For Reals This Time: A New Bike

As we get older, our birthdays take on less and less meaning. There may be the occasional bump in excitement every 5 or 10 years, but gone are the sugar fests of our youth or the stronger substances fests of a few years later. We go out to dinner, maybe have a few friends over, take a day off from work if we can swing it.

I celebrated my 36th birthday a couple months ago. To me, 36 somehow felt more significant than 35. I think it was the fact that it was 18 years after my 18th birthday (when I was finally able to vote – Yay!) Earlier that week, I had arranged to meet the owner of the Raleigh in the afternoon of my birthday so I could check it out. I woke up that morning a little bit excited that I may get a “new” bike by the end of the day. I thought it would be fun to have an old steel 3-speed to cruise around town on while I researched what kind of road bike I would get. My plan was to take more test rides and maybe buy something in 2-4 months.

Spouse had other plans.

She surprised me with a gift certificate to the LBS saying that she didn’t think I should have to miss riding a new bike in the summer. I was gobsmacked. No more setting aside a little bit of money each month, no more test riding dozens of different bikes all over town. I could get a new road bike right away. I was speechless. Spouse is quite a woman. I’d list the many ways in which she is a wonderful woman, but that would be a little embarrassing. I’ll just say this: check out what she cooked for us recently:

I'm not going to even describe this dish because it would just make you cry.

Now it was time to pick a bike! Before the arrival of the gift certificate, I was starting to feel the pressure of the “paradox of choice.” Briefly, that’s what happens when there are so many choices available, a consumer just feels unsatisfied with all of them.  Spouse helped solve this problem for me by getting the gift certificate for Small LBS#1. This shop may only carry a few brands, but I knew that I’d be able to find something I liked out of what they carried or could order. Time for more test rides!

I knew that I wanted to check out what Surly had to offer, but the LBS only had one in stock (a Steamroller that they’d built with a 3-speed fixed hub. It’s a pretty sweet bike, but not what I’m looking for right now.) Small LBS #2 had a Long Haul Trucker in a reasonable size, but I also wanted to try out a Pacer and a Crosscheck. Luckily, there’s a Surly dealer in Boston. I emailed them to check their stock, then reserved a Zipcar for half a day. Turns out, what their computer was showing as “in stock” meant “in a box” for the Pacer in my size, but I was able to check out the Crosscheck, LHT and a too-big Pacer. I was also able to compare them to aluminum bikes that would be similar to what I could get through the LBS. I did feel a little bit guilty for trying out bikes and taking the staff’s time when I knew I was not going to buy a bike there. I relieved this guilt by buying a pair of gloves. After my bike sin was absolved; my smugness level went up from “occasional recylcer” to “uses composting worms.”

There were some things I liked about the Crosscheck, but it just felt a little cumbersome compared to the aluminum bikes. If I were buying a new grocery-getter, all-around commuting bike (or a tourer), I would seriously consider it. However, I was looking for a road bike, something fun for the weekend. I’m sure I could have fun on a Crosscheck, but it would basically replicate a niche that’s already filled by my Cannondale. Also, I don’t really like the lack of options on the Surly bikes. Most manufacturers these days offer one frame with 3 or 4 different component levels. This lets you find the frame that fits you, then decide on the component level you want. Surly just keeps it simple with one level of components for each of their complete bikes. If you want something different, you have to buy just a frame and pick out the components on your own – but that starts getting more expensive than buying a complete bike with the same components.

My other choices for a road bike were from Fuji and Jamis. I tried out an aluminum Fuji (ahem, at a different LBS). It had some aspects that I liked, but it felt like a bit of a grab-bag of parts, and I didn’t really like the look of it or the feel. It may seem silly to worry about the look of one’s bike, but if you don’t like how it looks, you are less likely to ride it. The most important part of my test ride at the big LBS is that I was able to directly compare it to a touring bike. I was reminded of my post “Put your weight on it.” That tourer was probably 10 pounds heavier than the Fuji Newest 1.0, but you could really feel the difference! When I started the search for a road bike, I was certain that I wanted something with rack mounts. The Fuji fit the bill on that front, but as I continued my search, that became less and less important. I didn’t want to mount a rack to my future road bike all the time, I just wanted the option to do it at some point.

On the Jamis side, I tried out a few of the steel bikes in my size. I found that I really liked the geometry of the bikes. They were fairly upright, but not completely “slack.” There was just one thing I didn’t like: the level of componentry. Although I’ve been happy with my Cannondale, I felt like I wanted another step “up” in components for my first road bike. The Jamis Satellite has pretty much the same components as my Cannondale (but in “road” version as opposed to the performance/hybrid version on the C’dale). The Satellite also has Sora shifters, and I don’t really like how those feel at all. The next step up from the Satellite is the Jamis Quest, but that seemed like a larger step than I wanted to take. The Quest certainly looks like a nice bike – the stand out features include an Ultegra rear D and some fancy-schmancy looking wheels. I was tempted by this bike, I knew that it wouldn’t leave me much money left over for the various accessories I would want to get. I wish that Jamis had something in between the Quest and the Satellite, but they don’t. So I went for the….

Jamis Ventura Race


You can go to the full spec sheet if you’re interested. Here are the highlights:

Aluminum frame, carbon fork, carbon seat stays.

Shimano 105 for the Front and Rear derailleurs, brake levers, and STI shifters

50/34T crankset, 11-25T cassette

Alex AKX 2.0 wheels 24/28 spokes with Vittorio Zaffiro 700 X 23 tires in RED.

That’s right, RED TIRES! This seems to be the feature that gets the most comments from my friends. The frame is silver and white, so the red tires and cables really pop out. Let’s check the photos.

Spouse enjoyed seeing me working on my new ride, so she took a few overhead shots.

The first thing to do was remove some superfluous parts.

ich don't think so!

unh-uh

remove ya!

yeah, right

warning: this is a quick release lever, learn how to use it.

that's a big pie plate!

Bikes in RI are required to be sold with certain reflectors. I think most states are like this, so the manufacturers always include them. Cyclists then promptly remove them and put on lights which are far more effective. That last picture features the dreaded “pie plate” aka the spoke protector. Just for fun, after I removed the parts, I dutifully weighed them to find that I’d saved myself 100 grams! Then I installed my Planetbike headlight bracket and a Cateye Strada double wireless cyclometer. I did not weigh these items prior to installation. Also, I always ride with a saddlebag containing a tube, patchkit, tire levers and a multi-tool. Plus, I have two water bottle cages plus a small frame pump. I think that pretty much eliminates me from the weight weenie category.

That reminds, me I’ve forgotten to make my italicized list of upgrades:

Cateye Strada Double Wireless

Tektro “interrupter” brake levers

Shimano A-520 SPD pedals

Topeak Medium Aero Wedge Pack

Planet Bike 2w headlight with superflash

Banjo Brothers Waterproof Saddle Trunk

Spongy Wonder Bike Saddle

Lenzyme HP Road Drive mini Pump

The Ventura came with a San Marco Ponza Power Saddle in red and white. It looks great, but it’s a total taint crusher. (I mean, it’s a fantastic saddle, just not for me, I can’t really handle the performance it delivers – anybody want to buy it?) As previously stated, I’m a big fan of the Spongy Wonder, but I thought I’d try out a few other traditional saddles to see if saddle technology had improved much. I tried the stock saddle for 20 miles before dropping it. Small LBS #1 has the WTB saddle “test ride” program. You can leave a deposit and try out one of about 10 different saddles. Don’t like it? Bring it back and try out another. I tried 2 different types on the Jamis and didn’t really like either one as much as I like the Spongy Wonder. So I ordered a new Spongy Wonder!

So that’s all the stuff. The question is, how does it ride? Well, I’ve never had more fun on a bike than on this one. It wasn’t too hard to get used to riding with drops, and they are great once you are out on the road. However, I have several miles of stop-and-go city riding before I can get to any sort of open road or bike path. This means I’m often up on the flat part of the handlebars. I don’t like the idea of trying to reach for the regular brake levers in an emergency stop situation, so I had the interrupter brake levers installed. It was just $30, and gives me much greater confidence while biking in the city. They are also good to have in just about any other riding situation. The only drawback (aside from weight, ha ha!) is that they make it almost impossible to attach most larger handlebar bags. Oh well, I still like them.

What else do I like about this bike? Damn near everything. I know I don’t have much of a base of comparison, but this bike has been fantastic. I couldn’t tell you the difference between laterally stiff and vertically compliant, but the ride has been plenty comfortable for the several 30 mile rides I’ve taken so far. I haven’t had the opportunity for any serious climbing yet, but I can definitely feel the ease of acceleration with the Jamis over my Cannondale. Really, I don’t have the vocabulary to give this bike a proper review. That would be like my dad reviewing the latest Luomo album. All my dad can say about that and all I can say about my bike is that both are dope.  Here’s some more pics:

oh how those red tires pop!

Maybe I should try to find a red cover for my spongy wonder. Although according to “the rules,” it should match my bar tape.

What you'll see when I'm about to pass you.

What you'll see when you are about to pass me... I mean, after I drop you.

The Cockpit. I don't usually have the headlight mounted, I just wanted to give you the full effect. The bell is necessary when riding on narrow bike paths with Sunday drivers going 6 MPH.

One more shot as it glints in the sunlight with the Beavertail Lighthouse in the background.

If you want to hear someone give it a more detailed review, Bicycling magazine gave it the full video review treatment for the 2009 model:

He's saying, "Yo, this bike is dope! All it needs are red tires and red cables and it will be off the hook!" Actually, the review is informative and rather subdued.

This review was an interesting look into the standards of a roadie. It’s a positive review, but you can tell he’s thinking, “it’s okay for an entry-level bike.” In fact, he makes an off-hand reference to it being a “heavy” bike at 20 pounds. Well, it is certainly light enough for me.

A few weeks after I bought the bike, I noticed a CBS Early show clip was linked on the front page of the Jamis website (yes, I’m still going to the Jamis website even after I bought the bike. That’s so I can look at my bike while I’m in my living room and it is down in the basement.)

They were looking at the ladies’ version, but you get the idea. I like that there’s a helmet hanging off the handlebars – almost like it’s a police bike.

So I’ve had the bike for about two months now and I’ve put about 350 miles on it. I haven’t done anything more than 40 miles in a day – I haven’t really had the opportunity. I’d hoped to pull off a century by the end of summer, but I don’t think that will happen until next spring. I should be able to swing another metric century at some point, we’ll see.

So that’s my bike. I love it. I’d keep going on and on, but I see that I am well north of 2000 words, so I’ll end with this thought: At the start of July, I only owned one bike, by the end of July, I owned three. Every morning, I get to think, “which bike shall I take to work today.” It’s like I’m a millionaire choosing between a variety of cars. Shall I take the utilitarian hatchback (the Cannondale – although what kind of millionaire would own a hatchback?) Perhaps I should roll in to work in the classic convertible (the ’68 Raleigh Sports). I don’t have to carry anything to work today, and I don’t have to stop for groceries on the way home, so maybe I’ll take the sports car (which in this scenario is, of course, the Jamis). Three bikes, together worth a little more than the price of the car I sold a year ago, but to me they are worth a million.

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9 responses to “For Reals This Time: A New Bike

  1. Spongy Wonder bike seat? Never heard of it and it’s one weird looking seat. If it works for you,use it,finding a seat that fits your bottom, is soooo important. I’m a Brooks fan, as you can tell by my blog. Good luck with the new bike,it looks great.

    • Thanks Paul. Yeah, the Spongy Wonder is a weird one, and it definitely doesn’t work for everyone. It puts more weight on your hands, but zero weight on your perineum. I’ve tried a Brooks on a Bakfiets, and it seemed okay for that. I’m not sure I’d want one on this particular road bike. Now, where can I find someone who wants to pay for a red and white San Marco Ponza Power?

  2. Nice bike but, technically you are outside of Rule 8 on the saddle. I believe that you’re ok on the tyres because of the red decal on the seat stays. Just following Rule 2 here.

    • I was considering making a white and red cover for the spongy wonder in order to bring it into Rule 8 compliance. But the Spongy Wonder is so far out of all rule compliance that I don’t think it would be worth it.

      Other rules that I have no interest in following: 24 (despite a two-year exile in Canada, I’m an American thus I think in miles), 27 (I like my socks too short), 29 & 30 (It’s just easier). I could go on, but my rule-breaking list is getting long. One rule I seem to have down without even trying is #7. My tanlines are now epicly sharp.

  3. Oh! RE the Spongy Wonder – you might try the Selle SMP line – see your pic of my X4 in the bike rack at 1 Union Station – keeps your weight balanced between your sit bones and your hands,which is safer for you – and no pressure on the vitals!

  4. I believe that I have one here that was slightly used on the CycleOps I just sold. Email me and I can get it you you to try this week. If you like, you can buy it from me. But, to answer your question – I don’t know any of the Locals who sell that line.

  5. RE: the Spongy Wonder, I hadn’t seen them before. I’ve been using an “Easy Seat” (http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B000GBK4Z4/) . Same idea, no perineum pressure. I love it. I’ve been able to drastically increase the time I spend on my bike. In fact, I usually want to keep riding when I get to work. I agree though, I have had added pressure on my hands, and maybe a bit more on my knees. It would be interesting to have someone show me if my posture is correct, given this style seat. When I take my bike on RIPTA, the driver always has to make some crack about it.

    • I considered the Easy Seat, but it looked more appropriate for a more upright-posture bike (like a Raleigh). I’ve seen an Easy seat on an older green 3-speed parked near the entrance to India Point Park – is that you? (I think there’s a picture of it somewhere on this blog)

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