For four years running now, the annual spring convocation of cycling, the Sea Otter Classic, has enjoyed stellar weather as it draws crowds to the Monterey Peninsula. I’ve visited the event most years since 1997, and I can’t recall such an ongoing stretch of great weather as these last few years. For each of the four days of the event temperatures reached the mid to upper 70s and the skies stretched cloudless, showing the blue of a booby’s feet.
For the first five years I went to the event, I was there strictly to race. Most years, though, I’d find a window in which to wander the expo area. Back then, my wandering would take 30 minutes. If I gave myself an hour, I could see everything—twice. By comparison, even without doing one of the gran fondos on Saturday, I still don’t feel like I saw everyone or everything I had hoped to.
This year, I decided that during those windows in which I didn’t have a dedicated mission, I’d try wander the expo with fresh eyes and see what caught my attention. I’ve been hearing about Scott Montgomery’s (yes he of Cannondale and Scott fame) latest endeavor, called Club Ride. I’ve been noticing an increasing number of riders on the road in what has traditionally been considered mountain bike apparel. My takeaway is that as many people enter cycling many of them struggle to accept the idea of wearing Lycra, but have in some cases at least come around to the idea of technical wear for increased comfort.
Giro’s “New Road” line and Club Ride’s assortment are fresh takes on what technical wear can be. I don’t see myself doing a group ride in this stuff, but I would happily wear it for running errands on my bike and when going for a ride to the park with my son. If the next CicLAvia doesn’t conflict with my schedule (Which genius thought it would be a good idea to plan it for during the LA Times Festival of Books? But I digress.) I’d wear this sort of stuff for the outing.
Challenge has long made great tires, often for other manufacturers. Recently, they began a more concerted push to market their products here in the U.S. With the burgeoning acceptance of riding dirt roads on road bikes, even when ‘cross isn’t in season (Or is ‘cross always in season now?), the 32mm-wide Grifo XS made me lust for roads unpaved. Its stablemate, the 27mm-wide Paris Roubaix, looked like it would be at home on hard pack or the local group ride.
So if you’ve ever wanted to drink beer, go for a ride, burn calories and NOT get pulled over for a DUI, the brain trust at Sierra Nevada has the perfect solution. You pedal and drink while someone else does the steering. Somehow I think you could drink beer faster than you could burn it off, even with the aid of this contraption, but being wrong has rarely been as likely to be as fun.
I’ve been following the work of the folks at Alchemy Bicycles since before I first met any of the guys at NAHBS. I’ve seen their work improve and evolve to the point that I think it’s fair to say they are doing something fresh and new in carbon fiber. The bikes I saw at Sea Otter featured unidirectional carbon fiber cut in artful shapes to give the bikes an unusually artful look. I can say I’ve never seen any work like this anywhere else.
Even when they paint the bikes the paint lines are crisp and reflect a honed aesthetic.
The work on the top tube on this bike deserves to be shot in a photo studio to capture all the beauty and detail, but even outside, I was blown away with what I saw. It’s a refreshing departure to spraying the bike one solid color or wrapping the whole thing in 3k or 12k weave. While I still need to learn a lot more about their current work, I’m coming to the conclusion that they are doing some of the most advanced work in carbon fiber, at least on the appearance side, but maybe on the construction side as well.
I’m not your typical guy in that I don’t spend Saturdays and Sundays each fall watching football while consuming 6000 calories as I sit on a couch. However, I am still some variety of guy and that means I do have a thing for tools and tool boxes. The Topeak Mobile PrepStation is a mobile work station. It includes 40 professional-grade tools that fit into water jet-cut foam forms in three trays. The bottom bucket is good for larger spare parts and any additional tools you might need, while the top tray is great for sorting any small parts you may need to keep on hand, such as quick release springs. And while this $895 rig is really meant for mechanics working event support, in it I see the genius of being able to put away all your tools and then have the whole shebang roll into a corner. I’ve witnessed many a household where the more the bike stuff got put away the happier the real head of the household was.
This Ag2r Team-Edition Focus Izalco comes in SL and Pro versions. The SL is equipped with Campy Record EPS, an FSA cockpit and Fulcrum Racing Speed 50 carbon tubulars; at $9800, it ain’t cheap, but that’s a lot of bike for the money. The Pro is equipped with Campy Chorus, an FSA/Concept cockpit and Fulcrum WH-CEX 6.5 wheels. It retails for only $3800. Honestly, there’s not another bike company that delivers as much bike for the price, though Felt comes close. I can’t figure out why I’m not seeing more of these on the road.
Cervelo has just introduced a new P3. While I haven’t seen wind tunnel specs or anything like that, I’m told this bike is both UCI-legal and faster. The UCI-bit I could give a moth’s wings about, but faster, well that always makes my mouth water. Apparently, some Cervelo purists complained about the new seat tube shape, but from an industrial design standpoint, I think this bike is really gorgeous. That said, I can observe that the hydraulic brakes spec’d on that bike aren’t easy to work on. The version shown here with Dura-Ace mechanical and Mavic Cosmic Elites goes for $5400 and is already shipping.
I have this belief that when I have to pay to do an event, that’s my time. And if I’m on my time, I’m not obligated to do anything other than ride. It has happened that on a few occasions I have chosen to write about the experience afterward, but because I paid to be there, I wasn’t obligated. It doesn’t change what I might write, but it does affect the urgency I feel about getting a piece up, post haste. This year, the Sea Otter organizers declined to grant me an entry for either gran fondo, so I took the opportunity to do a reconnaissance ride of the cross country course with Brian Vaughn and Yuri Hauswald of GU. We pulled over at a couple of points for them to give riders tips less on how often to fuel than where they could fuel, given the challenge of the course. I’ve heard a lot of bright people talk about how to fuel for races and hard rides and these two guys offered fantastic strategic thinking on how to stay on the gas even while staying fueled. Given the way I’ve been riding, this was a good deal more fun than trying to drill it for hours. And I definitely learned a trick or two.
Of course, strategic thinking about how to be a good athlete got short-circuited every time this thing came by in the expo. If there was more fun being had by adults than this, it Ninja’d by me in sunlight bright enough to burn my scalp through hair. I did encounter some great skin-care products, but I didn’t see a conditioner with an SPF factor. Someone needs to get on that before next year.
My favorite bikes are of a piece. They’ve got sharp handling. They have enough stiffness in torsion that when I stand up at the foot of a short hill they yield the sense that not a watt is wasted in flex. They also impart a tactile sense of the road surface. That’s not to say bikes that fall outside that particular style are bad, but if I’m plunking my money down, that’s what I want out of the experience.
It’s fair to ask why and the why is rooted in my sense of a good time. My favorite rides are 70- to 90-miles long and head north to Malibu. Generally two ascents, but sometimes three. And on the descents I do all I can to brake not at all. That’s really only possible on four of the descents in Malibu. On the others I’m late and hard and for that reason I want maximum feedback from the road. I want to know as clearly as possible what those tires are doing.
As I see it, the difference between a bike like the Tarmac SL3 and, say, a Time VRS is the difference in feel at the steering wheel between a BMW 3-series and a Lexus IS. Time works to dampen vibration and shield the rider from as much high-frequency vibration as possible. This is no sport-tuned suspension.
The R3 offered a similar sense of road feel to the Tarmac, though not quite so crisp. I can’t say exactly what factors contributed to the difference, but the fact that the frame was painted played into it. What we’re talking about here is a very minor difference.
That I liked the handling is no real surprise. In my size, the bike has the same head angle (73.5 degrees) and fork rake (43mm) as the Tarmac, resulting in the same trail, 5.59cm. BB drop is almost identical. Same for the front center and top tube length. The chainstays on the R3 are 2mm shorter (40.5cm) and the head tube is 6mm shorter (19.9cm). These bikes, at least in my size are virtually identical. Little wonder I liked the handling and could rail descents on this even if I’d just switched back to the R3 after I’d spent a week on the Tarmac. The biggest difference between the two bikes in my size was the longer head tube (6mm longer) on the Tarmac SL3 (though 1cm shorter on the SL4).
As you continue to examine the geometry of the R3, the similarities to the Tarmac continue. The R3 is made in six sizes, just like the Tarmac. The top tube lengths are within a half centimeter of the nearest size of the Tarmac.
The point here isn’t to say, “See, the Tarmac is a great bike, so the R3 is a great bike.” Rather, if you’ve been interested in an R3 and haven’t been able to ride one, because the geometries are so similar, a ride on a Tarmac will give you a feel for both the sizing and handling of an R3. Honest to blob, I’ve never switched between two bikes so seamlessly. It’s enough to make me think there’s industrial espionage going on between the two companies. Okay, not really.
Cervelo lists the sizes for the R3 as 48, 51, 54, 56, 58 and 61cm. The jumps in top tube length run mostly 15 or 16mm. The biggest jump is the 17mm spread from the 53.1cm top tube on the 51cm frame and the 54.8cm top tube on the 54cm frame. I’m in the camp that believes very few people really need a custom frame and while I love custom stuff, frames as advanced as the R3 simply aren’t available in custom, are they?
Each size of the R3 features a 73-degree seat tube angle and 40.5cm chainstays. I’m sorry, but using one mold for the rear end of every frame strikes me as a bit lazy. I am suspicious that this approach could cause some problems for riders who might be considering the 48 or the 61.
When I was in high school and really sucking at math, my parents hired a tutor for me; he taught me a lesson that helped me pass Algebra II and remains useful today. I’m more grateful for the latter than the former. He taught me that once I thought I had the solution to a problem to plug in some huge variables and the answer should pass the sniff test if I had the equation right. If it was wrong, it would look wrong right away. I’ve found it’s much the same way with bikes.
After spending more than a month on the R3 I had an opportunity to get on a friend’s SLC-SL for a ride around the block. His was a 56, so it was a bit smaller, but it was the perfect opportunity to remind me just how stiff the rear end of a carbon fiber bike can be. The rear end of the SLC-SL was the ridiculous variable that illustrated the point.
I’ve been on a mechanical bull and that was a good deal gentler (and funnier) than the SLC-SL. Look, I know that experienced cyclists are exceedingly skeptical of the “torsionally stiff, vertically compliant” claim that is as standard equipment to the bike review as the water bottle cage is to the bike. That said, those crazy small seatstays on the R3 have a distinct effect on the bike’s ride.
I’m aware that if I write that those stays absorb shock two things happen. First, I’ve said something that simply isn’t accurate. Second, you head for rec.bicycles.gassbag to flame me for saying something so stupid. But the simple fact is, riding an R3 isn’t like riding some other bikes out there. Lacking a better, more objective term, I’m going with “gentler.”
Okay, so I should mention BB Right and the Rotor Crank used with the frame. I was suspicious that I’d notice the odd Q-factor, but I didn’t. I flat-out don’t like the asymmetrical design, but that’s a bias, nothing more, nothing less. It’s like looking at a slug. It gives me the creeps, but for no truly objective reason. I don’t like that you are limited in your choice of cranks, but this was a 15-lb. bike, so it’s not like I can complain that the Rotor crank turned a vesper into brick. I’ve encountered riders with short-ish legs who have Q-factor issues if their feet move too far apart. I wonder if this could be a problem for some riders, but as for me and my 32-inch inseam, I didn’t have a single issue. I didn’t notice a thing as I was riding. Guess I need to shut up about that.
Perhaps a bit more worth discussing is the fact that Cervelo just entered a financing arrangement with Pon Holdings BV. Pon is a gigantic Dutch conglomerate with some 11,000 employees and owns Derby Cycle, which includes Raleigh, Univega and Kalkhoff brands. The financing came with a string—should Cervelo ever sell, Pon has an exclusive option to purchase the company. It’s basically a right of first-refusal. It’s possible this is fallout from the drain the Cervelo Test Team put on the company. Or it could be an infusion of horsepower that could transform the company for the better. Time will definitely tell.
Here’s what amazes me. Whenever I talk to Phil White at Cervelo (all five times), he wants to talk about the company’s aero designs. I really can’t get him to show any excitement about the R3. WTF? One could be forgiven for getting the impression that the company is less than bullish on anything non-aero. It’s strange. The R3 is better than most of the bikes I’ve ever ridden.
And that, dear reader, is why I keep reviewing bikes. The chance to get on a new bike and be surprised, to be enchanted, to feel that holy whoosh and be transported back to when I was six and tearing down the sidewalk with no assistance, that, that right there, that opportunity to make cycling fresh is why a new bike is a legitimate purchase.
The last few weeks have been crazy enough that I’ve got a few different bike posts I’d planned to have up before Interbike that, well, I’m just now getting around to.
To some degree these are going to go up in reverse order of how the events have actually taken place. First up is the Cervelo S5; it will be followed (shortly) with reviews of the Focus Izalco Pro and Cervelo R3.
The S5 reviewette (new word, you heard it here first) came about as a result of Mark Reidy of True Communications. Mark is handling some endemic media duties for Cervelo and had the bright idea to get a bunch of S5s in different sizes and then host a bunch of writers to an afternoon ride in the canyons of Malibu.
Why more PR/marketing types don’t do this is an absolute wonder. If they did more of this, we’d be less inclined to call them hacks.
We met at the Starbucks that practically sits in the shadow of Pepperdine University (also known as the site of Landis’ Last Stand). Sit here for an hour and you’ll see someone paparazzi-worth. I’ve seen Pamela Anderson, Tony Danza, a Brolin, and scores of minor celebs whose faces I recognized but whose roles were as lost to me as the name of my kindergarten teacher.
In the interest of full disclosure, Mark reminded us to bring our pedals no less than three times. Remember them I did. The shoes? Uh, a cat attempting to escape short-circuited me and I left the shoes behind. That’s not really the disclosure bit; this is: I did the whole ride in Vans and pushing giant downhill-style platform pedals.
The loop we chose had plenty of climbing. They were roads I know well and even though the shoes were wrong, I could tell plenty about the bike from the bar and saddle. The short answer is that I was surprised by my experience.
I’ve spoken with Phil White on a couple of occasions about his company’s designs. When last we spoke the S5 wasn’t yet out, but the S3 was. I’d told him about my review of the SLC-SL, which was the single most unpleasant-riding carbon fiber bike I’ve encountered. I could have more fun in front of a firing squad. White was adamant that the S3 would be a different experience. In riding the S5, I rather skipped a generation of development.
Latigo Canyon Road is a 12k climb and a fair bit of the asphalt is less than perfect. I know how my own bikes feel there. The only detail the S5 shares with the SLC-SL is that both are rather aerodynamic. Where the SLC-SL makes rough road feel like pavé, the S5 leaves it at rough. I’ve ridden other non-aero carbon fiber bikes that were less forgiving.
It was apparent in talking to him that White really favored Cervelo’s aero designs over its popular R-series. Honestly, I think they’d discontinue the R bikes if it wouldn’t hurt their sales. It’s an impression Mark backed up. He told me they don’t understand why someone would choose an R over an S.
Part of this has to do with what they understand about aerodynamics versus what most of us don’t understand about it. I’ve been told by several engineers and product managers that all the significant gains in bike design in the future will be in aerodynamics. The only way to make a bike significantly faster will be to make it more aerodynamic.
My response to the assertion that I should go with an aero road bike has been my regard for my undercarriage. I like it. I want to keep it. I want to avoid unnecessary scar tissue in my nether regions.
Is the S5 as comfortable as an R3? That seems to be the $64,000 question. The short answer is no. It’s not as comfortable. But it’s not the Muy Thai beating that I’ve come to expect either.
That minor loss of comfort was the most apparent difference to the R3 I’ve been riding. It’s difficult to try to quantify the aerodynamic gains; I’d have an easier time getting a feel for that on group rides. Time spent at the front of a group ride is where I get my best feedback on aerodynamics.
The crisp handling I’ve come to revere in the R3 was present in the S5. I was afraid it might not handle well on descents, but given that I did 45 mph coming down Decker Canyon in Vans, I’m going to suggest is indication that I was comfortable with the bike’s handling. I’ve gone faster, but never in sneakers.
You know what I’d really love to try? Either the R3 or the S5 in nude finishes—just decals, no paint. The liveliest carbon fiber frames I’ve ridden feature no paint. That’s for another post, though.
The aero road bike was a screwy idea five years ago. It was still bleeding edge two years ago. Today, I think the idea has come of age. There’s still a weight/torsional stiffness penalty with these bikes, but they are so much better than they used to be bikes like the S5 really don’t deserve to be compared to creations like the SLC-SL.
I’ve got to give White and his partner Gerard Vroomen credit. They have really taken a stand on aerodynamics. The aero road bike is something of a mission for them. They really don’t care what you think; they believe you’ll be faster on an aero bike, and from all appearances, they care more about your speed than your opinion.