Excelling in Bike Selection

These types of days are golden days.  They stand proud of other days, their heads held aloft, simultaneously covered by clouds in their elevated environment whilst their light glares down from up high with such clarity and brilliance that ones senses are pricked; turning this cyclist, whom is normally just like every other cyclist into a superhero a la Daredevil or Spiderman – only my figure-hugging outfit of choice is (slightly) less colourful and you can see my socks.  This day is a new bike day.

We’re all familiar with the buzz of excitement and the growing anticipation as each day passes bringing us closer to the big day itself, but the real fun of this – apart from the riding, obviously – is the process before the getting, namely the choosing, the shortlisting, the list making, the building.

I recently went through these glorious steps, and whilst I was tinged with a degree of sadness as I waved goodbye to my trusty, fun, reliable TCR, a bike that I had come to know every inch of, from how much I could lean it into a corner, to the amount of power I could lay down on a flat, I was buoyed with the knowledge that the journey I was about to embark on would be one that would tick all my love of research-list –compiling-dreaming-designing boxes.

So I duly fetched my laptop from its resting place on the shelf underneath the record deck and began knocking up a spreadsheet.  Columns were assigned to potential bikes, rows to details such as geometry, accessories, components, price and colourway.  Data, which is king these days or so I’m told, was populated into each cell until my eyes were confronted with a simultaneously captivating and numbing alphanumerical scripture.  I thoroughly enjoy this process, of sourcing information, entering into a table and then reviewing and analysing what it’s telling me.  I feel I must stress that whilst I certainly get a kick from the Excel-based fun (yes, it does exist) it is no way near the unbridled, child like free joy the bike gives me.  Just so we’re all on the same page and there’s no misunderstanding; I wouldn’t want you to think I ride bikes for the spreadsheets.

Having reviewed every column on NewBike.xls I began the process of shortlisting.  Bit by bit I ruled out contenders until I was left with a final three.  Getting to the shortlist took a while but once I reached them making the final decision was actually a fairly quick and easy decision.   The reason for this was that Specialized had just released the new Tarmac SL6.  I loved the angles of the three triangles, the width of the tubes, the profiling, plus there was a zingy colourway that had me hooked.  So that was that then.  I’d compared the geometry of the Tarmac to my old TCR and my winter bike and confirmed it would be ideal.

On to the next thing – handlebars.  Whilst watching the pros on telly I’ve increasingly grown to really like the look of the flat, areo bars.  The way they cut through the air and look so sleek and futuristic – if there were road bikes in Tron, they would have these bars.  I decided that these would be my quarry.  This process wasn’t nearly as cut and dry as the frameset.  Many hours were spent on the computer looking at aero bars and at accompanying stems, entering important measurements for reach and drop into my spreadsheet to be able to compare them against one another easily.   Should I stay on-brand and get the Specialized bars?  Those Zipp ones look nice.  Oooh, I love those Easton EC90s.  But the data for these didn’t give me what I was looking for.  Then it struck me that what could be more sleek and smooth as an integrated stem/bars?  Apart from Luther Vandross, not a lot.  Now I began looking for my Vandross bars, and it wasn’t long before I found them.  The Syncros RR1.0 jumped at me from the screen; they looked like everything I had wanted, even the measurements were spot on.  This was a sign, and who was I to go against something that was on the brink of being divine?  Done.  I now had my frameset and bars and was well on my way to having a killer bike.

 

Choosing the groupset was probably the simplest part of the experience, and for this reason provided the least enjoyment.  All that went on to the spreadsheet was the price for each respective part. That’s not to say I didn’t spend ages looking at pictures online, following the design of the shifter hoods and the driveside crank as well as reading every article I could find about it, snatching glimpses of reviews on my phone when walking from one meeting to the next at work, whilst in the queue at Tesco or on the sofa at night on my laptop.  Just so you know, and to rest your inquisitive minds, I opted for Shimano Ultegra R8000.

Next came the wheels.  I was really looking forward to this part.  I wanted something that was minimal in appearance, had great engagement, were light, robust and crucially had a stupidly loud freehub.  I started looking at Reynolds, Easton, there was a Vision wheelset that I seriously considered, but then it hit me.  What was I doing wasting time looking at the outrageously priced wheels when the answer was staring me in the face all along?

I’m fortunate enough to be mates with a few of the guys that work at Sussex’s own Hunt Wheels, based in Partridge Green.  I had a chat with them about their 50 Aero Wheelset and they sounded like they were exactly what I was looking for.  My hunt (pardon the pun) was over.  The wheelset tab on the spreadsheet could now be closed.

The big items had now been sought and a little part of me felt something I couldn’t put my finger on.  A sort of melancholy, though maybe nothing as grandiose as that might suggest.  I spent a day or two with this feeling bubbling away underneath my day to day life, and then I suddenly realised what it was – my main chunk of researching, of excel-list-compiling, of comparing this against that had come to an end.  Despite the end goal being closer and the picture of it forming in my head as something really pretty and dynamic, I was sad to see this part of the process pass.

All that was left were the tyres, cages, bartape, saddle and pedals.  The latter two would come across from my old TCR, so no fun there for my planning mind.  I was able to dive back in to the research pool for the cages and bartape, although this didn’t satisfy me quite like the wheelset and handlebars.   The bartape was from Fabric, based on a glowing endorsement I’d heard from a club comrade and whilst this online hunt was limited in terms of looking for what I was going to plump for, sourcing it did provide somewhat of a minor adventure.

I pontificated a bit over the choice of tyres.  I could go tubeless with my new wheelset but I couldn’t find a set that realised my dream of gumwalls so I opted to stay tubed.  I’d heard tales from riding buddies on the negative experiences they’d had with some gumwalls in terms of punctures, so I stayed away from the ones they’d had and went for S-Works Turbo Cottons, they completed the look nicely.

So that was that.  I had completed the exciting bit and now just waited for my frameset to come in from the States.  I spent the ensuing few months looking at the boxes that housed my bike parts piled neatly in the corner of my bedroom, dreaming of the finished article and occasionally peering inside the cardboard containers, and even going as far as touching the top of a wheel, the crankset, shifters, etc, feeling the tactile surface of the bartape.  I’ve never been the best at waiting for something that I’m excited about, and by now I was near my limits.

Thankfully for my nerves it duly arrived soon enough and was built by South Downs Bikes in Storrington  – I thought it best to let the shop put it together, trim my steerer etc as my experience with this frame and it’s cable routing and nuances was zero compared to their detailed knowledge.  And then, just like that, it was done.  I was free to ride.  My new whip was built and it looked beautiful.  The smile I’d had when I ordered it was now looking rather paltry, superseded by a new grin the size of a small country.

Fast forward to now, and I’ve been riding it for a few months; every assault down country lanes, along main drags and even up climbs is bursting at the seams with a fun.  The power transfer is instantaneous, as is the engagement from my Hunt wheels.  It feels light and nimble for climbs, (indeed I’m even able to increase my average speed for rides whilst ascending some climbs) yet is aero enough to almost punch the air in front of it to the ground as I race along.  It’s given me more confidence and consequently more enjoyment from my riding.  And it does all this whilst looking like the dogs proverbials.  It underlines to me that the process of spreadsheets, comparing, reviewing data and all that jazz was worth it and I’ve ended up with exactly what I was looking for.

Bike Breakdown:

  • Frame: S-Works Tarmac SL6 (FACT 12r carbon)
  • Fork: S-Works FACT carbon
  • Bottom Bracket: OSBB, CeramicSpeed bearings
  • Wheelset: Hunt Aero 50
  • Groupset: Shimano Ultegra R8000
  • Tyres: S-Works Turbo Cotton (Gumwall)
  • Saddle: Specialized Romin
  • Handlebars/Stem: Syncros RR0.1 Integrated
  • Bartape: Fabric Hex
  • Cages: Elite Race Plus
  • Spreadsheets: Beautiful
  • Websites Reviewed: Many
  • Data: Is King

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