This is the first post in my new blog, swl10-speed. My other blog, called simply swl10 is about my work as a developer of software for e-Learning (and particularly e-Assessment).
The purpose of this blog is to document my experiences in buying, building and (hopefully!) riding my next road bike. I decided to document this in the form of a blog because I often searched the internet for information to help me and found some excellent sources that I wanted to remember for future reference. I also realised how hard it is to use search engines like Google to find genuine information about products. In my work, I often search for information which has little or nothing to do with a product directly offered for sale and I've become used to finding useful information quickly. But when browsing for information about the various bits of my bike I have found my search results swamped by online stores and the vast number of meta-stores that aggregate information from other online retailers surrounded by their own pick of targeted banner ads.
The PlanI last bought a complete road bike back in 2001, over ten years ago. In fact, the Shimano 105 9-speed components that came with that bike served me well right up until my front derailleur failed last year. This event brought home to me the futility of persisting with 9-speed when the rest of the world had moved on to 10-speed, or even more. I also decided to move from Shimano to Campagnolo (or SRAM) to better suit my short fingers.
With Europe's economy in particular need of a boost my starting point was to see if I could buy a European bike. This may sound hopelessly romantic but I used to ride a Columbus-tubed Bianchi and it really made an impression on me. In fact, it literally made an impression on me: we parted company after various sharp protrusions gouged my arms and legs as we slid across the tarmac in a tangled ball of limbs and twisted metal. I followed my Bianchi with a British bike built with Reynolds 853 tubing before returning to the Columbus fold for an alloy Tifosi frame. This time I was looking for a full carbon frame so I started leafing through magazines and buyers guides.
ProvenanceWhen I came across this review of the Battaglin C12 bike I started thinking that it might be affordable to get a genuine Italian frame to support my Campy equipment - and perhaps even jump over 10 speed altogether and go straight to the 11-speed Athena range. Battaglin's motto "Engineers of Emotions" (even when viewing the Italian language version of their site) certainly evokes the passion I recall witnessing the first time I told an Italian colleague that I rode a Bianchi road bike. The company also boasts that their bikes are made in Italy but there is a fairly generous interpretation of what this actually means in EU law (as discussed in this forum post about the C14). The general consensus about the provenance of the cheaper carbon frames seems to support the poster in this Italian forum: "c13 e c14 sono fatte a marostica, c12 no".
Firmly of the belief that, in my price range, the best carbon frames are made in the far east I could return to the basics of getting a bike that suited my riding position and my wallet. I have to thank a fellow cyclist I met on the road for giving me a close up of Ribble's entry level carbon frame, the Sportive Bianco. He was in training for an epic journey around the world, you can read more about Sean Conway's journey on his Cycling the Earth website. The bike got sound reviews such as this one from Cycling Weekly.
A Sort of HomecomingI must also thank another rider I met near Hitchin who was riding an updated version of the alloy-framed Tifosi I was riding. He had recently tried their new carbon frame but hadn't enjoyed it and bought the new alloy frame instead (complete with retro graphics).
Still, that conversation put the idea in my head of going back and looking at the bikes/frames on offer from Chicken Cycles who sell bikes from a small number of brands including Tifosi and Cinelli. The review of the Cinelli Saetta in Cycling Plus was positive, the main criticism seeming to be a mismatch between the quality of the frame and the components. There's a more thorough review on bikerumour.com. This year Chicken are offering a Centaur-equipped version (perhaps in response to this feedback) though the bike itself is no longer featured on Cinelli's website - only the Saetta Sprint is listed, a more expensive version of the same design. The frame geometry seemed to be a better fit for me than some of the more exotic options I looked at and the Cinelli brand is not without romance, even if the frame really is made in China.
Having bought from Chicken before (through my local bike shop, Howes) I decided to stay with the Columbus theme and get myself a Saetta. I contemplated getting the whole bike in one go but when I drilled down to the details I couldn't get all the components I wanted. With no obvious savings for getting the complete bike compared with sourcing the components separately (except for my time putting it together of course) I decided to order the frame only, with matching Cinelli Vai Bianca seat post, stem and bars.
It's a long time since I last stripped down and rebuilt a bike from scratch so this is going to be something of a journey in itself.