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High end Bike buying(22 posts)

High end Bike buyingLen J
Apr 26, 2002 4:30 AM
I was scanning Cycle Sport last night and realized that if I had $3,500 to spend on a Carbon or Titanium Frame and Fork only (assuming that I could move most of my components), I wouldn't have a clue how to choose. Looking at the buying guide it looks like there are now about 14 High end Carbon Bikes and about 16 High end Titanium Bikes (Excluding the "Riduculously" priced Carbonissimo & Ottrott). The advice you read & hear mostly is to test ride. Well that's all well and good but I think that I might be able to test ride the two treks & maybe the Serotta, the Moots a seven An Aegis & a Lemond. That stills leaves some of the more exotic & potentially attractive bikes untestable. Bikes like the De Rosa King, The CTI, the C-40, The Calfee Tetra-Pro & Dragonfly, the Merck Majestic, The Looks, The Obrea XLR8R, the Pinarello Prince, well you get the idea.

So I guess I have two questions for the gathered intelligence & experience of the board (Let's assume that I will not be racing, that I'll do mainly agressive centuries with climbing & train hard around 150 to 200 miles/week peak season):

1.) How do you make a choice like this? At $3,500 I wouldn't want to make a mistake, Is it simply that all bikes at this level are great so go with the one that you like the looks of? It's hard for me to believe that there are not ride differences between these bikes.

2.) Anyone who has made this choice, What did you base it on? Was it experience/love of a particular brand, LBS recommendation, custom options, something else?

I'm not in this situitation today (but may be in the future) I was just noodlin' on how the hell do you select?

Thanks for any insights.


Disclaimer: this is not directed at which bike is better, rather on what basis you would (or have) made this choice. IMO there are no right answers, I'm just trying to learn from a discussion of the decision process you all go through.
re: High end Bike buyingpa rider
Apr 26, 2002 5:22 AM
Still looking myself. I'm going to buy highend by october, but making it a summer hobby by looking at all bikes options.

I'm looking at Ti and carbon. I got a fit kit done to see some of my measurements. I need a different seat tube angle compared to my current cannondale bike. I need short top tube and learned my current bike is too high.

So I look at how each Ti bike rides. Do want comfort over stiffness? Some straight gauge Ti bikes, for example Merlin, rides comfortably but not as stiff as the double butted Version Xtra light Merlin. Double butt is a great option of tubing, but you maybe happy with the straight gauge. Price difference is usually $600 to $700 for the two materials.

Carbon bikes are lighter, but can not guarentte how long they will last. Seven bikes gives a good explaination of Ti, Steel, Carbon, and aluminuim frame strength. Ti seems to work great for the long haul and are more comfortable of most materials. Some steel bikes are just as comfortable as the Ti and will last just as long. I'm not debating which material is better, but pointing out that some steel bikes are better than some lowend Ti bikes.

I rode the Merlin Cyrene, Seven Ti Axiom, and Serotta Colorado III. The big thing for stiff chain stains seems to be the "S" curve that both Serrotta and Seven use to keep the stiffness in the bikes.

Seven customs the bike for you at the same price, where Merlin and serrotta charges $300 more. I'm also looking at Spectrum which are customed in the price $3000 double butted and $2700 straight gauge (fork, headset, and pump included in price) frames.

I saw the new C40 Colnoga and boy did that fork flex. The LBS pushed sideways on the bike and I saw the flex like a noodle. I wouldn't ride that fork downhill over 50mph. I understand the treks OCLV are stiff where you need it and road vibrations are the least noticed of all bikes. My one LBS hasn't got a bike ready for me to test ride yet.

I did test ride a friend Look 281 bike, but not sure how the 381 and KX ride. I hear the forks are flexy, but their LD fork is stiffer and may work for me (170 to 175 pound 6' 1").

It all depends on how you want the bike to ride and if a stock bike fits you well. I need to use a high rise stem to get my stem height. So any bike I get will look weird on me. Thats why I'm taking a while before I purchase a 2nd road bike.

butting tubes has nothing to do with stiffnessColnagoFE
Apr 26, 2002 9:11 AM
butting pretty much just saves weight. really doesn't affect the ride. the thickness of the tubes and the geometry of the bike is much more important to ride quality
Butting tubesNessism
Apr 26, 2002 10:56 AM
I agree that butting is used to save weight. But if we take two tubes, one butted .9/.5/.9 mm and another .9 mm straight gauge, the straight gauge tube will be stiffer - and heavier.

This is often the case with Ti frames. Straight gauge frame is stiffer, if the outside diameter of the tubes is the same. Often the Ti frame manufacture will use larger diameter tubes if butting is to be employed to get some of the stiffness back- this is the case with the Merlin frames.

The bottom line is that it's hard to say if a butted frame will be stiffer or softer - particularly with regard to Ti, unless the dimensions of the tubes is known. The details do matter in this case.

Butting tubespa rider
Apr 26, 2002 2:21 PM
Thanks Ed. My question would be why does Seven bicycles say that if your over 200 lbs to stick with straight gauge ti instead of double butted ti? I understand you can make the frame stiffer based on diameter of tubing, but why can't they make the double butted tubing to allow 200+ lb rider.

My friend tested ride the seven Axioum (double butted) with me last week. He thoght the bike was great (he's 240 lbs) where I thought it felt stiffer than the straight gauge Cyrene Merlin. I keep hearing from everybody that no Ti bikes rides like a Merlin, but I couldn't tell if the shop owner had his bike made real stiff. It had "S" bend chain stay, so I figured that's why it felt stiff.

Shops don't stock my size, so I have to base some of the ride quality on the bike I ride.

Is there any advantage to the hour glass seat stay over the normal straight seat stay?

Sampson sales rep told me there is no advantage for the one over the other. I guess he's BS me.

Butting tubesNessism
Apr 26, 2002 3:24 PM
Both Seven and Merlin make their butted tubing by taking a standard straight gauge tube and then machining away metal from the outside of the tube. The end result is an hour glass shaped tube (the hour glass shape is not visible to the naked eye) where the ends of the tube are thicker than the center. This machined tube while lighter than the origional straight gauge tube, is more flexable as well.

For a stiff frame, it is best to just use the thicker tube as Seven has stated. They could go up in diameter but there is only so large one can go and still assemble the frame.

I have no experience with the S-shaped chainstays but most claim they are stiffer and I have no reason to doubt them.

re: High end Bike buyingterry b
Apr 26, 2002 5:39 AM
I've bought a high end road bike sight unseen each year for the last four years, this year being a custom Strong (that of course I could not test ride.)

I based my decisions on several things 1)an interest on how the given frame material, geometry and parts combo might perform, 2)the reviews and opinions available in bike forums and magazines and 3)research and knowledge into how a given frame would fit me.

There were of course less quantitative considerations too - I really wanted an Italian steel bike, I thought carbon/steel combos were interesting, and boy oh boy that paint job is cool.

Basically, I am willing to take a chance on buying expensive bikes ride unridden based on the assumptions above and the fact that I live in Albuquerque where the only things I can test ride are Treks, Specializeds, Lemonds and Litespeeds. I also don't expect any one of them to be a lemon - in my experience as gained from doing this, they all pretty much behave the same. I learned this originally with mountain bikes - there was a huge difference between my $400 bike and my $1100 bike, a less huge but still noticeable difference between the $1100 bike and the $2000 bike, very subtle differences between the $2000 and $3000 bikes and no difference between any of the $3000 MTBs I own.

There are subtleties between each of my roadies but none so much that I could argue any one is absolutely "better" than any other. They all have their personality differences and I feel different about riding each one, but I'm willing to bet that for me there would not be a big difference between similarly equipped steel Colnagos, DeRosas and Casatis. I think it's safe to assume that if you pick the right components, know your fit well and decide that you want a given material, it's likely you'll end up with a loveable $3500 bike regardless of the brand.
re: High end Bike buyingSteveO
Apr 26, 2002 5:46 AM
"1.) How do you make a choice like this? At $3,500 I wouldn't want to make a mistake, Is it simply that all bikes at this level are great so go with the one that you like the looks of? It's hard for me to believe that there are not ride differences between these bikes. "

Well, personally, i'll never need to make this choice, as I believe there is a point of diminishing returns on such an investment.

Having said that, there are certainly gonna be ride differences between bikes of different composition/construction (not that they will necessarily be discernable).

My feeling is this.... if youre considering a new bike, there's presumably (logically?) some little annoyances/qwerks/characteristics with your current ride. Your current ride, which you testrode, and rode happily for years (?).

If youre not fully satisfied on a bike you actually testrode, what makes you think you'll find utopia on a bike youve never ridden? Reputation? cost? magic?

too much money for such a risk, imo. I wouldnt pay $400 for a bike without a testride, let alone 4000.
1. What I did. 2. An idea if you're interestedSlipstream
Apr 26, 2002 5:57 AM
1. What I did.

It took me five years to make my decision on a C40. (I am a little slow on the uptake.) Anyway, during my business trips, I visited high end bike shops across the country and test rode a number of different bikes. I also read as much as I could to understand the differences in frames. I started out seriously considering steel or ti. I did not care for al because of the harsh ride and suceptibility to denting; and I thought carbon would fatigue over time.

I also made sure my measurements were dialed-in through several fitting exercises.

I really liked ride and feel of the Colnago xlight and Ovalmaster as well as the Serotta Colorado. Over time, I ended up deciding between a Serotta, Calfee, Ovalmaster, Trek 5500 and C40. All these were great rides and I am sure I would have been happy with any of them.

Next, I thought I would see what might come up for sale in the used market. I figured that there might just be someone who had been hit pretty hard in the .com bust and needed to make a mortgage payment. Sure enough, in about 4 months, there it was, a C-40. Exact size, Campy record, and less than a 100 miles. Not a scratch or blemish. Picked it up for $2800.

2. An idea if you're interested

I developed a spreadsheet for buying a car that allows you to enter subjective evaluation criteria & objective price information; it then ranks the outcome. I could work with you and/or others and modify the spreadsheet for evaluating bicycles. What we would need to do in develop the criteria.
We cna develop as much criteria a you would like and you can weight the relative importance of the criteria relative to one another.

For example, on subjective criteria a scale of 1-10 applies with 10 being the highest:

1. fit-how did the bike "feel" to you (1-10) with 10 being highest
2. frame material-do you like the material
3. Frame manufacturer preference
4. ratings from the pros

Objective criteria:

1. price
2. warranty
Consider a custom...DINOSAUR
Apr 26, 2002 6:09 AM
Seems like you know what you want. How about contacting a american custom frame maker and conveying your thoughts as to what you want? Seems to me that when you start spending big money a lot of it is going for the name on the down tube. Where else can you talk to the guy who is going to build your frame and offer input as to what ride qualities you are looking for?

For what it's worth, I'm going through a purchase now with a well known italian steel manufacturer, it's not a high buck bike, but just from dealing with them so far, I'm not pleased with the way they do business.
Consider a custom...SnowBlind
Apr 26, 2002 8:34 AM
One of your choices is a Calfee, which can be custom.

I went to a small framebuilder, he looked at my existing ride. He went on a ride with me. He rode my bike. He did a fitting. He let me ride two that he built that were in my size range.
After listening to what I said I wanted to use the bike for, what I was currently doing, I forked over the money and tried not to bug him too much.
In the end what I got was what I wanted.
Even better, he had assumed that my riding style and skills would improve, so the bike is capable of handling a riding style more agressive than my current one.
Darn thing sticks like glue in corners that make me nervous, as the old bike was not as sure-footed.
In short, trust yourself. Whatever you decide, be happy with it.
Consider a custom...elviento
Apr 26, 2002 10:04 AM
Sure, if you are buying a frame at $3000+, definitely a big chunk of the cash goes to the name/exclusivity. Anyone who has ridden both a Colnago Dream and a C-40 will know there is absolutely not 120% improvement from the Dream to the C-40. There may be a very slight difference in road feel, but not all will call that an improvement. I think if you have the cash, there is no problem in paying for the added exclusivity.

Personally I'd be careful with custom geometries, because although they can give you the exact dimentions among your hands, butt, and feet (which can also be achieved on stock bikes with stem/post/saddle adjustment for 95% of us), things like handling and weight distribution are more likely to be screwed up unless the builder is extremely good. Also make sure you consult people who have gone through several high end bikes, because they are less likely to be biased.

All that said, definitely get one that fits.
Consider a custom...DINOSAUR
Apr 27, 2002 8:32 AM
For what it's worth I did the reverse of what I suggested. Not a high buck bike, but a choice between a custom and an off the peg Colnago MLX. It came down to geometry and fit, with a big emphasis on money. Although I think the custom route would have been a nice experience, just from a couple of contacts with the company. I don't have 3K to plop on a frame, still have a teenager to put through college..
Here's what I did...MikeC
Apr 26, 2002 6:18 AM
My riding characteristics are not that different than yours. The first thing I decided was that I wanted the best-fitting bike I could get. At age 48, I didn't want to take any chances, as I know that my body is not as resilient as it was a few years ago. Even though I could probably get pretty darn close with "off the rack" sizes, I figured I could protect my back, knees, neck, and other muscles better with a carefully-chosen custom, which would allow me to ride longer (both in miles and years).
Next I decided on a frame material. It really came down to ti or carbon for me, because I wanted low-maintenance longevity, light weight, and comfort. I also came to the conclusion that paint wasn't really necessary in my case. Paint styles come and go, and there was the maintenance issue again.
I found a few bike shops that represented some of the builders I was considering, and I checked out sample bikes for finish and general riding characteristics, and also spoke to everyone I could find in local clubs who owned similar rides.
Finally, I settled on the ride characteristics I wanted: stiff bb; stability, but with relatively quick handling, etc. My weight, at just 155-160 lb, left most options available.
I chose a Seven Odonata because I had confidence in Seven's fit and ride-tuning system, when combined with significant input from the fitter at my LBS. I did get to ride an Odonata at the shop, and it felt "exciting." I also figured that the carbon seat tube and seat stays couldn't do any harm in reducing road buzz, and might actually help. The cost was only a couple of hundred more than the all-ti Axiom, and I decided that if I was going to make a commitment of that level, I might as well go all the way.
Your desires may be entirely different than mine, and the Odonata certainly isn't the perfect bike for everyone. I'd suggest that you create a matrix, listing the things that are important to you: appearance; geometry; fit; cost, etc., then assign an "importance" value from 1 to 10 for each factor. Then score each bike you're looking at on a scale from 1 to 10 on each factor, and total the points. The highest-scoring bikes are certainly worth examining further.
Of course, the final step is to just go out and buy the bike that "speaks" to you!
Apr 26, 2002 6:34 AM
I'd start with a process of elimination; eliminating choices makes it much, much easier

*frame material - if you know you want Ti, for example, that cuts the choices in about half

*fit - if a certain brand simply does not fit you, based upon its published specs, eliminate that

*"Je ne sais quos?" - is there just something about a certain bike that really draws you to it (or repels you)? Are you just dying to have a Seven, a C40 with a Geo paint scheme (unique, for sure), etc?

*Ride quality - if you can't ride them, then ask people who have - most everyone will agree that an Ultimate rides differently than a Calfee

*Gather information - ask people, read reviews, talk about it here; might be better after you have narrowed the choices a bit

*Understand that you might well make a mistake; it's not the end of the world; sure, it's costly, but you'll likely be able to replace the frame and transfer over all your components; I know this sounds cavalier, but ultimately you won't really know if you like the bike until you have put hundreds or thousands of miles on it
Apr 26, 2002 7:57 AM
If you've owned a few road bikes (and I would assume/hope most people looking at bikes in this price range have) and know a few things about geometry the fit part shouldn't be an issue. Using your current bike(s) as a frame of reference, you should be able to narrow the list down to just a few, then sort by the "Je ne sais quos." And I would go so far as to say that test rides are overrated. On a test ride many of the things that will often stick out are basic setup or equipment issues. Like Doug said, it often takes a while to get everything sorted out. When I think back on it, all my favorite bikes were purchased sight unseen, without test rides.
My own solution was a little nuts, but it worked.djg
Apr 26, 2002 7:12 AM
For about 20 years I had always kind of wanted a Colnago. It was just one of those things. Even in the early '80s, when they had a couple years where things got a little sloppy--and where I was probably riding nicer (and cheaper) frames--I still wanted a Colnago. Last fall, I found myself with an influx of cash and sort of an excuse to blow some. So even though I had a good road bike, I said "what the f..." When I learned that Colnagos were sold in England for about half of US retail, I made a few calls and ordered a CT1. And I got lucky: I've never been on anything I liked better. And I've given quite a few bikes a try. (Admittedly, none has been a custom--or at least none has been custom built for me.) I love the damn thing. I was prepared to be disappointed, and to sell it, but in the end I was glad to put the 5200 up on the blocks and keep the nag.

It's a little crazy, I know, but in some ways it's not. Unless you have very special needs, the fact is that there are lots and lots of raceworthy bikes out there and at least as many things that are perfectly suitable for fast or long (or fast and long) non-competitive riding. At some level, buying a real high-end bike is inevitably about getting something you really want, not need, and analysis of the functional attributes of one or another alternative will only get you just so far. If you want a suggestion of something that's almost certain to be excellent: drive to Pennsylvania (call first), bring your current bike, and have Tom Kellog personally size you up for a custom rig. If you want a suggestion of something that's gonna get rid of that nagging hankering you've had in the back of your head for years: go for that thing, whatever it is.

Here's the thing: you have to know what will fit. It can be pretty helpful to have tried a certain geometry, even if you haven't tried the exact model you're considering. In my case, I'd done a lot of reading on bike fit and had been through a couple of sessions with a very good local person--I wasn't taking a shot in the dark on sizing.

Good luck. And enjoy.
Agree about tom Kellogg fit for $ rider
Apr 26, 2002 9:47 AM
This is my main option if I come into $5000 for a custom bike. Even the local bike shop down by Trexlertown Velodrome says Toms the best fit person.

They sell Merlin because Tom suggested them to sell them. Scott's good friends with Tom and says his business doesn't suffer from the two. Tom does the design as a builder, but Merlin, in Tennesee does the frame building. Tom builds all his steel bikes on site.

The Merlin welders had to get certified by Merlin's (Camberage Maine) before they were allowed to make their bikes. It took a few months before 5 welders got Merlin's style down, from what Scott told me.

Tom's shop is small (looks like a barn), but don't base his skills on how big his factory/barn. He's been doing frames sine 1975. I'm told his fitting take about one to two hours.

The reason I haven't done it yet is that I know I would want to buy a bike from him if he fits me. Need to assure myself I need that highend of a bike.

they're all good...C-40
Apr 26, 2002 8:11 AM
I can't imagine that any of the high end bikes could be found to be disappointing, but you will also find that lower priced frames may not be much different. You pay a lot for fancy tube butting and shaping, that may not be of much value.

If you're a lightweight like me (140 tops), I would advice avoiding all frames with greatly oversized or bladed tubes, particularly aluminum. The added stiffness can creat a torturous ride. I made this mistake once, buying a Litespeed Ultimate (hated it). Liked my steel Tommasini Sintesi a lot better.

I've been riding a C-40 for the last two seasons and just got a new 2002 model built-up. Got a killer deal from totalcycling .com. I decided to change from a 54cm to a 55cm frame. Both can be made to fit identically, but the 54cm shows a bit more post, for a racier look. Don't believe that baloney about the Colnago carbon fork being a noodle. The Star fork is one of stiffest that you'll find.

Some folks will point to geometry differences, which may be relevant if you're at the top or bottom of the size range, or you're unusually proportioned and pushing the limits of "standard" geometry. In mid-size frames, it's rare to find a frame that's more than 1cm different in any dimension. I can get a decent fit on most major brands.
Hey rider
Apr 26, 2002 9:53 AM
My friend has a Colnoga and said that c-40 must not been a star fork. I told him I wasn't sure. What fork could it have been to make the bike be so lite?

My put to Bob, at Bean's bikes, was how flexy are these wounded up carbon forks. He was the one saying if you want to see flex watch me flex this C-40 fork. He got it to flex side ways by pushing down on it.

Just wanted to let you know.

star carbonDougSloan
Apr 26, 2002 1:52 PM
A Star Carbon fork in all likelihood says "Star Carbon" on it. They are all carbon, which I think distinguishes them from all the other Colnago forks.

Colnago quotes 350 grams for the Star. I haven't weighed mine.

I haven't noticed flex from mine. It is far, far stiffer than the all carbon fork supplied with my Bianchi EV2, which I think was made by Advanced Composites (according to someone here). However, it weighed 290 grams.
Not exactly. Or maybe.djg
Apr 29, 2002 8:00 AM
The star carbon is one of two all carbon Colnago forks. The other is the Force Carbon (unless you disqualify the force because it has a Ti reinforcing sleeve). Both are pretty stiff, and both have relatively beefy carbon steer tubes (I've heard that the Star is a bit stiffer, but have only ridden the force). Different incarnations of the Flash fork all have carbon stems and either steel or alloy steer tubes.