In Defense of (Relatively) Cheap Bikes

2017 Specialized Allez E5 Sport

2016 Specialized Allez E5 Sport

I spend quite a bit of my time riding, working on and thinking about bicycles. Most every conversation I have about bicycles involves some sort of cost associated with the subject bicycle. The dollar amounts spoken of may be of certain components, the entire bike, or cost to worth ratios (otherwise known as bang for your buck).

Let’s talk road bikes for a second. I think we can boil down the average prospective customer into three camps: 1) rides really expensive bicycles and thinks it is worth it to ride super nice bikes; 2) is surprised at how expensive bikes have become but really wants to ride; and 3) has a modest budget, would rather not spend their entire savings but is willing to take the advice of more experienced riders and buy an affordable bike that suits them.

For the expensive bike crowd, there is a vast range of snobbery or personal taste which makes them always discount an affordable bike. For the more frugal, affordable means Craigslist (or worse, 1970s) pricing. With $400 hybrids being the bottom of the price spectrum in most shops, they can be quite beyond help. However, I feel that the majority of people fall into the last group. It is these customers that many bike shops need to treat with the utmost care. Acting too snobbish about what they can afford will no doubt leave some of them feeling low or stupid. Shifting to the other extreme, talking purely about budget, could have the same effect. They may go away feeling that the cycling world is too exclusive for them.

This is why, when it comes to most people, that the first thing I ask is what type of riding they wish to do. I then gravitate towards an affordable bike first. If they say they are looking for more, then I show them the higher-end stuff.

Please also keep in mind that I am talking about people with little to no experience riding bikes but would really like to get more into it. There are those in the industry that will tell this person to buy what we believe to be a mid-range bike. This is usually a road bike with a carbon frame and a compact-double drivetrain. Possibly Shimano Tiagra or 105 components. It may have an FSA or PraxisWorks crankset, may or may not have disc brakes (mechanical or hydraulic), and a carbon seat post. Usually, this falls in the range of $1,900 to $2,300 depending on the shop and not including any deals or sales.

If the person has the dough and doesn’t mind so much, so be it. But I often advise to go with a more starter model rather than the mid-range. Why? Well I want this person to enjoy their purchase without having to realize that they may have spent too much for their level of riding. If they stay with the sport, all the better. They can hand the entry-level bike down or sell it and get a more expensive bike later. This, I believe, benefits the bike industry more. Not only will more riders get accustomed to various levels of builds, they will be more excited about their upgrades.

Consider the lower-end of the spectrum. They are not designed to be crappy. Far from it. In fact, many of the components and frame technologies that are in a $900 bike were top of the line a decade ago. If your customer isn’t racing, that should suit them just fine. They get quality products at a lower price. Are there disadvantages to the customer? Sure. They will get a slightly heavier bike, components that are not as smooth as the top of the line stuff. But relative to a pro, the experience will no doubt be the same. They are still learning. They want to get excited.

Ultimately, it is up to the sales staff at the bike shop to build a relationship with this type of customer. That way, the upgrade cycle will seem natural. They more they ride bikes, the more they see their skill level improve. The more excited they will be when it is time to upgrade. We not just selling products, my friends. We are selling a lifestyle and an experience. There is no room for snobbery as all equipment is the best relative to skill levels.

That is why I am happy to sell a bike like the Specialized Allez E5 Sport to someone who is just starting out. The bike has everything a new rider needs. Plenty of range in the gearing. Carbon fork for comfort/weight reduction. Non-aggressive riding position. This type of bike should do well for a new rider for a couple of years or until their skill level improves. When they are ready to upgrade, all the better for them and our shop.

So please, bike shop employees: keep the snobbery to a minimum and use it only with your level of riding friends. Cycling is not an exclusive lifestyle and the more of us there are, the better. Remember that.

Quick Review: 2017 Specialized Ruby Expert

2017 Specialized Ruby Expert

2017 Specialized Ruby Expert

Be sure to check out the photo gallery at the end of the article!

It has been said by many that the existence of women’s specific frame geometries is hard to justify. Indeed, the rise of frames that are Rider-First Engineered™ with Women’s Endurance Geometry has been hard to ignore. Every major bicycle maker seems to have their own version of a female-inspired frame geometry. Although, as a not-so-typically shaped man, I struggle with finding my own perfect fit as well. However, a manufacturer creating a single geometry just for women is at odds with what I believe is the best way to fit a person to a bike.

I agree that there are many different body types out there and thus a need to offer more offerings to them. However, some of the implementations are a bit lacking. That said, it doesn’t mean that any woman rider who is looking for the perfect bike should automatically discard the idea of the Specialized Ruby Expert (or any other Ruby, Dolce, or Amira). I just believe that a woman (or a man, for that matter) should not feel like they are limited to a certain frame style just because of their gender.

Now that I have either bored you or set you up, here’s the review:

The Specialized Ruby Expert is the latest in the higher range of Specialized’s carbon endurance bikes. The Ruby is almost an exact mirror, level for level of the Roubaix, the flagship endurance road bike in the Specialized catalog. The main difference between the two models are the frame geometries and the colorways.

From across the room. To be honest, I thought this was an electric bike on first glance. That was due to the frame-mounted Road Kit that was situated near the bottom bracket. It looked like some sort of crankcase motor from far away. But upon inspection, it was just a simple toolkit. The Ruby Expert is the lowest model that comes stock with one of these out of the box. For every other bike, it is a $95.00 add on. The subdued colorway (Ruby Expert is only available in gray at this writing) makes it not-so-flashy. It’s a really neat color to have for a bike. One that doesn’t scream “feminine” or “beast woman” is a relief.

The ride. Very nice. Like I said. I am a not-so-typically shaped man, and the frame (54 cm tested) fit me quite well. The most noticeable thing was of course, the Future Shock™. What is future shock, you ask? Well here’s the engineers at Specialized speaking through their content marketing filters:

For many, “smoothness” is a term that’s replaceable with “comfort,” and likewise, it’s been historically treated as a variable that’s in the way of speed—you either have a fast bike or a comfortable bike. With the Future Shock, however, we set out to find just what happens when smoothness is treated as a component of speed. It was complicated, but our testing clearly proves that “smoother” is indeed “faster.”

There’s a lot more that they have to say about this. Click the link above to read the rest. It’s well crafted. In any case, I found the Future Shock to be much more than just a flip-flopped Head Shok. The difference between the two is that the where the Head Shok allowed the frame to change angles, the Future Shock does not. Also, Specialized uses the correct spelling of “shock” in the name. Seriously, though, the Future Shock only allows just the handlebars to change height. New and better updates to an old idea. And it actually is different! Mind. Blown. Future Shock is available on the Elite and above models. Lower-end models still use the Zertz fork and seat-stay inserts.

I took the opportunity to ride a demo of this machine to and from work one day. No, I was not worried about people shouting “you’re riding a girls’ bike!” Honestly, there’s no way to tell from across the street. I have a few climbs on the way to work and I found that the Future Shock did not cause any problems. At no time did I feel any of my power being transferred to the downward motion of the bars. The decoupled seat post combined with the Zertz insert did not reduce pothole (or cobblestone) shock as much as I thought it would. However, it does reduce it by more than the older models. The ride is still smoother than anything I would have expected from other bikes. The frame is stiff and light. The handling is really responsive. At the Expert level, this bike is more than enough for the non-pro enthusiast or seasoned bike club member.

The build. What can I say about Ultegra? What can I say about a bike that ships stock with a full Ultegra drive train? As a not-yet convert to Di2, this Ultegra set still makes the ride enjoyable and worry free. Shimano continues to make buttery-smooth shifting with their mechanical components. A welcome feature that raises the price of this bike a little, but it is definitely worth the extra cabbage.

Climbing and descending on rough roads, an endurance rider needs all the help she can get. Specialized lovingly decided to stop wheel motion with the Shimano 805 flat-mount hydraulic disc brake set. These are essential to the type of riding this bike is designed for. Combine those with the 50/34 compact double chainrings and this bike has all the potential to be a QOM/KOM monster.

Final note. Will this bike save you extra pain in the butt from potholes, ruts, etc.? No. Crappy roads are are pretty brutal and no bike save for a dual suspension mountain bike can take enough shock away. However, this bike, for cobblestones and crappy roads is super nice. It is a good build with awesome specs. Recommended buy for anyone looking to up their endurance game.

In Defense of Rim Brakes

Paul Neo Retro Touring Canti

Paul Neo Retro Touring Canti

It was a long struggle with pneumonia. It was close…real close. I am still not back on the bike but I am getting there. While I recover, I wanted to talk about brakes.

Probably the most invasive technology in the cycling world (aside from crabon everything) is disc brakes. They are becoming more common on bikes these days and it seems you can’t event spend as low as $770.00 on a bike without getting some hydraulic discs in the package. Indeed, where just a couple of years ago, hydraulic disc brakes were the sole property of bikes costing over $1,500.00. Nay, mountain bikes costing over $1500.00. Now they are everywhere. And for good reason: they stop a bike more efficiently, function on warped rims and are great in wet weather. Hydraulics do not suffer a much from that annoying zing-zing sound that mechanical disc brakes are so fond of making. Once the exclusive domain of mountain bikers, they are sneaking onto every other type of bike being offered for sale to consumers. The drawback to these things? There are two that I can think of: weight and maintenance.

Weight is a minor issue on entry-level bikes. Most riders who are out getting exercise and enjoying the fresh air are not looking to shave grams, They are looking for a solid bike for the lowest price. The trouble with putting hydro discs on an entry-level hybrid is evident immediately to the entry-level rider purchasing said bike: the maintenance. If I were to mention reservoirs, brake fluid and bleeding to this type of bicycle consumer, they would imagine a greasy-faced auto mechanic in coveralls holding up a master cylinder in front of their face saying: “Now there’s your problem!” But the truth is, today’s hydro brakes can be maintained with just a little practice or for a modest fee at you LBS. Even a brake-bleeding kit only costs $25.00.

So are rim brakes obsolete? Some may say so, especially the members of the weak-minded spandex army of Freds because they are easily moved by marketing. However, the other drawback that I mentioned before, weight, can have a serious effect on a sub-16-pound road bike. There are some companies, like Giant for instance, that have appropriated side-pull brakes for their road bikes. I think this is an interesting concept. Take the 2015 Giant Propel Advanced SL 0. This is their highest-end road bike and it retails for a whopping $10,800.00! And it has side-pull rim brakes. Granted, they are getting pretty aero with these, mounting them behind the forks, so there’s a good way to subtract some milliseconds to your stage time. The weight is pretty light, too. Just when you thought manufacturers were going disc crazy, here comes Giant with the weakest style of rim brakes on their most expensive consumer road bike. It is truly mind bottling…you know, when things get so crazy it gets your thoughts all trapped like in a bottle? But hey, these brakes are super easy to maintain and they are super light as well. That should be very pleasing to the Freds out there.

To be honest, I am rather fond of a good set of cantilever brakes. Sure they may be a pain to adjust, but they are the best at stopping power aside from some of the higher-end calipers out there. Plus they make my bikes look all steam-punky. That’s always a plus with the ladies. End of line.

Quick Review: 2015 Specialized Roubaix SL4 Comp Disc

2015 Specialized Roubaix SL4 Comp Disc

2015 Specialized Roubaix SL4 Comp Disc

Gallery below!

I am slowly getting to like Specialized. I mean, if you’re going to purchase a crabon bike to shed grams and pretend like you’re on a team, then Specialized, I think, is one of the better big-company bike companies out there.  I am not doing this review here to claim that Specialized is the best. Far from it. I am merely giving you a run-down of what I would choose if I were in the market for a crabon endurance bike. That said:

The 2015 Specialized Roubaix SL4 Comp Disc

Since I have made the conscious choice not to race anymore, I have resigned myself to near-Fred status. Yes. Expensive bicycles capture my attention. The only differences between me and an actual Fred is that I cannot afford to purchase the above-pictured bike and I possess the intellectual capacity to realize that I don’t really need it. I can, however, borrow one for a whiles to assess its potential for actual Freds who can afford one.

The extremely long and exhaustive name of the Roubaix Comp Disc gives away its most noticeable attribute: the Shimano 785 hydraulic road disc brakes. Finally,  a really heavy person (I don’t discriminate based on gender, but some of you dudes are huge) can ride a really light crabon bike and be able to stop on a dime. And though I am pushing a hefty 160 pounds, I found the brakes to be extremely responsive and quick to get used to. And when I say “get used to” I mean it takes a couple of stops at a slower speed to master not falling down (the bike is really light and the stoppage is immediate). Not only that, but the calipers have fins on them for those people who love good heat dissipation.

Moving on to the drivetrain, I found the Shimano Ultegra 11-speed setup quite nice. No Di2 needed here (especially at this price point). The Ultegra shift levers are quite responsive and almost Fred-proof. The PraxisWorks 50/34 compact-double chainrings were a nice addition and a good way for Specialized to keep the build cost down. Not to mention, it’s kind of cool having a crankset named after an exploded Klingon moon. A full Ultegra drivetrain is not necessary unless you are looking to brag about having a crankset that is overly expensive. And I wouldn’t bother bragging about anything less than Dura Ace or SRAM Red anyway. My only gripe is that I would rather have an external bottom bracket rather than the press-fit BB30 that comes on this frame. I can see lots of loosening and noise in the future especially if a climber buys this bike.

Speaking of climbing: there is a noticeable frame flex when climbing. Out of the saddle, it started to feel a little noodly on the long climbs we have around here.

The geometry is awesome. I am 5′ 10″ and I tested the 54cm. I felt relaxed and not too aero. For a long-distance ride, I think this bike would be perfect. I also had my reservations about the effectiveness of the Zertz inserts on the fork, seat stays and seat post However, they proved to be quite effective. The bike certainly lived up to its cobblestone-inspired name as it did a really great job of dampening vibration. The bike does glide, people.

For the 54cm  model, the 72-degree headtube angle was just slack enough to give me a comfortable ride. The steering was extremely responsive and smooth. At slower speeds (read: in a footdown contest), it was great. However, I don’t think I will be playing bike polo with it anytime soon. The wheels are another story. The Axis wheels are good, but I found them to be a little heavy to match with this frame. If I were suffering from chronic Fredness, I would definitely upgrade to a set of Mavic Kysirium SLS. But if you’re actually looking at the price of this bike, those would set you back at least another six large on a swap with your LBS, bringing this beast to over four grand.

Conclusion

If you have enough cabbage and want an effective crabon endurance ride, I would recommend, nay, advocate for the Specialized Roubaix Comp Disc.  It’s just at the bottom end of Fredness while still being pretty awesome. In fact, I would say that the only thing holding this thing back from complete Fredability is the fact that it doesn’t say “S-Works” on the downtube. And, like all of the SL4 road bikes that Specialized puts out, it makes a great platform for future upgrades.

*End of line*

 

 

 

Light Action: A Lesson in Patience

Shimano Light Action Bar End Shifter

Shimano Light Action Bar End Shifter on Paul Components Thumbie

If you’ve read any of my posts you would probably infer that I hold bicycles pretty high in the hierarchy of super important things that humans have invented. Indeed, the bicycle as we know it evolved from a long history of rich people’s toys and false starts. I find it rather unfortunate that the modern bicycle finally began to be taken seriously about the same time cars and airplanes were invented. Indeed, if horses didn’t poop so much and weren’t so damn skittish, maybe we wouldn’t have bothered with the automobile. Imagine a world where people went places by bicycles and horses. Nope. Too easy. Humans would rather go to great expense to suck oil out of the ground to make a vehicle so energy inefficient that the only plus side is that it makes it easier for teenagers to make out in private.

So what does this have to do with the picture above? It’s to illustrate my point at how awesome bikes are. There’s beauty in simplicity and patience. How such dysfunctional race of beings that infest a planet they don’t care about can make such a simple machine that, despite its drawbacks (it’s not as fast as a car) can get us where we need to go just blows my mind. Seriously: we can ride a bike anywhere given enough time. Not only that, bicycles have a low cost of entry (pretty much anyone can afford one), they are cheaper to fuel (burritos give the best milage per unit), and they can be stunning examples of simplistic beauty. No matter what kind of bike you ride, they are all beautiful not only because some can be aesthetically so. But even the cheapest POS from REI still does the same thing as a Rivendell or S-Works Tarmac Disc…it has two wheels and moves you forward. You need at least one leg and a lot of patience to operate one.

<nonconformist_view>
         Patience, Dear Reader, is something that cars have destroyed — a hundred years ago. They have literally sucked it out of the earth as if they drank our milkshake.
</nonconformist_view>

I’m not saying that we should all hate the automobile. I just think that, deep down inside, they are ugly and dirty.

End of line.

Steel is Real: Stinner Frameworks Open House

Stinner Frame Works Open House

Stinner Frame Works Open House

Free beer? Costco pizza? Yes please.

I knew it was coming but I’d somehow thought that I was busy Saturday night. It wasn’t until towards closing the shop at the end of the day that I’d realized a lot of the other Velo Pro bros were heading to Stinner Frameworks open house out by the airport. I felt like kind of a douce driving my car out to a bike event so close to home. But it was night time and F didn’t feel comfortable with the idea. I made it clear that we couldn’t miss it, so after we closed up the shop, I rode home and F and I got in the car and headed out to far Goleta.

I first ran into Aaron Stinner a few years back at the 2nd Annual San Diego Custom Bicycle Show in 2011. It was in a huge conference hall in downtown San Diego and there weren’t quite enough booths to fill the space. So it looked disappointing almost from the outset. There were, however, some pretty awesome booths. Serotta, Soulcraft, and Velo Cult (when they were still  in San Diego) were all repping their skills. After taking loads of images and trying to keep my then girlfriend from getting bored, I decided that I needed a beer or two. On the way out, I noticed Stinner’s booth and (much to the chagrin of my GF) went to go check out his stuff. He had a couple of frames on display and his booth was unimpressive by trade show standards. However, his steel frames were sitting there, easily competing with everyone else’s. The workmanship was phenomenal. I noticed that there were no lugs (pretty much every custom frame in there had lugs). While nice, lugs are super time consuming and have a significant effect on the cost of the frame. In my opinion, I can take them or leave them. Seeing his frames, I decided that I could leave them.

I seriously doubt that he remembers, but I chatted with him for about five minutes. He’s a great guy. I plan someday to get a custom frame made for myself. Now that he is in my neck of the woods, having something local would be epic. Looking at what he offers in the way of custom frames, the whole range is there: mountain, road, cyclocross and custom projects are all offered. You can even design your own paint scheme and graphics. The shops workflow and layout looks solid. The current projects on display were out of this world. If you’re in the market for Santa Barbara steel, look him up. It’s a true small shop with a friendly staff. Check out the gallery below for more pics.

I’m famous…

So I have been dabbling in video lately. The bank that I work for wanted to put together a series of social media videos about their new mobile app. There was no budget so I just raised my hand and did it. The only catch was, it would have to star yours truly. So check it out. It has very little to do with bicycles, but they’re in there somewhere.

George Gets Surly and Rides Again

George and his Surly Disc Trucker

George and his Surly Disc Trucker

A little while back we met George and his old Trek. It was his only form of transportation and he really loved that old bike. Then, a few weeks back, a drunk driver crashed into his bike while it was locked up on the sidewalk. That’s what happens when you combine enabling, alcohol and really large, metal vehicles that weigh more than 150 pounds. But that’s another story and one of my main problems with cars in general.

As you may have guessed, the bike was totaled. I mean, now the frame is hanging on his wall like a broken guitar. Sort of a weird but beautiful piece of art that reminds him of a different time.

In order to move past his old Trek, George came in an bought himself a Surly Disc Trucker. Talk about an upgrade. In my opinion, the geometry and versatility of tire sizes and rack mounts make this the perfect bike to fill the slot as George’s one and only mode of transportation. He rounded out the purchase with a nice Brooks B-17 Imperial saddle and a bitchin Kryptonite lock. And now that Surly is equipping the LHTs with a Shimano XT drivetrain, his new bike will be super reliable and able to tackle more varieties of roads and hills.

It’s almost as if the drunk driver enabled George to go further on his bike than before. Bicycles, my dear reader, are huge enablers. Enablers of awesome. See gallery below of George’s new bike:

Colnago the Phoenix

I somehow seem to have missed taking a full wide shot of this bike. It is a Colnago, yes. Vintage? Unknown. However, I can tell you that it is indeed a rescue. It was, I am told, left outside in a yard for years. The sun bleached the side of the frame facing up. Despite all the neglect, the frame remained straight. It was rescued and alive again by a fellow named Sean who works at one of the other bike shops in town. I have to say that it turned out quite nice. It has a well-established patina and I am sure it rides nicely. It is quite remarkable how a once grand bike can be set out to pasture (literally) and the waste away to a hunk of steel, only to be resurrected years later. That’s why bikes hold my interest more than cars. They can be made well again and get somebody rolling for cheap. They are beautiful and virtually indestructible.

Colorful Frames of Mind

Awesome track frames at Cranky's bikes in Santa Barbara, CA.

Awesome track frames at Cranky’s bikes in Santa Barbara, CA

Even though I work in a bike shop, I still love other bike shops. Cranky’s Bikes is no exception. Jim always has some beautiful frames hanging over the counter. His shop is a very colorful place. All the folks that work there are awesome.

I have pretty much given up on fixies. My knees are getting a little too old to handle them. I still love  riding track bikes, tho. In fact, I wish Santa Barbara had a velodrome as I would be all over it ‘ERRYDAY. Cranky’s mainstays are track bikes, cyclocross, road, touring, cruisers and BMX. I hope if you ever get a chance to stop by, click through here and check out the directions to the shop.