wallowing in my own context of aesthetics and mechanical art.
And yes, A bike is a frame plus a set of parts. I can’t avoid the latter. I have to choose there too. I have to wade into the perpetual fires of equipment choice: Campagnolo, Shimano or SRAM. I already have bikes with Super Record, Record, Dura Ace, Ultegra and SRAM Red. I detest Dura Ace with a passion (shifting like a broken spoon flapping in a bowl of porridge). I kind of like Red (a proper click) and I am passionate about Super Record (20,000km without adjustment, even once. A serious. Proper. Click). And on top of that. Electronic or mechanical? Another subjective nest of snakes. With that admission, my audience here has splintered into three abuse hurling shouting camps. Such is mountain climbing into the stratosphere of the ultimate bike… I made it simple. Campagnolo Super Record. EPS (electronic), or mechanical I’ll decide in due course.
And then there’s the wheels. I want 50mm deep carbon clinchers. I don’t care for tubulars these days. I’m not going to argue with myself over that any more. I had tubulars for 10 years. I want my rims with an aluminium braking ring. I have a set of Fulcrum all carbon clinchers: never again. Sometimes, it’s nice to stop…
Here are highlights from my review notes:
Pinarello Dogma II. Innovative frame geometry, superbly stiff, but compliant. Fast, but OK for all day rides. I love curves! I love Pinarellos (I have three already). History. Aesthetics. Pedigree! Italian, yes, but Taiwanese cleverness with monocoque. Overpriced. Paying for the brand. A bike dentists tend to buy. I am not a dentist… $16,000 on the road with Super Record EPS. The obvious choice. Too obvious? Tour de France winner but under the wrong rider… Who could forgive Sky colour scheme! Have they no shame? Do I really want 4 Pinarellos?
Look 695. Iceberg clean looks! Zen. Efficient. Brilliant. Stiff (super). Purebred to race. Fast. Too associated with Shimano. Eccentric. Understatement. French! Unmistakingly French! Lack of bling equates to more bling than bling. $11,000 on the road. Hard to convince the distributor not to taint with Shimano Dura Ace.
BMC Teammachine SLR 01. Ruthlessly efficient. Innovative rear end. Home spun carbon! Light! Stiff. Won the Tour de France. Underdog. Clean zen like aesthetics. Good climber. Good in a sprint. But climbing is great. I am a climber. I love hills. Yes. Great price too. Save $6k on a Dogma. $10,000 on the road. With SRAM Red. A Swiss made analogue of the Giant TCR Advanced Rabobank Team Issue bike with which I have been totally, and utterly enthralled for the past year.
Wilier Zero.7 Where did this one come from! I always liked the Cento 1. But this is a breathtaking statement that must have embarrassed Pinarello big time. Ultra light weight, ultra stiff, but ultra comfortable. A reconciliation of opposites! A pure, unmitigated, unapologetic statement of Italian art. Hair standing on back of neck looks. Expensive… Innovative new carbon technology you’d have expected from Pinarello – or Giant – first. One of the oldest bike makers on the planet. Hardly zen-like looks! Bling on bling. Only from Italy. Put Shimano on this and die. $15,000 before the pedals but with Super Record EPS and Fulcrum Red Wind XLR/Campagnolo Bullet wheels. Rationality takes a hike. I am in love.
Colnago C59 Especially with disc brakes! Understated, overstated, all at the same time. Lightish, but not light. Stiff, but not too much. Lugs! Made in Italy. Customisation possibilities are endless. This one is not from a distributor of boxes. Passion on wheels. I can’t find a single colour scheme I actually like… Old school. Last of its kind. A lifetime keeper. Colnago too often goes over to the dark side of Shimano. Shame! Colnago and Pinarello should shop locally when it comes to component choices. Take a look at Wilier… $12,000 if I go for mechanical Super Record. The bike to aspire to after a lifetime of bike love. Pure bicyclism!
And…the Giant TCR Advanced Team Issue Rabobank is not on my list because I already have one… As good as a Dogma at 1/3 the cost! Flawless. Magnificent. Logical.
And the winner? Or, perhaps more appropriately put, which one did I choose? Isn’t it obvious? Stay tuned for the next instalment.
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I wasn’t there when they first invented the TV. But I do recall once watching an early era black and white set before colour broadcasting began. I remember the wooden box-like set. I remember the small glass screen. I remember the single mono speaker and the big fuel tank filler cap-like channel switcher. I remember the turned cylinder legs and the flower pot permanently planted on the top. I do definitely remember that all this felt so amazingly modern. And I do not ever recall thinking that all this technology would be in for much in the way of change. Colour was not something that ever occurred to me. Yes, that little Pye set was bigger and better in every way than its predecessors that more resembled a gramophone set with a window than a Jurassic Home Theatre array. But progress felt… gradual. Not frantic. We didn’t purchase on the knife edge of fast paced imminent redundancy. We didn’t worry that what we might purchase today would become an antique the very next day.
Which is how I feel when I buy a TV these days. Which is exactly how I feel two days after installing the one I have just bought. Two days after purchase, that model has been deleted. But it was current two days before. So now, apparently, I have an antique…
But it’s not just TV’s that give me this riding-a-technology whirlwind feeling these days, And that’s not because I am some kind of grumpy technologically outpaced old man either, I might add…
This latest model Macbook Air I am using here was fresh for five days. Then Apple added USB 3. So now I am a legacy user disconnected from the world of high speed devices to which, it seems, every other Mac user now has access, except me. Now I’m stuck with USB 2.0. One day I was on the cutting edge. Now I am in the dust. Feeling like the victim of technological assault. Inadequate. Left behind. Old. Which is all very odd because before the latest Macbook update, USB 2.0 was just fine. I was happy using the equivalent of black and white TV serial bus technology. USB 3.0 was for PC users and I wasn’t one of them. And that was just fine.
Which is why, and I am sure I am not alone, so many folk are having such fun with LP records once again. Vinyl has become a concrete barricade of protection from the howling gale of technological change. We can tinker and enjoy without any fear of becoming out-of-date. Indeed, in those Jurassic vinyl grooves is a sound that even the highest end computer audio would find it hard to match. But I digress.
If you are a person subject to techno-adadequacies or insecurities of this kind, the whole world becomes a little unsettling. We seem to be tuned to the pace of being left technologically behind. Most of us know that what we have today is not going to cut it by some time mid next week. Some of us don’t care at all (to a degree that improves the closer we get to the nursing home), some are mildly unnerved. And some are in a perpetual state of panic (like those who choose to queue every time Apple releases a new iPhone).
My bandwidth of concern is pretty wide. Relishing, as I do, the technological resilience of bicycles and vinyl LP’s, I can drift off to an island of unconcern. But when it comes to computer IT, I dread every upgrade. I am, after all, that guy who bought into DCC and MD (remember those?) only to watch both music formats completely disappear within a space of two years, along with the media needed to keep that equipment in use. Go on, try to buy a Digital Compact Cassette these days. Go on. Try. I feel like I have been robbed. Dropped. Ditched. Redundant without redundancy pay. And no one cares…
All of which explains why I seem to be permanently carrying a back pack of worry around whenever I enter some kind of electronics store, or search for a new car, or search for a new ebook to download. Will I be left with unusable stuff all over again? It’s like carrying a permanent virus, or having to live with a permanent limp. All the while knowing that, really, it’s all self-inflicted and induced by the evils of modern marketing and a raging culture of consumerism. Which is why it’s so great to know that I can aways drift off to that moated barricade of bicycles and vinyl LP’s when ever I like. In that place, I can overtake anyone’s million dollar cutting-edge super car when all that oil-fuming technology trickles down to a sludge in congested city streets; and from where I can nuance away all I like to the nth degree of fidelity on my LP’s while the techno buffs are all reinventing bit rates and DAC codecs in a battlefield mess of unsettling audio attrition.
But all this presents a context through which to frame every visit I choose to make to my local bookstore, my local record shop, or even to my local newsagent. I pick up a book and find myself Amazoning the price of its ebook counterpoint for my iPad. I pick up a magazine and check out the price of subscriptions on Zinio. The latest issue of Peloton magazine is $15.99. An annual sub for my iPad is $12. Knowing these choices makes it so hard to commit. Which translates into a non- commitment to the continued existence of these stores dancing their death throes on the tipping point of relentless change. Every time I buy an ebook, my local book store is one page closer to that final closing down sale. I can’t enjoy buying the latest cycling ezine without reflecting on the abject economic disaster about to dump on my friendly local newsagent. What’s life going to be like without those local stores? Is our community to become an array of disconnected social recluses all hardwired to the internet while the village green transcends to jungle and unemployment reaches 100 per cent?
Stop the bus. It’s time to get off.
I’m done with all those awkward silences of unsaid condolence I feel whenever I visit my newsagent, bookshop or that last, assaulted record store. Is it time to become a technological recluse?
It’s hard to listen to music on my bike with a LP turntable strapped to my handlebars. I want the latest toys but want the social infrastructure of community commerce as well.
It’s hard to put my head in the sand. But I don’t want to put a knife into those gentle decent folk who run their Last Stand book/record/newsagency stores, waiting for the vultures to finally swarm the poverty of their final days.
Where do they all go in these days of 10 per cent plus unemployment and global recession? Too young to retire, too old to begin again. Do they all just go off and die? Do they all just go off to live under a bridge? What happens to the human-centred purveyors of technologies-left-behind. Who’s going to provide the spare parts for TV sets rendered obsolete when the product cycles cycle around to less than a week? Who’s going to service anything when all commerce is transacted by faceless drones in cyber space. What happens when the economic efficiency of technological improvement leaves us all unemployed? Do we only ever reflect on such things when the impacts hit us hard in the face?
Of course, the world these days is not just transmitted in black and white. Fortunately there are lots of shades of grey in between. But I do fear that it’s that grey scale that’s the real issue under assault. Are those shades reducing to a five tone scale? At one end, we have the Made-in-China globalised cess pit of the economic rationalist’s sado-massochistic perverted world view. On the other end we have us cyclists and LP lovers ignoring the assault. But in the middle are all the struggling record stores, magazine sellers and book store purveyors bleeding tears as they reconcile their tills at closing time. I can see a time when the technologies of the recent past reduce to be serviced by niche markets of residual cranks and luddites perverse in their pleasures from stuff from the past. Like readers of paper books and magazines. And cyclists eschewing the bestialities of e-motors and even stupider electronic gears. What’s the ideal market size for a niche of paper books and plastic compact discs? One store per town or one store per million of population? Who’s going to catch a plane flight to visit the nearest record store? What’s the business plan for my local newsagent these days? Or worse, for that local record store? We know that technologies get left behind (remember the Digital Compact Cassette and Mini Disc?). So stuff will fail and markets will crash. They can’t all be sustained by niche markets for the hardcore. The grey scale between no market and the global market place is going to get really thin. And we all need to consider this final point. How many local jobs will there be when the global market place has entirely diverted to an exclusive serenade between the Chinese shop floor and their faceless, country-less global corporate sponsors?
Which is why, maybe, this current post- Global Financial Crisis Crisis is a good thing after all. When the world economy slows to a crawl, the wheels of commerce slow and we get time to work out a better plan. There are some economists who have given this process a name: Creative Destruction.
Which is why, in turn, I have that unsettled feeling of impermanence and insecurity when it comes to making technology choices these days. We are in a world just like we were when black and white TV became mature. We are sitting on the edge of a great tipping point. The grey scale is about to turn into colour. Hopefully the next spectrum of our economy will be displayed in something better than VGA. Hopefully, the middle will fill out and niche markets will return to a broader base; just like the LP industry these days where more and more and ever more people are re-introducing themselves to the latest technical iterations of the good-old turntable and the latest grades of heavy weight vinyl. And, yes, as more and more people discover the whole-of-life enhancement of cycling as a wondrously steam punk synthesis of the old and the new, cycling and re-cycling all over and over again.
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My one surviving association with the university to which I have devoted 25 years too many of my strictly rationed non-cycling time, is to ride straight through to better places with peaceful lakes and the like. Blissfully knowing that the time of my ride is my own time, and my direction is one dictated by tail winds rather than via the wind of some managerial academic dressed for death in a black polyester suit. But there’s a bit of a buzz going on around the leafy tracks, roads and ruts of that academic mini-town. Just like a bunch of flies, or a trail of ants, the highways, bi-ways and one-time walking tracks are now perpetually plastered with twenty-somethings riding e-bikes.
I am one of those who once declared that these things would never, ever, take off. An obesity of sub-contemptable chain store e-motorised two-wheeled bloatware with all the aesthetics and performance of a trolly-wheeled farm gate. Who would ever want to insult cycling with one of those! But taking off they are; just like a fly-by-wire Airbus full of people sipping gin rather than contributing to the dynamics of their ride. Cycling without aesthetics. Cycling with the chain broken between physical prowess and performance. Cycling without cycling. eCycling is cycling for those who don’t understand cycling. eCycling is a foot propelled toy car to daddy’s Ferrari parked alongside.
There’s a deep perversion at work here.
I am reminded of scientists dissecting brains in search of the mechanics and chemistry of pleasure. If we extract this bit of the brain, and short circuit that bit over there, we might isolate out the bits that make us appreciate art and the irrationalities of sport. If we unhitch a few neurones and kill a few synapses here and there, perhaps we can construct a kind of cycling that a zombie, or an economic rationalist, might appreciate! Let’s take the utilitarian essence of cycling and remove it from all the I-Love-Campagnolo, I-Love-Shinano Tour de France hysteria bits. Let’s reduce cycling to the level of what the Tax Office might appreciate!
There they go. Every e-cyclist seems to wear exactly the same benign, disassociated frown. I know that look. I have seen it plenty of times before. It’s the look car drivers have.
e-bikes are the bikes a car driver might ride! When they loose their licence after being caught with drink on their breath.
Which is not to deny that there is a kind of a pleasure to be derived here. If only the pleasure an economic rationalist might derive through knowing how many cents are saved from not having to drive their car. But how much insight could an e-bike rider get into the pleasures of riding a real bike? As much as you could get from only ever watching cycling on TV? Which is not to deny that there are pleasures to cyclists watching e-bikers riding the hills. Have you seen the way they always parody pedal while their motors work hard against gravity? It’s a kind of faux pedalling; pretend pedalling just like the grown ups do when they ride a real bike up a hill… You have to do something with your legs when the gradient heads north. Else you’ll get deep vein thrombosis from lack of use. But it’s the look on their faces that gets me every time. Determined detachment; austere un-pleasure. Robot faces. Faces of people neither here nor there; unknowing the pleasures of muscle powered pedalling or the thrill of riding a real motorbike.
And how must they feel when real cyclists dump them on hills? Or away from the lights, or on a flat in-the-drops stretch. How must they feel? Why, with no feelings at all. Someone who would ride an e-bike would not feel any of these important cycle-snob, psycho-social compulsions at all. They’d not even understand the critical nuances of mountain bike-road bike competitive mutual disdain, let alone the intricacies of masterful race facing et al. Hell, e-bikers probably don’t even know about fixed gear/hipsters let alone the perversions of Shimano on an Italian master-built bike!. They are the kind of riders who, if they were ever to ride in such a thing, would think nothing of wearing their cycling nicks with the chamois on the outside…
OK, so e-bikes are not for me; and probably not for you. But should I be so smugly dismissive of a device that takes patronage away from cars? Isn’t it better that we have e-bikes on the road when otherwise these folk would be driving cars? Could e-biking be some kind of front door into the world of cycling? Possibly, but there is a big problem here. And it’s all to do with the disconnected dementias of the car driver’s brain. Can the simian sensibilities that combine to condemn an individual to a car possibly be sufficient to distinguish an e-biker from a muscle-powered cyclist? Probably not. In the two-way switch of the car driver’s brain the world reduces to the simple polarity of bikes bad: cars good. Anything more complex than that and their brains would fuse…
So with all these e-bikes wobble riding the roads just like motorcyclists who aren’t and cyclists they perhaps might vaguely resemble, the poor old car driver is getting seriously confused. This is worse than the hybrid/chain store no-mountain bike commuter plague. Motorists are used to hybrid commuters treacle pacing up hills. They are tuned to overtaking when ever and where ever they encounter a bike on the road; no matter what. But these e-bikers, while riding with even less than the prowess of their hybrid rider kin, are riding the hills with speeds approaching that of the lycra-carbon clique that at least some car drivers had hitherto come to realise were cyclists otherwise to avoid. Perhaps. At the advanced level of the car driver brain domain.
What will be the consequences of e-bikes should they really take off? While a real cyclist learns handling and road skills through the progress of hard won muscle-tuning time, an e-biker flicks a switch and joins straight in. An e-bike, remember, is still a bike. It was not conceived or designed as some kind of de-powered motorbike. It’s a bicycle with electric motor assist. To ride a bicycle, you need to develop a certain set of physical skills. A cyclist wears into the riding game. Our bodies adapt to the design realities of the bike. Bikes are designed to be pedalled. pedalling requires muscles and muscles provide the balance. Bicycle dynamics are a synergy of mechanics and biology. That’s why a first-time rider usually pains-out after a few miles or so. We need to break our selves into the cycling game. If we were born to ride we would have been born with wheels attached. e-biking takes all this evolutionary adaptation away. It’s like throwing a non-swimmer into the deep end of a pool. e-bikers are now mixing it with car drivers without the armour of physical-skill adaptation. How can you direct a pedal power dynamic-derived machine out of the danger zone when you have yet to master the dynamics of simple control?
We are all going to wear the consequences of heightened car driver rage. We are all going to be relegated to the cycle paths. Get ready for the re-regulation of cycling on our roads. It’s not going to be nice.
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It is unwise to pay too much. But it’s worse to pay too little. When you pay too much, you lose a little money, that is all. When you pay too little, you sometimes lose everything, because the thing you bought was incapable of doing the thing you bought it to do. The common law of business balance prohibits paying a little and getting a lot. It can’t be done. If you deal with the lowest bidder, it is well to add something for the risk you run. And if you do that, you will have enough to pay for something better. John Ruskin, 1819-1900
That’s a funny quote to stick on the price tag of a tent (in this case, a Mont Moondance 1). But that pretty well sums up the ethos in which I’d prefer to invest when the choices I make are really put to the test. Not too heavy (or I’d just leave it behind), not too light (and flimsy when the wind picks up); water proof within the limits of reasonable rain without having to pack a submarine instead… Our choices always involve a tipping point over some razor edge of pros and cons. Finding that seat on the edge is the hardest part. Marketing and merchandising muddies the stream. I have 6 tents; but only one that sits right on John Ruskin’s pin-point, tipping-pointy edge. I also have around ten bikes in my shed (well, shed, living room, dining room, office … the bedroom is still out-of-bounds). Finding the micron spot that can hold Ruskin’s value-perfornance balance in place is a bit like a Trek to Shangri-La: hard to find and probably shrouded in (marketing) myth.
There’s a few routines you can run to guide making a good choice. In the case of buying a new road bike, you could simply buy the most expensive bike in the shop and hope the margin you paid will insulate you from all the unforeseens that might otherwise convince you to take up golf instead. Buying a new Pinarello Dogma2 is a bit like that. You KNOW that the price for that thing is padded with the mystique of the brand. You KNOW that this mystique is pretty much as much a myth as the cycling skills to which we might secretly aspire. You KNOW that people who pay that price are pretty much all middle-aged dentists with too much money rather than an excess of talent. We all know about ‘pride of ownership’ (unless you are into Zen). We all know that the premium for this pride also explains the perversities of Ferrari’s and the Rolls Royce. And frankly, spending too much on mystique is, really, all just a bit naff.
I’ve been saving for a BMC SLR01. That’s the bike that Cadel used to win the Tour de France. Priced at around $8,000, it’s at least $6,000 cheaper than the new Dogma2. Yes, I know Cadel could have won on a lesser bike. And no, I am not a Cadel Evans fan. And yes, I DO love the new Dogma2. But not in the colours of Teams Movie Star or Sky. But, if it’s good enough to win Le Tour… it must surely be good enough for me without having to spend $6,000 more for the Pinarello. Isn’t that what this search for John Ruskin’s value-performance balance is all about?
Well, I was saving for a BMC SLR01 until I visited my local bike store two weeks ago. I think I was just after some chain lube and a new inner tube. I got my tube and my lube, but I also left with a brand new Giant TCR SL Rabobank 2012 team issue under my arm. That’s the first time I have ever purchased a new bike without a deeply researched technical plan. If there ever was a bike to which I had never, ever, aspired before it would have to be a Giant. I mean, you can’t get further away from the mystique of the Italian thoroughbred bike maker – while still be standing on Planet Earth – than buying a Giant. Isn’t that the brand with all the mystique of a generic supermarket no-frills bottle of milk? All through this year’s Le Tour I was feeling sorry for poor old Luis Leon Sanchez (my favourite pro-cyclist) having to ride the new Giant TCR when, last year, he got to ride Dogma’s for Caisse d’Epargne. No wonder, I thought, he wasn’t doing too well… Giant? Not for me. That’s the choice an economist would make. But wait a minute… I am an economist (or was). I have the PhD in a cupboard somewhere. But even then… Giant? Nah!
But when Mark Bullen, owner of the Armidale Bicycle Centre (who by now can read me like a book, being my bike fix dealer for going on 20 years…) pulled out his brand new 2012 Giant TCR Rabobank team issue bike. ‘Whatdoyoureckon about this?’ Errrr… First thought that comes to mind: wow. Stunning. Step 1. My interest is pricked. Prejudice is put on hold enough to get to Step 2. Lift it up. This thing is light. Step 3: it’s ALL Dura ACE (right down to the chain and every single cluster cog). If you can’t have Campagnolo, Dura Ace will satisfy. Even the wheels. But Step 4. That’s the killer. $6,500. As is, out the door. Now my thinking was, well, if it rides like a gate, I can always stick all the good gear it comes with on a new Dogma frame. Because at this price, the Giant frame is pretty well thrown in for free.
And then on to Step 5. The ride. After 500km (in a day over a week), I had to return to the shop and have a great big moan. Looking Mr Bullen in the eye with more than a hint of displeasure to impart, I presented him with the issue I now had. ‘What, exactly, am I supposed to do with all my other road bikes now?’ This new Giant is better in every way (except, perhaps, in valueless prestige) than all my Pinarello’s and my S Works Roubaix. Actually, I have never ridden a bike that performs like this. I never imagined that one could. Not at this price. Or any other price for that matter. This is what I was anticipating the new Dogma2 would be like. Which no doubt it is. But remember, this Giant is one third the price!
Let me unpack this startling claim. What does ‘better in every way’ actually mean?
My daily ride starts off with a hill. It’s a nice short, steep, out-of-the-saddle sharp attack kind of hill. The new Giant felt like it might have one of those micro engines Fabian Cancellara was supposed to have hidden away to (ludicrously) explain his speed. I have never, ever, ridden a bike as stiff as this. Every possible micro watt of power is transmitted to the road. Every single bit. This thing has what I’ve always imagined ‘direct-drive’ might imply. OK, but that’s just the first five minutes of my first ride. Cynicism is setting in. I am betting that once the ride takes hold this thing is still going to ride like a farm gate on wheels of steel over the rough roads we have around here. It has, after all, got a dirty great integrated seat post connecting the frame to my seat. Those things transmit every bump straight through to your bones; or so I thought.
No. This new Giant is, somehow, vastly more compliant than that. Actually, it’s marginally less harsh than my Pinarello Prince and slightly more so than my Pinarello Paris (my all-time most sacred bike). It’s about 20 per cent harsher than my Specialized S Works Roubaix, but never to the point that I would wish to be on that particular bike instead. And our roads resemble the crater-scape of the Moon. There’s none of that urban city-slicker smooth tar around here. Indeed, our roads don’t seem to have any tar at all, being largely aggregate rocks held in place more by the persistence of double trailered cattle trucks than via the bonding of our city cousins’ lovely hot mix boulevards. For years I have been thinking that integrated seat posts were for city roads in Europe or the US of A. Never, ever, for around here. Myth busted. Now I never need to worry about carbon assembly compounding my seat posts again.
Next up is a good 20 km of undulating flat. Flat out. I cannot believe how fast this bike is. But perhaps that is just a symptom of first-ride enthusiasm. I’ll reserve my judgement until I have more miles on the clock. And then onto the endless hills. My rides all involve hills. Either that or drive someplace else by car to start off a ride. My daily ride involves 20km of min. 8 per cent hills. Time to test out myth number two. Big deep dish wheels. Now I know 50mm wheels are not particularly deep but the wheels I always otherwise ride are the skinny little things that climbers usually ride. These C50 Dura Ace rims are like time trial wheels to me. Surely they won’t be too great when I get to the hills. I bet I’ll be dreaming of my Fulcrum Racing Lights before this ride is done! Nope. These wheels cut a power trench up every hill on my ride. Far from being a handicap on the hills, these Dura Ace C50′s are at least as good as my climbing rims. What, exactly, is going on around here?!
Next is the long wind blown bit in the valley below. Now that’s where I bet these ‘deep’ dish wheels are going to put me into a tree. I am thinking of wheels like sails; to be caught by every side-wind gust. And side-wind gusts were on tap on this and my next ten rides in this wind blown valley of mine. The actual effect is like a gentle but slight pressure to the side; not at all like being blown off the road as I’d imagined. Indeed, the aero effect of the deeper rims at least counter balances any tendency to catch a side wind when the gusts pick up. I am thinking that these rims are so well-behaved because they have such thin bladed spokes. I bet if they had the big flat paddle-spokes of something like a Ksyrium SL I’d be having different thoughts. These wheels are a perfect choice for this new Giant TCR.
Now I have been keeping records of all my rides for well over 20 years. I have been riding this particular morning ride now almost daily for all that time (the rest of the time I am off on my mountain bikes). On my first test ride, I posted the fastest time for this regular ride for any year in the records I have. But any good scientist will know that experiments need to be repeated. So I kept repeating this experiment of time for the next two weeks. Every ride is always faster on the new Giant TCR than any other ride in my record books. Under any conditions. And that includes the rides on my Pinarello Price. And the rides I used to have when I was 20 years younger and racing at A Grade (Cat 1) at my supposed peak. After over 500 km on the clock, this bike continues to amaze. It’s fast. It’s comfortable, even on extended rides. It’s smooth. And it corners like it’s on rails. Especially flat out down hill.
Indeed, it’s the downhill part I have come to appreciate best. The combination of superb frame stiffness, light weight and the airstream rail effect of my new deep dish rims all combine to open an entirely new dimension to going down hills. I am reminded of down hill skiing at the level of my most fervent skiing dreams. Astonishing.
But that’s not all. There is one other part to this bike’s allure. Something I would never have previously associated with the Giant brand. This bike is quite probably the best looking bike I have ever seen. It’s a total stunner in it’s 2012 Rabobank team issue white, blue and orange. But looks are only as deep as the paint. A top-end bike needs to evidence a flawless finish right through to the inside of its carbon tubes. I have been trying ever so hard to find a flaw of any kind in this bike’s build. There isn’t one. It’s finish and construction are robotically flawless. I am looking hard; I am inspired to look hard to justify the $18,200 I spent on my Pinarello Prince. I am as flawed in this endeavour as the finish and build of this Giant is, almost spitefully, flawless.
And there are some lovely little bits to confirm Giant’s attention to detail. Like the included cadence/speed sensor implanted in the rear chain stay. This little beauty is ANT+ compliant which means that it connects automatically to my Garmin Edge 800 GPS computer. A very nice touch. The integrated seat post is also very well considered. Via two choices of metal mast ends, you can have over 45mm of adjustment if, by some chance, you suddenly discover one day that your traditional post extension has always been way, way, too short (as I did about five years ago). The supplied all carbon PRO handlebars are also a nice choice, and not some token cost saving effort to keep Giant’s accountants happy. While being relatively shallow, if your hands are not too huge, they provide a wonderful ergonomic grip in all positions. The Fizi:k Arione seat is one that most of us would likely choose as first option rather than as a standard offering for future upgrade. And, again, to repeat myself, those Dura Ace wheels are an inspired choice in perfect keeping with the ruthless efficiency of the rest of the bike.
Now I know what it’s like to ‘live’ the concept of John Ruskin’s advice. I have found the perfect balance between paying too much and too little.
But, after all, I do have ONE complaint. Not cynical or snide. I do have a complaint. Presumably Giant are building millions of these things and they can pitch them onto the market on a margin that would send anyone else broke. I am deeply concerned that by pitching their new pro-level bike at AUD$6,500, Giant are going to be sounding an assault on the likes of Pinarello, Colnago, Trek and even Specialized that those makers might not survive. I am wondering if, by buying this bike, I am now complicit in the final decline of the family bicycle artisan traditions so glorified by the Italians, the French and the Belgians since the beginning of bicycle racing times. I deeply care about the continuation of those traditions and the passions for bike building that define them. Is the vastly more clinical, robotic, economic-rationalist Giant empire going to kill off the culture and traditions that so define our sport? I promise to make my next bike purchase one more supportive of those all-important traditions. Maybe I will wait for the Pinarello Dogma3.
2012 Giant TCR SL ISP (Integrated Seat Post) Rabobank team issue (size M/L tested)
||XS, S, M, M/L, L, XL
||Advanced SL-Grade Composite, Integrated Seatpost
||Advanced SL-Grade Composite, Full-Composite OverDrive 2 Steerer
||N / A
||Pro Vibe Anatomic Composite, 31.8
||Giant Contact SLR, Composite, OverDrive 2
||Advanced SL-Grade Composite, Integrated Design
||Fi’zi:k Arione CX w/K:ium rail
||Shimano Dura Ace STI 20 sp
||Shimano Dura Ace 10 sp
||Shimano Dura Ace 10 sp
||Shimano Dura Ace dual pivot
||Shimano Dura Ace
||Shimano Dura Ace 10 sp. 11-25T
||Shimano Dura Ace 10 sp.
||Shimano Dura Ace 39x53T
||Shimano Dura Ace press fit
||Shimano Dura Ace 7850-C50-CL Carbon/Alloy clincher
||Vittoria Open Corsa Evo Slick, 700 x 23c
||RideSense, 2 ISP Clamps Provided: Regular 20mm and XL 45mm
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Most people are at least aware of Apple’s ‘magical and revolutionary’ iPad. I still recall, exactly a year ago, when Apple pulled off what was quite possibly the most extraordinary ‘magic’ marketing feat of all time: unleashing a tidal wave of demand for a device with a purpose and value that, to nearly everyone then and still most of us today, is almost a complete and total mystery. Six million units were sold in the first 60 days. Forty million units will probably sell this year. It’s a revolution! It’s a game changer! But what’s it for? And why would you be interested (if you don’t have one already)? And what, exactly, has this to do with cycling?
The pundits tell us that you have to use an iPad before you really know how invaluable to your lifestyle it will become. So we are expected to hand over anything between $579 to $949 for a device that we can’t possibly justify via the the usual (at least intuitive) cost benefit criteria most of us apply to discretionary purchases of this kind? Now that’s a clever marketing pitch. No wonder Apple has $66billion in cash sitting in the bank.
But it really is true; and it certainly was for me. We don’t really get a grasp on what this iPad thing can do until we live with it for a while. But when you think on it, isn’t that a familiar kind of purchasing plan for the more fanatical cyclists some of us are and who most of us know? How, exactly, did you justify that exotic carbon high end bike you’ve been busy pretending was an essential necessity of life in lieu of shoes for the kids and a holiday for the wife? Apple is just standing by to satisfy loose logic of that deliciously irrational, economist-defying kind.
I have to say, though, that while I did wonder about the uses to which my iPad might be applied, these days, I can’t imagine life without one. Like the soles of those oven-shaped carbon shoes that mould to the contours of your feet, the iPad ingratiates itself into the intimate eccentricities and peculiarities of each of us who fall into Apple’s marketing plans. This is probably the most individualistically adaptable piece of technology of all time. Non-iPad users are a black iPad-shaped hole waiting for revelation to fill the gap! Almost every day we iPad users find a new application through which to tighten the knot that now ties this machine to the contours of our lives. If this sounds like the impact of a bad drug habit, you are probably not far off course. But then again, so too are those voracious bicycles that keep me prisoner for at least two hours each and every day.
So how useful is an iPad to a cycling obsessive like me? Does it live up to all this hype? Can I live without one? Can I live without clip-less pedals? You bet. Do I want to? No way.
OK, let’s make a start. Let’s consider a few key iPad Apps (applications) to illustrate how it all works.
Do you read cycling magazines by any chance?
I must confess to wearing a trench into my local newsagent in my pre-iPad days. Cycle Sport, Pro Cycling, Cycling Weekly, Single Track, Peloton, MBR (Mountain Bike Rider), RIDE Cycling Review, Bicycling Australia, Spoke and Bike. Too much to read and far too many dollars spent. So let’s just pick the essentials. Cycle Sport and Pro Cycling, say. How much to subscribe to these? Nearly $200 pear year. Or $310 if you buy them monthly off the shelf.
One of the first Apps I installed on my iPad was the Zinio magazine reader. This amazing (game changing, newsagent nemesis) application allows you to choose from literally hundreds of magazines, one off or via subscription plans. You get the exact same magazine as the one in print, but now you read it on the screen. Yes, the screen is smaller, but you can zoom in and around in a most ergonomic way. I now prefer to read my ‘zines this way. Fonts can be any size you want and you can view in portrait or landscape depending on the layout of the page. Just swivel your iPad around to change the mode and the page resizes in a millisecond or two. And the price? Pro Cycling is AUD$36.46 a year and Cycle Sport is the same. $73 a year for both instead of $200 plus for the printed option; and you get each issue on the day of release. No longer do we have to wait until after the Tour de France to read the pre-race reviews each magazine presents. It’s like having a personal courier system direct from the publisher to your door. Way faster than even an air freighted paper subscription will allow. And you don’t have to store all these magazines somewhere in your house. You just archive them when you’re done for re-download if you want to re-visit in a year or so. If your favorite cycling magazine isn’t on Zinio, it may be available as a standalone App; like Single Track. Sometimes these standalones are even better presented than by Zinio. Do a search in the Apple App store and see what you can uncover. What you won’t find, though, is a e-version of Ride (but you can install an App that allows you to purchase Ride’s bicycle reviews – probably the best reviews available in print). No doubt the folks at Ride will give us an iPad version soon. Looks like I still have to visit the newsagent at least quarterly, for now. Oh, and by the way, I have paid for my iPad just in savings on my usual magazine subscriptions. Three times over.
If your taste extends only to free media, fear not. If you currently read blog news sites like Cycling News, there’s an App for that too. Actually, if you are into reading news feeds of all kinds, be sure to check out Flip Board. This one is an iPad exclusive and you can populate it with any cycling (or other) news feed you like. I subscribe to about 50 cycling blogs and related news sites through the free Google Reader setup. Flip Board grabs those feeds automatically and displays them in an extraordinarily clever magazine format (stripping out all the adverts and other annoying stuff in the process). There are other readers like Flip Board with different variations of the same theme. Pulse and Zite are two others that I also have installed (both free).
Just to demonstrate that I am not quite the single interest cycling obsessive I might otherwise appear, the iPad is a seriously astounding device on which to read other journals too; like the New Yorker and the Economist Newspaper… I used to subscribe to the paper version of the New Yorker a few years ago. The sub was around $150 and you’d end up with a linear metre of magazines to store by the end of the year. The new digital iPad version is only $75 and is way, way, better to read on the iPad than on paper (you even get some great interactive stuff like embedded videos and photo libraries to scroll through).
Watching (Cycling) Videos
Of course, the iPad has a web browser and you can look at web casts all you want (so long as those feeds are not displayed via Flash – Apple rightly hates that buggy format and has exiled it from the iPad). But you can play really clever games with video if you want to explore. For instance, I am a keen advocate of the EyeTV technology available for the Macintosh (there are other options for those who insist on owning a Windows PC). EyeTV works via a small USB dongle that is actually a TV receiver that connects to related software on your computer. You can watch TV on your computer and record whatever programming you want. For instance, once a month I do a search for ‘cycling’ in the EyeTV program guide and then schedule a recording for all those cycling related shows I want to see. As long as your computer is turned on, EyeTV will record automatically and you can then edit all the advertisements out! You can then install an iPad version of EyeTV and watch either live programming or your recordings from wherever you are in the home (via wifi connection). This works a treat for recording and watching Le Tour each year! No stupid DVD R’s to play around with. If you have a private corner in your home, you can settle down with your ear phones plugged in and watch the cycling without interference from or with anyone else. A real marriage saver if you are watching Le Tour live at 2AM.
This one is probably the killer feature for me. I like books. I have a grand design to own the best cycling books collection in the country. Any collection is certainly better than what’s on offer at my local public library… or available in my local bookshop for that matter. But, if you are a cycling book collector, you will know that many titles are rather hard to get, and very expensive if you can. I was browsing away at my local bookshop a week or so ago when a guy fronted to the counter asking about a new title he’d just found via a review in Bicycling Australia called ‘It’s All About the Bike’ by Robert Penn. The ever helpful bookseller did a search and was able to offer in indent import deal for $50 and a month for delivery. I grabbed my iPad, opened the iPad version of the Kindle App, located the title for $9.95 and had it installed within two minutes. So too with the Bicycle Snob NYC’s new book. That one would otherwise be a special import with uncertain delivery. And yes, you can indeed download the entire collection of Lance’s greatest works…
Reading a book on the iPad is seriously refined. This is the ebook reader we have all been waiting for for 20 years (or at least, that I have been hanging out for since my first foray into ebook reading on a Mac Plus way back in 1988 – when books came on floppy discs and cost over twice what you’d pay for the paper version).
Logbooks and Record Keeping
Do you keep a log book of your cycling endeavors? I am blessed with a Garmin Edge 800 that connects to a seriously clever bit of software called rubiTrack. You can then export all your records from rubiTrack to Apple’s own world beating spreadsheet software, Numbers. Of course, Numbers is also available as an iPad App so you can sync your all important cycling logbook between the desktop and your iPad. You never know when you will need to consult your vital statistics and you can direct enter your stuff on your iPad if you are away from home, like on that dream tour of the French Alps.
The iPad has the full compliment of photo Apps, is a full on iPod music player, has a calendar program, address book, camera (on the iPad 2), video conferencing, is a recording device, alarm clock; you name it. There are over 40,000 Apps awaiting your attention.
Do you subscribe to any cycling Podcasts? I am a regular for the Two Johns Cycling Podcast, the Real Peloton podcast from Pommy journalist Matt Rendell, and 26 others!. Yes, you can even listen into the Fredcast. All these podcasts can be downloaded direct to your iPad via wireless or GSM if you buy the GSM version (I have the 64GB wifi only version).
Oh, and by the way, I wrote this blog entry with the iPad App Blogsy. In between reading the latest edition of Peloton magazine on another App called GoodReader. All the time while broadcasting music from the iPad direct into my home hifi system via inbuilt wireless networking. Yes, the iPad2 has multitasking… All this for the price of a pair of Sidi Ergo2′s…
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Posted by admin in Techology
Here in Australia, we have only been on the receiving end of good coverage of the Paris-Roubaix classic for the past two years. In 2007, Stuart O’Grady became the first Australian to win this most classic of classics. Then, in 2008, it was Tom Boonen’s turn. In 2007, I wasn’t in the market for a new bike. In 2009, I was.
You see, I have discovered that riding everyday on a Pinarello Prince shod with carbon rims is something of a fragile proposition for the roads around here. Our roads are more a study in the abstract deployment of ribbons of tar as a device through which to connect potholes, bumps, bits of roadkill and an artistic tidal encroachment of dirt and grass from the paddocks upon which this tar has been unceremoniously dumped.
Mind you, the Prince is fairly unfazed. But I know what the bits would cost to replace.
So, I was keen to adjunct an everyday bike into the mix; to share the load and spare the wear. In theory, the ideal bike already in my shed; a 2006 Specialized Roubaix Comp dressed up in Dura Ace and Ksyrium SL wheels. A fine reliable machine and my first serious road bike after a spell of some 20 years from the day I decided to race no more. I put 20,000km on that Roubaix. It’s a reasonably light, stiff, seriously comfortable machine that was, alas, always too big; I could never be rid of lower back pain from all the stretching I had to do.
Feeling the need for a bike to more thoroughly match the traits of our local roads, I watched the 2008 Paris-Roubaix race as a purveyor of the thrill of the race and of the world’s most rugged road racing machines. Any bike that does well on the Pave will do well on the roads around here.
As someone pre-adjusted to the merits of the Specialized Roubaix, Tom Boonen’s win on the then just released 2009 spec. Specialized S-Works Roubaix SL2 presented something of a compelling argument to seal this deal. I put my order in after perusing frame size geometry with a bit more care than last time around. I ordered the 56cm frame decked out in the brand new SRAM Red ensemble and a set of Mavic’s new R SYS wheels. I did, however, argue for a longer crank (to my standard 175′s), a longer stem (to 110cm – still the shortest stem I have ever had) and a set of Look’s Keo pedals.
My intent was for a rugged ‘second bike’ (actually, it would be the eighth; my stable is getting a little crowded these days…). The intent was spend about half what the Pinarello Price was worth and that’s pretty well where this bike came in at $9500 complete (or 55 per cent of the price of a Prince). With exchange rate vagaries, the price has since gone up another $1,000, so, for once, my timing was good.
I confess to a long term desire to enter the heady realm of Specialized’s S-Works top end. My last Roubaix was only a Comp. S-Works is Specialized’s serious racing top end; the bikes they seed to the pros. And, in the case of this bike, S-Works is something of a development laboratory of testing and feedback with signed Pro-Tour riders. Tom Boonen’s feedback and advice was apparently instrumental to the design and development of both the S-Works Tarmac and the S-Works Roubaix. Thanks to Boonen, the final bike has a rear triangle and associated handling that are significant upgrades on the original designs.
The usual brief for S-Works bikes is for lighter, stiffer carbon, top drawer parts spec., racier geometry and a Pro-Tour race proven pedigree.
I was also keen to explore the SRAM Red component group. The media frenzy centering on a component maker which dared to challenge Campagnolo Record and Shimano Dura Ace suggested a story worth exploration. SRAM and Specialized have so much in common: an upstart, innovate-or-die tradition-be-damned, in-your-face antithesis to the romantic family-based traditions of European and artisan frame and component makers to which the Campagnolo and Pinarello traditions are firmly attached. I wanted to try this upstart hi-tech gear out! You can just hear the Star Spangled Banner playing in the background whenever you contemplate the black stealth carbon offerings from these US-designed, Taiwan-made 21st Century management miracle empires of screaming technical and marketing efficiency.
And…I had heard quite a bit about those R SYS wheels with their fat found carbon spokes and a presumption to replace the esteemed Ksyrium ES. All up, the bike presented an opportunity to indulge a pile of technical curiosities and, to be honest, a new round of indulgence in my favorite dysfunction of bicycle lust. I couldn’t wait.
One month later, the deal was done and the bike was mine. I ordered it sight unseen, as there were none to be seen! I savour these moments of the first glance. My instant first impression was of a bicycle as uncompromising in racing intent as a stealth bomber ready for take off. My second imrpession was of a bicycle that could not possible weigh this little. Even before I used the scales, I know I was holding a machine that was leaner than my Pinarello Prince. 6.9 kg against 7.2kg to be precise. With pedals.
With so much new and unfamiliar technology at hand, it’s hard to pin-point which bits contributed to the sense of extraordinary difference that my first ride revealed. I am familiar with the plush ride my old Roubaix Comp used to provide. A stretched out lazy upright comfortable endurance machine for ultra long rides and compliance with really bad roads. But the gap between the ride of my old Roubaix and my new S-Works was as large, if not larger than the gap that separated that old machine from my Pinarello Prince. There is really no comparison.
My first S-Works Roubaix SL2 ride impression was of a bike that is both incredibly stiff and miraculously, if not incomprehensibly compliant as well. It is much stiffer and lively than the old Roubaix. It is every bit as wired and alive in its ride as the Pinarello Prince. But not as harsh or ‘tight’ as that miraculous Italian steed. I am searching for a comparison and the closest I can make is with the Pinarello Paris. If want a Paris, you are now out of luck. The model was killed by Pinarello earlier this year. But that bike’s balancing act of race pedigree and comfort seems to have been reincarnated in the S-Works Roubaix. The comparison is not perfect as the Roubaix is still more compliant on the cobbles that describe our local roads than anything from Treviso (except the wondrous Pinarello CX cyclocross bike). Speaking of which, I think if I were a cook attempting to duplicate a recipe, I could describe the S-Works Roubaix as one part Prince, one part Paris and one part Pinarello CX. Generically, for those without access to these machines, a probably more relevant description would be to imagine a hybrid between a dedicated, uncompromising Pro-Tour carbon racing machine and a top-end cyclocross bike; a miraculous mix that manages to avoid the downsides and capture only the most positive features of both. I can’t imagine how they pulled this one off.
Suffice it to say, I was impressed.
I’ve put in about 5,000 km on my S-Works Roubaix since then, but my impressions are largely the same. The foremost and most resilient impression is of a tight, stiff, efficient ride. The bike is at home on long steady rides, while being comfortable beyond the design brief of bikes like the Specialized Tarmac SL2 (which shares so much of the Roubaix’s design), top end Pinarellos, Colnagos and the like. You don’t loose much if any speed through the gentler geometry of this new Roubaix. You do loose a noticeable, though slight edge in climbing and cornering given its longer than usual wheelbase and slightly more stretched out, slightly more elevated riding position. I would probably not race the Roubaix in a criterium IF I had access to a Pinarello Prince. But if I did not have a second bike like that at hand, the Roubaix would do and do the job well.
Hill descents are also distinctly, though still slightly different from a less compromising Pro-Tour machine. There’s less of a sense of riding on rails – a more sweeping mannered descent is a hallmark of the Roubaix. Descents feel more ‘safety-harnessed’ than you’d get from, say, a Pinarello Prince. That might translate, for you, to a less exciting descent. But for me, it means a less anxious ride at speed.
As a dedicated Campagnolo fan, I must whisper some encouraging observations on the prowess of this new SRAM Red ensemble. It’s distinctive, not better. But not worse, either. Equivalent to, not the same as. It’s different but great. I love the ultra short throw of both the front and rear derailleur levers. The Red brakes are superb. Magnificent in fact. But that’s probably attributable at least in part to the lovely breaking surfaces on this bike’s R SYS rims. I can’t comment on the SRAM crank as this S-Works Roubaix comes standard with Specialized’s own Campagnolo-like crank. No complaints of any kind there. This was not a cost cutting decision on Specialized’s part. Their S-Works crank is a design that’s an expression of the Specialized design team’s enthusiasms and thrill to be daring to be different.
I would observe, however, that the SRAM Red chain is essentially a flaw to be avoided. I threw mine out after only 2,000km and replaced it with a Dura Ace chain. The difference was immediate, persuasive and impressive. I could not recommend SRAM’s efforts in this direction. Shifting is more precise, quieter and the drive chain is smoother with Dura Ace at work.
The Mavic R SYS wheels are the most controversial part of this bike. Specialized specs these things as a standard option. R SYS is an interesting but confused attempt to be different when being different is an uncertain benefit to pursue. Especially when you compare these wheels with the wheels they replaced. I prefer Mavic’s Ksyrium ES. The R SYS are very stiff, rigid wheels. On any other bike than the Roubaix, I suspect that riders will be loosing their teeth. Then there’s the small matter of the delicate spokes shattering with ease if your bike should fall on its side or someone should put their foot through them; as was the case for me. I noticed all this before Mavic placed its general recall notice; these wheels are now, officially, unsafe. My understanding is that Mavic will be upgrading the spokes to increase their resistance to a wider array of crash-related challenges.
In summary, the 2010 S-Works Roubaix SL2 is an astonishing bike. It’s a hard core racing machine with some flexibilities of value to those who ride rough roads, or to those who ride extreme distances, or to those who simply enjoy a design statement of subtle, but significant difference. In even fewer words, the 2010 S-Works Roubaix is a statement of general purpose, purposefully-engineered efficiency.
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I was getting a niggling new bike warranty issue sorted at my local Triumph motorcycle dealer (as much as a 400km round trip can be regarded as ‘local’) when one of the local Harley guys turned up for ‘smoko’ to chat over important issues like carburator adjustments with the guy busily tinkering (and swearing) over my faulty starter realay switch – when he turned his attention to my black on black, black is still black rather than white-is-the-new-black fashion statement making of contemporary mercantile modernism – jet black Triumph Tiger: ‘…must have a good power to weight ratio, that’.
That’s a curious feature to focus one’s opening reaction to a machine such as this. It’s surely better than the usual line that car drivers extend by way of observation to their fellow delusional devotees: ‘ow fast can it go?’
Which got me thinking. Here we have a fellow-devotee observation that cuts right across all the machined artifices of marketing-driven superficiality to get right down to the essential core: it is indeed all about power-to-weight ratios for machinery such as this. Especially when the observation was delivered so deliberatively over the painstakingly moderated process of rolling a roll-your-own cigarette to be taken as a statement of anarchical contempt to all the No Smoking! signs displayed so prominently above his head.
One concept I was not going to discuss with my grizzled, leather-layered, motorcycle Harley-Man interlocutor was that, perhaps, such an observation might apply even more emphatically to any bicycle he might choose to inspect. I mean, the big-engined anarchical predilections of the true born-to-ride warriors-of-the-road are not ordinarily drawn to machines wherein engine displacement relates to the power of one’s legs instead of the cc’s pushed by their pistons. He didn’t strike me as the cycling kind.
But it’s true, you know. A top-end racing bicycle is indeed a statement of perfection when it comes to ratios of power-to-weight. I started to wonder. What takes the eye of a cycling enthusiast when they first see a racing bike on display? For me, the first impression is one of power; emphatic performance; a tool of power to weight ratios as justification for all the mega-priced parts delivered through the raw purpose of its design. Could there ever be a purer statement of an intention to climb a performance peak? There’s nothing here that is consequent to alternative intentions; right down to the carbon fibre seat. The racing bicycle is a statement of pared back, sleek engineered performance perfection; wrapped in the mystique of its maker’s heritage, and all the glories of riding the Col du Tourmalet.
Go on, pick one up. Hang it on your little finger to convince about its ultra light weight. Contemplate a rider like Mark Cavendish. Make the match and watch the fury. Power to weight.
Now, technically, my motorcycle is probably going to still outperform any bicycle-rider combination you might choose to represent the case. Technically, according to the calculations scrawled across the back of my envelope, my Tiger can produce a power-to-weight peak of 359 watts/kg. When Cavendish pushes 1,600 watts across the finish line, his ratio is about 235 watts/kg. But! And here’s the thing. Those watts are all his. He’s the piston. He’s the power. Any old pot bellied fool can gun my Tiger to its limit. The motorcycle’s power is captured entirely through the power of its design; rather than being the outcome of that wonderful synergy cyclists unleash as legs and carbon combine.
Which makes me wonder why it is that so many people simply can not see and wonder at the bio-technical perfection that a bicycle can unleash. They usually can’t see what it is that I see straight away. Unlike their first reaction to a big capacity performance motorbike (and yes, I am intentionally not discussing the mangy dog dimension of cars – those things, to me, are simply repulsive in every way). Why not? What’s going on?
Answer that and, I believe, you will find the mother load of psychological insight into what it is that so persistently enthrals the human race with the artificial satiation of that sense of physical accomplishment that, today, only cyclists, runners and like-minded athletes can understand. Once upon a time, back in the days when we lived in caves, if you could not run, leap and otherwise physically excel, you didn’t eat. Nowadays, we rely on the artifices of the marketplace to satiate those primal sensibilities to excel. We consume that need through watching sport; and fantasising physical empathy with the players we observe as we nurse that tinny on our bulging gut. We observe with an empathy frustrated, for circumstances complex, varied and invariably unconsidered to any great degree, and tell ourselves that, but for the sake of choices deliberately made, ‘there also could I go’. And we’d be right. We withdrew from the world where the possibilities to explore the limits to our own power-to-weight are unlikely to ever be tested. Sadly. Tragically.
So many of us don’t see the statement of power that a racing bicycle makes because they have never experienced the mind-body power that has always been entirely theirs to command… They’d rather quench primal urges of this kind through the second-hand side-stand of piston power.
So, that’s probably why so many of us don’t experience the immediate hair-tingling thrill on seeing a top-end bicycle racing machine. We don’t want to see. We don’t want to be reminded of the choices so many of us have made to offload our primal physical aspirations to the crutches of oil-fired motivation or consuming the performance of others on TV.
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It’s all a matter of harmony. Some things you can do are in tune and some are not. Bungee jumping is not exactly a seamless transition to playing chess. Butchering meat is not exactly in sympathetic harmony with flower arranging. And so it is with riding a bicycle and driving a car. These things are not the same; not on the same page, not a part of the same story. We can do both, but we would not, if you really think about it, regard cars and bicycles as two manifestations of the same thing.
And what thing, exactly, is it that these two things not the same thing as?
Here’s the crux of my philosophical ponderings of late. Here’s the crux of the argument that bicycles and bicycling are substitutes for raping the earth by car. I’ve come to realise that cycling and motoring by car are not substitutes, after all. As close as these things get to being substitutes is the fact that when you are riding a bike, you are not driving a car. But then again, when you are sweating away in a stinking gymnasium, you are also not (hopefully) driving a car. We don’t suggest that riding the gymnasium fixed bike is a substitute for travel by car, do we?
No. Cycling and cars are not one thing as opposed to the other. Here’s the crux of the argument: when you ditch a car and ride a bike instead, you are not travelling by two wheels instead of four. No, you have transcended the bloat gloat of coffin box asphyxiation with the joyous cultural transcendence of travelling by bicycle instead! There’s some cultural transformation that goes on when you move from one mode to the other.
Actually, I think it’s wrong minded to think that cycling is a substitute for travelling by car. The danger is that when you propose such things, the car folk kind of expect that cycling is just an alternative mode of transportation. It’s not. So, when you try to convince then to transport themselves by bicycle instead of a car, they soon discover the realities of exercise. And that discovery is probably something they’ve not experienced before… So, when they discover bicycling, they discover their physicality as well. But that’s not all! They discover that journey’s can be fun. That travelling slow is a concept that only makes sense from the context of a car. When you travel by bike, speed is the speed you do. When you travel by car, speed is what you want most to end the trauma of travelling by car! When you travel by car, you want to get somewhere. Getting somewhere is what you are focused on when you travel by car. Whereas, when you ride your focus is on the journey. It’s the experience of travel that matters now. And what a metaphor for life that really is!
Yes, cycling is in tune with the glories of life. The journey is the only game that matters. Our ultimate destination is, after all, death. And who wants to reach that final terminus before our time; or, really, to focus our lives on the ultimate destination of our ultimate departure!
No, dear reader, the journey’s the thing. And cycling is an instrument through which to enjoy the trip. Cars are tools through which we detour the rich rewards of a life lived well.
But! And this one has always been a challenge. What if we could combine the necessities of travel with the joys of riding a bike? That’s a two-for-one deal that would seem to be rather attractive in these days when all things, otherwise, are all about putting life on hold while we get on with the business of money. Some of us are so devoted that that purpose that by the time our pile is big enough, we sadly find that life is something that’s passed us by. Enjoy the journey… That’s the more important task.
But! if we were wanting to replace the transportation functions of cars with the joys of travelling by two wheels, some of us might find that we end up time warped out of the frenzied stream where everyone else seems intent to play. If we want to keep pace while living a life for the journey that life provides, we can either try to persuade everyone else to slow down (a terribly good idea), pedal really fast (terrific if you are training for sprints) or, and here is the point, buy a motorcycle to augment the bicycle we’d use when our pace is more our own.
A bicycle and a motorcycle are, unlike cars and bicycles, two versions of the same thing. Bicycles and motorcycles are on the same page. They are in tune. The motorcycle, as I said at the top of this diatribe, amplifies the sensations delivered raw by a bicycle. There’s two part harmony going on here. I have a proposition. If you love cycling, I think you’d also love motorcycling. If you love motorcycling, I suspect you’d love cycling too.*
If you want proof of my curious contention, try this. I faced this dilemma myself. Consider this two-cornered contest. Consider this contest of ultimate statements of two-wheeled choice. Consider this cage match of blissed-out delectation: the 2010 Pinarello Dogma (re-born for your devoted attentions via the latest and greatest manifestation of carbon strung to 60HM1K) vs. the 2010 Triumph Daytona 675! Two toys of (over-the-top) engineering perfection through which to fuel one’s two-wheeled addiction. Both have the same design brief: to proceed via the ultimate in two-wheeled efficiency to the highest possible passion of speed for the sake of speed rather than speed as the tool through which to get someplace. Two toys that cost almost precisely the same! Two toys that would satiate anyone’s techno-lust to precisely the same degree. Two toys that provide the same buzz, via tracking different lines on the same page of one glorious song sung in two part harmony.
One sings the tune in the treble clef and the other via the harmony of the bass. I think I will sell the house to indulge in both… but then I’d have no place to live.. Then again, it’s virtuous to avoid comsumerist addictions of this kind! So in virtue I will proceed along more modest lines. But then again, you can’t admire the alpine peaks of technical perfection if you never take your gaze above the plains wherein our attentions might otherwise perpetually reside.
*My argument applies above that level of destitution wherein some folks travel by clapped-out motorbike or steel pipe bike for reasons of a lost licence or some other fate related contrivance of penury that fits its victim to the ceiling of bikes supermarkets sell…
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