Friday, November 9, 2007

Unforgettable, Part I

If you tried to fill a one-car garage with all the bikes I’m willing to call unforgettable, there would be room enough left over for a Honda Civic, if only one of the 1970s variety. This is not to say most bikes suck or that I’m a snob unwilling to recognize quality. Rather, it is a recognition that on special occasions elements of fit, geometry and material come together to give the rider (in this case me) an experience parallel to the imperative that a tweaker feels: I need more of that!

Before going into the bikes that I’ve loved, I should mention a bit about what I look for. First and foremost, it must fit me like a bespoke suit; it needn’t be custom, but the geometry must be well enough thought through to make an average length stem work. Next, I want a bike that handles spectacularly in the mountains. For me, a bike’s truest test is its ability to descend. I can get anything through a four-corner crit course; making it down a mountain descent requires sterner stuff. Absolutely necessary is a mix of light weight and stiffness—I don’t want to stand up and push the BB around. Finally, the bike must be comfortable vertically and dampen vibration; I have no interest in riding an I-beam. In my head, I score each of these five dimensions (fit, handling, weight, torsional stiffness and comfort) on a 1-10 scale. No bike has ever scored a perfect 50.

Let’s get out of the way a few of the bikes that didn’t make the list:

Colnago—Their importers have always been very tight with test bikes. I’ve never tested one. And it’s not like I wasn’t interested or didn't ask.

Calfee—I don’t think I ever anticipated a bike more than the Calfee Dragonfly. It fit nicely, was more than stiff enough and the boron-blend tubing was so dense the ride quality felt, well … ferrous. Neat trick. Just one problem: I couldn’t get it down a hill without fear for my safety. On all but the most sweeping turns it felt like I was skiing a slalom course on downhill skis.

Litespeed Vortex—After the boys in Chattanooga changed the Vortex to triangular and other oddly shaped tubes, they changed the geometry and the handling went out the window. Roll the clock back to 1997, when the tubes were round and it was one of the stiffest, lightest and best handling bikes on the market.

Cervelo, Parlee and Crumpton—I’m interested, very interested, but the opportunity just hasn’t happened yet.

Next, those briefest of observations, bikes that I have fewer than three hours on. Let me hasten to say there is a lot I can detect in only five miles. I'll detect 80 percent of what I will learn about a bike in those first miles. That last 20 percent may take hundreds of miles, but is critical to really knowing a bike.

Richard Sachs Signature—I rode a bike belonging to the teammate of Richard’s one dusk while at the Killington Stage Race for maybe an hour. It was like kissing Angelina Jolie just once. It might have been the finest experience I never repeated. The key to the ride was the cornering; it leaned like a reed in the wind.

Specialized Tarmac SL2—Yes, a production bike. It’s easy to slag on the big three (Trek, Specialized and Giant), but each is at the top of its game these days. I am convinced some of the most intelligent engineering in cycling is being performed by the folks at Specialized. Plenty of very reasonable individuals have tried to convince me that better work is being done, but atmo, I haven't seen much that makes as much sense and rides as well, especially when you consider rider comfort, geometry, materials and torsional stiffness. The bike is surprisingly comfortable, easy to turn, light as a cotton ball and stiffer than some felony sentences.

Next, Part II: Those bikes I have ridden hundreds, even thousands of miles.

Image courtesy of Specialized.

14 comments:

bikesgonewild said...

...cool, this is starting to get good now...

Anonymous said...

One thing I don't understand, that maybe you could explain, how did Colnago go from being considered basically a cheapo bargain basement Italian production bike in the eighties to being worshiped as the paradigm today?

McGurky said...

RE: Cervelo - Call up CompetitiveCyclist.com and get a demo Cervelo for 10 days... I don't know how many strings are attached, but it might be a great way to get some miles on one.

I've been riding my R2.5 for 2 1/2 years now and love it. I don't have a broad range of bikes to compare it to, but it does everything beautifully for me.

Anonymous said...

Don't you ride a nago?
I've seen plenty of ExtremeC photos and writeups on your site.

bikesgonewild said...

...early steel colnagos were some of THE italian road racing bikes of the '70's...there was a time after that when the quality of the workmanship was suspect, but "cheapo bargain basement" is a little extreme...

...i'll grant you they've had some damn ugly paint jobs throughout the years, but the handling on colnagos, at least the ones i've ridden, has always been solid...

...i was fortunate enough to try several models under admittedly limited conditions, but the initial feel was enough to make me want to ride them more whereas i've ridden bikes to the end of the block & thought "enough"...

...highly subjective criteria, though & what i enjoy about bkw's reviews is the objectivity he instills...

Austin said...

"It was like kissing Angelina Jolie just once."

That line was Dan Neil worthy. Thanks for posting the link to the Mini review yesterday. Most fun I have had reading in a while.

Anonymous said...

I worked at a shop that built frames. We felt we made a very solid and straight product. On the side we painted, strictly for the cash, and it wasn't easy cash. One day, we had a Gios Compact, a Colnago, a Rossin, a Basso, a DeRosa, and a 3Rensho, all hanging to dry, and waiting for primer. We always dipped the frames in a caustic solution that put an anti-rust coat on them. We were noting the way the joints looked, and how much file work had been done to the different joining points. Once you take off the paint, it's like waking up with the lady, without her make-up on, in the morning. It can be an eye-opener, or make you run for the hills. You could tell the Italian frames, and all of them were joined with brass. The 3Rensho was a silver brazed frame, and it had a lot less mess at each of the joining points. This was way back in the late 80's, after I rode to the Worlds in Colorado. I wish there was a way to look under the clearcoat, and the lay-ups, and really see how the builder places the sheets of carbon, without having to reverse engineer the whole thing.
Cheers.

Ron said...

stiffer than a felony sentence.

go specialized!

Anonymous said...

Yeah you can say that about SBI but then you keep reading on the web that almost NONE of the Specialized sponsored pro's in europe are riding stock configured rides...on the other side of the coin most if not all of the other brands you mention support their pros with STOCK bikes, stock geometry and layups. That, in my mind is a pretty big strike against them as a high quality "production" builder.
That said, we are talking about stock bikes. Not so so different than stock shoes. I love Adidas, they fit me great. Can't stand Nike and they don't fit.
I think that the most important thing for us all to remember is that when a review is written from the point of view of a single individual it is pretty much a statement of that individuals tastes.

Anonymous said...

Keep up the reviews. Well written and entertaining. Any insight into the lower end Time bikes such as the Edge Racer or First?

Anonymous said...

Uhh, not to hijack this thread, but this has always bothered me, shouldn't it "Belgian Knee Warmers" instead of "Belgium Knee Warmers?" I lose (not loose) sleep over these sort of things.

Padraig said...

Bikegonewild: Thanks for the praise and enthusiasm.

Anon 1:24: Colnago got its reputation because they were pretty and more available than most lines.

McGurky: Been planning to talk to the boys at CC, but just haven't explored it yet.

Anon 2:41: Bear in mind Radio Freddy and I aren't the same guy.

Austin: Thanks.

Anon 6:56: We would love to hear more.

Ron: Thanks.

Anon 10:51: Specialized tells me that most of the riders in Europe are on stock bikes. I'm impressed that they offer not one but two custom wraps for riders. The question is whether or not everyone--pros and paying customers--should be on the same bike. The only people who really need a bike as stiff as Boonen's produce 2000 watts in a sprint, and there aren't many of those. Any company that makes bikes of appropriate stiffness to the majority of their customers and not just the pros riding their bikes, atmo, should be applauded. Concerning reviewer biases: I try to indicate what mine are and when you consider those, the bike's intended use and the objective data I present (size, geometry, etc.) I believe a reader can triangulate information useful to him or her. If all you get are a reviewer's biases, you have nothing useful to work from. To me, there's no point in writing if I don't give you something useful.

If I ride another Time, I'll be aiming for the VXRS Ulteam, but we'll see what opportunities get presented.

Belgium vs. Belgian? Depends on what makes you laugh.

Captain said...

atmo... e-richie has a lot to answer for...btw, what ever happened to Alan Cote?

Alan said...

Alan Cote? I'm still kickin' -- up here in VT. Do I seem missing?