In the 21st Century the call of the Sirens has been replaced by the opportunity to ride almost any bike you might desire. How else can we explain what could get so many non-desert dwellers to congregate at a park where it was 104 degrees in the shade?
With so many choices, it’s tough to decide just where to start. For me, I knew I needed to check out Felt’s redesigned F-series. While the new flagship F1 was not yet available, I did ride the F2. In a 56, frame weight is reported to be about 850g, which is roughly 50g less than last year’s F1. It’s also stiffer than last year’s F1 and while they have the numbers to back that claim up, I’ve spent some time on the F1 and can tell you, the changes due to the new design and new construction methods make the improvements more than apparent.
This was my first opportunity to ride the Specialized Roubaix SL3. Many bikes achieve vibration damping through the use of lots of intermediate modulus carbon fiber. Ultimately, those bikes feel rather dead. Thanks to the Zertz dampers, long wheelbase and carbon layup, the Roubaix SL3 didn’t feel dead so much as muted. It was extraordinarily stiff, must stiffer than could be achieved were the bike built from intermediate modulus carbon fiber exclusively.
Last year, the Tarmac SL3 was my pick of the litter. I really thought it has the best combination of road feel, stiffness and handling of any bike I rode. I took a short spin on it for comparison purposes, just to make drawing a comparison to a known benchmark easier.
In 1978, long before sealed bearing headsets bearing his name became the headset of choice, Chris King was building steel frames in his Santa Barbara shop. Today, frames bearing his Cielo Cycles monicker are once again being sold to shops. Jay Sycip (yes, of the Sycip brothers fame) oversees production on the bikes and worked with Chris on the geometry.
This Cielo is a great example of why people buy steel bikes. It had terrific stiffness; it was absolutely stiffer than I thought it would be. It also featured crisp, precise handling and Jay revealed each frame features its own fork in order to keep trail constant. The upshot is that everyone gets the same riding experience, which is really special. This is one of the very best steel frames I’ve ridden in the last eight years, if not the outright best.
The head tube and seatstays featured some lovely polished stainless steel touches.
Cervelo’s R3SL is one of a handful of bikes that seemingly everyone asks about. Any time I talk to someone interested in compliance and ride quality, the R3SL is one of the first bikes they ask about. People have good reason to be curious. While my test-ride bike was a little small for me, I was impressed with the combination of stiffness and ride quality.
Trek has come a long way since the days of the OCLV series bikes. The new Madone 6.0 uses carbon fiber superior to anything the company has used before. On the road, it definitely had the best ride quality of any Trek I’d ever ridden, not to mention stiffness that can rival many bikes. But while the other bikes I rode had handling that was quick but predictable, the Madone 6.0 felt a touch nervous, as if there wasn’t enough weight on the front wheel. That said, the longer I rode the bike, the more accustomed to the handling I became, but my preference is for bikes with fewer nerves.
Overall, the big surprise of the day was the Cielo, but the most impressive bike of the bunch was the Felt F2. Its combination of rarely achieved stiffness, kid-glove sensitivity and masterful handling led me to the conclusion that most riders could easily be fooled into thinking this was Felt’s top-of-the-line bike if they never saw the decals.