Tuesday, October 27, 2009

New Bike

I have about 200 miles on my new titanium Spectrum over the course of six rides. By now, I believe I can give an objective impression of its ride rather than one colored by new bike euphoria. The bike is unlike any I've ridden. Over the past 10 years I've owned and ridden seven custom bikes, most of which I no longer own. Each had its signature characteristics. If I got on one of these bikes and rode an unpainted, undecalled frame I believe I'd be able to identify the frame. Though each was built just for me, they are that distinct. So, when I contacted Tom Kellogg at Spectrum Cycles and asked him to build me a titanium frame I had no idea what to expect.

I wanted to go to the famed red barn to visit Spectrum, ride with Tom, get measured, absorb the atmosphere, but traveling across the country just wasn't in the cards, so I sent Tom my measurements and dimensions of one of my frames and, after several conversations and e-mails, Tom went about designing the frame. What resulted was a frame with a fork with greater offset, shorter trail, longer front-center, shallower head tube, longer top tube, shorter chain stays, minimally greater bb drop, and instructions to use a 12cm rather 11cm stem. Except for the stem, all these seemed to be miniscule adjustments.

While we were discussing the design, Tom told me there was a delay at Merlin (Tom designs and Merlin builds ti Spectrums) because Merlin was out of 1-inch chain stays. That was OK with me and I asked for 7/8-inch stays to build some flexibility into the frame in hope they will make it "plane." I am sure there will be dissertations written on bicycle planing some day, but "goonster" on Serotta forum provides what I think is the best lay definition of the term: "It is the stiffness sweet spot, when a rider experiences the nirvana of a bike that feels just right, i.e. not too stiff and not too flexy, especially when climbing. Nobody is claiming that the frame somehow returns energy in a magical way, but some have reported that a bike with just the right amount of flex sometimes lets them use a slightly taller gear up rollers." Tom thought I may be onto something with smaller stays and the only time where he thought 1-inch stays are better would be in a sprint. As well as I sprint, this would not be an issue, so we proceeded full steam ahead with 7/8-inch stays.

I'd placed the order in early May and Tom thought the frame would be ready in time for Mt. Tam Double in early August. It turned out I'm not as good at waiting as I used to be. I called and e-mailed Tom a number of times asking for updates. He handled my badgering patiently and with good humor. There were delays at Merlin, so I called Merlin several times. Two months of teeth-gnashing until the frame arrived in early October. It was so well worth the wait.

I don't know if it's the 7/8-inch stays, titanium, or Spectrum voodoo, but I do think the bike planes. And even if it's not planing, whatever it's called, I love what it's done to my riding. After several years on compact cranks, I fitted a crank with 39x53 rings and a 12-27 cassette, fully expecting to spend more time on the left side of the cassette than on bikes with a 34x50, 11-28 set up. Surprisingly, I'm not. I am using 39x21 on the hills I climbed in 34x21 two weeks ago, and my legs and lungs are fine with that. On flats, the bike requires no undue attention to keep a straight line and taking hands off the bars produces no noticeable effect on handling. The best part is descending -- climbing in a bigger gear is awesome of course, but it requires work, while descending is pure, effortless joy. The bike feels very light in my hands entering a turn and does not feel like I need to push it into a turn. And once I pick a line, the bike just stays there. If I want to change the line -- piece of cake: very light and confidence-inspiring. So confidence-inspiring that I've attempted several unsafe passing maneuvers of cyclists and vehicles that I wouldn't have tried on another bike. Remarkably, the Spectrum is both exceptionally responsive and stable. I've never ridden a bike that handles like this.

When I came home from my first ride, I exclaimed to my wife, "I'm done!" "You're done?" she asked dubiously. "I'm done!" I repeated. We both knew this meant no more new bikes. A big deal for a guy with 7 road bikes in his garage and another at his father-in-law's. I've told two friends about this conversation and each bet me $50 that I'd get a new bike within two years (said one) or five years (the other). Well, maybe one more... a steel Spectrum, but not for a while.

I think I've reached Nirvana.

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