My somewhat timid (but hopeful) request was sent via e-mail to my friend, Joey. I'm always a bit hesitant to ask to borrow someone's bike because I know what mine mean to me, and how uncomfortable it can be when people start touching them, let alone wanting to ride them or take them home for a few days. She was more than gracious though, and said I was welcome to take her Specialized Ruby home for the weekend to test it out. I was ecstatic. Finally, an opportunity for a test ride that extends longer than a few minutes around the block.
|Specialized Ruby Elite|
The first ride was just a quick couple of loops around the block. I wanted to be sure I could ride the bike without toppling over, and test out all the shifting, braking and so on. The "testing" went well, and it was time to take the Specialized out for a ride.
The initial "real" ride consisted of a comparison test. I wanted to physically feel the differences back to back between my A. Homer Hilsen (the steel road bike) and this carbon Specialized. I mentally mapped out a quick route that included hills and flats and took the Homer out on the road. After completing the ride, I immediately switched out and pedaled the same route on the Specialized. I intentionally rode the Specialized in second place to not give any favoritism to this bike. I didn't want a higher level of energy on the first ride to possibly increase the favorability of this bike. I realize that riding it after the steel bike could well have put it at a disadvantage, but this seemed to make the most sense for someone who is considering the pros/cons of something I don't currently own. I also threw in a third bicycle to the test: Sam's Bianchi Brava. He suggested that feeling the difference between my mid-20 lb steel bike, the carbon bike, and a lighter weight steel option might be an interesting juxtaposition as well. I agreed. So, after the Specialized was taken out on the road, the Bianchi followed in the third spot.
I should point out that my intention with these rides was never to specifically note the qualities or positioning of the Specialized Ruby, but rather to feel the differences of steel versus carbon, and I think this was a successful experiment. After each of the rides were completed, I was able to make several observations.
The rides taken allowed me to experience that there is definitely a difference in the feel of these bikes. While on flat land, each bike is capable (even under my unskilled pedal power) to get up to approximately the same speed; however, with the carbon bike there is an immediate sensation of "going fast." The effort being put into the pedals gets the bike up to speed much quicker as none of the energy is lost in the flex of the frame material (as seems to be the case on a steel bike). A similar reality became evident while climbing. The effort to pedal uphill resulted in a slightly quicker speed (approximate 1.5-2 miles per hour), and beyond velocity itself it was as though the energy expended produced immediate results, rather than losing some of the effort in the climb. It helped me understand in a more physical manner how and why the carbon roadies are able to speed past me, particularly when traveling up hills.
|An old shot of the Bianchi Brava - it's seen several upgrades (including the wheels) since the time of this photo|
All of this, in many ways, brought more questions than it resolved, but it also provided some personal answers I had been seeking. Even with my somewhat limited time riding the carbon, I can see that there is a time and a place for it, and I "get" why people choose this as an option for a road bike. Clearly, it has its benefits. However, even with that said, this experiment allowed me to re-affirm that my personal preference is still steel. I am a bit unsure if my fondness for this material has to do with what I am currently used to, or if there truly is better comfort for me on steel, but I found that I simply prefer the ride quality on the steel bikes. There are other reasons to love steel over carbon - such as recycling qualities and length of life - but, my preference has more to do with comfort over long distances than anything else.
I am not a racer, and even should I decide in the future that I'd like to achieve quicker speeds (which I can see happening), I think I would opt for a lighter weight steel choice... it is the material I personally like. Could this change? Of course. Anything is possible, and I'm not willing to say that I would never own a carbon frame because I've already experienced changes in my style of riding over the last few years. However, if at this moment someone gave me the option to choose between the two, I would opt for steel. While I don't think this takes anything away from a carbon frame, and I better understand why there are folks who make this their material of choice, I have learned that I'm happy with what works for me. As has been said before, it doesn't matter what your preference... just get out there and ride.
*A very special thank you to Joey for allowing me to use her beloved Ruby. I appreciated having the opportunity to experience first hand why you love your bike so much! :O)
Post Script: We had another chat a couple years later that can be found here during which people chimed in about their thoughts on ride quality on various bicycle materials.