If you were to make a list of all the places you’d like to
go and ride your bike, Las Vegas is probably not at the top of your list.
However, faced with the prospect of riding some of the world’s most desirable
bicycles, the Interbike Outdoor Demo has the ability to draw thousands of bike
industry employees to hot, dusty canyon and keep them excited for the whole
day. Faced with so many options, making a choice can be difficult, so the best
policy can be to highlight a few must-rides and then just grab whatever else is
For 2011, Felt Bicycles has redesigned its popular F-series
frame. The Garmin-Transitions team began riding the new bike late this spring;
you may have seen some in action at the Tour de France. While the company
didn’t have F1s to ride, the F2 was on hand for testing. It’s an impressive
bike. It is produced in the same mold as the F1 and uses the same construction
methods; the difference is in some of the material used. The upshot is that
while the F1 is an ultra-stiff 800g frame (in a 56cm), the F2 is only 50g
heavier and has a nearly identical ride.
I knew that Felt did good work, but I was shocked by the
ride quality of the F2. It’s better than some companies’ top-of-the-line model.
The first thing I noticed on the bike was just how great the road feel was. It
was sensitive without delivering too much vibration. The handling was
ultra-crisp and precise and the frame was among the stiffest I’ve ever ridden.
I can’t think of many bikes that offer such a compelling combination of great
road feel with this much stiffness.
Obviously, I needed to go check out the Specialized Tarmac
SL3. While I rode this bike last year, I wanted to be able to compare/contrast
it against the F2 and came to the conclusion that buying either one will result
in unparalleled satisfaction. The Tarmac SL3 is one of those benchmark bikes;
with Specialized dealers being so plentiful, anyone considering a new bike
should test ride one just to have a clear idea of what a great carbon fiber
road bike can deliver. The best bikes feature great stiffness and nimble
geometry, but do so without sacrificing road feel. Carbon doesn’t need to feel
dead and the folks at both Felt and Specialized get this.
Next was the Roubaix SL3, which is still the category killer
in the grand touring segment. My belief is that this is the appropriate road
bike for most non-racing roadies. Though it comes set up with the bar fairly
high, it’s not hard to fit the bike with a somewhat more aggressive position. Its
great strength is for those who want a comfortable position but aren’t willing
to sacrifice performance.
The name Chris King is best known for the creme de la creme
of headsets. Long before he ever made headsets, he was a frame builder in Santa
Barbara, California. Recently he revived his bikes and the name he used back
then—Cielo Cycles. They are hand built steel bikes and with each size both the
head tube angle and fork rake vary in concert, resulting in consistent trail.
No matter what size bike you purchase, the handling is identical. Stiffness was
remarkable. Yes, it was heavier than the carbon fiber bikes, but if you’re
considering steel, “weight weenie” is probably not your middle name. The ride
quality was something you only get from steel—sensitivity without rattling you.
And the handling was precise and quick—put another way, responsive without
being twitchy. One of the best steel bikes I have ridden in years.
I rode Cervelo’s R3SL for the first time and the bike I
tried was equipped with Rotor Rings. Immediately, I noticed a few things.
Cervelo has got stiffness dialed. This bike is in the same class of stiffness
as the Tarmac SL3 and F2. The R3SL was quick handling, but I didn’t have the
sense that it had the same edge in steering that I get from some other bikes;
that said I was on a smallish bike and the bar was pretty low, so I had a lot
of weight on the front wheel, which will slow down handling. A better fit would
likely result in a slight change in my perception. The Rotor Rings weren’t
disturbing as I feared. At higher cadences they really weren’t bothersome, but
at low cadences, the bike felt smoother the more I made my pedal stroke boxy.
Last bike of the day was the Trek Madone 6.0. Trek continues
to make incremental improvements to their bikes, meaning that whatever your
experience was two years ago, it’s not the experience you’ll have today. The
Madone 6.0 is a stiffer, more sensitive bike than it was previously and its
handling is at the sharp edge of aggressive. It’s a great choice for the crit
master who wants to negotiate holes before they open.
There are plenty of assorted attractions at the Outdoor
Demo, but it seems a waste to spend your time doing something other than riding
as many bikes as possible. When else do you get a chance like this?