Blue Streak

Posted on September 11, 2011 by psu

The bike computer that came with the new blue bike in July is reading 385 miles. For some perspective, in the last few years, I doubt I’ve ever had a six month season go by where I rode much more than 400 miles. The six months that I had the Surly, according to the computer on that bike, I rode the thing 322 miles. It’s possible that I have an extra (say) 50 or 60 on that bike because the computer could have been broken or not installed. But the blue bike has still gone further in 6 weeks than I usually go in six months. Every time I ride I wonder why it’s so much better.

The simplest answer is that the bike is better because my buddy Nathan was right. He’s been telling me for years that steel bikes suck and carbon fiber is the only way to fly. This is of course infuriating. Nathan is always right. But if I left it at that, we wouldn’t have much of a web page here.

In more detail, the claims about carbon fiber and other exotic materials were, among other things:

  1. You can make the frame really light.

  2. You can make the frame stiff, so you get more power.

  3. At the same time, you can make the frame springy, so the ride is smoother.

Let’s take these one at a time. Since I don’t race bikes, I never thought about frame weight. If a frame is a bit heavier that just means that I have to be in better shape to ride it faster. And besides, the any bicycle is pretty light compared to my tubby 170lb frame. What possible difference could 5 or 6 pounds here or there make?

As for power, I don’t generate power. I’m not Lance Armstrong here. I’m just a slow 40 year old.

Finally, if you want a springy ride, run your tires softer.

So what do I like about the new blue bike? It’s hard to describe, but I’ll put it like this. Say I’m cruising over a flat road and there is a stretch in front of me of about 500 to 1000 feet that’s maybe a small rise or a little false flat. I hit the rise, and I start to feel like I need to shift down a gear to give myself a break. On my previous bikes, I would tend to tire out and go for the lower gear. The biggest single difference with the blue bike is that when I hit these things now, I can hold the gear. As an extension of this I’ve been riding the hills around my house in higher gears than I used to use. All of this makes me feel a lot faster, which makes the bike fun to ride, which makes me ride it more, which makes me go faster. I don’t even hate the compact double gears anymore. They seem as natural and perfect now as my beloved road triple ever did. There is nothing like a bicycle that tells you you are fast.

I’ve been telling myself that a lot of little things about the bike add up to this feeling of extra speed-oriented confidence. “The bike fits better”, or “the ergonomics are better in lots of subtle ways.” This, of course, denies the truth. The truth is that

  1. The bike is lighter. This is especially true of the wheels, which seem to weigh only half of what my old wheels did.

  2. When I step on the pedals, I get more acceleration (i.e. power). This accounts for that feeling of being able to stick with the gear you have rather than going to an easier one.

  3. The bike is more comfortable to ride than the Surly. It’s also surprisingly more comfortable than my beloved steel Specialized in some ways. On a recent ride I ended up going through one of Pittsburgh’s famous 4 mile stretches of washboard pavement. A construction crew had taken off all the blacktop on the road, but had not yet replaced it. In the past, this would have been vibrational torture, especially for my hands and wrists. I recall thinking to myself “wow, I barely feel this at all.”

In other words, all those carbon fiber advocates were right the whole time. How infuriating. The only defense I have left is that the day I did the washboard ride, I think my tires were running a bit soft… maybe 90psi instead of 100. Take that carbon fiber weenies.

In the end, there is no denying that this is bike the true replacement for my beloved blue steel Specialized. It has everything that I loved about that bike and more. At this point I have only two complaints:

  1. The steering is slightly slower than the old blue bike … I think this is due to a slightly different frame angle at the front of the bike.

  2. The freewheel is really loud. Small children turn around and cry to their mothers “mommy, why does that man have a machine gun under his bike?”

I can live with both of these small foibles. The miracle of it is that the bike has suddenly made me as fast now as I was when I bought the other blue bike 20 years ago. Maybe I’ll go for a thousand miles next year. Haven’t done that since the early 90s. Isn’t technology wonderful?

Extra Note for the beginning of Football Season


Thank you.