This is a short story about my ‘journey’ to the purchase of a new road bike, and some of the pitfalls and decisions I faced along the way. A quest, in other words. With a happy ending, naturally, just like all fables.
Sadly, my odyssey began with a minor tragedy, as so often happens. I was the proud possessor of a Trek One road bike, and very happy with my lot. I’d had the bike for about three years. It didn’t cost a fortune, albeit it did cost a lot more than any other bike I’d ever owned up to then. I had added bits and pieces along the way and had treated myself in 2016 to a bike-fitting, where my movements in the saddle were videotaped, and the Trek was then set up to match my decidedly mixed abilities. And apart from any of this stuff, I liked the ‘feel’ of my bike. It even accompanied me on holidays to France once. Great days.
Said bike was stored in my garage at the end of the garden. And it was there that on the night of November 15th some annoying little git literally lifted the window glass out of the frame, entered the locked garage, and used a variety of tools found at hand to try to saw through the long looping cable that I had locked the bike to a wall-ring with. Eventually, after secateurs, a hedge clipper, a ‘power-lopper’ and an axe had all failed to do the trick, the thief chanced upon an angle grinder that finally cut the cable. And so my Trek One exited my life, through the empty window frame. A sad ending to that story.
But behind every dark cloud there is a silver lining of sorts. And my silver lining was the chance to look in the market place and treat myself to a newer model, maybe even (gasp) a full carbon bike. I had some insurance proceeds coming, and so I began the research phase. And that’s where things started to get complicated. Long gone are the days when you just bought a bike. Now you’re buying a lifestyle, a channel to sporting excellence, and even a device to maximise every single ounce of effort that you can muster and transform it into a jet-propelled adventure up hill and down dale. Or so the blurb attached to each ‘dream machine’ told me, in glowing terms. They were all dream machines btw.
Now you must remember that I originate from a time and place where every bike was a Raleigh. Mountain bikes or Hybrid bikes had not been invented, and what we now call a ‘road bike’ was a ‘racer’, pure and simple. Plus, the Internet was a fantasy creation, a George Orwellian 1984 type concept to rival the crazy idea of mobile phones. But back to today. The phrase ‘too much choice’ began to ring true as I spent endless hours on various cycling-centered websites. Even filtering down my options by bike type, gender, and budget this still left way too many choices to peruse. I became punch-drunk from the various manufacturers’ outlandish claims and the reviews posted online. An example…
This all-rounder blends speedy acceleration with overall comfort and control. Seamless disc-brake integration means confident braking in variable road and weather conditions. The innovative D-Fuse composite seatpost dampens road vibration for a better ride quality. The proven combination of an OverDrive tapered steerer tube and PowerCore bottom bracket ensures precise handling and maximum pedalling efficiency*.
Trust me, this was mild compared to some of the verbiage accompanying other bikes. One benefit from the research and blog/review reading was that I began to understand my priorities. Top among these was a bike with a gearing system that did everything possible to assist me in getting over any hills I had to climb (my bête noire). I even began to understand Gear ratios and cassette types, although in truth this will never become my specialist topic on Mastermind. I also found a few good cycling blogs (with content I wished I’d written) and those provided some late-night entertainment to augment the research.
And then I did the single most logical thing left open to me. Armed with all this newfound knowledge, and a few open questions to boot, I went to my local bike shop and asked them to help me come to a decision. I’ve been going to these guys since before the cycling boom, when my main priority was getting my kids tricycles back on the road. I bought my previous bike there, and I’m a firm believer in shopping local, if it’s affordable at all. So in I went, accepted their condolences for my sad loss, and after a suitable momentary pause in memory of Trek One (sob) we moved on to resolve my dilemmas.
Which we did in what seemed like double-quick time. The proposal I seized upon was a Giant Contend SL1 cycle, with light aluminum frame, carbon forks, Shimano 105 gears, internal cabling and disk brakes. It’s an ‘endurance’ road bike, built not for raw speed but to ease someone like me around a cycle of say 80-100k with a minimum of pain. I felt a bit guilty leaving my former marque behind, but my collaborator in the bike shop convinced me that I was getting everything I wanted (and a bit more) for well within my budget, leaving a bit aside for puncture-resistant tyres and some other fanciful add-ons (like mudguards).
So now I’m waiting expectantly for the delivery. With any luck, I’ll be out on the roads in my freshly-washed Lycra in the next few weeks, and beginning a fruitful partnership with my new trusty steed. And it’ll be a while before I have to again wade through the verbiage that litters the Internet and over-promises the sun, the moon and the stars from what are, essentially, two wheels, a frame and a chain.
*Footnote : The description above in italics is – I hate to admit it – the blurb surrounding the bike I ended up buying. In my defence it’s not WHY I bought it, and there’s a lot worse out there, but I’ll certainly be interested to see if my personal experience reaches the dizzying heights of ‘precise handling’ as outlined. More anon.