More bicycle test rides…

I took advantage of the wonderful early October weather today to do some more test riding.

I'd plannd on going to Bicycle Center of Issaquah, but today was "keep people away from our businesses" day at Issaquah, so after spending 20 minutes in traffic and 10 minutes on my bike trying to get to the store, I gave up, and drove into Seattle to Greggs at Greenlake.

After doing the usual "what are you interested in dance", the salesman pulled out three bikes for me to ride:

  • A Specialized Roubaix (Elite Triple, I'm fairly sure)
  • A Trek Madone 5.2 (Treks replacement for last year's 5200)
  • A steel-framed Bianchi (apparently no bike shop has a nice Bianchi in my size to ride - this is the second shop that put me on a $1500 bike when I'm riding other bikes that are quite a bit pricier).

I rode the Roubaix first. After a short trip out and back when I re-discovered that the standard method for determining the proper seat height works poorly for me (felt like I was sitting on the seat tube), I headed out for a quick loop, up some hills. The Roubaix frame uses aluminum for most tubes, except for the fork (hard to buy a bike without a carbon fork these days), and the downtubes in the back triangle. This results in a frame that is very responsive - I could sprint very well, and it felt really good up a short hill. The problem is that the frame is pretty stiff, and - to me at least - leads to a ride that is harsh. Its not as bad as the ride of the all-aluminum bikes that I rode about 7 years ago, but it's still enough to be objectionable. Sprinting perforance isn't high on my list of requirements right now, so my overall rating wasn't very high on the Roubaix. Better than my current bike, certainly, but too harsh.

I rode the Trek next. Trek is, as far as I can tell, one of the few manufacturers to bring the carbon fiber frame to the masses, and the bulk of the feedback I've heard has been quite positive. It is, however, about $800 more than the Roubaix, so it's going to need to be pretty good. Unfortunately, Gregg's only had it in a 58cm frame, and a 60 is closer to what I've been riding, but I took it out anyway.

I took it out on the same route as the Roubaix. It only took about a block for me to start smiling, and I continued smiling up the hill, down the hill, and then back up the hill on a different route. It's not quite as stiff as the Roubaix was when sprinting, but the ride is incredibly good. All the low-level "road rumble" is soaked up by the frame, and the edges are taken off the harder bumps. For me, it seemed to climb about as well as the Roubaix, and I did the hill twice to see how it would do on th steeper stuff. The geometry is much quicker than the Roubaix, and while that means you have to pay more attention, it makes it more responsive, which I like.

With the exception of the price, there's really wasn't anything I didn't like.

I next rode the Bianchi. It's pretty close in the feel to my current bike, but with a harsher ride. Blech. Though the bike is only 4 pounds heavier than the Trek (22 pounds vs 18 pounds), it rides like it's lots heavier. Though the fact it was my fourth trip up the hill may have been a factor, this time the climb was *work*, rather than fun. Given the price differential, it's really not a fair comparison, but it did reinforce to me that I don't want a steel frame.

So, that's two more bikes off my "must ride list". I'm getting a 60cm of the Trek to ride in a few weeks, and I want to ride the Giant before I make a final decision. If I do go with the Trek, I have one final decision to make. Trek has an option called "Project One" where you can, for a few $$$ more, customize a few things on your bike, including the paint job. For example, I could get a bike that looks like this:

My big surprise today was how much difference I could tell between the bikes.

Comments (9)
  1. Jim Argeropoulos says:

    I totally agree with your analysis. The Trek carbon bikes are really hard to beat! The only change I would make is a lighter wheel set, but Bontragers are pretty respectable and certainly more durable than my American Classic 350’s. I still wouldn’t trade.

    The Giant bikes look very nice, but I have never ridden one. A friend of mine really likes his. My only comment was that when I picked one up, it felt like heavier than it looked.

    Back to the Trek, a friend of mine just got a 5.2 at our local dealer for $2,000. You might be able to negotiate such a deal as well.

  2. Nick says:

    I bought a Giant TCR earlier this year and love it. It’s actually my first road bike, and I’ve raced it in 3 sprint triathlons this year. I didn’t want to fork out the money for a full carbon frame… at least not at this point, so the TCR was a good bet.

    It’s an aluminum frame (but still pretty light) with carbon forks and a carbon seat post. The transmission is great, smooth shifting and very responsive. It is kind of stiff… but it doesn’t bother me that much since I have a pretty forward riding style. And in sprint length races, it’s nice to have a responsive bike.

    Anyway… for the money you can’t beat it.

  3. I have been riding my old Panasonic road bike a lot more this year than in previous years, and since it is getting old (though still in good shape) I decided to look in on what it would take to get a better bike. I was shocked by the prices of road bikes these days. I finally decided just to get a complete clean/lube on the Panasonic, and it is certainly better than it has been. I still would love to pick up one of those nice Trek’s.

    Maybe next year…

  4. Maarten says:

    I’m surprised that Gregg’s didn’t have you ride any Lemonds. The Zurich is a really fun bike (steel, low $2000s), and their Ti bikes are nice too. My only beef would be the obsession with Bontrager parts, but you get that with a Trek as well.

  5. Rob says:

    Eric, I really appreciate your cycling posts. I’ve been following you since the early days on the C# side and also am an avid cyclist. I’d love to hear if you have any thoughts on bikes you’ve previously used that fall in around the $1000 range. For those of us a little earlier on in our careers (both in software and on the bike!) it would be much appreciated!!

  6. Bike nerd to bike nerd: save your money and go fixed gear. My Empella Bonfire is a beaut, but I haven’t touched it since I got an IRO frame and loaded on a bunch of cheapie components.

    One speed (47×15), no coasting. It’s a strength workout uphill, spinning practice downhill, and timetrial practice on the flats. Plus, it’s a lot of fun. AND you earn loads of "hard-core biker" points! 🙂

    The url goes to Sheldon Brown’s fixed gear page. For pics, check out

    Happy riding!

  7. Jay Skelly says:

    I eval’d the 5200 as well. I ended up with the 2300. I do tri’s as well as century rides. The 2300 has ultegra and carbon where it counts. I’ve found it to be a great bike. does well in the hills of austin or the flats of southeast texas.

  8. MBA says:

    Helpful For MBA Fans.

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