My new bike, part 2

This is part two of a three-part series.

In part 1 of “My new bike,” I identified how I started riding a bike for the first time in years this past spring, how my first bike in years met certain needs, how those needs changed, and what I started seeking. As much as I enjoyed riding my Trek 7.3 FX, I was ready to take a step beyond casual riding… I’d been riding for fitness during the latter part of the summer.

In the previous post, I stated how I identified my riding needs. Once I had realized what they were and which bikes to consider, the next step was to actually do some detailed research on them.

Portland vs. Pilot

In reviewing the Portland and the Pilot, the two significant things that became apparent are the brakes and the materials (aside from price).

The Portland has disc brakes, whereas the Pilot has rim brakes. Rim brakes require little maintenance and have been around for a long time on bikes. Disc brakes are stronger (once adjusted). They are less likely to be affected by water or dirt because they are closer to the center of the wheel versus at the rim (wet rims means less stopping power). But disc brakes also cost more to maintain, and they add weight to the bicycle (for those who are concerned about weight).

The Portland is made almost entirely of aluminum; the Pilot is made of aluminum with carbon fiber in various spots. Carbon fiber absorbs shock better than aluminum (or so I’ve read), making for a more comfortable ride. Carbon fiber is also lighter. The disadvantage is that it is not as strong as aluminum; that is, it is more prone to breakage, especially in a crash. In fact, Trek and other manufacturers recommend having a carbon fiber bike inspected if it is involved in a crash.

I collected the specs from Trek’s Web site and put them into a table for comparison. I added my current bike for some perspective. As I reviewed the information, the differences between the Portland and the Pilot are really minor.

Trek 7.3 FX Trek 7.3 FX

Trek Pilot 2.1 Trek Pilot 2.1

Trek Portland Trek Portland

 

Fitness 7.3 FX (2007)

Pilot 2.1 (2008) (print)

Portland (2008) (print)

Frameset

 

 

 

Sizes

15, 17.5, 20, 22.5, 25in

50, 52, 54, 56, 58, 63cm

50, 52, 54, 56, 58, 60, 63cm

Frame

FX Alpha Hydroformed Aluminum

Alpha Black Aluminum w/TCT Carbon stays

Alpha Black Aluminum

Fork

FX alloy taper gauge, straight blades

Bontrager Satellite Plus, carbon

Bontrager Satellite Elite, carbon

Wheels

 

 

 

Wheels

Alloy front

Bontrager SSR

Bontrager Select Road Disc

Tires

Bontrager Race Lite Hardcase

Bontrager Race Lite, 700x25c

Bontrager Race Lite Hardcase, 700x28c; 60 tpi

Drivetrain

 

 

 

Shifters

Shimano EF50, 8 speed

Shimano 105 STI, 10 speed

Shimano 105 STI, 10 speed

Front Derailleur

Shimano C102

Shimano 105

Shimano Ultegra

Rear Derailleur

Shimano Deore

Shimano Ultegra

Shimano 105

Crank

Shimano M341 48/38/28 w/chainguard

Shimano 105 50/39/30

Shimano 105 50/39/30

Cassette

Shimano HG40 11-30, 8 speed

Shimano 105 12-27, 10 speed

Shimano 105 12-27, 10 speed

Pedals

Nylon body w/alloy cage

Shimano 505, clipless

Shimano 520, clipless

Components

 

 

 

Saddle

Bontrager Race Basic Lux

Bontrager Race Basic

Bontrager Select City

Seat Post

Bontrager Sport

Bontrager Carbon

Bontrager Select (50cm: Bontrager Race)

Handlebars

Bontrager Crowbar Sport, 25mm rise

Bontrager Select VR, 31.8mm

Bontrager Select VR, 31.8mm

Stem

Bontrager Sport, 10 degree

Bontrager Select, 7 degree, 31.8mm

Bontrager Race, 7 degree, 31.8mm

Headset

Aheadset Slimstak w/semi-cartridge bearings, sealed

Aheadset w/cartridge bearings, integrated, sealed, alloy

Aheadset Slimstak w/cartridge bearings, sealed, alloy

Brakeset

Avid SD-3 w/Shimano EF50 levers

Cane Creek 3 long reach w/Shimano 105 STI levers

Avid BB-7 mechanical disc w/Shimano 105 STI levers

Extras

 

BzzzKill inserts, Bontrager under bar padding

 

Since both bikes are fairly similar, I had to restate my question: why do I want a new bike? Am I more interested in commuting or riding longer and for fitness? Since I’ve been riding for fun and fitness more than just commuting, I chose the latter. But there was still one more thing to do before making a decision.

The Test Ride

Now that I had my choices narrowed down, the next step was to test ride both bikes. I naturally rode my FX to the Trek Store, so I was already wearing the appropriate clothing and apparel (including a helmet and SPD cleats).

The Trek store had both bikes in stock. The Portland was actually a 2007 model, but the only difference is this color. The store had a 2008 Pilot 2.1. The first ride would be the Portland.

I took the Portland along the typical route behind both the store and the shopping center next door (it’s actually a big set of box stores, including a massive Target, Bed Bath and Beyond, and a grocery store). The seat was adjusted differently (since it is essentially a road bike), but I adjusted to the new setting quickly. I also felt comfortable instantly with the drop-handlebars, and I knew that I would appreciate them on a long ride. The brakes didn’t seem all too different; in fact, they seemed more responsive than my 7.3 FX. The narrower tires make the bike feel nimble and quick. The ride was smooth on well-paved portions. It got bumpy on some rough patches; the only carbon on it is in the fork and the stem. I also sped up and played with the shifters, and they responded like butter. Overall, the Portland is a pretty comfortable ride and a nimble bike.

Next up was the Pilot 2.1. Riding the normal route behind the shopping center again, I put the Pilot through the rigors. Like the Portland, the Pilot’s brakes responded very well. The ride itself was also very quick, and maneuverability was great. Like the Portland, the Pilot’s drop-handlebars felt almost natural. The brakes responded as well as the disc brakes, especially with new shoes on new rims. Comfort was enhanced with the carbon fiber seat stays and post. The shifters are essentially the same as the Portland’s, and they responded just as well. I felt that I could get a little more speed and agility on the Pilot than on the Portland; it does feel like a lighter bike.

I then asked if I could take the Pilot on the road. The sales associate knows who I am, so he gave me permission. I took it out past the shopping center’s parking lot and got out on the road. Since the road handles much more traffic than the delivery lane behind the shopping center, I really had an opportunity to feel how much better the carbon fiber absorbed the road’s bumpiness. The other thing I needed to feel was how well I could climb hills. The main road in front of the shopping center was downhill going north, uphill returning south. So I rode down the road and u-turned to ride back, which would provide a decent uphill grade. The climb seemed effortless, especially with the riding position and reaching down on the drop-handlebars.

On the ride back, I turned right into a residential area to see how well I could get the Pilot up to speed. I found a quiet stretch of road and dropped my speed to a crawl, dropping the gears. I then accelerated, increasing my cadence, pushing the gears up slowly: third, fourth, fifth. Then I shifted up on the chainring: second to third. I continued smashing the pedals, my legs starting to burn, my torso dropping toward the bike. I kept pushing up on the gears… sixth, seventh, eighth, ninth. There was serious air under me. Finally, I realized that my stretch of road was coming to a dead-end (Argh… Suburbia!). I turned left onto another street, dropping my gears, and then tried to rev up again. By now my legs ached. I was done with the speed trial, but the Pilot handled it all with little effort (my body was a different story).

I made my way back to the main road and headed towards the shopping center parking lot. As I made my way to the left-turn lane, I felt compelled to keep going straight… I really loved riding the Pilot. But my judgment got the better of me, and I returned to the bike shop to turn in such a magnificent machine.

Decision

When deciding which bicycle to purchase, I took into account four significant factors: features, ride comfort, my needs, and price.

Features: although the Portland and the Pilot are similar in many respects, they also have some significant differences. Both bikes have the same essential drivetrain: Shimano 105 and Ultegra components. Both are essentially road bikes; the frames have similar geometries, and both have drop handlebars. Both are also equipped with the same type tires. However, the Portland is mostly aluminum with a carbon fork; the Pilot has more carbon. Also, the Portland has disc brakes, whereas the Pilot has typical rim brakes. The Pilot has more of the features that I want.

Ride comfort: both the Portland and the Pilot felt pretty comfortable. Both bikes offer good riding positions, and I was able to get used to the road-bike seating quickly. However, the Portland’s mostly aluminum frame did not cushion the bumps as well as the Pilot’s frame with more carbon. Additionally, the Pilot’s handlebars absorbed shock slightly better (although the BzzzKill inserts are available separately for a few dollars). For me, the Pilot also won for comfort.

My needs: both bikes will handle my needs of riding long and for fitness. The Portland is essentially a road bike, but it is designed for commuters; the disc brakes and all-aluminum framing make it a little heavier. The Pilot is also a road bike, but it is designed more for longer rides and moving fast. Since I want to spend more time riding and going farther, the Pilot wins in this category as well.

Price: if we talk list price, the Portland is about $160 more than the Pilot. Had the Portland met my needs better than the Pilot, I would consider spending more. But since that isn’t the case, the Pilot has the added bonus of costing less than the Portland.

Having considered all of the options based on my bicycle-riding needs, the Pilot is the better alternative. It offers the features of a road bike, yet offers a more comfortable riding position. I will lose some benefits of the FX, such as wider tires for gravel roads, a rear rack, and the upright handlebars for “lazy Sunday” rides or commuting. But in the overall scheme of what I want in a bike, the better option is the road bike.

Part 3: Buying a new bike

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