My first week with an extraordinary new bike
A week ago I drove up from Providence to meet with Husam and pick up the bike. When I got there I still only sort of knew what to expect. We had decided on the gruppo (SRAM Red eTap AXS 12 speed, fresh from the source), the frame (he had exactly one left in my size), and (if he could find another set), Lightweight Meilenstein wheels. While we had talked generally about the rest of the components and trimmings, I know Husam well enough to know how he likes to work. I’d find out soon enough what he felt would be best. We weren’t sure if the wheels he’d sourced would be there in time, but I’d kept Friday clear on my calendar so he said to just come up and we’d figure something out regardless. So that’s what I did.
A little background
This moment has been a few years in the making. I met Husam about four years ago when I first had a fitting done. At the time all we did was adjust and adapt the bike I had. It was still a little tall up front, but after shortening the stem and making a few other adjustments, I can honestly say I felt better on the bike than ever. And that’s after 10 years of racing (5 full-time) and having fits done by some pretty experienced coaches. I ride about 3,500–4,000 miles a year, with pretty regular outings in the 65–100 mile range year-round. I don’t race anymore, but I do like the Tuesday Night Smackdown rides here in Providence with a few hard hill jams and a sprint or two. A nice balance to the longer, hillier outings in the Western part of the state. So Husam already knew me, my history, and my riding style and preferences pretty well.
Finally a few weeks ago the stars aligned, and it was time to visit the shop and pick up the where we’d left off.
Discovering the bike that would be right for me
All of this background generally points towards a lighter-weight racing-oriented frame. I’m comfortable with that geometry, like the responsiveness, and was hoping to take a pound or so off the total weight of my 10-year-old Trek Madone. It’s built up with Campy Chorus and Shamal Ultra wheels, so comes in at a respectably light 16 pounds. But I knew that 15 was attainable without compromising much on durability these days.
Knowing me as he does, it didn’t take Husam long to point me towards the Fascenario Platinum. I’m a graphic and web designer, so the matte carbon aesthetic certainly appealed, and the combination of geometry, aerodynamics, and weight lined up perfectly with the ride quality I wanted. The wheels were admittedly a splurge (and had just shown up the previous afternoon), but it was clear Husam really wanted me to experience the combination. So with a promise that if it wasn’t everything he made it out to be, he’d build me something else-I agreed.
A lovely first sight
When I walked into the shop, Husam pulled the bike out from a row along the wall. I’m pretty sure I made some kind of noise. The bike was stunning. After a bit of puttering around with pedals, bottle cages, moving over my Garmin mount, we had a weight: 14.06. Two pounds lighter than the Trek! Time to go for a ride.
Ride #1: Concord/Carlisle Express
This is a loop I found on Strava a few years ago, and do almost every time I visit the shop. Rolling fast stuff on Maple and East, some nice climbing on Nagog Hill. There was a bit of rain on and off, which at least gave me a sense of what braking is like with the rim brake/carbon rim combination. (It was surprisingly good. Like ‘caught me by surprise it grabbed so well’ kind of good). By the end of the ride I knew I needed to make a couple of adjustments to the fit, and thankfully Andy was able to help me out when I got back to the shop. Not the fastest I’d ever done the loop, but noticeably faster one some of the flats and steeper climbs. While the ride was definitely a little less cushy than the Trek, even when I deliberately went for the rougher pavement it never felt jarring.
Some tweaks: a little lower on the saddle (how a slab of carbon fiber from SMP could be that comfortable I don’t know, but it is), swap a spacer to lower the stem a bit, and scoot the levers down the curve of the drops a tiny bit. It already felt loads better. I drove home spending far too much time looking up through the sunroof at what was mounted on the roof rack.
Ride #2: Hot & Hilly, to Wickford the much longer way
On Sunday it was forecast to be a high in the 90s, so the plan was to spend the afternoon at my parents’ pool. I set out early and took a long curving loop around the state to hit as many hills as I could on the way through Scituate, Hope Valley, and Exeter on the way to meet up with my family in Wickford. About 65 miles and a bit under 4 hours, with about 3,700' of climbing. It wasn’t the fastest pace, but it felt pretty effortless.
Seat position felt perfect, and the bars felt closer. The shifting up and down on the chainrings needed a tiny bit of fiddling to find the right balance between speed and predictability (that was harder to test initially back at the shop). What struck me was that over the course of all different road conditions and gradients (from flat to over 10%), the road almost disappeared. It just felt so smooth and natural, it was like I’d been riding the bike for years.
After a nice relaxing afternoon in the pool, a few more adjustments were in order. Swapped one more spacer to lower the stem a tad more. Scooted the levers a tiny bit further down the drops to get the hoods a bit flatter. I spend a lot of time on the corners and hoods, and I like a more neutral feel when climbing out of the saddle there. Having the lever body be pretty horizontal felt a lot better than when they were angled up a bit more. Definitely a personal preference thing, but once I moved them, it just felt right to me.
Ride #3: An easy spin to road test the adjustments
All the adjustments really came together: the bike was really starting to feel natural. Thankfully I didn’t feel too tired from the day before, but I took it easy regardless. I had plans for Tuesday night and wanted to be fresh for them.
Ride #4: An extended Smackdown loop and a new PR
This was the day to really see how fast the bike was. This is a loop that includes 3 longer inclines and two short, steep ones, covering most of the Tuesday Night Smackdown loop with an added trip up Rocky Hill, so you get both the long grind and the short steep versions. I kept the pace up and really worked the gears to see if my adjustments had paid off. They certainly did, and it all added up to besting my previous record on that loop by 1:19 without ever really burying myself too badly. It certainly settled the question ‘Is it fast?’ with a resounding affirmative.
Ride #5: Another easy spin, a little bit softer now
When I picked up the bike it was wearing a set of Vittoria Corso Graphene 700x25s (at 90psi). I’ve ridden Continental 4000s for the past bunch of years, and they’ve always been… fine. The Vittorias felt pretty nice, but so many things were different with the new bike it was hard to really isolate that. But I knew that I wanted to try 28s with a little lower pressure, so I ordered a set and mounted them up, pumped to 80psi. I’ve been seeking out all of the area’s ‘best’ rough patches of pavement all along, and while the bike felt really pretty solid on the 25s, I do think the 28s are a bit smoother, and the bike still feels really planted when cornering, and accelerates like a rocket out of the bends. So I’ll keep them on for a while at least.
They match up really nicely with the wider rims on the Lightweight Meilenstein 24s, so together they do make for a really modern combination. For someone who only gave up on 23’s at 110psi a few years ago, I think I’m making some big steps.
All in all, this week has been a joy. The bike itself is phenomenal, and with every tweak and adjustment it has gotten better and better-more than that, it’s become moulded to my riding style and position better than anything I’ve ever experienced. I can’t wait to see what miles next week brings.
[I wrote this for the shop site as a contributed review]
Originally published at https://www.atacycle.com on July 4, 2020.