Sunday, November 25, 2007

Review - Prelim Cannondale SystemSix, Fizik seat

I rode four hours this weekend. Okay, so it was four hours over two days. Well, about 15 minutes short of that. But it was still a significant amount of riding. I did sort of the same loop - headed up north, went up this particularly daunting climb ("Mountain Road"), then headed back down to the apartment. Saturday I headed immediately back at the end of the intimidatingly named road; today I wandered a bit before heading south.

In my wandering (I went about 1/2 mile the other way) I actually found myself on the Barkhamsted Reservoir Road Race course - recently reincarnated as the Tokeneke Road Race. It's a hilly course, not one for me. The last time I raced it I almost got lapped by the break - and that's on a 20-odd mile lap! The race was the site for my favorite wheel change ever, and I try to help out the new promoters when I can.

Anyway, my meandering brought me to a familiar looking intersection (although I'd last raced it about 15 years ago) and after pedaling a bit, I passed the big field where the racers parked. Nowadays there's a paved area as the new promoters moved the start/finish to line up with a building instead of a field.


What's been nice is that although my rides left me a bit tired ("zombie-like" might be appropriate), I felt completely recovered the next day. Blame the HGH I just started on, or... oh, wait, I forgot, I don't take that stuff. Whatever the reason, I've been recovering nicely. Granted, I'm not going really hard - over the two days I struggled to maintain over 200 watts even on the flats.

There are some familiar sensations, those "getting back into the groove" things. A stiff neck that's gradually getting a little less "cricked", an equally stiff back that's slowly stretching out (now I can ride the drops somewhat comfortably), and legs which seem to have remembered how to pedal.

I've actually put about 8 hours total on my new bike - the Cannondale SystemSix Liquigas Team Replica thing I got a short time ago. I installed a different bar/stem combo, wrapped it with tape, and stuck my blue FiR Zenith slash Campy Centaur wheels on there. I didn't bother moving the magnet to the sensor side on the front wheel until Saturday so I didn't know my speed till then. And it seems that the heartrate strap went AWOL so I haven't gotten a beat off of the SRM.

So how's the bike so far?

First off, I should point out that I did two rides on the trainer, sort of the "shake down cruises" to get any settling components settled. The cranks (Cannondale Hollowgram cranks using the now-public BB30 standard) settled a lot - I was glad I could sit on the trainer and stare at the chainrings while I pedalled.

I re-routed the derailleur cables, letting the front derailleur cable enter the right cable housing stop, the rear cable go to the left. Then I criss-crossed them under the downtube to line them up with the correct derailleur. This makes for a more graceful housing arc and a less stressed set of derailleur cable housing. I've done this since the 90s sometime and it works well.

I set off on my first "outside" ride, a double of the familiar one-hour flat loop, always in cell phone range, no super tricky descents, and basically all flat roads, a rarity in this region.

I noticed the light feeling front end immediately when I first starting assembling the bike, but I thought it might be me being excited about the bike. However, when I traveled around with the fork (to get it cut down), I realized how insanely light the fork felt. Apparently this isn't an unusually light fork - so I can't imagine anything lighter. So with this psychological factor in mind, I tried to make myself forget the light front end.

I couldn't.

50 meters from the driveway I have our now-familiar traffic light. I rocketed away from said traffic light, shifting up, rocking the bike. It felt immensely more responsive and I quickly over-accelerated past 30 mph. I promptly exploded and sat down to spin the pedals a bit. The frame felt wonderfully responsive. No perceived BB flex, no crank mushiness, and the front end damped vibrations nicely.

On the other hand, I had no idea if the "aero" seatstays were doing anything aero, and the extremely wide top tube let my inner quads rub if I felt like it. I love the big, chunky head tube with the relatively dinky stem sticking out from it. I remember this image from the Road Bike Action which "reviewed" HealthNet's SystemSix bikes - I thought the bike looked massively cool, rock solid, fast, and very "pro".

Well, except for the STI levers. But I could live with that.

When I stood to ride up about the longest incline on the loop, I initially over-threw the bike side to side, it felt so light. I had to adjust - sort of the same way I adjust when I slap on the Reynolds DV46s, except today I still had the stand by FiR Zeniths with their 500 gram (facetiously) wire bead Schwable Blizzard tires. I have no idea what a Blizzard tire does but I can imagine one thing you don't want it to do - have a flat during a Blizzard. So far, the tires have been solidly reliable, with the emphasis on "solid".

Other than the cranks and the frame/fork, the bike had only one other "different" component from my Primary Giant - the Fizik (I'm not even trying all their accents and stuff) Arione seat. It's a seat I've maligned frequently offline and I even offered it up for sale before I sat on it. But a trusty friend suggested trying it out - he'd heard some rave reviews and as he knows a lot of bike people, if they give rave personal reviews, well, it was worth checking out.

Plus it came in matching colors. I had to try it.

With about 8 hours on the seat, I'll admit it. It's not bad. I don't remember if my tights (Nalini, both windstopper and not) have any unusual padding but I do know that, due to my "trainer" training, I tend not to stand up too much. Plus I'm heavier than I used to be so it's not efficient to stand up. So I've sat on that saddle for about 7.9 hours - and I'm no more uncomfortable than I normally am after a few week layoff. In fact, I felt more comfy than normal. I felt zero discomfort on the day after a 2 hour ride - usually I feel a twinge when I first sit down.

In addition, the seat really does have a long "sitter" area. I can slide pretty far back to power up some of the annoying climbs in the area, but it's not a big deal to move forward something like 5, maybe 8 centimeters to get a bit more on top of the pedals. I really like this feature and it's now become a pre-requisite for any seat I try.

The cranks are the most different aspect of the componentry, but they will have to wait until I get some more data and experience. So far though, the two big changes - the frameset and the saddle - have both worked out well. I just have to see how this translates into sprinting up to some familiar finish lines.

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