Sunday, October 9, 2016

Test Ride Saturday

One of my favorite Saturday activities has become a short ride around our downtown area. There's a beautiful lake, some relaxing places to stop, and interesting architecture to look at.

I didn't get any pictures of the lake on this Saturday ride, but I hope I make up for it with this shot:

As you can see, it was a beautiful day. The temperature reached 83 degrees fahrenheit (28 celsius) and though it was quite warm, it was still very pleasant.

Even on my recreational rides, I like to have a goal in mind. Around the lake, to the coffee shop, what have you. In the afternoon I got the itch to ride some more, but had no specific goal in mind. When that happens, I think the best thing to do is to hit the local bike shop for some test rides. Those of you who aren't bike nerds can stop reading now.

Disclaimer: I'm not a very experienced rider.  In the time I've been riding, I've never ridden over thirty miles at any one time. And to be honest, I don't have a wide range of experience on bikes. So all of my opinions are colored by my experience or lack thereof.

There have been a few bikes on my radar for some time now: the Salsa Vaya  2 and the Kona Sutra LTD.  In this post, I do make some comparisons of the two bikes. You'll see what my biases are just by reading the comparisons.

Since I own a Kona that I like, I was particularly interested in the Sutra LTD. The LTD has what is to me a unique gearing arrangement (though it's becoming very common with new bikes): one gear in the front, eleven in the back. And it was pretty cool to ride. Mostly. It shifted like a dream (SRAM 1x11), it felt light and fast, but...I had problems with it.

In my experience, the saddles that come stock with Kona bikes are not very comfortable. The Sutra LTD was no exception. I found the stock WTB saddle to be too small and stiff. In fact, the whole bike had quite a stiff feel to it in the way it handled rougher city streets; over irregularities in the road like your average chip seal, I felt like I was being bounced around a little too roughly. This accentuated the feeling I got that the handling was slightly jittery.

On the other hand, it had a smooth feeling to the shifting and pedaling. When not going over rough roads, it felt fast and light; in fact, it felt light to me when I was wheeling it out of the bike shop. On smooth roads, it was a joy to ride, and given how smoothly it pedaled and shifted, I almost felt like it disappeared under me. Though I'm not a very experienced rider, it felt very fast under these conditions.

But in the end, the Sutra LTD wasn't comfortable enough for me. Though it could be a good bike for fast group rides on pavement, I couldn't see riding it for any long distance on typical city streets.

I also got to test ride a Salsa Vaya 2.  The Vaya 2 is a 2015 model with a Shimano 105 drivetrain.  Riding this bike, I couldn't help but compare the Shimano shifting with the SRAM; the Shimano felt somehow stiffer, and it took me a few minutes to get used to it. It could just have been the way it was set up, though. The shifting was very old hat and not as fun as the SRAM double-tap shifter that the Sutra LTD has.

The Vaya 2, though, was incredibly comfortable. I took it on the same route that I took the Sutra LTD on. When I hit a rough patch of road, I felt as if the frame took most of the hit rather than transferring it to me.  This made it more comfortable to ride than the Sutra LTD.

I don't really have much to say about the Vaya 2. It seems to be me to be a solid bike with not many drawbacks. It was perhaps heavier than the Sutra LTD.

Now that I give it a little thought, I ask myself: is it possible that the ability of a bike frame to absorb shocks is related to its weight? Will light and fast bikes always be uncomfortable to ride? I leave these questions to be answered by more experienced cyclists.

It's my hope that if you've read this, you were at least entertained if not informed.

Coming up: In the past few months, I've also test-ridden a few Surly bikes: Cross-Check and Straggler. I'll be revisiting those soon. And I'll be riding a 2017 Salsa Vaya Deore.

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