Becoming a roadie hugmybike introduction to road bikes

At the start of every Tour the France I promised myself I would some time by a road bike. One time I actually bought narrow slick tires for my mountainbike, but I wanted a road bike for two decades without actually buying one.

That changed in 2014. Well actually it changed in 2011. After a car crash where I broke my leg quite badly, I promised myself that I would finally get a road bike once I recovered. Two and a half years after the accident I bought it.

Yes, a Cannondale again. Actually I had the preconception that a road bike is only a road bike if it is Italian, but after some trying, reading, more trying and more reading, I ended up with Cannondale again. The geometry of the Synapse (endurance-oriented) fitted perfectly.

I tried the new model (2014), but found the 2013-model to ride much nicer. I know that all the numbers, all the reviews and opinions say the newer model is a better bike, but I really didn't feel it. The 2013-model was a high modular carbon frame and had slightly better wheels, but the way it felt on the test rides was much better. It felt less sluggish. To be sure the difference wasn't just down to wheels and carbon-type I also tested a much more expensive 2014 high mod model, but it still didn't feel as 'fresh' as the older one.

My reasoning was, that the old model was a race-bike adapted for the grand fondo's and cobble classics: a little more give in the fork and rear triangle to take out road vibrations and clearance for a little wider tyres. The 2014 model was a brand new design. The focus was on a plush ride. This ment the whole frame was designed to absorb more vibrations from the start. Although according to the marketing it was stiffer, better, stronger, faster and more plush, I still didn't like it as much as the outgoing model.

I must add, that since then I have ridden a 2014 high mod with SRAM Red22, Super light and stiff Mavic Ksyrium SL wheels, being about 800 grams lighter than my bike and yes: this one feels nimble, quick and direct and also - I've got to admit - stiffer with more plush.

Of course some upgrades were needed, starting with a new crankset. This was all about looks. I had fallen for the looks of the Cannondale SiSL2 and made a deel with the local bike store when I bought the bike.

I just love the one-piece spidering. It is very transparent, showing the frame and giving a feeling of lightness.

Well, it is not just a feeling. It actually is very light. You will never notice the difference while riding, but still it is lighter.

After that, wheels were the next upgrade. I went for Mavic Ksyrium SL Premium.

It was a used set, but in very good condition. I don't know about the exact year since Mavic tends to change the color of the decals and call it a new model, but it must be something like 2012 or 2013.

I also added new skewers. These are the Tune DC14. They are quite light, weighing in at 34 grams for the set, saving a surprising 90 grams compared to the Mavic skewers.

With that I added a couple more flourishes like coloured screws for the derailleurs and bottle cages, a golden chain, Jagwie Elite Link shifting cables, blue cable ends and stuff like that.

One major upgrade I did after crankset and wheels were handle bars.

I had tried a couple different bars, but didn't like the shape. Also I wanted to try carbon bars to mute out road vibrations even more. After doing some research I ended up with the offering of Thomson. The production process is slightly different to what is common with carbon drop bars making these a true one-piece construction. Also by using a special bladder to go inside the tubes while baking the carbon, the finishing of the inside is much cleaner, making the carbon less prone to wrinkling and delamination of the carbon resulting in a lighter and stronger handle bar.

Fitting a new handle bar looks something like this:

After a while I changed the bar tape to something slightly thinner.

Cannondale SuperSix EVO

After putting 6000km on the Synapse I wanted a road bike with a more agressive geometry. Not as a replacement, but as an extra option depending on what kind of a ride I had in mind. By now I was quite convinced a lot of test rides would probably put me on a Cannondale anyway, so I didn't bother and went straight to my trusted local bike shop and negotiated a deal on a Cannondale SuperSix EVO.

I got this one as it comes out of the factory to the bike shop: in a box and half assembled. I really liked that, because usually I want to change some stuff anyway.

First I wanted the sky blue frame because it was quite eye catching, but after looking at it a couple of times it started to loose its novelty and I figured I would be better off with a black frame. I like it for its understated looks. Not shouting "I am a fast bike!"

I am a fan of Jagwire cables. They are slick inner cables and the outer cables are nice and flexible but do not compress so shifting is precise and cables run smoothly.

I got this bike in august 2015 and used it on a couple of night-rides.

I enjoy this time of day. This picture was taken on a Friday evening. I drove over the levy from Zwolle to Deventer (NL) and there are a lot of scattered houses and farms along this levy and everyone seemed to have a barbecue on. A really nice atmosphere to be riding a bike.

I did those night-rides quite often over the next few weeks. It was a nice ending of the summer.

For lighting I use a Cateye Rapid X rear light and a Xeccon Geinea II front light with external battery pack.

The front light has the effect of daylight. It is extremely bright with its three cree XM-L LED's. It gives out 2500 Lumen. The only downside - for road use anyway - is that the light is spread out in three completely symmetrical cone shapes. The light beam therefore is very spread out. For night time mountain biking this is great: you see absolutely everything, also branches above you, which can be useful. For road use not so much. The light is spread in every direction, meaning that oncoming traffic can sometimes be slightly annoyed with you.

Fortunately at night there isn't that much traffic anyway, secondly I tend to use the less traveled roads and then, in the rare case of an oncoming car or cyclist, I would screen off part of the light beam with my hand.

One other thing I did to the EVO was fitting it with Rotor Q-rings. I read a lot about it. Some people swear by it, some people absolutely hate them, others said they don't make any difference and then there were some who actually thought they were becoming faster and more efficient cyclists.

I remember biopace that Shimano introduced back in the day and this was an absolute disaster. A knee-busting pain inducing inefficient way of putting oval shaped chainrings on bikes. Reading some comments on the Q-Rings I realized not everyone had gotten over the trauma of biopace yet. I however was willing to give it a try.

They were 15 grams lighter than the FSA rings the bike came with. Not something I was ever going to notice quite as much as for example the extra two kilo's after a week long holiday in Germany a couple of weeks earlier.

It takes some adjusting and getting used to, but here is what I found:

By mounting the rings in different positions you can change the position of the largest diameter of the rings relative to the crank arm, meaning you can change at which position you have maximum leverage. Lining this up with the position where your legs have maximum power is basically what you want to do. You start in position 3, that's the middle. It runs from 1 to 5.

First you need to put some kilometers down to get used to it and during those km's you pay attention to your knees and cadence. Those are the main parameters to decide wether you need to rotate the rings forwards or backwards, going to either position 2 or 4. I tried both, but found 3 to be working best for me.

So what's the verdict? I like them. I must say that the difference is subtle but in accelerating or riding uphill I feel my pedal stroke is more efficient and feels lighter, being less straining to the knees. The EVO is my only bike I equipped with the Q-Rings and switching back and forth between round and oval rings doesn't make a big difference to me. At really long rides I sometimes think I feel slightly less fatigue in my legs, but there are so many different factors at play, that I wouldn't put it down to the Q-Rings.

I rode the EVO in any circumstance throughout the autumn and winter

Through storms

On gritted roads

More gritted roads...

I actually used throughout the year in all kinds of weather. Always cleaning it thoroughly afterwards.

Only the best for my frame: Swissvax Onyx Canuba wax.

Not everything survived the thrashing. First to go was the bottom bracket. After about 2000km it developed a nasty creak and as it turns out, it had already eaten into the shells that are pressed into the frame in which the BB30 bearings sit. Not good. My trusted local bike shop replaced everything at no cost. Thanks again.

Most likely it was a manufacturing defect I have to add. BB30 bearings tend to wear quite fast, but the never actually eat into the shell they sit in. There must have been some fitment issue with either shell or bearing.

Something else gave way a little later: the rear rim.

Coincidentally I noticed it after I had lent out my EVO to a friend, who owns a Synapse and wanted to know how a Supersix geometry would fit him. He is not a heavy guy so I suspect the beginnings of the crack were already there.Of course I blamed him for it anyway...

just kidding.

It gave me the opportunity to research the world of carbon wheels. I looked at a couple of potential candidates.

Here is what I think of it: First of all disgard every fake far-east rip-off. It is potentially your life you are hanging in the balance for a couple of euro's. A failing wheel is extremely dangerous and it usually never fails at low speed.

Secondly ask yourself the question what kind of money you want to spend on a wheel set. A good rule of thumb for me is: If you can't replace it, don't race it. You can spend over €4000 on a set of Lightweight Meilenstein or if you keep an eye out for a good deal you can pick up a good set for around €1200.

Thirdly it is a good idea to really think about what you are going to use the wheels for. Do you ride mostly on flats or more on mountainous or hilly roads? This will determine whether weight is something to consider or just keep an eye on. Also the windiness of the places you ride most may influence your decision. A higher cross section rim is usually more aerodynamic, but there often is a weight penalty and they are - depending on rim profile - more susceptible to crosswinds. If you ride mostly in hilly or mountainous terrain the actual height (or depth if you wish) of the rim doesn't make any difference to how fast you will climb. That's just down to the weight. On downhills though you can have a real benefit from more aerodynamic wheels. That is if you like to really go fast.

Lastly there is the choice between tubulars and clinchers. Mostly for amateurs this is not really something to consider. You just go with clinchers because of price, ease of installing and the fact you can quickly change an inner tube on the road side in case of a flat. With carbon rims there is something else to consider. Clinchers ask quite a lot from the rim. The edges have to be strong enough to withstand the outward pushing force of the tyre under pressure and then have to be able to handle the heat when braking hard for prolonged periods (e.g. long descends). Because more material is used to handle the pressure of the tyre, the rim dissipates heat less well. If we are really honest a carbon is not a suitable material for clinchers, then.

Here a tubular wheel has a big advantage because the tyre is containing the pressure itself and does not put any force on the side walls of the rim. Therefore the rim can concentrate on handling heat. This is the main reason why tubular wheels are significantly lighter. There is a point to be made to go for deep(ish) section tubular wheels: you get the aerodynamic benefits without the weight penalty and in downhills you don't have to worry too much about overheating the rims. And then there is the ride quality that is supposedly better on tubulars, due to the softer sidewalls that can be used.

Well, I live in the Netherlands and hills here are speed humps, dikes and bridges. The extra cost and inconvenience of tubulars for me didn't outweigh the benefits, so I set my eyes on clinchers. And the point I made about carbon not being suitable for clinchers has been engineered to a side note by the latest itterations of carbon clinchers. My shortlist contained the following sets: Zipp 404 firecrest, Enve SES 4.5 and Vision Metron 55.

Money no object I would have liked the Enve's. I am not a great fan of the look of the dimples on the Zipp's and I managed to get a great deal on a set of Vision Metron 55's.

How do I like them so far (approx. 500 km's in)?

Well, they are great. The hub-design is well thought out and they roll very smoothly. I fitted them with Schwalbe One 25mm tires and the ride is very comfortable and it holds the road extremely well in corners. I think this is down to the wider rim bed, that makes the tires sit more squarely and therefore don't allow for a lot of sideway deflection in corners.

What about sensitivity to crosswinds?

I mainly ride in the Netherlands and that is effectively a guaranty for wind. Even on the Ksyriums I noticed this, quite violently on occasions. I prepared myself for a little swerving on the first ride and actually was quite amazed. Yes, the do catch crosswinds, but the way it feels is so much more controllable than on the Ksyriums, I was a bit blown away (sorry, about that). The Ksyriums have pretty wide aero-spokes, that act as a sail and the blunt profile of the Visions make the way these wheels handle wind so predictable, I would like to argue, that the Visions are better wheels in windy conditions.

I suppose a set of Vision metron 40 would do an even better job, but still. I think technology like CFD and windtunnel testing do work. Of course it is all theoretical, not able to take into account the fact that wind is never steady, what happens if you drive along a tree-lined road where the wind is interrupted by the trees, all that stuff that you will encounter in real live (unless you bought this wheel to use on your home trainer).

I must say, before this I was a bit of a non-believer, thinking that the aerodynamic benefits of wheels (compared to body position and clothes, which are much more influential) would not be noticeable and that a lighter wheel would ALWAYS be better. Period. Well, I guess it's not just marketing when you see every single pro riding on deep section wheels, even in the mountains.

So far about my road bike experiences. I will keep trying stuff out, testing components and intend to write about it from time to time.

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