About a month ago, I wrote about a personal growth ride:
After a warm sunrise the following morning, I had the absolute thrill of trying (and mostly failing) to keep up with friendly, uber-fast cyclists who actually know how to ride with grace. After just barely hanging in with them for the first segment, I watched them disappear around the corner ahead of me. Later on I felt them sweep over me from behind, gathering me into their stream again. A calm rider next to me quietly talked me through how to hold my hands in the drops and move up though the middle with him to take our turn at the front. I fought hard, ungracefully, to hold on with him as long as I could before the pack surged through and I dropped again. Shaky and spent, and already a better cyclist.
Three weeks later, I finally took flight along with them.
It began with flattery that I really, really wanted to believe coming from trusted friends at my LBS.
“It’s not you, it’s the bike.”
“You don’t realize how strong you really are.”
“Let's put you on a carbon bike just so you can see what that's like."
At home, I took my clothes off and reminded my Trophy Husband of Rule #12, which states that the correct number of bikes to own is however many you already have (n) + 1 more. Out of deference to The Rules, we agreed on a budget for the + 1.
My buddy Erik picked one for me to try.
Then he changed his mind.
He remembered that he had a 51cm bike that had been sitting in the back all season because of a recall. And because of the recall and because it had been sitting in the back while they waited for replacement parts, he could give me a generous discount.
The bike is Specialized’s women’s-specific version of the men’s Roubaix, the Ruby Elite Rival HRR. I love how it looks. Understated, simple colors and clean lines. Nothing flashy, just silver and black. Erik said it’s a comfortable ride for long miles, like if I want to ride a century, and also that it’s similar to the bikes he and another friend (who I’ve also ridden with and know to be ridiculously fast) ride in races.
The specs: Specialized SL4 carbon frame, fork, and seatpost. It had originally come with hydraulic rim brakes, which were later recalled. Specialized upgraded the replacement parts with SRAM Force shifters and road caliper brakes. There’s a SRAM compact crankset, which would be good for climbing. Of all the bikes in my price range, this particular one would be far and away the highest quality in terms of frame and components. MSRP with the upgrades: $3200.
Early on a Saturday, I met another buddy, John, at the shop to get the bike fit before my test ride. He measured the distance between my sit-bones (by having me sit on a piece of memory foam) to make sure the saddle was the right width. The right saddle, he said, would prevent soft-tissue bruising and chafing. He had me sit on the bike while he checked saddle height and position, and then the stem length. He swapped out the stem and had me sit again. He checked and rechecked my pedal stroke, making sure the fit was optimal for comfort and efficiency. Then he had me go for a short ride to see how it felt.
I swung my leg over, clicked into my right pedal, and pushed off. For the first few minutes, I felt like an elephant on top of a gazelle. After I settled in, utter bliss. The bike is fast, responsive, efficient, lightweight, and graceful. A weekend with it in my garage and about a hundred miles of test-riding later, I was completely addicted.
The geometry and fit position me to completely engage my core when I need power, or I can also relax back and lengthen over the top tube when I need to ease off. The efficient transfer of power from my stoke into speed still catches me by surprise. The bike leaps forward the instant I power down, and sometimes I overtake the next rider more quickly than I intend. And it climbs like monster. It’s incredibly stable and responsive, and corners extremely well. There's a precision to the ride that I haven't experienced before. It’s embarrassingly self-gratifying.
A few days after the bike was officially mine, I rode with the rising sun to meet the friendly, uber-fast cyclists again. This time I stayed in the paceline for most of the ride, riding super hard, taking my turns in the wind as best I could, learning to drift back without dropping off, and learning how very, very close I had to draft the rider in front to find the sweet spot.
And we flew. In gorgeous, graceful, liquid speed. So. Fucking. Fast. We flew. The memory still leaves me breathless.
After the second lap, we scattered a bit at on a climb, and the uber-fast riders, including the fastest woman I’ve ever ridden with, shouted compliments and praise when I topped out behind them. I could hardly speak, I was grinning (and panting) so hard. It felt completely surreal. Everyone was smiling and excited, and chattering, and Erik pointed out the contrast between this ride and the last ride I tried with them. “Look how fast you are! Look at you! Did you see all the people we flew past?!” I was completely euphoric.
When we slowed to catch our breath at the top of the next hill, my friends who race started telling me that I need to join their team and start racing with them. That they were all very impressed. That I couldn’t go ride for that other racing team. (More flattery that I really, really want to believe...)
It felt a little over-the-top, and I self-consciously joked that the new bike is the reason I was so fast. One of the racers shook his head. “It’s not just the bike...” he said. Of course he’s right, but it sure helps to have this one between my legs.