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pondering bikes (updated 02 june)

Okay, this goes out to all the cyclists who read this blog: I’m looking for opinions and input.

After five years of faithful service, I think it’s time to retire my 2002 LeMond Tourmalet from primary road machine status.

It’s not a decision I’m taking lightly, as I love my LeMond. But it’s been through hell, and its age is showing. I’ve also become a far better rider over the past few years, and want a more high-performance machine to work with for the next 5-or-so (or more) years.

But here’s the catch: I have a limited budget, which rules out a lot of the more sexy stuff. My top end is $1600, give or take. So I have to be creative.

Here are the options I see right now:

Upgrading the LeMond is certainly possible. I still like the ride quality of the Reynolds 853/531 frame, even though the frame has been crashed and will fail at some point (as it’s steel, though, it can be repaired at a cost).

At the very least, I’d like a new fork (carbon – tough to find with a 1″ steerer, which is what my LeMond has), new crankset and bottom bracket (a compact double), a short-cage rear dérailleur, a double-ready front dérailleur, new cables and housing, and new brakes. I could also stand to get new brifters (brake lever with built-in shifter), as my Tiagra models are starting to become a bit rough (though new cables might fix that), and if I switch to a compact double the shifting will be odd with a triple-ready shifter (there would be a dead spot in the shifting cycle). If I go with new brifters, I’d need a new cassette and chain, as everything has gone 10-speed and I’m currently running 9-speed. A new seatpost, stem and bars would also be good, if not wholly necessary (though a new seatpost would lighten things up a bit – my current one is quite heavy).

The cost breakdown I’m looking at is (all prices from retailers – I could probably find ’em cheaper on eBay):

  • Carbon fork (Performance Forté Axis Pro is the most likely candidate) – $130
  • Compact crank & BB (either the FSA Gossamer or the SRAM Rival – any preference?) – $170
  • Rear dérailleur (Shimano Ultegra) – $75
  • Front dérailleur (Shimano Ultegra) – $48
  • New cables and housing (Aztec seems as good as anything) – $30
  • Brakes (Shimano 105 is more than enough – Ultegra would be nicer, but…) – $100
  • Brifters (Shimano 105 or Ultegra) – $300
  • Cassette (Shimano Ultegra or SRAM) – $65
  • Chain (SRAM because of the master link) – $25
  • Seatpost (Ritchey) – $60
  • Stem (Ritchey or Easton) – $40
  • Handlebar (Ritchey or Easton) – $50
  • Shipping and labor (for peace-of-mind, I’d probably want a shop to deal with the fork and BB) – $150

All told, that’s around $1250, give or take. And at that price, I’m in the land of a new bike for only $100 to $300 more. Not to mention the random other crap that will inevitably crop up, and it seems like it would make more sense to either sell the LeMond, keep it as a beater, or convert it to a touring or single-speed setup.

So that leads us to complete bikes:

  • 2007 Motobecane Le Champion (Kinesis aluminum frame with carbon seatstays and fork, full Ultegra 20-speed gruppo with Ritchey wheels)
  • 2007-08 Motobecane Immortal Pro (monocoque carbon frame, carbon fork, 105/Ultegra 20-speed components, FSA compact double crank, Shimano wheels)
  • 2005 Orbea Marmolada (aluminum frame with carbon seatstays and fork, Campagnolo Veloce 20-speed gruppo, Campagnolo wheels)
  • 2006 Fuji Team (C4 carbon frame, carbon fork, 105 20-speed gruppo, Alex wheels)
  • 2006 LeMond Versailles (True Temper OX steel and OCLV carbon frame, carbon fork, 105/Ultegra 27-speed components with triple crank, Bontrager Select wheels)
  • 2006 Orbea Onix (monocoque carbon frame, carbon fork, either 105 or Ultegra 20-speed gruppo, Shimano wheels)

There are advantages and disadvantages to all of the options.

The two Motobecanes are good deals for the money in terms of the components that are included, but the frames are a bit ho-hum. I’ve read reports – both good and bad – on BikeForums.net, RoadBikeReview.com and CyclingForums.com. I also have a slight aversion to buying a bike without a test ride. And though Motobecane frames are essentially Fuji frames in terms of geometry (they share the same factory), I’d rather try the real McCoy – which is tough to do when the only dealers that stock the bikes are in Texas or Florida.

The Fuji Team is a great bike. It’s fast, with nice components, and is sold by a good local shop. However, it’s not the lightest frame on the planet, and it isn’t quite a supple as higher-end carbon (or my LeMond, at that rate). But it’s a good starter frame for going carbon, and the price is right. Additionally, the LBS that’s selling this bike has a discount for PPTC members, which could help even more.

The LeMond is being sold by my old LBS in Salt Lake City, and it’s a great frame. It’s a bit heavier than the other bikes I’m looking at, and it comes with triple gearing that I’d want to swap out for a compact double crankset and short-cage rear dérailleur (something that the shop might be able to swing) – though the overall component setup is really nice, overall. I tried a Versailles a couple of years back and really liked its feel and handling. But it wouldn’t be much lighter than what I currently have, which is a bit bothersome in terms of justifying the purchase of a new bike.

The Orbea Onix is sinfully nice – and a bit out of my price range, truth be told. But it’s one of the nicest bikes I’ve ever tried: responsive, yet really comfortable, very light, simply sublime. The LBS has one in my size with Ultegra, which is a bit pricey. If they have one with 105, I might be able to get it…. maybe. I’m lucky that I’m tall, as it’s often easier for me to find old stock for cheap.

Which brings me to the Orbea Marmolada, which is a 2005 leftover that a shop in Westfield, MA, has in stock. It’s a beautiful bike, and I rode a similar 2006 Orbea (the Vuelta) at a LBS here in DC – I liked it quite a bit. The ride isn’t as great as the Onix, but it’s close to that of the Fuji. Orbea simply designs nice bikes, I guess. And it comes with Campagnolo components, which is really, really cool (and easily upgradeable in the long run). But it’s in Massachusetts, which would mean arranging a pick-up of the bike.

So…. what to do?

And let’s look at bare frames:

Both are affordable, both are full carbon, and I could use most of what I already have to build one up. I even have a 1-1/8″ Easton EC70 fork that I could use with either (an eBay purchase that was a bust once I discovered that the LeMond has a 1″ steering tube). But I’d be weighing down the frame with heavy components, and would still replace some stuff (crank and BB, cables, brakes) for the sake of sanity.

So I’m leaning toward a new bike. Of the ones I’ve listed, which one would you pick? Or am I better off keeping the LeMond, or getting a new frame?

Please comment!

ETA: I’ve found two additional possibilities for the “full bike” group:

  • 2007 Bottecchia USA CF662 (monocoque carbon frame, carbon fork, 105/Ultegra 20-speed components, FSA compact double crank, Vuelta wheels)
  • 2007 Fuji Team (Performance Bike has this one on sale for $100 less than the other LBS until June 10 – and I’d get a Team Performance discount on it, to boot!)

The Bottecchia USA is a good price for a frame that’s the same as the Fuji Team, for all intents and purposes. And the 2007 Fuji Team has a nicer wheelset than its 2006 predecessor, and weighs about 1 pound less, for what that’s worth (at my size, I can’t be too much of a weight weenie – I need durability).

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