Monday, November 12, 2007

Unforgettable, Part III

Here they are, my three favorites. It’s a tough call. On a given day the first bike in this post could switch places with the top bike in the last post. Call me moody. And despite what the pencil-pushing statisticians would have you believe, atmo, weight does matter. An 18-lb. bicycle represents a 20-percent increase in weight over a 15-lb. bike. It will always factor into my evaluation of a bike, however, unlike the fits some folks have over 100g, it isn’t both alpha and omega.

If cost were no object, I would most probably own each of the bikes in the previous post. Similarly, I would own each of these, the difference being, I may still purchase two of the three. Previously I wrote of the five dimensions I consider when reviewing a bike: fit, handling, weight, torsional stiffness and comfort. I’m going to give each of these bikes a grade, a la Robert Parker. Because folks are accustomed to seeing grades on a 100-point scale, I’ll grade each dimension on a 20-point scale in the interest of making the results as comprehensible as possible.

Serotta Ottrot: My test frame weighted 3 lbs., 6 oz., which seemed unconscionable for a ti/carbon bike with a sloping top tube built after the turn of the century. Sure, it would have been unimaginably cool to have a frame with a 58.5cm top tube weigh so little in 1986, but in 2004, it was a little silly. The combined titanium and carbon frame possessed the primal aggression of a grizzly. I'm not sure I needed a bike quite this stiff, but the vibration damping offered by the carbon helped offset the discomfort I would have experienced had the frame been all ti. I rode the bike in mountains and struggled on the climb only to wind up all alone on the way down. With 8cm of BB drop, I poured down unknown mountains like water through a hose and only reached for the brakes at the stops. Six ounces lighter and I wouldn’t have complained. A pound lighter and I would have called it the perfect bike. I give it 92 of 100.

Specialized Roubaix: I have several hundred miles on this model, though on different copies; some have fit better than others. If I were shopping for a bike to take to the Alps or the Rockies, a bike that needed to be Robert DeNiro cool at 50 mph, and light enough to ascend like a hawk on a thermal, the Roubaix would be my first choice. I’ve not ridden a more comfortable bike over dirt, gravel and rough roads. It’s the love child of the Masi Gran Criterium and a Honda Goldwing. A bike for the poker set—relaxed under pressure. And despite the longish head tube, with the help of a skilled fitter a racy fit is easily achieved. The S-Works bike has a very rare blend of low weight, great handling and an unusually adaptable fit. All that said, this bike is something of a miracle--its introduction ran counter to product development in the road market. Plenty of smart people doubt the Zertz work, but I have yet to experience this much comfort on another bike over rough roads; I have not ridden another bike that can make 8-bar tire pressure feel like 6. I’ll give it 96 of 100, but with even more miles and a perfectly dialed fit, it could score higher.

Seven Cycles Axiom: This frame has been my favorite, all things considered. I estimate I have more than 50,000 miles on this thing. Stiff enough for my out-of-the-saddle efforts and agile enough to corner well on tight mountain roads, this 3 lb., 3 oz. frame remains my favorite mix of weight, handling and stiffness, despite the fact that it is 10 years old. The bottom bracket is low enough to make it easy to lean and the butted titanium tubing offers a degree of vibration damping you might not expect. My fit is no longer ideal (I’m shrinking) but Rob Vandermark’s crew hit it over the wall when they built this frame. Relative to its time, I would have given the Axiom a 97 of 100; nothing has surpassed it, but today I think that bike may be out there, and I’m looking.


Anonymous said...

I am glad to see that Ti, in particular the Seven Axiom made the list. I love my Axiom I don't know if it is the fit, the material, the stiffness, or the additional time I spend on the bike since the purchase, but it is the best ride I have been on. I wake up in the morning eager to roll out no matter the weather.

Great post.

Anonymous said...

Long time reader ... first time poster. Thanks for making my days more enjoyable.

I just bought a Cannondale Synapse Carbon over the Specialized Roubaix for 3 reasons:

1) better fit for me
2) (slightly) more aggressive geometry
3) what i can only describe as 'alchemy' of the carbon -- it just feels so good.

I'd love to get your reaction to that bike, if only for my personal edification. The Roubaix seems to outsell it 10:1, although Liquigas rode the Synapse at P-R this year.

The whole relaxed geometry frame movement has me and other 40-somethings riding more than ever. Nice to see enhancements aimed at the non-Lances of the world.


Anonymous said...

Cyclists unite!

Don't see a 'contact' link on your blog. But thought you might like this story from the New York Times website today:

Ari said...

Yes indeed! There are some great riding frames out there. In my opinion a lot of these frames get soiled due to improper sizing and fitting of the rider. Also a new bicycle takes time to get adjusted to and to fine dial it. Some of our customers expect to roll out the door and never have to readjust there position. We are human after all and we strech, get stiff, are tired, etc, etc.
The human body has to be able to move around a frame that allows it. In my opinion most consumers want a bike that is too small for them.
Great Post!!

Bolivar said...

BKW - you have any experience with Independent Fabrications?

Padraig said...

Interested Reader: Thanks.

Anon: I'm interested to ride the Synapse at some point, but don't see how they get such a low BB height with so little drop unless they are using tiny tires. Something isn't making sense in their geo chart. Cannondale's bikes have continually improved over the years and I can see why someone would select one.

Ari: Good for you for championing dynamic fit principles. I'm fully on board with you.

Bolivar: I tested a steel Crown Jewel (they weren't yet doing ti) and LOVED that bike. One could make a case that it belongs among the Unforgettables. I've visited the shop and really dig their vibe.

luis garcia said...

Radio Freddy:
I've been meaning to write to you for awhile because I was wondering if your dad ever owned a bike shop that had his name. Also, I was wondering if you saw a very good friend of mine yesterday and had a good conversation about bicycles.
Anyways, you can guess who I am: a goofy Spaniard who rode alongside your dad in some memorable Sunday rides.

Luis Garcia

Anonymous said... 1, 2 & 3 w/ comments, have made for some really great, interesting & informative reading...

...i'm fortunate & appreciative enough to be a ti/carbon guy myself, as i like the mix...serotta concours...double butted ti main triangle & chainstays w/ carbon seatstays & f 1 carbon fork...

...basically, i asked for a racing (ie: handling) bike w/ some comfort to it & what an amazing machine i ended up with...

...bkw (padraig) & ari both bring up the important subject of sizing & fitting...a common trait for many of us as we get older is the need for shorter stems to compensate for bad backs & whatnot...some of my early stems were like boat tillers compared to what i ride now...

...again, cool stuff...

Ron said...

you never rode a colnago c50? how come? i insist you do! from the way you write, it seems you have no qualms about acquiring as many bikes as you want! wish i could be you...