Middle Aged Man Bike Buying Guide
Mike Jeffrey recalls his tentative steps into buying his first road bike in 30 years.
The first bike I bought from YorkCycleWorks was in 1983 a beautiful silver ladies Revel with a Mixi frame for my wife, and up until a couple of years ago my own day-to-day road bike was a 1989 Dawes Galaxy, also from YorkCycleWorks. The whole point of this preamble is to set a context, I am of a certain age (58+) and until the last couple of years only an occasional road cyclist. So if you are expecting a review from a seasoned club cyclist who can give you chapter and verse on the relative merits of a Trek vs Cervelo, or Ultegra vs Dura Ace, I can save you the bother and you can stop here.
Having been cycling off-road for a few years, I had grown tired of the mud and dirt and decided to spend more time on the road in and around the Howardian hills. Around this time I also got pulled into the Strava world of odious comparisons with fellow cyclists and was shocked how far off the pace I was. There seemed to be only three options: stop cycling; commence an extreme fitness program; or see if there was a technology solution. Not wanting to deny myself fresh air or engage in masochistic body restructuring this was a no brainer.
The first thing to do was to set a budget and to be really strict that on no condition would I allow it to be more than doubled. Second get a bike fit session to make sure that this investment is not wasted on something that you can’t ride without back ache after 10 minutes. The bike fit session at YorkCycleWorks was extremely thorough, methodically going through and finely adjusting foot position, saddle height (and width), reach, flexibility and so on. Many of the adjustments have an imperceptible impact, but the graphic display tells its own story showing an undeniable improvement in the uniformity of the power output. The setup data from the bike fit can then be used to determine which makes and models most closely match. It’s no surprise that the recommendations happen to overlap with the bikes in the shop, but I am rational enough to know that buying a bike is more than just the purchase but also the support, service and advice that the shop can give.
My setup data pointed towards Trek Domane, Émonda and Madone in that order and also possibly a Cervelo R3. I live in the Howardian hills so many rides make you feel like Sisyphus: pushing up hill only to roll down to start the process again. With this in mind I was keen to have something as light as possible so I was already favouring the Émonda. I had already ruled out the Madone as too much of a race machine, but tried out the Domane first with its ISO Speed decoupler designed to cope with the Paris-Roubaix cobbles. I didn’t like the feel of this bike and I have no idea if it was due to the flex but I did not feel composed and comfortable. In contrast, the Émonda felt great from the get-go, though it was clear that rough roads might be a bit uncomfortable after a while.
So it’s going to be an Émonda, now it’s time to blow the budget based on the rationale that the last bike lasted 30 years so for a little under £150 a year spending more to get the top-end carbon frame is a bargain – middle aged men are pretty good at this sort of delusional maths. I stuck with the Ultegra set-up but had carbon bars and tubeless tyres added together with a wheel upgrade. The bike looks stunning in its black/red livery.
After 2 years, 10,000km and 100,00m of climbing I still smile every time I see it let alone go out. And going out is such a delight, the bike is almost bang on 7kg a full 6kg lighter than my old Dawes. It is not just the impact of losing the equivalent of 1/10th of your body weight but also the smooth, responsive delivery of power to the road that has seen all those Strava personal records broken. The biggest impact is on climbing, I can match previous best times on hills like Dalby bank without anything like the lung bursting effort I used to need. Average times have also leapt upwards by around 5km/h; perhaps there is some psychological benefit but overwhelmingly this is an age-defying technology solution to the problem of how to go faster on a bike as you get older.
Rather than wait another 27 years to experience this joy again I’ve made myself a pledge that from October to March I will go back to a 13kg, 3-decade old tourer and suffer the misery of a cold, hard Winter just so that Spring will bring again the joy of a new bike.