Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Steeds of Roubaix: The Sleeper

I figured that the bike I rode for the Clarence Rockland Classic and the Almonte Roubaix deserved a little write up given that it suited both races very well and that it is very different from most of the bikes I saw at either race. Have you ever been in between jobs? Girl/Boyfriends? Apartments? I’m currently in between bikes. I sold my True North Custom Club Racer in anticipation of a Steelwool all road rig sort of similar to Matt’s. While I wait, Matt graciously lent me his Pinarello Cyclocross bike, nicely kitted with a hodge-podge of parts that all work very well together. I won’t bore you with details but will just say that everything works perfectly. The shifters, brakes, wheels and drivetrain function just as they should, zero complaints. I guess this baby’s been around the block once or twice or three times or…you get the idea, handed down from cross racer to budding cross racer over the years. This gave me instant warm and fuzzies. What I love most about this bike is how old and slow it looks and how fast it can be, given the right conditions. Dare I borrow a term from the hot rod lexicon and call this bike a “sleeper”. Does the old Pinarello fit in the “Ugly” category? Some might think so, but it is certainly not in the “Bad” category. Oh no this here is “Good”. Very good.

What makes it sing is the frame. Standard diameter Columbus Nemo steel tubing (according to Matt) rattle-can painted bright orange. It’s a titch big for me; I’m a square 56, this is a 57 TT, 58 ST. I guess I end up with what Competitive Cyclist calls The French Fit. Hey I’m French (mostly) so why not? With a 100mm stem this suits me fine. What is striking at first glance is how steep the head angle is. This scared me a little at first being a timid descender. I was afraid that this combined with the flexiness (is that a word?) of the skinny tubes would cause the handling to be too quick and wiggle on fast descents. I was half right. The steering is so quick that you only need to think about turning in any one direction for the bike to instantly dive into a turn. This proved to be VERY useful for avoiding potholes and rocks that suddenly appear when racing in a pack on nasty gravel roads. But what about the high speed wiggle? Well, it does wiggle but not at speed. I have not been able to ride this bike no hands for any length of time and I have to be going fairly quickly to ride with one hand. Otherwise I get a wicked side to side shimmy that amplifies the longer I let it go. (it’s kinda fun to watch and is always a crowd pleaser) But surprise! I have found my downhill wings on this frame. I was able to fly down all the descents at both races with more comfort than I ever had on my old road bike. I can just let it go and feel good about where it will take me. Why is that? I’m guessing it’s due to the skinny, thin walled tubes matching my skinny thin walled body. Maybe also because the frame is slightly big for me? I wish I could elaborate. I should add that I am running 28 Grand Bois tire in the back and a 30 in the front. The larger front tire has added a small but noticeable amount of pneumatic trail which has added to the stability at speed.

Steep! But in the end not scary.

Plenty of clearance Clarence

Matt mentioned “planing”. This bikes planes in spades. Someone (I forget who) noted that during the Clarence Rockland Classic I looked totally relaxed on the rough roads. (true dat) In fact, the moment whatever group I was in would transition to gravel, the others seemed to ease the pace while I felt perfectly fine going the same speed. I made my biggest gains on the gravel where I often pulled away in comfort from riders on carbon cross frames with whom I could just keep up on the road. As for climbing, during the Roubaix Recon ride, I noted how if I grabbed and pulled onto the front of the bars with my thumbs around the hoods and moved my butt forward on the saddle, I would fly up the steepest climbs the course had to offer. I could leave the bike in a medium gear and just row the bike up the hill- in a sort of half-seated, half-standing position on the nose of the saddle, pedaling smoothly and slightly rocking fore and aft. I wish I had the same legs for the race the following week (alas not so).

I wouldn’t call this a sprinty bike but I am not a sprinty rider so it suits me fine. Yes it’s flexy, but who says that is a bad thing? The woods section at the end of the Roubaix course proved that a quick handling flexy flyer is perfect for technical riding. I passed almost everyone in the surrounding group by not getting hit hard by all those sharp ups and downs. Obstacles that I couldn’t ride over were swiftly avoided with a flick of the bars. Once I caught up with Jim, I just followed his perfect line and we led the group out of the woods. This made me smile.

I can’t say that I am much of a cycle racer, but I rode both races as hard as I could and this bike was never the limiting factor. Sure my legs were hurting at times of extra hard effort, but I am familiar with frame induced pain and that wasn’t it. My back and arms felt great the whole time and I always felt totally in control. I would have to be twice as fit to tell you if this old sleeper really isn’t suited for racing. It’s plenty of bike for me. I certainly haven’t felt that I was missing something by riding this over anything else. We’ll see how the season goes, but I am likely going to try this frame in a cross race - what it was designed do in the first place! Can’t wait.


Rodd Heino said...

wicked write up pascii
i'm working on my steeds of roubaix part 3/race report combo.

Matt Surch said...


Really nicely done Pascal, many a chuckle here. That is indeed one fine bike, and your writing does it justice. Can't wait to read more steed/race report combos!

Peter M said...

It cheers me up every time I hear a rider singing the praises of a worthy bicycle. Especially with such lucidity. Thanks for that Pascal.