Bike Evolution: How I Chose The Bike I'm Riding, and the Upgrades I've Made
Back in the spring of 2016, when I was pretty sure I was ready to give up my car (separate post dedicated to that whole mental ride coming next week) and start biking a lot more, I'd narrowed my search down to about three different bikes, all made by Trek, all in the $3,000 dollar range.
My buddies at Revolution Cycles, in Georgetown, Washington DC (which is now Trek Georgetown ) all were raving about the Boone, so that was clearly in the running. I was also looking at a Domane based on the description it has as being an endurance bike built for long days on rough roads. I specifically was looking for something that would be fast on the pavement, but could also handle rougher terrain like if I wanted to take it along the C&O Canal that goes from Georgetown all the way out to Cumberland, Maryland (184 miles). From there, you can ultimately continue up to Pittsburgh, PA. Needless to say, it's not paved and some sections are pretty rough for a road bike. I also left a third slot open to recommendation in case the two I was looking at were going to alienate me from a much better option I didn't know about.
On one of the final decision making calls to my friend Alex I told him, “I want a bike I can ride for six hours straight and when I finish, not feel like someone forced me to do it.” With no hesitation he replied, “Oh dude…get the Boone.” A couple weeks later, I was the owner of this:
My initial impressions were that aside from being beautiful, the bike was incredibly light and fast. Of course is relative; if you put her up against a proper road bike you might not feel that way. But my previous experience was on an aluminum framed mountain bike with 29 inch wheels. I used to hate hills, but now they were much more fun and seemed to just melt beneath me. I’d be approaching one and thinking, “Fuck..this is gonna suck,” but before I knew it I’d already cleared it. In fact I’m at the point now where I thoroughly enjoy long ascents.
I set a goal for myself to be riding 200 miles week. Eventually that became pretty regular. I also couldn’t believe that I actually had a bike like this. I don’t know what kind of money the people reading this make, but to say that $3200 is a lot of money for me is a huge understatement. Oh yeah, I also have this thing where I don’t really like buying things on credit…so I paid for it all at once.
The first upgrade I made to the bike was adding the SL-70 Aero by Zipp, pictured here:
I had found them on sale for about 190 bucks down from 327 or so, which is the only reason I didn’t go with the Bontrager version. Generally, I like to keep things all by the same manufacturer.
Anyway, the difference a pair of carbon handle bars makes is tremendous. It far exceeded what I was expecting when it came to turning because they are so much lighter. You experience the difference in ways you couldn’t have predicted or thought you’d ever feel. They’re also extremely comfortable and even on days where I’m on the bike for 8 hours, I haven’t felt any numbness in my hands.
The next upgrade came in late March of 2017. On the only day we got any significant snow, I slipped on some ice. I didn’t fall, but in balancing myself to avoid a fall I pulled a muscle in my back. Ok, fine…I knew the next day would suck…which it did..as did the day after, and the day after that. Fast forwards two weeks later where I was experiencing full blown shoulder numbness and shooting sensations through my arm to my fingertips. Work insisted I go see a doctor. Not immediate boss though...he told me to rub some dirt in it and move on with my life...which is really my style so I appreciate that. Anyway, I was hesitant to go see a doctor because for all I knew, it was just a pulled muscle…something I’d experienced at least 100 times before (though never quite like this). What was I going to do? Go to the emergency room for a pulled muscle? Might as well call a surgeon for a paper cut or something.
Needless to say…x-rays revealed 3 prolapsed discs in my lower neck.
I was out for five weeks…and furious that I was missing all the spring blooms. But with the injury came the next upgrade: Bontrager Pro Blendr Stem. Not only was it lighter than my previous stem, but it was also 10mm longer, at the advice of my orthopedist. It’s amazing what those 10mm did in terms of opening me up and helping my posture. Size matters.
I rode the bike like that until the end of September, when I made the most expensive and most impactful upgrade…carbon wheels.
Per Treks’ website on wheels:
“Next to the frame itself, nothing has a bigger impact on your bike's performance than the wheels. From durable mountain bike wheels to lightweight, aerodynamic carbon road bike wheels, upgrading with a Bontrager wheelset is the easiest way to gain a serious advantage in weight, performance, and handling.”
I’d been toying around between a pair of Zipps because I’d heard a lot of good things about them (ignoring my gut to keep the same manufacturer), and wheels from the Bontrager Aeolus family. I ultimately went with the Aeolus family based on two separate conversations I had, neither of which were with people trying to sell me anything.
One morning out on a ride, I stopped at a convenience store and was joined by two other riders. One of them had Aeolus 5’s and I asked him if those had come with the bike or if he’d upgraded. “Oh, I added these much later,” he said. I then asked if they in fact made a huge difference. He smiled, looked over at his wheels and then back at me. “They just….transform the bike man.” I smile every time I tell that story.
The other conversation was with my buddy Dave, who proposed the Aeolus for two reasons. “They’ll make you invisible to wind….and because you’ll get the DT Swiss hubs.” He saw that I didn’t know what that meant, and elaborated that it was the DT Swiss Hub that made the wheels spin effortlessly against what feels like zero resistance. Just imagine the fastest, most nimble hamster in the world getting a workout in his little hamster wheel….that’s what the DT Swiss hubs do.
Then it came to choosing between the Aeolus 3’s and the Aeolus 5’s.
The 3, with a 35mm depth, is traditionally more a of a cyclocross and climbing wheel…it’s more responsive…and consequently lets you accelerate faster. The 5, which is 50 mm deep, is more aerodynamic. I was told the 5 is what would make more of a difference on long, all day rides, which is what I was looking for anyway. I went with the 5’s.
Regarding the statement above from Trek’s wesbite, nothing could be further from the truth about, or what the other rider had told me about the bike being transformed. The difference was astonishing! For anyone that’s driven a supercar before…it’s like that…the power is apparent, as is the control, and you realize you’re going incredibly fast before you know it. You feel the power beneath you. It’s feeling of exhilaration! The aerodynamics were ridiculous too. The bike was suddenly cutting through like a mako shark in still water…effortlessly. The wheels exceeded my expectations in every way possible. There aren’t enough good things to say about them, and am only stopping here because I’m not a good enough writer to continue without sounding redundant and stupid.
The final upgrade I did came about two weeks before going to spend 4 months in Greece…primarily for riding and collecting social media marketing material on those rides. I had found that I’d gotten to a point where I was exceeding the resistance with the gear set I had, at least on descents, so I upgraded to a Shimano Ultegra Crank and chain….specifically the Ultregra Hollowtech II Crankset.
Copied from the Shimano website:
• Minimal weight without sacrificing stiffness
• Wider gear pitch increases clearance between chain and leading teeth, providing compatibility with frames of O.L.D. 135 mm and 410 mm chainstay length
• Lightweight crankarm design optimized for power-transfer efficiency
• Rider-tuned gear performance through various gear combinations
• Redesigned FC for greater frame compatibility
From the first pedal stroke I noticed the difference in power transfer. I think I muttered something like, “Fucking physics and science man…wow!” It was a tremendous upgrade and it took to me a point where I realized, “There’s nothing else I would really go and change on my bike at this point…” I’d built it up to a $7500 dollar bike that had everything I needed. I reflected again at the disbelief that I owned something like that. This was mine:
Anything else I add to it would just be more of a treat to myself as opposed to something that I think would make a huge difference in my riding. For example..getting a full carbon seat and upgrading the rear derailleur to be Ultregra as well. Beyond that…I’d get a bike that’s strictly road, and keep the Boone strictly as a cyclocross bike.