The dawn of new season bikes emerges around September and continues through to December each year (and let’s not forget the Nouveau Beaujolais sitting pretty on Nov 15th!). For the southerners, that’s Spring. After which the weather only gets better, along with the range of new bikes becoming available. It’s a difficult time for cycling enthusiasts as the spending cycle increases toward Noel Nirvana.
For the northerners, come winter, it’s three months being wrapped up next to the fire in the ski lodge pouring over the latest glossies (on their tablet mind you), in between gulps of warming liqueurs from bulbous crystal goblets. No less torturous for them as cycling and sun are such distant realities.
New Bike Syndrome
With immunity from New Bike Syndrome (NBS) or ‘Upgrade Fever’ low, what’s the best way to make sure your upgrade is a total winner? Thousands of hours on the steed have made you one with your current love, how can you know the next will be just as passionate?
Enter Bo-Bo, a Beach Rd aficionado (and Engineer) from way back. Not long ago, the conversation topic of NBS intruded on a fast paced 3-hour ride on Melbourne’s best bayside black carpet. He’d been struck by the fever.
Being a technical, scientific type, Bo-Bo knows geometries, angles, carbon-layers, composites, metallurgy and physics. My contribution dabbled around project management speak, pilot tests, baselines, charts and other pleasantries.
One thing that was surely agreed was the overwhelming contribution a wheelset makes to the handling and performance of any bike. It’s on the critical path you might say. The other agreement at 45kph was the preferred choice of wheelset for training, climbing, racing, ie the great all-rounder.
The reason behind going into this is that to compare bikes, particularly frames, a good quality wheelset (including wheels, tyres, tubes) that you’ve ridden for some time will give you the ideal benchmark for testing how the new frame performs. Eliminating the wheelset factor helps focus in on the frame characteristics.
The Pilot Test
It’s a simple test. You’ve spent weeks adoring your new love on the interwebs, sharing stories with friends over coffee, swooning over colours and fighting the need to have a quiet chat with your current love about your unshakeable fever. You know what you want.
One weekend afternoon, you head to your favourite store, you’re already well known by the staff from all those after-work meetings you’ve been attending ‘off-site’. You take your cycling shoes and your wheels from your current bike, maybe even in wheel bags for protection.
Assessment and Impressions
After this morning’s ride you’re feeling a bit guilty about what you’re going to do next, but it’s happening. The first test ride you want to use your current wheels, maybe even the second ride too. This is the critical part of the assessment, initial impressions.
Using your existing bike’s measurements, have the bike set-up as closely as possible to your current position. Rolling out slowly to get settled, this is the time to take note of the impressions compared to your current bike.
Steering – is it heavy or light, twitchy or composed?
Acceleration – fast and snappy or sluggish?
Slow corners – predictable or is it a wrestle?
Fast corners – stable or wallowing?
Taking a few chicanes or esses’s (S’s) – is the change of direction swift like skiing or does timing feel out of sync. Do you feel like you’re ahead or behind where you want the bike to really be?
Ideally perform the test a couple of times to determine whether it’s similar to what you currently enjoy or different, and how that meets with your performance expectations and needs. Perhaps even try across a few different bike models and brands if doubts start to creep in. After texting and instapic-ing all your crew, whack a few notes in your smartphone.
And don’t worry if your wheels are ‘better’ or ‘not as good’ as the new ones that come with the bike, this is about reducing the influence of variables on your purchase. The same test can be applied in reverse too, use your existing bike to try out a new range of wheels that you’re interested in buying.
A Swift NBS Recovery
Following your various tests, you’ll have a suite of benchmarked test information that’ll go a long way to ensuring the fever doesn’t induce that other affliction, cyclist’s remorse.
It takes a bit of effort, but one hour here or there is a useful set-up for the next 500, 1000 or 2000+ hours you’re going to spend enjoying with your new amore. Now, what colour is it going to be?
What has your experience been changing bikes? Please let us know how you’ve approached your decision too and whether it worked out as intended.
Thanks to Bo-Bo for that illuminating NBS discussion on Beach Rd. On another ride with Bo-Bo at Bright VIC, the discussion was about compact cranksets and gearing, but that’s for another time…