Friday, February 24, 2012

Roadbike Shopping Complexities

Patria's Serotta, RSC
I've mentioned before that I've been shopping around for a road/racing bike since last May, and that I hoped to write about the process once I bought one. With Spring just around the corner, I am getting emails from readers who are going through the same ordeal and feeling lost, wondering whether I plan to post a guide of some sort. The quick answer is "no." I am sorry to disappoint, but I can offer no helpful advice on this topic at the moment.

Many roadbike shopping stories I hear or receive from readers are very similar to my own experience. It starts with a decision to buy a roadbike. Nothing unusual - a fast modern roadbike for paceline rides, group rides, and so on. So at first you're thinking "Well, since I don't necessarily want anything 'lovely,' this should be easy. There are bike shops filled with roadbikes and nothing but roadbikes after all." And optimistically you head to these bike shops... only to discover that there really aren't as many options as you thought. 

Most guides to buying a new roadbike will tell you that fit is the main thing, and that once you have that down everything else will fall into place. Okay. So I've been fitted by several different professionals now, with the consensus that I have fairly standard proportions for a woman of my height and that I require a road frame that is 52cm x 53cm or thereabouts. It is not difficult to find a stock roadbike with these dimensions, so in theory I should be all set. In practice however, there is much more to it. 

For one thing, there is the dreaded toe overlap. I do not want to spark a debate on this topic yet again, so let's just say that some cyclists dislike TCO and leave it at that. I happen to be one of those cyclists, and it is not easy to find a stock frame in a small size that does not have this issue. So even though the right frame size is easy enough to find, the right frame size with no TCO limits the pool of available bikes considerably.

But a much larger issue that tends to be glossed over in bike shops, is that roadbikes don't all handle the same and don't all have the same ride quality. These factors are important to me.  I would be miserable on a bike with a harsh ride or on a bike that I cannot control on turns. Realistically, I need to test-ride a roadbike for at least 20 miles on hilly terrain in order to determine whether I am comfortable with it - essentially, I need to simulate the sort of ride I would normally be doing on the bike. And that is usually not possible. 

Apparently many bike shops expect you to test ride a bicycle either in their parking lot or around the block. At most they expect a test ride to be a couple of miles. Taking a bike on an actual 20 mile ride? In my experience, only a handful of shops will allow this, and those shops tend to be high-end with expensive bikes. 

An additional problem for me personally, is that I cannot use Shimano STI levers - what the vast majority of demo roadbikes in the vast majority of bike shops are fitted with. There is something about the shape of Shimano STIs that my hands don't like, and I cannot safely brake on a bike with these levers. This limits me severely on the bikes I am able to test ride, even if I am allowed to take them on a long ride.

The problem of testing before buying is also what made me wary of going custom. Framebuilders are wonderful, but no matter how much you communicate there is no guarantee that the bike they make will feel and handle as you want it to. Very few framebuilders offer demo bikes, and most of us are not lucky enough to have acquaintances whose custom bikes we can try. A blind purchase of a custom roadframe seems risky to me - especially if you are relying on it for a particular date/event and do not already have a roadbike to fall back on if something goes wrong (or takes longer than expected).

Going semi-custom, building up a stock frame from scratch, or refurbishing a vintage frame with new components, similarly involve risking the unknown, albeit at a lesser cost.

So what solution am I proposing? Well that is just the thing, I am not. Ultimately everyone will need to find their own solution and for many that will involve trial and error. Not everyone is sensitive to a bike's ride quality and handling. Not everyone cares about things like toe overlap. Individual preferences and skill levels play into it a great deal. As does simple luck. Some get lucky and buy a roadbike they are comfortable with on their first try. And reading this, they will no doubt think I am overcomplicating things. But others will face one frustration after another, and may even give up roadcycling as a result of not finding a bike they are comfortable with. If you find yourself in that category, I can only encourage you to be patient and not give up. Try to identify the problems you are having with your current bike or with the bikes you are trying in stores. It may, after all, be something as simple as trying a different brand of levers you never realised existed.

98 comments:

  1. You don't really want to say: "weary of going custom". You want to say either "wary" or "leery". Feel free to delete this intrusive edit. You are so right about the limitations of shopping in LBS. I was in a Boston store last year that actually wanted me to put down a deposit on a bike so that they could order it in my size to give me the privilege of riding it around the block for a test!

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    1. Thanks, weary/wary is one of my spelling kryptonites... Though I do know those who would say they are *weary* of going custom.

      I did not mention the deposit thing because it seemed too crazy and I did not think anyone would believe me - but yes, I've experienced that at several stores as well!

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    2. You're kidding me. Do they know who you are? Bike shops should be tripping over themselves to let you test ride a bike.

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    3. Heh : ) Well I don't announce "who I am" when I walk into a bike shop. Also I am not sure it would be necessarily good for them to be featured in a review. What if I dislike the bike?

      Plus what does it say about a bike shop if they are nice to me as a blogger but not as a regular customer? One thing I like about Harris Cyclery, is that they've treated me pretty much the same since before they knew about Lovely Bicycle.

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    4. So Harris did not have any bikes for you to try?

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    5. They do not specialise in road/racing bikes. They stock Giant and Bianchi and I think that is pretty much it - unless I want to order a Gunnar or Waterford through them.

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    6. MelissatheRagamuffinFebruary 28, 2012 at 10:59 AM

      The guys at Seven can't help you out? I mean after you gushed about their bike on this blog, I am sure they got sales from it. They really ought to give you a deal if not just outright give you a free bike.

      I think that even if you went into a bike shop, announced who you are, rode a bike, didn't buy it, but said how nice and helpful the sales staff is that it would still possibly help bring customers into their shop.

      I am 99% a bike commuter and that's all, but I have taken my Surly LHT on a couple of longer group rides now and I have no major complaints about how she did. The only place I wasn't able to keep pace with the people on actual road bikes was on hills, and I'm not sure that doesn't have to do with my level of fitness as opposed to my bicycle.

      Also about sizing: Miss Surly is a 58cm, and she is an absolutely perfect fit for me. I looked at a cyclocross bike that said it was 58cm, and it was too big for me.

      Though if I'm going to consider spending $1000 on a bike again, I'm probably going to buy another Surly and just outfit it differently from Miss Surly.

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    7. I can't accept free bikes. But Seven sponsors me (see their banner) and would give me an industry insider type of deal.

      Surly owners seem pretty happy with their bikes!

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  2. I realize that you have a lot of time on bikes but how much time have you spent with STI levers. Yes the shape is different but I know of many female riders who safely use them. They range in age from 18 - 68 and vary in height from 4'-11 to 6'-0". If you haven't already explored it take try some of the women's specific offerings. Shimano does make a smaller STI lever if that would help.

    Sometimes it is a leap of faith. My wife was ADAMANT that she could only ride a bike with downtube shifters. She finally agreed to try STI and after a month of riding agreed that it was a good decision. The biggest improvement for her was being able to keep both hands on the bars when shifting. She shifted more often and became less prone to gear mashing. Eventually, we bought a new bike that was Campy equipped and she is emphatic that she'll never return to Shimano. The hood shape is better and she prefers the way the shifts feel. Good luck in your quest.

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    1. I feel that I've done due diligence in determining these levers are not for me. I have had them adjusted this way and that, and I have tried different models. It is not about the size of my hands, but maybe the shape. I am sure there are those who love Shimano STIs, otherwise no one would buy them. But I also know those who can't use them.

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    2. It isn't about size of hands at all. I am a 6'1.5" 245 lb male with German and Scandinavian genetics. I have big hands, in length, width, and thickness. They are strong from a lifetime of cycling and working. They are at the same time very dexterous, being able to perform exacting work in fine detail, in a variety of activities. Overall I am very coordinated in my movements, and yes, I can chew gum and walk at the same time.

      I have tried almost all the iterations of "brifter" type controls, from all companies, since their inception to the present. They just do not work for me. For my road-centric bikes, I am most comfortable with bar-end shifters, but also will work well with downtube shifters.

      I can't really explain why my preference is thus, but it just is. Brifters just do not feel right to my hands.

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    3. Campagnolo rocks! The hood shape and feel is the standard in my opinion.

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  3. Is that your Serotta?

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  4. The topic is needlessly complex - if the bike need not be lovely a person could just buy a Specialized and a fit. Should take care of the 90%+ percentile of people who are ok w/road bikes in general.

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    1. Judging by the posted geometry (and by having looked at a few in person), Specialized bikes may have TCO in frame sizes smaller than 54cm depending on shoe and foot size. Also not everyone likes the ride quality of carbon and alu+carbon. Would be interesting to do a long test ride of a Ruby with Veloces on it. A couple of women I've ridden with had them set up that way, but their bikes are way too small for me.

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    2. Yeah, so that's their issue. If they want a performance steel frame then they must be prepared to shell out. No free lunch.

      If one rides in the flats any old steel bike will do.

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    3. 2010 Specialized Dolce Sport in a 48cm has massive amounts of toe overlap. It was the main reason for my wife selling hers. In all other respects a really nice bike.

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    4. What did she replace it with/does it have TCO?

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    5. Replaced it with a Boardman Hybrid. No TCO. 40cm seat tube, 60cm front centres. Due to some hand issues Jayne prefers flat bars.

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    6. Yes, a hybrid is a viable option if someone doesn't need a road bike.

      Speaking of which, that's exactly what that Sachs is.

      Terrys are reviled, but they did solve the TCO problem for many with a 24" front wheel.

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    7. Are Terrys really reviled? Why?

      Harris Cyclery carries them, but they all seem to be tiny.

      If you do not need a roadbike, the TCO issue is much easier resolved of course.

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    8. New Terry bicycles don't have the differently-sized front wheel.

      I really really really want a Valkyrie, but alas, too expensive.

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    9. They are made fun of due to the way they look. I have no idea how they ride.

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  5. While I'd agree that stock bikes generally involve some compromise on fit or parts, I can't see why someone with true fit issues should be wary of going custom (if you're weary of custom then spread the wealth, some of us haven't tired of it yet).

    The whole point of going custom is that you either have a set of objective criteria (i.e. frame angles and tube dimensions) and need someone to execute them for you, or that you trust the builder's expertise to implement your subjective criteria (e.g. no toe overlap, but sporty and easy to turn, with a 520mm or 530mm seat tube).

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  6. Well, I consider myself lucky, my road bike is old and will probably just get older, as I don't know what I would do if I had to replace it. I suppose the best way to go would be to pick the top 12, number them at random and throw dice.

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  7. Base on your previous entries, it seems to me that if someone dropped $10,000 in your hands with the stipulation that it could only be used for a road bike, you'd be on the phone to 7 Cycles in a minute.

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    1. Hey I'd settle for half of that. The bike I want starts at a modest $4500!

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    2. MelissatheRagamuffinFebruary 28, 2012 at 11:10 AM

      I still think Seven should cut you a deal. I'm sure they've gotten sales because of you. If I were interested in a true roadbike and had the budget for it, I'd at least try out a seven because of your blog. If they gave you a deal and you kept gushing about the bike they'd get more sales. Think about it Seven!

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  8. "It starts with a decision to buy a roadbike. Nothing unusual - a fast modern roadbike for paceline rides, group rides..."

    But what you (and others with similar priorities) want IS unusual. A small bike with no TCO? There's a reason to go custom right there.

    And you're right that floor models with Campagnolo components pretty much don't exist. Unusual is not just about lugs and classic looks.

    Matt

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    1. "A small bike with no TCO? There's a reason to go custom right there."

      The Soma Smoothie looks like no TCO in size 52mm. Also Cielo frames (granted, much more expensive than Soma) apparently have no TCO in small sizes. Specialized Ruby is right on the cusp for a 52mm frame. It is not impossible to find small stock bikes or frames with no TCO, especially with 23mm tires.

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    2. A Smoothie does look like your kind of bike since for one it is steel and thus more of a traditional bike. Also it is not expensive for the frame and then you can put the components on it that you want.

      I've been looking at those smoothies myself.

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    3. I am really looking forward to trying it in CA next month. It is a handsome bike, available with both steel and carbon fork, and I've heard good things about the handling. Hope it rides as nicely as it looks!

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    4. If you end up liking the Smoothie, you might try a Stanyan, which has slightly different geometry but is fully lugged (with chrome head lugs and fork crown!).

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    5. The Stanyan has a much shorter front-center, as does the Rivendell collabo model (San Marco?). The Smoothie - the pure road/racing version and not the ES - has the least TCO oddly enough.

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  9. I think you're over-thinking this, and you're painting yourself into a corner, causing indecision and immobility instead of results. There are many very, very competent race-style bikes out there. Buy used, ride, sell, repeat :-) . You already know that. No frame will be perfect, and if perfection is a requirement, you'll remain stuck.

    Regarding test rides. I'm somewhat sympathetic to your concern about long test rides, but I think you'll discover that the more you test ride bikes, the less time it will require for you to be able to really get the character of the bike. Of course, I'm fairly jaded about this subject, having owned many bikes, and having bought many frames long-distance. I don't think I've ever regretted any of them, and I don't think I've ever lost money on any of them. A couple of them have become my long-term buddies.

    If you simply can't stand STI, and I'm not arguing with that, then you know what your options are. Campy, SRAM, maybe bar-ends with Tektro levers. Pick one of the options, buy a group, buy a frame, ride it, enjoy. Un-build it, sell the frame, and loudly call out, "Next, please!".

    Regarding TCO. If you start riding a bike with TCO, the issue will vanish. I promise. Have you learned to keep your inside pedal raised when taking a fast corner? The very minor adaptation associated with TCO will become the same sort of ingrained instinct.

    I have one Seven hanging in the garage, an Alaris that's a hair small for me. I bought it on ebay, enjoyed it for two years, and now it's my wife's bike, and she loves it. I ride ti, and I like it a lot. I think you would enjoy either ti or carbon. I kind'a hope that you'll find a used Seven frame.

    Have fun, and have a great season.

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    1. Speaking to TCO: All road bikes do that to me, that I've tried (I have tried very few, I'll admit, and they were all touring bikes). And yeah, I've gotten used to getting the pedal out of the way on sharp turns. Matter of fact, I do it even on my Raleigh 3-speed, which doesn't have any toe overlap at all. It's weird, the things you can get used to.

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  10. "Regarding TCO. If you start riding a bike with TCO, the issue will vanish. I promise."

    I did start riding a bike with TCO; I've owned two TCO roadbikes. And that was one reason it took me so long to really get comfortable with roadcycling.

    True that I can keep buying used bikes and rebuilding them with the same set of Campagnolo Veloces, which I would then strip off them. But that sort of thing is time consuming and I would rather focus on riding and writing this blog, not to mention that non-bicycle stuff that I have going on. Can't do everything unfortunately.

    "I think you'll discover that the more you test ride bikes, the less time it will require for you to be able to really get the character of the bike."

    I look forward to getting to that level... though are you saying that the 100mile+ test rides in Bicycle Quarterly are superfluous? : )

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    1. Boy, people telling you not to worry about TCO just never gets old does it? I can just see them patting you on the head. "There, there, little lady."

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    2. No amount of online commentary telling me how I "should" feel about something can change the way I actually feel about it - or the fact that nearly every woman I speak to in real life tells me she hates toe overlap. Some do not ride roadbikes because of it, which is a shame.

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    3. okee-dokee, well, good luck with the search, enjoy

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    4. Is this a gender issue? I know women who find it very disconcerting. But while I don't know any men who consider it a deal breaker, no one likes it. I've ridden bikes with and without and am fairly tolerant of it. But anytime I'm on a new bike and hit my toe I think "boy that just seems like a big geometry design flaw." Especially on a fix, I'm surprised people don't seem to view it as more of an issue.

      Women do seem to be more sensitive (or at least more willing to vocalize) when things don't fit or feel right. I suspect men secretly hate it as well, but it hasn't entered into the list of acceptable things to be concerned about which tend to focus on weight, components, and other easily visible and potentially status based design concerns.

      Get enough people asking the guys in LBOs "how's the toe crossover on this one?" and it will filter back up to the designers eventually.

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  11. You have identified my two major pet peeves with the bike industry when it comes to road bikes.

    One is that 700c wheels cause a lot of problems on small frames, most noticeably toe overlap. When we scale down a frame size, we usually scale down stem and crank length, handlebar width, etc. as well and we should do the same with wheel size. A 650B or even 26" wheel would solve your TCO issues, but now you're REALLY limiting your choice of bikes.

    The second issue is drop bars and STI levers. Most people who buy road bikes rarely if ever get down in the drops because they are mounted so low, so they ride almost entirely on the hoods. And STI levers have their own issues, like lack of ability to trim the front, etc. I think bullhorn bars and some sort of bar-end shifter would be a better choice for a lot of people, but again, now you're talking about a custom build.

    All of this assumes you are riding for enjoyment, rather than trying to win races, of course. This does not preclude wanting a fast, light bike.

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    1. Yesterday I tried a tiny Richard Sachs bike with 26" wheels. No TCO and seemed to handle fine. May write about it in a separate post.

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    2. Woa! Yes, please tell us more about this bike!

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  12. Serotta has a several day loaner program. My LBS lends out bikes for several day test rides, Competitive Cyclist has demo program also.
    All the above has SRAM and Campy available.
    My LBS has worked with Waterford to have small (48cm) TCO free Gunnars made, they do use smaller wheels though. Big wheels and no TCO gets you lots of wheel flop. I've ridden touring bikes with lots wheel flop, they do handle differently, truck like comes to mind.

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    1. This makes me realise that I have never seen a current-production Serotta for sale in any local bike shop, only people I know riding older models. Will have to check whether anybody carries them locally.

      The Ride Studio Cafe in Lexington MA has a very casual and generous bike-lending policy, but they only stock Seven and Cervelo.

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  13. At least open up to a frame with a 54 or 55cm toptube. Makes absence of TCO much more likely. Your stems are long enough with 53cm that you could scale back a lot.

    There's never been a better market for buying vintage. I'm seeing amazing NOS vintage bikes and frames that were the prize of someone's collection offered at very fair prices. And not even getting offers.

    Many bike shops are so slow right now they could offer the test ride you want but why should they? You're making it clear up front you are a hard sell. Twenty miles down the road it's not new anymore, it's used. Transforming inventory from new to used is not a good business plan. At some point if you want to ride fleets of bikes you just have to shoulder the cost. Which will mostly be counted in your time. All of us wish we had more of that.

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    1. Oh I've ridden bikes with longer TTs. The problem is not just needing a shorter stem, but that the ST and HT are also longer - bringing the handlebars higher up; the bikes are no longer "racy" when set up this way.

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    2. Ummm....A 52cm frame with 55cm toptube has the same ST and HT as a 52 with a 53cm toptube. The one has no effect on the other unless the designer wants it to. In fact in the old world of level toptubes - like your Moser - the designer could do nothing that would change the HT or ST of a 52cm frame.

      If we want to muddy it up with sloping tubes and virtual tubes I say let's keep it simple.

      Your handlebars are high now, sort of, because of the Nitto stem. Which is not a race stem and is pretty non-standard stuff. There are lots of ways within readily available parts to put the bars where you want them on most any frame.

      There are plenty of 52cm Colnagos and Pinarellos out there with 54 or 55 toptubes that no one could accuse of not being racy.

      Basically if you stretched your horizon 2cm you'd have 5 times as many bikes to choose from and possibly 20 times as many without TCO. And if you could go to a 51 or 53 ST you might have 50 times as many bikes to choose from. The other thing you might get is a steeper head angle which really is racy. No TCO with a 52x53 consigns you to a wide spread between head and seat angle: either a too steep to pedal ST or a too slack to handle HT. The only way out of that dilemma is a long rake fork that basically only very very vintage bikes and full on customs will have. Or you go with the longer TT

      I'll take your word for it 52x53 is your ideal. There is just no one out there who cannot go up or down a size and be fine. Lots of old pro bikes only came in one-inch size increments.

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    3. Interesting. I have never seen a stock 52cm x 55cm bike other than a Rivendell.

      The Colnagos and Pinarellos you speak of, I assume you mean vintage ones.

      My Mercian is 52cmx54.5cm and I have it set up with a 9cm stem. Those were my custom specs though.

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    4. I do mean vintage but for something like a steel Colnago we could be talking about something from the 90s. Or even something just 10 years old, though production numbers for steel would've been quite low by then.

      Older English bikes in particular would often have 56cm tops paired with 52 seats. 52x53 is an unusual spec anywhere anytime until quite recently. The Mercian measurements seem quite normal. Easy to work with from all ends. You can find lots of bikes like that.

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    5. I think you're still painting yourself into a corner -- seems to me that you want something that's large yet small, light yet heavy, racy yet no TCO. Maybe that's simply a symptom of a little confusion, which is undertandable. I'm sure you'll come to a decision, and I bet that it will involve a compromise of something. BTW, what do you think your "racy" handlebar height will be? Do you think you must have significant drop to the bars in order to be racy?

      As far as the thousand mile BQ test rides go, I have no comment. I respect and enjoy Jan, but I have no desire to take an engineer's approach to the subject. I know a lot of people do, that's fine.

      Is Terry still selling bikes? If so, do they address the TCO issue? Of course, if they have 26" front wheels, that definitely won't be racy. Hmmmn, would a small-wheeled Sachs be racy?

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  14. It definitely isn't easy--possibly not even possible--to simply stroll into a bike shop and walk out with something that will perfectly meet your needs and wants.

    I don't recall ever spending less than about six months tweaking components and fit, even on bikes that were pretty well dialed into my needs.

    Maybe the best way to streamline the process is to talk to people who have already been through that particular learning curve for bicycles that look promising to you, and then make the purchase.

    For example, if you asked me, based on your known preferences, I'd recommend either a Seven or a Van Nicolas with a painted frame, a Black Sheep Ti fork (painted), a Campagnolo drive train with Campy Ergo levers (or a Shimano drivetrain with Dura Ace bar end shifters). The Shimano bar end shifters work incredibly well--I got rid of all my Campagnolo Ergo brifters after using the Shimano bar ends. I'm guessing you'd love them.

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    1. I used Shimano and "Silver" bar end shifters before I switched my roadbikes to Campagnolo ergos. I like bar-eds, but prefer the latter.

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    2. I have new Veloce on my Rivendell and used (10 years old) Record on the Moser. The Seven I rode last summer was set up with Chorus. I've also used Centaur and Athena on friends' bikes. I find them all perfectly usable. The Campagnolo system just feels very natural and effortless to me.

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  15. Well, I for one fully understand why you don't want toe overlap. I have one bike that sort of has it (a fixed gear track bike - when I used pedals with clips and straps the toe clips would just overlap the wheel by about a centimeter, with clipless pedals my toes just barely avoid touching the tyre) and it always bothered me when I had to do a tight turn or u-turn. I suppose I'm lucky in that I'm pretty flexible when it comes to geometry and handling though. Every new bike I've tried has felt just plain weird at first but then I usually acclimatize to it fairly quickly. I have an old Cannondale Track, a Kona cyclocross, a cheap cruiser and have previously had a 70's steel (even the damn rims were steel!) 10-speed, an English 3-speed and a Cannondale M800 mountain bike. All very different but I liked them all.

    I'd be interested in your impressions of 26" wheel road bikes if you get a chance to really test one. Back when I bought by first new bike as an adult (the Cannondale M800) the bike I really wanted was the Bridgestone XO-1 but they refused to sell me one (then they went out of business with a warehouse full of them!)

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  16. Lovely, Have you tried a Cannondale Caad-10? I found it surprisingly comfortable even though you can feel the road in a way that is, for us used to steel, a bit disconcerting. The SRAM one can be had for less than $2000.

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  17. Have you looked at the Cannondale Synapse? Chris Juden reviewed his 'n' hers models in the CTC mag this month. He's really anti TCO and didn't mention it in his review so I assume its OK. Shimano or SRAM only though, I think

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  18. Perfect is stressful.

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  19. If you have a thing about toe overlap, STI levers, frame material etc then might I hesitantly suggest you don't really need a road bike at moment?

    Cycling is for everyone.

    'Road' riding on a 'road' bike is not.

    'Road' riding is not meant to be comfortable or pleasant. It is meant to be a hard, gruelling and evil sport/hobby, fit only for those odd souls who enjoy doing it.

    Recreational cyclists should realise that there is no need to attempt to emulate the tiny number of serious cyclists who need expensive road bikes to maximise their performance.

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    1. "'Road' riding is not meant to be comfortable or pleasant. It is meant to be a hard, gruelling and evil sport/hobby, fit only for those odd souls who enjoy doing it."

      You are confounding a bunch of stuff here.

      Uncomfortable because of aerobic and anaerobic strain is one thing. Uncomfortable because your bike doesn't feel right is another.

      What you are suggesting is akin to saying that you are not meant to be a runner if you have a hard time finding comfortable sneakers/trainers, or that you are not meant to be a figure skater if you have a hard time finding skates that fit right. I disagree.

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    2. 'Road' riding is not meant to be comfortable or pleasant.
      You're confusing the experience of pushing yourself athletically with having equipment that fits you properly and suits your needs. A comfortable, pleasant bike will increase your performance and most high level riders are extremely picky about bike fit and equipment. The odd romantic glorification of "poetic suffering" that you're supposed to endure in order to qualify to ride a decent road bike is tiresome at best...bless your heart...

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    3. Picking the right road bike is not hard for those who want to road ride.

      Any quality bike will do.

      Road riding is for the young and the fit. Those inclined to do it don't pussyfoot about which bike to do it on as there are lots of bikes available.

      Just get a decent bike, get out there and put the miles in. Lots of them.

      As MaxUtitily rightly says, most high level riders are extremely picky about bike fit and equipment. So worry about that when you get to be 'high level' and need to beat the best as you enter the Alps stage of the Tour.

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    4. I don't want to get in to a flame war here. You're certainly entitled to your opinions of what makes sense. But I just don't get the "dismissiveness" of your advice. The author is a experienced rider who is perhaps a bit more picky about fit and handling than many riders, but not more so than a lot of people I know. To my estimation, she is "young and fit" though I genuinely don't know why road riding is limited to that group.

      I don't quite understand why only top level paid professionals are allowed to be picky about their equipment. Amateurs often need to be as, if not more, careful about proper fit because they do not have pro assistance in tweeking every aspects of their equipment and may be more subject to injury because they do not devote their full time to training, recovery, etc. Also, they don't get to spend as much time riding as they would like. Why does this mean the time they do get needs to be uncomfortable?

      You're hardly the only one out there who seems to feel that sports are legitimated by high level competition and activity that exists below that level or is not somehow leading to that level is illegitimate and undeserving of care or attention. Respectfully, I just disagree. I see no problem with amateur athletes who want to maximize their performance and enjoyment of a sport regardless of whether they will ever compete "successfully". I will say that I've never seen any large sport that didn't have a much larger amateur following of people who do it with no expectation of competing at a high level. I'm not sure what the problem with this is. Nor why someone who is quite knowledgeable about a particular technology is not allowed to have preferences even though they don't win races. For some people, this aspect is actually part of what is fun and interesting about cycling. But that's just me. You can ride how and what you want.

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    5. Pete, I think you are redoubling your effort while having forgotten your aim.

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    6. You clearly don't have a problem finding a bicycle that fits. Personally, I find that the vast majority of bicycles become incredibly painful in my neck/upper shoulders within fifteen minutes.

      Just today I test-rode a Salsa Vaya 2, and I can tell you right now, I need the handlebars a hell of a lot higher than they were on the floor model. Just tooling around for ten minutes gave me a sore neck and a headache.

      And I know from experience that just riding it won't make me used to it.

      I did a long tour last year, and I did quite a bit of fussing with the bicycle before the tour. Having my drop bars higher than most people meant the difference between doing the ride and being happy, and being in so much pain I had to go home. Bike fit matters, being comfortable with the brakes and shifters matters. You don't have to be a racer or a racer-wannabe to benefit from a bicycle that fits and is easy to brake and shift.

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    7. I'm not making light of the difficulty some people might have in choosing the right road bike, but it really isn't that hard to do.

      Some people will take a long time to buy anything, especially as nowadays we are bombarded with technical information about every purchase, most of which can be safely ignored.

      I just don't want people getting the impression that cycling requires a lot of knowledge to do properly. It doesn't.

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  20. I didn't see mention of the seat tube angle you desire. That would have some effect on tco, would it not?

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  21. Don't give up! You'll find the perfect bike at some point. It might even be a matter of having to go semi-custom, finding a bike where you like everything except maybe say, the levers, and having a shop switch them out for something you prefer. A bit of a pain, yes, but eventually you'll wind up with something that's completely you, and that (hopefully) you'll love.

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    1. There is no perfect bike.

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  22. It sounds like the Death Valley Ride with AdventureCORPS you wrote of a couple of days back, with the loaner Soma Smoothie, is the ideal chance to give a current roadbike a good long test ride. See if you can get a couple of different loaner stems and a pile of spacers for the steering tube, and hopefully you'll be able to dial in a comfortable fit.

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  23. Thank you for your buying insights. I have referenced your article at velokos.com. Thank you, Timothy

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  24. What about having Mercian build you a road bike? You had success with your single speed mercian, and they accommodated the toe overlap issue right? Why not go that route again and get reynolds 853 tubing? You could build it up yourself and control what you need and want. If I had the beans, a mercian it would be. Hands down they are quite affordable when comparing to other small builders and the mercians are gorgeous.
    Are you thinking of carbon fibre or titanium? Have you considered finding an 'upcycled' lugged steel bicycle that is more up to date than the Moser?
    The soma smoothie tempted me for about 5 minutes with tange prestige!, but it has oversized tubing and I recoiled when I saw it in person. It is probably fine, but wish the bike manufacturers would stop with the oversized tubing!

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    1. Interesting thought -- an 853 ProTeam tubed bike would weigh roughly the same as an Axiom. With one-inch toptube, 14mm seatstays and 22mm chainstays it would flex a great deal more than any steel bike V has had so far. Which is to say it would definitely flex.
      The Axiom is overbuilt and while V is clear she got some of the magic Ti ride it's not like she had all of it. 853 ProTeam plus skinny stays could be just as smooth riding. At least close.

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  25. There is a number of potential solutions, but this post was really not meant to solicit advice for myself - just a general commentary on the process using my situation as an example.

    I also don't think that my situation is all that unique. Lots of women I speak to have similar issues, and lots of them went through multiple roadbikes before they found one they are comfortable with. But when they did it was worth it.

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  26. I think the key is to try a LOT of bikes and try women's specific bikes!!! If the bike is right, you'll know it, without 20 miles. Especially since you're so familiar with bikes and what you like! I just recently went through this process, and with the bike I chose it was instant love. I have very, very fem proportions (long legs, short torso, long arms, small hands), and found that Specialized made the best bikes for my proportions, after trying a variety of brands. Every brand has a different basic geometry they seem to go with.

    Also, try SRAM Apex!!! Its amazing. I hate STI shifters. Apex makes shifting from th levers a breeze. It will change your world!

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    1. Yup, I can use SRAM Apex (but prefer Campagnolo).

      So how do you know a roadbike is right? My Moser rebuild seemed perfect until I tried to corner at 30mph downhill on a group ride. Then not so much. Things like that you don't always discover right away.

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    2. But still no luck with any modern bikes? The Apex is nice because it's on so many bikes--so all the more to test ride! And not very expensive either (relatively).

      For me, I could just feel that the bike was right. I think it was from trying so many wrong ones! My arms just feel into place so perfectly, in every position on the bike, and the handling was just on.

      But I've never had problems with toe overlap, even at high speeds like that. That's one thing I guess you can't tell. I don't think I ever turn my wheel when cornering? Except maybe at low speeds?

      Maybe take short test rides up and down a steep hill and ride around in small circles to see how the bikes feel even in extreme situations? If that is practical near your shops. I guess that kind of thing is easier here in San Francisco where the terrain is so variable!

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    3. No no my current bike does not have toe overlap. The handling is a little wacky at high speeds, it resists turning. This is the bike.

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  27. In my eyes the overlap is only a problem if riding fixed. My stoker, Dorte, dislike overlap on her single-bikes. We found a Thorn Audax mk III without it.

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  28. I basically agree with "ptb" above; You're making this more difficult than it needs to be, unless of course you're just enjoying the "hunt".

    Though you're not a very experienced road bike rider you have ridden quite a few bikes and clearly identified what you want in your own bike. Now you can either choose the production bike that most closely matches what you want and modify it as desired, or have a custom bike made if you're willing to pay enough to avoid compromising.

    From a geometry perspective the only limiting factor is your TCO issue. There's certainly nothing woman-specific about a 52 x 53cm frame. You should also know what seat tube angle you need so that the effective front end length comes out right. But even this won't thin the herd much since most standard bikes have similar seat tube angles these days.

    The extended test ride is also unnecessary because you're actually just looking learn a couple things about the bike. The geometry can be measured or read in the literature so all you need is to see how it absorbs various kinds of bumps relative to the other contenders. Thus you just need a simple test ride protocol: saddle and bars adjusted reasonably well, tires pumped equally hard, ride repeatedly over various bumps and rougher surfaces. Do that with a few bikes and you'll begin to feel a difference.

    Perhaps you finally decide that no off the rack bike will suit you. In that case you certainly have enough information to safely extrapolate into a straightforward custom frame that dozens of builders would bee happy to make. No, you can't ride it before paying but it's also not voodoo. A steel frame with skinny, thin-wall tubing is going to have far smoother ride than any of the carbon/alu bikes or your thicker-wall Moser for that matter. Don't worry about torsional stiffness; Only a couple decades ago racers with many times your strength and power used to win world championships on bikes like this.

    Within the realm of racing bikes steering geometry is no mystery either. The rider compartment is already a known quantity. Click the HT angle back just enough to avoid TCO and choose a fork with a rake to get the trail right. An experienced builder will advise whether the chainstays should be a little longer to even out the weight distribution... but I doubt that'd be needed since smaller riders have relatively more weight on the front wheel anyway.

    But hey, maybe you're just having fun visiting bike shops and trying bikes.

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    1. "A steel frame with skinny, thin-wall tubing is going to have far smoother ride than any of the carbon/alu bikes or your thicker-wall Moser for that matter. "

      I agree about the carbon/alu bikes, I tend not to like the ride quality much. My Moser however feels amazing over bumps and I have tried a number of high-end modern steel bikes that do not feel as good, even with fatter tires. This is the sort of thing that makes tubing rather mysterious to me, more so than geometry.

      I assure you that I did not enjoy shopping for a roadbike. I also urge you to consider that just because something seems simple and straightforward to one person, does not make it uniformly so for everyone.

      This post was not intended to solicit advice for myself. I know how to solve TCO issues on a 52cm frame at this point. My intent was simply to describe the experience I've had over the past year, and to point out that all these issues are not unique to me; I now get emails from readers (mostly women) quite frequently describing the same frustrations. Sure the natural response of those who do not experience the same frustrations might be to tell us we're overcomplicating things. But that does not magically change anything.

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    2. just curios here....do you know the BB drop on your Moser?

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    3. Don't remember now, will try to re-measure. The BB is very low.

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    4. just wondering b/c i've heard that makes a difference in handling over rough surfaces.....but know nothing about this stuff.

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    5. Just wondering, how do you feel that TCO is solved on a 52cm frame?

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    6. There are several ways it can be done, and it depends on personal preferences to some extent. Maybe a topic for a separate post. But assuming 23mm tires, it is very doable.

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  29. It sounds as if you already know that you want the Seven axiom. I'd say save up for it while putting out WTBs in the appropriate forums and watching ebay for used options (unless you think model changes between years could be an issue.
    Maybe the place where you borrowed one earlier would be willing to sell you a frameset+veloce group to get the price down, especially if there are some of last years frames lying around you might be able to get a deal. I really think the Veloce group is the best deal on a groupset, just 400€ at German webshops, and that is with our extra sales taxes. Replacement cassettes are much cheaper for 10s as well.
    If the Seven axiom has a place in your heart, see if you could fit it into your budget.(A used one should be half the price and a used frameset even cheaper, at least checking ebay buy it now options).
    Would you really be happy with another bike or end up buying the Seven eventually anyway (having spent more money and less time on a bike you really want)?

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  30. I wonder if you might have better using a 700c cyclocross frame with 650b wheels. The cross frames tend to have less bottom bracket drop, which the smaller wheel diameter would cancel out. Smaller wheels should also prevent the dreaded toe clip overlap?

    Just thinking out loud here...

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  31. I think you would do a lot better on a smaller-wheeled (e.g. 650b) frame. It lets the builder make the fit and steering right without creating TCO.

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  32. I think to a large extent, the ideal race bike has a great deal to do with the rider's adaptation and handling skills. There's a reason why, as people get older, even seasoned racers can find drop handle bikes uncomfortable.

    When I first started sprinting more seriously in my youth, I recall the initial discomfort I felt on using "spikes" (trainers with spikes) for the first time. It wasn't until sometime later that I realized how much of a difference they made, and my stride had adapted accordingly.

    I know this is not exactly a like-for-like analogy, however, performance sports are all about training, pushing beyond comfort levels, along with muscular and mental adaptation.

    Of course, the wrong size spikes would have compromised my performance in any case. I don't know if this is how you liken your quest, or whether it is partly about adaptation. After all, in the beginning, you were cycling just a town bike with seat lowered to a position where your feet were flat on the ground. Obviously, you would find that kind of seat position very uncomfortable now.

    Just a viewpoint -- I am no pro at cycling and geometry.

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  33. Road bikes handle like road bikes for a reason. Some of the same design elements that make a road bike NOT a touring bike are the ones that can create toe overlap and a less compliant ride.

    You can't have your cake and eat it too.

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  34. I'm an older male and TCO is the first thing I look for in a bike, although since I ride frames around 58 cm it is much easier to find one without the issue. I particularly like older road frames with the more relaxed geometry, like Cinellis from the 1960's as an example. The 1977 Sabatini I have is 58 cm with a 56 cm TT and still has enough clearance with large toe clips as it is built on the older Italian road frame geometries. It handles and rides nicely without being too sensitive. I was 22 when I purchased it and the lack of TCO made it much more enjoyable to ride.

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  35. Yes I took the tie to read this thread. I find it interesting that many people just do not listen. If you dont enjoy STI shifters than that is ok...My wife and I looked hard to find our road bikes. We wanted speed matched with comfort and the desire to ride the long haul. With that search there was only two bikes that fit our desires. One is not made anymore and it required an exhaustive search for a used one on Craigslist. However, we have never regreted that path. We ride Trek Pilot 5.0 These are fully carbon bikes. In your case you would have to remove the STI shifters and go with Bar Cons. In the process I would add inline breaks at the cross bar. The pilot puts you a bit more upright relaxing the angle a bit. While Trek has brought back the Pilot, they do not make the full carbon bike that we own.

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  36. I realize that I'm very late to this party, but I'm shopping for my first road bike and the whole toe overlap issue worries me. I need a 54cm frame, so I think I should be able to find something where the problem is minimized.

    But my question is this... how can you tell from the geometry specs if it will be a problem or not? Is there a minimum front-center measurement or wheelbase that you look for? And Trek doesn't even provide front-center measurements on their WSD models. Just hoping you might be able to give me some tricks for narrowing it down so I don't have to spend the rest of my life at the LBS riding every conceivable model.

    Thanks so much!
    -Cat

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