Monday, July 6, 2009

Supporting the economy

So, it's time to pick out a new bike. This is a big thing for me.

You see, I haven't bought a bike since 1990 (a very cool "jungle green" Landshark, by the way). And even then, I paid so little for it that it was barely a purchase. It's just that 1990 was the last time I paid ANYTHING for a bicycle.

I know, I know, you feel really bad for me. I can hear you thinking, "poor Rider 1 has to pay for a bike for the first time in almost 20 years. On the other hand, I'm so glad my purchases over the years allowed the bike industry to throw free stuff his way for so long. He totally deserves it."

Geez, why are you being so sarcastic? Give me a break!

As sad as I was to lose my last bike, I love new bikes. So I'm trying to look at the bright side and think about all the cool stuff that might like to live in my garage.

I have a reputation for being very pragmatic about the bikes I ride. The number one rule? It has to fit. Everything other criteria is distant. Also, while there's some truth to being able to buy your way to better fitness, unfortunately I'm also realistic about this. And it drives Rider 3 crazy.

Rider 3 has an exceptionally nice bike. A couple of them, actually. So does Rider 2, actually. Anyway, I've been known to say things like, "That bike is awesome. It won't hold you back at all on the next climb."

The typical reply is something along the lines of, "F*$k you."

Fair enough.

Other rules: New technology is great, but it has to actually solve a problem. For example, electronic shifting. What problem, exactly, is this fixing? I understand that the front derailleur is self-centering, but so what? Eventually electronic shifting might replace cables, but in the mean time I don't care to pay a $3,000 upcharge to beta-test product for Shimano. Another example, the Mavic R-SYS wheel. So let me get this right. It's arguably the least aerodynamic wheel on the market, has a disturbing tendency to self destruct, and isn't much lighter than a more traditional wheel. Oh yeah, and it's brutally stiff and fantastically expensive. Sign me up!

Speaking of light weight, there's no doubt that a light bike is an advantage. But it's not the end-all-be-all criteria. On the other hand, riding a steel frame that's three pounds heavier than a carbon frame, and that's not as stiff and not as forgiving, doesn't make sense either. Trust me, I have lots of perspective on this one. I've ridden and owned a ton of steel bikes over the years. I appreciate them for what they are, but from a performance and comfort perspective, they're just not as good.

I'm off on a tangent again. The new bikes are so, so good now. I spent this past weekend in Orange County visiting family. I also have a good friend down there that loaned me his new Cervelo with Campy Super Record. Riding a sub-15 pound bike is so much fun. That bike was stiff as hell, comfortable, and the new Campagnolo group is really slick. I'm fortunate in that I've ridden enough gear over the years that it takes me about two blocks to adjust from Shimano to Campy to SRAM or whatever. But the new Super Record stuff is really smooth. I'd be happy to go into more detail about this some other time if anyone is interested. Love the shifters though.

The bike I just had destroyed--a five-year-old Trek Madone--was a very nice bike. Still, it fit me well and handled exceptionally. Not the most forgiving ride though. It definitely had the tendency to beat me up. The new bikes are a different animal though. Manufacturers, for the most part, have figured out how to tune carbon.

So, spending some time at Two Wheel Transit last week I started considering a few new rides. Pinarello makes a very nice looking frame. It's also fantastically expensive, and I'm not sure about the wavy stays and fork. I know they're supposed to absorb road shock, and they look cool, but seem to be mostly about style. On the positive front, they're light, and the geometry would work really well in terms of getting my position right. Friends I know that ride them love them, too.

TWT also had a couple of nice looking Eddy Merckx frames. Mostly though, it looked like they piggybacked an order at whatever Taiwanese factory produces some of Pinarello's frames. Not on my short list, anyway.

Then there's the Seven or Parlee route. Very nice looking, simple frames, but it's not going to happen. Way too expensive, and really the technology is years behind what you get from a Trek or even a Cervelo.

Speaking of Cervelo, what do you think about their marketing? I love it when they say stuff like, "half of our employees are engineers. That says a lot about our company." On the other hand, they have like 35 people that work for them. So, yeah, half your company is engineers, but it's kind of a dubious honor. Kind of like when a company says, "combined, we have over 300 years of industry experience." In other words, you have a lot of inexperienced employees, or a handful of really old ones.

I really shouldn't pick on Cervelo so much. I love that they're so supportive of pro racing and they do make nice bikes. I've ridden a couple of them for enough miles to get a strong impression. And while they're not on my short list, I'm sure they make plenty of people happy. Good for them.

Back to my purchase. So then there's Trek. Originally I was thinking of getting something new, given that I've been riding Treks for 12 or 13 years. But Rider 3's bike is so freaking sweet. And then last week Trek released its new version of the Madone. I'm seriously leaning towards this now. It's very light, the geometry is perfect for me, and the technology behind the bike make it, I think, the best-engineered bike out there. Plus, Trek's warranty program rocks.

Lots of decisions. Any opinions?


  1. Sounds like you already have your mind made up. ;-)

  2. whatever you do, make sure the bike matches your shoes...