Monday, June 7, 2010

What A Handsome Devil . . . Initial Ride Report

So I took my new custom-build Handsome Devil out for its first real ride today - commuting back and forth from work on the Lakefront Path.  Weather could not have been better for the maiden voyage, clear and cool with only a little wind on the way home.

Earlier rides on this have only been of the 'round-the-block type to make sure whatever I had just bolted on actually worked and did not spontaneously fall off.  I guess I am the trusting sort because I realized after I left for work in the morning that in my excitement to get on the bike, I had neglected to bring along a flat kit.  My other two bikes have seat bag kits that I just leave on the bikes even when parked outside.  I have never had a seat bag stolen and it is nice never to have to think about bringing tools, patches or an extra tube because all those things are already there.  Thankfully there were no problems and no need for adjustments that needed tools to accomplish.

First things first - let me get my abject apology for every disparaging and skeptical remark I have ever made about Brooks saddles out of the way now.  The B-17 Flyer saddle is hands down the most comfortable saddle I have ever ridden.  And this is right out of the box with no break-in or adjustment period.  The only complaint I have is that the leather is slicker than I am used to, but I'm sure that will adjust with time. Consider me a convert.

However, my new-found Brooks love is not extending to the handlebar grips.  The ride on this new bike is pretty plush overall, with the handlebar grips being the exception.  The leather does provide a secure hand-hold, but I feel like I need to wear gloves to provide some cushion, which I prefer not to do for rides under 10 miles.  Even with the short commute ride, I really felt the road vibration and my hands felt a bit bruised at the end of the day.  To be fair, my unfamiliarity with the hand position provided by the Velo-Orange Milan bar may be part of the blame, but right now the grips may be the target for an early replacement with something a little more ergonomic if less stylish.

I am also not entirely sure about the Portland Design Works Payload rack.  It is a beautiful rack - perhaps too good looking to feel entirely comfortable when locking the bike up outside - but does not seem to be playing well with my Arkel Metropolitan bag.  I have been using this bag on the K2, which has a Topeak Supertourist rack, and have had no problems with heel clearance, but the Metropolitan does not seem to want to sit secure on the Payload and it creeps forward.  I am experimenting with the hook position and will see if that corrects the problem.  Given that I will also need to buy an adapter for the Payload for the dynamo taillight that I still need to install, we may need to reevaluate my decision to go with the Payload versus a Tubus Cargo.

What I am really digging is the ride position afforded by the frame and Milan bars.  I am more upright than with my flat-bar K2, but still feel like I can comfortably crouch forward to reduce my exposure when riding into a headwind.  The ride position feels so proper and gentlemanly!  I am also glad that I went with the slightly larger frame (55cm).  It does not provide much stand-over clearance for my 30-inch inseam, but the reach on the top tube is pretty much dead on.  This would be a very comfortable ride for extended trips - as long as I can work out the grip situation, that is.  If I were ever to switch the Milan bar out for drop bars, though, I might find myself a little too stretched.

The ride quality overall is very nice.  Solid, but smooth.  I am a skeptic about the whole "steel is real" attitude, since most people who say steel provides a smoother ride are not comparing apples to apples - that is comparing frames with the same geometry or that are outfitted with the same components.  (It is much more likely that things like a longer wheel base, wider tires, lower tire pressure, handlebar height and other differences in frame geometry account for differences in ride quality rather than the choice of metal used for the frame.)  But whether it is the steel frame or the 32mm Schwalbe Marathon Plus tires run low of maximum pressure, my little Devil rides like a dream.  I still need to get used to the more upright position and the handling differences that come with the swept-back handlebars, but the bike fees super solid and very comfortable on the road.  It is a fun ride.

Last, but not least, let's talk about the Shimano 8-spd internal-geared hub.  I love the convenience and aesthetic of an IGH, but it definitely does provide a different feel that will take some getting use to.  When pushing off from a dead start, there seems to be a moment or two of lag in the hub connection - I press down on the pedal and it feels like I am freewheeling for a split-second before the hub is completely engaged.  Once I get going it feels fine, although never has that super-solid mechanical connection feel that you get with an externally-geared bike (and which I am told is even more present with a direct fixed-gear setup.)  I am not sure exactly to describe the feeling that I am talking about, but it has the sense - even when pedaling full out - that the cranks and the rear cogs/wheel are not directly connected to each other.  There is some sense of loss of energy transfer that I do not get on my external-gear bikes.

I have ridden my wife's internally geared 3-spd before and I remember it having the same sort of feel, so I think this is just inherent to the system and not a malfunction.  And once I was spun up, I was getting pretty much the same speeds out of the Devil that I would get on my K2 in similar situations and with essentially the same level of effort, so the apparent loss of of energy between the cranks and the hub is probably just in my head.  Still, it is going to take some getting used to the different feel.

All in all I am very pleased.  There are a couple of things to watch and maybe some minor refinements to make (but when is there not).  Also need to get a saddle bag for a flat kit.  Will need something stylish to go with the bike, but not something so flashy that I worry about it getting stolen when locked up in public.  (Ah, the second-best thing about owning a bike after riding it - buying accessories to go with it!)