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Bikes! Glorious Bikes! Spring is near!

 By Sheila Ascroft

Pinarello's Dogma with swoopy stays and forks

It’s almost spring and a girl’s thoughts naturally turn to … a new road bike!

Oo la la. There are so many beauties to choose from. All pretty and bright with gleaming components, not a speck of dirty grease anywhere. Bikes full of a future of blue skies, bright sunshine, warm winds and empty roads. It’s enough to sway one’s head!

For me, who does NOT need another bike, entering a bike shop like window shopping from the inside. I avoid eye contact with the price stickers and survey the sleek merchandise. I ogle and drool like a matron at Chippendales.

Ooh look. Here’s a Colnago. Look at the tapered shape of its top tube. And there’s a Pinarello Dogma. Wow. Those squiggly forks and seats stays are amazing. And over my head hangs an Eddy Merckx, a Scott, an Opus and a Stevens. I’m in love with the slender sleek steeds of the road. There’s something appealing, almost sensuous in the curve of drop handlebars. Not to mention, the gossamer weight of the roadies.

Sure, in the far, corner a bunch of full suspension mountain bikes exude their rugged swagger, and the urbane commuting bikes sit so prim and are oh so reliable and proper. But a road bike is, well, something to lust for.

Suppose you are in the market to buy a new road bike. How do you choose? The reality of cost, which can range from $1,200 to $12,000, cannot be ignored. Be thankful that you really don’t need a top-quality competitive racing bike—that just saved you $7000 or $8000! Maybe you are not really ready for an “enthusiast’s” bike either. That’s okay, look at the sport or recreational road bikes this time around.

Remember that price should not be the only determining factor. Bike frame materials are critical as they determine a lot on how comfortable your ride will be. There are basically four: carbon fibre, titanium, aluminium and steel. Although just to confuse things some do have a mix of several materials, and there are a few exotic wooden bikes including one made from bamboo! 

Alloy steel frame with carbon forks

Carbon fibre: lightest in weight and usually most expensive. It’s also very comfortable to ride, however crashes can cause catastrophic breakage. Currently very popular with the more costly bikes also carrying carbon fibre components.

Titanium: light but not as light as carbon, expensive but not as much as carbon. Its ride is quite comfortable and crashes won’t ruin the frame. This material has lost some ground to carbon fibre, but at least one bad crash won’t set you back $1000s.

Aluminium: heavier than titanium but lighter than steel, cheaper than titanium by a long shot and often less costly than steel alloys. Unfortunately aluminium gives a harsh ride, but will  dent if crashed and won’t rust like steel. To counter its not so comfy ride, some aluminium bikes will have a carbon fibre fork. This improves both the ride and the weight, but adds to the price.

Steel alloy: heaviest of all, but reasonably priced. It is also quite comfortable and can be repaired (welded) if damaged in a crash. Alloy steel like double-butted chromoly (contains chromium and molybdenum) is quite popular in steel frames. However, don’t confuse a steel alloy with high-tensile steel, which is a low-end, straight-gauge steel that is very heavy and often found in department store bikes. These bikes don’t cost much but beware, you get what you pay for.

If you still can’t decide, don’t worry. You still have three months of spring to find the “right partner” for the road.

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