We all know that glorious feeling: riding a brand new bike for the first time. Basically, this feels like new multiplied by a factor of four.
First, it was a huge step up in every way as I replaced my stolen titanium Serotta with a Calfee carbon fiber Manta. That major change in frame material is a big deal and there’s plenty of adjustments. I went from a frame with too much flex to a super stiff carbon frame that promised a whole new set of handling characteristics.
Second, I also went from a set of aluminum Mavic Ksyriums (which I loved) to a beautiful Rolf Prima Ares 4 carbon fiber wheel set. That’s also a significant change in feel and performance characteristics. With a rim depth of 42mm, I was looking forward to the aero benefits and the inherent cool factors while wondering just how they’d handle in crosswinds.
Third, i went from caliper brakes to Shimano disc brakes. This was also a new feeling after 30 years squeezing a rubber pad onto the brake track of the wheel rim. Now, those days were over and I had modern technology at my disposal. How would the brakes respond and how long would it take to get the feel of them?
And finally, as if new frame material, new wheel set construction and disc brakes weren’t enough, I went from mechanical shifting to the new Shimano Di2 electronic shifting.
Oh, and bonus change, a beefier front fork — carbon fiber, of course. That’s a lot to adjust to after 10 years on a whippy titanium frame with aluminum wheel set, old school brakes and shifting.
So after two riders, how does the new Calfee feel? Awesome in every way. My first impressions: super stable and stiff frame that give me plenty of confidence descending at high speeds despite my 6’4″ size and high center of gravity.
I’m already feeling stronger and faster than I thought I would after months and months off the road bike after the old one was stolen. I can’t wait to get in better shape and really attack a long uphill grade. That stiffness in the frame and fork (with those beefy thru-axles) make an immediate difference. I’m at 200 pounds so having a frame and fork combination that is rock solid is gratifying in a good number of ways.
In the first five minutes of my first ride, I could not figure out how to shift down with the Shimano Ultegra Di2. The up lever was obvious but I had to pull over, take my glasses off and take a closer look to discover what to push to shift down. Bingo. After that I was in pure Heaven. Every shift was smooth and exact and in thirty minutes of riding I felt I was most of the way to intuitive mastery. As every reviewer has said — once you try it, you can’t ever imagine going back. And I love that little electronic sound effect that comes with every shift. This is happiness.
Now, onto the carbon Rolf Prima’s. In a few months time, I will post more detailed impressions but after two rides I can sum things up with a simple, affirmative “Wow.” Now, I happen to live in a place right by the water, in the Northern part of the San Francisco Bay. It’s consistently windy there as it blows off the water. So I was concerned that the 42mm rim depth might bring a bit of instability. And at my size, I’m a sail waiting to happen. Well, I can say there is absolutely no sense of instability or of the wind pushing the Rolf Prima’s around in any way. Again, I feel super solid on these wheels and I’m already zipping around taking fast lines in and out of rough patches of road, knowing exactly how they’ll track and respond.
And finally, the disc brakes. First, they work flawlessly. You really have that confidence and I look forward to trying them in wet conditions where the old school brakes would be problematic. It does take getting used to. Once or twice on some fast S turns I got a little carried away with my speed and over-corrected by grabbing too much brake. That would have been the right amount of squeeze for the old caliper brakes but the discs react differently. That said, I’m already getting a good, predictable sense of how much force to apply to scrub the exact amount of speed. Overall, I love them.
This bike has been a long time coming after ten years on the old Serotta. I wanted my dream bike and having just turned 59, I felt I deserved it. So far I could not be happier and that brings me to one final point on the Calfee Manta frame: the esthetics. Thanks to its oversize carbon tubes, the Manta is visually and in terms of scale, the ideal frame for a big guy.
That’s a huge thing when you’re spending a good amount of money for a truly exceptional bike. You want to look good on it. With freaky long arms and long legs, I’m never going to look perfect on a bike but the Manta is the absolute best for making me look normal and fast and cool. That, in itself, is worth the price of admission.