Riding my Own Bike Again

diverge_skagit

When I test bikes for Bicycle Quarterly, I treat them like my own bike. I ride them for several weeks, often exclusively so I get used to the bike and get attuned to its peculiarities. Features that were unfamiliar at first soon become second nature. And conversely, minor issues may become significantly annoying with repeated use.

jan_herse_gravel

It’s always interesting to go back to my own bike. The most noticeable adjustments happen after riding a modern machine with electronic shifting. Everything on my bike feels different at first, and I wonder whether my Herse isn’t terribly outdated. It seems odd that I need to take my hands off the bars to shift. And the frame and fork feel so flexible at first…

snoqualmie_valley

But then it all comes back to me. I enjoy the light touch and immediate action of the Nivex rear derailleur. Yes, that is how I like shifting to be!

I also notice how the bike breathes with the surface, almost floating over the bumps and undulations, yet never feeling soft or under-damped. It’s a great feeling, with none of the chatter you get with stiff forks and relatively narrow tires.

corner_adams

More recently when I was back on my own bike, I was having trouble rounding corners. At first, I turned in too abruptly, and then in mid-corner, I was running wide. I realized that the bike I had ridden for a few weeks had much more trail. It required larger steering inputs to get it to lean, but then it fell abruptly into the turn. I had become used to almost yanking on the bars, but then compensating by “catching” the bike to prevent it from leaning too far.

On my bike, the cornering response is much more linear, and none of these adjustments are needed. Once I adapted to my bike again, I was happy to rediscover how precise a bike can handle. I also had to readjust to the greater cornering grip of the 42 mm-wide tires. It’s amazing how much more traction they have compared to 32 mm tires. It took a little time until I was comfortable staying off the brakes in corners where I had to slow down a little on the test bike.

diverge_mtconstitution

I always write my test report before riding my own bike again. That ensures that my impressions are true to that bike, and not relative to my favorite bike. I want the article in Bicycle Quarterly to express how an owner would experience the bike, and I’m sure that many, many owners will love whatever bike I am testing. With our reputation for honest appraisals, it’s rare that somebody sends us a mediocre bike…

Every bike has its strengths and weaknesses, and I think some riders might not like my Herse at all. If you prefer a firm grip on the handlebars, the low-trail geometry may feel scary. It reacts precisely to your inputs, which means it works well with a light touch on the handlebars. And the shifting, especially for the front derailleur with its rod behind the seat tube, might challenge riders who are not so comfortable riding with just one hand on the handlebars. And the extra cornering traction of the wider tires doesn’t mean much if you are a cautious descender…

There definitely are preferences in how we like our bikes to respond, and it’s great that different bikes are available to cater to those preferences. For us as testers, the goal has to be to determine which rider would like the bikes we test, and evaluate them in that context.

diverge_6hands

The differences between test bikes and our own machines often disappear when it comes to how they respond to our pedals strokes. Both my “classic” bike and the recent modern machine “planed” extremely well. The best bikes, whether modern or classic, feel remarkably similar, whether you pedal all-out or whether you are just spinning along. They put a smile on my face, and to me, that is the most important aspect of any bike.

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. Bicycle Quarterly's sister company, Compass Bicycles Ltd., turns the results of our research into high-quality bicycle components for real-world riders.
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18 Responses to Riding my Own Bike Again

  1. Michael says:

    That Herse is one nice bike, and I enjoy the bike reviews, including your Herse profile in one of the latest issues. Interesting to read about their performance and features and the adventures.

    A little OT: What do you use for headlight redundancy (in case of failure so as not to have to abandon) and nighttime for reading cue sheets on brevets? I see no helmet lighting mounts and have wondered.

    • Headlight redundancy requirements for brevets and other events are usually set by the organizer, so be sure to follow their guidelines. For our own rides, or when requirements aren’t specified, we usually just pack a camping headlamp for backup. I prefer to keep mine in my handlebar bag when not in use, rather than carry the weight on my helmet.

      -Theo Roffe
      Compass Bicycles

  2. Dan says:

    Sort of like coming home isn’t it!

  3. William Boyd says:

    As we adjust our bicycles to fit us, we adjust ourselves to our bicycles, and it is beautiful when we come together.

  4. John Duval says:

    Sounds like you don’t often have the opportunity to ride your own bike, even if it still gets many miles. It is human nature to wonder if the grass isn’t greener somewhere else, when the fact is, the grass is very green all over.

  5. Robert says:

    I had ordered the exact same “modern bike” as was tested in the last issue, the only difference being no Di2. Not yet, not on this bike. Also, even though I ride as large a frame a 68cm, I’m able to get quite comfortable on their 64cm bike. Go figure.
    I added a 200mm CF crank, VO Noire fenders, and the stock seat had to go in favor of an SQlab. Oh, and no tool box.
    The entire bike is black on black on black-the easiest color to co-ordinate! But really this is a coincedental fashion statement. I’m not terribly fashionable. With all that said I have only a couple hundred miles on the bike but I really like it. It is a bit stiff but a little extra weight (me) and dropping the tires 5psi below max has things sorted as far as the ride goes. Bike goes up well, flies down and disappears underneath me in between. This is the only thing I really require, the disappearing act.
    So far I’m only using a battery light to get me home, but can always a generator at a later date. I just want make sure that things stay nice after the honeymoon.

  6. Rick Harker says:

    This is a dilemma for the casual buyer. They really cannot test a bike for a few weeks and compare them. Your description however goes a long way to better understand how a bike handles and feels under real world riding. Very few talk about oversteer, understeer and turning in with regards to cornering which is crucial to confidence on a bike. Stiff frames may be good for climbing but become rocking horses on chattery roads.
    As always there are design criteria for a purpose and this is where good unbiased advice is valuable. I think this is why many cyclists have more than one bike.

  7. nickskaggs says:

    On the topic of cornering, I’ve just started riding a Soma Grand Randonneur to try the whole “randonneuse” thing, and I’m having a hard time getting used to its handling on turns at higher speeds.

    At higher speeds, the bike definitely tries to rise out of turns very easily, and often the front wheel starts to feel like it’s “on ice”- it’s unsettling to *feel* like the front end of the bike is going to slide out, even though I *know* in my mind it won’t. I suppose I just expected the bike to feel more surefooted.

    Is there some kind of “trick” to twisty descents on a low trail bike I’m missing? Or have I simply overestimated my descending skills on bicycles?

    • nic says:

      Look at Jan cornering. I’ve not seen much people able to lean their bike more than the body, all of them were racers. Don’t know how or why it works, I know it works. It’s a little like skiing. Bernard Hinault was very vocal about this technique for negotiating switchbacks.

  8. Tires and air pressure how they affect ride and handling still a big factor. correct tire ad air pressure on a given bicycle and it is great. The wrong air pressure and or tire and another bicycle is required Interesting choice

  9. Chris V. says:

    I’m curious. Has BQ ever thought about a shifting experiment? What I mean is comparing the actual time it takes for electronic shifting to change gears compared to a down tube cable operated system and an STI cable operated system. If you believe the word of the manufacturers an electronic rear deraileur shifts faster than other systems. I would expect they are comparing cable STI to electronic STI.

    • That’s an interesting idea, Chris.

      In the past, Jan has written that he finds the shift from Shimano (mechanical) indexed shifting to occur a beat later than it would if he used downtube (friction) shifters. I think this is more about timing than speed, however.

      When you’re very used to friction shifting, you reach to move the lever in synch with your pedal stroke and the shift feels immediate. When shifting with integrated shift levers, you might not click the lever over at the ideal moment, but the shift is timed to occur with the ramps and pins on your chainring so that the shift is executed smoothly.

      I think that’s the pause that Jan experiences and has written about. He’s away from the keyboard right now, but maybe when he’s back, he can comment on this.

      -Theo Roffe
      Compass Bicycles

  10. bgddyjim says:

    I dig you, about riding an old, familiar bike but I don’t know how you could go back to the old shifters and derailleurs. I’ve got a ’91 Cannondale Crit bike (aluminum frame, Chro-mo fork – it’s a bit on the stiff side, chuckle) and it’s fun to ride every now and again, but there’s no way I’d EVER go back to the old shifters. Modern shifters are just too perfectly placed (my other bikes run 105 and Ultegra).

    Cool post though, brother.

  11. thebvo says:

    Regarding Jan leaning the Calfee over like that: I wonder if y’all have tips for getting more controlled speed through a descent like that…

    • Jan wrote an article about cornering in Bicycle Quarterly issue 34 (Winter 2010) which I found really helpful for improving my own cornering. (I still don’t have the confidence to lean over the way he does, but that’s me.)
      https://www.compasscycle.com/shop/print/issues/bq-34/

      You might also search the web for motorcycle handling videos and tips – there’s a lot in common with bicycling about how to choose a good and safe line. Learning to think about the apex of your turn before you get there is really helpful.

      -Theo Roffe
      Compass Bicycles

  12. I appreciate your evolved preferences for bicycles, as the rest of the industry is forced to take notice, which is ultimately good for cycling.

    With regards to bikes that “put a smile” on you face, one of my local mechanics told me he uses a “smile-ometer” to help people choose when test riding different types of bikes. The bigger the smile, the better.

    With regards to planing, the Madison-Genesis team’s Reynolds steel racing bike has been of interest. This exciting venture has led to some interesting tube shapes and frame construction ideologies. At the moment is seems the frame is too stiff in the head tube area, but lacks enough stiffness in the chainstays for the riders’ liking.

    Pro riders must have different planing preferences also because they utilize sudden accelerations out of the saddle.

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