Electric (N+1 Part 1)

The picture at the head of this post is not my new bike, at least not yet anyway. But it’s high on my shortlist, and one I’ve been itching to try out for ages. Having finally switched myself across to Look KEO pedals, including a proper cleat setup by my bike fitter (Spook at Daisyway Coaching), I was all set. I dropped in to William’s around mid-day on Tuesday and we did a hasty setup – nothing fancier than a saddle height translation from the Burls. The reach wasn’t quite optimal (around 2cm longer) but it would be fine for a test ride.

So what about the bike? Well first off, it’s Williams own bike – and one he’s passionate about. If you wonder how an LBS can compete with the Internet, this is a prime example. Try getting the owner of a web-site to lend you his own bike for a test ride and see what answer you get! The bike itself is a 2014 Giant Propel Advanced 1, complete with Ultegra Di2. As excited as I was to try something properly fast, aero, and relatively light (for it’s class), that final part had me most pumped – I’ve heard a lot about electric shifters but never tried them.

I took the backstreets home to get myself oriented. After a couple of left and rights I was getting acclimatized to the shifting. Aside from a slim button taking the place of the brake lever as the “bigger ring” shifter, it’s a pretty natural transition from Shimano mechanical levers. I did find my finger searching for that big ring switch a couple of times – something which is regularly noted in reviews. It’s a minor niggle really though for smooth and faultless shifts every time.

Weaving around the housing estates only managed to bump the route home to around 5km in total. Not really enough to get much more of a sense for the ride, although my initial impression pretty much bang on how William had characterized it: surprisingly comfortable for a stiff racing thoroughbred. The 52/36 mid-compact combined with a 25 tooth largest cog on the rear did have me standing and working harder than I’m used too on the final steeper section to our house.

The morning after was grey and unexpectedly damp. A steady rain fell as our gate closed behind me. On any other day, I’d have gone back to bed – but this was my test ride day, and I wasn’t about to waste it. The regular Wednesday club 100km ride was a perfect opportunity, assuming of course anyone else actually turned up! Rather unusually Yoli was up to see me off, and I was soon regretting not accepting her offer to grab my jacket. The drizzle turned to proper rain before the end of our road – I scanned the sky nervously for any signs we might get the weather that had actually been forecast.

There was at least one good part about starting in these conditions – it gave me a proper chance to try out the brakes. And they surprised me. I’m not sure what the various reviewers reporting a lack of braking power are used too, but at 60km/h heading into the 3-way stop at the bottom of our road they pulled me up quickly and without drama.

Needless to say there were some admiring glances and20151021_073150 complements as we waited for remaining riders to arrive. The early part of the ride was uneventful. The Propel held a social pace easily and in comfort. The rain finally gave up at the foot of Helshoogte, and I pushed to the front of the group to make my own pace up the pass. Despite the higher gearing it was a surprisingly light and effortless climb. The last of the clouds were still hugging the hills as we stood at the summit waiting to regroup.

I’m a slow descender, often the last guy down most hills. So it was a pleasant surprise to find myself second or third blasting down through Pniel. The strengthening South Easter gave me a chance to further test out how slippery all that aero-goodness was by taking a couple of extended turns on the front pulling into Franschhoek. All I can say is that it was a pleasant, and somewhat painful experience. Sitting atop this beast you just cannot ignore the fact that it begs to be driven hard.  As much as your legs scream, the bike wants you to keep tapping out that tempo – no backing off allowed.

A couple of aches had crept in as we dismounted and pulled in for our coffee stop. Legs, glutes and back were all fine but shoulders and hands were somewhat crampy. The reach was definitely a tad on the long side, as expected.

Riding back downwind was fast and effortless – I’ve no idea how fast, as I’d forgotten to start Strava. It didn’t matter though. You don’t judge a new bike by Strava segments. The smile it puts on your face is all that counts, and mine would have needed surgery to get any broader. The climb back over Helshoogte confirmed what I’d learned on the way out – faster uphill than you’d expect, and way faster downhill than I had the courage to fully explore.

Rolling into William’s my words were simple.

No, you can’t have it back.

It really is a stunningly versatile machine. Based on reviews I’d expected to find it twitchy, but in all honesty I think “lively” or “responsive” would be a far better description. Maybe with a shorter stem those would err towards twitchy, but as setup I’d experienced no scary moments.

My one niggle is really nothing to do with the bike. It’s a machine that needs to be spun up and kept at speed to deliver it’s best, and there were a couple of occasions where I felt lacking in power. Not by much, maybe 20 or 50 watts,  but my engine wasn’t able to do full justice to all that incredible engineering all of the time. In the hands of my riding friend Tom (a true power rider)  the Propel would fly, but I definitely need to pick up my FTP a tad to get to that point. No bad thing of course, we all need room to grow. So it’s not quite a slam dunk. But the TCR Advanced I’m testing next certainly has a tough act to follow.

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