I’m convinced there’s alchemy involved. It’s so hard to articulate what will make a great bike great, much easier than it is to look back, once the bike is built and say what you like about it. I’ve sat at my desk with the template and the colored pencils. I’ve listened to people talk about perfect top tube slop coupled with a negative rise stem. I’ve discussed tube diameters, proportion, etc. Of course, you have to nail it all. Every correct decision has to be balanced perfectly with all the other correct decisions.
Then there are the things you can’t see in the geometry chart, the tube spec, and even in the build kit. Does it fit you like a glove? Does it handle like it’s on rails?
What are the key factors? Comfort, yes. Geometric proportion, too, what I like to think of as the bike’s stance. Performance as measured by stiffness, but also strategic compliance, i.e. the rigidity to efficiently transfer power coupled to the comfort to allow you to make power for long periods of time. Parts spec is there. The components need to work for you. They don’t necessarily need to be the top-of-every line, but they need to match the bike’s purpose.
The bike’s features have to be considered. Does it have fender mounts? Does it have room for frame bags? Everyone has a different list, and you might have to consider what you’re willing to compromise. I’ve left aesthetics for late in this explication, but we know how important they are. I want a bike to excite me visually, but if it’s a new bike, I don’t want it to look like other bikes. I want it to surprise me a little with its visual appeal.
When you walk in a bike shop or click through a company’s website, you’re taking all this in simultaneously, and because you’re spending money that you earned, the decision is freighted. Even the most obsessed bike nerd probably doesn’t buy more than one new bike per season. It’s a big deal. The need to get it right is immense.
This week’s Group Ride asks you to rank your priorities. Take fit, handling, performance, components, features and aesthetics and tell us what order they matter to you. To me, fit and handling have to be top. I tend to think most components you find on most bikes work well, so I have preferences, but I don’t weight the build spec too heavily. Aesthetics probably come third for me. I need the bike to inspire me. I have to want to look at it. Features come next. It’s pretty hard to compromise on these things, but I tend to believe if fit and handling are optimized, you can find solutions for things you need.