Interbike: Outdoor Demo Day 2

IMG_0504

Day 2 of the Outdoor Demo gave me a chance to try eight more bikes. The photos of the five bikes contained here are the ones I liked well enough to mention. They were the Specialized SL3, the Look 586, The Fuji SST 1.0, the Cannondale Super Six and the Felt F1.

The SL3 is the bike Specialized was trying to make when it brought out the SL2. This new version eliminates the chatter that spoiled the ride of the SL2 on all but the smoothest roads. It’s stiff torsionally and uses enough high modulus carbon fiber that it offers an unusually high degree of road sensitivity. Easily one of my three favorites for the show.
IMG_0492

Overall, the Look was a nice riding bike and would be great for long days, especially centuries. The handling reminded me of the way European steel bikes used to handle. It took a lot of countersteering to get this thing to turn. It was rock solid in a straight line, of course. Were I to review a bike, I think I’d be more interested in the 585, though.


IMG_0518

The Cannondale Super Six is much improved from last year. The rear end used to flex a fair amount and while there wasn’t a lot of flex in the front triangle and fork, the stays flexed enough to make the BB feel a little soft, but that’s been corrected now. Unfortunately, the bike was set up with the bar so high I couldn’t get a feel for the handling. The carbon fiber felt a little more dead than some of the others.

IMG_0510

The Felt F1 offers an incredible blend of stiffness and sensitivity to road surface. The mold is the same one used for the last few years but a new blend of carbon and a new layup process results in greater stiffness with no weight penalty I’m told. This bike balances stiffness, road feel, weight and durability (impact and abrasion resistance) better than almost any other bike out there. One of my three faves for sure.

IMG_0498

I’ve been seeing the Fuji around here and there and wanted to try it to see how it stacked up to bikes from more established players in the carbon fiber field. I was pleasantly surprised. While it doesn’t offer the sensitivity to road surface that the Specialized and Felt do, it was on a par with the Cannondale, which is real praise. Despite the seat mast design, it didn’t transmit an unreasonable amount of road vibration to the saddle.

My top three bikes for the ODD were the Specialized SL3, the Felt F1 and the Parlee Z5. I hope to review them in the coming months. Plenty of companies are getting their frames stiff enough, but they need to spend more time looking at road feel, in particular, sensitivity to road surface. It’s a dimension that is easy to overlook, but balancing the need for sensitivity without allowing too much road vibration to zap the rider can make the difference between a vibrant bike and a dead bike. Dead-feeling carbon is so 1990s. I find it especially interesting that these three bikes, though all produced overseas, come from three different facilities, meaning it isn’t just the factory engineers who know how to dial in some sensitivity when you ask for it. Clearly the people managing these product lines know there’s more to a great ride than just stiffness.


, , , , , , , , ,

13 comments

  1. Stephen

    Were there any non-carbon bikes available to demo? I know that carbon is dominating many segments of the market today, but I’d be really curious to hear how competitive materials (particularly the best of ti and steel) stack up.

  2. Larry T.

    Carbon dominates because neither steel or titanium a)can get closer than around 500 gms to the lightest carbon frames OR b)can be made cheaply in China. Mass-production, high profit means Chinese-made carbon frames (as well as aluminum with carbon bits glued in at the lower end of the market) The boutique, hand-made, made-to-measure folks working with steel or titanium are left to sell their wares on merits like fit, quality construction, reliability, heritage/history, etc. Sadly none of those things return enough profit for splashy ad campaigns, giant stands at Interbike, or fleets of demo bikes for journo’s to ride around on. Most of the folks who remember the “good ol’ daze” when bikes had that wonderful, lithe road-feel are well, too old to remember or too old to be riding bikes anymore, or too old to be writing up test reports. Bicycles are kinda like girlfriends–most guys always go on about how great their current one is and how awful the previous one was. Some things never change.

  3. Trev

    I like some of the pics you have shown Padraig, but seriously who cares about seeing new Specialized, Giant, fuji’s or Cannondale? I can see those at any bike store. Probably in the next 3 months. not that impressed by those bikes. and not very pro. I don’t imagine any pro would ride any of the afforementioned if he had a choice. But i liked the Parlee, that must have been a sweet ride.

    How about some pics of some exotic bikes like Guerciotti , or Carerra . Or hit some German points booths like Dynatek or Spin.

  4. mark

    Trev: “I don’t imagine any pro would ride any of the afforementioned if he had a choice.”

    I really don’t get this statement. Does the fact that a brand isn’t mainstream make it better? Does the fact that a brand is mainstream make it worse? Let’s look at the improvements in road bike technology over the last few years and look at who was driving them: Carbon fiber–Trek and Giant; tapered head tube–Trek and Specialized; integrated seat mast–Scott and Giant; BB30–Cannondale; BB86/BB90–Trek, Scott, and Giant. So tell me, who’s innovating, and who’s following? And how is a bike built by a follower possibly better than that built by the innovator? How many custom or boutique builders are still building lugged carbon fiber frames? When was the last time you saw Trek or Specialized or Giant come out with a lugged carbon fiber frame?

    In many cases, the bikes the pros would choose to ride are the bikes they’re on. Because in many cases, the bikes were built with input from said pros.

    But it costs a certain amount of money to do R&D for a bike frame. Would you rather have that cost spread over thousands of frames, or hundreds? Or dozens?

    Don’t answer that question. Because I don’t have time to hear you explain why your Guerciotti frame was worth two or three times as much as my Giant. Because it wasn’t. Except to you. Because you’re apparently more interested in riding something not everyone else is on than in riding the best bike you can get for the money. And that’s the only reason riding a boutique frame could ever possibly be worth it.

  5. Stephen

    Larry T., I understand *why* carbon dominates the market, that wasn’t my question. I am interested in how a reviewer like Padraig, who has forgotten the feel of more bikes than I’ll ever swing a leg over, would compare the best of steel or ti to the carbon bikes he rode.

    And it’s not so that smaller makers are not making their presence known at Interbike, to say nothing of the Demo Days. Parlee, obviously, is a much smaller builder, but I know that at least Moots, which builds only 1500 frames a year, had bikes out to demo (though perhaps only mountain bikes, I’m not sure on that front).

  6. trev

    Mark : my statement was pretty simple to understand. and to clarify, I didn’t say that those mainstream bikes were crap. Did I??? I said most pros wouldn’t ride one if given the choice, and I stand by that. didn’t Gibo, only a few years ago, refuse to ride a Cannondale because it felt like crap? Didn’t specialized Rebrand some Time frames for Boonen and the boys? Tyler once rode a rebranded Look.( and what did he ride when he was under suspension? A Trek? NO. a BMC? No. A Parlee) Didn’t Trek rebrand something for Lance ?(the brand slips my mind) and unless I am mistaken Giant put some of their stickers on someone elses TT bike this past year, or last. Not expecting to regurgitate all of this I can’t recall it instantly. And since you brought up Guerciotti, and I do ride one. I have read they are one of the most rebranded bikes out there. AT THE PROS REQUEST!!!! and it rides Friggin awesome. I am comparing that to my BMC, my Lemond, my Merckx, My last specialized, and my Prince.

    anyways, I would love to ride a very inexpensive bike that performs like my ciotti or my BMC. Not gonna happen. I am also probably not going to support a company just because there bikes are considered a “higher value”.

    you can possibly go onto an Italian sports car forum and tell those idiots why your Pontiac Grand Prix is such a better value. I am really glad you love your Giant. I don’t want one, so more for you.

  7. Lachlan

    Trev – whatever the pros & cons of mainstream bikes, I thought your original post had a different more interesting point than the one Mark interpretted from it… I thought you were simply saying that it would be great to get some inside scoop from Padraig on the more unussual kit on show. The kind of stuff that most of us are unlikely to see in person because it’s not going to be stocked in our LBS.

    And thats a great point, not just for this site but others too… most of the brands that get get covered are certainly interesting, BUT we’ll all mostly see their stuff in person fairly soon. But the kinda brands like spin or even tune etc are realy quite hard to ever see except on their own web sites.

    So in short +1 from me for any and all shots and comments Padraig can score us on the rarer less common brands at the show (assuming they are there that is!!)

  8. mark

    Trev, your rebuttal statement is tough to believe when your original statement said “and not very pro.”

    Lance rode a Litespeed, rebranded as Trek, in time trials before Trek made a TT bike.

    The rebranded Giants you speak of are the other way around–Columbia-Highroad branded their Giant TT bikes “Highroad” when Scott offered more money to be their bike sponsor.

    Kristin Armstrong continued riding her Giant, with decals removed, when she was sponsored by Lipton/Fuji.

    I get that bikes and preferences for bikes are a very personal thing. (I also love that “feel” becomes the selling point when a frame doesn’t stand out by any objective standard.) I just think calling bikes designed and built for pros “not very pro” is a stupid thing to say.

  9. Larry T.

    Geez, this topic is more volatile than the doping one! The pros ride what they’re given unless they hate it so much the bike sponsor will let ‘em get something else and put the sponsors name on it. Whether it’s Boonen–Specialized, Armstrong–Merckx or Hampsten–Serotta it’s been going on for a long time and will probably be the case forever. Trying to test/explain the differences between steel, aluminum, titanium and carbon bikes is an exercise in futility as someone will always defend their pet choice based on their own parameters. Read Chairman Bill McGann’s frame materials essays, I think they’re still on his bikeraceinfo website. When I sold custom built bikes for a living we helped customers choose not by test-rides (what chance would there be we’d have the right size in a built-up bike for every brand the client was interested in?) but by reading magazine interviews with builders we’d collected (the old Bicycle Guide was great for these) and trying to match the client with a builder’s philosophy–all with a satisfaction guarantee. Not money-back guarantee, but we did change out one or two frames each year while selling 200 custom-built “pro bikes” each year. Bicycles are like women–there’s a right one out there for every man–some of us find her right away, others spend their entire lives searching.


  10. Author
    Padraig

    Hi All: Thanks for the lively comments. There’s a lot to respond to here, but for now I’m going to respond to a few of Trev’s comments and questions.

    Concerning Guerciotti, Carrera, Spin and Dynatek: They simply weren’t at the Outdoor Demo. Even if they had been, I’d still have been more interested in Specialized, Giant, Fuji and Cannondale for the simple reason that they actually have serious in-house engineering staffs. My work has more relevance when I devote the majority of my time to those bikes and products that the are in the mainstream.

    Guerciotti rebranded? Not that I’ve seen. Some of their bikes are simply Taiwanese frames produced in what are “open” molds, as in not owned by a manufacturer such as Scott.

    What Tyler Hamilton rode was a Parlee decaled as a Look. For a period of time Quick Step mechanics were instructed to put Time forks on Specialized frames; this isn’t something Specialized supplied. I’ve already reported on this once. Trek did on one occasion put their decals on a Simonetti TT frame when Lance was introduced to Gian Simonetti by Eddie B. Later they put Trek decals on a Litespeed; in both cases they weren’t producing a TT frame.

    Rebadging isn’t done the way it used to be because a builder can’t simply buy the same lugs that Pinarello or whoever uses. The molds many companies use are proprietary so you can’t fool observant readers such as the eagle-eyed visitors to RKP. What is done that I still haven’t had a chance to do a post on is the degree to which companies like Specialized, Felt and others will produce custom layups for some riders.

    Back to Outdoor Demo: When I see a frame from an open mold, I keep moving. What it tells me is that the company has no in-house engineering staff and they are relying on the manufacturer (be it Giant, Martek or whoever) so the frames will be fairly heavy and dead, relative to the top end of composites; but that’s the sacrifice to make sure they are both strong and stiff.

    A note on the smaller builders at Outdoor Demo: Very few really small builders were in attendance there, that is small, craft builders who I think of in the same league as Parlee. A fleet of demo bikes is an exceedingly expensive proposition for a small company, even moreso for those who ordinarily only sell frames rather than complete bikes because it means they aren’t getting the volume pricing on groups.

    With that said, one request to everyone: Disagreement is okay, but please let’s keep it civil.

  11. Trev

    I think Mark just got a little upset because he thought I implied his Giant was boring peice of junk. I have ridden some giants, and some other big brand bikes and wasn’t blown away

  12. Chris

    One Question….: I have been currently riding for about a year an a half… totally ignorant of Bikes but have an overzealous love for Cycling I want to upgrade from my Spealized Allex to a more competitive bike for weekend local events. What is my next level? All Carbon is my next choice in a bike but Im wanting something semi competitive for local events and something that last..Suggestions please


    1. Author
      Padraig

      Chris: While I’m really loathe to give one company a nod over another, I suggest you take a hard look at both Felt and Focus. They offer an incredible bang for the buck. While Felt’s top carbon models are really impressive, I’m not sure anyone is doing better carbon work at the lower price points. But honestly, if you go with any of the brands that engineer their own carbon fiber frames, you’ll do fine. This is a great time to be a cyclist.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>