It was just for six miles, and it was wet, and cold, and fairly horrible, but I did want to try my new Domane 4.5, or four-and-a-half, as I like to call it.
I’d been at work all day, and the weather had been fine. I mean, a little windy, but sunny, which meant (I thought) that the roads had a decent chance of being fairly dry – notwithstanding the amount of rain we’ve been having, and the saturated ground. Because of all the rain, I think there is actually a little less mud on the road than might be usual, simply because it keeps getting washed away.
Or maybe I was kidding myself.
Anyway, sixteen miles away, back home, and the weather had been entirely different, although I didn’t know that when I set out. It looked the same, in the sky.
There was some housekeeping to do first. The seat post was a little loose, so I tightened that. A little nervous about that, because now I’ve got a carbon frame, I’m worried that every nut I tighten will shatter the material.
I eyeballed the set up of the bike: the height of the saddle seems about right in comparison with my old bike, that position having been arrived at after much trial and error. I attached my excellent QuadLock iPhone holder, ready to record this historic first ride for posterity in Cycle Meter. I slid my mini pump into my back pocket, and dressed in my winter kit. No headphones because I wanted to hear the bike as I changed gear etc.
So, a short ride, at the end of a working day, on horrible wet roads. Had I but known, it had been hailing just before I arrived home, so the road was soaked: lots of puddles, and my new machine got splashed and muddy.
Is it lighter?
Well, yes. Noticeably lighter than my aluminium-framed 1.2. The wheels are lighter, as is the frame. It’s about 2kg lighter all-round, but of course, the biggest weight on the bike, as ever, is on the saddle. So I wouldn’t say the whole package was noticeably easier to move. The bike felt light and sure-footed underneath me, but I was much more aware of my own mass being a drag on progress. One side effect of a carbon frame, I immediately find, is that you just notice where the weight is: in this case, obviously from the 11-speed cassette at the rear. You begin to understand how one might become obsessive about shaving grams: a few here, a few there. But there’s no getting away from the 90kg lump riding it, and the message, as always, is that a couple of kilos off the belly is worth another £1000 or so.
Is it more comfortable?
Yes. Of course you’re still going to notice actual pot-holes, but the rippled and rough surface of a general road, especially country lanes, was much less intrusive. The bike felt stable, and I wasn’t really aware of any flexing, and my hands and arms were not rattled to pieces. How much of the benefit was down to frame and how much to the air cushioning offered by an extra 2mm in the diameter of the tyres, I don’t know. Even the Affinity 2 saddle (which is earmarked to be changed) wasn’t too bad. I did get a bit of back ache, but that is mostly down to a winter’s inactivity, I think. There may be some tweaks necessary in saddle position and my posture. From what I’ve read, I admit I was expecting to feel I was in a much more upright position due to the higher headset, but it’s a matter of millimetres, a subtle difference only. It may pay off on longer rides, but even six miles after so much nothing was going to hurt a bit.
What about the gears?
Shimano Ultegra is just below Dura Ace in the hierarchy, and just above 105. In terms of manual shifting, it’s a level off what the pros have, but (give or take electronic shifters) broadly equivalent to a professional’s drive train of a couple of years ago, due to the way the technology trickles down from year-to-year. Now, I’ve been used to Shimano Sora and Tiagra components, and I’ve skipped the rite-of-passage represented by the “fairly decent” 105 option. I have to say, the shifting was a revelation to me. So little clunk, so much less effort required to shift a gear, and so quiet! Even front shifting, jumping from 50 to 34 and back, is accomplished with a simple burr-thwick sound. And the rear shifting is just a simple click, achieved with a flick of the thumb or fingers. It’s so easy that when I pushed the shifter as hard as I used to on my 1.2, I think I shifted about seven gears in one go. I almost feel guilty, as in not-worthy, to have such good gears. A bigger worry is that these high-end components are going to need the kind of TLC that I’m too lazy to give.
I upgraded from the standard bar to an IsoZone model, the cheaper of the two available (Race Lite). It has a couple of pads on it. The bar tape is fairly cushioned, and I was wearing winter gloves. I can’t say the bar caused any discomfort. I actually hate wearing winter gloves, and I do usually suffer some palm discomfort in them, but not on this first ride. So a qualified thumbs up to that. The Bontrager Race wheels are a step up from the stock standard wheels on my 1.2, but I don’t think I’m in the kind of league where I could feel a difference.
Was it faster?
It felt a bit faster, though I’m so out of condition, I’m hardly going very fast this early in the season. I had to exercise caution on the wet roads, too, so I don’t think I was going particularly quick, even for me. Unfortunately, my phone decided to go completely flat instead of recording my ride, so I’ve no idea of the actual speed. When I set out, it was on 60%, but it collapsed and died within minutes of launching CycleMeter.
Another reason to hate iOS 7, I think.
More bike bore stuff to come.