A long time ago – in 2004 or so – I bought my first high-end road bike, a 2005 Trek Madone 5.2, and over the years, I probably put around 30,000 miles on the bike. It has been a great bike.
But my early-50s body is not as flexible as my 40-year-old body was, and I’ve been having some persistent shoulder and neck issues despite having a good fit and spending some quality time with a PT, so it was clear that it was time to do some bike shopping.
And yes, it’s very clear that I am different than many of my riding companions, who seem to rotate their bikes every 3 or 4 years, or the rest of my riding companions who subscribe to the “N+1″ theory of bike ownership (see footnote).
On my shopping list:
- A smaller frame (my Trek is a 60cm, and a 58 seemed like a better choice)
- Disc brakes, because I’m doing a lot of steeps and I’m tired of wondering if I will stop at the bottom.
- Low gearing. With the hills I climb, I need something close to 1:1.
- Full Ultegra (or very close) for the groupset.
- A bike tuned towards the kind of riding I do (ie endurance) rather than racing. A little more compliant, a little more comfortable, and a little more upright.
- A decent color combination. My Madone is a Project One featuring the “Pave Flambe” paint scheme (bright red with flames), and I’m not a big fan of colors like white, black, or charcoal.
Armed with that list, I headed out to the bike manufacturer websites and started coming up with options.
Well, that’s actually not quite true; what I *really* did was procrastinate for about 9 months, scrawl a list of bikes on a piece of paper that I promptly lost, procrastinate another 3 months until my back got worse again, and then finally come up with a spreadsheet of choices. The wait turned out to be a good thing, mostly because bikes with 34 tooth chainrings and 32 tooth cassettes got a lot more common, so I had more choices.
I won’t bore you with the full list, but Trek was out because of their price point, and the short list was the Cannondale Synapse Carbon Disc, and the Specialized Roubaix Expert Disc. The Synapse comes in at $3000 ($4500 for Di2) and the Roubaix comes in at $4000 ($4600 for Di2). The premium for Di2 on the Roubaix looks about right, but the Synapse is a bit weird; there are a couple of upgrades in there (better brakes, for example), but not enough to warrant a 50% price increase IMO.
I rode the Synapse first, in the mechanical Ultegra (mostly) variant, from Gregg’s in downtown Bellevue. I rode around the steeps and some crappy pavement for about 45 minutes, and the bike climbed and rode fine, but the position felt a little different. Not bad different, but it took a bit of time to get used to. Seemed to plenty stiff but still more compliant than the Madone. The color was a bit meh but not terrible, back with green lettering and some red strips. I should note that the Di2 variant was on sale for $4000 during this time, so the pricing was roughly in line with what I would expect. I liked the bike, and felt that I was on the right track.
Later that morning, I headed off to Edge and Spoke in Redmond to test ride the Roubaix. Their test fleet is all Di2 and festooned in the Neon Yellow/Monster Green paint job (the bike is also available in black with grey accents). I took it out and headed to some annoying pavement, the bike lane heading south on West Lake Sam from 520. It felt nice on that but wasn’t really as compliant as I expected. I then sampled a bunch of different ups and downs, some crappy pavement, and even some gravel. The bike felt more similar to my Madone than I expected in handling, and – like the Synapse – handled climbs, sprints, and descents well.
I liked both bikes but it was pretty clear that I liked the Roubaix a whole lot more, and I also decided to spend a bit extra on the Di2. My options were to wait for a black version until late April, wait for a yellow/green version until sometime in the summer (August was the best estimate), or take the demo bike, so I took the demo bike.
I knew I wanted a full fit, and scheduled one for 4PM a couple of days later. IIRC, this is my 4th full fit. Edge and Spoke have a Retul fit bike that allows for adjustments of most of the components while you are riding on the bike, which makes the whole fit process a lot simpler; the only time I hopped off the bike was when we did cleat adjustments and saddle switching. The fit is improved by the Retul Vantage 3D Motion Capture system, which tracks emitters that are put on your feet, ankle, knee, hip, shoulder, elbow, and hand position 18 times a second.
The system only works on one side at a time, so the fit is done on one side, then you get swung around to the other direction (the fit bike is on a turntable) and do the other side.
The fit itself had about 20 minutes of flexibility and strength evaluations (very important, especially if this is your first fit), a bunch of time on the bike, some high-power tests, playing around with saddle options, and some cleat adjustment.
I think this is the best fit that I’ve had; the fit bike really makes a difference both in time efficiency but in coming up with a good absolute position and then fitting the bike to that rather than starting with a current bike and going the other way. If you have biomechanical issues, a PT fit like the Corpore Sano ones are probably a better choice because I think adjusting people is better done by a PT, but I have less of an issue with that.
I was especially happy to find a saddle that I am really liking; I’ve had issues with saddles for a while, but the weird looking Power Expert feels better than any saddle I’ve tried, at least during the fit.
It took about 2 hours from the start of the fit to when I rolled out the door, though that did include paying for the bike.
Riding the new toy
I needed an appropriate test for the new toy, and this is the route I came up with. Zoo Hill (classic route), the backside of Summit, and then the painfully steep West Sommerset climb. The bike was very composed during the climbing and was fine when I stood, and even when I rode slowly (when I deliberately got down to 2.9 MPH on West Sommerset, it was pretty floppy, but that’s an absurdly slow climb, and it was fine at 4MPH or above). I did a bunch of standing, and the FutureShock didn’t get in the way at all.
There are only two caveats, both during the descents.
The first is that the brakes are both very powerful and a tiny bit grabby; the first part is great, and I expect that as they bed in better and I get more used to them, this will get smoother. I also noticed that when you brake hard, your upper body tends to be propelled forwards, which doesn’t happen for me on rim brakes.
The second caveat is that these are decently light wheels and the rims do not have any weight devoted to a braking surface, so there is less weight at the rims/tires than the light wheels I have on my Madone, so the bike is very nimble and responsive at speed. This is actually my preference, but it is a bit of a surprise when you hit that first 35 MPH descent and need to maneuver.
The FutureShock in the front steering tube is quite impressive. It doesn’t seem to affect the handling at all, and while you can make it compress when standing to climb or sprint, it doesn’t do that normally. It just takes a bit of the edge off of the bumps that you are hitting. It comes with two lighter springs than the one is installed; when I get a chance I’m going to try one of them.
The expert also features the CG-R – where “CG” stands for “COBL GOBL” (Cobble Gobbler) – seatpost, which has a fair bit of vertical compliance, and also softens the ride. And I think they’ve done something clever with the rest of the frame as well.
It also has a very different set of bars – the Hover Expert Alloy Handlebars (HEAH?) – look like normal handlebars, but just outside of the center bars, they rise up 15mm (8.2 millifathoms), giving the rider slightly less of a reach.
As far as the overall package goes, it has pretty much everything I wanted, and I didn’t give anything up, so yea!
DI2 Ultegra is just like a great version of mechanical Ultegra. It shifts great, and does neat things like trimming the front derailleur automatically so the chain doesn’t rub. And it can shift all the way up or down with a single lever press (well, button press and hold, actually). My bike has the version where the battery lives in the seatpost, so unless you look very closely, you can’t really see the system.
I had assumed that DI2 was a fairly simple system, but that is not true. Each of the separate components has a microcontroller, and the components communicate each other using the CAN bus protocol.
Yes, my new bike has a network. The same kind of network your car has.
The cool part about this approach is that all of the components just plug together, and it’s possible to add auxiliary shifters to your top tube or to aero bars if you want them there. You can also send the data to some Garmin Edge computers, which you can use to record gear usage. If that seems useful to you.
All of this is controlled by the very confusingly named “E Tube Project” application. With this, you can update the firmware on your components, and change things like the shift speed, which buttons do what, or even turn on synchro shift, which AFAICT lets you shift as if you had a single shifter rather than two shifters, with the system shifting both front and back automatically if necessary.
Charging is done over USB using the programming cable; it plugs into a little junction box under the bars, which also has a battery indicator.
The weight is supposedly something like 18.5 pounds, though it was a bit heavier when we put it on the scales at Edge and Spoke. Part of that weight was the SWAT system:
SWAT (Storage Water Air Tools) is a label specialized is using for some of their accessories, and one of them is the SWAT Box. It attaches in the bottom of the triangle of the frame (using two extra water-bottle mount screws), and is a system that is supposed to be able to hold:
- A spare tube
- A multi-tool
- An inflator
- A valve extender
- A money clip (?)
It also has room for a spare tube and a CO2 inflator. That is what you get if you buy the $90 version from Specialized.
To keep costs down, the one that ships with the Roubaix comes with a spare tube. And – as I discovered when I took it out, the spare tube is not a tube that would work on the Roubaix, as it’s far too big and it weighed in at a honking 120grams.
If you have a black bike and the thing holds what you need – here’s a video of how it works – then I guess it’s okay. But on a non-black bike it looks ugly, and it doesn’t hold my wallet and keys, and at 165 grams empty it’s heavier than the 140 gram Topeak tail wedge that I use.
The bike ships with DT Swiss R470 db wheels, which you will never forget because of the huge labels on the sides of the wheels. A few minutes with a heat gun and a can of “goo gone” fixed that issue. While I had the wheels and tires off, I did some weighing, and here’s what I got (disc and cassette weights are from the net):
Front: 802 grams + 95 grams for the disc = 897 grams
Rear: 936 grams + 95 grams for the disc + 292 for the cassette (11/32) = 1323 grams
The wheels are decently light, and as I noted, there isn’t a lot of weight down at the rim. The only big downside I see is the profile; it’s not very aero for a bike in this price range.
Footnote: The answer to the question, “How many bikes should one own?” is “<N+1>:, where N is the current number of bikes that one currently owns.