August 14, 2011
I recently bought my first new road bike in 10 years. When I lived in NYC, I biked pretty seriously, and whether it meant laps around Central Park (a 6-mile loop with one pretty steep hill – but with the hazards of rollerbladers, unleashed dogs, and unleashed children all along the way); or a 75-mile round trip across the George Washington Bridge, north through Jersey back into New York State, past Nyack, and home again; I loved riding. I even dressed the part.
Then we moved to Los Angeles. Biking in NYC always seemed weirdly safe because there are so many hazards for car drivers that they tend to be pretty aware. It always felt more likely that I’d run over a toddler than get hit by a car. When we got to LA, though, biking felt suicidal. Nobody is watching for pedestrians while they drive, because there are no pedestrians. Nobody walks in LA unless they’re homeless, and biking is even less popular than walking (maybe because the homeless rarely have bikes). So, I stopped biking.
Then we moved to Austin, famous for Lance Armstrong, and thought by many to be cyclist friendly. I’ll admit that I never tested that assumption, but it never seemed safe to me. When a half-dozen deer were killed every season by cars on our residential street — a street with a 30 mph speed limit — that doesn’t say to me “drivers are paying attention.” So, still no biking.
When we moved back to the northeast this summer, I decided that I wanted to ride again. Many people here use bikes as their primary means of transportation, and there are bike lanes on most major roads, so it seemed reasonably safe. (More on that in a minute.) Plus, I missed riding.
I think that if you love road biking, you really love road biking. There isn’t much of an in-between. If you’re willing to wear spandex shorts in public, you probably love road biking. Most people, though, think road biking is ridiculous, with its bent-over posture and clipless pedals. I once told John Corigliano that I’d just finished a 70 mile ride that took about four hours, and he said, “that sounds like a tremendous waste of energy.” But when I’m on a bike, it’s like I’m seven years old again, marveling at the speed I can propel my own body. I’m not good at sports that require hand-eye coordination, but put me on a bike, climbing a hill, and I will crush you, or at least I’ll have fun trying. (But please, don’t expect me to catch a ball. I can bike up a hill because of sheer will, but no amount of will can result in suddenly being able to catch a ball or shoot a basket.)
It turns out that biking in Boston is actually not the safest thing in the world. Less than a week into ownership of my new bike, I was doored. I was riding past my bike shop, so I was going slow, wondering who was working outside, when a car door opened right in front of me. I remember yelling an expletive, but I don’t remember hitting the door. The next thing I knew, I was on the ground, in the middle of the road, thinking, “oh god – my bike, is my bike okay?” while a city garbage truck was hard-braking to avoid running over me.
As luck would have it, the guy who doored me was on his way into the same bike shop, because he’s a bike rep. My front wheel was trashed – spokes everywhere – and my fork was chipped. Other than that, the bike was fine. The guy who doored me – Paul was his name, nice fellow it turns out – offered to cover any expenses associated with the bike. (I’m not sure he realized at that moment how generous this was.) I was moderately banged up, but basically okay, all things considered. It’s weird what shock does to you. All I could think was, “my new bike. Oh god, my new bike,” and it probably took about 15 minutes before the adrenaline started to wear off, and I realized that “holy sh*t… ow.” My right shoulder was scratched, two fingers on my right hand were badly cut, my left elbow was scratched, and my left hip looked (and felt) like I’d been kicked by a horse. I can’t imagine how I managed to bang up both sides of my body, since I literally have no memory of the impact. It’s like my brain said, “hey, we might die right now, and I’m going to channel all of our power into surviving, so I’m going to need to disengage our memory for just a sec.” Anyway, I’m fine, the bike is fixed (new wheel, new fork), and I’m riding a little further from parked cars now.
So, the bike. I figured, if I’m only going to get a new bike once every 10 years, why not go nuts? Full carbon, electronic shifting, total weight: 15 pounds. There will be a lot of nerdy bike details in a moment, and it may not be super exciting if you don’t love road bikes. Hopefully the pictures will be pretty, though.
The bike is the Specialized S-Works Roubaix SL3 Di2. Di2 refers to the Dura Ace Di2 electronic shifting. (The bike lives indoors – but usually downstairs, not next to the bar cart.)
It’s named for the Paris-Roubaix, an annual road bike race in northern France, known for its exceptionally difficult and dangerous conditions, as it goes over many cobblestone sections that are rough, often slick (you should watch this race in the rain sometime), and hell on both the bike and the rider. Specialized designed this bike specifically for the challenges of that race – it needed to be fast, but also forgiving – and for three consecutive years, the winner of that race has won on a Specialized Roubaix just like mine. (That is not the proper front wheel, by the way. I took this picture while I was waiting on my replacement wheel. My bike shop – Ace Wheelworks – can’t say enough good stuff about them, particularly Colin, who fit the bike, and Jerry, who built it – loaned me this wheel while I waited for the replacement.)
The standard wheels are Shimano Dura-Ace tubeless carbon. Carbon is extremely light, and also rides smooth. These tubeless wheels are like car tires, in that (as the name implies) they have no inner tube. Super smooth, quiet, and fast.
Pedals are Speedplay X/1 titanium.
The frame is full carbon.
The shifting is electronic. You still push a button to change gears, but it’s not like a traditional bike, where pushing a lever pulls a cable to change the gear. With electronic shifting, you touch a button – like clicking a mouse – and a small motor changes the gear for you. It changes the gear perfectly every time, and because there’s no cable that can stretch over time, the gears don’t need to be adjusted. Every thousand miles or so, you just need to charge the battery. You can see the battery between the bottle cages. (The bottom bracket uses ceramic bearings, and the crankset is carbon.)
Here’s another shot of the front derailleur. This derailleur, because it’s electronic, will “trim” to match the angle of the chain when you shift to one extreme or the other on the rear derailleur. This means your chain will not rub against the front derailleur if you’re on the big ring in the front, and the left-most gear in the back. It’s pretty sweet to shift the rear derailleur hear the electronic sound of the front derailleur automatically angling itself ever-so-slightly to match.
Here’s the rear derailleur.
A tiny indicator light near the handlebars tells you when it’s time to charge the battery. I’ve had the bike for a month, and even took it on a few heavy-shifting hilly rides in the Berkshire mountains, but haven’t had to charge the battery yet.
A detail shot showing the shifter and brake.
All cabling – brakes and shifting – is internal.
Here’s the saddle that I briefly rode. It was pretty.
Here’s the bike today, now with the correct front wheel. (This is actually the 2012 model of the wheel; the back wheel is the 2011.) You can see that I also have a different saddle now. The last saddle was really uncomfortable. (I don’t like kids *, and don’t want to make any, but I want that choice to be mine, not determined by my bike seat.) This saddle is great, but not as pretty as the old white one. A new white saddle that will fit properly is on the way. Seriously: be sure you have a proper saddle. People often think that they don’t like biking because the seat hurts, but that usually just means you don’t have a good saddle.
* some kids are okay. Amelia Newman is turning out pretty well.
For camera-heads, most of these pictures are from the Canon 50mm f/1.4 lens. That last shot was with the Canon 85mm f/1.2 L II lens. For contrast, here’s a shot at 16mm from the 16-35mm f/2.8 L II – just ’cause it makes the saddle look ridiculously high.
I love this thing. If it were a car, it would be a Tesla Roadster. It is crazy light – 15 pounds! – and so fast and smooth. Riding it feels like riding a bullet over glass. The only thing slowing me down now is my own lack of strength. Oh, and car doors.