Farewell to a Dear Bike

Before packing up the Calfee “Adventure,” I took it out for one last ride. It was a lovely afternoon that did not feel like November. The sun was out, and it was 59 degrees F. The weather forecast was for rain in the lowlands and snow in the mountains. It seemed fitting to take a racing bike out on probably the last ride in shorts for the year.

The Calfee has become a friend. The combination of a superlight carbon fiber frame with 32 mm Grand Bois Cyprès tires worked so well that I wrote: “I consider the Calfee ‘Adventure’ the racing bike of the future. It combines the clearance for wide tires with the light weight and performance of the best modern racing bikes.” I told Craig Calfee that I was tempted to buy the bike and keep it.

My previous ride on the Calfee had been a few weeks before Paris-Brest-Paris. Hahn, Sam, Ryan and I did speed intervals around Mercer Island. The Calfee was eager to go, and it was exhilarating to round the curves of the island road at speed. After one long pull, I asked Hahn how fast we were going. “50 km/h” was the answer. I was surprised, as it didn’t feel like 31 mph…

Since then, I had mostly ridden my new René Herse, with its frame from superlight, standard-diameter steel tubing. How would the Calfee feel after the Herse? I already knew from our comparative tests that objectively, it wasn’t any faster, but would it feel faster? Accelerate better? Stop better with its excellent brakes?

To find out, I headed to Mercer Island again. We’ve had some early frost, so the maple trees were spectacular in their yellow and red colors. After riding the wide 650B tires and the flexible fork blades of the Herse, the Calfee felt jarring at first, but I soon realized that it wasn’t overly harsh, just firm like the suspension of a good sports car.

I used to know Mercer Island like the pocket of my pants, because I went around the island several times a week. Now our rides venture further, and I don’t visit the island as often. It was fun to rediscover Mercer Island. The road curves as it winds around the island. The Calfee’s intuitive handling made these sharp corners thoroughly enjoyable. The challenging little rises and short climbs on Mercer Island came and went without upsetting the bike’s rhythm. The exhilarating acceleration of the Calfee was as I remembered it. It was fun to push harder on the pedals just to feel the bike go faster.

I added a little climb over the top of the island, then headed back. The setting sun played with golden light on the flaming trees. It was a beautiful sight, but a few minutes later, it started to get dark.  I had not thought about the end of Summer Daylight Savings Time when I left. Instead of becoming dark at 6, it now would be dark at 5. On my own bike, I’d turn the stem cap, and the lights would illuminate. On the Calfee, I was 30 minutes from home without lights. I looked at my watch: It was 4:30. If I hurried, I would make it. The Calfee did its best, and we got home a few minutes before 5.

It was nice to say farewell to the Calfee with such a nice ride. On smooth roads, it is as much fun to ride as my new Herse, which is high praise indeed. And when I brought the Calfee into the basement, I realized one advantage that the Calfee has over my Herse: An 18-pound bike is much easier to carry down the stairs than a 25-pound one.

About Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

I love cycling and bicycles, especially those that take us off the beaten path. I edit Bicycle Quarterly magazine, and occasionally write for other publications. One of our companies, Bicycle Quarterly Press publishes cycling books, while Compass Bicycles Ltd. makes and distributes high-quality bicycle components for real-world riders.
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22 Responses to Farewell to a Dear Bike

  1. Mark Williams says:

    Jan, thanks for this write up.

    But just a question…..isn’t the Calfee something of a refutation of how you’ve described the effect of planing, its impact on speed, and its relationship to more flexible frame tubing?

    Happy Thanksgiving to you and your family,

    M

    • We approach each bike with an open mind. I have no idea how stiff the Calfee is, but it planed very nicely for both Mark and me. The tubes are not very large in diameter… The Calfee is a nicely balanced bike. Interestingly, it’s a design that has been around since the late 1980s, yet it rides as well as or better than modern carbon-fiber bikes.

      • Harald says:

        It’s too bad you didn’t quantify the stiffness of the Calfee. It would have added an interesting data point to your previous measurements of frame stiffness and their relationship to ride characteristics, especially since that earlier test (IIRC) only included steel and aluminum frames.

      • We did measure the stiffness of the Trek Madone… However, our stiffness testing found that rather than the overall stiffness, it appears that the balance of the frame is most important. And unfortunately, there is no easy way to measure this. That means that measuring the stiffness of test bikes is not going to be very useful.

        I believe that Bicycling in the old days found the same. They had a stiffness measurement machine called Tarantula, but they found that the results they obtained did not correlate with what they felt on the road. Of course, since then, they forgot those results, and now talk about the stiffness of the frames based on a 20-mile test ride.

    • djconnel says:

      If you want data on the Calfee Dragonfly, which is related, it was tested in Tour Magazine in 2004. Tour favors stiff frames; I suspect the typical rider would find he prefers frames Tour rates lower to those Tour rates on top. My recollection from seeing the results is the Calfee was much less stiff than the competition in that test.

  2. Dan Stabile says:

    “An 18-pound bike is much easier to carry down the stairs than a 25-pound one.”
    I regularly choose what bike to ride based on what I feel like carrying up and down 3 flights of stairs. Even though it’s not my favorite bike the single speed gets the nod often.

  3. Michael says:

    I enjoyed your article on the Raid Pyreneen.

  4. rory says:

    I find it interesting that immediately after getting your “ultimate custom bike”, you are lusting after a new bike. Happens to everyone, I guess…

    • It went the other way. I lusted after the Calfee, because it performed better than my Singer. When I got my new custom bike, and realized it performed as well, then my lust after the Calfee was much diminished. Of course, that does not diminish the accomplishment of the Calfee – it’s an excellent bike for a rider who wants such a bike.

  5. GuitarSlinger says:

    Yes , but unlike the Calfee , who’s overall long term durability due to its carbon fiber construction is a best suspect ( read Porsche’s engineering papers on the reality of CF’s long term durability/dependability . Its not pretty ) twenty years from now your Rene Hearse , barring accident etc will still be proving you with many hours and miles of riding

    • Wetcoast_Rider says:

      In terms of engineering and longevity, I would prefer to refer to Boeing and AIrbus engineering expertise as to longterm durability. Both companies are betting $10’s of billions on it being both durable and dependable in flight critcal components. Protect the epoxy from U-V degradation a CF structure will retain it’s properties for as long as steel( which needs corrosion protection as well.

      best regards Chris

      • I agree that we should not lump all carbon fiber together. While the Boeing “Dreamliner” has not yet proven its longevity, there are some carbon bikes out there that have racked up impressive miles. Calfee seems more experienced and conservative than most companies in this respect. (Craig Calfee told me he doesn’t use large-diameter, thinwall carbon tubes, but that other makers keep his repair shop busy with those easily damaged frames.)

        Inexpensive carbon fiber seems to have a high failure rate, and the failure of a fender mount on a budget carbon fork almost caused me to have a very nasty accident (flipping over the bars at 35 mph on a busy road would not be nice). That said, there are poorly made steel bikes, too. Anybody who has repaired a budget Taiwanese steel frame knows that mitering and braze penetration can be sketchy…

        I don’t think I’d be worried to ride the Calfee for a decade, but I would not want to ride an $ 1500 bike with a carbon fork.

      • Protect the epoxy from U-V degradation a CF structure will retain it’s properties for as long as steel

        That is not entirely true. Delamination is a problem that can occur as carbon fiber flexes. When TOUR magazine tested carbon forks, they lost much of their initial stiffness over the course of the test. Steel does not soften without failing.

      • GuitarSlinger says:

        @ Chris

        Need I remind you of the multiple CF tail failures of late with both Boeing and Airbus ?

        Need I remind you why those are happening ?

        Simple fact is Porsche has taken the stand and all evidence is proving them true that all the protection n the World cannot stop the internal degradation of Carbon Fiber from UV IF Humidity Moisture and Shock . It may slow the process down a bit but in one Porsche engineers own words ;

        ” Every Carbon Fiber car , plane or boat is destined to the same fate . Degradation leading to failure ”

        Add to that the simple fact that more often than not CF will fail internally with zero exterior warning/evidence which then leads to catastrophic failure , along with tha fact that CF is a one hit ( accident ) and toss it , regardless of the visible evidence . Drop your CF Bike and its been compromised structurally

        Finally I’ll place some serious bets that no CF Bicycle manufacture is taking one tenth of the precautions etc that Porsche McLaren , Boeing or anyone else for that matter is . I personally know one of the best and I know for a fact his company does not and in fact does not have the facilities nor would it be cost effective for him to do so .

  6. William M. deRosset says:

    Dear Jan,

    Your experience on the Calfee mirrors my own. I had a 2002 Calfee Dragonfly, which (just) cleared 29mm tires with no fenders. It was a wonderful-performing bicycle, a joy to ride, and it quickly became the machine I thought of first for any ride, not just for racing or racing-like riding.

    However, in 2009 I got my current randonneuring machine, built from thinwall standard-diameter tubing, which was the first modern steel bicycle I’ve liked. The Calfee was relegated to fast group rides and short day trips, as I lost little speed on my Herse when climbing, but the fenders, lights, and handlebar bag made the randonneuring bicycle a more comfortable and lower-maintenance choice for most of my riding.

    Thank you for sharing your experience with this machine.

  7. GRJim says:

    Craig Calfee has been making durable carbon bikes for a long time; we in Norcal know his bikes well.
    A semantic point: Calfee calls this bike a rando machine, not a race one per se. Though it’s certainly possible to race this, it is not it’s intended narrow focus.

    • It’s an “Adventure” bike, but we figured that it would mostly be bought by people who ride centuries and supported tours, as an alternative to a narrow-tired racing bike. That is how we tested it – if we evaluated it as a true “randonneur” bike, it would need lights, fenders and the ability to carry some luggage. I don’t think that faulting it for this lack of equipment would have been fair to its intended purpose.

  8. marmotte says:

    So are you saying I should be worrying because my 2004 Koga Miyata Gentsracer steel frame has a CF-fork, albeit with a steel shaft? (As a complete bike, the Gentsracer sold for 1500€ in 2004, but Koga is a quality company if ever there was one).

    • Every bike part can fail, and we each have to assess which risks we want to take. The only fork failure I have experienced was on an American-made custom bike after only 5000 kilometers with a newly-designed fork crown… Since then, I have developed a preference for components that have proven themselves over many years of hard use.

  9. Bubba says:

    I enjoyed this story. The takeaway I get from it is that if you show me a “racing bicycle” that takes 700x32s, fits the rider well, and isn’t too stiff, then I’ll show you a pretty darn good bike. In other words, a custom steel bike with very similar geometry to the Calfee and the right tubing diameter and wall thickness, would also probably be pretty appealing. Is that about right?

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