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scotton 11-04-12 11:06 AM

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.

TrojanHorse 11-04-12 11:17 AM

Yes, now go buy a shimano 105 group for that thing and get busy riding! (I say 105 because you can get a complete group for what, $500? Pretty good deal... feel free to substitute rival or whatever floats your boat)

The two biggest changes I ever noticed on a bike were
1) upgrading my old cheap steel bike from 7 speed downtube shifters to 9 speed ultegra STI. I used to ride with one group of guys every Thursday night and went from falling off the back all the time to being able to keep up just because I was in the right gear at the right time.
2) upgrading from an old noodly Ti frame to a recent vintage but not new Spec Roubaix frame...stiffer and smoother all at once.

Sounds like you're enjoying your new present. :)

scotton 11-04-12 04:18 PM

Given the number of dead Shimano STI shifters I've experienced over the years, I think I'm going to give the SRAM Rival a try. I thought about the Microshift Arsis, as I have Microshift shifters on my cross bike that I like, but I don't think I can put something called "Arsis" on my new bike. Especially now that I see that Walmart is selling the Microshift Arsis group.

BionicChris 11-04-12 05:26 PM

I just got a Tarmac Comp 2012, it's stunning compared to my Defy 3, which I will say is still a very good bike for the money.

My mind was blown on the first out of the seat hill climb. No lost effort, it all went into forward momentum.

Dad 2 3 11-05-12 06:51 AM

I had much the same experience going from a heavy aluminum Trek hybrid to a Scott carbon fiber road bike.

Congrats on the build, and ride it like you stole it!!:thumb:

tpy2010 11-05-12 08:41 AM

Steel may be real, but carbon in the deal! From my personal experience, a good bike, with good components made this average rider (me) look better than I was. Have fun!

tpy2010 11-05-12 08:41 AM

That's "steel may be real, but carbon is the deal!"

Mithrandir 11-05-12 09:27 AM


Originally Posted by scotton (Post 14912314)
I can't think of anything clever that rhymes with carbon that would sum up how good this bike felt.

That's because there really isn't much to choose from:

Even fiber has a dearth of choices as well:

AbundantChoice 11-05-12 09:41 AM


Originally Posted by Mithrandir (Post 14915534)
That's because there really isn't much to choose from:

"Screw steel, gimme carbon / gives weight weenies a hard on"

"I ride the carbon / like Westbrook rode Harden"

"Carbon beats steel to dampen road pressure / just keeps eyes out for shattering failure"

Or how about

There once was a rider named Scotton
who switched from his steel o'er to carbon
the vibrations seem ceased
his speed did increase
but he sure could use just one more braze on

Okay, okay, i'll stop.

sstorkel 11-05-12 10:00 AM


Originally Posted by scotton (Post 14913067)
Given the number of dead Shimano STI shifters I've experienced over the years, I think I'm going to give the SRAM Rival a try.

SRAM rocks! Just be sure to read the instructions before installing it: if you follow their setup and tuning instructions everything is very easy. If you try to treat it like Shimano, you'll end up frustrated. I recommend tossing the Gore RideOn cables that often come with SRAM shifters and upgrading to Yokozuna cables. I never thought cables made much of a difference, but installing Yokozuna cables with my Red gruppo made a big improvement in front shifting!

Of course, what your frame really needs is an Ultegra Di2 drive-train :D

Seattle Forrest 11-05-12 10:09 AM

Everything's liver on carbon fiber.

scotton 11-05-12 11:10 AM

Thanks for the horrible rhymes. There's a reason why the "normals" look at us funny.

indyfabz 11-05-12 12:27 PM


Originally Posted by scotton (Post 14913067)
Given the number of dead Shimano STI shifters I've experienced over the years, I think I'm going to give the SRAM Rival a try.

That is precisely what drove me to SRAM. I have been riding Force for several years and have not regretted it for a second. I was also very pleased when SRAM conceded that an early generation of shifters had a flaw that resulted in some of them going before their time and replaced my rear shifter for free when it did just that.

indyfabz 11-05-12 12:29 PM


Originally Posted by Seattle Forrest (Post 14915689)
Everything's liver on carbon fiber.

With bacon and onions. of course.

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