Saturday, November 8, 2008

Doubting Thomas

In an earlier post (“Get Yer Ya-Yahs Out” on 9-20-08); I wondered aloud whether incremental improvements in high end bikes would be incentive enough for cyclists to “trade up” to the latest carbon wonder bike. After taking several test rides on new bikes, I was thinking that the big gains in carbon bike design have been made. Well, now I have to eat some humble pie.

I’ve now had my new 2009 S-Works Tarmac SL2 for a little over a month, and I have managed to ride it over 800 miles during an October with hardly a drop of rain.

When I test rode the SL2, I did so two days in a row on unfamiliar roads, both days comparing it to my 2007 S-Works Tarmac SL by riding the bikes back to back. I made the decision to order a SL2 frameset because it seemed to do everything a little bit better than my SL, and I was ready for a new look anyway. The SL2 had bigger tubes, a tapered headtube, and a new finish called Raw Carbon/KL that I thought was super hot.

Subconsciously, I must have been justifying the new fashion statement by reasoning that the SL2 handled a little better, descended and climbed a little bit more solidly, and seemed to ride a little smoother than my SL. Of course, there were different wheels and tires involved, so I wasn’t totally confident that there were differences at all, despite the Specialized marketing machine claims of improvements in each area. Oh yeah, the company was also claiming the SL2 frameset weighed 100g less while managing to accomplish these goals.

The SL2 was built up with the pieces from my Tarmac SL, so I now have a true “apples to apples” comparison. After over 800 miles on roads that I am very familiar with, I now realize that that the differences between my old and new bikes are not subtle and evolutionary; they are huge and almost revolutionary. It took riding on roads that I had ridden many times to discover that the SL2 had a much more refined ride, and descended and cornered much more solidly. Given that I had thought my Tarmac SL to be a fantastic bike, suffice to say I am a little blown away by the SL2.

The SL was a blast to ride, but the SL2 “comes from another world”, to quote eight time world champion Valentino Rossi describing the 500 GP motorcycle racing bikes.

From now on I will longer be a Doubting Thomas. I’ll be prepared to be dazzled when I least expect it.

There is no moral to the story, other than the next time (and there always will be a next time) I decide to buy a new bike, I am going to do everything I can to beg, borrow, or steal (just kidding) the new model for long enough that I can ride it over familiar roads. If possible, I’ll throw on my wheels just for good measure.

With as important and expensive a decision as changing bicycles is, I want to give myself every chance to get the evaluation right.

The companies that manufacture custom bicycles tailor their marketing to their strengths. “We will build a bicycle for just you, and it will be the last bicycle you need for the rest of your life” is the mantra they preach.

High end, mass production manufacturers market to customers who yearn for the latest advances in technology, such as lighter and stronger materials, more gears, etc.

A bicycle for life? Who are they kidding? Does anyone actually do this—buy one bike, and ride it until they die? Every time I buy a new bike, no matter how much in love with it I am, I certainly don’t expect it will be my last.

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