ICAN Bike 2

We finally have this excellent ICAN Aero Frameset fully build completed !

(This model is called the AER 007 by ICAN, btw.)

The finish on the Frame & Fork are matte black, which looks very stealth / understated, and could be painted later on.

This set also includes the proprietary, nicely designed seatpost & seat clamp.

The frameset is nicely aero designed, with a very smooth appearance and nice internal cable routing – the cables slipped nicely thru the openings & came out where expected.

ICAN Bike 1

The only challenge was to get the correct headset (bearings, etc) as they are a tapered arrangement, 1 1/8″ top & 1 1/2″ bottom.

Beware, not all such items fit, as we tried the Origin8 ‘tapered headset’ and it was just too shallow, about 1mm shy, which caused the fork & headtube to contact. So, we contacted this manufacturer, ICAN cycling via Email and they kindly sent the correct model headset.

It fit perfect & we then proceeded to build the bike fully.

(Lesson: Order the correct ICAN headset along with the Frameset…..it can’t be more than $20 and will insure no delays !)

ICAN Bike 3

But….how does the bike ride & function ?

Perhaps first I should detail the equipment we used to complete the build:

Wheelset: 38mm Tubular Carbon aero rims with pilar aero spokes & Novatech Hubs, w/ sealed bearings.

Shifter Group: Microshift 10 speed Centos (akin to Ultegra or SRAM Force level) F & R Deraileurs & brake lever shifters.

Drivetrain: KMC x10 speed chain + Tiagra 10 speed 12-28 cassette

Giant Contact 110mm + FSA Omega Compact Road Handlebars

SRAM Apex Brakes

SRAM Apex Compact road crankset 50/34

Wheels Manufacturing Pressfit BB 86/92 Bottom Bracket

Blue Jagwire cable set + inline cable adjusters

Blue SRAM cork bar tape

With it’s Matte black frameset color, it’s nice to add a splash of color using matching cable housings, bar tape & bottle cages. One could even do saddle & tires, but that might be overdoing it a bit.

ICAN Bike 4

Once built it was time for a road test…..and some tuning as the cables stretched for the first 2 or 3 rides.

This is definitely a sport oriented ‘race bike’ – and that is what I wanted.

I have my other ‘sport touring / cyclocross / anyroad’ bikes, but for this one I was wanting a race oriented bike that I can use for fast training, club rides and Cat 4/5 races, too.

The ride & handling is just superb. It just carves the turns like a well tuned sports car. The braking is smooth & no chatter or instability at all.

You do tend to feel road imperfections, which I think most folks with decent roads won’t mind.

We live in rural East Texas where only 20% of our roads fit this description

Thankfully the locations we race tend to have far better pavement.

For our rough rural roads, I am playing with the bike setup to make things tolerable.

I’m still in the ‘testing & tuning’ phase, but so far I’ve tweaked 2 things towards ‘ride comfort’ side of things:

1) Air pressure.

On most of my road bikes I’d run at 120 psi.

On this super stiff race bike, I’m doing 100 psi, instead.

Funny how just 20 psi less softens those sharp blows.

And I don’t notice any slowing at all !

2) Saddle.

My son (our expert mechanic & ‘real’ racer guy) mounted a super race seat – the kind with minimal padding.

I switched it after 1 ride, to my ‘old standby’ which is a Zefal Sport Comfort seat – far better. It’s firm, not at all squishy.

Yes, it’s probably 6 ounces heavier than the ‘race seat’ but miles more comfortable – essential on a bike this stiff !

A potential 3rd change could be to a more padded bar tape, or just do 2 wraps. I’ll wait on that, for now.

The bike handles very responsively, and now any harshness due to the stiff race oriented geometry is very muted.

Each pedal stroke is rewarded with a near perfect propulsion as the rider is thrust forward.

It’s a great feel in terms of efficiency.

I had prior used a circa 2006 GT Pro Carbon bike, not a bad bike, but this geometry & materials is far lighter & more modern design.

This bike weighs around 1.5# less than the GT & more stiff & responsive, so this is a very good thing.

I have only had 2 rides so far, both solo & about 20 miles each, not a lot of climbing & no group rides due to bad weather.

I am greatly looking forward to riding with our 12 regular Saturday club riders.

We tend to really push each other & I know how I was faring on my older bikes, so this next Saturday ought to be about 40 miles of vigorous riding with hills – that ought to tell me how big a performance boost this bike is.

Please take a look at the attached pictures and let me know what you think of the build & features.

ICAN Bike 5

After a few longer rides I will get a better feel for the bike, how it handles in a pace-line or in a race peloton.

Thanks for reading…any questions, just post in the comments below.

David in East Texas

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All tandems will have F / R sizing.  Some are equals, like 20" / 20" for equal size riders.  This is a 'mixtie' layout, with 21" / 18" , for un-equal height riders.  Just perfect for Dad & kids !

All tandems will have F / R sizing. Some are equals, like 20″ / 20″ for equal size riders. This is a ‘mixtie’ layout, with 21″ / 18″ , for un-equal height riders. Just perfect for Dad & kids !

 

I installed a longer ‘stoker stem’ to move the back handlbar away from ‘captain’ seat, for my stoker’s comfort. (This is the ‘before picture’) This is an upgrade older tandems may need. We realized how inadequate our current (legacy) part was once looking at newer tandems. My little girls (stokers) love the more relaxed positioning !

Handmade by Curtlo Custom Bikes, in Winthrop, Washington, and finished in a hot pink powdercoat !

It’s cool to have a custom steel, vintage tandem.

We suspect this bike was made in early 90’s, due to the equipment group it features, which is Shimano Deore XT 7 speed, with a triple front chainring, aka 3 x 7.

I must say that the steel frame Curlo builds features a very nice ride, being highly responsive, yet absorbing the vibrations that come from the very marginal pavement quality here in East Texas.

Despite our Tandem being an (estimated)  20 year old bike, Doug Curtiss, of Curtlo custom bikes, is still offering this handmade steel tandem frameset or complete bikes:

http://curtlo.com/frame_pages/tandem.html

Curtlo Custom Tandem in Flame Red

Curtlo Custom Tandem in Flame Red

Our’s has an interesting & somewhat rare feature, an Arai cable operated drag brake.  It’s an auxillary aluminum rear drum brake that is able to be activated & set in position via bar end shifter, by the ‘stoker’ to help control speed on steep descents, where controlling the speed of a 350 # + tandem team can be a concern !

We don’t have any mountain passes in East Texas, but just in case we go to some, we’re ready.

We’ve enjoyed riding the tandem greatly. It’s a nice contrasting experience to our single bikes, to mix things up.

It’s a new wrinkle and just plain fun to get 2 people to ‘sync’ up and make the bike go.  When they really sync well, they really GO, too.  The momentum of a tandem is really fun – on the descents, it’s easy to hit 40+.  On the flats, we can keep up with faster riders than on our single bikes.

On the Ascents, it’s a different matter altogether – pretty slow.  The bike beings to feel like a boat anchor, truth be told.

It does weigh 45 #, so no surprise there.  I find myself saying to the stoker, “Mush, Mush”.

(While peddaling hard myself, of course !)

Hopefully, we gained enough ground on the flats & descents that we’re able to stay close to the other riders.

My 3 little girls vy for the chance to ride stoker, it’s really fun for them.

We just rode the Pineywood Purgatory ‘T Shirt Ride’ in Lufkin Texas, a family tradition now for 4 years running.

12 year old Kara rode stoker with me & helped us go 52 miles.

We were able to ride with another tandem team, also from our Houston based team, NWCC, Northwest Cycling Club.

This couple was riding a new, $10,000 tandem, it was a beauty:  A Co-Motion state of the art machine, with all the bells & whistles, 10 speed Dura Ace with Disc brakes & carbon wheels.  It weighed about 15 # less than ours, amazing.,

Despite the contrast between our Custom, legacy ‘old school’ tandem & their state of the art machine, we still more than kept up, speed wise.

Our total investment in our tandem is no more than $ 1200, even counting the $ 300 in minor upgrades I’ve done, like seats, suspension seatpost, new cables & ‘Brifter’ shifter upgrades.

(It had bar end shifters, a no-go for safe riding, in my book)

We were pleased to see the seller had upgraded the tubes & tires to thorn proof tubes & Continental Gatorskin tires.

Riding on this stout tire / tube combo, flats ought to be a non-issue.

Good thing, too because changing tires, especially the rear, is far more daunting than on a normal road bike !

So, here is an affordable way to try ‘Tandeming’ if you’ve ever wondered if it was for you.

If you’re in a large city, finding a clean used tandem locally on craigslist should just take some patient searching.  I watched the Dallas / Ft Worth CL for about a month & found 3 good ‘road sport touring’** bikes to test ride, this one, and 2 Treks.

(Definition: “Road sport touring”, as opposed to cruiser, mountain or hybrid tandems.)

There is also a good option for an affordable ‘new’ tandem, for those who simply can’t find a clean used one locally.

It’s the Viaggio Tandem – also a ‘Road Sport Touring’ type bike, and a real steal at $ 500 new:

Lamborghini-Viaggio-Tandem-Bike

http://www.amazon.com/Giordano-Viaggio-Tandem-White-Pearl/dp/B004Q3PE30/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1413387155&sr=8-1&keywords=viaggio+tandem

Yes, the Viaggio needs some upgrades pretty soon after purchase, due to some ‘compromise’ parts that all discount bikes feature, like cheap brakes & brakepads, weak rim strips & tires & tubes, but that’s not much to count, compared to a new “budget” tandem that the local bike shop near you may offer, starting in the $ 2500 + range.

Here is a nice post by Jay Dolan, shoing how he upgraded his Viaggio Tandem affordably:

Jay Dolan's upgraded Viaggio tandem features a longer adustable stem, etc.

Jay Dolan’s upgraded Viaggio tandem features a longer adustable stem, etc.

http://jaydolan.com/cycling/2013/giordano-viaggio-building-your-budget-tandem/

I’m sure those spendy ‘major brand’ new tandems are worth all they ask, but maybe not if you are unsure if ‘tandeming’ will work for you & your partner.

With the $ 500 Viaggio Tandem, no big loss if you have to sell it on CL if the wife / daughter / friend isn’t warming to tandem riding.

For example, I got our Curtlo Custom Tandem  thinking, hoping, that my wife would like it.

I suspect most folks buying a tandem have this hope.  I first thought about trying a tandem for our family at the Pineywoods Purgatory Ride 2013, when I saw more than a dozen tandem teams who looked like they were having a super fun ride.

But, alas, my wife did not enjoy tandeming, at all.  She said riding ‘stoker’ – the back position made her feel terribly claustrophobic.

Good thing for me, our 3 little girls aged 10-12, love it as much as I hoped she would.  With them, I have all the ‘stoker’ candidates I could wish for !

We will be able to bring the little girls along on some fast club rides that they would otherwise be unable to keep up with, another advantage of the tandem.

So, I hope this post & our experience encourage some folks to give “tandeming” a try, if they’ve been wondering.

Feel free to direct any questions you have to me in the comments area.  I’ll do my best to help you out.

God bless you & great riding !

David in East Texas

We had a ton of fun racing @ the Tyler Stage Race !

Kara won her Jr Girls division….she was the only girls entrant w/ 3 Jr Boys.

She was guaranteed to win, but she HAD to finish all 3 races, the Road Race, Time Trial & Criterium, in order to do so !

(Lest one think that’s easy, consider that a minor mechanical on any stage can prevent one from finishing further stages. This DID happen to big sister Kaylee…)

Kara lines up for start of Junior Road Race - 18 miles, one lap of Lake Tyler.

Kara lines up for start of Junior Road Race – 18 miles, one lap of Lake Tyler.

 

Kara listens intently to the race official give course directions.

Kara listens intently to the race official give course directions.

Connor raced Cat 4, in the mens division.

Last year, he won the Junior division at the Tyler Road Race.  This year, it was time to reach higher.

30 men, including 2 Juniors, Connor, and friend Josh from Shreveport, battled for 3 long 18 mile laps of Lake Tyler, for a total of 52 miles.

Despite suffering a broken rear wheel spoke on lap 1, Connor paced himself within the Peleton – the mass of riders travelling together, and they stayed together until the last 400 meters, then the sprint began, and when some racers who sprinted early began to falter, Connor saw his chance & sprinted past them for the win, by a bike length or two over the next rider.

Next came the Time Trial, a 5.8 mile ‘race of Truth’ – the so called ‘race of Truth’ as it’s just a man on his machine against the wind & terrain, which was over a hilly winding course shaded by the blooming East Texas Forest.

The Time Trial start has the racers lining up to begin at 30 second intervals

The Time Trial start has the racers lining up to begin at 30 second intervals

For the Time Trial, the racers were treated to an elevated start ramp, just like the pros.  Very nice touch on the part of the Cyberknife of Texas – Tyler Stage Race /  Tyler Bicycle Club organizers !

The elevated podium start ramp was a rare treat - and a bit scary for some who didn't expect to start at such an altitude !

The elevated podium start ramp was a rare treat – and a bit scary for some who didn’t expect to start at such an altitude !

Connor focuses & prays for strength as he awaits his turn on the start ramp...

Connor focuses & prays for strength as he awaits his turn on the start ramp…

The ramp helped with the uphill start, and Connor was pleased with his time, a 13:09, which equates to a 24.5 mph average speed.

Plenty fast considering two factors:

A) The course was quite hilly,  by no means flat, as time trials typically are.

B) Connor was his regular Giant TCR race bike with aero bars, NOT an aero Time Trial Bike, like 85 % of the other racers

This time was good for 9th place in the Time trial, which diluted his 1st place finish in the Road Race.

Those two events made for a tiring Saturday, but the Crit would have to wait for Sunday.

On Sunday, the Criterium – really more of a circuit race due to the 1.5 mile length & hilly terrain – on the beautiful Tyler Junior College campus.

Connor rode his Origin8 Adrenaline Crit bike, using his dad’s excellent Mavic Elite wheelset / GP 4000 race tires, and rode as hard as he could, completing the 45 minute , 13 lap high speed tour of the campus & surrounding streets.

3 riders formed a breakaway group that stayed out front & Connor was in the thick of the chase pack – and they strained hard as the finish sprint came down & his finish was 7th overall, 4th in the chase pack.

The times are totaled, and you guessed it, the one with the lowest time is the winner !

His places were: 1st in Road Race, 9th in Time Trial, 7th in Criterium:

So, his GC – General Classification was 6th of 30.

Not bad for a young racer only 17 years of age, against many seasoned racers.  This was a group of guys who are serious about racing bikes & do it very well !

Some of you might be wondering what happened to Kaylee ?  Well, she sure started the Womens Cat 4 race, but due to a mechanical mishap, caused by a minor crash, she was unable to continue the last two stages !

Kaylee lines up with the Cat 4 women to road race

Kaylee lines up with the Cat 4 women to road race

Every race field is filled with familiar faces & some new ones never before seen !

Every race field is filled with familiar faces & some new ones never before seen !

Despite this her attitude was great !  She took comfort knowing that as the Scripture states in Romans : ‘God causes All Things to work together for Good, to those who love Him….”

And that, of course, includes unexpected crashes & mechanicals at bike races !

Congratulations Connor & Kara, for a hard fought 3 races each.

And to Kaylee for endeavoring to do so !

Many thanks to all the Tyler Bicycle Club volunteers & sponsors who put on the race !

We also thank the LORD who gave us 2 days of beautiful weather in & amongst His beauty to enjoy this invigorating & challenging sport.

“Let everything that has breath Praise The LORD !”

…winning the Girls 10-14 division, on her Giordano Libero 1.6 Junior Road Bike.

(aka Cyberknife of Texas Stage Race)

Read the rest of this entry »

This Giordano Libero 1.6 Boys 'Junior' Road Bike is a great introduction to road riding & racing....

This Giordano Libero 1.6 Boys ‘Junior’ Road Bike is a great introduction to road riding & racing….

This Giordano Libero 1.6 ‘Boys’ Frame Road Bike is best considered by those who are seeking a high quality road bike for their young children for the purpose of road training, racing or triathlons.

In the 17″ or 15″ (girls) frame sizing, this road bike is best suited for youngsters aged 8-13, or from 4′-5′ tall.

(I say that because much older or taller than that, and probably a extra small frame size, ‘normal’ 700c size wheel road bike would be suitable.)

Finding Junior road bikes isn’t easy – they’re scarce, and rarely stocked in most LBS (local bike shops).  Even at ‘big city LBS’ they frequently only stock 1 or 2 models of Junior Road Bikes, if that.

When you think of it, Walmart (& other mass retaliers) only offer mountain style bikes in the 24″ wheel size.

Those bikes are usually cheap, heavy & suited to neighborhood jaunts or light trails – NOT for serious road use.

Our 3 small girls (aged 8, 9 & 11) had those ‘heavy’ Walmart moutain bikes, but couldn’t keep up with my older two children & I on our faster road bikes, so we got them these Giordano road bikes (this exact one & two smaller 15″ ‘girls’ frame Giordanos), and they couldn’t be happier.

These bikes feature a  light weight, high quality wheelset with quick release axles front & rear, making for efficient pedalling.

Importantly, they also feature Shimano 2300 brake lever shifters, which integrate the shifting & brakes together in one control – just like all high end road bikes do today.

Out of the box, the Giordano weighs 24 #, which is a good 10 # less than those heavy mountain bikes.  Additionally, as they roll on smoother, lighter tires (moderately wide 32c Cyclocross tires, best suited for dirt trails / road)

It also features a smaller, 165mm ‘youth’ road crankset, and a good range of gears, 16 speeds, with a 42/52 front chainrings & 11-30 tooth rear cassette / freewheel – which helps on those steeper grades & yet provides plenty of higher range speed for flats & downhills.

These effeciencies add up to a much more positive road riding experience – now our family of 7 can cycle together and we can keep together as a group much easier.

This boost in ‘roadability’ has even encouraged our 11 year old to consider some road races next season, like her older brother & sister.

Yes, there are ‘higher-end’ Junior Road Bikes out there (Felt, Pinarello, Blue, etc) but they’re about 3 times the price, which makes little sense (to us) when our little ones will outgrow the bike in (most likely) 2 seasons.

The only ‘mod’ we did on this bike is to switch down to the thinner, lighter 24″x1″ (25-540 metric size) Kenda Kontender Iron Cap (‘racing wheelchair’), Road Racing Tire, to lessen road resistance.

Besides losing over a pound of weight compared to the stock tires, this simple change to a thinner, true Road Bike Tire change gave a significant boost in performance & feel.

(If your riding routine included unpaved dirt roads, the stock tire may be better.)

Those far more expensive bikes are in the 20-21 # range, costing up to a thousand dollars.

With the lighter road tires, the Giordano Libero 1.6 now weighs 23 #, with similar features as these more expensive bikes, for one-third that cost !

This Giordano Junior Road bike is truly a great value.

This bike is available at Amazon.com, as of December 2012 for $ 345

See you at the (Junior) races !

More info at http://www.usacycling.org/lajrs/

PS: If you see our poll on Family / Junior Road Cycling herein,  thank you for taking the time to vote in it !

PPS: To receive automatic updates of more reviews along these lines, please ‘follow’ this blog……thanks, East Texas Rider

Junior Denali Road Bike

A Junior road bike has smaller 24″ wheels / tires and smaller frames, making them easier for kids to handle. Seldom stocked locally, ordering online is one option.          (click picture for larger view)

Our family, more specifically, our 3 little girls (ages 8-11) have enjoyed riding this 24″ (wheel size) Denali ‘Junior Road Bike’, over the past few months.

There are very few choices on the market for smaller road bikes sized for ‘junior’ sized riders.  Many road bike riders haven’t even seen Junior Road bikes, myself among them.

Most of the “youth” bikes of this size are the comparitively heavy inexpensive 24″ mountain bikes, which usually weigh 35# and roll on knobbie tires.

Great for knocking around the neighborhood, but for your local 25 mile fun ride, let alone a Century or road racing, not so much !

This Denali Junior model features the lowest ‘reasonable’ entry level price – so that if you’re not sure if your little ones will enjoy road biking, you won’t have ‘spent the moon’ needlessly expensive model.

In this case, the cost of entry shouldn’t prove a barrier to trying it:

This Junior Denali sells for about $ 200, on Amazon or Bikes4Families.

As a comparison, the Fuji Ace 24 is $ 499.

The Redline Conquest 24″ is $ 675.  (A great bike, our local shop stocks them…)

The Felt F95 Junior road bike is about $ 900.

While those are not unfair prices for high quality bikes, considering that most children outgrow these models quickly, the price may be too high.

(This is especially so if you are not sure your child will even like road biking.)

The closest price junior road bike to this one is the Giordano Libero 1.6 boys / girls 24″ and that’s $ 399, twice the price of this model Denali.

(Review of the Giordano 1.6 coming soon….)

Last year, I bought the mens Denali (700 c wheels- std roadbike size) / 22.5″ / 54 cm frame, and am quite satisfied with it, and wanted to see what kind of road bike options existed for our 10 year old, 4’4″ 60 # girl.

The ‘normal’ full size road bike, vs.the ‘Junior’ version.
Full sized: Frame = 56cm, 700c wheels (approx. 28″ rim)
Junior: Frame = 44 cm, 544c wheels (24″ rim)

Another requirement was a bike sized so that her two younger sisters, 8 & 9 years of age, and 2-3″ shorter, could also ride it.

Our older girl, who is 10, had no problems fitting & reaching the controls, but the two younger ones couldn’t do so effectively.

They simply didn’t have the reach or hand stength.

The Solution ?

Replace the drop bars with a straight and slighly bent back ‘flat road / mountain bar’ handle bar, which made the controls available for the her younger, smaller sisters.

All we needed to do this was: bar, simple accessory brake levers & ‘shorty’ grips to finish off the bar ends, on the outside of the same ‘Revo-shift’ gear shifters.

(Oh, and shims to fit the bar to the larger 31.8mm Denali stem.)

This Junior Denali comes with traditional ‘drop bars’ found on road bikes. If your children are closer to 4′ tall than 5′ tall, they may need the road bars switched over to a ‘flat bar’. Not hard if you follow simple steps….

Our local bike shop, The Bike Shop in Nacogdoches, supplied all that.  If you lack a good local shop,  you could find the parts on Amazon / online.

Now, all three girls can ride it easily.  Once the younger two grow a bit, we can re-install the drop bars.

Another performance upgrade we’re planning on is to replace the fatter 37 mm / 1 3/8″ wide cyclocross tires it comes with, with a far more efficient 25mm / 1″ wide, 24″ road racing type tire.

This ought to do wonders for the effort required to pedal the bike !

Anyone doing this needs to be aware of, there are 4 different diameters of 24″ tire, slight differences in actual rim size.

The pages at Sheldon Browns Cycling site explain details (search Sheldon Brown bike tires).

I didn’t discover this until I ordered the size 23 x 520 (ISO size for “24 inch”), a Panaracer Pansela tire, and it refused to fit the rim.  It came close, but not quite !

What was really needed was a size tire 25-540, which will fit the slightly larger 540mm rim.

These are known primarily as ‘wheelchair tires’, and sold by medical supply companies, (such as http://www.SportAid.com)

Sounds crazy, I know, but don’t think ‘grandma’s wheelchair’, rather, think: those wheelchair tri-athletes who race their ‘sport wheelchairs’ at high speeds !

For those who upgrade the tires, the tire needed is the Kenda Kontender Court tire, size 25-540, $ 45 per pair, has ‘Iron Cap’ kevlar puncture resistant layer.

I’m in the process of doing this and will update the review once we do so.

This model is supplied with 24×1 3/8″ tires with light tread which are great for on & off road. If you’ll ride exclusively paved roads, efficiency is upgraded by going to a 24×1″ high pressure – 100 psi ‘wheelchair’ tire.

(Update: Fantastic improvment, reduced rolling resistance by 50%.  The only negative is if you do dirt or gravel roads, the stock ‘cyclocross tires’ are better.)

In the meantime, our 10 year old is beginning to do occasional club rides with this Denali Junior Road bike.

She is keeping up with us when we go 20 miles @ 14-16 mph average. She pedals very hard, but the bike gives her the gearing & can do the job.

If she enjoys road riding enought to try some races, we may upgrade her to a lighter, more expensive model.

But certainly this bike now performs well enough to do some introductory racing as it is.

One alternative to buying a lighter weight model would be to just upgrade the heavy parts on this bike to lighter ones, ‘down the road’.

(I have done this on my men’s Denali, quite successfully, as also posted herein]

Our fellow club riders are pleasantly surprised to see her pedaling as fast on it as they’re on their $ 3,000 dollar carbon fiber Treks, Giants, bikes.

With the discovery of these Junior model Road Bikes, one advantage our whole family enjoys is that our family road rides are more cohesive:

Those heavy,  clunky kid’s mountain bikes won’t hold our girls back anymore !

Thanks for reading, hope some ideas here will inspire you to ride together more as a family.

As usual, please ask any questions in the comments section, and I’ll do my best to answer them.

 

The Schwinn Varsity Carbon Men's Road Bike frame is made of an aluminum carbon composite (ACC) construction for superior strength.

 

This is my initial “first impressions” review.

[Later my son will write a more full featured review – his testing is ongoing as of January 1, 2012 !]

I bought this road bike for my son for Christmas, and I’ve unpacked, adjusted & given it a ‘shakedown’ 10 mile ride. I have ridden road bikes for years, have an Italian ‘old school’ road bike – Benotto Mod 850, and this bike compares favorably.

Very good value for the modest $ 330 price.

Keep in mind, the bike frame is actually Aluminum, with a carbon fiber wrap (ACC – aluminum carbon composite), not pure carbon fiber – just to be clear. (You’d have to add a thousand to the price for that !)

It features the Shimano STI brake lever shifters, which are easy & intuitive to operate – allowing the rider to change gears while leaving hands on bars & brake hood levers – improving bith shifting easy & safety.

The bike is beautifully finished – and weighs about 24-25 #, not the lightest of bikes – but not the heaviest, either.

It rides on deep V style aero double wall rims – tires are 700x25c.

The rim would accomidate the narrower 23c/23mm tires, which would offer increased performance.

He gets the bike for a Christmas gift tomorrow – Dec 25, 2011, so we’ll post an update a bit later.

He’s riding that old Benotto bike – which weighs 26 #, (so this Schwinn is a bit lighter), and is easily keeping up with the local ‘old guy’ riders on their sub 20#, $ 3000 + Trek, Giant or Specialized carbon fiber ‘wonder bikes’.

(The “wonder” part must be the emotion it induces in those observing those willing to pay $ 3,000 for a bicycle !)

I trust that in a very short while, we’ll be able to give a more substantive description of how this rides & performs, as my son will pound this Schwinn Varsity CF as has hard as possible – both on our club rides & also as he’s starting to ride Criterium races and some longer road races as well.

Yes, it’s a few pounds ‘too heavy’ for an ‘ultimate racer’, but it sure seems an ideal ‘reasonable cost’ trainer and entry level racer.

In my opinion, it’s crazy to go out & spend $ 1,000 plus when one is not sure how much they’ll enjoy road riding / racing.

Ok, I’ll update this when we have more real world riding impressions. Thanks for reading !

Well, the Denali is finally ‘up to snuff’… in terms of upgraded features & road worthiness.  It’s amazing what difference a few key changes can make.

A detailed list & some pics:

– I switched out the RevoShifts to the lighter, smaller, more usable Shimano A050 ‘Thumb Shifters’:

Shimano A050 "Thumb" shifters fall readily to hand for quick shifts, and allow more handlebar space than the stock 'RevoShift's did. Computer mounts compactly on top of stem.

– Upgraded to black anodized drop bars – away from the two piece bars that were stock.

– Installed my older, higher quality Shimano 600 brake levers.

Compact Shimano A050 Shifters are easier to operate & free up space on the handlebars. The bar & shifter change saved about a pound.

– Tires: I upgraded to the super high performance – 130 PSI, 130 Thread Per Inch  CST “Correre” racing slick tires.

Absolutely the single best performance upgrade ! 

Available in the very thin 23c width – and I was shocked to find the ride significantly smoother, transmitting less ‘road buzz’ over rough pavement, than the two sizes larger 28c tires did:

The CST Correre 700x23c rolls down the road with a minimum of resistance.

These 23c wide “CST Correre” tires fit perfectly on the Denali’s stock ‘Vitesse Lite’ 23mm wide rims.  In fact, it’s a better situation copared to the larger, wider 28c tires – other riders had theorized to me that the straight side walls of the same width would make for a better tire / rim unity & more cornering stability.

After almost 120 miles of aggressive road riding, I’m inclined to agree !

The bike now performs better than one could ever have imagined compared to stock: the lower rolling resistance of these amazing tires now makes zipping up to & over 20 mph a breeze – way more pedaling efficiency – I used to feel motion & effort wasted, but no longer !

[ I suppose next step is to get the pedal & shoe clip combo ! ]

Weight is still in the 27 # range – 3# less than stock – and in every respect it performs superior to it’s stock condition.

The new, lighter Denali is ready for the road with improved ergonomics & performance..

So, to summarize, in terms of road feel, responsiveness to rider inputs & smooth, easy rolling it’s the equal of the LBS $ 800 bikes.  The ergonomics – how naturally everything falls to hand – is now perfect for me.

The Denali now needs two water bottles, as rides average 20+ miles each time.

In fact, I noticed an interesting thing: with the shifters up against the stem, in the center of the straight bar, if you ride with your hands there, you’re already AT the shifter, but not near the brakes.  But if you ride with one hand on one of the brake hoods, and the other on the bar, you’re near to both shifters & brakes simultaneously, so you can ‘have your cake & eat it, too’ !

Whereas with the ‘Brifters’ layout (integrated shift & brake levers) so common today, you’re only near either of those controls when your hands are actually ON the brake hoods, and if you’re changing your grip to the straight bar (presumably to ‘rest & enjoy a change of grip’), then with the ‘Brifter’ layout, now you’re nowhere near to  the brakes or the shifters !

Our Benotto has the updated ‘Brifter’ layout, and although I enjoy that set-up, I now see it’s downside, and the upside of the way the Denali with it’s ‘thumb’ shifter layout allows more variety of grip (helpful if you get numb hands when being ‘mono-position’ too long !) variations.

Funny, I didn’t even think of this factor of the layout of controls until living with the new Shimano A050 Thumb Shifters for a few rides — now I appreciate & grasp the benefit of having controls spread across both primary hand positions.

Hope this is of help & interest to some of you Denali fans or future owners !

Please ask any questions or give feedback in the comments below…

 

Welcome to our first review !

We have owned this bike, the GMC Denali 700c, 21 speed road bike, since new 2 months ago.

It’s tenure with us has only added to luster to our initial admiration.

It’s a keeper, for sure. 

The kind of purchase that makes you feel guilty, like you paid way too little, for how much performance & enjoyment it offers.

Yes, it has a few flaws.  But nothing that is not easily addressed.

We’ve done a few key improvements.  We’ll cover them in a minute.

First, for the uninitiated, this is “the road bike” that is sold thru Walmart stores.

In fact, the Denali 700c, 54cm / 22″ road bike, is  the sole road bike Walmart stocks.

This GMC Denali is also sold on Amazon.com.

It’s not surprising then, that this bike is a very decent offering that gives more excellence for less dollars.

When one considers it’s stocked in over 5,000 Walmarts throughout North America, backed by their iron-clad ‘no questions asked return policy’.  Amazon.com also sells it with a ‘no questions asked return policy’.

If every Walmart sells just 2 per month (it’s probably that minimally or more), that likely makes it the best selling ‘road bike’ in the US.

Due to the it’s understated excellence and ubiquity, I’m going to nominate the GMC Denali for the title the ‘New Schwinn Varsity’ award.

[Those who are my age (late 40’s) may chuckle at this designation; when we were kids the venerable Schwinn Varsity was the ‘standard issue 10 speed’ – there were cheaper offerings, but the Schwinn was kinda deluxe, and $ 25 more than the cheaper ones: a full 10 speeds, nice warranty, built like a tank – must weighed 37 lbs, but was nearly unbreakable !]

Now, riding feel & performance wise, the GMC Denali is light years beyond the Schwinn Varsity, which felt ponderous, if reassuringly sturdy. (Not surpising given the manufacturing advances in crafting bike frames from advanced aluminum alloys & favorable frame geometry, etc)

The Denali features a modern, aerotube Aluminum Alloy frame – the ride it gives is responsive & handling is very quick, due to the robust & compact seat & chain stays.

Yes, the Denali weighs 29 lbs, but to me, it feels lighter than my “Old School” Benotto – circa 1987 – Italian Road Bike (which weighs 25 lbs), proabably due to the Benotto’s frame being steel & it’s more flexible, longer, thinner tube geometry.

"Old School" light steel framed Benotto Model 850 shows contrast in frame building materials & tube sizing versus the newer aero aluminum tubing which characterizes the Denali frame. Both are valid ways to build a frame but provide a very different ride 'feel'.

The Denali features Vitesse Lite aero rims, which are very stout and precise, if a bit heavy.  Their hubs appear to be heavy duty, a bit like MTB hubs (to be fair, though, no larger than the Shimano 2200 hubs on my Benotto’s upgraded wheelset….).

With the very rough pavement & potholes we seem have in abundance here in North East Texas, and the resultant punishment they give to the rolling stock, it’s a good thing to have have strength in the wheelset, even at the cost of weight

The gearing is very wide range, with 3 front chainrings & 7 cogs in the rear, making this machine ideal for those who need gearing for both large hills & flat terrain.

One of the Denali’s most notables feature is the utilization of a MTB type gear shifter system, the Shimano RevoShift, which although they appear out of place on a road bike, operate very precisely & accurately.

A readout window is provided to show which chainring is engaged

(In fact, this system provides more shift accuracy than the Shimano Sora type integrated brake / shifter levers on my Benotto).

To me, form follows function, things look better when they work well, and so this RevoShift, which seemed out of place at first, is now a much more welcome feature.

One item of note: to allow installation of this shift system, a two piece handlebar system was designed.  When installed correctly, it’s impossible for the two halves to come apart – so safety is not a worry.

However, getting the two halves aligned may not have been done by the assembly person, so do check to make sure they’re aligned.  If not, just loosen the stem attachment, realign the bars & retighten the thru bolt that fixes them in relation to each other.

The seat is pretty much ‘standard issue’.  If you’re 18 years or younger, or riding less than 10 miles at a time, it’s perfectly fine.  If you go further – (we’ve gone 40 miles at one time, and go 20+ miles twice a week on this bike), you’ll want to upgrade to something better.

Now, there is a downside to the RevoShift system, and that is, it takes up the space on the handlebars normally devoted to accessories like a cycling computer & headlight.

It’s the only true negative I’ve found, and one that the bike’s other strengths make me willing to live with.

(One potential solution; upgrade to the Shimano STI integrated shift / brake lever system, but that costs about $ 160 – MicroSHIFT sells a similar system for $ 120.  Another, much more budget friendly option would be to use Shimano’s basic, yet functional A050 handlebar / paddle shifters.  Their advantage of this Shimano A050 Paddle Shifters is they can be moved outwards some distance, allowing room on the inboard side, next to the stem, for your accessories.  These shifters are sold on Amazon for just $ 15 for the pair, quite the bargain.)

There are two or three other areas of easy improvment – the Denali isn’t alone in these deficient aspects – that is the pedals & the tires.

The standard cage pedals are OK, but wholly unsuitable for serious road rides.

Mandatory, in my view, are standard toe clip pedals, for use with street shoes, or obviously, the more advanced matched cycling shoe / clip pedal combination.

We opted for the former option, due to it’s flexibility.  It allows most street / athletic shoes to be used, and is just $ 25 – for the pedals, plastic toe clip & strap.  We bought Bontrager Standard Aluminum pedals with clip & strap at the LBS.

[FYI: We may shortly try the very budget friendly deal – on cycling shoes & compatible pedals, $ 70 for the whole shebang, here: http://www.RoadBikeOutlet.com]

The tires on the Denali are much more of a hybrid tire, and at 32c, just too wide & heavy for serious road work.

If you’ll only ride the Denali on your street or at the campground, they’ll be ok.

We rode the Denali for the first 6 weeks with these 32c beasts.  In fact, my 16 year old son beat me like a drum riding on them, at the 25 mile “Pineywoods Purgatory”, while I rode my lighter, more serious Italian Benotto Racing bike.

(So much for equipment being the determining factor in who finishes first !)

Anyhow, we upgraded these to the Kenda Kwest in 700x28c, a much lighter tire with generous rain groves, and a much smoother rolling profile.

This one change cut 1.5 lbs from the weight, alone !

This is probably the single biggest performance increase that can be made for minimal $$ outlay.  We could have even gone with the next size down, to 25c tires for even more weight savings.

Now, the Denali with these simple improvements (toe clip pedals & lighter, road type tires) is riding on a par with our Benotto ‘Old School’ Italian Road bike.

Consider for a moment, that Benotto road bike cost $ 700 back in 1987 (adjusted for inflation, maybe equivalent to $ 1800 today)…..wow, and a $ 159 Walmart / Amazon road bike performs virtually as well !

True, it may weigh about 3 lbs more than the Benotto, but it sure doesn’t feel like it to my senses.

The only time the extra weight has a negative effect is on serious hill climbs, but for now we live with that. 

As a friend is fond of saying, you can cut down and loose 5-10 lbs off of yourself a lot easier than you can afford to pay to shave that weight off your bike. 

Oh, how very true !

The simple, final improvement:  remove the cheesy GMC sticker from the frame….which vastly improves the looks of the otherwise attractive paint job.

(Let GMC get their own advertising….not using this bike….)

To remove, simply heat with a hair dryer & peel carefully – we had to cut carefully at one point.

Result: A much, much cleaner look – in fact, now the bike is easy to mistake for a much more custom make !

So, to recap & summarize:

The main factors that helped us decide to buy the Denali were:

– Great reviews on Walmart & Amazon – 4.3 / 5 stars, many positive reviews

– Walmart iron-clad 90 day return policy, if not fully satisfied.

– Our need for a low investment, sturdy entry level road bike to match my childrens’ uncertain, and unpredictable future interest in road biking.

– Availability of various sizes – (somewhat unexpected at this price point), Walmart offers small, medium/large & extra large frames.

They even list a child’s model with 24″ wheels, and a ladies frame roadie !

Only the standard large size – 54 cm / 22″ is stocked in store, which fits most riders 5’7″ to 6′ –  the other sizes are available at Walmart.com

I, myself, bought the Benotto Modelo 850 I’ve referred to, in about 1987  for $ 700 – (then considered expensive) – and then was guilty of  letting it sit for 23 years, gathering rust & dust, before it’s recent restoration.

Having that self-inflicted neglect in mind, I decided it was much wiser to invest modestly into a beginner bike – hence this GMC Denali, then upgrade if his interest continues to build.

He’s showing great promise, by the way, keeping up on the Denali with guys riding Carbon Fiber $ 3,000 bikes, while powering a bike weighing (possibly) twice what theirs do.

We’re wondering what his performance will be like when we finally put him on sub 20 lbs bike !

And, Lord willing, when / if that happens, he has 4 sisters waiting to take over the Denali, to see if they like road biking, too….

In the meantime, he couldn’t have a better, more reliable, simplier road
bike than this GMC Denali, at a more reasonable investment.

Ready for a long ride....

Connor attempting to prove aluminum plus youthful energy is more than a match for old age & carbon fiber !

Please ask any questions relating to this review in the comments section….thanks for reading !

The purpose of this blog site is to provide informative reviews of entry level road bikes, from a budget minded, yet performance orientated perspective.

It’s our view that far too often, ‘bike snobbery’ distorts an objective view of the worth & wisdom of choosing lesser priced road bikes that in many cases, are the near or full functional equal of their LBS (local bike shop) purchased brethren !

So, this forum will be our way of communicating the features & benefits, pros & cons of any Road Bikes, sold by big box stores (Walmart, Target, Sears, etc) or from Online Retailers.

We’ll draw the line  at bikes that are priced at or under $ 1000. Why this number ? 

In most Local Bike Shops, the majority of Road Bikes offered are well above this $ 1000 mark, many in the $ 2,000 – $ 4,000 range, even higher occasionally.

So it makes perfect logical sense to review the bikes that are sold without the support inherent of the ‘Bike Shop / Major Manufacturers’ industry paradigm.

(It’s probably pointless to ask who ‘fixed it’, my guess is consensus & economic reality – as long as that decision is voluntary, I don’t really care – we’ll just operate outside the ‘bicycle industry’s shared assumptions & conclusions’.)

Then, in deciding to purchase a bike from either mass market stores or Online suppliers (BikesDirect.com, Nashbar.com, Bikes4Families.com, etc), the consumer is frequently left with little guidance and less mechanical support. 

Certainly those with large families (and thus several children to purchase  bikes for) are doubly in need of obtaining quality bikes at a price which they can afford.

(Ask the author of this Blog how he knows this first hand !!)

Our hope is that this blog can help ‘bridge the gap’ so that more support is available to those who choose this route.

Most of the road bikes sold in these ‘non-LBS’ venues, will meet the ‘under $ 1000′ price window.

What about vintage bikes ?  Yes, let’s include them, especially considering most of them can be obtained at a very ‘under $ 1,000 price’.

One final note: 

Please don’t let this perspective we offer be misunderstood to convey a derisive attitude towards any Local Bike Shops you may have in your local area. 

We are actually, strong supporters of our Local Bike Shop, in many ways: Those key Accessories that are needed suddenly, and expert mechanical advice & repairs.  Just because we lack income to buy their most expensive models for every bike need our family has, doesn’t mean we don’t frequent & support them by our occasional purchases & needed repairs.

Please contact us with any suggestions about what bikes to review.

If you’re a retailer of bikes online & would like us to review one of your bikes, please contact us for more information about this possibility.

Let the reviews begin…..cheers, David Alan in Texas