When I was a kid, the ultimate vacation I could take was to go to Disney World. I’d be excited for days, even weeks beforehand, dreaming of all the incredible rides I’d enjoy once through the park’s gates. Once actually through the gates, choosing what to go on first was no easy task.
Outdoor Demo has taken the place of Disney World for me. There are more bikes to ride and people to see than I possibly get through in two days, even after eliminating from the list everyone I’ll see inside the convention hall. But it never actually works out quite that way.
I began today with a spin on the Neil Pryde Alize, one of the bikes that I saw this summer at Press Camp, but for which I was too short on time to go for a ride. I rolled out with the early morning Lake Meade ride and while there are a great many people on that ride looking for a good hard ride as it could be their only chance to ride in the next four or five days, I decided to hide in the back of the group and take an early turn around so that I could get on to riding other bikes.
The Alize was a pretty nice bike. If anything, it reminded me of Felt’s Z bike before its newest incarnation. There was plenty of stiffness to be responsive but not so much stiffness you wanted to take air out of the tires. The handling was very predictable. Oddly, I found my heels hitting the chainstays, which, because I’ve got size 42 feet, is a very unusual—essentially unheard of—phenomenon. Aside from that one detail, a nice bike.
It’s been a while since I last rode one of Specialized’s more entry level road bikes. I rolled out on a Roubaix Comp mostly to see just how lively a ride Specialized’s more budget-oriented grand touring model would offer. For 2013 the Comp gives riders many of the features found in the previous Roubaix SL3 frame. Honestly, at this price point ($TK), I expected something on the doornail side of dead. Surprisingly, this bike was anything but.
There’s no doubt that the Zertz vibration dampers do mute some of the high-frequency vibration that would otherwise reach a rider’s hands and rear, but what surprised me is just how much feedback I was still able to experience. This bike is a good deal more sensitive than its predecessors.
The other aspect of the bike’s ride quality was the amazing stiffness this bike possessed. I wouldn’t expect too many bikes in this price range to offer the precise tracking or BB stiffness found in this bike. And while I have traditionally ridden a 56cm frame in the Roubaix (though I ride a 58cm in the Tarmac), I went out on the 58cm Roubaix this time and while the steering felt a bit light initially due to the high bar, I was able to shift my weight forward a bit in turns to make the bike handle a bit more predictably. I gotta say, though, riding uphill with a bar that high was more comfortable than a chaise lounge at the beach. Okay, maybe not quite, but I liked it in the same surprised-at-how-great-this-is experience.
My very next bike was of a piece, the Giant Defy 0. This is Giant’s next to the top-of-the-line for its grand touring line, or as they call it, their “Endurance” line. Position is very similar to the Roubaix on this bike thanks to a long head tube. I tell ya, it’s kinda nice to sit up like that. The frame offered really good stiffness in torsion without being overly stiff vertically. Road feedback was good; it offered a bit more sensitivity than the Roubaix, but it wasn’t the high-volume feedback that I’ve found in some frames.
The seat tube and seat stay shapes suggest a bike that should be pretty harsh at the saddle, but that wasn’t my experience at all.
Of al the bikes coming out of Europe, the #1 bike that my friends covet has been Look’s 695. I’ve been curious what the draw is, so I spent some time hanging out at Look until one was returned. In differentiating the 695 from some of the top-of-the-line American frames Look staffer Kevin Padgett used a wine analogy. He suggested that American bikes were like California wines—bolder, more fruit-driven, and less apt to age well—whereas the Look was more like a grand cru Burgundy—refined, structured, less flavor-of-the-month. Does the comparison really hold up? It’s hard to say. I do think it’s a fun way to get people to think about differences between bikes, though.
Here’s what I can tell you about the 695: There’s a good reason that people have been excited about this bike. It offers exquisite sensitivity and provided one of the stiffest platforms from which to sprint that I rode in the two days of Outdoor Demo. Honestly, I was surprised by how much road surface feedback the bike offered; every French bike I’ve ridden prior to this one was as wooden as a barn.
The other detail I liked about the bike was its geometry; it didn’t feel overly aggressive, so on the fastest parts of the demo course, it felt very stable, it was still really easy to flick into a corner. This was one of my favorite bikes of Outdoor Demo and one for which I’d really like to do a more in-depth review.
The 675 is Look’s response to the grand touring segment. While there’s loads of seatpost showing in the photo above, the bike in question is a 56 rather than a 58. While not as dead as many of the French maker’s older models, the 675 was intentionally laid up with the goal of damping a significant amount of vibration to leave riders feeling fresher at the end of a long ride. It’s harder for me to comment on the handling of this bike due to its small size; with the bar so low there was enough weight on the front wheel to make the handling a bit sluggish.
The unusual integrated stem and top-tube design looks like it isn’t very adjustable, but spacers are available to raise the stem so you’re not locked into a single fit.
The Litespeed C1 was easily the biggest surprise of all the bikes I rode at Outdoor Demo. More than any other bike, I really want to have time to do miles on the C1 in order to do an in-depth review. The c1, for those who aren’t familiar with the bike, is Litespeed’s contribution to the aero road bike category. The C1′s design engineer responsible for this bike, Brad Devaney, told me that their wind tunnel data showed this frame and fork provides a rider with more aerodynamic gain than a set of Zipp 404s. The claim seemed to hold water because on the downhill run on the demo loop the bike was significantly faster than my previous two trips down. While I didn’t have a speedometer of any sort, what I noticed is that I had to brake for a turn that I’d previously sailed through due to higher perceived speed on my part.
Seeming fast and being fast may be two different things; I’m sure I’ll be able to settle that for myself if I have a chance to review the bike. The problem aero road bikes have typically faced is that due to their narrow tube profiles, they lack torsional stiffness, so they get loaded up with more carbon to make them stiff, but the extra carbon deadens the frame feel. Well, the C1 was nearly as lively in feel as some of my favorite non-aero road bikes. To get great aerodynamics, solid road feedback and world-class stiffness in one bike has been rare. I need more time on this bike.
The L1 is Litespeed’s newest bike, an 830g road frame (they are already working on a new layup that could shave even more weight) that can take on bikes like the Specialized Tarmac, Felt F1 and BH Ultralight (I dropped by BH to try to take an Ultralight out, but I couldn’t get anyone to acknowledge me, so I left after 10 minutes). Compared to the Felt F1, this was a less aggressive, more comfortable bike, yet it seemed to give up nothing in torsional stiffness or precise handling.
This massive BB looks like it’s going to be stiffer than a plate glass table but a surprising degree of comfort comes through to the saddle. For as responsive as the bike was, I was surprised by how pleasant it was to stay in the saddle on rough pavement.
While the size of the seatstays suggests stiffness, the fact that the seatstays merge with the seat and top tube enables Litespeed to use longer carbon fibers in its layup and that helps the ride quality.
On a separate note, a number of readers out there who work in the industry saw me in my RKP kit and came up to say hi. If I didn’t thank you then, thanks for taking a moment to say hi and thanks for reading.
Road tubeless from Easton. They are reasonably light—a bit more than 1500 grams for the set—but lose the weight of rim strips and tubes for a net saving over most wheel sets. I’m excited about these and look forward to reviewing these soon.
I admit that I didn’t fully understand the concept of the Castelli speed suits until I saw one. It really is the love child of traditional bibs and jersey with a skin suit. A very lightweight jersey is integrated into the shorts. You get a form-fitting jersey integrated into shorts so the pockets don’t ride up and when you open the full zip in front, only about three inches of material per side will flap around. Now the shorts are based on on Castelli’s incredible Body Pain bibs, which means the front is cut super-low—right at your waist. If you depend on bibs to offer a touch of smoothing for an extra pound (or 20) on your belly, this device is not for you, but for actual PROs, this thing is pure genius.
This Nalini women’s jacket is incredibly stylish and with the faux patent leather yoke I could see women wearing this as an aprés-riding piece, despite its technical function. Nalini does a lot of great work and they don’t get enough credit.
Look did a bunch of national flag-themed framesets. I liked them all, but this one struck me as the best/most attractive execution. I’ll confess my soft spot for the Union Jack here.
Best ‘cross bike I ever rode was a Merlin ti back in the late ’90s. Spent a whole season on it. It was also the best ‘cross season I ever had. Coincidence? I truly think the ti construction had something to do with it. The Moots PsychoX RSL looks like it will be an indestructible ‘cross course killer.
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.
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.