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April 18, 2007

Vroomin'

Well, it took a while, but I’ve finally got my act together, and I’m ready to tell you all about my new bike. So if you’ve got a few minutes to spare (this weighs in with 15 pictures and over 2600 words), pull up a chair and allow me to introduce you to my Cervelo P2 SL.

However, I’m going to start in a somewhat unorthodox manner, and tell you that the bike doesn’t have a name, and possibly never will. Furthermore, I don’t really think of it as a “she”, and I’m intentionally avoiding the words “bike porn” to describe these pictures - because honestly, I’ve never understood the rationale behind that phrase.

Here’s what I don’t get: when most guys get a bike, they do the following: 1) assign it a gender (usually female), 2) give it a name, and then 3) put pictures of it on the Internet and call it bike porn. But using that logic, wouldn’t this be the equivalent of some photographer posting pictures of his girlfriend or daughter on a sleazy adult website? As far as analogies go, this one has always seemed pretty messed up to me.

That’s why I’m calling these pictures a photo essay - because I respect this bike. I want a relationship with this bike. And if I ever decide to do bike porn, I’ll just go find some abandoned bike on the street, spend a little money to clean it up and make it more attractive, then produce videos of different guys riding it each month, and charge you $12.95 to watch. So there.

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I should start by saying that I did a LOT of comparison shopping on several tri-bikes, and I’m extremely satisfied that I made the right choice for me. The P2 SL has won a lot of “best value” and “best in category” designations, and the more I learned, the more convinced I was that this was the bike I wanted. The only question was whether it would be a good fit to my body type, which turned out to be a fairly easy (but time consuming) process at the bike shop. I briefly deliberated about investing an additional $1000 for the carbon frame version, but elected to stick with the aluminum frame model, for reasons I’ll touch on later.

Of all the reviews I read, it was this line from Bikesport about the Cervelo Dual (a precursor of the P2) that stood out the most, and echoed in my mind throughout the process: “This is not a compromise bike you buy to get started; it is the bike you buy once and for all to be in the sport.” Well … Amen, brother. I certainly hope so.

With that in mind, here are some photos and observations about the bike that has landed me, once and for all, in the sport of triathlon:



So here you have it: the Cervelo P2 SL. Isn’t it a great looking bike? Sleek, powerful, and aggressive. What’s more, I really dig the color - it’s called “gun metal black”, which sounds totally badass. It’s a completely superficial thing to admit, but color played a more significant role than it should have when I decided what bikes to consider. I’d like to think I might have bought this bike even if it were bright green or yellow, but in all likelihood, I probably wouldn’t have.

If you’ve seen pictures of me in race gear (like in my profile pic), you know this: I love racing in black. Wearing black on race day is my version of Tiger Woods wearing red on tournament Sundays – a symbolic statement that for the next few hours, I’m officially in warrior mode. And now, my bike is an outward expression of my internal mindset. Whatever the bike version of “game face” is, the P2 has it. Permanently. And I think I’m in love.

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When I first looked at pictures of the frame, I was struck by the lack of the company brand across the downtube like on almost every other bike I saw. Even on other Cervelos (like this one), the name across the downtube is usually so large that it’s almost overbearing.

So when I initially saw the P2, with a simple logo on the downtube, and the Cervelo name in smaller letters on the seat tube, I was pretty impressed. I thought, wow – here’s a bike that’s branded in a very understated, classy manner. They have such confidence in their product that they’re not compelled to put the name right up in your grill.

And as you’ll soon see … I couldn’t have been more wrong.

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One major selling point of the P2 is that it offers a truly aerodynamic frame, which is a rarity in its price category ($2000 or less). The wind-slicing design is even incorporated into the seat post, which is pictured here, along with the small Cervelo lettering.

Yes, even the seatpost is aerodynamic. But here’s my question: considering that it’s surrounded on three sides by my butt and thighs, how much of an aerodynamic advantage am I really gaining here? But, you know, I appreciate the thought.

Also visible in this picture are my bottle cages, one of the two components carried over from my old bike. Except now they are mounted behind my seat, instead of within the frame. It’s taken some practice in reaching behind me to get the bottles, and - even more difficult – putting them back in the cages just by feel (since I can’t really turn around to look). I think I’ll get the hang of it eventually – but I’ve already dropped a couple of bottles onto the road this way. Good thing there’s no drafting in triathlon.

Furthermore, when the bottles were within the frame, I would usually drain one bottle completely before starting the next one. This way, in a race, I would always have an empty bottle to toss out and replace with a full one at aid stations. But what happens if the bottles are behind me, and one is completely full while the other is empty? Will that throw off my balance or weight distribution on the seat? Do I have to alternate taking drinks from each bottle now? What happens at an aid station when I don’t have an empty bottle to toss?

These might be important considerations. On the other hand - as many people have pointed out to me in the past – I tend to overanalyzing things. This could just be another example.

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This is an amazingly comfortable setup, especially when compared to the worn-out cushions and bar padding on my old bike. Is there any better feeling than resting your forearms on a soft, perfectly supportive pair of aero pads? OK … I can think of a few feelings that are probably better - but this is a pretty good one, too.

Note the odometer, set at zero. Remember how I said a new bike is an opportunity for new beginnings? The odometer on zero is a beautiful representation, and calls out like an invitation: where are we going today? How far do you want to ride? And how high will these numbers eventually reach? Maybe that’s overly sentimental, but you get the point. The whole world lies before us.

Finally, it’s hard to tell from this photo, but the bar tape is imprinted with “Cervelo” and “CSC” over and over again, and has the Cervelo logo at the bases. It brings up a larger point that I noticed while taking these pictures, which is that the Cervelo name is all over this bike.

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For example, this is what I see from the aero position, whenever I drop my head down to stretch out my neck muscles for a few seconds at a time. You know … just in case I forget what kind of bike I’m riding.

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Front view of the bike. By my count, there are four separate Cervelo markings from this angle. Since they’re not obvious from the viewpoint of other cyclists or observers on the curb, I’m not sure who these markings are intended for – except maybe for an old lady in a crosswalk who I’m trying to avoid while slamming on the brakes some day. At least in her moment of sheer horror, she’ll know what kind of bike is bearing down on her.

Just for the heck of it, I crawled under the bike to see if there were any Cervelo markings underneath the downtube –where it could be seen by rabbits or squirrels or other small critters who dash onto the road from time to time. But no luck. I guess they thought that would be too much.

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To the untrained eye, there’s nothing remarkable to see here - except the Cervelo sticker on the top tube. What’s not obvious is that the stem is deliberately turned upside down.

One of the things I feared about buying a bike with true triathlon geometry was losing my climbing ability. Basically, the more aggressive your aerodynamic position (forward and downward), the more difficulty you have finding a strong climbing position on hills.

Thankfully, the P2 SL has a lot of adjustability that allows a compromise between aerodynamics and climbing ability. This handlebar stem is a great example: in the standard position, I felt like I was falling off a cliff. But when turned upside down, it was much more comfortable, and it provides a more efficient upper body position for climbing.

In fact, adjustability was the major factor in my decision to stay with the aluminum-framed P2 SL instead of upgrading to the carbon-framed (but less adjustable) P2C. I live in a place called Carmel Valley – which, as the name implies, happens to be surrounded by hills. I can’t avoid major climbs when I’m riding, so I need a bike that’s up to the task.

Yes, the P2C is somewhat lighter and slightly more aerodynamic, so I’m sacrificing a bit of speed in staying with the aluminum frame. But for $1000 less, I’m getting a bike that’s more suited to hilly terrain, and is still pretty darn fast. In my book, that's an acceptable middle ground.

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This part of the bike reminds me a bit of a NASCAR vehicle, with the blatant branding. (I mean … hey, Profile Design – why didn’t you put the BIG logos on the seat cover?) In their defense, I suppose that branding on the seat has to grab your attention when the bike is parked, because once the rider actually gets on the bike, the window of opportunity literally disappears. I just hope all that embroidery doesn’t cause chafing after I sit on it for 100 miles.

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Here’s one of my favorite anecdotes about this bike: one of the designers and co-founders of Cervelo bikes is named Gerard Vroomen (White is the other guy’s name). Isn’t that perfect? Some people seem destined to certain careers based solely on their names – like a butcher named Mr. Carver, or a teacher named Mrs. Bright. It just seems fitting that if your name is Vroomen, you should be designing fighter planes or bullet trains or, in this case, bicycles.

Plus, I just love the way "Vroomen" sounds. So much that I’ve started incorporating it into my everyday speech. One day last month when I was watching a cycling time trial on TV, Bob Roll used the word “mach” (like air speed – Mach 1, etc.) as a verb, as in, “Dave Zabriskie is maching down this road right now.” Well, if Bob Roll can invent the word maching, there’s no reason why I can’t turn Vroomen into a verb. So that’s exactly what I’m doing.

I love vroomin around on my new bike. See? Easy. And I can’t wait until I’m vroomin by people at Wildflower in a few weeks. If you’re watching the race, be sure to wave to me when I vroom past.

(Go ahead, try using the word yourself. You have my permission. I think you’ll like it.)

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This is the other holdover from my old bike: a pair of 20-year old Look pedals, manufactured in France. I was expecting to upgrade them, but the bike shop guy hooked them on the trainer, spun them around a few times, and said they were still perfectly usable.

Which led to this exchange:

Bike guy: These are in great shape. The French make good pedals.

Me: Really? What else do they make like that?

Bike guy: (long pause) … They make really good pedals.

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Honestly, I don’t know much about different types of brakes, but these are supposedly pretty good. My only surprise is that Cervelo only put their short logo here, when there’s clearly enough space to write the whole word. Kind of disappointing.

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Shimano Dura-Ace 10-speed cassette – pretty much top of the line goods on an entry-level bike. The 20 available gears represent eight more than I had previously. My old bike had a 6-speed cassette, and didn’t have a “granny gear,” so I pretty much had to stand on the pedals with any significant incline.

Remember my initial concerns about climbing? Well, during my first ride on the P2, I rode up a series of three major hills where I usually have to stand on the pedals the whole way. On the new bike, I rode up the base of the hill in the aero position, then sat up and downshifted into easier gears, and remained seated for the entire climb. When I got to the top of the hill, I looked down at the cassette, and realized I still had two “emergency” gears available if I had needed them.

All of which is a long way of saying this: I don’t think climbing will be a problem.

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Look down below the Cervelo marking on the seat tube. This was a revolutionary concept introduced several years ago: the way the seat tube has a slight cutout to allow close placement of the rear tire, which provides killer aerodynamics. Until recently, it was only possible to do this with carbon frames, but now it can be done with aluminum frames as well. Just another feature to help me vroom around more quickly.

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I don’t really know much about this tire and wheel set, but I do know this: on my old bike, I NEVER had a flat tire while riding. I know I’m tempting fate even saying that, but it’s true. In this regard, new tires can’t surpass my expectations - they can only match them.

So when I asked the bike shop guy, “Are these good at avoiding flats?”, and he nodded his head, that was good enough for me. Time will tell, I guess.

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If it weren’t for the seat and bottle cages, could you even tell there’s a bike in this picture? The overall profile is incredibly narrow. This is the view I hope most people see: me from the back, as I’m vroomin past them on my way to a fast bike split.

That’s what Cervelo’s all about, really; making fast bikes for athletes of all levels who want to push themselves to better performances. While the brand is becoming a favorite of elite-level riders, it’s the amateur athletes who really benefit from their innovative bike technology.

The P2 SL is actually near the bottom of the Cervelo hierarchy, but as recently as a few years ago, this exact frame was winning long course triathlons and cycling time trials all over the world. As the top of the model line gets more advanced, there’s a trickle-down effect in the technology and components that become standard at the lower end. The result is a bike like the P2 SL - a world-class caliber bike that is relatively affordable to regular schmoes like me.

When I’m riding it, I’ll have the same goal that Tour de France riders, Ironman triathletes, and everyday age groupers have: to show my competition the rear view of my bike on race day. In light of that, I can’t fathom why they didn’t figure out a way to slap another Cervelo logo back here somewhere.

You know – just so everybody knows what kind of bike it is.

15 comments:

SkiRough 4/18/07, 1:32 PM  

Nice setup! I think the logo on the front is for the people you are about to mow down :)

Paul 4/18/07, 2:41 PM  

Sweet Ride!! I just upgraded my 20 year old Look pedals. They were working fine until I decided they should be maintained. I wasn't sure exactly how old they were since they were handmedowns. Well loose pack bearings are a PITA to adjust, plus I lost one. So I have some new Look Keo Sprints. Which match your frame color perfectly and weigh half as much as the old pedals.

olga 4/18/07, 4:22 PM  

You stopped talking my language this year:( I know nut'in 'bout zis toy. Words are scary. Pics are shiny. And there are no pictures od promised rear view:)

Coach Tammy 4/19/07, 1:32 AM  

vroom, vroom, vroom! You never should have said "pictures", cuz you know we all just scrolled down for the bike porn! Nice ride!!!

Thomas 4/19/07, 1:57 AM  

While it's neat that a guy called Vroomen designed a racing bike, you get a bit of the opposite effect by the fact that a guy called White designed this black bike.

Bruce 4/19/07, 4:54 AM  

Nice looking ride, all the best for a long and fulfilling relationship. May she (oops am I allowed to call it a she?)bring you much success.

Jon (was) in Michigan 4/19/07, 5:38 AM  

I don't know anything about bikes, but that is one cool lookin' ride.

Cliff 4/19/07, 8:51 AM  

Sleek, powerful, and aggressive.

For a while I swear you are talking about yourself and not the bike.

Thanks for the review. Now I want one as well :).

Have you wonder why put such a big logo on the bike seat? In time the embroidery will rub off onto your bike shorts (or your butt if you decide to ride nude).

Spokane Al 4/19/07, 1:40 PM  

Congratulations on what sounds like a well thougbt out purchase. And I enjoyed your narrative very much as well.

I would be interested in knowing, with the hills you ride regularly, what your gearing setup for your bike is.

Megan 4/19/07, 6:32 PM  

It took me three days to get through the post, but it was worth the computer screen-induced blindness.

One word.

Awesomeness.

momo 4/20/07, 6:28 AM  

i was wondering about the gender thing, and found this...

According to Yarns of the Sea, Legends, Myths, and Superstitions: Although women were considered to bring bad luck at sea, mariners always use the pronoun "she" when referring to their ships. Whether its proper name is masculine, or whether it is a man o'war, a battleship, or a nuclear submarine, a ship is always referred to as "she."

This old tradition is thought to stem from the fact that in the Romance languages, the word for "ship" is always in the feminine. For this reason, Mediterranean sailors always referred to their ship as "she", and the practice was adopted over the centuries by their English-speaking counterparts.

One source suggests that a ship "was nearer and dearer to the sailor than anyone except his mother." What better reason to call his ship "she"?

a ship, a bike - kinda the same thing, you ride them both, right?

and very, very nice bike - have fun vrooming around on her!

Mike 4/20/07, 9:19 PM  

Dude...thanks for the huge serving of bike por..err, I mean photo essay.

Sweet bike Donald. I can't believe your old bike only had a six speed cluster! Your running is going to be pretty amazing getting off this bike with fresh legs...amazing what those extra gears will allow as you found out on those hills.

I love the frame color and graphics. That is the one bummer about my new lucero...it is logo overkill.

Congrats!!!

Dori 4/22/07, 2:09 PM  

Awesome bike, Donald! I know those hills in Carmel Valley (though from an automobile) and they're quite challenging. I'm looking at buying a new bike, cuz the one I have won't get me up the Santa Lucia mountain range. I fall in love with every bike I see, and color makes a difference, but I'm narrowing it down. I like to wear "power pink" when I race. :-)

Anonymous,  10/18/07, 12:09 PM  
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