Friday, March 20, 2009

Bike Shopping - Day 1

The hilly return home from work was slow, but I didn't die. I guess I'm willing to do it again. You've twisted my arm. ;)

After work, I went out for my first bike shop test ride stop! I started the rounds at Ada Bike Shop (in Ada, MI) and rode two women's specific frames. I think that what I want is a bike that's a little more upright in geometry for comfort over the long miles and recreational riding but that still provides performance for racing. However, I'm willing to try some racier geometries to see how they feel.

The first moments of riding a road bike definitely felt different! It was a little awkward at first pushing off with the light weight of the frame and the different handlebars. But after a couple miles, I thought, "I could get used to this!"

So here's my big mistake of the night. The first bike I tried was a Cannondale Synapse fem, 53cm (last year's model). I intended to test out aluminum frames primarily (due to the lower cost), but they didn't have my size in this model in aluminum, so I rode a full carbon frame (carbon 5). Wow! It was so light weight that at first I had to get used to the responsiveness of it. It's not as forgiving as my mountain beast. But I also didn't feel like I was pushing mountain beast weight when I rode up hills. The other thing I noticed about carbon was how much road vibration it absorbed. Actually, I didn't notice it at all until I rode the second bike, which was aluminum. Then I felt the familiar road bumps and vibes. The shop expert said that the Synapse is more upright than the second bike that I rode, and I was very comfortable with the position. It felt sporty, but I didn't feel at all like I was hunched over or unable to expand my lungs. The shifting was also very smooth on this model (even with the low end components), but it had 2 gears in the front and 10 in the back, which is different for me. My mountain bike has 3 in front and 8 in back. And I didn't like the saddle at all, but I can just put my old saddle on my new bike. So after about a mile or two of riding this beauty, I came back to the shop to try number 2.

The second bike was a Scott Contessa Speedster - also a women's frame - 54cm (last year's model). This one was all aluminum, and I could definitely feel the difference from the carbon, as I already said. It was supposedly also a less upright geometry, but I felt like it was actually more upright. I don't know if that's because I was stretched out farther or because I had gotten used to feeling lower on the first bike. Either way, I felt comfortable on this bike, too, but I liked the position on the Synapse better. The Contessa's slightly higher weight didn't feel like a big deal to me. I still felt like I was pushing a lot less weight than I'm used to. The aluminum was also a little less touchy/more stable than the carbon. I didn't like the shifting from this component set at all. It was clunky and got stuck between gears every time I shifted the front. (Maybe that's my lack of knowledge of the brake lever shifters, but I had no trouble with the first bike, so...)

Overall, I'm definitely in love with carbon over aluminum. It would be awesome to not feel so many bumps and vibrations when I'm riding a hundred miles. But if I can't find a carbon bike in my price range, I would find aluminum to be an acceptable compromise. I'd like to try some bikes that combine carbon and aluminum to see if something in the middle would fit both my budget and comfort preferences. That or I'll set my ebay expert father-in-law on finding me a carbon bike for a good deal! I wonder if I'll have trouble with getting blown around by the wind on a lighter bike?

After Ada Bike Shop, I drove down the road to Village Bike Shop (the Cascade, MI location, where I bought my mountain bike a few years ago). I didn't ride anything because it was almost closing time, but when I go back, I'd like to try the Specialized Roubaix and the Giant Defy and OCR. These are supposed to have a similar mix of position and performance as the other bikes I tried today. Village also does an extensive fitting process, which I'm pretty excited about. It involves not only dialing in all of the positioning of the handlebars, saddle, pedals, etc. but also measuring your work output for the optimum position. I'd love to go through that process both to know that I'm in the most safe, healthy and efficient position, but also just to learn about how I'm supposed to ride a road bike.

Tomorrow, I'll visit Village again. I also want to go to Alger Cyclery & Fitness (recommended for their shoes), Freewheeler Bike Shop (recommended for affordable bikes) and possibly Kentwood Cycling & Fitness. Depending on how long I take at each one, I may have to extend this shopping research beyond the weekend. But that's fine by me!

I'm so excited to get a road bike! It felt so smooth, so easy, so fast to ride one. It felt so right!

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