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Archive for the “Techology” Category

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


GiantTCR

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.

GiantTCR2

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.

GiantTCR3

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.

 

 

 

 

Specifications

2012 Giant TCR SL ISP (Integrated Seat Post) Rabobank team issue (size M/L tested)

 

FRAME

Sizes XS, S, M, M/L, L, XL
Colors White/Blue/Orange
Frame Advanced SL-Grade Composite, Integrated Seatpost
Fork Advanced SL-Grade Composite, Full-Composite OverDrive 2 Steerer
Shock N / A

COMPONENTS

Handlebar Pro Vibe Anatomic Composite, 31.8
Stem Giant Contact SLR, Composite, OverDrive 2
Seatpost Advanced SL-Grade Composite, Integrated Design
Saddle Fi’zi:k Arione CX w/K:ium rail
Pedals N/A

DRIVETRAIN

Shifters Shimano Dura Ace STI 20 sp
Front Derailleur Shimano Dura Ace 10 sp
Rear Derailleur Shimano Dura Ace 10 sp
Brakes Shimano Dura Ace dual pivot
Brake Levers Shimano Dura Ace
Cassette Shimano Dura Ace 10 sp. 11-25T
Chain Shimano Dura Ace 10 sp.
Crankset Shimano Dura Ace 39x53T
Bottom Bracket Shimano Dura Ace press fit

WHEELS

Rims Shimano Dura Ace 7850-C50-CL Carbon/Alloy clincher
Tires Vittoria Open Corsa Evo Slick, 700 x 23c

OTHER

Extras 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.

Zinio Reader

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.

News Readers

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.

Mobile Library

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.

Other Stuff

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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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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The seed for today’s musing was sown on my first road bike ride after a gap of 20 years. 20 years ago, I rode a Vitus Duralinox 979 aluminum top-ender decked out in Campagnolo Super Record – 50th Anniversary Edition, no less. It was my 20-something-and-single reckless pride and joy.

20 years later, I renewed my faith with the cheapest, lowest-end Giant my local bike store could offer. It was, I think, an OCR3 dressed in Shimano Sora. I’d been riding mountain bikes all through that deep frozen 20 year wilderness of untracked roadless rides. So, while I guess I had not forgotten how to ride, or lost the strength to pedal, that road bike was a revelation with a deep trenched imprint to remain on my mind. I only had the bike for one day… As long as it took to ride right back into my bike store and order an upgrade.

It’s that particular tipping point back into the road biking scene that’s giving me pause now to reflect; that and an email I received today as a comment on my Pinarello Prince review on Bicyclism Blog. Let me explain.

There was nothing wrong with the Giant OCR3. Nothing whatsoever! Indeed, I was stunned. Having not ridden a road bike for 20 years, my first kilometer was an utter revelation. Where, I was wondering, is that engine that seemed to be giving me such a kick? Entrenched mountain bikers will not understand until they try it for themselves. Step off a fat wheeler and ride the road on skinny wheels and your sensation will also be one of speed and power unknown before. No suspension to wallow away your power. No fat tyre drag; riding a bike half the weight or less. That first ten minutes of acclimatisation to the road is a sensational experience to store in one’s mental gallery of life’s momentous adventures.

No, I went in to upgrade my OCR3 on the premise that if this thing is THAT good, just imagine how insanely great a truly decent road bike must be! That rather sounds like the foundation for an addiction and for sure, it was. I upgraded to a Specialized Roubaix (2006 model, a bike I sold only a few days ago). For reasons construed within the fever of my inflamed re-addiction, that bike was then upgraded via an overhaul that cost more than the bike itself (all within the space of a month). I was hooked. Six months later came my Pinarello Paris, then my Prince. Then a Pinarello CX and most recently a new S-Works Roubaix. But the flame of my addiction is starting to fizz. The passion is still there, but the desire for more, and more and more is gone. Maybe it’s time to step down from the Hors Categorie technological Col…

The thing is, the gap between my mountain bike and that OCR3 was a bigger chasm than between the Giant and the first Roubaix. Yes, improvements were obvious all over, through and under. But that sensation of stepping off a fat tyre bike onto my first set of road wheels in 20 years was not to be repeated to the same degree; seemingly, ever again. It’s all been a classic economist’s curve of diminishing returns ever since. All good, always better, but better by less and less of a margin each time. The biggest bang for the buck was for the first few paltry bucks I spent!

Indeed, I can propose the prospect of a descending curve if I play the improvements game any more. I’ve found something interesting to report. Maybe it’s obvious to you, but I had to discover this for myself; catalysed by that email I mentioned above. I have a theory!

Here it is: Once you hit the level of a Pro-Tour bike, you enter a flatland of technological stress. The trip to the top is the trip to revere; the destination is a cul de sac.

Any engineer will know that the ascent up the bike-tech pedigree curve is one of decreasing weight, increased performance and increasing fragility. That last bit is the bit to ponder. How robust are these modern super bikes to the stresses of riding every day? Pro Tour riders get theirs’ replaced at least once a year. We mortals, on the other hand, ride our rides into the more Autumnal limits of the intentions – or interest – of their design engineers. Our roads can be worse, our maintenance maybe less than the full professional routine. Perhaps some of us might weigh more than the likes of Andy Schleck. And last time I looked, they certainly don’t close off my roads to cars whenever I choose to ride! Yes, my theory is that the use to which we mortals place our superbikes is not necessarily a situation of cosseted floodlit pedestal admiration for the glass case adornment of our living rooms. These things break! These pernickety thoroughbreds creak, groan, and generally spit tanties of temperament more often than we, their addicted devotees might admit.

Take this emailed response to my Pinarello Prince review:

I wish I had your wonderful experience with Pinarello Prince but in my case the frame cracked after 6 months of normal rides (not races). I’m still waiting on GITA and Pinarello to give me an answer to warranty replacement. I have a 2008 Prince and I’m not a heavy rider, I think, @ 161 lb so I can’t explain the issue. In any case after dropping $5k on a frame like this I learned a very expensive lesson 🙂

I was chatting to an insider in the bike retailing game (I don’t want to get him sacked, so I’ll keep the details of his identity close), who had also purchased a Pinarello Prince. His cracked too. ‘It’s what you expect from a bike this light’. It seems it’s what you have to expect when you reach the limits technology can provide. It’s what you want least when you spend this much! Added to that, though, is what I said before. If the bliss curve of improvement flattens out as you peak the Hors Categorie Technological Col, you might find that airy place a less accommodating spot to say than, say, the more timbered valley a few hairpins down. Which is where I can finally rest my point. A more modest, slightly heavier, slightly lesser-specced bike might present a rounder, more sustainable space to stay. It gets really cold and windy on the top of Mont Ventoux. The valleys below are full of grape vines and a more accommodating climate to reside.

Which is why, I was reflecting on this very day, I am so totally content with my Pinarello Paris and why I am so hesitatingly cautious with the Prince that costs $2,500 more. And why I am even more content with my heavier still, go-anywhere Pinarello CX (all yours for only $5,500). And why I can’t help regretting selling that Giant OCR3 (robust pleasure for only $999, but don’t buy it to race). Yes, I do admit that these insights are formed via the experience of ascending the Col of hedonistic bicycling pleasures first. Perhaps we can only appreciate the more reasoned options of the market place on the subsequent descent. I wonder what sort of bike my correspondent purchased to replace that cracked Pinarello Prince?

Oh, and what of the picture that heads this post? That picture of a trashed Pinarello Prince? That’s a scene from another story you really don’t want to hear… It’s not my story but it’s sobering nevertheless. It’s a reminder that these expensive things can break.


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red-gruppo-on-white.jpgThere’s one subject that sparks more unresolvable debate amongst bicycle geeks than any other: which groupset is best? The problem with this question is that there is no definitive answer and even if there was, what might be best now could be dethroned tomorrow as the freewheel of technological innovation just keeps on spinning. Until recently, it was reasonably safe to pick a personal winner and retain smug contentment for a few years or so. Now, though, for reasons more fortuitous than planned, ‘the times they are a changin’; we are living in a gear revolution more akin to the goings on in the world of computer tech than one that has ordinarily applied to bikes.

Take the inner sanctum top-ends of Shimano and Campagnolo. Dura Ace updates have been pretty rare over the past five years. The last big thing was the shift to ten cogs on the back cluster. A seriously well-considered, carefully planned, sober upgrade with clear and meaningful benefits. The last big thing in the Campagnolo camp was the shift from solid to skeleton brakes and some subtle shifts in logo design.

Those were the good old days…

Now it seems that the compulsions of technological acceleration have blasted our serenity. Somewhere between my original indulgence in 10 speed Dura Ace and the forthcoming absurdities of electronic shifting, the SRAM avalanche hit the road (in 2005); and the terrain has been shifting ever since.

Looking up my all-time favourite bicycle geek book, The Dancing Chain by Frank Berto, the German Sachs company started making bicycle bits in 1895. Like Herr Sachs, Monsieur Huret was also an old bicycle racer who turned to the manufacture of bicycle bits, in his case, from the 1930’s. The legacies Sachs and Huret created crossed tracks via the Sachs buy-out of Huret in 1980, and in 1997, the born-in-the-USA SRAM company bought out Sachs-Huret. So, while the American would-be Shimano-Campagnolo rival only has a history back to 1987, it’s market manoeuvrings gave it an instant historical pedigree to rival even that of the sainted Campagnolo.

The first signs of things to come came when SRAM, as a hitherto mountain bike bit maker, decided to Force its path into the road scene in 2005. SRAM Force started displacing Record and Dura Ace in the pro peloton via some big ticket Pro Tour component sponsorships. Now we are seeing Force and Red specced as original equipment on some of the modern top-end racing icons, like, say, the new Specialized S-Works Roubaix SL2, Tarmac S-Works SL2 and now, I notice, the 2009 Trek Madones.

So it’s reasonable to wonder how the three main contenders compare. Right now, pitching Record against 2008 Dura Ace and SRAM Red, Red wins in terms of overall groupset weight. Red is the first complete groupset to weigh in under 2kg. It will still best the 2009 Dura Ace upgrade and ’09 Record. Only ’09 Super Record will be lighter, at considerably greater cost.

I like SRAM Red. I also like Campagnolo Record. I have a love-hate thing with Dura Ace. I have thousands and thousands of km on Record and Dura Ace (about 20,000 km on each). I have only 1,000 km on Red. But then again, Red’s only been available from about mid 2008. So I guess I can present a reasonably informed view on how the three compare (except when it comes to the long haul endurance of Red).

Please don’t consider this to be a formal review! I don’t aim to be so clinical. Rather, consider what follows to be a subjective appraisal; my judgement on how I would like my NEXT bike to be dressed.

To indicate why I am not inclined to formally rank and rate, I would simply contend that you can’t. For instance, what kind of metric could I apply to judge the overall shifting merits of Record, Dura Ace and Red (the top end groups from Campagnolo, Shimano and SRAM respectively)? A valuation by ‘feel’ is hardly objective. But relative feel is how people judge these things and is the metric folk use to actually choose. In those terms, SRAM Red feels to be the most precise, slickest and easiest to use. But, then again, Record has a better clunk – a more precise and definitive journey from one gear to the next. Then again, Dura Ace is the easiest in terms of force to facilitate the shift (having a sweet, almost automatic feel). So, there you are, I have contradicted myself already and totally confused any attempt to definitively rank. The three are distinctive in feel. I could live with any one of them but ‘like’ the ultra short ‘throw’ of Red – you only have to feel the paddle to make it shift – which makes me wonder why anyone would want electronic shifting when they could have SRAM Red. Record requires the greatest finger pressure. But that is not actually a bad thing. I prefer to know when I have shifted than guess – as you so often have to do with Dura Ace. Dura Ace shifts like a wet, limp spaghetti stick. It’s a flop rather than a notch. More sewing machine than jack hammer ratchet.

Then there’s the ergonomics. How do you measure that to compare? Again, objectivity is a challenge! If you judge such things in terms of effort needed, Red wins. If you judge in terms of closeness of levers to hand and conformity with anatomy, Red wins there as well. If you judge in terms of comfort, well, Red wins on that one as well. Red has the best hoods in the game, according the the peculiarities of my own hands – which may or may not be the same as yours. Dura Ace is a basket case failure in terms of hands-on-hoods location. I can’t judge the 2009 Dura Ace on this, but I do know that this is one area to which Shimano has given some considerable attention. The new Dura Ace hoods are supposed to be more like Record. Record is also good. But, I admit, the thumb shifting thing is not and could never be as simple as the single pushing exercise on Red, or even compared with Dura Ace. I don’t like the manoeuvring you have to do to do the Record thumb shifting thing. You have to shift your hands too much to make it work. With Red, the hands don’t need to move at all. That, in my book, is an indicator of ergonomic superiority. But… then again… I do like the feel of the Record thumb shifters. I like the tactile sense you get when you push them down.

So what about looks? Record wins. Easy. No contest. Record (and Super Record) is an exercise in bicycle jewellery; an exercise in industrial art. Record is a stunner. Every bit of Record, from shifting leavers, hoods, derailleurs and cranks is a statement of beauty. Dura Ace is ugly in comparison. Red is inoffensive. The new Dura Ace is even uglier than its 2008 counterpart, in my view. I really don’t like the look of the next generation Dura Ace levers. It all looks too much like a Japanese attempt to capture the essence of Campagnolo; just as with the attempt of Japanese camera makers to copy classic German Leica cameras. Copying never works. Individualistic distinctiveness is the Italian way. The attempt to emulate is flattering, but is an effort that fails to impress. SRAM Red, on the other hand, has done well to create distinction and will remain distinctive even when everyone’s 2009 offerings are firmly in place.

RECORD-Groupset.jpg How, then, do the three compare in terms of reliability. I can’t judge Red yet. But I can judge Record and Dura Ace. After 20,000 km on each, Record is the no contest winner. Dura Ace has given me nothing but trouble when it comes to the capacity to stay tuned into the long term. After all this distance, my Record (I have two bikes dressed in Record so have double certainty in this) has retained its precision and tune. Dura Ace (only one bike dressed in that), has flopped out to the point of un-usability. I can’t keep my Dura Ace shifting in tune, even after replacing rear clusters and chain rings, and, of course, many chains. Mind you, I have a bike dressed in Ultegra SL and that is just fine. Which suggests a specific problem with my particular Dura Ace groupset. Perhaps I am too fussy but I can’t cope with gears that refuse to hold traction with a chosen cog.

For what it’s worth, my current ranking is SRAM Red and Record equal first and Dura Ace third. Ultegra SL fits into second place…Ultegra is essentially identical to Dura Ace but way better looking and slightly cheaper to boot.

Of course, this will all change once I get my hands on Super Record… That’s what’s going to be on my NEXT bike!

For the record, I have had SRAM on my cross country Fisher Pro Caliber for over a year now and that (X0 groupset) has, like the SRAM Red road group, also been flawless to date. I have another mountain bike (a Trek) with Shimano XTR and that’s not been as attractive a story… perhaps I have something deeply out of synch with Shimano…

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RoubaixSL2.jpgMy wife tells me that all bicycles look the same.

She’s not alone. Many people I encounter have a pretty fixed view on bicycles (a lot like my fixed view on cars). Buy the cheapest one you can find and expect the world in return.

Now us cycling connoisseurs are of a different view. We can suffer sleepless nights over the choices between carbon or magnesium stems, between carbon or titanium rails on our seats or over the choice of tyres. Let alone over which marque to support. Italian, French, Swiss, Canadian or the USA. Or, yes, we could go for a make from Taiwan.

As an insatiable purveyor of classification schemes of all kinds, and as a person who has a fair few bikes from different times and places, I’ve come to conclude that in the world of road bicycles, there are two basic species of choice. In the one corner, we have the heritage-loaded, classically informed European artisan machine. Here are the Pinarellos, the Wiliers, the Colnagos and the Look’s of the world. In the other corner, representing an entirely different set of fundamental concerns, are the technology-first upstarts from the new world; mostly inspired from America and Canada. Here I refer specifically to the works of Specialized, Trek, Cervelo and the like.

This is a relatively complex species divide. It’s certainly not black and white. Take Specialized. Though they have been around for many years now, their current reputation was forged mainly over the past ten years, from the birth of the Specialized Roubaix and Tarmac. Without the heritage of Italian artisans who were once Tour and Giro heroes, Specialized and the like have been compelled to impress by technology alone. There never has been an ancestral artisan shop floor character for these makers. They were born into big business from the start; accountants and engineers mixed into the payroll from day one. Companies like Specialized are the product of a grand corporate vision. Pinarello and its kin grew into their bigger visions, as the emergent outcome of hand made trial and error; as the outcome of bicycle racers turning to the welding rod. Yes, now the two tribes compete head on, but the products they offer are quite distinct.

Pinarellos are from Treviso. Founder Giovani’s signature still adorns the top tubes of all their high end frames. The design brief is the nexus of art and science. These are bicycles to display in the living room when not engaged in a race. The European bicycle species usually follows the gradual pathway of refinement and studied emergence.

Specialized’s top end toys scream a different sound. There’s no mention of the place of making (other than the fact that we all know they’re made in Taiwan). The only inner sanctums here are in their R&D labs; not the reverence for masters past as is always attached to the great European marques. One does not venture to the Specialized world HQ to meet and shake the hand of Mr Specialized… But one can, still, shake the hand of Giovani and Fausto Pinarello. Similarly, there is no Mr Trek. No Mr Cervelo. It’s not just a case of family owned enterprise matched up against their corporate counterparts. There’s an entirely different ethos underlying the two branches on this high end tree.

The more important point to consider is how the best from both camps compare. I am in the fortunate position to be able to make some judgements here. Let me focus on just two bikes. The Pinarello Prince and the Specialized S-Works Roubaix SL2. Both bikes met head to head in this year’s Paris-Roubaix. Tom Boonen won on the Roubaix. The credentials of the Prince include an inventory of Classics wins (like this year’s Dauphine Libre under Don Alejandro Valverde). And though I realise that the Specialized S-Works Tarmac is a more valid comparison with the Prince, the Tarmac and the Roubaix are full-blood relations of equal race winning standing. And I own the new Roubaix, not the Tarmac. So that’s the comparison I would like to make. And the setting of Paris-Roubaix where both the Prince and S-Works Roubaix first met head to head is a pretty valid setting for where I ride (which is no praise for those who pretend to maintain our local roads).

I am holding the new (2009) Specialized S-Works Roubaix and the 2008/9 Pinarello Prince as two exemplars from the camps I am trying to compare. These are the top end bikes from each maker. They are the flagships intended for Pro-Tour glory. But they are so very different; two different instruments from entirely different schools of thought. The genetic crowns from the two species concerned.

I’ve had my S-Works Roubaix only a week. I’ve had my Prince for a bit over a year. But I have owned the first generation Specialized Roubaix since 2006. Time to draw some comparisons! These two bikes emphatically emphasise the distinctions of heritage that I am seeking to propose. They are both astounding achievements as racing bicycles.

The 2009 Specialized S-Works Roubaix SL2 is a big leap from its predecessors. Putting my 2006 Roubaix against this new version indicates a leap rather than a progression in design. There’s little to compare. Really, the only thing to remain is the design brief to deliver a bicycle that is kind to riders over harsh, uneven, lousy roads. Kind but still race winning capable. My 2009 Roubaix is a design study in angles and curves; there little symmetry where every single tube is of a different shape. The SL2 is thoroughly stiff yet amazingly compliant on the vertical plane; which means that this is a thoroughly comfortable bike to ride. Much stiffer than the original Roubaix. But much more luxurious to ride than my Prince. It seems an impossible compromise to combine comfort with rigid efficiency. But Specialized has pulled this off while keeping the machine at only 6.9kg (mine is size 56, dressed in SRAM Red).

Prince01_1024x768.jpgThe Pinarello Prince is a different machine. It’s also thoroughly stiff, but has a harsher ride. It’s a more nimble, faster machine with greater connection to the ground. You won’t win or loose a race like Paris-Roubaix over the margin between these two machines. The choice is between two different razor sharp instruments from two different schools of cycling.

The Specialized is uncompromisingly high-tech. It makes up for its lack of ‘illustrious artisan heritage’ through making a brazen statement of the fresh and the new. This is a laboratory bike. The Pinarello comes from the bench of a technologically informed craft gallery. The Specialized is beautiful for its statement of technological prowess. The PInarello is beauty incarnate. The Pinarello embeds its cutting edge technology (such as its still unrivalled HM wavy carbon sci-fi material innovation) within the nexus of form mixing perfectly with function. The Specialized wears its cutting edge on its sleeve. Form follows function; the beauty of this new Roubaix is the technological statement it makes.

This all gets very subtle. If I wanted to ride for the beauty of what fast bicycling can provide, I’d ride the Pinarello. If I wanted to simply go fast and revel in the naked cut down worksishness of the state-of-the-art, I’d ride the Roubaix (or its less compromising, close to but not quite twin sister, the S-Works Tarmac SL2).

The reason I have both is that my Roubaix is the bike for every day. My vastly more expensive Pinarello Prince is now protected for the occasional flight of fancy on those days when weather and mood combine to proclaim the unmitigated joy of cycling. If these two bikes could speak, I doubt they would be able to converse. I can’t imagine that they would share any common communicative sounds. They are the terminal buds of two divergent branches; both valid and enviable, but from paths that are distinctly separate and each worthy of dedicated exploration.

I will be presenting a review of the Specialized S-Works Roubaix SL2 soon (and of its SRAM Red components; which tell the same story of difference from Campagnolo Record as the two bikes I am comparing. Red is a technological scream. Campagnolo Record seems, somehow, to suggest a connection to the world of Leonardo da Vinci).

The final point to make is simply this: the persistence of the degree of inspired human creativity that conceived and delivered machines such as these recommends a confidence and hope for the future of mankind, even in these times that are so otherwise troubled.

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cx1.jpgThis might be regarded as something of an eccentric bicycle review… The usual routine for reviewing a road racing bike is to set that review within the context of how the bike might perform in a race. Same for a mountain bike; you’d expect to read a review that discussed how the machine performs off-road. I have a quandary, though, underpinning my attempt to review the Pinarello Cross CX carbon cyclocross racing bike. Based as I am in Australia, we have no cyclocross racing scene to paint some kind of sensible context. There are hardly any cyclocross bikes in the country either. As far as I understand things, mine is the only Pinarello cyclocross bike ever imported to Australia. The distributor only brought the machine in as a curiosity to stick in the shop window. Until I got the urge to make it mine.

Where I live, I sit on the very place where the local tarred roads turn to dirt. In one direction, I can head off on my road bikes to hammer in the hills. In the other direction, is a never ending network of dirt roads connecting to seriously remote places usually visited only by sheep. While there is no greater thing than flying along the tar on lightweight carbon road bikes, the lure of remote car free places is too hard to resist. Which is why I previously invested in a lightweight cross country racing mountain bike (a Gary Fisher Procaliber). But dragging all that heavy fully suspended gear over relatively smooth dirt roads is serious overkill. And trying to ride a road bike on rough dirt roads never works for long. Narrow skinny high pressure tyres dodging stones and chipping expensive high mod carbon is no fun at all. I’m just not going to stick heavy hard case tyres on my Fulcrum Racing Light rims! Before my Fisher Procaliber I had a hard tail mountain bike. That was even worse. Riding one of those was like riding a pig with broken legs. The Fisher is OK as you can lock the suspension out. But still, the thing still weighs 11.5kg (while my Pinarello Prince is only 6.9).

So, you see, I’ve been in a long term search for the missing link; something between a cross country mountain bike and a road racing machine. And no, I am not about to try riding a hybrid tourer any time soon! My wish list was for a carbon frame, a total weight of no more than 8kg, proper drop bars, road bike gears and knobby tyres. In the wider world, there is just such a thing: the cyclocross racing bike. I’ve known about these machines for years, of course. No serious cyclist could be unaware of this fascinating European off-season winter roady mudrunning short circuit, hurdle jumping cross-over sport. The trouble is, cyclocross has never taken hold in Australia. Here, there’s no such thing. But when you think about it, with our rural roads and our endless bush tracks and trails, cyclocross is a natural fit if you can consider taking such a machine off the racing circuit and use it, like me, on dirt roads and tracks instead.

With absolutely no advice at hand, or experience to tap, I took the leap and ordered my Pinarello CX just in time for a week in the forest.

If you have never experienced a cyclocross bike before, you’re going to be in for something of a shock. They really are an equal distance of difference from either a road or mountain bike. Like both but unlike either. I can describe the sensations of my first ride from either the perspective of a road or a mountain biker. The picture will be different from each setting.

From the perspective of a road cyclist, the cyclocross bike is high off the ground! It’s like riding a giraffe. And the steering is a bit weird. This thing corners and handles differently from anything I have ever ridden before. It dives down hills off the rails that seem to guide the wheels of a slippery sleek road machine. It’s a bit frantic. And then there’s the brakes… The immediate sensation is that there are none. On top of that, the ride is something of a wallow. Gone is the ultra precision of a stiff, power driving road racing machine. Instead you get the feeling of riding on punctured tyres. There’s a huge gap between the feel of 22mm tyres pumped to 120psi and 35mm knobbies floating around at 65psi.

But those sensations of strangeness disappear after only a few km. The next round of sensations to a roadie would be a sense of amazing agility. The thing bounces off road ruts, stones and holes that would cause a road bike to crash. The steering that seemed so strange at first comes home in the ruts. This thing is so secure when things turn rough. But with all that, we roadies will still feel at home with our usual drop bars and capacity to power on the pedals up hills. You can’t do that on a mountain bike. All that suspension and way fatter tyres eat all your power.

From the perspective of a mountain biker, and of a rider used to a relatively light weight cross country world cup racing machine, the first sensations of riding a ‘cross bike are of rigidity and speed. Even my Fisher Procaliber with suspension locked out is a whale floundering in the shallows compared with this. The first thing a mountain biker will learn is that bigger bumps mean riding off the saddle. But then again, you can ride off the saddle on one of these machines. That’s the great thing about drop bars and a rigid frame. There is now a point to standing on the pedals; you get the power that fatter tyres loose. And from the perspective of a mountain biker, the cyclocross bike is ever so light! It’s like riding a feather. And as I said, it’s way way fast. Faster than any mountain bike could ever be, at least on dirt roads and well formed trails (riding on trackless ground is an entirely different story and for that I will keep my Procaliber).

With those immediate responses to hand, I’d like to close in on the actual machine. cx2.jpg

The Pinarello CX Carbon is Pinarello’s top end cyclocross racing bike. Pinarello has been in this game for years; its aluminimum CX is something of a mainstay on the ‘cross tracks of Europe. The carbon CX was released in early 2008. I got mine in February. Appearance wise, the CX is an obvious relative of Pinarello’s Caisse d’Epargne decked road machines. The frame is built from high modulus 30HM12K carbon (able to resist 30tonnes/cm of force and 12 carbon surface wraps) which implies a carbon with lower strength than either the Pinarello Paris (46HM3K – able to resist 46tonnes/cm of force and 3 carbon surface wraps) or the Prince (50HM1K – able to resist 50tonnes/cm of force and 1 carbon surface wrap). The CX has lots of surface wraps to strengthen and adorn its tubes. But it’s still a high modulus carbon frame that’s light and strong. And very attractive too.

Standard equipment on mine (there are two basic configurations, one with Shimano and the other with mid range Campagnolo gear) is the new Shimano Ultegra SL (lovely deep blue) levers and rear derailleur. The front derailleur is the XT from Shimano’s mountain bike range (necessary to cover the wide spread of gears). The crank is a FSA Team Issue with 46/34 rings. Yes, that’s right. 46 for the big cog and 36 for the small. That’s kind of standard for cyclocross! The rear Ultregra cluster is an 11-27 ten speed block. Pinarello have also equipped my machine with a MOST branded (FSA) aluminium bar and stem combination that is decorated with carbon. Too heavy I think; I have some new carbon parts on order to lighten the weight. The seat post is also a MOST aluminium carbon decorated affair. Probably necessary given the strong potential for a carbon post to break with the pounding that rough roads provide. The standard wheels are a curiosity I think. They are MOST CHALL deep dish aluminium rims. I don’t like these at all. They are unnecessarily heavy, crude and, basically dumb. Dumb because they catch all side winds like sails and require inner tubes with extra long stems; which, as I have found, are completely unavailable in Australia. The inner tubes are a source of pain. They are heavy 35-50mm long stem anchors in a place where weight really should be shed. As I simply cannot find long stem tubes of this width, I have upgraded my CX to Dura Ace Rims and more readily available short valve stem tubes. These Dura Ace rims are much lighter too. The standard tyres are Maxis Raze 35mm knobbies. And very good tyres these are too! Lots of grip and just the right width.

Actually, the tyres on a cyclocross bike are probably its most obvious and interesting feature. They are the thing everyone notices first. Way too skinny for a mountain biker and way too fat for a roadie. These 35mm tyres are certainly unique. I have to admit that riders of those dreadful clunky fat wallowing hybrid bikes will be right at home with tyres like these (or at least with vastly cheaper, nastier versions of roughly the same size). But these Maxis tyres are for serious racing business, at least for the more ‘off road’ inclined circuits. 35mm is the maximum width that the UCI allows in pro racing meetings. 32mm is probably more common. But I like these 35mm tyres for the use I have at hand. They are terrific in sand, mud and on grass. They are fine on a smooth dirt road as well.

cx3.jpg

And then there are the brakes… Cyclocross bikes all use cantilevers. Those strange wide jawed contraptions that hang way out from the frame. This is all necessary to accommodate the fat tyres and all the mud a ‘cross bike will inevitably attract. But they don’t stop like real road bike brakes, and certainly not like the stunning disc brake stoppers on my Fisher cross country machine. Cantilevers are a nasty el cheapo blight on any bike, and they certainly are here. The pads grab on the rims so much that you nearly loose control. And when they are not grabbing, their stopping power is only slightly better than putting your feet on the ground. But, sad to say, you do get used to them, in time. You come to know what to expect and I guess you could say that they train you to give braking more respect than we might derive when we are too used to the luxuries of Campagnolo Record or Dura Ace road calipers. The problem, I understand, is that the UCI forbids disc brakes on cyclocross bikes so that’s why we are stuck with these dismal affairs. Pinarello does not provide mounting points for disc brakes, I am sad to say; or I’d have upgraded to discs long before now.

I’ve had five months to firm up my impressions of the Pinarello CX carbon. Let me sum up this way. In those months, my CX has become my main bike… I use it more than my Pinarello Prince or my Pinarello Paris; and my Gary Fisher Procaliber cross country bike is collecting dust. I love my CX with a passion; it’s filled the gap I’ve always suffered here in my home ground of endless rural dirt roads. Now I can head off and explore places once only accessible to nasty noisy motorised trail bikes; or through suffering the weight of a fat flabby mountain bike. I am riding roads and tracks I haven’t visited for years. Places where cars are seen at the rate of one per day. Or less. Wonderful endless rides through forests, rural landscapes and into national parks. This is the bike to satisfy my urges to explore. I’ve put 5,000 km on its clock. And it is holding up well. This is one robust, long term, reliable bicycle to own. I’ve had it on the tar and across untracked places that I once thought were reserved only for mountain bikes. It takes all these places in its stride. Slightly less comfortable in the rough than a mountain bike, but way faster and more capable. Slightly less fast and precise on the tar, but capable there too. There’s no place this thing can’t go; and if there is, and here’s the thing, you simply dismount and shoulder your mount and take the really seriously rough stuff on foot. Just like they do in cyclocross races. I’d hate to have to shoulder a mountain bike. Way too heavy and cumbersome to carry.

I guess if the dismal circumstance of choice forced me to choose just one bike to own; I’d choose my Pinarello CX Carbon. It’s the bike I can take absolutely everywhere. Versatility re-defined. And, I’ve left the really really good bit to last. The Pinarello CX carbon sells for only AUD$5,000. Kind of less than the $17,000 you will need for the Pinarello Prince or $7,000 for the Fisher Procaliber. Now that seals the deal as far as I am concerned. This is the bike for a lifecycling crank like me. A bike for life and a life of a bike. A total unmitigated winner of a machine. Get yours now!

Addendum

Two weeks after completing this review, I have had the chance to reflect on my Pinarello CX wheel upgrade from the standard MOST Chall’s to Dura Ace scandium tubless rims. I am amazed by the transformation! The Dura Ace wheelset is around 400g lighter but the biggest difference is the ride quality upgrade. I had no idea that the Chall’s gave such a rough ride until I tried these Dura Ace wheels. The shift has been like adding suspension. And by way of what might play as a major bonus, when, eventually, someone finally starts to make tubeless cyclocross tyres, these Dura Ace wheels are ready. This is one application of the new tubeless technology that I am sure will work well.

My other upgrade was from the standard MOST bar and stem combination to FSA’s amazing integrated Plasma set. The Plasma is FSA’s top-end integrated bar (the stem and bars are one unit). It’s around 350g and has lovely flats for riding comfortably on the tops and a nice ergonomic curve for riding in the drops. These bars suite me perfectly; plus they look amazing on the CX sharing, as they do, exactly the same paint scheme! So, in short, this $2000 total upgrade is worth every penny. The true potential of this remarkable bike is now all the more apparent.

Finally, following feedback from the original review on my issues with the CX’s cantilever brakes, I did some tweaking of toe-in, toe-out on some new multi compound brake pads. The result is no more brake grab and smoother breaking. I would observe, though, that cantilever brakes are very sensitive to fine adjustments and there are lots of bits to adjust. Very finicky!

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gravelroad.jpgWhere I live, the road is always running out. Out of tar. Where the tar turns to dirt is where I have to turn my Pinarellos around and find some other path. It’s not that my 23mm road tyres cannot ride on the dirt; it is just that the thought of doing so is not exactly a concept of fun. Thin fragile tyres built for speed, not stones. Delicate carbon wheels, trashed when my wheels bounce from one rock to the next. Gravel rash on my sleek Italian frame. And when the road turns to sand, handling is like a sailboat without a rudder. I can watch the pros on the cobbles of Roubaix or the high apine passes of the Giro Italia; but these guys don’t have to pay for their wheels. And last time I looked, there are no support cars with spare bikes to help me out.

But it is not just an issue of terrain. The bigger problem is that when the tar runs out, the roads usually get more interesting. Twisty roads contoured over rolling rural splendour. Hidden secrets, remote villages, new sights and places where cars are few. It always seems that the best places to go start from where I can’t go.

Now, of course, you will say, I should unleash my mountain bike; my trusty light weight cross country racing machine (a refined light weight mountain bike with short travel suspension, all purposefully designed for racing across relatively sane, high speed off road terrain). There is nothing quite like the mountain bike for scaling goat tracks, tree roots, river torrents and the like. But the domain of the dirt road is a strange in-between kind of place. Neither rough enough to make a mountain bike sing and too rough for a road bike built only for speed. But dirt roads are what we have the most of around here; and some of our sealed roads may as well be dirt: more like tarred bridging from one pot hole to the next. On my own personal scale of things, riding a mountain bike on the tar is worse than riding a road bike on the dirt. An in-tune suspended mountain bike on rocks and in mud is like skiing in powder snow. But it is like a pig in a wallow on the tar. Fat low pressure wheels become anchors when things get smooth. Even with suspension locked out, those fat tyres eat at least a third of my power. These are also bikes that need to be pedalled downhill; there is no serious speed. They are big and they are heavy when compared with riding a road bike missile on the tar. For cyclists who have tasted the precision, thrill, and unmitigated perfection of a tuned high end road bike in flight or as an instrument of the climb, the plodding pace of fat tyres on the tar is the essence of wrong.

No, each type of bike has a place and in my book, those places don’t cross.

The solution to this dilemma, however, has been around since the 1940’s. There is indeed a really lateral, unusual, trend bending alternative that does not just fill a void but opens up a new cycling dimension. And no, I am most definitely not talking about the horrendously vile hybrid option. That abomination is a tragedy on all stages and definitely not for me. Yes, I have, at last, discovered the unmitigated joys of the cyclocross bike!

Now cyclocross is no new thing in Europe or, these days, the USA. But in Australia, people will look at you with blank incomprehension. You mean a hybrid? No. You mean a cross country racing bike? No, I already have one of those. You mean a road bike with fat wheels? Kind of. But no. There is, you see, absolutely NO cyclocross in this Country. None. So any cyclocross bikes you do see are usually on the walls of big city bike shops for the purposes of adornment rather than as stock for sale. Which is where I saw my first ever cyclocross bike two years ago. A big heavy crude affair with all the appeal of a 1980’s touring bike (those tanks with racks and payloads of bags, swags and the kitchen sink). I purchased a cross country mountain bike instead.

Until recently, I had been reconciled to the cross country racing bike ) as my stop gap for those remote rural rides. But I had started to note a trend in the European and US cycling press. The iconic European bicycle artisan builders are turning their attention to cyclocross. Makers like Ridley, Wilier, Colnago and now, Pinarello, are all starting to produce carbon cross machines to stand beside their Tour mounts.

I will sustain my abject biases towards the masters from Treviso. A Pinarello carbon cyclocross bike is a subject in need of my devoted attention. Especially when it’s new for 2008 offering, the CX, is deliberately styled to match my treasured Pinarello Prince! The message is clear. This is the bike to fill my gap. At only 30% of the price of the Prince, the PInarello CX cross bike is a bargain.

There is a caution to be noted here. Whereas Pinarello declares that its Prince is suitable for ‘advanced enthusiasts and professionals’, the CX is, they claim, intended for the experts alone. What does that suggest? I had no option to run a test ride first. The Australian importer only had one. And that one is now mine.

I must confess that I had more than a few anxieties about just how close my fantasies of what such a bike might be like to ride would fit the realities on the road. I can certainly not claim to be in the expert target market for this bike. I have never ridden such a thing before! Does the ‘experts only’ classification imply some kind of knife-edge-to-control, thoroughbred flighty, fragile skitty, bone-jarring affair like the Italjet trials motorbike that adorned my shed rather than the trail way back in the 1980’s? Would the leap from road bike to cyclocross machine be of a similar gap to that between a mountain bike and a Grand Tour bike? Would it be so pernickety as to be worse than all the alternatives I have tried to match the challenges of our local roads to date?

Stand by for my detailed Pinarello CX carbon review. For now, let me just say that the reason I have managed to miss my last three bicyclism blog deadlines is because I am now rarely at home. And my Pinarello road bikes, as well as my mountain bikes are all gathering dust. To quote Toad from the Wind in the Willows, when the noble amphibian first discovered his own passion for the open road: ‘poop poop!!!!!!’

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