In thinking about my feeble legs and slow pace, I’ve neglected to discuss the actual bike, and how I’m getting on with it. It has only been in the last few weeks that I’ve spent serious amounts of time on it.
It was after struggling up these hills on my old bike that I determined that, if I were able, I would get myself a new one for this year.
We won’t dwell much on the weight. A lighter carbon frame and lighter race wheels mean that this bike is lighter than the old one, but the rider isn’t. Suffice it to say that in spite of being much lighter, it doesn’t feel skittish or vulnerable to being blown off course by head- or crosswinds.
My feet are much more comfortable now, in the wide-fitting shoes and with the Time pedals and cleats. I’ve also suffered much less from back pain since I adjusted my riding style. Even my hip isn’t giving me much gyp, so the whole experience of riding has improved since the bike fitting. My biggest problem now is with my hands, which is largely down to gripping too tight around the hoods and not being relaxed enough in my riding posture. If I could achieve a relaxed style, I would probably fix any lingering back problems, too. I’ve noticed that gloves that are too loose get really uncomfortable on longer, sweatier rides, so I’ve a pair that will be relegated to lawnmower duty or the bin.
In terms of the clever design of the Trek’s frame, and its ability to absorb bumps in the road, it’s one of those things you have to force yourself to notice. You really do only feel the very biggest bumps in your backside (inadvertent potholes, manhole covers etc), and the rest of the time it feels very smooth. It struck me today as I descended a fairly bumpy road that the bike feels much more secure in situations like this, feeling planted on the road surface rather than jittering all over the place. I’m sure I hit at least one bump, hidden in the dappled light of the woods, that would have seen me flying into a ditch on the old bike, but the Domane stayed planted on the road.
Fantastic. Whenever I’ve needed them, they’ve been there, predictable, progressive, and assured. When I’m on the drops, I do find it a bit of a stretch to reach the levers, though.
Shimano Ultegra has been a revelation to me. If you’ve been asking yourself if the extra money is worth it, I can assure you that it is. Even after several months, even with me in charge of them, the gear changes remain smooth and undramatic, achieved with a bare tap on the shifter. Because of my well documented feet problems, I’ve adopted a high-cadence riding style, and I like to keep my legs spinning, without feeling like I’m putting undue pressure on the pedals. The Ultegra shifting means you can go up one and down one all day long without breaking rhythm and without fear. My previous bike had Tiagra, so I’ve entirely skipped the rite-de-passage of Shimano 105 in favour of the next grade up, so I don’t know how Ultegra compares to the more common 105, but I don’t really care. If you can afford it, go for Ultegra.
Charge Spoon saddle remains in place, and I’m generally happy with it. I’d love to try something fancy like a Brooks Cambium, but I’ve no real complaints about the Spoon, which looks especially good on my bike (see above).
I paid extra for the slightly padded Race Lite Isozone bar, and with the fairly padded bar tape, you could probably quite happily ride this bike without padded gloves. On the other hand, as I mentioned above, my hands are now the main source of pain, due to my tense grip. I probably don’t move around the bars as much as I used to, because I’m conscious of not wanting to adopt a more upright position, lest it gets my back hurting again.
I’ve only experienced cheaper, heavier entry-level wheels and these Race ones. Bontrager obviously have several ranges above these (Race Lite, Race X Lite etc). The bog standard Race seem okay. As with the saddle, I’d love to experiment with some of the much vaunted light ones, like the Bontrager Aeolus 5, which is supposedly their best climbing wheel, but I don’t have a spare £2000 right now. So I’ll stick with these. I can’t imagine spending as much again on wheels as the bike cost, unless I win the lotto.