People regularly ask me, “Which is the best one?” And I regularly dodge the question. But I was riding today when a recurring thought hit me, “This might be it. This might be the best bicycle I’ve ever owned.”
What is it?
This is a 2016 Specialized S-Works Tarmac frame that I built up with things that I’ve loved in the past and/or have always wanted to try.
S-Works is the name Specialized gives its fanciest stuff. I picked this frame because it’s purple (and a much more interesting purple than I thought when I ordered it) and because the Tarmac geometry seemed perfect. One deviation from stock is the Praxis GXP-compatible bottom bracket I installed instead of the stock ceramic BB30. I prefer the compatibility of 24mm cranks, and the Praxis unit has been very good indeed.
Here comes the True Confessions part. When I first built this bike, I used a SRAM Red etap drivetrain, possibly the first one in Michigan. While etap was very cool and interesting, we never quite hit it off, so I purchased mechanical Red components to take over. This 11-speed (or 22, depending on how you count) Red is fantastic. Shifting is light, accurate and perfect every time. To date I’ve had a love/hate relationship with all 22-speed drivetrains. All of them, Shimano or SRAM, have terrific shifters, incredible rear shifting and (to my mind) really mediocre front shifting. This Red business totally changed my mind. Both front and rear shifting are fantastic.
My bikes aren’t exactly garage princesses. I ride in all kinds of weather and don’t always take time to clean up my stuff when I get home. That, disposable income constraints and others are valid excuses I’ve used to avoid carbon rims for a number of years. This time around, I decided to jump into the fray with a pair of Zipp 303s. They’re really great. Stopping is a bit different than aluminum rims. It seems that the initial bite is not as sharp, but the overall available braking force is more than acceptable. Yes, I’m using the pads that came with the wheels.
Other stuff includes a carbon Arione saddle, Speedplay zero pedals, some fancy aero handlebar and, perhaps notably, S-Works turbo tires and tubes that I run at 100 psi.
What makes this maybe the best bike? The fit is really good for me, and it feels very confident at all times, and maybe it’s pretty speedy, but the thing that consistently catches my attention is that it’s incredibly quiet and competent. It doesn’t squeak. It doesn’t groan at strange times. It doesn’t get upset with rough pavement. It just goes forward commensurate with input, quietly and competently. Unflappable. Thinking about it further, I’m a little surprised that a totally silent bike seems as unusual as it does. And yet it is a bit extraordinary. It’s made me think that many things must work together harmoniously to provide this terrific feeling: good bearings, tight tolerances, maybe a really good assembly (I did it myself!), but I give lots of credit to the wheels, tires and perhaps that fancy Red cassette with the rubber inserts.
So here I am, exactly where I’m not sure I wanted to be; the guy who’s getting older and slower, but with the coolest bike. I can live with it.