| Outside magazine, March 1995|
Ride With Pride: Progressive Machines: Road Bikes
By John Lehrer
For inveterate roadies, the picture is not a pretty one: In 1994, road-bike sales declined for the third straight year, and this year the ten most prolific road-bike manufacturers will be offering fewer than 60 models among them.
But let's look at the water bottle as half full: Only the best bikes remain. Supple, snappy chrome-moly steel frames, still the choice of many racers, are the number-one bargains. Beyond that, consider an aluminum or composite frame, which offers plenty of performance without titanium sticker shock. In components, racing technology has trickled down -- way down -- to the point where midprice bikes are now coming equipped with once-exclusive brake-lever shifters. Almost everything reads Shimano, because these days that's what works best.
Other than that, you'll find little that's new -- some eight-speed cassettes here and fancy tube work there -- but we embrace the familiarity that road bikes breed, anyway. Following are our four favorite vehicles on which to crouch down behind the drop bars and whip past a pavement-pounding mountain biker or two.
Bianchi has pulled off, if not the impossible, at least the unlikely: a road bike made in Italy, from double-butted Italian chrome-moly tubing, with many Italian components, for around $500. They still know how to make a good bike on the Continent; thanks in part to a down tube that's ovalized near the bottom bracket, the ride is stiff laterally but forgiving enough to soak up road shock. The most manipulated components -- the down-tube-mounted shifters and derailleurs -- are Shimano 300 EX and run through the 14 gears perfectly. The Premio also feels plenty spry on corners and descents. But at this price, it has to have a drawback somewhere, which is that it's a little heavy everywhere, especially in the frame and the drivetrain, where you have to bear the weight of inexpensive steel. If I had only enough cash on me to buy the Premio, I would -- then I'd charge a good, lightweight set of tubes and tires to my credit card.
Last year you had to pay nearly $900 to get a bike with Shimano brake-lever shifting. This year it comes standard on the $750 Allegré, making this steel bike even more enjoyable. The RX100 components shift and brake similarly to the top-of-the-line Dura-Ace stuff. The butted chrome-moly frame is light, responsive, and comfortable; in fact, it felt like my own far more expensive carbon-fiber steed. The Allegré's top tube is a little on the short side, which should please riders who like to sit more upright. But with a quick swap of stems you can get yourself into a more aggressive and aerodynamic position and appreciate the Allegré's compliant ride in a triathlon, in a century, or on an inviting country road.
Specialized M2 Road
The story of the M2 road is the frame, which is made of metal matrix (M2 -- get it?) composite tubing. Translated, that's aluminum reinforced with ceramic particles, which Specialized says is lighter than titanium, stiffer than steel, and stronger but more shock-absorbent than standard aluminum. I'd have a hard time disputing any of those claims. I didn't notice any frame flex while climbing or sprinting, and at the same time every bump was damped. The stage-race geometry is relaxed for taking long turns in the saddle, and the shift/brake levers from Shimano's new RSX group work efficiently. The M2 Road's comfort and ride are virtually perfect, and at this price, a bargain.
Klein Quantum II
Everything about this bike demands that you notice it: the price, for one, as well as the enormous aluminum tubes, which are ovalized in some parts for added rigidity and perforated elsewhere to hide shifter and brake cables. This handcrafted attention to design speaks for the Quantum II's value. It's even more apparent when you're on the Klein: At a spare 19.1 pounds, it lets you pretend you're Miguel You-Know-Who on the climbs, and the geometry makes it quick-handling but not hyper. The ride, however, is not for everyone: I wouldn't call it harsh, but neither would I say you'll glide over bumps. I'm willing to overlook that, because the bike corners like it's on rails and gets more stable with speed. Combine this frame with the Quantum II's first-rate Sun Metal rims and Shimano Ultegra components, and you've got a hot setup.