Here are the bikes that I have hundreds, even thousands of miles on, the bikes the manufacturers sometimes had to call repeatedly to get back. They are listed roughly in order of preference.
Carrera Zeus: This bike was one of the first oversize steel frames I ever rode. It proved why more stiffness could offer performance benefits. The seat tube was ovalized at the bottom bracket and stood up to anything I could dish out.
Serotta Atlanta: You didn’t need to ride a Colorado to understand that Ben Serotta was something of a cycling genius. This bike handled beautifully and wasn’t unreasonably heavy, relative to its time.
Merlin Cyclocross: I spent a whole season testing (racing) one; riding it on rough surfaces was not unlike pedaling a high-performance hammock. It was springy, light, easy to turn and only accepted E tickets.
LeMond Tete de Course: This monicker has been used on a number of bikes, but I’m thinking specifically of the series of bikes that shared metal and carbon in the frame—the “spine” bikes as they called them. The Tete de Course was titanium and carbon and while I was critical of how one fork rake was used for each size, resuling in ever-changing trail, my size, the 57cm, cornered with the precision of a draftman’s straight edge. Light, stiff and agile, I didn’t like packing it up.
Giant TCR: I fell in love with this bike rather accidentally. I tried one as I was researching how my fit might evolve on a shorter top tube compact frame. And while not as stiff as the Time VXR, it is noticeably more comfortable. Next time you think comfort is overrated, you might visit a La-Z-Boy showroom. Giant continues to offer the most aggressive compact geometry out there; the result is a broad range of fit and cornering like a cat on carpet. I've heard complaints about too little stiffness in the largest sizes, but I love the medium. First ever unplanned bike purchase.
Moser Leader AX: This steel rig descended like a boulder rolling down a mountain--with an inevitability that reassured its rider. It had a bottom bracket height of 26.2cm and while I’m no longer sure I need a BB that low to corner well, the experience at the time inspired confidence in me more easily than a good beer could. It had stiffness, nimble cornering, a great fit, clean lines and gorgeous fillet brazing.
Hampsten Strada Bianca: Had I been a pro I would love to have raced Paris-Roubaix. For reasons I can’t define objectively, I love taking road bikes on dirt and gravel roads. Not many bikes are specifically designed to make a non-Asphalt surface enjoyable. The Strada Bianca had a low BB, fat tires, a fair amount of trail and a long wheelbase. More fun than driving a Mini Cooper down a spillway.
Felt Z1: There are two companies on the market who really get classic geometry for high-performance production bikes. Specialized is the first and Felt is the other. The Z1 isn’t the edgy, aggressive bike that the F1 is. It is nearly the ultimate century bike. Light and stiff enough to climb like a cat up drapes, it still descends with enough agility to keep the racer happy, but without the edginess of the F1. Think of the Z1 as the Super G to the F1’s slalom.
Torelli Nitro Express: My bike was a custom built for me by the man himself, Antonio Mondonico. I’ve ridden the bike in the mountains, the flats, the hills of Tuscany and always come to the same favorable conclusion. That said, with a 59cm top tube, this bike is no bantam weight. The frame tips the scales at 4 lbs., 2 oz. and determines whether I get to the top of a big climb with the lead group or some time later. Frankly, arriving a little late can be worth it. This is one of the best descending bikes I have ever ridden. It is the antithesis of crit geometry. To ride this bike is to understand Italian stage race geometry. If the cycling lexicon needed one phrase to be understood by all, this would be it. This is cycling's answer to the grand touring sedan--sensitive, responsive, calm, gorgeous, with an understated class. I bought this bike and still ride it.
In Part III, I reveal the top of the heap so far.
Photos courtesy Felt Bicycles and Torelli Imports.