Saturday, February 09, 2008

First impressions: Strong Frame

Today was the first long ride on the custom bike, so I can write an extensive first impressions review.

During the week, I had the bike configured as a commuter. I had my light wheels on the back, but my Brooks saddle, generator wheel, and lights mounted. In that configuration the bike handles very nicely, though it isn't fast by any means, especially with a load in the saddlebag. One problem I found was that I couldn't mount a full fender in front, because it would interfere with the cable runs on the down-tube. That's unfortunate, but I ordered a set of SKS Race Blades and hopefully those will work out.

This morning, I mounted my Thomson seat post, my Flite saddle, and my lightweight front wheel, and got a slightly lighter bike, but not by a whole lot. The front fork is scheduled to be replaced this week with the Ti fork, so the bike will get lighter but not a whole lot lighter --- the Ti bike is definitely a heavier than the Fuji, and my guess is it will end up being about 19 pounds in light bike configuration and 22 pounds in touring configuration, which is still miles lighter than my Heron Touring bike.

The handling remains the same on the flats and even on climbs. At low speeds, the low trail bike wobbles a bit more than the Fuji did, but I attribute that to the fit not being exactly dialed in yet. I expect that to go away once I get out a tape measure and actually try to replicate my touring position. I was, however, completely unprepared for the bike's handling on descents: this bike descends as though it was on rails, much more stably than the Heron or the Fuji. This behavior surprised me until I reflected on the bike's geometry. I had specified longer chainstays than the Fuji (43cm), which increased the stability, and a lower bottom bracket, which lowered the center of gravity. The two combined together gave me increased confidence on descents, to the point where my cornering speed is determined solely by my willingness to go fast with respect to prevailing traffic. The combination does affect climbing, however --- the bike does not appear to respond as quickly to standing hard on the pedals as the Fuji does, though it isn't anywhere as sluggish (or slow) as the Heron is.

The next thing to do, obviously, is to put a saddlebag and load it up and then descend a major hill to watch for obvious problems such as a high speed shimmy. My thinking is that a high speed shimmy is unlikely with this bike given how stable it is, but one never knows. For now, however, this ride is incredible!
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