What a difference a year can make. The second edition of the Gran Fondo Colnago San Diego was the wettest ride of my entire life. Almost six hours of nonstop rain. This year we had blue skies, warm temperatures and smiling people. And Ferraris. Actually, we had Ferraris last year, but I was closer to them this time.
The businesses that comprise San Diego’s Little Italy have shown great support for the event; some even had custom kits made up just for the event. And with the nicer weather, I didn’t see anyone heading back to their hotel before the start.
I’m pleased to report that the national anthem was performed admirably, but the music that had me most excited came from these three little pipes here.
I had hoped we would have the Ferraris and Ducattis lead us for the entire ride, but that wasn’t to be. We did, however, enjoy a smoother start with enough controlled intersections to get us through the first 10 miles or so, just enough to get us most of the way out of San Diego and into the ‘burbs.
This is an expression I did not see last year. A lead group quickly formed at the front and two or three riders punched on each hill. While the pace at the front was firm, it wasn’t unreasonable. I’ve said it before: One of my favorite features of gran fondos is the way a mass-start sorts the riders. There were a number of bandit starters, but we rolled by them quickly enough that they rarely tried to jump in. I spent the entire day with capable riders who knew how to conduct themselves in a pack.
Conditions were breezy for most of the day and most climbs felt a bit more difficult than their actual pitch due to the wind. I’m currently suffering from a pinched nerve that limits my ability to go hard, so I backed off on the hills. Over the top, there were always a few strong riders to regroup with.
This is Tim—the man formerly known as Masiguy—Jackson. I’ve known Tim for years but have never encountered an opportunity to spend more than about 20 minutes with him. Interbike will do that. Though Tim started his racing career as a beanpole climber, he discovered the track some years back and underwent the most amazing metamorphosis; he became a sprinter. He also put on 60 pounds. Riding behind him was a bit like sitting in the middle of the pack. He punched such a big hole in the air that I barely had to pedal. I spent most of the day with him.
I began calling Tim “The Mop” for the way he would pick up riders as we rolled. One cyclist who hitched on to our group was riding a very beat steel bike with a cobbled set of components. He had the look of a new rider who was going to be in the sport for good. Unfortunately, his chain broke and while one of the rest stop mechanics fixed it in a flash, no sooner did we head out from the stop than he dropped off with more problems. A shame.
This is how I’ll remember our ride. A firm tempo, interrupted with a few leisurely stops. This is what living is all about.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.