Snakebite: New Wheels

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While this year's winter hasn't been particularly difficult, it is rather challenging to ride a carbon-fiber road-racing bike or an aluminum-framed road-racing bike (both with 20mm wide tires) on anything other than pristine road surfaces.

That's not to say I haven't taken my aluminum-framed bike out on a trail or two, but I'll be the first to admit that those rides were definitely "white-knuckle" all the way... when you're working with about 0.75" of tire tread width and riding on crushed pea-gravel, things can get interesting.

I had been contemplating purchasing an off-road bike; I researched mountain bikes, but ultimately decided against one as I didn't need (or want) a bike with suspension (shocks). Shocks sap a lot of your pedaling power; the super-fat tires on a mountain bike also add to the efficiency-suck.

As keen observers will recall, I test-rode a Ridley Cyclocross bike almost a year ago, and really liked it. A cyclocross bike offers the best of both on- and off-road worlds. You get a lightweight, stiff, efficient frame (great for road riding and putting down some serious power) along with the versatility of a wider (about 1.375") tire, off-road capable brakes, all wrapped-up in a riding position and style that mimics a traditional road bike.

So, I knew that I wanted a cyclocross bike. But, I didn't want just any cyclocross bike. No sir. While it's true that I'm a complete sucker for carbon fiber frames, quite honestly, they scare me. Carbon fiber offers tremendous stiffness, rigidity, ride compliance, and light weight. It is, unfortunately, very vulnerable to impact strike damage.

Your carbon fiber bike tipped over? Whoops - you'll probably need to replace the frame. My Cervelo's frame cost just about $3000...

Based on my carbon love/fear relationship, I figured I would sleep much better at night if I had an aluminum (or titanium or magnesium or chromeoly) framed cyclocross bike. You don't handle a "cross bike" with kid-gloves... they're meant to be punished.

I also wanted a good groupset. The groupset consists of the components that attach to the frame and fork - i.e., shifters, derailuers, cranks, brakes, and hoods. I knew that I wanted "middle-of-the-road" components... I didn't need a $2500 DuraAce set, but I also wanted to avoid a $300 disposable set.

So, my options were limited. I spent several weekends researching and checking out bikes from: Cannondale, Specialized, Trek, Salsa, Ridley, and Kona.

After scouring countless forums, articles, and stores, I narrowed my decision to the Ridley X-Bow or the Kona Jake The Snake. I ultimately decided on the Kona because it was quite a bit lighter and featured a better groupset and wheel set.

I drove to Milwaukee where a little shop called Cory The Bike Fixer had a nice selection of Kona bikes, Salsa bikes, and Surly bikes. The folks there were super helpful and accommodating, and after a few hours of test-riding, swapping pedals, clamping in-and-out of the trainer, and sharp negotiating, I was heading home with this in my car:

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Oh, whoops!

Truth be told, Fleefer did ride along with me yesterday - she made a great co-pilot and companion. But to get back to the story, at around 4:00pm, I had this beauty sitting in the back of the 'ole Prius:

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I can't say enough great things about Derick, Cory, and the fine folks at Cory The Bike Fixer - they were super cool, non-pressuring, and extremely helpful. The shop was busy, yet they took excellent care of everyone that ventured in to the store. It's so refreshing to find shops like Cory's and Cronometro - both are true gems.

Once back at the house, I spent the majority of the evening dialing-in my fit by adjusting the seat height, seat angle, seat-to-bar distance, bar height, and cleat positions, all in the name of getting a safe, efficient, and comfortable fit. While I really dislike my trainer, it does help when setting-up a new bike's geometry. You can hop on-and-off, ride, adjust, and repeat as necessary.

I snapped one quick picture of the bike at around 10:30pm, just before heading to bed:

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Sunday came along, and I spent the morning cleaning the house, doing laundry (all bedding, quilts, blankets, etc), and running errands. I then snapped a series of photos, which I'll post here with minimal description/info:

Left-side profile:
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Monster headtube assembly:
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Great paint scheme:
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Hidden cables (they run inside of the tubing):
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Compact crankset with BB30 and some new Crank Bros. "eggbeater" pedals:
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If you look behind the sprocket, you'll see the fluted (for strength) chainstay:
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Ultegra rear derailuer:
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Cantilever brakes allow for lots of clearance; these are nice Avid Shorty 6s:
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Shimano wheelset (I just liked the angle of this picture):
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4-season tires! Trail, snow, rain, mud, road - nothing to stop me...
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Despite it being rather windy today, I decided to layer-up and take the new steed out for a ride. I threw on a long-sleeve Smartwool NTS wool base shirt, some riding bibs, and my matched-set of Sporthill 3SP pants and top. That Sporthill stuff is stellar - windproof to 35mph and warm to 20F. I doubled-up on gloves, put on a pair of IceBreaker wool socks, and hit the road.

The road ride was fantastic. The bike was smooth, responsive, and "zippy" - it didn't feel like a big slug on the dry pavement. I made my way to a nearby trail and hopped-on. The new bike handled the combination of mud and snow without any problems - it was stable and sure-footed, predictable and comfortable, although a few spots of the trail were extremely rough, and I got a good "shaking" at times.

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And a quick picture of yours truly, all bundled-up:

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I rode a wonderful 22-miles in just under an hour-and-a-half. Even though it was only 30F and the winds were gusting in excess of 20mph, it felt g-o-o-d good to be outside riding, rather than stuck on the trainer. After the ride, I donned the running shoes and went out for a 4-mile run. Not a bad day, especially for a cold, mid-February day.

The only downside to winter riding? The mess. :-)

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I think I'll buy some fenders for the new ride... right after I give it a bath.


Oh, and for anyone that may be interested in a cyclocross bike, check out the Ridley X-Bow that's over at Cronometro. It is an absolutely superb bike, and I was honestly this close to going with it instead of the Kona. Call and ask for Scott, and he'll be more than happy to help you out. The guys at that shop are absolutely TOP NOTCH - you'll be in good hands. As I mentioned earlier, there are few shops that I trust and appreciate - Cronometro and Cory The Bike Fixer are definitely on my (very) short list of "good guys."

About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Steve published on February 14, 2012 7:00 AM.

Fish Fry Review: The Draft House was the previous entry in this blog.

Totally Looks Like... is the next entry in this blog.

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