At the end of my last post I left all y’all with a teaser – photos of my smashing new grey and orange bike, Freddie. I’ve been waiting for a new bike for a long time, and this was the year the stars aligned: I’d saved up, I knew I was at a point with my strength and fitness that my old bike was working against me more than anything else, and my club friend L had been surreptitiously sleuthing around one of our top local bike shops with my list in hand: racier than my beloved Roubaix, mostly orange.
(Two photos of the bar tape and top bar of my new bike, Freddie. The orange tape and highlights will feature prominently in the following post!)
So one day in April, after term ended, L and I headed for TO Wheels and had a nose around together.
It took a good while for me to settle on the right bike with the right group set and the other bits and pieces you don’t think about until you’re actively shopping for a new bike. But once I had done all my fussing and reading and testing and more fussing, I ended up with the best bike I’ve ever had, and I’m not just thrilled – I’m faster.
So, this is my “top five things I learned in my first month with Freddie” post; it’s mostly about how to buy the best bike you’ve ever had, too.
Spoiler alert: it ends really well, with me loving every minute on this great new machine.
1. Buying an expensive road bike is a big deal! Take your time, do your research, insist on helpful and supportive service.
I know lots of folks who turn up at club rides, or at the office, or in the bedroom (!! *eyeroll*), to say, “hey! I just bought a new bike! It’s got $$$$$$$$ on it and cost a million dollars!”
But that’s not me. I’d thought long and hard about a new bike since returning to Canada from the UK in 2014, and I set my budget at $3000 all in, or as close as I could get (given Ontario’s somewhat onerous 13% HST). I planned the spend and knew I could afford it this spring. I chose TO Wheels, our (I think) top local indie shop, because I knew the folks there (it’s owned by a woman, yo!) and knew they’d be helpful, supportive, and would match me to the best bike I could afford without up-selling.
When L and I got there one busy Saturday afternoon, the lovely and talented Andrew was awash in stuff to do, but still he took almost an hour to talk me through options, look at my bike fit data, put me on the Retül jig (see below!), set it up to my bike fit spec, and then we tweaked it together. We worked out that I’d fit the Cervélo R2, or the Liv Envie, almost exactly. (A pro bike fit – see below – is fantastic, and works especially well if you are having a bike custom built exactly to your spec. That’s really pricey, though, and beyond me at this point. Maybe next time.) I took that info, plus the new jig data Andrew had generated for me, away to do research on my own. I told him I’d be back, but he was not fussed; for him, an hour helping a customer discover important information about her bike needs, sale or no sale, was an hour well spent.
At home I read around the net to learn more about the bikes on offer. The R2 – the bottom of the line item from one of the best manufacturers in the world, sort of the cycling equivalent of the least impressive house on the best street – got superb reviews and sounded like a really ideal buy for me. The Liv, as a woman-specific frame, interests me, but truthfully I’m tall, stocky, and weigh as much as a fit guy my height, so that detail mattered less to me physiologically. While researching I also read a bit about Felt, a fantastic race bike series from the US; I got in touch with local dealers in nearby Dundas, Ontario and they chatted with me about custom group set options over Facebook.
In other words: I took my time. About a week, to be precise. Then I headed back to Andrew, and asked to take the R2 for a test drive.
2. Buying an expensive road bike is a big deal! Take it for a test ride. Take it for two test rides, in fact: one that mimics your commute, and one that mimics a training ride.
My first spin on the R2 was along the cycle paths that line the river between my house and my office. They are often busy with pedestrians, and they have some short, sharp hills that are great fun to punch. It was another sunny Saturday when I took the floor model R2 out onto the path and spent maybe 20 minutes in a commute-like doddle. I ended up having to portage around a small flood, to fight off some angry Canada geese, and then I punched the hill at the private school that leads back up to downtown and to the bike shop.
(A shot of a sunlit bike path in London, Ontario, with a yellow line dividing traffic and trees on either side. Think this, but more geese.)
I loved the feel of the bike on the hill; the compact cassette gave me all kinds of power, even in the big ring, and I knew this bike was a fab climber. But I found the reach awkward; I wasn’t sure the fit was as it was meant to be, based on the jig work we did in the shop. I queried Andrew; he dropped the handlebars further and I went out again. Again, it felt great. Again, the reach worried me.
I told him I needed to think a bit more and that I’d be back.
Our next club ride saw me spend some time in the peloton with the always lovely and helpful Paul and Allan, who reminded me that to know a bike is YOUR bike you need to really test it – take it out for 40, 50, 60km at least. Don’t rely on a commute test run, they said; take it for a proper spin. So, shortly after, L and I did just that. I grabbed the R2 from Andrew and we headed North-West out of town. The ride was hard into the wind, but fantastic on the way back. I was still having reach issues, but L assured me I was both looking much more comfortable on this bike than on my Ruby, and that I was obviously accelerating faster and more smoothly. This came to pay dirt on our local “heartbreak” hill, where I accelerated up past L and held him on my wheel until the summit. Normally, he’d be off like a flash past me; he’s four inches taller than me, and rides with a substantial drop, making him a very quick puncheur.
The next business day at the shop I told Andrew about the reach issue; he didn’t need to hear it, in fact, because he’d already talked to L and had a plan. We set the jig again, and he showed me what a difference a shorter stem would make; it felt great. We then ordered the bike: the colours I wanted (groovy grey and orange highlights!), the group set I preferred (the Shimano 105 – basic but solid, and it will allow me to upgrade as I wish, to whatever brand I wish, in a couple of years), a 90mm stem, ORANGE BAR TAPE (OMG!), and a gorgeous black Shimano crank. I paid, hugged Andrew wildly, and prepared for my new road adventures to begin.
(Time from first shop to arrival of bike: 3 weeks, all well spent. I left secure in my decision, and delighted with my new friend. Shown here: Freddie, complete, at the shop on the day I took her home.)
3. A new bike should fit like a glove. Take the time to get yourself a bike fit.
Remember above when I mentioned this thing called the “Retül jig”?
This is a Retül jig:
(Image of a black bike fit machine, with tall central saddle, handlebar jig, rear tire and chain set. Sort of like what they might ride in The Matrix…)
It’s a tool bike shops use to help you figure out the very best position for you on a bike – and thus the ideal specifications for any bike you buy. A custom bike fit can be expensive, but it’s worth it. Good bike shops like TO Wheels will put you on their jig and help you find an ideal, comfortable position with good power, but a custom fit is more involved: it’s usually up to 2 hours with a pro or two, and it’s designed to assess your current power output, position, and comfort level on your existing bike, and then it compares that against ideals.
I did my custom fit in March 2014 at Le Beau Velo in Shoreditch, London with Mal Pires and Jo McRae; they took loads of photos of me on my bike, on the jig, and in different positions, and afterward set my existing bike up as close to the ideal measurements they’d taken as possible. Then they sent me five pages of photos and data to use when purchasing a new bike.
This is the data Andrew used to set me up on the jig and tweak things for Freddie, and it’s the reason why my new bike is perfectly fitted to my body and to the ways I produce power. I’ve got a much, much more significant drop on this bike (drop = vertical distance from top of saddle to top of handlebars), my quads are positioned more vertically in relation to the pedal stroke, and the top tube of this bike is flatter, meaning my reach when I hold the hoods (the very top part of the handlebars, where you access the brakes) is shorter and easier on my mid-back and shoulder blades. When I stand to climb I can get up in one smooth movement, without having to heave up onto my quads, and I sit equally smoothly in one swift movement. I feel powerful and yet also easy and free on Freddie, and I move visibly more quickly compared to what I could do on Ruby. All thanks to custom data and a careful fit at purchase time.
4. A new bike should make you feel good in your heart. Pick the accessories you want so you can admire it!
ORANGE BAR TAPE. I asked, Andrew delivered. I love orange; it makes me happy on the greyest day. I knew I wanted orange, but it’s not the easiest colour in the world to get hold of for a frame; when I was cruising the options at TO Wheels it wasn’t lost on me, even before we talked data and options, that the R2 was available in a grey-orange combo.
Would I have turned the R2 down, after all that research, if I couldn’t have had the orange? Probably not. But the nice part is I didn’t have to worry; I realized I could accessorize the bike the way I wanted, adding colour at will. Andrew found me the gorgeous bar tape (EVERYONE compliments Freddie on her bar tape!), the mat black crank and water bottle cages for complementary styling, and now I am in the market for shiny orange bike shoes. When I climb onto Freddie with my Foxy Moxy gear on, lime green helmet, and orange vest, I feel terrific: stylish and fast and strong. That feeling carries over onto the hills and the flats, and I love it.
(Orange Giro cycling shoes with black accents. WANT.)
5. A new bike may give you the mental boost you need to say: yes, I CAN go faster. Embrace that!
My first club ride on Freddie was a windy, grey May Saturday, but wow did she attract attention! My pal Sue, the only other woman in the club who is a regular on Saturday tours, grabbed me and said, let’s go with the fast guys. Come on.
I said: ummm……
Freddie said: let’s do it!
So we did. Hard work into the wind on the way out but I did my turns at the front and hung on when at the back. At St Mary’s, we grabbed a quick bite and took right off again. Then it was tail winds the whole way home, and that’s when the fast guys opened it right up. Time for anxiety.
Brad, my Tuesday night ride friend, took care to make sure Sue and I were riding efficiently, drafting a lot and surging only when needed; Sue and I found it was not nearly as hard as we thought to stay with the guys. We made it the whole 95km, our average speed well above 30kph – a new record for me. And one I repeated two weeks later, when we barnstormed with the speedy dudes home from Ingersoll, riding an average of 40kph on the back 35km.
I KNOW. Like, insane fast.
What can I say? Freddie made me do it! Or, rather, Freddie showed me I had it in me all the time.
All I needed was a bike that was properly fitted to my frame and power profile, a heady new attitude, and the all important orange bar tape.