Tuesday, February 3, 2009

A New Whip

A couple weeks ago, faithful reader No One Line dropped a comment on one of my posts asking me to to post about my bike – usually a pleasant ritual for cycling bloggers. I demurred at the time, and the honest reason is that I was a bit embarrassed by the low level of my bike in that silly hierarchy we create in the Western world for all things material.

I’m not embarrassed by my bike today.

Because today, I own a brand new bike.

And it rocks.

When I got back into cycling two Augusts ago, I was about to get married and complete my last year of grad school. Translation: I had very little money. I also knew next to nothing about bikes anymore; I knew what was cool 25 years before, when I last owned a bicycle, but that, of course, was woefully out of date. So, I did the best I could, knowing that I’d probably be buying another bike sooner than I wanted to. I bought a Giant OCR 3, which is actually a lot of bike for the money (and I got it way below retail, on closeout). The only one the LBS had in my size was a triple chainring model, so I went for it.

The OCR got me through roughly my first 4,000 miles (not counting endless roller hours). The granny gears did me good when I first moved to hilly Western Massachusetts. And the double-butted aluminum frame, done up in a spiffy black and silver paint job, might be a bit heavy, but it’s stiff in the right places and compliant in the right places. Not bad. It's not going anywhere now that I have a new one; I hope to start commuting once a week in the spring, and the Giant’s the rig for that. And if the new bike is too stiff for long-haul stuff over three or four hours, I always have my trusty OCR in the stable. Likewise if I decide to tour: Great bike for that, braze-ons and all. Finally, it will continue to be my winter bike, taking the brunt of the endless sand and slush on the roads out here.

A couple months ago, I decided that – even though we still have very little money, due to two new jobs at lower salaries than expected, it is time for me to own a bike that reflects my ever-deepening commitment and skills, not to mention my broadening quads. 21.5 pounds and a relaxed geometry are fine when I’m slow-pedaling myself into shape, but when the season hits, I want to be on something that will respond to me like I'll respond to it.

Since I had to buy used, and therefore smart as can be, I dove headfirst into research. My poor wife! My head was buried behind the laptop screen for too many Saturday mornings in a row. There was so much to learn – not just brands and models of bikes, but the various wheelsets that came with each, and all the other fine points. This was the education I didn't get before I bought the OCR.

After many weeks of reading and pestering my friends for opinions and information, I decided that the very best bang-for-the-buck in my very low price range would be a slightly used Cannondale CAAD frame hung with good components and a decent entry-level racing wheelset.

Though I’d originally had my eye on the Cervelo Soloist Team, a truly drool-inducing aluminum bike, I don’t actually mind riding a less sexy (and less-expensive) design, because this bike has a storied history and quite a lot of palmares. It's a highly-evolved descendant of the first aluminum frames the company built, back in the early ‘80s, when C'dale was an aluminum pioneer. When steel was still king, they revolutionized the industry with oversized alloy tubes featuring thinner walls, the combo of which increased stiffness and minimized weight. Over time, instead of doing the typical corporate-waste ritual, the company remained faithful to the CAAD design, continually advancing it through many iterations, making it ligher, stiffer, more comfortable. In that process, they incorporated feedback from top-drawer Euro-pro riders from C’dale-sponsored teams like Saeco; these guys rode the frame to victories in three editions of the Giro d’Italia (Signores Gotti, Simoni and Cunego consecutively) and four consecutive stages of the ’99 Tour de France (Il Gran Signor Cipollini).

Even better, I couldn’t find one substantial bad review of a CAAD bike in the many, many places I looked online. CAAD owners are sort of fanatical. The icing on the cake is that this internationally successful frame (at least until recently) was 100% Made in the USA, as the lovely lettering down the seat-stay proudly proclaims.

The CAAD might not be sexy – but it’s as proven and respectable as a bike can possibly be. I pictured myself feeling not the least scintilla of shame riding next to someone on the latest $6,000 carbon-fiber private jet.

Next came the really agonizing part: The waiting. I scoured eBay and Craigslist daily, passing up near-misses with gritted teeth, determined to wait for the one that met my specs. A few days ago it showed up, and I set my inner timer for ten o’clock last night, when the auction was to close. At the appointed hour, my wife and I curled up on the couch and watched as the minutes counted down: Just one other bid! How is that possible? And it was at the starting bid level. As the clock wound down to the final seconds, I slapped my cash on the barrelhead, and the other guy blinked. It was mine. Mine!

Okay, you’ve been very patient. Here are the pics and the specs. I promise to post some better photos once the bike arrives. (And don't worry, the dork disc and reflectors will be gone.)

From the eBay page:
Fork Cdale Slice Premium carbon/carbon steerer, Headset is integrated, Stem Cdale Fire 31.8., Shifters Shimano Ultegra10, Brake levers Shimano Ultegra10, Saddle Cdale road saddle, Seatpost Cdale carbon wrapped, Crank Shimano Ultegra10 39/53, Pedals (NONE), Chain Shimano Ultegra10, Cogset Shimano Ultegra10 12/25 10spd, Wheels Mavic Ksyrium Equipe, QR's Mavic, Tires Hutch Top Speed folders700x23, Fr Der Shimano Ultegra10, Rear Der Shimano Ultegra10, Brake Calipers Shimano Ultegra10. The color is red. MSRP on this bike was $1999.99.
Okay, here’s the best part: Total price? $1035. For full Ultegra and Mavic Ksyrium wheels. And a bike with under 50 miles on it. (Yes, you read right. And only $50 shipping.) A steal!

* * *
One final word: I owe buckets of thanks to three guys who were patient and extremely helpful as I endlessly plied them for their expertise. First, Suitcase of Courage, who has owned virtually the same bike for a few years and has nothing but good things to say about it, in response to my many questions. Next, my friend Rob, a talented local racer on- and off-road, who patiently fielded email after email containing multiple eBay links. Finally, a prince of a guy named Sean Brennan at Belmont Wheelworks in the Boston area, where I used to live. Sean gave me outstanding service back when I had fit problems with the OCR, and when I contacted him again out of the blue a couple weeks ago, was generous with insider info about Canndondale fit and general tips for my particular needs. If you need a bike fit, you can’t do better than this guy; other folks I know have confirmed this independently.

And now I’m off to sit like a pining dog at the front window, waiting for the FedEx guy.


De.Corday said...

I'd be interested to see how that weighs in. Full Ultegra is going to be beautiful. Though I recently turned to the dark side and went campy for my new racer, I've had the opportunity to play with Ultegra tech (and built most of the old Raleigh around its ancestor, 600) and its really solid, robust, quick stuff. I'd be interested in your several-miles-down-the-road review on those wheels. I'm still using old tubulars that have little going for them save lightness, but I hear wonderful things about the Ksyriums, and I think this season is going to encourage me to find more modern wheels...

It's a beautiful ride in a beautiful color, and I can't wait to hear how it handles. Happy almost-new-bike day.

Suitcase Of Courage said...

That is a BEAUTIFUL machine - and the fact that you absolutely STOLE it is the icing on the cake!

I think the Ultegra may be even better than Campy Veloce (not intending any blasphemy - I have Veloce) and the wheels are solid.

You'll get MANY MANY miles out of this bike - and I fully expect to see it at the races!

BTW, LOVE the red, but then again I'm biased.

Congratulations! Glad I could help a little - that's always fun. We'll be (vicariously) waiting at the window with you!

Velosopher said...

DC, I do appreciate your huzzahs!

I'll be more than glad to "weigh" in :-) on the bike and it's various parts, including wheels. Having ridden more or less of a clunker for the last 17 months, I'm not sure I'll have the fine points down. My impression after my research is that the Ksyrium Equipes are a good portion of the way to the higher-level Ksyriums (SL's, etc.) In other words, I would probably not detect much of a difference. The kind of splurge I'd make down the line, when I attain more refinement/miles under my belt. All's I know is, some of my racer friends tell me my new wheels will be better than theirs. Good enough for me, esp. at this price!

Velosopher said...

SoC, Thank you!! For everything! Without you, I might not have gone for this model in the first place!

Yeah, it won't be hard for me to "ride it like I stole it," since I practically did. The rush when the auction closed was as good as a sprint finish in a four-hour road race.

Everyone's enthusiasm about the color is really helpful, since that was my main reservation. I bet when I see it I'll fall in love with it. And hearing you guys flip for it pushes me in that direction.

I thought of you, SoC, b/c (I forgot to mention in the post that) my birthday is this month. Now, my whole bike probably cost less than your new wheels (for your b-day) but I did feel a little less jealous this morning! :-D I'm going to tell my wife she should be happy I bought a shiny red bike when I turned 45, instead of the stereotypical shiny red car!

DC, forgot to mention the weight: I queried sellers of similar bikes during my research, and they came in at roughly 17.5 lbs. without pedals. (Mine might be a few ounces lighter; not sure.) My ancient Keos will push it well over 18, but hey, it'll still be 3 lbs lighter than the OCR!

sarah said...

Congratulations on your great new bike!! Suitcase gave me the link to your blog. Turns out, you got exactly the same bike my husband rides. He loves it. I looked for a pic on my blog of him riding it, most are shot from the front or back, but here is the link to a side view.
Hope that link works! Anyway, hope it arrives soon! I look forward to reading about your first rides on it.

Velosopher said...

Sarah, you're most welcome here! I dug the pic of your honey on the R1000 -- Now I can picture myself on mine!

Your blog looks interesting, and I'll surf over there soon as I have some time!

De.Corday said...

Weight's a funny thing. I was doing group rides on the 21 pound Raleigh for a year and the limiting factor was always my fitness, never the bike. It's a sensitive subject among some gearheads, but my heartfelt belief, after building and riding a bunch of wheels, is that rotational mass (i.e. wheel weight, and distribution of wheel weight relative to the hub) is of way more import than frame and component weight.

That said, I can definitely feel the 2-3 lbs difference between the Raleigh and the my new Viner (and they have very similar wheelsets). An 18lbs ride is going to feel amazing, especially on that hilly New England terrain. Nice upright climbing position on that stem too.

I'm only responding so quickly because there's way too much snow outside to be riding...

Velosopher said...

I'm responding so quickly because I should be working and don't want to!

Agreed on the rotational mass over frame-weight issue, but the Mavics will be waaay lighter than my current low-end Alex wheels (which are great for winter riding and light off-roading, though, b/c bombproof. Trued once in 3500-4000 mi.).

We'll see if the stem stays. It looks awful to me, so once the seat height and bar-reach measurements are dialed in, I might be able to swap it. Let the upgrades commence!

Jeremy said...

Everyone I've talked to also has nothing but good things to say about the CAAD frames, hence why I've also been eyeing one :)

And that really is an amazing steal for that bike.

Velosopher said...

Thanks, Jeremy, always glad to hear confirmation. Good luck in your search!

Yeah, the dealer I spoke to yesterday was kinda bummed at how little I won the auction for!

No One Line said...

Applause. That is an excellent bike for an excellent price. I always love finding the pieces that live at the intersection of quality and affordability and I think that you found it. A lot of people are putting used CAAD8s and 9s on the market and they're going for affordable prices. The buy/use/flip/buy-anew habits of a lot of the folks in the peloton work in the favor of folks like us.

I'm currently riding a titanium frame that's a joy to ride but slightly less than ideal for racing, and I keep on having to reign in the impulse to pull the parts off of it and find a Cannondale frame. Too unemployed, too close to racing season, and too much bike movement in one year for me. But the temptation is very much there.

You, sir, are going to enjoy the hell out of that bike.

No One Line said...

and if the dealer was bummed, well, them's the shakes about selling something on ebay in the offseason. Dollars to donuts says that in mid-spring he could have gotten another six four or five hundred bucks for it. You picked the right time of year!

Velosopher said...

NOL, right as usual, on all counts. The intersection is a GREAT place to hang out; the buy-flip thing works for everyone (except I found out that this bike hasn't even been test-ridden -- no flipping here, just moving outdated stock. Woohoo! Still -- everyone wins.) Believe me, I didn't feel bad for the dealer; he gets to hang a 2009 on that empty hook now, and move something he couldn't move. It's more like I can't believe my good fortune. I'm still holding my breath til the bike is assembled and I've ridden it a bit. But he sounds like a really nice guy, and has a stellar eBay rating so it looks good.

Glenn_in_MA said...

Congrats on the great find!! Can't add any more accolades about the CAAD bike...those that ride'em have spoken (I'm on a Specialized Roubaix). But I gotta say that I too love the "intersection" to which you speak! I don't buy anything bike related without checking eBay first. For instance, I too upgraded my low end Alex wheels...in my case for Easton Circuits I got on eBay for $200 less than catalog prices.

Your blog is terrific. Good luck...can't wait till you post more on the bike. Always nice to find good local cycling bloggers!

BTW, found my way here via links/comments on the great blogs written by SoC and Sarah.