Saturday, September 20, 2008

Get Yer Ya-Ya’s Out


Well now I have gone and done it. I went and test rode a Tarmac SL2 in “Raw Carbon/White”. I also rode the Cervelo R3. Ravenna was my test track, all the way down to and back up from U Village, so I got to try the bikes in a variety of conditions.

I’ll lay it on the line--I’m not an impulse buyer, but I am a buyer who makes decisions fast once I have what I think I need, info-wise. My 2007 Tarmac SL is an incredible bike, and I’ve loved every mile I have ridden it. I have absolutely no reason to be looking at new bikes. But I am. The thought had not crossed my mind (well, maybe a little) until I was at Center Cycle buying my Langster. Did that put me in the “mood” to buy another bike? I hope I’m not that easy!

For those who have been reading, you’ll know that I am totally enamored with my new Langster singlespeed. While I would just be moving components from my SL and building a new bike up from the frame up, the total cost of either my SL or my potential new SL2 is many, many multiples of what the Langster cost me. I already know that I will not enjoy riding the new expensive bike multiple times more in magnitude vs. my Langster. As a matter of fact, I’m not sure I will enjoy it as much as the Langster, at least at this time of the cycling year.

So why am I looking? I’m not sure, but I do know that the SL2 does every single thing a little better than my SL. No improvement gains are huge, but they are noticeable on a 3.5 mile ride, and taken all together they make for a better bicycle. Over the course of many miles of long rides it would make the cycling experience more enjoyable for me.

Racing bicycle development has come a long way over the last five years or so, and I think it’s fair to say that the use of carbon fiber has revolutionized the overall bike business. Five years ago you could buy a very light carbon frame, but it was likely lacking in torsional stiffness. You can still buy a bad carbon bike, as you can with steel, aluminum, or titanium, but bad ones are getting a lot harder to find.

Today, you can buy a nice carbon bike for a fraction of what the top end bikes cost five years ago, and you can find one that is light and stiff, and that has a quality ride. As a matter of fact, IMHO, for $1000-2,000 (complete bike), I think these days you can get a bike objectively 95% as nice as the most expensive bike around. Subjectively, it may not look as nice, and the components won’t be as light, but everything will work well, and the bike will ride great.

That last 5% costs a lot of money.

I’m sure a lot of this is due to most manufacturers having moved production off shore to Asia. Some of it comes from accelerated development driven by increased competitive market forces. This could be partly generated by the boom in road cycling as Lance Armstrong put cycling on the map in the US.

One has to wonder about the state of the bicycling industry. Just as steel gave way to aluminum, which in turn yielded to titanium, carbon is now the preferred material to work with. Sure, there are still many fine bicycles being crafted out of other materials, but carbon fiber is the material that has experienced the greatest evolution over the last several years.

This evolution has made it possible to buy a complete bike off of a dealer’s floor that handles superbly, is comfortable to ride, transmits the rider’s power extremely efficiently, and weighs less than 14#.

What will the bicycle industry do for an encore? What new material is waiting in the wings to threaten the dominance of carbon fiber? How will the manufacturers motivate the owners of these super-bicycles to “trade up”? Given how expensive top shelf bikes are, it will take more than a change of color or a new graphics package to bring customers into the shop.

If I just rode a thousand miles a year it would be silly to even be considering another new bike (I just got the Hipster!). As a matter of fact, I think I’d just have one bike, and I would ride it fixed gear.

As you can see from this blog, I take my cycling rather seriously.

Sometimes there just isn’t a totally logical reason for the things we do. Maybe I really do just want a new color.

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