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Gear: Road bikes made to make you feel fast

August 01, 2011|Roy Wallack | Gear
  • Relentless manipulation of carbon fiber has allowed engineers to design frames with unprecedented strength and unusual shapes, including asymmetrical and aerodynamic tubing.
Relentless manipulation of carbon fiber has allowed engineers to design… (Paul Smith / Colnago, Ridley…)

The road bike keeps getting more sophisticated. Relentless manipulation of carbon fiber has allowed engineers to design frames with unprecedented strength and unusual shapes, including asymmetrical and aerodynamic tubing. Some people say that these four elite machines — all used by pros in this year's Tour de France — are wasted on normal riders, who lack the skill and power to feel the difference. But as a die-hard roadie friend of mine always says, "You go fast if you feel fast." These prestigious bikes will definitely make you feel fast.

Italian stallion

Colnago C59 Italia: The same Italian-made, lugged-frame carbon race bike (except for the wheels) used by Thomas Voeckler, who wore the yellow jersey for 10 days during the 2011 Tour de France and finished fourth overall.

Likes: Along with great handling, acceleration and comfort, this elite super-bike — with its unusual (for carbon) lugs at the tubing junctures and octagonal-shaped top tube and down tube — carries the mystique of fabled bike builder Ernesto Colnago. Weighing in at 14.9 pounds, it is appointed with a Campagnolo Super Record group with an 11-speed hub, internally run cables and Colnago's signature across-the-top tube. Riding it around Italy's Lake Como five days after the Tour, I was gawked at by young and old, male and female, as if at the wheel of a new Lamborghini. "I can see you have the passion," a 75-year-old man said to me in Italian, motioning at the bike parked next to me at a market.

Dislikes: Besides the stratospheric price, all the staring started to unnerve me.

Price: $12,000, or $5,900 for frame, fork, carbon seat post and headset. (312) 239-6666;

Aero energy saver

Specialized S-Works Venge: Prime example of the hot new aero road bike category, it also includes uniquely shaped seat stays that supposedly make it faster in crosswinds.

Likes: Great flatland speed. Specialized claims that at 14.7 pounds, it is lighter and stiffer than its main aero-bike competitors and that wind tunnel tests showed that Venge riders spent less energy (22 fewer watts) going 25 miles per hour than they did on the Tarmac, the company's round-tube race bike. Routing cables inside the frame assure "clean" airflow. Cambered, asymmetrical seat stays are designed to minimize the effect of crosswinds. Handling is precise due to an hourglass-shaped, tapered head/steerer tube (11/8 inches wide at the top and 13/8 inches wide at the bottom). Reversible seat post provides zero or 20 degrees of offset.

Dislikes: The large surface of the aero tubing carries a weight and harsh-ride penalty. A 56-centimeter frame and fork module with headset, seat post and bottom bracket weighs 4.8 pounds, competitive with other aero road bikes but a half-pound more than the Tarmac. That's why, in the hillier stages of the Tour, Specialized's sponsored team riders all switched to Tarmacs.

Price: $8,800 with SRAM Red components. (The S-Works McLaren Venge, which is 110 grams lighter, is $18,000). (877) 808-8154;

Lightweight downhill devil

Cannondale SuperSix EVO Red: Entry-level model of EVO series of race bikes, all of which use an extremely light carbon-fiber frame.

Likes: This frame — with thin-walled, small-diameter tubes and an all-in-one rear triangle layup — weighs just 1.53 pounds in a 56 cm size, making it one of the lightest ever. Cannondale claims it scored "the best stiffness-to-weight ratio ever recorded" in tests, translating into power through the pedals. But it doesn't rattle your brain thanks to built-in "micro-suspension" — flattened seat stays and chain stays and a flexing seat tube that "diffuse vibration" and "reduce energy-sapping micro-trauma," according to the company. It seemed to work on a fast, comfy 90-minute ride on Mulholland Drive I took with Cannondale-sponsored Team Liquigas the day after this year's Tour of California. After a wild descent down Highway 23 into Westlake Village, a team member told me that the bike really stands out for its downhill control. (I wouldn't know; I was so scared that I rode the brakes the whole way.) Overall, the bike weighs 14.3 pounds.

Dislikes: Frames this light risk being fragile — although Cannondale claims it tests tougher than its aluminum frames.

Price: $5,500 with SRAM Red components. (800) BIKE-USA;

Aero bike innovation

Ridley Noah ISP: Belgian-made aero road bike with integrated seat post (ISP) and drag-reducing fork and paint.

Likes: Two patented innovations allow the 16.7-pound bike to cut through the air faster than others, Ridley says. One is R-Flow Jetfoil, a vertical cut-out slat on the extra-wide fork blades and seat stays that theoretically creates a vacuum by drawing turbulent air away from the spokes and reduces drag by 7.5%. The other technology, called R-Surface, is simple: Grippy painted strips on the head, down and seat tubes that are said to reduce air drag by 4% by breaking up surface tension. Does this "point-and-shoot" aero dream machine work? The bike was used in the Tour de France by the Dutch Vacansoleil team. And I felt fast.

Dislikes: None.

Price: $3,150 for frame and fork, or $4,895 for complete bike with SRAM Red. (952) 941-391;

Wallack is the co-author of "Bike for Life: How to Ride to 100."

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