Saturday, July 21, 2012

Bike Shopping

So I had been bike shopping for a few months now- ever since M got his new road bike and I had an epiphany and realized that I just didn't trust the Bambino anymore.  Heck, anytime your bike earns a nickname like "The Bambino", you have trust issues with your machine.  Months ago, I had made the decision that I would not attempt anymore long rides (centuries) until I had a bike that fit.  I was tired of wondering if twitchy steering or shoulder pain contributed to that crash or this aborted ride.

This time, I was ready to do whatever I had to do to finally get a road bike that really fit.  My problem: while I'm tall for a woman, all that height is in my legs.  I have such a short torso that I shop for jackets and blouses in the petite department.  It was quite the search.

Ultimately, I learned several things:

  1. I had been riding a bike which was several sizes too big.  Despite the Connecticut bike shop's insistence that I should be on a 54centimeter frame because I'm 5'7", all the shops around here independently sized me for a 51cm frame.  What this does is make the top tube quite a bit shorter.  You can adjust the seat up and down as much as you want, but with that shorter top tube, it means I can actually reach the handle bars. 
  2. Reaching the handle bars is actually pretty awesome.   
  3. Some bike makers don't actually change the geometry of their bikes between men and women.  Felt, for example, has the exact same frame for men and women.  Where the changes come in are in things like the handle bars' width and reach. Oh, yeah, you can change handlebars.  Who knew?      
  4. Stiffness is more than just something mentioned by snooty reviewers. After riding a few stiff frames, I was ruined.  It just took one ride on a lower end (but attractively priced and pretty) bike to realize that I had become one of those people to whom phrases like "power transfer" mean something.  I wanted the integrated bottom bracket and its seductive power.   I've also started laughing at bike videos on the web.  
In the end, I thought it was going to come down to the CAAD10 and the Felt Z85.  After I had a charming ride on the CAAD10, I went for a ride on the Felt.  I knew within a few blocks that the Felt and I were going to have issues.  

Following a sluggish test ride, I came back to the shop and kept talking to the salesguy.  You should always talk the ear off the salesguys, because a good salesguy wants you on the best bike in the world.  If he's not totally obsessed with your fit and happiness, walk away. Although it IS possible to overtalk your salesguys eventually.  If they have time to send someone away for a sandwich, have it brought back, and start eating it in front of you without offering to share, you might have overtalked your salesguy.  Go away, and come back in an hour.  

LifeCycle was obssessed with my happiness, and they share their puffy peanut-butter flavored strange snacks in a bag.  Both of these are good signs.  When the salesguy and I sat down to talk about the bike, other mechanics started weighing in.  We started making a list of parts I would want to change, like the handlebars, the saddle, the cranks, the gears... 

Somewhere in there, the owner overheard us and declared that he refused to sell me the Z85.  He had heard enough to deduce that the fit just wasn't there, if that many tweaks had to be made.  

We went back upstairs.  He pointed at a red and black bike near the ceiling.  I demurred, saying things about price points.  He waved it away, begging that I don't worry about price points.  The bike, instead of being curvy like most bikes, was full of hard angles.  It looks pretty different.  He went down into the basement and came up with his own bike, which was that model, and happened to be in my size.  I did a quick test ride.  

Within 20 seconds, I knew something was different.  It wasn't just the ride I'd been looking for.   It was fast.  Responsive.  Hummed to itself as it surged along the flats.  I'm pretty sure there were unicorns running alongside us.  Of course, I was dressed entirely wrong.  So I came back this morning in bike shorts with my proper shoes.  We tossed on a pair of loaner Looks and I took it out for what I thought would be a 30-minute "we shall see" ride.  

I came back almost two hours later.  It floated up hills.  It surged down flats.  It got passed once by a guy on a Z85 (ironically) and chased him down and held his wheel  until he reached his turnaround point, and it didn't feel like anything.  What's more... not a twinge in my shoulder, not a tingle in my hand.  It. Just. Fit.  

I finally got back to the shop, somewhat starry eyed and possibly giggling, and I informed the Owner that he no longer owned his bike.  All his bike is belong to me, now.  

To be clear, that was the deal he'd offered me.  For the same price including the lifetime warranty, I could buy the new bike, or I could have his bike with his super-fancy wheelset.  

Wheeeeeeeeels.  Yeah, I started drooling at that, too.  I've never had a fancy wheelset and I thought it would be years before I'd have enough spare cash to justify to myself the cost of fancy wheels.  Wheeeeeeeeels!  Airgos.  Alloy.  With Continental tires.  If you must know.  

I return on Monday for my full fitting and to have all my stuff added on and perhaps to consider adding aerobars- YES, I finally have a bike small enough for aerobars!!- and to pay for it. 

Basically, this is a triumph of small business at its best.  Involved owner who really knows his stuff isn't afraid to say "no" to a customer because he can hear what she is really trying to say.  Perceptive owner and stellar mechanics want happy chick on awesome bike that they can maintain and not waste time tweaking stupid things all the time.  Nice shop wins devotee for life.  

The bike is the black and red version of this.  

It'll be the hottest thing on two wheels at the Rolf Prima Tri at the Grove.  

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