Saturday, September 7, 2013

Project Orca - Episode 5: The Ride

set up for the pose

Now I know why Samuel Sanchez is such a demonic descender. It's not skill or nerves - it's the bike!

(This is the final chapter to the story of the building of my dream bike. Part 1. Part 2. Part 3. Part 4.)

What a dream it is to ride this bike. I"m reminded of something my wife June said in description of the experience of driving a good German car after being used to locally made vehicles: that it felt like the car was driving itself. More stable and secure and effective. Like an insider's club  - you can't possibly imagine what you're missing until you're there!

If there was one word I'd choose to sum the feel of the ride up, it would be solid. I have used the expression "on rails" to describe the feel of a really stable wheelset before, but the front end of this bike really does merit that metaphor. It gives one an immense feeling of confidence on descents, and steers with the greatest of ease and security through every twist in the road.

The bottom bracket feels rock solid too, transferring pretty much every watt you can put into the drive as if you were literally cranking down on a steel girder. The weird kinks in the rear stays contribute to an amazingly smooth rear end which seems to absorb an awful lot of the details of the road surface. I don't really know how the science works but that's the way it feels.

set up for the hills

The bike is aero for sure. It really leaps forward with glee as you start your descents. The first real test for this beast was on a 4-day hilly outing and with other riders with specifically aero frames, and on freewheeling descents I could note a marked advantage (could also be something to do with being the heaviest!). But it's real advantage I'd say, is in it's stability. If you're coming down a hill, the thing that matters most, in my opinion, is having confidence in your machine. This bike really has an incredibly dependable steering and the balance of weight on corners does make you confident that it won't slip away from you.

So how does it feel going up? Well it's not the lightest bike I've ridden, especially the way I have it set up, but the stiffness and assurance of the transfer of power makes every ounce of effort work towards the forward momentum. I must admit to the fact that I had become a bit of a weight weenie, so the fact that the frame was around 1kg unladen was slightly perturbing, but I trust the people that have guided me to this so I persevered.

Honestly, I've completely revised my ideas on saving weight on a bike. It's nothing but a sales ploy. I'm starting to worry that lots of you are spending vast amounts of money on junk out there in the vain belief that it will make you faster than the 50kg midget with the hill record. If you're a 6-footer and 75kg, how much difference is a few grams off the bike going to make?  Especially if it spoils every other aspect of the ride? There must be a point at which a 75kg human on top of a sub 7kg vehicle presents a serious imbalance in stability based on your center of gravity....but what do I know.

Not that it's a heavy bike of course, but with the alloy crankset with power meter probably around 2-300g heavier than my old bike. I could of course get lighter wheels, but that's another story. Orbea are pretty cagey about divulging the weight of their frames, and are quick to steer you to the quality of the ride as a focus. Now that I've ridden it I know why. Yes, considering the importance of the strength, balance of weight, aerodynamics, and vibration-damping qualities of the frame and forks, the most crucial part of the bike, weight can only be shaved off if it does not interfere with any of this.

But I digress. The ride of this machine is immensely enjoyable. At the moment, my position is slightly more upright than on my previous bike. The head tube being significantly longer which means that even without spacers I can't get as low as I'm used to. It feels pretty comfortable however so I'm not in a big rush to make the change, but I could get a stem with a much more extreme angle than the EC90SL to get lower.

Beyond the frame there's still a lot on this bike to talk about. My choice of bars are the Easton EC90 SLX3. Solid as a rock but light as a feather - what more do you want? I've tried pretty much the whole Easton bar stable and this is the favourite so far. Saddle is the SMP bare carbon version with alloy rails. I've tried the covered and padded versions of this saddle and still this one works better for my personal anatomy.

I'm also sold on the SRAM Red groupset. Given the change in shifting dynamics between Shimano and this, it could have been a much lumpier transition. It really took me all of 5 minutes to get comfortable, and I quickly got used to all the little subtleties that come with this system. I like the fact that the main lever doesn't move sideways as it makes the braking more secure. Shifting is instantaneous, though it's sometimes hard to judge between the single or double shift up.

The crankset pairing of the Power 2 Max spider with Rotor 3D cranks provides me with the central and most important change. I'll give a deeper analysis and critique elsewhere, but from a ride point of view the most important point for me is that having the power meter in the cranks means I can use a complete wheel set of my choice - as opposed to the Powertap system which becomes your back wheel. The P2M is definitely more consistent and the readings don't fluctuate as wildly at the Powertap. The left/right reading balance also seems to work very well. The Rotors are awesome.

I use the Easton EC90 Aero wheels on the flatlands and my Fulcrum racing 3s in the hills. The fulcrums really compliment this bike's characters well with their untouchable momentum and stability. But that's been documented already.

So I really don't have anything bad to say about this bike. It was very carefully and fastidiously put together with well researched or tested components so no real surprises. The only negative note was the Speedplay pedals which disintegrated on the first day. They are great for quick starts and out-of-the-saddle positional float, but I still find it hard to believe that they can just fall apart like that. I don't want to be checking the bolts on my pedals before every ride. Simple construction, but all too simple deconstruction! I also think that they are really no lighter than most other light pedal systems since most of the mechanics - and weight - is in the cleats.


  1. The whole weight thing...current bike is around 6.5kg and I kept thinking about changing to a 700g frame / lightweight chainset to reduce to 6kg but decided against it. No point saving weight on frame if it handles badly as it will just reduce your enjoyment - you wont really know until you get it so not worth the risk / $$$.
    Anyway, losing 0.5kg is just a week of dieting!

    1. Precisely mate :) Too many factors go into making a bike enjoyable to ride, and I think distribution of weight must be one of the most crucial. Like you say: you won't know until you've already spent the money

  2. This one has some special detailing. I like part about 850k.