Austin Tri-Cyclist Blog

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Mid-priced tri bikes

Mid-priced tri bikes new
Written by: Dan Empfield
Date: Tue Jun 09 2009


The $2500 to $3000 category is a tactical price range. Depending on the bike company, you'll find a brand's entry level bike, or a model in the middle of its range. This means you're either buying a higher end frame with entry level components, or a moderately positioned frame with higher end parts. For example, you have QR's Caliente, which is basically the same frame as the Seduza but with a better parts group, and Cannondale's Slice, which is a higher end frame with lesser parts. Both are all-carbon bikes. Which do you buy? We'll help make sense of it for you.

Cervelo P2

This bike, nominally outfitted with Shimano Ultegra, lists for $2700. There are not many bikes in this price range that can boast a Kona win, but this one can. Of course, the Kona winner aboard the P2 rides another bike today. In fact, her current bike can also be had in this price category (outfitted with downspec components), and is reviewed below. This should tell you how hot this category is.

A decade ago, this was a component-driven category. It was all about how cheap your "Ultegra" or "Dura Ace" bike was. Today, it's all about the frame, and Cervelo has a hot one in the P2. The geometry is arguably adaptable to a larger audience even than Cervelo's popular P3. The geometry isn't different per se, just that the head tube in the P2's larger sizes is extended up a bit higher, so, rather than put spacer-spacer-spacer above your headset top cap, you can let main tube material take up that space (if in fact you need that extra height).

About the geometric profile: Is it right for you? It's moderately in the "long and low" category, that is, it'll fit you if you're of average proportion (not overly long-legged relative to your torso); and/or if you ride moderately steep to very steep; and/or if you're a taller rider who doesn't ride excessively low in front. The shorter you are, the less any of these qualifiers matter.

All this is to say that the P2 fits the fat of the bell curve of riders. This assumes, though, that you have a fitter who believes that most of today's pros and top age groupers are in a proper position, and that you are capable of riding in that position. If you fitter believes your saddle should be positioned back in the neighborhood of a road bike's saddle, and that your aerobars should be up in height close to or equal with your saddle, well, forget everything I've written above—you either can't ride a P2 as successfully, or you need a new fitter (unless you're quite unathletic, my guess trends more toward needing the new fitter).

The next step up from this bike, in Cervelo's range, is the same motif with better parts. The upgrade costs $700, and what do you get for that upgrade? Dura Ace front and rear derailleur instead of Ultegra, a more highly regarded tri saddle (Fizik Arione Tri 2 in place of Selle San Marco Island Tri), and an FSA SLK Light Mega Exo Carbon crank/BB versus the Gossamer MegaExo Compact crank.

Is the upgrade worth it? Maybe. The derailleurs alone don't account for the cost difference. About those cranks, yes, the SLK Lights are very nice, but, they're 130mm bolt pattern. On a pair of recent polls just held on Slowtwitch, about half the respondents said they're running Compact cranks, and half of those got them aftermarket. If you are our think you should be a Compact crank rider (and if you ride or race in any sort of hills you probably should be) then the cheaper version of the P2 may in fact be better equipped for you. The Ultegra version has 50/34 chainrings spec'd original equipment, the Dura Ace kit features a 53/39 chainring set.

That leaves the saddle. Me, I don't think tri bikes should be spec'd with saddles. Rather, they should be spec'd sans pedals and saddle. But, the P2 is spec'd with a saddle (as all tri bikes currently are), and the DA upgrade may be worth it if you really want and really need the particular saddle that's part of that kit. But what if you prefer, say, a John Cobb saddle? Then the difference in saddles in the kits isn't going to be worth much, is it?

So, I'd probably opt for the cheaper of the P2 versions were I in your shoes. The stars would really have to line up a certain way for the DA version to be worth the money.

Quintana Roo Caliente

Above you read about a bike that features the same frame sold with different kits. QR's Seduza and Caliente is the same sorta deal, the difference being the way they're marketed. The P2, the Slice, the Transition, these are all bikes that carry the same name because the frame is identical or, at least, pops out of the same mold. QR's Seduza and Caliente (and Lucero) likewise pop out of the same mold, but they carry different model names.

QR, like Kuota and some other companies, feature frames that are not all geometrically of the same theme. Whereas Felts and Cervelos are pretty much going to fit exactly the same way up and down the entire run of models, QR's entry level Tequilo is a very "long and low" bike; its highest-end CD01 is moderately long and low; and these three in the middle are in the geometric midrange. Refer to our stack and reach table for a closer analysis of this.

For example—and this is where things start to get confusing, just hang with me—the Caliente in size Medium does not fit like any size of Tequilo nor like any size CD01. But it does fit almost precisely like a Giant Trinity or Trinity Alliance... in Giant's size Small (elsewhere on Slowtwitch we exhort you to beware of T-shirt bike sizing schemes). Meanwhile the Caliente in size Small does fit rather like a Kuota Kalibur in size Small, except the Caliente's Small is a slight bit smaller yet.

One very nice element of QR's size run (all the way through its bike line) is its decision to make a well conceived 650c bike for the smaller folks. An example is the Caliente in size XS and, along with the Kuota K Factor, Kestrel Airfoil Pro, and the smallest sizes made by Cervelo and Felt, folks 5'6" and shorter have very nice options available to them.

One more thing, and we'll write more about this elsewhere: Kuota and QR have come out with a new post that steepens up their Kalibur, Seduza, Caliente and Luzero models respectively. Bravo. Just make sure if you go in and buy these bikes you're looking at 09 reworked frames (in the case of QR), and that whatever of these bikes you buy is outfitted with its new and improved 09 post.

The Caliente sells for $2700 complete, just like the P2, what about this bike's spec, relative to Cervelo's Ultegra kit written about above? One of the Caliente's derailleurs (front) is Ultegra, the rear is Dura Ace. The crank is a very nice, very expensive Ultegra SL, and this is a great spec... except it's not compact. So, if you need compact, this is an issue. The cassette and chain are 105, that's a downspec from Cervelo, but, these are consumables. All the bikes written about so far spec Vision clip-ons.

Remember, the Seduza, at $2000, does spec a Compact crank, so, just as the Cervelo P2 in the lower price point is probably a more compelling buy, the QR (same frame, different parts) is also probably a more compelling buy (the difference is, like the P2, $700).

Cannondale Slice HI-MOD 5

If you were to attend a F.I.S.T. Workshop, where we teach retailers all about tri bike fit, you'd here in what high regard we hold this line of bikes. I would reckon that we steer a lot of retailers toward Cannondale (whether they can get the line is another matter).

It's not that we think Cannondale is appropriate instead of Cervelo, Felt, QR, Kestrel, Ridley, and the like. It's that Cannondale might be a good option in place of one of these brands. Why? Because it doesn't fit precisely like these brands, and it tends to fit a different morphology of rider. Specifically, if you're a bit longer of leg, relative to your overall height; and/or if you ride a slight bit slacker (say, 77° of seat angle instead of 79°); then this might be your best bet.

How often does this happen? We've had workshops where only 10 or 20 percent of our attendees fit best on a Cannondale (or perhaps a Scott Plasma), and we've had workshops were 40 to 50 percent fit best on a Slice. You can see why two brands such as those mentioned above, paired with Cannondale, might represent a more comprehensive lineup than three bike lines that all fit the same way.

The Slice is the bike ridden by Ivan Basso, Franco Pellizotti, and the rest of the Liquigas pro cycling team. It's ridden by 2-time Kona champ Chrissie Wellington and 70.3 World Champ Mirinda Carfrae. It's been slow to garner a lot of support among triathletes at the cash register but, like an eventual Oscar contender getting great word-of-mouth at art houses, it's picking up steam.

In truth, this is one of the calmest tri bikes I've ever ridden. And that's because it's got a lot of "trail." It wants to go in a straight line, but not so much so that it's hard to steer while in the aero position. But this 62mm of trail makes it a slight bit of a luggard while out of the saddle, so, just ride it in the aero position. Heck, that's where you're supposed to be anyway.

Let's talk about parts. This $3000 bike is spec'd with Profile Design T2+ aerobars. I hate those extensions. But, I love Profile's Cobra extensions. The Cobras do come on the Slice 3 (this is the "Slice 5" we're reviewing). The "3" sells for $3600. This is one area where the extra dough may be worth it.

However, the higher-priced 3 is built with a standard outboard bottom bracket bearing arrangement, and the cheaper 5 is built with a BB30 crank and BB. The oversized BB is a Cannondale theme I've appreciated for years now. I rather prefer larger bearings and axle at their traditional English width rather than traditional English diameter bearings placed outboard of the frame. You get BB30 on the cheaper Cannondale Slice. You also get the nice Fizik Arione Tri 2 on the cheaper Slice as well as the more expensive. The wheelsets are a bit different on the 3 versus the 5, as are the tires, but nothing worth an extra $600.

But let's talk about fit again for a second. Remember, the Slice is a taller frame, and "narrower," than a Felt, a Cervelo, and other brands. It's going to fit people Cervelos don't fit, and Cervelos and Felts fit a lot of people. If you then take an aerobar that has as its geometric hallmark an armrest that sits high above the pursuit bar, you're potentially painting yourself into a corner. All that is to say: The Slice may be your perfect bike, but not necessarily with its spec'd bar.

So, if you end up changing the aerobar to, say, a Visiontech, or just a lower elevation Profile Design (like a Volna or a CX 3), then the difference in spec between the Slice 3's aerobar extension and a Slice 5's extension is meaningless.

So, again, if the more expensive spec of the Slice 3 perfectly matches your needs, fine. Otherwise, probably best to stick with the good frame in its cheapest iteration—just as with the Cervelo and QR bikes written about above—and get yourself a Slice 5.

1 comment:

  1. You should give away a free bike if anyone actually read this whole article