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Bicycle Tips
I’m always trying new equipment. I pay for it except when noted. If it’s an improvement over what’s on the bike it sticks. If not it’s immediately relegated to a box in my favorite bike shop where it joins other used equipment that’s given to UNH cycling team members. Here is the second in a series of product reviews.
Madone 5.2

Trek 5.2 Madone (The Saga of Ugly Betty)

There’s a new sheriff in town, Trek has completely redesigned its Madone series carbon fiber frame that carried Lance and the Postal/Discovery teams to 7 consecutive TDF wins from 1999-2005.

My current ride is from one of those years. Decked out with brilliant credentials and the best components it’s better than I’ll ever need. This finds me at the brink of an epiphany of sorts; it’s the first time I don’t want the latest and greatest. Lance made a living on my bike, what more needs to be said?

Lance’s legacy lives with Trek as well, and they’ve kept the Madone name but with a radical new frame design that’s causing quite a buzz in the sport and industry. For openers, this new Madone finished first and third in this year’s TDF and Discovery won the overall team title on it.

Trek’s the last major manufacturer to jump on the sloping top tube bandwagon that uses marginally less material, thus saving a tiny bit of weight. In theory a smaller bike is more rigid and easier to handle.

That’s old news but what’s radical is its massive bottom bracket and its oversized and tapered head tube/fork front end. Many think the latter will become an industry standard.

Beefing up these areas to eliminate flex and increase stability generally leads to a harsher ride but not in this case and saving weight while doing so borders on revolutionary. Its other immediately noticeable feature is an extended seat tube that’s also more rigid and saves a bit of weight over a conventional seat post.

Less weight is always cool but the advantage of better power transfer is huge. To pros and other super purposeful riders it’s all they’re after. To the rest of us, the promise of getting to speed more easily, staying there longer and all the while conserving energy is why racing bikes aren’t just for racing.

Normally I’d be champing at the bit to experience the promise but it’s difficult to let go of the elegance of a diamond frame for something that looks like a girl’s bike. I always tell prospective buyers, at the risk of losing the sale, not to buy a bike if they don’t like the look or color, because they won’t ride it. Friends don’t let friends buy ugly bikes.

Trek’s Wisconsin built 5 and 6 series carbon framesets are their best with the 6.9 Discovery Team Bike the Ferrari of Trek’s line. It retails for $8250 but not yet available to the public. From all reports it’s the real deal and there’s a waiting list a half-dozen deep at Gus’s replete with deposits.

The slightly heavier 5.2 are what’s currently available at Gus’s and other selected Trek dealers. It doesn’t come with the panache of a TDF winning frame but should ride about the same. For $3200 it comes nicely equipped with a Shimano Ultegra group that’s one step down from the lighter, better finished and better looking Dura Ace that I’m used to but probably works as well.

The bike on the floor is cheap by my standards and begs the question when am I going to see another one that’s not only my size but with the exact parts I’d choose if I had to choose from a 2nd tier parts bin? A set of pedals and I’m good to go.

Meanwhile, the black and white paint scheme is strike one. Strike two is a borderline call. The 5.2 is heavier by 200 or so grams and that, sad to say, doesn’t mean much except for bragging rights. Strike three however is an unhittable Josh Beckett fastball. The sloping top tube is a look I just don’t care for.

This Ugly Betty before me is almost the same bike as its stratospherically priced brother and I’m sure will ride every bit as well. I do my best to explain that to anyone who will listen and also what a brilliant way it is to save $5000, something I’m guessing you don’t hear at a Ferrari dealership.

I think it’s sold when a purposeful rider with a checkbook sticking out of his back pocket eagerly listens to everything I know. That’s not much since I’ve never ridden one. He’s mentally there and all that’s left is to write the check.

He points out that $3200 is an expensive bargain and decides to think it over. I really think it’s a deal and instead of hanging the bike back up buy it. The method to my madness was to look at this as an easy bike to flip once I decide it’s not for me; it’s going to be scarce for a while so a chance to ride this cutting edge design on the cheap and sell it quickly is too good to pass up.

A closed mind is a terrible thing to waste is my thought heading out the door for my first ride. It’s also hard to leave the queen of my fleet behind but I told her this homely thing couldn’t possibly replace her. BTW I used a set of my wheels so when I sell Betty she’ll be as good as new.

In the first two minutes, just across Barter’s Creek there’s a short steep uphill. On Queenie my rear brake when closed is set a hair too tight and the rear wheel chirps just the tiniest bit on steep climbs. That’s a trial and error fix so until it’s adjusted it’s left open to accommodate what I assumed was wheel flex.

On Betty there’s no chirping and its rear brake is closed something I didn’t take note of until after the ride. It was then I realized Queenie has a bit of wiggle in her and Betty has zero. Knowing that right off would have prejudiced my thinking toward the positive rather than the far more objective, okay Betty prove it.

The Maine seacoast is relatively flat although a few hills get in my way. Not so on this bike this day. The increased rigidity helped me zip over lumps that too often slow me down. That’s hardly scientific but it’s not rocket science to comprehend that more fun generates more energy.

Since that first ride in mid-July I’ve put on 1500 or so miles and nothing has changed my mind that this frameset offers an amazing ride. It’s a combination of responsive and super smooth that all riders are after.

It took me 3 weeks before I got back on Queenie to see what was in my head and what was different. Same rear wheel, same hill, closed brake and same chirp, chirp, the wheel is rubbing; the frame is flexing.

That confirmed all the other good things rigidity does for a bike but here’s where it’s tricky. After that I forgot about everything except enjoying the ride. When I’m feeling strong and riding well, what’s not to love? I’m flying, Queenie is a great bike and will always be drop dead gorgeous but Ugly Betty’s better. She must be because Queenie’s been relegated to museum duty.

The final test came in Bar Harbor where long climbs and fast descents are around every corner. At close to 200lbs I weigh too much to be a good climber but almost enjoy it. Going uphill on Betty I’m able to set a harder tempo turning more rpm’s in bigger gears.

Thankfully nobody’s keeping score and there are no expectations for me to stay with better riders who climb all the time. They always tell me it’s not a long wait at the top but now they almost seem to mean it.

Downhill, heavier is good and Betty descends as if on rails. The new front end is so stable I wound up carving turns down Cadillac Mountain faster than good sense dictated, slowing down only when passing cars. Halfway down it dawns on me this is not a closed course and the 4 wheel beasts are driven by multi-taskers even more distracted than usual.

Is Ugly Betty any better looking? She’s getting there. The black and white paint/clear coat scheme lends it motion and riders who see it up close and personal always comment on how sleek and fast she looks. I’m not about to argue.

And this just in, or at least not known until I’d been riding Betty for a couple of weeks and that’s once the TDF was over Trek revealed the race had been won on this very same 5.2 frame all dolled up as a 6.9 including the decals.

It turns out Trek has yet to build the first 6.9 for anyone. To achieve the same strength it takes much longer to lay up the lighter carbon fiber and there must be other production demands that take precedence.

It’s not at all surprising that Trek’s 2nd best frameset is more than good enough at the highest level of competition. That I’m still on a TDF winner feels pretty good. The Ultegra equipment works flawlessly and I now know for sure I don’t need anything better.

Right and when Shimano’s electronic group comes out this spring I’m on top of that. Also by then maybe the 6.9 will be available with a paint job that does it for me. There goes the epiphany. How long are they supposed to last? I wonder if I’ll dump Betty? Stay tuned.



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