Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Purple Handlebars: My Invisible Bike

Seven View
In May 2011 I test rode a titanium roadbike by local manufacturer Seven Cycles. Unexpectedly, this turned into my renting a demo model for the remainder of the summer, culminating in this review of the bike. After much hand-wringing and testing of other bikes, this Spring I got a Seven of my own. Both Seven Cycles and their sister bike shop Ride Studio Cafe sponsor this blog, which afforded me the opportunity to purchase the bike at a manageable price point. My new bike is a Seven Axiom S - their entry level titanium road/race model - fitted with a Campagnolo Chorus group. Other than submitting myself to an extensive bike fit process, asking for no toe overlap, and specifying my preference for a level-ish top tube, I did not get involved in the frame specs. "Just make it the same as the one I test rode, only in my size" was the extent of my input. We also went with the same components as the demo bike I rode last year. On Seven's advice, I bought the bike bundled together with pedals, shoes and fancy computer. The complete bike was handed over to me in ready-to-ride condition. I have not kept track of the milage properly, but I estimate it to be around 1,000 miles at present. The kind of riding I've done on it so far has included solo rides, club rides, some metric centuries, and one overnight imperial century - all mostly road.

It took me a while to write about my bike, and I am still not sure what or how to do it. The problem is that it feels so oddly natural, that it simply disappears from my field of awareness. I feel myself pedaling, but I don't feel the bike. And because I don't feel it, I don't think about it. I don't even look at it much. When I do look at it, I am riding it - so even when I try to conjure up an image of "my Seven" what I am really picturing is the cockpit view of the handlebars, wrapped in purple bar tape. The bike itself is just not there. How can I write about something I don't feel and photograph something I don't look at? It feels forced. And so that's been the dilemma.

Seven Axiom S
But of course the bike is a tangible object. Titanium frame, carbon fiber fork. I watched the frame being welded. I know the guy who built it up with components. The bike is real. As far as aesthetics, there are certainly those who are crazy about titanium, but I can take it or leave it. I don't hate it - and Seven's frames have some nice design elements that I particularly appreciate, such as the curvy chain stays and super clean welds. But I don't love it like I do brazed and lugged steel. While aesthetically I am neutral, functionally I have come to see benefits. I like the ride quality. I like the durability. I like the light weight. I am okay with feeling "aesthetically neutral" about a material in exchange for these benefits.

As is common practice with titanium frames, I left mine unpainted. There is no need, as titanium does not rust. If the surface gets scratched, I can simply buff the scratches out. Easy, and truly low maintenance. The unfinished frame gives the bike a matte silvery look that contributes to the neutral effect. There is nothing to see here: No colour, no lugs, but no ugly messy welds either. The welds are subtle, delicate-looking puddles at the joints.

Seven Fork Dropouts
A technically interesting aspect of the bike is Seven's proprietary 5E fork. The curved blades give it a more elegant look than the more typical straight forks, and, some would say, have a positive effect on ride quality. Even more interesting are the adjustable dropouts that allow for these forks to be made in a wide range of rakes (36mm to 58mm) - something that is not commonly done with carbon fiber forks. Among other things, this enables them to make small bikes without toe overlap.

There are different opinions out there about carbon fiber forks, one of them being that they are prone to sudden breakage. This was my own understanding of the situation initially. But over the past year I have read up more on the topic, have talked about it with a number of framebuilders (including steel-loving ones), and have come to the conclusion that it's not as simple as "carbon fiber is more fragile than steel." As far as anecdotal evidence, I personally know many more cyclists who have damaged or destroyed steel forks than I know cyclists who have damaged or destroyed carbon fiber forks. Carbon forks may not be pretty, but I believe the modern high-quality ones are strong and safe. One is not obliged to get a carbon fork with a titanium frame. But last summer I liked the way the Axiom demo bike rode so much, that I did not want to change any part of the equation, so I went with a carbon fork. I do not lose sleep over this. I don't notice it.

Seven Axiom S
Since I first got the bike in spring, it has undergone only a couple of minor changes. I changed the saddle twice (from Berthoud, to Selle Anatomica, then back to Berthoud), trying to determine which one was more suitable for long rides. I also switched out the original 23mm tires (Michelin Krylion) to 26mm tires (Grand Bois Cerf) - mostly just to experiment, but I think I'll keep them this way for a while. Otherwise, the bike has stayed the same. I have several saddle wedges and bags that I use, depending on the sort of ride I am doing, so it usually has at least a tool bag underneath the saddle. Unlike some other road/racing bikes I've tried, it carries weight in the rear very well - including a large Carradice-type bag full of heavy stuff. I have not tried weight on the handlebars yet. As far as geometry, it is basically a 52cm x 53cm frame with a 2° sloping top tube, mid-trail front end, and a steep seat tube. The frame and fork will fit tires up to 28mm. The drive-train is 50/34t in the front and 12-29t in the rear. I prefer to stay seated and spin when climbing hills, and so far this gearing has allowed that for most of the riding I've done. The Campagnolo ergo levers feel extremely intuitive to use. The Crankbrothers pedals have been easy and problem-free. 

As far as limitations, I have noticed only one so far: When doing a 100 mile ride, toward the end I wished the handlebars had roomier "shoulders" behind the brake hoods. I am still not sure what kind of rides I will mostly be doing on this bike, but if I end up consistently riding it long distance I will consider different handlebars. Likewise, I may want lower gearing, should I ever do the kind of climbs that call for it. This bike was not designed for racks, fenders, wide tires, and the like, and so it isn't really meant for touring, transportation, or off-road use. So far it has proven to be more versatile than I expected, but it remains at its best as a light bike for spirited local rides. It is then that the bike is at its least noticeable: It's just me then, flying through thin air. 

Seven Axiom S
To explain the disappearing bike phenomenon, maybe I need to go back to the day I got it. I showed up for a Sunday morning ride at the Ride Studio Cafe on my old bike, and when I walked in the door someone was pointing toward the back of the store excitedly, mouthing "your bike is here!" I headed that way and saw a small group of people, crouching and leaning over what was presumably my bike. They were discussing the unusual decals (made using a non-standard font) and the leather saddle. Feeling shy, I stepped aside and watched them all watching my bike. By the time the crowd dissipated, it was time for the Sunday ride, and it was somehow just assumed that I would ride the new bike instead of the one I arrived on. In retrospect, it might have been wise to test ride it at least around the block before a 30 mile club ride, but there was no time. I barely had a chance to look at it in its unridden state. We headed out and before I knew it, I was pedaling and panting and braking and shifting in a small group of other riders, the wind in my face. Only later, as I rode the additional 10 miles home at an easier pace, did the reality that I was taking my new bike home set in. How did it feel? I really could not say, other than that I did not feel it at all. And that set the tone for our relationship: The bike absented itself politely from my cycling experience. I can tell you whether I ride fast or slow, how many miles, how hilly it is, how tired I am in the end, what sort of things I see around me - but I don't know what to say about the bike itself.

In my review of the demo model last year, I was excited about how fast the Seven rode. Since then, I have ridden other road/racing bikes. They are fast as a category, and the Seven Axiom is just one of many excellent fast bikes out there. What makes this particular bike well-suited for me is the intuitive, weightless, painless feel of it in addition to the speed itself. I do not feel the rough roads. I get less fatigued after riding than I do on other bikes. The fit feels perfectly natural. The components are seamlessly integrated. It really is as if the bike isn't there. When asked to describe it, I draw a blank and what comes to mind are the purple handlebars I see while I'm riding. Not very informative, though in a way maybe it is.

99 comments:

  1. Apparently you can't get excited over a frame that is technically perfect.

    The disappearing act you cite is due to perfect fit and perfect geo.

    The interchangeable fork dropout thing is for cost savings; no genius design required.

    If one thinks about this type of bike while riding it isn't doing its job or the rider isn't focused on either riding hard or enjoying the scenery.

    This is a strange review for someone who is so sensory-receptive but there are many other things you could have written about compared to other bikes.

    Alas, such as it is.

    PS I told you so re: carbon forks.

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  2. also 34x29 isn't low enough? You went from mashing to having a near 1:1.

    I wouldn't even think about going lower; at that point people will pass you while walking.

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    1. It's absolutely enough for the riding I am doing at this stage. But if I ever get to the point of doing the local randonnees, those have some pretty tough climbs and I would indeed like a 1:1. I mashed on my last bike because I had no choice, but I don't like it and would not be able to sustain it on a long hill. Being able to spin and stay seated has been heaven on this bike.

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    2. Climbing particularly steep slopes or while loaded, the goal isn't to maintain an arbitrary speed, but to climb effectively. You may be going slower than a person walking, but you are doing it expending considerably less energy and thus can climb effectively for longer periods allowing greater average speed over varied terrain.

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    3. I think if you're doing local randos you'll find your existing gearing enough because you'll be stronger but maybe it won't be butterflies and periwinkle initially. Whatevs gear accordingly.

      Did I not say spinnin is for winnin?

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    4. Choice of gearing certainly varies among cyclists, especially between those who prefer to spin or finesse, versus folks who can stand and power for long periods of time. I'm a spinner. I have and use much lower gears than V has. (on brevets for over 25 years) Powering up a short steep hill may be fine on a 30 mile ride, but standing for 4 miles on Petersburg Pass at mile 150 or 200 is a whole different story. And of course, just because you have LOW gears doesn't mean you can't use bigger ones, but if you don't have them... Better looking at it than for it, I say!

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    5. 34 x 29 gives 31.6 gear inches or about 9-1/2mph at 100 rpm. Which is good speed for normal mortals up anything I call a climb. Below 60rpm most riders are entering a decay curve and below 50rpm uphill it's just gutting it out. 50rpm is 5mph for a minimum speed on this gear.

      I can do 5mph up any paved road no problem so long as I'm fresh and the climb is not infinite. I can even gut it out at 40rpm in a 40 inch gear but it's not pleasant and it's not even good for the bike. Late in a ride low gears get real practical.

      When it's time to get off the bike and walk you don't jog along as a runner doing eight minute miles. It's more like you plod at 2mph or even less. So in theory extremely low gears are useful. Mountain bike gearing at 20 x 34 is about 3mph at 60 rpm which is a real good alternative to walking.

      The next question is are you registered for Mt. Washington? How often will you do Petersburg Pass 500k into a 600k? That's why there's a concept called event gearing.

      IMO 34 x 29 looks out of place on a Seven. But it makes sense. A tired rider going uphill in the saddle looks a whole lot better than a thrashed rider walking uphill.

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    6. If the Mt Washington question was directed at me, the answer is YES. Just got home after racing up it on a fixie in an hour and a half. Admittedly, my fixie has special event gearing, but the geared bike I used to race up in in July has the same gearing on all the time and gets used for lots of other rides. And *I* encountered long steep climbs late into events almost weekly, so for me it makes sense to keep some low gears on all the time. Again, better looking at it, than for it!

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    7. "IMO 34 x 29 looks out of place on a Seven"

      Why? I know plenty of cyclists who have 1:1 or sub-1:1 gearing on their racy Sevens. A Seven is not a specific kind of bike; it's just a brand name.

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  3. I cannot emphasize enough the importance of a proper fitting session and simply trusting the experts. Put aside one's ideas and preferences, no matter how much you think you know, and take advantage of the advances in technology and understanding of how the body works best.

    It was a hard learned lesson for me, but once realized, the difference is, as you say, indescribable. The bike seems to not be there...Truly, an extension of ones body. It's true, our bodies can quite easily adapt to almost anything, especially if one is young (which I'm not) but a properly fit bike for it's intended purpose is magic. I've no idea what tubing was used (other than steel) and put aside my desires for a level top tube and the result is stunning simple b/c it's the right mix of materials and design to my body and needs.

    Glad to hear you are enjoying this beauty....Hears to many years and miles of pleasure!

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    1. Well, maybe. A few years ago, fit sessions resulted in "ideal" frame fits that were a couple of cm larger than what is considered ideal currently. I find it more natural to go with slightly larger frames. In the end, and certainly in specific for experienced cyclists, what feels right probably should trump what a fitting session indicates.

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    2. There are indeed "fitters" who start with the presumption you can't sustain a position for x duration, taking the customer's complaints to heart. It is/was the safe way to do it, knowing full well most riders won't do the work to warrant a lower position.

      I had to fight to get my ht short enough; it's now fully slammed -17deg. Listening to the fitter would have meant a different bike a long time ago.

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    3. Another factor.....

      Depending on the type of bike, a longer top tube with a shorter stem can make for better handling than a shorter top tube with a longer stem. And visa versa.

      In either case, it's a significant variable in terms of how a bike feels/rides that isn't effectively addressed in a bike fitting session.

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  4. Another also -- you can carry stuff in a saddle bag no prob b/c the rear centre is long enough.

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  5. Funny thats exactly my description of my frame ti bike, its so neutral and well behaved that I just don't notice that I'm riding it, and have to remind myself that I'm sat upon a very expensive bike!!

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  6. I had the same feeling when I demo'ed a (steel) Seven. Not just fast, but --- balanced. Even though the demo was significantly wrong in the cockpit, the rest of the bike disappeared, and the rest was fixable. I went back and re-demoed the other bike I'd been looking at, and while my wallet won't thank me, I think the rest of me will.

    Out of curiosity, how did you get the second bike home?

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  7. Wow, even though you can "take or leave" the aesthetics of your Seven, it sounds fantastic!
    I have often wished my bike would disappear - not literally, but in the sense you describe!
    Do I notice lack of excitement in your tone?
    Are you becoming JADED?
    Is this a manifestation of the dreaded Burnout?
    Great Review, IMHO, thanks.

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    1. I am excited about what the bike does for me, is how I'd put it.

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    2. I have also evolved from aesthetically exquisite bikes to functionally exquisite bikes in Ti. Both types are satisfying, but how the bike rides is more of a lasting thrill.

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  8. I feel the same way about my titanium Serotta with a carbon fork and carbon seat stays. I've been riding for almost 40 years and it's the smoothest, most comfortable ride ever. There's something magical about how it just seems to float underneath me.

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  9. A bike that makes the ride not about the bike.

    just out of curiosity, what are you other bikes: Brompton, Seven Axiom...

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    1. As far as bikes I ride regularly, it's those two, plus a Mercian single speed and a vintage Raleigh DL-1. Most likely I will add a wide tire/hbar bag road-to-trail bike to that group in the future. I also have an ANT truss bike and two other vintage DL-1s, but those are more like a collection and I don't ride them regularly. And I am working on a couple of collaboration projects as well. All the bikes are listed here.

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  10. Nice bike. Love the purple handlebar tape.
    A bike that "disappears" while being ridden seems to be a great complement to the designer/builder.
    I just read "Just Ride" by Grant Petersen and he includes a chapter on carbon fiber's shortcomings, a position that he has held for quite some time. However, others have said that modern carbon forks are much better than they used to. I've put about 12k miles on my go-fast bike with a carbon fork. It has held up well, so far.

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  11. This is exactly how I've described my own road bike. It's a 1995 vintage Trek OCLV carbon frame that I've owned since new. I've often heard/read people disparage carbon as being without soul unlike steel which is "lively" and people feel connected to. To each his own. I'm not trying to say one frame material is better than another. After 17 years of riding this bike I still love the isolation it provides from the road and how quick it is. This last characteristic is one which I had taken for granted until recently. The commuter bike I got this past year is a cyclocross/tourer with Tange steel tubing. It is a heavy, sturdy frame that performs well as a commuter but I would also refer to as plodding. When I switch back to the Trek for weekend rides it feels like swinging a baseball bat after taking off the weighted doughnut. None of this is meant to be a negative comment on steel by any means. I just appreciate how much I still enjoy riding my carbon frame/fork. After all it's not about the bike, it's about the ride.

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    1. Well designed light tube steel road bikes disappear beneath the rider as well.

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  12. Hi there, where is your bar tape from? I thought that it was written somewhere that its a Fizik but they don't carry purple (only pink). Thanks!

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  13. My understanding has been that carbon tends to fail suddenly without warning, when it fails, but not that it is fragile or easily broken under normal riding conditions. Have you determined that carbon does not fail suddenly without warning, when it fails?

    My understanding has been that crashes may create weaknesses that one cannot see, and that it is best to replace a fork after a crash. Have you determined that is incorrect?

    A friend found a small, hardly noticeable scratch on the carbon frame of his new bike. He worried that it might be a safety issue. He talked to the bike shop, and the bike shop talked to the manufacturer about it, not asking for a new bike, but just wanting to find out if it was a potential problem. The manufacturer replaced the whole bike. That was one of the major companies.

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    1. "Have you determined that is incorrect?"

      I cannot possibly determine this one way or the other. We all need to weigh the evidence we see for ourselves. I know road and cyclocross racers who have ridden with the same CF fork for years, with multiple crashes per season. No cracks, no pre-emptive replacements, no sudden failures.

      The manufacturer you mentioned was probably just playing it safe and wanting to keep the customer happy. Also, CF forks are by no means all the same. Maybe that particular model has had instances of failure. Seven forks have an excellent track record.

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    2. Typically, the 'sudden failure' issue is related not to the material per se as much as it is to the design goal. Ultralight parts that are precisely engineered to have the absolute minimum material needed to meet the strength requirements will tend to fail catastrophically when those limits are exceeded. Carbon earned a bit of a reputation for this because it more often used in parts designed with this "just strong enough/as light as possible" goal. It is true that carbon parts will not bend the way some steel or aluminum parts will when overloaded. But those are typically fairly heavy, "overbuilt" metal parts. Ultralight parts tend to fail suddenly regardless of material.

      I'm no huge fan of carbon, but the "fails catastrophically" and "1 scratch and it's done" memes are mostly myth.

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    3. If a large mfg. its financial motivation to replace the frame set vs. the cost to its rep for customer service is totally inconsequential. There is a reason trekcialized dominates the landscape.

      You would be surprised how low mfg. costs of a Far East-produced frame actually are.

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    4. Thanks all. That's helpful. What MaxUtility wrote about ultralight parts sounds like a particularly an important factor. The properties of the materials matter, but so do material dimensions. All of us who have at least one bike with a carbon fork or frame are counting on their safety.

      Does anyone know if the carbon racing bikes and forks we buy are designed to take crashes and survive?

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    5. "Does anyone know..."

      This is too general a question, depends on the mfg. and the type of crash. Anything can be broken.

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  14. It's fantastic when a well-functioning and designed item disappears in use, and you can focus on the riding experience.

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  15. I'm curious, why is the fork choice between steel and carbon? why not titanium?

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    1. Seven does not make Ti forks. Their view is that a weight/feel/durability ratio to meet their standards cannot be achieved at a feasible cost.

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    2. imo a sure-fire way to ruin the ride quality of a ti frame is to add a steel fork.

      steel frame? fine, unless you prefer a carbon.

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    3. Yeah, what V says.

      My favorite Ti forks are the truss style such as the ones Black Sheep and Jeff Jones make.

      These forks are lovely works of engineering. They would look out of proportion on a diamond frame road bike. Plus, they cost a good deal of money.

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    4. carbon forks do damp vibration well on bad roads, and keep the tyre grounded in fast cornering, if i had the money my heart would want titanium, but in the real world i'm not sure it would make me happier than carbon at the end of a long ride

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  16. Hm. I can see why you've waited to write this one.

    What you describe is the best possible outcome for a maker of a vehicle, a musical instrument, or even a hand tool.
    If it is truly transparent to a discerning user, it is rare and wonderful.

    There is no impediment or intermediary step between you and your goal.

    In lutherie-land, those guitars "that play themselves" are usually the most sought after.

    That Seven may be the loveliest bicycle of all of them when it comes to pleasing *you*.

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  17. I don't have a lot of experience with Ti or Carbon. I have had Cerfs on my Steel on Steel road bike and can say they are smooth rolling beauties that have turned out to be quite durable.

    Tom Kellogg who built my road bike has been involved with the proprieter at Seven for quite some time. Not surprised you wound up with an excellent ride.

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  18. Nice comments, and parallel to some of my own experiences. Regarding the "shoulders" of the bars behind the hoods -- I think you mean the "ramps"? My instinct is that a shorter stem may be helpful, if you find yourself regularly pulling back off the hoods onto the ramps. With contemporary geometry and ergo levers, IMO, the hood tops should/can be a comfortable, neutral riding position. You should be able to, IMO, ride long distances with your hands on the hoods while remaining relaxed and comfortable.

    I wonder whether Seven may have built your top tube a bit long to be sure to avoid toeclip overlap (which I still think is an over-rated problem, but you didn't like it the last time I made that comment, so, to each her own). Regardless, my sense is that if you find yourself consistently pulling back off the tops out of discomfort, that your reach to the bars may be a bit too long.

    One other comment -- if I correctly noticed the wheels, they're a pretty light set, which contributes to the sensation of "not there".

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    1. "a shorter stem may be helpful, if you find yourself regularly pulling back off the hoods onto the ramps"

      It is not a matter of wanting to be more upright. I am just used to having that extra hand position from riding the likes of Nitto Noodles. I don't like to keep my hands on the tops, so the shoulders/ramps are my tops, when I am not on the hoods or in the drops. The top tube is definitely not too long.

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    2. You might experiment with moving the levers and tilting the bars. The slightest adjustment often makes all the difference.

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    3. My description of the handlebar thing must have been confusing. They are not uncomfortable, on the contrary. However there was one time, around mile 80 of a 100 mile ride, when I began to wish I had this extra hand position that compact handlebars don't offer (or rather do offer, but the area is a bit cramped). It has to do with the inherent style of the handlebars; tilting them won't make any difference. Have a look at Nitto Noodles and Grand Bois Maes bars to see what I mean.

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    4. I'm surprised that you didn't specify Noodles. In my experience, they are indeed significantly more comfortable.

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    5. The compact bars with their shallow drops make more sense on this bike overall, plus they are Seven's own handlebars which I thought was nice. I believe they can make handlebars with longer shoulders, so if it ever comes to that I can ask for that.

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    6. Longer ramps would mean the hoods getting further away. So compensate for that with a shorter stem. Maybe it would take trials of a couple stems to get it right. Then of course there's taping, which has become a big deal with all that cable underneath. My it does get complicated. If it was me I could find ways to postpone this one for quite a while. Especially if it works OK most of the time.

      Maybe just get another new bike. Simplest way to get those long ramps.

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  19. So, am I mistaken or didn't you used to name your bikes? Now this one is simply 'invisible'....Btw, the worst ride I ever had was on a titanium bike. It wasn't the material but rather the simple fact it was designed for the person who convinced me to give it a try. To him it was like a cloud, to me it was pulling an anchor. Sounds like you hit the jackpot and maybe this one will earn a name, too:)

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  20. I first would like to say that I enjoy your blog. The blog is well written and the photos are excellent.

    Secondly, I am undergoing an experience similar to yours in some aspects. I have ridden lugged steel frames since I can remember. My favorite bicycle is a Rivendell Rambouillet, and it always will be. However, out of curiosity, and being a bargain hunter, I sat on a Look 585 Optimum, full carbon frame. (I hope my Rivendell membership is not revoked :)). By design, it has an extended head tube and shorter top tube than the normal racing bike. It fits me as well as my Rivendell. The new bike is not aesthetically pleasing to my standards, but I do enjoy the ride. I do not have the knowledge or experience to declare the ride quality is contingent upon the carbon fiber frame. I do declare that I enjoy the ride. I do not "feel" the bike under me. I do not think about it as I move through turns. The bike seems to be just an extension of myself...like running without effort. Jay

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    1. I also own a Rivendell and a Specialized racing bike with somewhat relaxed geometry. The racing bike feels great to me, and fits great, although I am less tired after a long ride over the same terrain on my Rivendell than I am on the racing bike. Part of that is that I tend to speed on the racing bike and to ride more slowly to take in the scenery on the Rivendell. (And I also tend to carry a load of one kind or another my Rivendell, but of course not on my racing bike.) Even in other sports, increasing one's speed by just just a small amount can greatly increase the effort and the energy consumed.

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  21. I wouldn't have known what you were talking about in this post until this morning.
    I have done most of my riding on Hardtail Mountain bikes but yesterday I took delivery of a new flat bar road bike I purchased for commuting to work. This mornings ride was like gliding on silk. Its a belt driven internally geared number which is perfectly smooth and silent. I'm not sure if this change in experience is just due to the change from a bike thats not being used for its intended purpose and as such is inherently inefficient to one specifically designed to do the type of riding I do. Or if it is this particular bike. Guess i'll have to get/ride more bikes to determine that. But the experience is quite amazing to be able to ride in such an effortless manner, not paying attention to the machine.
    I do notice a tinge of disappointment in your post here though, I guess if you are used to feeling connected to the bike, having it talk to you, feeling it respond to your commands, then having a bike that doesn't connect in that way would seem strange, at first at least. But as others have said, this surely is the pinnacle of bike design and fit. A bike that gets you around without you having any recollection of how it has actually done so.

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  22. Hats off for an interesting review. You have obviously come a long way from your first posts in 2009, which usually talked about both form and function, but had much more emphasis on aesthetic factors than a typical bicycle reviewer/blogger. Even the name of your blog clearly reflects that aesthetic emphasis: "Lovely Bike", with every post written under a banner that shows you photographing, rather than riding, a bike.
    Over the last several years, I have watched you buy and sell a large number of bikes, usually falling in love because of looks, but then eventually selling them for something that performed better as you gained more riding experience. I don't think when you posted pictures with you and your Pashley back in 2009, that you would have imagined also posting pictures like this with your own Seven a few years later.

    http://lovelybike.blogspot.com/p/bicycles-for-everyday.html

    I know you still ride loop-frame bikes for transportation but you have also managed to go from riding primarily lovely bikes in lovely clothes, to riding with helmets, unflattering clothes, clipless shoes and pedals, and a custom road bike that disappears rather than exciting you visually.

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/lovely_bicycle/7483238034/in/set-72157631066754510/

    If there is a lesson here, I think it is that function matters a lot in cycling. Function sometimes trumps aesthetics, and I think is quite a bit more important than you may have realized when you were first starting out.

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    1. I agree it's been an interesting evolution to follow along with. However, I would somewhat challenge your description of function and aesthetics being in opposition or even separate. For me, aesthetic features are often visual indicators of the way a object was designed and made, the intention and care that was put in, and the history and design knowledge that resides in the final design. With that in mind, it is not surprising that what might be aesthetically pleasing on one type of bike may be undesirable and non-functional on another.

      I hesitate to put words in the author's mouth. But what I get from her evolution is more a sense that form and function are interwoven and that has you dig deeper into a particular area of design, more and more layers of of complexity are revealed. Certain design features are revealed to be both beautiful and practical for certain conditions, but not for others. Certain features that seemed ugly reveal themselves as beautiful in their performance and in the way they fit into the overall design of a design with different goals/uses.

      Form and function rarely lie on separate axis, and what is ugly in one context can be lovely in another.

      But that's just me... ;)

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    2. Anon - You are right in one sense, but remember also that cycling is not all the same. I started riding for transportation with very limited bicycle handling skills. Later I added road cycling to this, and also my skills improved as time went on. So there are more factors involved here than form vs function. The context of function has changed.

      The banner (which it is time to change soon; I change it once a year) still accurately represents what this blog is about. It is not my cycling diary. It is about appreciating bikes, thinking about bikes, featuring bikes, eventually designing bikes. My own experiences provides context for all of this of course, but it is not the focus.

      MaxUtility - Your 2nd paragraph: yes.

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    3. I learn so much here. Thank you!

      Function creates form. That`s why cyclists have such great legs!

      Lovely Velouria? Honey. Look again. It may not be the same kind of beauty as your lugged loved ones, but the clean lines and streamlined design is starkly, stunningly gorgeous in it`s own right.

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  23. I'd be interested to hear what you think of the Soma Smoothie you had relative to the Seven. They seem to be designed for a similar purpose, though at a much different price. (It would be nice for comparison purposes if the Soma had a more coherent build-perhaps all Veloce in keeping with its cost.) In some ways the Smoothie has more character, if only by virtue that its somewhat utilitarian esthetics are reflected in its price.

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    1. The geometry of the two bikes is very similar. There is a 5lb or so difference in weight between the Smoothie and the Seven. And you are right that a coherent build is important. I do not think it's as simple as making it all about the price difference vs the utility of the two bikes; they are just different. I will be reviewing the Smoothie soon.

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  24. Interesting to me is the number of commenters who make the (not unwarranted) assumption that this very neutral, "bike disappears" quality is the ultimate aim of design. Obviously it is likely a sign of a well designed bike that fits properly. But I wouldn't necessarily assume that this is the ultimate aim of a performance design. I take your description to indicate that the bike does not give a huge amount of feedback. While generally desirable, performance vehicles often actually do not have this very neutral feel and actually require a more active, sometime even aggressive amount of input from the rider to get the best performance from them. The payback is that they are actually able to perform better when pushed. Of course, quick club rides are not the same as pushing yourself to the limit in crit races, etc. All in all, it sounds like an excellent bike, lovingly suited to the kind of riding you got it for.

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    1. The ultimate aim of performance design is to go fast with predictable handling; the ultimate aim of fit is for rider comfort for the way he/she rides.

      The two overlap for fast people on their perfect bike.

      How quickly a bike handles given input is also personal preference, racing or otherwise.

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    2. "I take your description to indicate that the bike does not give a huge amount of feedback."

      To be honest, I am not sure I understand the concept of feedback. The bike certainly does not ride itself, and it does require for active input on my part. However, how to give that input is more intuitive for me than it's been on other bikes. I've also heard "feedback" used to describe feedback from the road. Some don't like Ti, because they can't feel the road. To me, however, feedback from the road is simply painful and I am very glad not to have it.

      Either way, you are right that I am unlikely to do crit races on this (or any) bike.

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    3. Yeah, these terms are very subjective and we don't have a good vocabulary to describe ride quality and handling. Ti frames do seem to smooth out road bumps and vibration better than most materials and I think this has to be desirable almost all of the time. I think some riders confuse the sensation of speed with actual speed and perceive overly smooth bikes as slower or hard to control because they aren't used to not being beaten up.

      I was more thinking that the bike exhibits very "neutral" handling from how you describe it. As you've discussed elsewhere, a bike that feels neutral at one speed may not feel that way at another or climbing versus descending. From my limited experience, I have seen that bikes that are very neutral at normal speeds and cornering do not always have the same capabilities when put under extreme conditions as bikes that sometimes require more forceful management. You trade a little comfort for widening the envelope of the conditions that the bike can handle.

      Regardless, my terms are all very vague and I'm only guessing at what you're feeling. My big thought was just that the 'invisible bike' feel is not always the ultimate design goal. But for me, sounds like a dream to ride!

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    4. Pardon me again..."feedback" has been a generic term kicking around forever.

      Bottom line: feedback is necessary to feel what the tires are doing. My experience with my Ti frame is indeed it's muted, but if I may use a romantic term the feedback is like that of a boat in water versus...what...a boat being drug across rumble strips behind and F150.

      Basically I trust the frame more to press the wheels onto the ground at the right moment vs. a buckboard-stiff carbon race bike.

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    5. wtf i keep writing and in place of an.

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    6. "it's muted, but ...the feedback is like that of a boat in water versus...what...a boat being drug across rumble strips..."

      I wrote something about clouds in last year's review, but this is probably more like it.

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    7. Now that's an interesting metaphor. Never thought of comparing my old Merlin to a boat but that's just what it was. And yes it was necessary to trust the frame to do things that it sort of did on its own. You've put your finger on exactly why I couldn't get along with Ti.

      But whatever floats your boat is OK. There are different ways to get the job done.

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    8. Actually I've read several experienced builders articles saying their goal is to make the bike disappear beneath the rider.

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    9. I recall that you bought this bike because you were getting into some race simulation riding and you didn't want to be handicaped by the weight difference between your rivendell road bike and the bikes your peers were riding. There were some interesting comments from ex-racers that the frame weight would not matter at your fitness/skill level and that you should just get some light wheels and tires for the racey rides. Do you have any thoughts or conclusions about this?

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    10. I borrowed the demo bike last summer to do paceline rides. There were all kinds of comments about this. Some started talking about frame weight, but it is about more than that - namely geometry and tubing. The bike I'd been riding before was a touring bike. I would not recommend a toruing bike for paceline rides. On the other hand, over the past fall and winter I rode a vintage Moser (racing bike) - a steel frame with modern components, about 5lb heavier than the Seven. It wasn't much, if at all, slower. Lots of factors involved. And there is certainly a difference in the speed of different bikes independent of skill level.

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  25. Surprised I am the first one to ask this question, but here it goes: If you were given a lugged steel bike that felt the same, would you choose it over this one?

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    1. Arguably it may be impossible for a steel bike to feel the same.

      But that aside: I've been asked this before, and the honest answer is that I simply don't think about it. I don't sit there going "Oh if only it were lugged!" I am still interested in lugged steel bicycles, obviously. And yet I am fine with this bike being just as it is.

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    2. Ti is certainly a primary reason for the ride sensation you report. But I believe it is in third place among primary reasons after the design and your surface interface.

      Seven has corralled some of the best Ti design and build talent. Tom Kellogg – Seven welds his Ti Spectrums – has this to say about the importance of design and build choices for Ti frames: http://www.spectrum-cycles.com/materials.php

      Second, your custom wheels shod with Grand Bois Cerfs and their supple sidewalls and thick, nearly treadles rubber casings swallow vibration and road noise. With 23 inch clinchers pumped up to 110 or so you would be much more aware of the pavement. On the other hand, assuming they fit I think you ought to give the Cerf 28s a try when the 26 wear out. They are everything you are enjoying now but even more plush.

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    3. Cerfs are great tires. There are still a lot of distinctions that can be made between top drawer tires. Cerfs are Panasonics. All non-belted Panasonics have similar characteristics. Personally I've used Panasonics from Comp21 tubulars at 180grams to Pasela 700x37. Yes, I like them. They are, however, kinda bouncy. When they hit something in the road there's rebound. Like a superball. They are at their best on smooth pavement, where they are really fast.

      If the overriding goal is comfort and muting shock the Challenge clinchers are much better. Challenge clinchers have incredible shock dampening. Vittoria CX and Veloflex are also quite good, although AFAIK they are narrow only for now. Most sewups are also quite good at soaking up shock. Considering how thin and flat-prone Cerfs are sewups are an alternative.

      Ksyriums are cartwheels. All the shock handling on the Seven is coming from the frame and the tires. Flat rims are almost gone outside of city bikes and low end bikes that will always have heavy tires. Flat rims take a lot of shock out of the ride. No one even knows that any more because everyone is on pre-built system wheels. Wood rims are just amazing for shock absorption and if the alternative is something as pricey as Ksyrium SL wood is realistic. Cannondale tanks from the 80s that make me sore just riding around the block are Cadillacs when fitted with wood rims.

      Wider rims have some advantages in ride quality. Thankfully they are becoming available in a quality appropriate to a Seven. The biggest ride quality difference will come when a tire must be changed. Fighting a Cerf roadside on a Ksyrium is not anything I would look forward to. On a wide rim not a problem.

      A steel road frame meeting V's high standard for comfort would probably have been possible. It would be different than a Ti frame. It would have to use special lightweight tubes and would not be as versatile as the Seven. Better to spec a moderately light steel frame and get comfort in the wheels. Or, if the customer has already determined that the Ti ride is good, and the customer is basically a new rider looking for reliable predictable mainstream product, then the Seven makes perfect sense.



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    4. I have read Cerfs are flat prone enough to offer there may well be fire behind the smoke. I've had Cerfs on the Kellogg going on one and half years now mixed street and trail riding with no flats.

      I've only done it a few times, so maybe this is my inexperience - but changing sew ups roadside was far more a challenge to me than fixing a clincher.

      Obviously you need a quality wide rim. And as you say, they are slowly becoming more available.

      Agree steel tubing equal to the Ti Seven uses would have to be top notch.

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    5. The best possible flat prevention is to be light. At 125# V could ride track silks and get few flats. You've remarked that you're something of a scrawn so maybe you'll have luck. They're good tires. They're worth a flat or two.

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  26. Its a myth that carbon fiber is sensitive to small scratches. Virtually all carbon fiber bike parts are protected by a layer of urethane and sacrificial layers of fiber or aramid.

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  27. nice purple bar tape though, cool mixture of menacing and sweet

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  28. Can you talk a little about Seven's fitting process? I have heard so many great things about it!

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    1. I did not dwell on the fit process, because my experience was atypical. Seven and RSC are local to me, so there was no middleperson; I communicated directly with Rob Vandermark. Also, they know me there pretty well as a cyclist - my riding style, the changes in positioning I'd undergone over the previous year, all of that. All of this was part of the reason I chose to go with Seven in the first place.

      As far as the typical process, my understanding is there is a very long and detailed questionnaire! They are not interested in getting everyone to adapt the same fit philosophy, but try to determine what kind of riding each person does and what would make them comfortable.

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  29. My understanding is that the dangers of carbon are not myth, even while many misunderstand the dangers. Small scratches or nicks do not mean a frame will fail, but they may indicate a weakness that will lead to failure. One cannot tell by looking. In addition, a crash, or other impact, can leave no visible signs of damage, even while the strength of the frame or fork has been impaired by the impact. The material is not fragile or weak. It is strong, but when the limit of its strength is exceeded, it breaks suddenly and catastrophically. When the carbon strength has been impaired, the fork or frame is more likely to fail.



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  30. Belated congratulations I guess on a beautiful bike. I can empathise a little; I took delivery of my new carbon bike last week and by the end of this week will be 250 miles into ownership. Strange that I too don't feel any real excitement over it despite agonising for months over what to go for. It simply accomplishes what I ask of very well and without complaint. The only fly in my new bike ointment is I jumped on my friends Ti VN the other day and it felt like it was singing beneath me. Hmm...

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  31. Your experience sounds like your post on aesthetics of use or, more appropriately, as aesthetics in use. Seven does make very pretty frames and most, or perhaps all are improved by the builds. CustomTi and streek frame do ride a if gliding through water. Mine certainly does.

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  32. With regard to the fitting, it seems like you didn't really go through a very thorough fitting process at all. True, there is some getting to know the rider, their history, their needs, and the purpose of the bike to which you are being fit....sport, racing, transportation/commuting, touring, etc., but also there is a lot of measuring, testing for flexibility and balance, discussion of injuries, and more that I can't entirely remember....Then it's being situated on a, sorta, simulation bicycle adapted to your questionnaire and initial measurements. From there it's going through various saddles, bars, levers, crank lengths in search of a comfort level...lot's of pedaling, looking, adjusting.....the final measurements and adjustments are then used by the frame builder to create the bike....But that's not all, after the build a final fitting is performed, final tweaks made on the actual bike until the rider has found that perfect position. I believe the key to this process is to put aside your own preconceived notions about 'how you want it to look' and trust the fitter. When one puts down serious dollars for a Seven, or any other bike, the owe it to themselves to get it fit to their particular body and needs.

    A good fitter knows the body and will set up a series of relationships which best connect and maximize body to bike for it's intended purpose. The ways in which I thought of myself as a cyclist and the ways in which I preferred to ride a bike ended up not being the way my bike was set up and I'm SO glad I eventually got out the the way. Can't tell you how pleasurable it is to ride for hours at a time on a machine designed specially to my body.

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    1. We did most of what you describe. It took a while. I submitted myself to it cheerfully. The fact that they know me and my riding style helped, rather than replaced, the fit process.

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    2. Indeed. I think the flexibility issue and proper placement on the bike is the big thing and requires some tugging, pushing, bending, measuring and so on....which, it seems to me, can't be substituted by just knowing someone and their riding style...IMHO

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    3. Or just know your own body and what works for you.

      I'm on my 8th custom now. Been a long time since I ever saw the need to do an after build fitting. More an opportunity for the fitter to add some billable hours.

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    4. Matthew, you're fortunate. Many of us are unaware, or slow learners, or in my case both. As one who has lived on the cheap for all my life I was still happy to invest with this particular fitter for my first (and most likely last) custom. And the fee paid for both before and after sessions and any conversations I cared to have in between. It's not for everyone but was a blessing for me.

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  33. Good to hear that you got the bike you wanted and that you like it. Nice also that the bike can handle 28 mm tires which helps with comfort.
    If you want a pair of Nitto handlebars why not just move them from another bike, with the kind of stem you have it shouldn't be much work?
    I think that if you want lower gearing on your Campy drivetrain you'll have to go for a triple. 29 is the biggest rear cog that Campy makes. I believe that also means a new bb and front derailleur and I don't know how well the 10 speed chainrings would play with the 11 speed chain or if it even works with your shifters.
    Perhaps Campagnolo will make larger cassettes and derailleurs that can handle them as both Shimano and SRAM has started making such. I think you'll be able to handle alot on 34/29 though, just rest a bit if you need to.

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    1. It's true that lower gearing on this bike would mean replacing the drivetrain with something more complicated and heavier. I'd rather avoid it on this bike, because the Chorus group just works so flawlessly - but we'll see.

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    2. Campagnolo is supposedly coming out with new triple cranks for 2013, including an 11speed Athena unit. In nice silver aluminum. Hollow and light crankarms. All Campy rear derailleurs have far more capacity than they are rated for. There will be new front derailleurs for triple, I doubt they're necessary but fronts are getting so specialized it could be a good idea. I would try a new triple with the mech now on the bike and hope for best before putting down money.

      The old Racing T Campy triple cranks are quite nice and easy to find. More cross-compatible with lots of options. But starting from Chorus 11 - well, no. Complete new drivetrain.

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  34. "Small scratches or nicks do not mean a frame will fail,but they may indicate a weakness that will lead to failure. One cannot tell by looking."

    please explain how a "small scratch" or "nick" in purely COSMETIC coating or wrap will lead to failure.

    "In addition, a crash, or other impact, can leave no visible signs of damage, even while the strength of the frame or fork has been impaired by the impact"

    nonsense. link please.

    "but when the limit of its strength is exceeded, it breaks suddenly and catastrophically."

    all materials can break catastrophically...even steel:

    http://www.bitrealm.com/misc/fork/p1000783.jpg

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    1. Makers and sellers of carbon frames and forks inform their customers about these things in writing. I have received these warnings in booklets I received with two bikes I purchased from major manufacturers. Another is the warning from Felt. You can read it at their website on a page titled, "Felt Carbon Road Frame Care Guide." It resembles the warnings that came with my bikes. It is quite scary.

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  35. It should be added that once one gets past the 'romance' of cycling there is still the reality of cycling to deal with. It still requires energy, discomforts, inconveniences, and all those other ugly thoughts. It's not always a 'riding on a cloud' sensation, in fact it's far from it. Every bike has it's limitations and it's strengths. Sounds like you're like millions of others who enjoy aspects of a particular bike for a particular use...Great for you!

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    1. One gets past the romance of cycling?

      Forty years, hasn't happened yet. I prescribe the following course of therapy: pour yourself a pint, and settle in for a little bit with the draings of Frank Patterson.

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    2. ptb...good for you! i work hard on all my relationships, including that with my bike :) that said, there are still those days....

      now i know to look for a pint! thanks!

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  36. Thinking I understand how you felt detached from this bike. Felt the same when I got a Boardman carbon racer from my much loved mountain bike focused stable previously. An element of change anxiety perhaps and also the thought of turning a back on a previous love into a new understanding. I bet by now you have consilidated your experience on a racer bike and are more able to incoporate your experiences of the bike. What a sensation!

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  37. did the tape bleed any over time? Im not keen on purple hands but like purple tape...

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