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Matching the Setups of Dissimilar Road Bikes; An Exercise in Patience, It Is Possible. And Worth the Effort.
One of my proudest achievements since I began tinkering on bikes was setting my 1999 Trek 5200, a 58 cm classic standard frame, to match my Specialized Venge, a compact 56cm aero frame. As they are today, I can get on either bike and I can’t feel much of a difference between the two.
With the bikes stood handlebar to handlebar and saddle to saddle, you can hardly tell the setups apart, as dissimalar as the frames are. The Trek, even though it was my first bike, was intentionally set up to match my Venge, but it wasn’t easy:
Now, for the picky amongst you, you’ll notice the the Trek’s handlebar is slightly higher than that of the Venge. This is by design – I’ve actually got a 5-mil spacer beneath the stem of the Trek. There are a couple of reasons for the lowered handlebar on the Venge. First, the Venge is the race bike (or at least my “fast” bike). Second, the compact geometry of the Venge makes riding lower more comfortable than I can on the Trek. I don’t necessarily know the how and why of this, I just know it’s so. I can’t ride that low, comfortably, on the Trek (I tried). Finally, my Trek is the rain bike (and also my long tour bike). I figured I’d rather be slightly more more upright and comfortable when I’m on a long tour or facing the prospect of getting wet. When I tested the Trek with the handlebar slammed, I stopped using the drops because the reach was a little too much. Or I’m possibly a little too… erm, old to bend like that.
Here’s what made it all work:
- Stems. I’ve got a 12 degree x 100 mm stem on the Venge and a 17 degree 90 mm stem on the Trek. This was how I got the bar in the right spot on both bikes – this took a lot of trial and error and more than a couple of stems that my wife
doesn’tdidn’t know about.
- I have the same saddle on each bike – Bontrager Montrose Pro Carbon. The saddle on the Trek is a 138 mm and the saddle on the Venge is a 128 mm. I rode 143s for years but I don’t imagine I’ll ever go back. 143 is just a little too wide for my liking.
- Saddle height and fore/aft location on the seatpost. The length I went to get the saddle height right was nothing short of epic. Half a decade and more changes than you can shake a stick at. And the best part is the height changed over the years.
Starting with the saddle height, because that should be easiest, I started out at 36-3/4″ from the top of the pedal to the top of the saddle following the center of the top tube. I had a Specialized Body Geometry fitting done and that was lowered by an eighth of an inch. Then I lowered it by another eighth going by “feel”. The reason I couldn’t quite get comfortable wasn’t the height of the saddle, it was the width. When I switched to the Montrose saddles, I was able to raise both up to their final resting place of 36-5/8″ (or exactly where the BG fitting had me in 2014). Sadly, the thinnest saddle Specialized makes is a 143 so I’ve got a Trek saddle on my Specialized (I’ll get into this most interesting conundrum in another post).
Getting the stems right was an exercise in futility on the Trek. I’ve been through… counting… five stems before finally settling on the flipped 90 mm, 17 degree beauty you see in the photo above. I’ve only ever had one other stem on the Venge, an ultra-light carbon-wrapped aluminum beauty from FSA. Sadly, that stem only came in 6 degrees, so flipped, it followed the line of the top tube and it was very light, but I never really loved the look. I went back to the heavier Specialized Stem that came on the bike, with a -4 degree insert, I got it to 12 degrees, flipped (eventually I’ll put a 100 mm x 12 degree S-Works stem on the Venge):
Now, before I get into anything else, because of the contortion of the handlebar with the 6 degree stem on the left, my hoods are at the same stack height from the ground in both photos.
The simplest measurement was the fore/aft position of the saddle – whichever saddle I had on either bike, whatever the saddle height was at the time, it didn’t matter: shoes on and clipped in, with the crank arms perfectly parallel to the ground, the outer edge of my knee is perfectly plumb with the leading edge of the crank arm. It’s the same on both bikes.
And that’s exactly why this is so tricky to get right; you have to match the stem and the drop of the handlebars to where the saddle goes on two entirely different frames. If you get the reach wrong by 10 millimeters, you’ll feel scrunched into the cockpit or too stretched out to comfortably reach the hoods/drop. Then you have to match the angle of the stem to where you want the handlebar. Now this is made easier with shims that you can use under the stem to raise it, but it’s a pretty intricate puzzle with one bike. It’s crazy trying to get two, with dissimilar frames, to match up.
It is possible, though. It just takes some patience (and money). And it’s absolutely worth the effort.
I hated riding in the cold weather. Well, hate is a powerful word that’s misused and overused to a point it doesn’t mean what it should. I really, really, really, really didn’t like riding in the cold… until I bought a jacket that could keep me warm in the worst of it (well, at least the worst of what I’m willing to go out in).
Now that I’ve got a decent winter cycling jacket, freezing is only bad when I get in the shower and my butt itches where the leg warmers wouldn’t cover, and I can live with that. I haven’t been skipping out on riding with Chuck after work like I used to because of that. We’re in the dark about halfway through the ride now, and last night’s was one of those that used to have me cursing my lunacy for even throwing a leg over my top tube – just below freezing with a bit of a south wind. It was cold.
Chuck is a little insane, too. He’ll ride in weather that’d make an eskimo call him nuts and laugh out loud as he rides by. I’m a lot more… um… practical, and I don’t have a distaste for the trainer that he does.
So we rolled out a little early yesterday afternoon. I was nice and toasty. Of course, I only had about twelve square inches of skin showing, because damn, but I was comfortable at least. We headed a couple of miles south, into the wind before hitting dirt. South felt an awful lot like work and we had a lot of it ahead of us.
Now this is the one thing that really gets me about Chuck. All season long, unless we’re both really tired, we tend to push the pace a little bit – even when we shouldn’t. We ride every day so there has to be easy days in there because we want to save the good legs for the fast days (Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday). One or the other of us will get up front and start pushing the pace and all of a sudden, we’ve got a real ride on our hands.
This doesn’t happen on winter rides. If I get to going a little too fast, Chuck will pull up along side me and just hang there until I dial it back a little. If I get behind him for a draft, he’ll take the pace down to “easy” in a minute.
After a long season of hammering to stay as fast as is fun, when Chuck gets to winter he’s like, “Nope. Not messing with that “pacey” stuff.”
The ride last night was awesome for exactly that reason. We talked most of the way and just had fun.
I hit a rock with about 1-1/2 miles to go. My headlight just didn’t pick it up. It was one of those that rattles your sphincter because you didn’t see it coming, but I just went over it… no worries about veering off course or anything. I had the right grip pressure on the hoods. As we started up the last hill, Chuck said, “Well, it turned out to be a good night for a ride.” Three seconds later my tire was flat and I was pulling over to the side of the road.
Fortunately, Chuck had a headlamp so fixing the flat was relatively easy (I’ll have to start carrying one of those in my back pocket… that was handy) and we were off and rolling again in less than five minutes to finish up the ride.
After showering and having something to eat, I had some last-minute maintenance to deal with on the gravel bikes. I switched to the grippy tires for the weekend as we’ll be dealing with looser than normal gravel on many of the local roads.
So there I was, changing out tires, thinking about how lucky I am to have The Chucker. I’d have been indoors and complaining about the monotony of the trainer weeks ago. Hotdogs and tailwind, my friends. It’s as good as it gets.
And not those kinds of hotdogs. I can see the comments already! Get your head out of the gutter. Actually, I may have to go back to “good times and noodle salad” when talking about my friends… “Hotdogs and tailwind” is… well… not that there’s anything wrong with that if you’re into hotdogs and tailwind… erm… yeah.
We rolled out at 8 Sunday morning. It was… um, crisp. Yes, that’s the word. Right at freezing, thankfully there wasn’t much of a breeze. Until last year, I didn’t have much love for riding in the cold. It was better than riding indoors on the trainer, but not by much. Then I bought a winter jacket from Funkier that changed everything.
I don’t love riding in the cold, now. But I can like it.
Jeff and Diane were on Diane’s mountain tandem. My wife and I were on our gravel bikes and Mike was riding his mountain bike because he hates his gravel bike.
We had a set route to start out, and we started modifying it right out of the gate after the first mile. The first modification was one I thought we’d be doing in the first place as it’s a part of the natural route. I was just glad to be outside so I just rolled with it and voted for the most miles every time someone offered a change. I’m a safe bet that way under normal circumstances. Once we made that first turn, it was just a natural follow your nose, no thinking route to stay on the dirt. There was no “choosing” which way to go… till we got to the bike trail, what should have been the furthest point before we headed back.
My wife had opted for the “follow the trail” option, so we did. Diane added on as we neared an intersection, though and offered a neat modification I’d never done. Rather than continue on the trail for another mile through a school campus, we continued onto the paved road for a mile-and-a-half, then turned onto another paved road for about a mile before turning on to a gravel road I never knew was there. I’d ridden the paved part more than a hundred times over the years, but the dirt road is on a downhill section right before an s-curve that’s so much fun I’m always hammering to pick up speed for the curve – I never paid attention to anything other than that. The new road was beautiful – it felt like we were in the middle of nowhere.
The pace was rarely tough but we weren’t slow enough to watch the grass grow, either. We did get a little fast on the pavement, mainly so we could get off of it quicker, but the rest of the ride was… just fun. There was conversation and joking and I just enjoyed being outdoors. And, as it turned out, we enjoyed being outside just long enough… we made it back just in time to stay dry.
It was like going for a long walk with good friends. But on bikes. Which meant the long walk wasn’t spoiled by… you know, walking.
I got roped into shaving my legs by the internet (and being a little bit gullible). That may read funny, but it’s the God’s honest truth. First, The Rules (I know). Second, everything I read out there on the webz said if you don’t want to look like a noob, leg, meet razor, razor, meet leg. Commence with the shaving.
The first time I climbed into bed with my wife after shaving, she was all like, “Wait a second! I like it!” She gently, ahem, recommended the clean legs stay.
And so it’s been for the better part of a decade. The real question is why?
Now, back when I started shaving, we all kinda figured shaving the guns was more aerodynamic but there was no data on it. Today there is. Shaved versus hairy legs were tested in Specialized Bicycles’ wind tunnel and the analysis showed a significant benefit. This is a fantastic “why”. It was my “second” why.
Next up we’ve got the road rash theory. For those who regularly try to stop their bikes very quickly, with their body rather than the brakes, having shorn legs means its easier to pick out gravel and less painful for bandage removal. These are two big pluses. But how many crashes have I been involved in where I needed that perk? That would be zero. In a decade. This is mainly for racers. Oh, and it sounds good.
Finally, we’re going to go where the rubber meets the road. I’m going to be candid and honest where many won’t, possibly because it’s a little vain: Bro, shaved legs just look awesome. It is what it is. Go to a big group ride and look at the difference between those who do and those who don’t shave. That’s all you’ll need to see. The hairy dudes will look out of place – even if they can lay down the watts.
The tough part here, and this gets fun (and even a little “political” without having anything to do with politics), is that shaving the legs is entirely unnecessary in a club setting. Five years ago, everyone who threw their leg over a hybrid shaved. Nowadays, you’re down to 75% of the club ride. Heck, I know a few guys who refuse to shave simply to be the “anti-everybody else” guy, hence the “politics without politics” angle.
I will say the same thing I’ve always said; shave or don’t. Nobody really cares as long as you’re competent on your bike. Just know this: if you don’t, you’ll be working harder than all of the shaved dudes to go as fast as they do. Fair or not, it is what it is.
Smooth and sporty, baby. That’s how we roll. On the asphalt. If you’re only into gravel or mountain biking, please return your seat back to the proper position and prepare for landing. You guys stick with being a sasquatch.
I was tinkering on my mountain bike over the weekend, a heavy behemoth of a hard tail 29er with a decent component spec. Hydraulic discs, decent Shimano group set, upgraded fork… there’s a lot to like about that bike – especially that my wife bought it for me as a Valentine’s Day present six year ago. It’s slow, though, next to its Specialized counterparts in the bike room (technically, that’s the spare bedroom, but “bike room” sounds really cool).
The shifting had gone all kittywampus on me last year and I wanted to figure it out. I don’t ride the bike often, but being responsible for the maintenance of eight bikes, I’ve gotten pretty good at it, and it was the Rockhopper’s time. It took two minutes to identify the issue. A big blob of dirt lodged in the barrel adjuster (not outside the barrel adjuster, in the barrel adjuster). I was expecting something much more… complex. I loosened the cable retaining bolt, cleaned the dirt out of the end cap and barrel adjuster, lubed everything, put it together and adjusted the shifting to perfect… and put it in the bike room. I have a tough time with the whole “speed” thing. I like to go fast so it’s hard to put that bike on the road when my gravel bike is easy to push 33% faster.
I’ve got two road bikes, a gravel bike and my mountain bike in the bike room for the time being. With my wife’s gravel bike, it gets a little crowded, but it’s that time of year when all of the bikes get used in a bit of a rotation. I rode the gravel bike Saturday. A fantastic (if cold) day for a ride. Sunday, I almost had the mountain bike out the door when it started spitting freezing rain. I rode the Trek rain bike on the trainer. Monday I was on Extra-Super-Duper-Hyper Secure Covid Lockdown (our COO tested positive, though we have no close contact, out of an abundance of caution, etc., etc.) so I rode the Trek on the trainer after going in to get tested (I feel fine, if a little stuffy from the weather change).
I picked my race road bike up from the shop that afternoon after getting tested, though I did wear a good KN-95 mask in the store, because I’m not an @$$hole. I also found out later that evening that the test was negatory.
Tuesday, my honorary Italian cycling brother from a Polish mother, Chuck(er), texted me while I was at work to see if I wanted to ride. I checked with my wife that I was clear and that’s when it hit me: ride the Rockhopper (mountain bike, for those not up on Specialized parlance).
Now, I knew Chuck would have his gravel bike and that I’d be at a severe disadvantage, but it looked like so much… fun. I texted him to see if he wanted to ride his mountain bike, too. He wasn’t as enthusiastic as I, but urged me to take it. He said he wanted a slow roll anyway.
I almost took the Diverge.
But I didn’t. And I had one of the more enjoyable night rides I’ve had. The shifting was butter-perfect. The beefy 29”x2.0” tires ate the dirt up… well, if the dirt hadn’t been packed down and absolutely perfect they’d have eaten it up. The tires were plush on the bumps, though. Way better than the paltry 30mm semi-slicks on the gravel bike.
I was smiling for most of the 22 miles even though it was just over freezing when we finished and I had to work quite a bit harder than I normally would. This is why I have a tough time giving up the speed of the road bikes when the weather is nice. When it turns cold, though, the additional speed just makes it colder. This is when the slow bikes shine. And my Rockhopper really put a smile on my face last night.
I posted a photo of all of my bikes in the bike room yesterday:
I’ve been thinking lately, if I had to live without one of my bikes, which would go?
Being blunt; I’m at S-1 but I’ve got the perfect stable. The saying applies more to bicycles than it does to those with a desire to stay married; variety is the spice of life.
If I had to, I could live without one of my bikes. Damned if I had to figure out which one, though.
And so it is, the case for three bikes, easy; road, mountain and gravel… with a fourth swing-road bike for rain days (also known as a “winter” bike in the UK).
As an aside, I could make the case for a fifth bike, while we’re at it; a tandem. While caution should always be taken when riding a tandem with one’s spouse, because without expert communication things get dicey in a hurry, our tandem was worth every penny. I love that riding that bike with my wife. Absolutely love it.
It’s a simple word, really. Sadly, many aren’t lucky enough to have a ready group (or sometimes even one friend) to ride with who can ride when their schedule allows, often at the drop of a hat. My friend Chucker and I are two peas in a pod this way. He and I get out of work at almost the same time, work 20 minutes from each other, and we live two mile apart. I can make it over to his house in six to eight minutes depending on how hard I want to push it to get there. If he’s had to work late, I’ll cruise by his neighborhood and get a few extra miles in till he’s had time to get ready. We ride most days of the week together.
Then there are days like yesterday. It was a special one for me. Phill showed up for the morning ride and the two of us rolled out to pick up Mike on the dirt road a half-mile down the road. The three of us picked up Chuck (not to be confused with Chucker) a mile or so later, and the four of us headed off down the road on our gravel bikes. This was a special group for me because Phill was the first guy I rode with who showed me the ropes on Tuesday night ten years (technically, nine years and one… two… three… five months) ago. Chuck helped us get unlost on my second Assenmacher 100 when we got dropped and took a wrong turn. Then there’s Mike. He and I have been thick as thieves on bicycles (without the crime) since I fell in with the group. We’ve put in a lot of miles together, the four of us.
Mike is incredibly slow on dirt roads because he hates his gravel bike and has no love for dirt. This meant a very slow roll, but time to talk like we normally wouldn’t on the asphalt. We took full advantage of it, recounting rides past and revisiting old stories that made us laugh and tales of woe that we were thankful to push through. The time passed like it didn’t matter. I don’t think we were passed by one car, either, in 24 miles. Maybe one.
We wandered around, following our noses and even talked Mike into deviating from our planned route home to check out a subdivision. Once Mike is ready to go home, he can rarely be persuaded to change course. He’s like an old hound dog who’s been out in the field too long when he’s ready to go home.
After checking out what turned out to be a senior living mobile home park, I brought up something Chucker and I had been talking about several days earlier when we saw a pace-line of Canada geese that stretched for miles. There had to be hundreds of them, and Chucker wondered aloud how fast they fly, guessing around 25 to 30-mph. I Googled it the next day; 40 to 50-mph with a top speed above 60 (!). Chuck responded as I did when I first read the 40-50-mph cruising speed. Then he mentioned that the two at the back of the pace-line are likely named for a couple of guys in our group who are famous for sucking wheel (and have earned the right to do so – not a one of us is anything but cool with this as we prefer them riding with us however they can). I picked that up the hand off and ran with it and we were laughing our asses off for the next couple of miles as we figured out who went where as it pertained to a pace-line of geese.
By the time Phill and I got to my house, Chuck and Mike having split off for home, I stopped my Garmin on the slowest ride of the year for me – I could have comfortably ridden that on my mountain bike – and I’ve never been so thankful for a slow ride since I first turned a crank as a kid. It was one of the best rides of the year; one I’ll do my best never to forget. I hope we have many more like it.
That’s one of the best cogs in cycling. It’s the 53/11 of cycling. Hotdogs, tailwind, and friends. And that’s as good as it gets.
Last week I had an epiphany. We were heading out for a ride and it was butt cold outside. Not “mildly irritating” cold. No, it was “what the hell am I doing out here” cold. And I was not looking forward to the ride. Whilst, and at the same time, trying to figure out what I was going to wear to stay warm, I remembered my Funkier jacket! Long story very short, I was snug as a bug. When I complained about riding in the cold two weeks ago, I’d forgotten about that magical piece of cycling wear.
Now, to be very clear, the piece of kit I’m about to share with you isn’t for the 40s or 50s (7 to 10 C). You’ll cook from the inside and turn yourself into a roast (don’t forget the carrots, onions and potatoes). No, for this jacket, you’re going to need the 30s (0 to 2 C) – and you won’t need a lot under it, either. Maybe a light long-sleeved jersey, maybe a thermal jersey if you really want to be snug. The jacket I’m about to share with you is the best piece of cold-weather cycling kit I’ve ever owned and it litterally means the difference between enjoying my time outdoors in the cold and just wanting to get done so I can get warmed up.
I’m talking about the Funkier Pontebba Cycling Jacket. Absolutely, it’s a funky name, but what matters is that it works against the cold.
They run a little big, as you can see in the photo. That’s a large on Chuck (L) and a medium on me (right). We’re both 6’ but Chuck is stockier than I am. I normally wear a medium in club fit kit, a large in race fit, and an extra large in pro fit. The medium Pontebba jacket is perfect, with a little room to breathe.
To put the efficacy of this jacket into context, I’ll be heading out this morning with my friends. We had flurries last night and it’s a little breezy this morning.
Most, if not all of my friends will be wearing that same jacket. They’re that good. I wouldn’t feel the same about riding this morning if I didn’t have that hanging up, ready to go. If you’re not a big fan of the cold, like me, but you have a hard time riding the hamster wheel indoors, this jacket will help.
Ride hard, my friends. Or take it easy and enjoy the ride… it’s the end of the year for crying out loud! I’m in for the latter.
What I Would Do To My Specialized Venge If Money Were No Object (and It Is, But a Fella Can Dream of “Just Hit the Lotto” Money)
I opened a big, fat can of worms in Wednesday’s post about my Venge’s most excellent outcome in extracting the crankset from the bike. See, the S-Works crankset on my Venge is technically top-of-the-line. That’s a technicality, though. First of all, S-Works is some fantastic bike equipment. Think of the line as Specialized’s Skunk Works. If you’re drawing a blank, Skunk Works is Lockheed Martin’s top-end aircraft design studio that started back in the 1930s, extending through the days of the most awesome Supersonic SR-71 Blackbird.
I have mentioned on this page that my dad was a weatherman in the Air Force. Well that’s where I got my love for the weather, aircraft, and fast carbon fiber things… it only makes sense that I latched onto cycling the way I did. The only sad part is that it took me till I was 41 to find bikes that weren’t sold at a Sears.
In a matter of three years, I went from thinking bikes didn’t get much better than a Sears $185 hybrid to this:
So, in working on my post Wednesday, that can of worms I opened was in the form of hashing out the definition of “top-of-the-line” in terms of a crankset. Technically, my Venge is top-of-the-line in realistic terms. In pie-in-the-sky terms, there’s top-of-the-line, then one crazy step above that: there’s THM.
I think I dropped around $600 on my S-Works crankset (with spider) and it weighs around 500 grams (if memory serves). The THM Clavicula SE crank, by comparison, runs about $1,400 and weighs only 300 grams with the spider. Check out this thing of beauty:
So, I thought, what if I took my Venge to beyond top-of-the-line? What would it look like (and vastly more important, how much would that cost)?
Going back to that $185 Sears hybrid, the FSA Energy brakes on my Venge retailed for $160 (I found them on closeout for $50). They’re lighter than Shimano’s Ultegra at 316 grams for the set (Dura Ace run 300 grams, Ultegra are 360, and 105 brakes are 380). In other words, my brakes retailed for almost as much as I paid for an entire bike and they’re decently high-end.
Then there’s the THM Fibula caliper brake set. The set retails for around $1,500 but only weighs an astonishingly light 120 grams… for the set. Have a look:
That’s just next-level sexy, right there.
Then there’s the stem and handlebar (or the handlebar/stem combo if I really want to get expensive). That got me to thinking, “What would it cost if I went all in? Better, what would my Venge weigh afterward?”
I did the math.
For around $5,000 I could get the full line of THM parts and install them on the Venge. My current hair under 16 pound Venge would drop to 14-1/2 pounds. Then, I really let my melon run riot… what if I went next level and dropped another $1,000 on Dura Ace shifters and derailleurs?
My 16 pound Venge would come in around 14 pounds or 6.3 kg. For an aero bike.
Why stop there, though? Let’s replace my 1,500 gram carbon 50mm wheels with something really lightweight. I can drop 400 grams for another $4,000, give or take! I could, technically, get my Venge down to the 13 pound range – under UCI allowable limits, if I drop another $10,000 on the bike (after I’ve already got $6,000 into it). And that’s where this little mental exercise hits a brick wall. I need a $16,000 bike that weighs around 13-1/2 pounds like I need a hit in the head.
The math fun isn’t done, though! I can take this up a notch like I did with the component exercise. My bike at, call it 13.5 pounds would cost $16,000 (give or take). That’s $1,185.18 a pound.
The Koenegsigg Jesko, one of the premier top-of-the line hyper-cars on the market, fully decked out in all of its carbon fiber glory, comes in at a paltry $958 per pound. Of course, it weighs over 3,000 pounds, but let’s not get lost in the equity woods, here! With a big enough wad of cash, you could make a Specialized Venge cost more per pound than a Koenegsigg! Now that’s sexy, baby.
It was a fun exercise. All of that carbon fiber is spectacular.
The exercise is done. We now return our seat backs to the upright position as we descend from the wispy clouds of dreamland. It was fun while it lasted!
*This was supposed to post Friday but I found something a little more pressing to write about. When that inspiration happens, I don’t fight it. I believe the inspiration has a purpose bigger than me.
I bought a 1999 Trek 5700 in 2012 for $750, all I could afford at the time. In that same year, Specialized unveiled a road bike that would revolutionize the industry and teach me a thing or two about lusting after a bicycle, the Venge. I first saw mine in the spring of 2013 on the most prominent part of the display setting at the local bike shop. That was April. I wheeled the bike out of the shop, paid in full, five months later on August 23rd. The 5200 became my rain bike and the Venge was my “less than 15% chance of rain” bike. I’ve since rebuilt the Trek from the ground up and upgraded the Specialized to a point the Trek is unrecognizable and better than two pounds lighter (21 pounds and change, down to 18-1/2) and the Venge has gone from an 18.8 pound creaky (but fast) thing of beauty to a 16 pound silent, stealthy work of art in the media of carbon fiber and aluminum. The Specialized may look close to the same as the day I rolled it out of the shop, but it doesn’t ride like it.
Today’s bikes, having seen the new Specialized Tarmac SL7 up close and personal (my buddy, Chuck rides a 2021), are definitely beautiful machines.
So, Dollar for Dollar and Pound for Pound, which makes more sense, buying new or rebuilding used? I’m going to ignore COVID, because trying to buy a new bike in this current mess is ridiculous… and will, hopefully, end sooner than later.
Let’s get into this. First, let’s look at cost. My Specialized Venge, as it would be in today’s Specialized Tarmac, though slightly heavier but with electronic shifting and hydraulic disc brakes, with carbon fiber wheels, you’re looking at $6,500 to $7,000. For the real deal pro model, UCI weight and the whole ball of wax, you’re looking at $12,000 My Venge cost a little more than $6,000 to buy and upgrade and, while you could technically do that with a new Tarmac (buy a $3,000 model and upgrade it) it’d cost significantly more than what I have into the Venge to get it to 16 pounds. My Trek, by contrast, cost me about $3,000 total, and that includes the paint job and I got that down to a respectable 18-1/2 pounds. With another $2,000 I could probably get a mechanical Dura Ace groupset and get the 5200 down to 17-ish, but I’m perfectly happy where it’s at with front-to-back Shimano 105 components. As it currently sits in it’s current form, it’s an excellent ride.
I don’t think there’s any question, as money goes, the buck stops on the ’99 5200 rebuild (though I’d recommend a 2000 or newer 5200 because the post-2000 models have a standard threadless headset. I hate the threaded 1″ headset on the my 5200). There are disadvantages to the older bike rebuild, though…
Before we get into disadvantages, let’s look at a couple advantages of buying used and rebuilding from the ground up:
1. You can customize everything. You pick the colors, paint scheme and decals. They sky (well, and your bank account) is the limit.
2. When parts go bad, having chosen the parts in the first place, you’ll know which replacement parts to get.
3. You’ll have the satisfaction of having the only bike in the world like yours (I dig this about my Trek).
There are a lot of advantages that come with a new rig, though. First, everything will be tight and solid. There’s nothing like a bike that doesn’t have a click or a creak to it. That’s low-lying fruit, though. Let’s dig into a few things with a little meat on them.
First, you’re going to have a massive aerodynamic advantage with a new bike. Massive. Even with a set of carbon wheels on your old bike (which help immensely), most newer bikes will be aerodynamically superior to older models. My Specialized Venge is unquestionably superior to my Trek 5200. I can easily and unquestionably feel the difference at speeds above 20-mph.
Second, technology has come a long way, even in the last ten years. Most new bikes pay close attention to the carbon fiber layup of their frames and the bottom bracket shell is so much better than they used to be. This all adds up to a frame that will help you accelerate the bike faster while being more comfortable to ride. They also allow for wider tires which will smooth out the ride even further (though I prefer 26 mm to 28s, personally – there’s a little too much “squish” to 28s).
Now, this will inexorably lead to the one obvious problem with newer, meaning post 2016; they’re heavy. You have to part with some serious cash to get a bike in the 14 to 15 pound range (6 to 7 kg). Back when my Venge was new you could have the most aerodynamic bike on the market and get it down to 16 pounds for less than $6,000. Good luck getting there with disc brakes.
Still, a $5,000 Tarmac or better, a Trek Emonda, will easily get under my 18-1/2 pound Trek 5200.
Now, here’s a little tip if you do decide to buy new that’ll be worth the weight of that Tarmac in gold: If you’re ready for a new bike, we enthusiasts can speed up the process because the manufacturers have built a network of their dealers across the country to locate and connect new bikes with riders ready to buy. You’ll pay a premium, usually around 10%, maybe a little more, but it’ll speed up the process by as much as 12 months. Talk to your local shop owner and see what they can do, but keep this in mind: if you’re only on the fence about getting a bike, wait. Don’t put a shop owner through the runaround of finding you a bike, only to balk after it’s on the UPS truck. Cycling has a name for someone like that. That name is derogatory and not nice to dirty vaginas. Don’t be one.
You’re going to love this one…
I walked out of the office at 11am to head over to the carwash, then to pick up some lunch. I was in three layers – a t-shirt, a pullover with a drywall name brand that had been bought up years ago, and my hi-viz winter coat… and I was not overdressed. Well, maybe a little, but it wasn’t much over freezing and the wind was whipping along at a good clip from the west.
Once back in the confines of the office, I didn’t leave. I ran my jobs from the comfort of my office chair.
Come time to head home, I cringed as I stepped out the door. It was feeling a lot like an afternoon spinning on the trainer to me. I wasn’t quite halfway home when my weekday riding buddy called to ask if I was riding. The morning sun had been covered by clouds hours ago and the wind hadn’t died down a bit. It was biting cold and riding outside was not appealing.
“What do you think?” he asked.
“It’s f***ing cold”, I replied.
“Yeah, still. It’ll be slow and easy.”
“Well, there is some sun. I suppose.”
“We’ll call it 4:45”, he said. And we said our good-byes.
Dammit. Sucked into the cold maw like a freaking tractor beam. The only question left was how many layers would be needed to insulate from that headwind.
On arriving home I readied the Trek. I’m not ready to go exclusive on the gravel bike, yet. I don’t mind it as the main mode, but if it’s dry, I’ll take the enjoyment of a road steed. I settled on three layers; arm warmers, light jersey, thermal jersey and a light vest. Down low was leg warmers and bibs. Wool socks and two light layers of gloves rounded it out. Oh, and a hat under the helmet.
That was perfect. I was anything but comfortable that first mile, the layers were just enough to keep the sting out of the cold. The second mile, to Chuck’s, was a tailwind. 21-mph at about 14 watts. I’m guesstimating, but 21 was real easy. Heading back the other way was going to suck.
I pulled up to Chuck’s house and knocked on the door. Generally speaking, I’ll wait in the garage for him to come out but screw the cold. I went in when invited. Chuck was ready in a few and we rolled out. The righthand turn out of his driveway had my shoulders slumping. The wind had Chuck’s jacket sleeves whipping so hard, the noise drowned out the whir of the drivetrains.
F— it, I thought. Here we go.
And Chuck took the lead. I always take at least the first two miles, usually three, into the wind… but Chuck came around and settled in up front. And you can bet your sweet bippy I let him.
He took the first three miles into the wind, both of us down in the drops to make it as pain-free as possible. It wasn’t easy keeping a positive attitude, though it was over soon enough and we headed north. I took the next few miles. I’d settled down and was warmed up enough that the wind wasn’t biting anymore.
A couple of laps through our favorite subdivision and it was time for some decent tailwind.
As we headed for home, still seven miles to go, I said, “Well, Chuck… I guarantee you I never would have done this without you.”
He replied with a chuckle, “Yeah, I was looking for you to talk me out of this craziness. I figured I’d call you and you’d tell me I was freaking nuts and I could have done something else.”
Well how’s that for a kick in the pants?
Anyway, I’m nowhere near making friends with the cold. I tried real hard to get there in my head, but I couldn’t get there. Nope. Didn’t like it. It beats polishing the couch with my heinie, I suppose. But not by much.