Many on the trip asked why I was riding a hybrid instead of a road bike. I told them that's what I road at home, so its what I asked for on the trip. I don't think I've ever done any serious riding on a road bike - I think I had a BMX style bike when I was young and got a mountain bike my first year of college (which I still have). About 2 years ago, I bought the Trek 7200 hybrid - a "comfort bike" - as any riding I was doing at the time was always on paved bike trails or on the roads. It was (and still is) a very decent bike for the money ($350) and its all I've ridden recently. During my "training" for the trip, I took it on a few 45+ mile rides and felt good about covering this distance with growing ease and quick recovery when the ride was over. I also did numerous shorter rides to Bedford and back along the bike trail (about 25 miles) trying to improve on my best time or not shift below certain gears to build strength.
Apparently, the training paid off as I was one of the stronger riders on the trip, was able to climb all of the hills that were offered to us and recovered well from day to day. Seeing this, those that had more riding experience suggested that I should really look into a road bike when I get back.
So, on Saturday (having returned from Rome Friday night) I stopped by Ace Wheelworks to take a look at what they had to offer. Given that my last bike cost $350, I was thinking I could probably get a decent bike for $1000 - and if there was truly a benefit to paying a bit more, was prepared to go a bit higher.
Seeing my confusion, Jason (one of the store reps) starting guiding my selection process. I'm sure he was telling me all kinds of useful information, but I didn't fully speak the lingo so much was lost. In any case, he started selecting a few different bikes for test rides. The first was an aluminum '05 Cannondale R1000 ($1800). Wow! I think the others were right. The responsiveness and speed were much (much!) different than what I was used to. At this point, I'm just about certain that I will get a bike - so the process is now fully deciding on which one and hopefully finding one that costs a bit less. Next I ride a Specialized Roubaix. It was closer to the price I had in mind ($1200), but the ride was boring compared to the Cannondale - it was like I was riding through molasses. This one is out of the running. Jason then pulls a fully carbon fiber '05 Orbea Onix out of the lineup. I've never heard of this brand and he gives me some history of the company and some success they've had. Riding this bike was simply incredible - it seemed all power when to moving you forward and it begged to be ridden at a sprint pace throughout - even up the hills. After a few loops, I was actually quite winded. I finished the day with another ride on the Cannondale. I left with plans to come back during the week in more appropriate riding attire for some additional evaluation.
The break also allowed me to do some research. Now armed with a little bit of info, I could hit the web and check out reviews of the various bikes and become educated on the pluses and minuses of each. Who knew buying a bike would soon become so complicated! I quickly found that which frame material made the best bikes was a highly opinionated topic. Steel, aluminum, carbon fiber and titanium are all in use. Given the price, I was leaning towards the Cannondale, but found there are many that say aluminum bikes are unforgiving and really beat up your body on long rides. There are others that say the latest designs and addition of carbon forks and seat posts make this no longer true.
Not knowing what to believe I check in with a former co-worker that is an avid rider. He says to avoid aluminum and suggests that I take more bikes out for a test, making sure to include several steel frames. So, I visit a few more bike stores, have a few more conversations and go for a few more test rides. None of the bikes felt as good as the Cannondale or Orbea - and the service and friendliness at Ace was also far superior (I never felt like I was getting "sold" as I did at other stores).
I return to Ace in riding gear for some additional rides. Based on the first set of rides, I thought the Cannondale was extremely twitchy when I was out of the saddle, but seemed to do very well at maintaining speed. I was concerned that the Orbea required constant sprinting and would not be good for long rides. First the Cannondale - twitchiness is definitely an odd feeling that I don't like and riding over some bricks, I got a sense of how much road was transmitted through the frame. It's tough to tell on a short ride how uncomfortable it would become, but it was noticeable. Next, the Orbea. No twitchiness out of the saddle - that's a positive. It also did a better job at dampening the ride over the bricks (very subjective of course). On this ride, I was careful not to ride at full throttle the entire time and was pleased that I was able to hold speed as easily as the Cannondale. So, it seems on all fronts this was a better ride. Only one concern left - I read that the Ultegra 10 speed was a bit better designed/nicer than the 9 speed which the Orbea had. Ace checked inventory and they had the same framesize/color available with the 10 speed for $100 more (~$2700). We fill out the paperwork, bike will be ready the next day. So much for the budget.
I return to pick up the bike and was pleased to find that in addition to the 10 speed build, the bike also had better rims and tires. In looking up some of the component prices, it seems like a very good deal. Here's how some of the major parts break down - Ultegra 10 speed build kit - $1350, Mavic rims - $750, tires - $100, FSA carbon crank - $250. So, at this point I'm happy with the purchase - but it hasn't stopped raining so I haven't yet been able to ride it!!
If it rides as I expect it will, I should be doing my first century ride (100 miles) before the month is over.