Putting The “Super” In Superficiality

Firstly, online registration for the Discover Hudson Valley ride closes today at noon, so register today!

See you there. Unless you’re not there, in which case I won’t.

Secondly, human beings tend to make snap judgments based entirely on appearance. This is the basis for everything from racial prejudice to not trying new foods. No doubt this behavior stems from some primitive survival instinct–“thing that look different might hurt me!”–but of course familiarity and experience often teaches us otherwise…at least until we encounter the next different-looking thing and the cycle begins anew.

This impulse is especially easy to observe among cyclists, who have all sorts of ideas about bikes that are based largely on they way they look. Like our primitive ancestors, we often have limited experience with things that are different; bikes are expensive, so the idea of spending lots of money to try another once is scary, and unless you’re in the industry you don’t have much opportunity to ride lots and lots of them. Therefore, your impressions are often formed by a mix of aesthetics and hearsay, and if you don’t have the chance to gorge yourself on bikes in a risk-free environment it’s really easy to dig in your heels (or your cleats) and commit to dogma.

I’m no different. For example, I’ve always been prejudiced against carbon fiber, or crabon fribé. Sure, as a former bike racer I’ve owned a small handful of crabon bikes, and even really liked some of them. Still, my knee-jerk reaction is to avoid them, since I’m most comfortable with “traditional” frames and components, and so crabon ones don’t conform to my idea of what a bicycle should be.

While a traditionalist attitude will generally serve you well (the tried-and-true is unlikely to let you down), a willingness to yield occasionally can be rewarding, and you might even find that you were wrong about certain things. For example, back in 2020 I had the opportunity to try one of three bikes from Classic Cycle and asked readers which one I should choose:

Predictably, responses were varied, but since then I’ve ridden all three and some responses stand out for just how wrong they proved to be. Here’s one:

And here’s another:

I should emphasize that I don’t fault either of these commenters for being wrong; I made some of the very same assumptions. The Kestrel in particular I found deeply unappealing, and it struck me as a rudimentary version of a type of bike in which I have little to no interest, that being monocoque crabon aero road. In fact, the only reason I eventually borrowed it at all was to score irony points on a charity ride.

Since then, I’ve ridden all three. Of course, all of this is completely subjective, but here’s a brief rundown of what I found:

Teledyne: Smooth, comfortable, really pleasant to ride, and plenty of clearance for 28mm tires. However, when out of the saddle on climbs the front end flexed so much it was scary.

Colnago: Stiff; in fact, kinda harsh. Felt great when stomping up short climbs or throwing it around as you might in a park race, fun to ride, cool to look down between your legs and see the Colnago guy (yes, I know how bad that sounds, that’s the point), but by no means a sumptuous Sunday ride chariot. (Note: I rode the bike with traditional low-profile spoked wheels, not the Spinergys.)

Kestrel: Decadent. Floaty. Dreamy even. Handles very much like a race bike but in a good way. Feels good up and down climbs. Tire clearance is ridiculously tight and it barely accepts a 25mm let a lone a 28, but other than that it’s fantastic.

Nobody is more surprised by my affinity for the Kestrel than me. I feel deeply conflicted by the fact that I like it so much, and I have been struggling to reconcile my disdain for crabon with my undeniable love for this overblown late-80s douche chariot. To that end, I’ve been going back and forth between it and my Litespeed, which I’ve repeatedly lauded as the best road bike I’ve ever owned:

After my last ride on the Litespeed the other day I concluded I’d have to be a complete moron to exchange it for the Kestrel. But then I rode the Kestrel again yesterday and wondered…”Would I, though?”

If I were a normal person with like one or two bikes then yes, absolutely, I’d be insane to trade them. The Litespeed rides beautifully. Despite being over 20 years old it is technologically up to date, and because it’s not painted it will never look its age. It’s got a wide range of gears. 10-speed Record gives up little to nothing on the latest road stuff. Modern-ish standards mean it’s really easy to replace parts. There’s an abundance of potential replacement forks, from steel to crabon. The titanium “forever bike” thing is rather hackneyed, but it really is the sort of road bike you can keep forever.

However, I am not a normal person. I’m a semi-professional blogger with lots of bikes. While I still love riding race bikes and probably always will, the practice has become largely ceremonial for me; my racing days are behind me, and dressing up and clipping in for me is like those guys you see doing classic car runs on the weekend in New Jersey. For this reason it’s really not that crazy for my road bike to be a piece of period exotica with tall gearing and overwrought brakes that offer little in the way of stopping power or tire clearance but look fantastic:

It’s also not necessary for my road bike to be made of traditional materials or accept modern tires when pretty much every other bike I own is made of traditional materials and accepts wider tires:

If anything, as someone who’s embraced riding in flat pedals and regular clothes, and who has curated a fleet of wildly practical and versatile steel bikes including two (2) Rivendae, doesn’t it make sense that my primary road bike should be absolutely ridiculous? As a traditionalist I can’t help feeling as though my love affair with a bicycle made of crabon makes me a bad person, and yet as a human being I can’t help feeling as though not fully embracing a bicycle simply because of the material from which it is made makes me an even worse person. Also, being an inveterate contrarian, my disdain for crabon is no doubt attributable at least in part from my need to feel different from the legions of Freds out there riding around on plastic road bicycles. However, isn’t riding a 35 year-old crabon bicycle with non-aero brake levers, downtube shifters, and a freewheel even more contrarian than riding a road bike made from metal? And isn’t riding the very crabon bike that spawned them all the ultimate act of roadie superiority, more powerful than intentionally not waving to a thousand riders? If yes, then surely being the custodian of a 1987 Kestrel 4000 with C-Record is a paradoxically sublime expression of integrity and superficiality.

Anyway, what’s the worst that happens? It breaks? Boo-hoo. I’d have to find another frame and move the C-Record stuff onto it, what a tragedy.

Clearly I’ve to a lot of soul-searching to do. Good thing I don’t have to worry about anything that’s actually important.


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