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The road bike hunt

Tried out a road bike

Given that I've discovered that I like long rides on my bike very much, the thought of getting a bike more appropriate to such rides has occurred to me. After all, I'm on a $400 low-end cross-country hardtail mountain bike. So I've been researching. I haven't ridden on a road bike in at least a decade... and when I did, it had stem shifters and suicide levers, so I wasn't exactly riding it the way road bikes were intended to be ridden.

There's a road bike purchase fund. See, being cheerful when something breaks at 3AM and they need you to fix it has perks. At least, it has perks at places worth working for... And I figure at some point in the not-too-distant future there will be money in the fund for me to buy a reasonable road bike. Not a $8,000 carbon fiber racing machine... and not a low-end road bike, given that they aren't known for being any good. But somewhere in the middle. Something that I could ride 1200km in 80 hours in.

But it's always hard to tell exactly what I want out of a road bike when I haven't ridden in one in years. So I went down to Concept Cyclery down in Morgan Hill, because I'd been told by the triathlete boss (although he's changing groups, so soon he'll be the triathlete ex-boss) that they had better selection and service compared to the places closer to home. I packed up my helmet and gloves and shoes, so I'd be in familiar equipment and better able to assess.

I also figured that, at the very least, I wouldn't totally waste their time, because they are a Specialized store and therefore have the best, yet least expensive, gloves I've found... and my gloves, which are almost two years old and have been worn almost every day, are starting to look a little worn out.

They looked me over and ended up putting me in a 61cm Specialized Allez Sport Triple. It's dramatically lighter than my current bike and has the correct eyelets for adding a rack. They tossed me on the rollers to make sure that the seat was at the right height, checked the stem length, etc. Even put on some SPD pedals. And then they let me ride it for a bit... and they are actually well positioned because they are right next to a hill.

The geometry is performance flat-back, which is an adjustment. See, I'm not a fan of having my back straight up, like people who ride comfort road bikes. There's too much drag, plus it's not actually that good for your spinal column. I generally have my back somewhere in the 45-60 degree range on my current bike. This was much more hunched over.

I found that, sadly, shaving 10-15 pounds off the weight of the bike, lowering the rolling resistance, improving the aerodynamics, and making the frame rigid was not enough to turn me into a brilliant climber. But, on the other hand, it did seem like I would be able to climb hills without running out of granny gearing. (the lowest gain ratio was 2.28)

On the other hand, in all other ways, I felt faster. I could get it going awfully fast without spinning out.

I did rapidly find that I really don't like the Sora shifters. I don't think any less of Specialized for using them, because that's really the only shifters in that price point right now. The way it works is that you downshift by moving the brake lever sideways. That's easy enough. To upshift, you use a little lever that's only positioned properly if you are on the hoods. So I was descending in the drops and I realized I really ought to downshift, but I couldn't. So, the lowest-end shifters I can deal with is the Shimano Tiagra or any of the SRAM shifters.

I don't think that was the particular road bike for me, although not through any fault of the bike itself. The people at the store confirmed that I probably want to think about getting a cyclocross bike and potentially put different wheels on it... except that they didn't have a Specialized Tricross in stock in my size, so it's hard for me to tell. Apparently the Bay Area is not a huge cyclocross market.

Oh, and one more thing...

New gloves

I thought I've been negative about too many products of late, so I thought I'd throw in a rah-rah while I'm on the subject...

One reason why I went to a Specialized store is that Specialized has the best gloves, hands down. Thus, even though I was going to walk out having purchased nothing, at least I'd get a pair of nice gloves out of the deal. They fit like a glove, are comfortable, and are durable. They also wick sweat really well and are designed under the assumption that the rider is going to be dabbing sweat off their brow with the backs of the gloves. Why, I got a pair of their gloves over two years ago, rode most days wearing them, and they are slowly starting to get mangy, but are still totally usable. And every time I've been to a Specialized store with their display of gloves, they always have some XXL gloves that fit. Whereas, most other places stop at XL and if there is an XXL, it won't fit.

Specialized's gloves are also fairly reasonably priced compared to most other brands, which is also nice. So now I have three pairs of Specialized gloves, instead of just 1.