Day 1 of Interbike’s Dirt Demo at Bootleg Canyon is upon us. Normally Bootleg Canyon is a pretty dusty affair, but this year it is a dusty, windy affair and left the road bikes looking less impressive than the deserved. Seeing all the new chains, lever hoods, top tubes and tires poofed with a fine mist of reddish smoke made me squirm in anguish, both for the bikes but also the mechanics who would need to clean them at some point.
By the end of the day everyone present had rose-rimmed eyes and I did many a double-take wondering if someone just had an S.O. spat. No, it was just the wind pushing talc-fine spindrift into everything with a nook and/or cranny. BB30 is making big inroads on road bikes, and why not? It allows engineers to design around a much wider bottom bracket shell, in turn allowing the down tube and seat tube to have a much greater circumference for increased stiffness and more efficient power transfer.
Bike 1 for the day was Giant’s TCR Advanced SL. This is the non-seatmast version of what Rabobank rides. Compared to the older TCR this thing is a wonder. The original TCR suffered from lots of lash; it was easy to twist the head tube during out of the saddle efforts and that softness also resulted in a bit of oversteer in hard corners, something most riders felt as just a bit of squirrellyness (yes, that’s a technical term). This new bike is plenty stiff and with increased use of high-modulus carbon fiber the bike offers a great deal more road sensitivity, not to mention instantaneous power transfer.
I look forward to doing a full test on this bike.
The second bike of the day I rode (worth mentioning) was the Look 566. The ride quality wasn’t crisp the way I’ve come to expect from many high-end road bikes. It was comfortable enough and damped vibration fairly well but the bike’s overall feel made more sense when I found out a complete bike retails for just $2495. Oh. At that price point, it’s rare that any bike feels this good.
The 566 has the tube shapes of a bike you’d see on the ProTour and the graphic treatment of a bike that might cost thousands more.
Look’s engineers have yet to take the leap and embrace BB30 but the wide downtube and wishbone chainstay offer considerable stiffness.
The changes are subtle, but Felt’s flagship TT/Tri bike received some new aerodynamic sculpting over the winter. The Irvine-based company’s engineers have worked hard to make sure the bike conforms to the UCI’s 3:1 ratio while increasing its aerodynamic efficiency. Dave Koesel, Felt’s road product manager (and a Campy guy from way back) enthused about the Dura-Ace Di2 being spec’d on several of their bikes.
Imagine a TT bike that allows you to shift from any hand position without needing to so much as shift your wrist.
Derailleur performance on Di2 is so quick and flawless it must be experienced to be believed. Front derailleur shifting is so fast it seems to defy the laws of physics and rear shifting is as quiet as it is smooth, and it’s quieter than a hybrid at a stoplight.
Both the Z and F series bikes are available in a Di2 version for less than $6000, thanks to a very careful component selection.
Because the Di2 has no internal mechanism other than the brake lever, the levers are very light and the hoods smaller than anything else on the market. For folks with smaller hands they are exceedingly comfortable to grip. One odd experience Koesel mentioned and I experienced in my riding of Di2 as well is that under hard efforts, old brain wiring takes over and we have both experienced trying to move the brake lever to execute a shift. That thing is stiff.
Koesel says in the company’s test rides of Di2, they have gotten more than 3000 miles on a single battery charge.
This was my first chance to actually ride a Parlee. The bike above is the company’s first production sized bike, the Z4. It had all the hallmarks of the most sophisticated carbon creations I’ve ridden: great torsional stiffness, good road sensitivity, great power transfer and low weight. It was rather hard to get a strong feel for the handling geometry due to the deep-section Edge wheels and the high winds we were dealing with; nonetheless, I liked the bike a lot.
Many components used on the Z4 are borrowed directly from the bike’s custom predecessor, the Z3. This seat lug is used on both bikes.
Parlee pushed the envelope on down tube diameter and BB shell thickness relative to the traditional 68mm BB.
The Z5 is Parlee’s newest road creation and is a culmination of the lessons learned in building both custom and production bikes. The unidirection carbon fiber that gives this bike (and all Parlees for that matter) its signature look tells you it’s all business. Of all the bikes at the show, this one was the one I was most looking forward to seeing and it was easily the most impressive in ride quality from a standpoint of stiffness and road sensitivity. The handling geometry was tough to judge again due to the presence of deep-section Edge wheels, but it seemed to track with great confidence.
Round tubes are king here; the look is simple, seamless, direct.
The Z5 uses a BB30 design which results in a BB as massive as a ’55 Chevy. The combination of the Z5 and SRAM Red had me contemplating felony larceny. Or at least a scenic (and unauthorized) tour of Hoover Dam.
Parlee has a close relationship with Edge and this was my first chance to ride their bar and stem. The curve of the drop was nice and the gently rounded shape combined with a fairly deep drop reminded me of a carbon fiber version of the old Cinelli Merckx bend.
As nice as Parlee’s Z4 is, the Z5 is a noticeably better bike. If I ride a better bike at Interbike, I’ll be surprised. This may turn out to be my favorite product introduction for the year.