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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.


4 Responses to “Obvious to Some”
  1. sandra407 says:

    Hi! I was surfing and found your blog post… nice! I love your blog. 🙂 Cheers! Sandra. R.

  2. cosmin romania says:

    i realy like pinarello…if you want to sell the broken frame and the fork let me know, i will keep it like a art thing…in my country i dont aford buyng it…for someone it is a piece of junk…bot for others it is a piece of art…;)

  3. derek hindle says:

    bike should be called pinarecko. ive always wanted one of these but i prefer a bike that stays in 1 piece like my vitus
    i find if you want lighter bike-lose a few pounds in weight-bike goes faster without spending fortunes and saves loads on food and expensive upgrades. Cheers mate. like your blog!

  4. Louanne says:

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