This is my first weekend with a brand new bike and I wanted to write down my impressions before it becomes old hat. Ever wonder what it's like to really step up to a high-end bike? Well, I'm here to tell ya, it's pretty awesome.
A little history first to lead up to how I got to love riding the bike and to the point of investing a small fortune in a piece of equipment that doesn't even have a motor. I've been through various cycles of fit-to-couch-potato in my life, but as far as the recent history, at the beginning of 2005 I was on the couch-potato end of the spectrum so I started walking at lunchtime and working out at the gym. In the spring of 2006 I started going to spin class. My legs got stronger and I decided to buy a bike. In May of 2006 I bought a Giant FCR-1 and rode that for a couple of years, 12 miles, 15 miles, occasionally up to 32 miles around Ocean Springs and a couple of times on Longleaf Trace (see previous blogs). It was fun but I didn't ride too fast; probably averaging 15 or 16mph. Starting in the summer of 2008 I got more free time and started riding with some other people on easy group rides, as well as some longer training rides leading up to the Gulf Coast Bicycle Club's Southern Magnolia ride in Oct 2008. I rode the 62 mile "metric century" and continued from there with regular weekend club rides. I quickly realized I needed an actual road bike with something other than a flat bar. Bought this used Specialized Allez at the local bike shop for a few hundred dollars. Here's me riding in a charity ride in Baton Rouge in Jan 2009:
I rode that bike from last November up until this weekend. In the last 10 months I've put over 3,000 miles on it as I average close to 100 miles a week. Awesome bike! No complaints. But I wanted a little faster, a little smoother, a little more performance. Started looking into the options and doing a lot of research, and last week bought a 2008 (but brand new) Trek Madone 5.5 from the local bike shop that they had at a special reduced price as an older year model. I'm waiting on a taller seat post so I'm not 100% set up correctly on it yet, but close enough to ride 10 miles Friday, 20 miles Saturday, and a long 75 mile training ride today. The picture at the top is me test riding down my street (looks fast but I was only going about 10 mph).
OK, so is a fancy carbon-fiber-frame bike all it's hyped up to be? I'd say it's a lot like a low-end vs. high-end car or anything else. You can get by with a basic model and if the object's role in your life is small, a low-end item works fine and it's silly to spend the money on high-end. But the differences ARE noticeable. If the object itself or those specific difference are important to you then yes, it's worth it. In my case, I can say I got what I was after. This is how I would summarize it:
Smoother ride -- The roads just feel better. The new chip seal surfaces still felt rough but not objectionable. On the older, worn chip seal, the "rough ride" was just gone. And on the smooth roads and new pavement, it was like riding on air. I had heard that body fatigue is lessened when the ride is smoothed out. Today I rode 75 miles and feel less fatigued than after last week's 61 miles... but with so many variables, that's a difficult thing to measure. I did feel a lot more relaxed on the bike, being in less of a stiffened-up type posture, and my back is less tired. I felt good after the ride and I think I had more energy when I got home than I would have after 75 miles on the aluminum frame Allez.
Lighter -- Easy up the hills. That's where you notice the lightness. At about 7 pounds lighter than the Allez, the Madone just lightens the load. Also it just feels like a hill attacker which is supposedly due to both weight and the frame efficiency. We don't have too many hills around here but for the ones we did, I'd say I just got a 25-30% boost on my hill-climbing ability.
Precision handling -- I had to switch out the handlebars for one my size because this is not a women's specific bike, although the frame fits me. The handlebars and the saddle make it feel like MY bike. That's hard to factor in when you test ride a new bike. Anyway, it handles like a dream. Smooth into the corners and really nice steering. Honestly the steering is not that important on long road rides where you go straight for the most part, but in some riding situations (riding around town, racing, obstacle avoidance) it could be more important. And even though that wasn't something I needed exactly, it is one of the MOST noticeable differences between old bike and new.
Precision components -- Nice brakes. Oh, very nice. WAY better than what I'm used to. The differences in the shifting are more complicated. I went from a triple chain ring to a compact double and that will take some getting used to. I really like it so far. I think that is the right choice for riding around here. It shifts smoothly and easily, although I never had any complaints about the Allez. If it shifts on command and you can do it with one finger, what more do you need? But I do like how the trim can be adjusted with one click and then shift to the smaller chain ring with two clicks of the left shifter.
So those are my initial thoughts. Fun to ride and I'm glad I got it. I think it's a beautiful bike, too.
Her name is Marcelle.