When I was picking up my new bike and clipless pedals, Joe the Store Manager highly recommended I practice clipping in and out before going on a ride. I’ve read a great deal about clipless riding. Two comments are almost universal: 1) you’ll love riding clipless and 2) you WILL fall down at some point. In order to lessen the frequency of comment #2, the wise person devises a way to practice in a safe setting before hitting the road. Joe suggested sitting on the bike in a door frame, thus allowing me to use my hands to steady myself while building some muscle memory in my feet. That seemed reasonable, however all of this prudent advice went out the door when I got home. The first thing I did was put on my shoes and head out on a 30 mile ride. I followed this up with a fast 13 miler as the sun set on Monday afternoon. Fortunately, I didn’t pay a price for my lack of practice. The bike and I returned in fine shape. Here are my initial impressions:
Speed. There is definitely a difference here. Despite the fact I hadn’t very much in the last three weeks and I was fiddling with the controls and getting to know my new bike, I set a personal best pace for my 30 mile route. The 16.8 mph average beat my old hybrid mark by .5 mph. Not terribly impressive, except I wasn’t going full-out and I was still fumbling with the shifters and my new pedals. The Trek has a faster acceleration and a slightly better top speed (example: with some effort – not max – I hit 36.5 mph on a local descent where my best-ever with the hybrid was 33 mph). With my hybrid, I felt like I was squeezing every last drop of performance out of the machine. The Trek leaves me feeling like it could do much more if I could only get my technique and fitness up to scratch. I see 18-19 mph paces in my near future.
Comfort. The hybrid is clearly the more comfortable ride. After all, that is one of the things it is designed to do. But the Trek wasn’t THAT far behind it in this category. Part of my problem is the more aggressive riding position caused me to use different arm, shoulder, and back muscles than I am used to. That should improve over time. The carbon fork does a fair job of dampening road vibrations, but you definitely “feel the road” more with the Trek and the Crosstrail.
Clipless Pedals. I didn’t get the immediate positive feedback I heard other riders describe with their first experience. This is probably because I was riding a brand new bike and therefore there was no “previous performance” to compare it with. I also think I need to improve my pedaling technique. Unless I concentrated on “pulling on the upstroke,” I tended to revert to habits formed over 1,200 miles of flat pedal riding. When I was doing it properly, I could feel the faster acceleration for my effort. It just wasn’t awe-inspiring. I would call it “nice.” I only came close to falling over once – when I was near the end of my 30 miler and suffering from a bit of fatigue, the shoe didn’t unclip easily for me. Another second or two and I would have been a goner. I did have a couple embarrassing moments when I fumbled trying to clip back in. No worries; I’d rather bruise my ego than damage my brand new bike!
Riding Technique. There’s a lot to learn and a lot to unlearn. Shifting with “brifters” is new to me because they weren’t even invented when I last owned a road bike. There is also a “micro adjustment” capability on the front deraillur which helps move it a tick when you are about to start cross-chaining. The handle bars are narrower than my hybrid, so I often felt like I was choking the center of the handle bar. Even the gearing was different – the Trek has a double crank vice the triple on my hybrid (meaning only two front sprockets instead of three). There are TEN sprockets on the rear cassette instead of seven. By the way, this subtle change makes me look cooler to hard-core cyclists. If you already know this, then I don’t need to explain why. If you don’t know why, my explanation would only cause you to roll your eyes and shake your head at the silly ways cyclists differentiate the cool from the un-cool. I even had problems with 20-year-old muscle memory. My old road bike had brake levers which could be reached from the top part of the handle bar. I have discovered that this very common feature has long ago been abandoned and virtually no bikes have brakes levers of that sort today. Consequently, I found myself reaching for levers that weren’t there. It’s interesting what habits stick with you, even when you don’t have cause to use them for years on end…
So the early reviews are quite favorable, as I expected them to be. The real value of this bike won’t be proven for some time. It will either still be working or it will begin to fall apart after 600 miles, like my first bike. Stay tuned!