Saturday, July 26, 2008

...And Maybe A New Bike

I've had my Cannondale R700 for a long time. I bought it at the end of 2000 with the intention of riding more-or-less full time (this was before children). The bike has some quirks that have taken some getting used to. For one thing, Cannondales are a notoriously rough ride. Over the years I've had several riders comment not only on the size of the bike, but on the rattling a Cannondale can give you over distance. Well, having never ridden another semi-high-end road bike, I wasn't in a position to comment on the size compared to other bikes, but I can attest 100% to the ride.

My Cannondale is a 63cm bike. That's a large bike, but I'm a large guy (6'3", 205lbs). Several of the mechanics at the bike shop where I bought it insisted it is the proper size for me, and I took them at their word. Over the years I've had several "fit" sessions, a different saddle, new pedals and shoes, and a different stem. Still, the difficulty of riding the bike over distance or in certain situations persists. As I get older, my body is less able to tolerate the quirks of the bike. My shoulders are beginning to ache, as are my lower back and feet. I figure its time I recognize my discomfort for what it is: a lost cause. After all, if you spend a bunch of money on something, its hard to admit to a bad decision. I think eight years is long enough, though.

Between the group rides and the magazines and the Tour, none of the experiences of modern road bikes are mine: stiff, comfortable, responsive, balanced; so its time to go to the bike shop for comparisons. I see a lot of Specialized bikes in group rides. Their owners swear by them. Mesa Cycles sells Specialized bikes, so my first stop is Mesa Cycles.

At Mesa I talked to Matt James and Chris Connelly. After listening (patiently) to my story, Matt suggested a Specialized Tarmac SL. There are major differences between the Tarmac and my Cannondale: size, weight, fit, materials, and gearing. The Tarmac I rode is a 59cm all-carbon bike with a compact front chainring and 25c tires. I think it weighs about 14.5lbs (at least 5lbs less than the Cannondale). The handle bar is turned slightly higher than the Cannondale but the saddle height is the same. The difference in the ride is so night-and-day I was astonished. The Tarmac has a cockpit-like feel. You simply sit, comfortably, with arms slightly forward on the shifters, but not over-stretched. There is no pressure on the shoulders or the lower back. The position keeps the chest open for breathing and allows full power from the legs. Its almost too easy: push the pedals and the bike goes forward - really fast.

I did not feel the road (carbon frames are amazing!). My feet never complained. The handle bar is extra fat and riding in the drops felt natural. Moving the bike is effortless. Cornering is sharp. No matter how I wiggled and turned in the saddle, the bike held a line. The biggest hills right around Mesa Cycles are Skinker Rd. and Art Hill >Government Dr. in Forest Park (I was afraid to go too far just in case...). I rode both hills a few times in the upper and lower chain rings, and whether sitting or standing, the bike simply transfered the power from legs to the back wheel. I spent the rest of the ride enjoying the undulating roads of Richmond Heights. The compact chain rings really make a difference on St. Louis terrain. I don't race, so losing three teeth up front shouldn't be that big a deal.

Have I really been riding the wrong bike all this time? Back at the shop, I told Matt I had a lot to think about. I really appreciated his help, candor, and choices. The Tarmac is bit out of my price range ($3300), and I want to try a few other bikes. This is going to be an interesting quest.

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