Tarmac Ride Report: Steel may be real, but carbon is...
I can't think of anything clever that rhymes with carbon that would sum up how good this bike felt. This was my first experience on a carbon fiber frame and I wanted to share with my big brothers and sisters.
Back story: I've been riding steel bikes, mostly vintage and cross, for a few years. This year I started getting more miles in (I've gone from 270 to 230 and I feel like a reasonable fit big guy on a bike) and recently decided I wanted a go-fast bike. It has to be the bike, right Lance?
So after shopping the ebay for a bit, I went to my LBS and my guy hooked me up with a 2010 Tarmac Comp for not too much money. I took the bare frame home figuring I have enough parts to build it up and ride while I figure out what group to put on it.
The Build: So this poor fancy bike wound up with an ugly mix of SRAM Apex, Shimano LX and Microshift with Mavic Ksyriums on Gatorskin 25cs for it's inaugural journey. I had to rob three bikes to build it out. The nice thing is this allowed me to compare this frame to my steel frames without bringing the group into the mix. I assume an appropriate, matching groupset will make this bike perform even better.
The Route: We are going to call this a "recovery" ride, because I was trying to get my feelings to recover from getting dropped in a mild group ride yesterday. So it was a 23 mile mix of buttery smooth pavement, potholey country roads and course chip and seal. Not much wind to speak of, just a nice Sunday ride around town.
The Review: Holy crap. Why didn't anyone tell me it could be like this? First thing I noticed was the bike fit me perfectly, which is great. Most of you "average" people may not appreciate this, but you guys that are in the 6'4" like me know how hard it is to get a bike that fits correctly.
So then I started pedaling and I noticed that it seemed real stiff. The route I took has a little 4% hill right off the bat, so I left the bike in gear and jumped out of the saddle for this little heart-rate starter. Wow. Remember when I said the bike was stiff? I didn't realize how stiff stiff was. If you have ever been on one of those big steel Schwinn spin trainers, that's what this felt like. It felt like everything I put on the pedals went to the road. When they talk about a steel frame being "lively", this was the opposite of that. Not dead, deadly.
So now you might be thinking what I was thinking, "This is going to suck when the road gets rough". We'll get to that. First we have to get through town without falling down. I was concerned that this bike may be twitchy. I once put too short of a stem on a cross bike, so I had a pretty good idea of what twitchy felt like. Nope, this bike handled smoothly and consistently. It cornered great and tracked great and handled, well, great.
OK, so we have a stiff bike that climbs well and handles well, so let's hit the rough stuff and see what happens.
I headed out a little washboard road that typically rates about a 7 on the pucker meter. Felt good. Felt real good. Hmmm, I'm probably just remembering this road being bumpier than it is. Let's get to the real test. The recently re-chip and sealed a section of access road that is so course, you have to check your fillings when you get home. I got up to about 22 mph on this stretch and didn't feel a thing. It was a weird feeling, I could look down at the tires and see how much they were deflecting, but my hands were rock steady. I felt a little buzz in my shoes, but that was about it.
Stats: I was trying hard to keep the bike from making me surge up hills due to new-bike-itis, but even with a little restraint I wound up going about a full mph faster than the last time I did this route, and I was much faster on the descents.
So in summary, I now have a bike that climbs like a stiff legged mountain goat, handles like a sports car and eats up road buzz like a road buzz eating thing. Did this bike make me a better person? Probably. Did it make me a better rider? Definitely. It's not the weight (although losing 7 pounds of bike weight was great) it's the confidence to maneuver on sketchy roads without a death grip on the bars. It's also the ability and desire to go a little farther, a little longer, to live up to the bike's potential.
So if, like me, you have always felt like the sexy carbon bikes were for the skinny guys that like to sit around comparing leg razors, think it no more. Us bigger folks can benefit from these "race" bikes as much as anyone, assuming you get appropriate geometry and wheels for you weight and riding style.