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Old 05-26-11, 09:31 PM   #1
jan nikolajsen
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Carbon review after 30 years on steel

After starting as a mechanic at my LBS I quickly tasted the carbon Kool-Aid. It suddenly became overwhelmingly important to me to try one. Employee discounts made it darn near irresistible. We're a Cannondale dealer so I pro-deal'ed a SuperSix, a Chorus 11 group and some fine Easton wheels. Guess I won't get a paycheck next month..

I have never ridden a road bike of anything but steel. My first real fine ride was a Columbus frame decked out in Super Record, which I bought new for my own earnings in 1981 or so. So here I am, an average rider at age 48 and suddenly set up with something near identical to Nibali's Giro bike. And how is it all, then?

The thing weighs 16.6 lbs as photographed. It's a size 58 and, thank you Peter Denk, it has a near horizontal top tube. Nothing hurts my eye more than a compact frame with STI antlers on the bars. Still, the SuperSix has some pretty loud and garish graphics, all presented in huge contrasts in color. Add to that the dizzying wheel logos and you have the quintessential, headache inducing 'look'.

These are my observations so far:

Putting the bike together required many tools and supplies not available in my otherwise well equipped vintage home shop. Some of these included: Torque wrench, Fiber Grip paste and Torx keys. Weird chain peening tool. Special bearing and cup presses will also be needed when I get around to switching out the dedicated BB30 crank with a Campy. Lots of stuff, including the mid level Chorus group feel plasticky and flimsy. Guess that's where the 16lb total weight comes from.

And the ride? My main issue with riding steel is high speed descents. Being on a big enough bike to suit my 6'2" frame has always been quite unstable. I've never gotten completely out of control thanks to a firm grip on the hoods and the occasional double knee squeeze to stabilize a wobbling top tube. With this here carbon bicycle I descend rock solid and precise. No fear.

The other thing that immediately felt overwhelmingly different is out of saddle climbing or sprinting. Holy smokes, can I go!! Really, it makes you feel 30 pound lighter or 15 years younger, whichever applies best to illustrate the point. My SuperSix makes me want to climb hills all day, and doing so I get to the top faster and less fatigued. This can't all be from loosing 5 pounds of bike weight. Surely stiffness and advanced geo has far more to do with it.

The longest I've ridden so far is 50 miles. I set the bike up with an aggressive fit, so predictably it didn't feel overly relaxing. But no worse than my Merckx which measurements I tried to copy. Flipping the stem, a 5 minute job, could make things more comfy real fast. I have a very nice steel 'rando' style bike for centuries and such. The Cannondale is for going as fast as possible up to 60 or 70 miles of distance.

Conclusion: I'd much rather, by a long stretch, be wrenching on vintage steel and classic componetry, but when it comes to riding the kind of stuff I do, well, carbon might have the edge.

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Old 05-26-11, 09:38 PM   #2
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Nice write up Jan. I am sure it is a blast to ride.

I see you stuck with a Flite and classic bend bars though.

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Old 05-26-11, 09:46 PM   #3
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That was really interesting. Thank you.
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Old 05-26-11, 09:49 PM   #4
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Swap the crank and lose the wheel graphics and it will look that much better.

I just happened to lift one of those sitting by the counter at my LBS a couple days ago...3#s sure makes a big difference in feel (my lightest C&V is 19.2#)!

Did you test ride several makes/models or just the Cannondale???
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Old 05-26-11, 09:51 PM   #5
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Thanks Jake! I wrote "..pretty loud and garish graphics, all presented in huge contrasts in color.." Your art is like that - but looks good!
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Old 05-26-11, 09:58 PM   #6
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thanks for the write up. now i will barf.

top tube still has a decent rise. see attached.
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Old 05-26-11, 10:05 PM   #7
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OK since Jan broke down the barriers I will also admit to finding my modern bike more comfortable, efficient and overall just much more enjoyable to ride than any of my vintage bikes. I have a Giant Defy Advanced. This is a super modern bike with all the buzz words - BB96 bottom bracket, tapered head tube, carbon everything including hybrid carbon aluminum clincher wheels. Full Dura Ace 7900 group. And yes sloping top tube "compact" frame, ergo bars and STI antlers. I love to work on the vintage bikes and have a much deeper emotional attachment to them - I freak out over a scratch on a $2000 vintage bike but throw my $6000 modern bike around like I really don't care - but they simply don't feel as smooth or efficient. Some of it is weight (6-8 lbs lighter depending), some of it is index shifting with brifters, some of it is having twice the number of gears so finding the perfect one to maintain cadence in any situation is easier. I too climb much, much easier on my modern bike. Sorry for the blasphemy.

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Old 05-26-11, 10:07 PM   #8
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My opinion about your observation that the 5-pound difference in weight cannot make up for the sensation of increased speed is correct. Light/stiff carbon bikes (and stiff aluminum) transmit much more short frequency vibrations (bumps) that would otherwise be deadened by a heavier bike. You can see this by pumping your tires to 70% of max inflation, riding, then do the same thing at 125% of the max pressure. The latter will feel faster, but you will find there is little if any difference in your elapsed speed.

Where you will notice the difference is hills. The difference will be the same if you happen to loose 5 pounds of body mass, but that is not as fun.

Thanks for the review, and it is a magnificent machine.
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Old 05-26-11, 10:14 PM   #9
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Great write up.I've been wanting one of these for the longest time....






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Old 05-26-11, 10:16 PM   #10
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Nice and fair write up - Thanks

By the way what do you think is the max weight for a guy riding a carbon frame...
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Old 05-26-11, 10:30 PM   #11
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Nice and fair write up - Thanks

By the way what do you think is the max weight for a guy riding a carbon frame...
That was a very good way to convey the feelings and sensation of riding CF. You need a blog!

I too wonder about max weight on these frames.
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Old 05-27-11, 01:01 AM   #12
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Really interesting. I haven't really ridden a carbon frame for any appreciable length of time, but I have to admit that I only occasionally ride the Lemond now that I've got my fancy aluminum CAAD10. I managed to mostly avoid the loud graphics with the BBQ black 1 model:

But I still like the Lemond, especially on windy days- an extra 6 or 7 pounds seems to help me keep the wheels on the ground better.
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Old 05-27-11, 01:17 AM   #13
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Please stop mucking up this forum. Can a moderator please move this thread to the 41?
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Old 05-27-11, 01:50 AM   #14
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I appreciate them for what they are, and long ago I knew we'd get to this point (and beyond) someday. Still, I won't be buying one.
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Old 05-27-11, 07:31 AM   #15
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I really appreciate the write-up, Jan. I'm not in the market for another bike, but I would like to ride a new, carbon, go-fast machine. I ride 62cm frames as well and for all the benefits of steel, a 531 DB frame can be pretty noodle-like on a climb or sprint. I guess Rivendell's dual top tubes on their larger frames makes sense. ugly, but it makes sense.
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Old 05-27-11, 07:45 AM   #16
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Nice review! and it's true, modern frames climb a lot better, but over the roads here which feature a lot of bricks, tiles or cobbles I prefer the ride of steel. I think the difference is also psychological side to it, when I ride on my modern ride with 20 gears, aero Zonda's with a full kit on it encourages me to ride a lot faster, even though my computer tells me I can reach speeds just as high on my CV rides.
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Old 05-27-11, 07:48 AM   #17
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I appreciate them for what they are, and long ago I knew we'd get to this point (and beyond) someday. Still, I won't be buying one.
+1 this pretty much sums up how I feel about them. Would I like to try one out? Sure thing, same way I'd like to test drive a Ferrari. But I don't have a particular desire to own either one. If I did a lot of fast group rides it would probably be different. Or maybe if I did that test ride it would be different, which means the test ride would be a bad idea.

Nice write-up, though, and the bike looks pretty cool. Not as cool as your vintage bikes, of course.
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Old 05-27-11, 08:13 AM   #18
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I rode a titanium litespeed for a long time before i got into the vintage stuff. I wouldnt mind owning one, and i'll admit the ride was better in a lot of ways than many of my vintage rides. Just not better enough in a usable way for me that I'd give up spending 1/8th as much on a bike that suits my needs just fine.

Sure, I'd love to ride anything you want to give me to try though.
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Old 05-27-11, 08:20 AM   #19
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Thanks guys for not turning this thread ugly. I guess it has the potential to do so.

As I mentioned my biggest disappointment with the current stuff is the components. The SuperSix I got came with Ultegra/FSA, which didn't impress - mushy shifting primarily. The Chorus group shifts crisper, but has a lot of plastic parts, especially on the levers. And the RD is a curious mix of carbon body and stamped steel cage..

I have an alloy Chorus 10 speed group on my LOOK, and while I don't know how much heavier it is, the overall sense of quality traces a direct line back to the NR/SR epoch.

Maybe I should build the true retro roadie: Carbon frame with old school Campy

With the tendency to go with aluminum bolts for fastening brake pads, calipers to frame, derailleur to frame, rings to crank, etc, it seems like Torx is preferred over Allen. This is fine, I suppose, but I need to remember to throw in a T-25 in the on-the-road toolkit.

The myth that carbon frames disintegrate on the road in a burst of violent surprise is easy to understand. There just can't be a huge margin for strength on these things, the way they sound when you tap on the tubes. Yet the areas of most stress, headtube, BB, drop outs and so on, seems really beefy.

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Old 05-27-11, 08:28 AM   #20
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I wonder how much of the climbing improvement would still be there in a smaller bike where a smaller frame would be, by nature, stiffer. I've ridden a few CF bikes and agree with italuminum, they don't feel very good on city streets.

I do LOVE my Merlin, and it definitely is faster up hills than any of my steel.

Jan...with you on modern Shimano...Campy is so much firmer and crisper.
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Old 05-27-11, 08:42 AM   #21
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Question: What goes "thup, thup, thup"?

Answer: The carbon fiber bell.
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Old 05-27-11, 08:47 AM   #22
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..lose the wheel graphics and it will look that much better.
Unfortunately it seems like the logos are either painted or ano'ed on the rim.

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Did you test ride several makes/models or just the Cannondale???
Only this one. I'm a compulsively guy with little patience. My buddy has a 58cm SuperSix. I rode it, it felt good.
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Old 05-27-11, 08:52 AM   #23
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Thanks guys for not turning this thread ugly. I guess it has the potential to do so.
If your reasoned post and thoughts turned ugly some people should bail on the 181 and just head over to the 41.

I liked reading this...and personally I think your choice of a SuperSix is spot on If you wanted garish you could have gone modern Fuji?!



But now of course that you're a Cannondale rider you need to head over to PBK and grab some Liquigas kit :

http://www.probikekit.com/us/factfin...+Team+Clothing



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Old 05-27-11, 09:07 AM   #24
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I'm actually a great fan of the Liquigas riders, but sporting a full team kit is maybe a bit of stretch for me..

Here's an interesting shot, FWIW:

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Old 05-27-11, 09:07 AM   #25
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I too wonder about max weight on these frames.
I don't know about specific Cannondale frames but it's pretty high on most. So high, in fact some manufacturers don't post limits. Some of the lighest such as Calfee have limits around 190 lbs but those are speciality race type frames.
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