The funny thing about my new bike is that if you look past the steel frame/fork, the retro paint job, and the Brooks saddle, it's actually the most modern bike I've owned in this century. For instance, it has the weird elephant-proboscis Shimano two-piece crank on an oversized hollow spindle where all my prior rides sported traditional crankarms on traditional square-taper spindles. Can I honestly say that I feel the dramatic leaping-forward burst of efficiency that this (reportedly) stiffer setup claims to provide? Uh, no. But of course, I have the horsepower of two heavily-sedated gerbils, so maybe I'm just not using the stuff to its potential.
Where I do notice a difference, however, is in the cockpit. This is my first STI-equipped bike ever (I dabbled in integrated road shifting in the 90s, but I was a Campy Ergo snob back then). Bear in mind that I only have about 50 miles on the stuff so far (which, for the record, is 9-speed Tiagra), but with that caveat, here are a few first impressions:
- Dang, that is some light shifting action. With winter gloves on, I can hardly feel the clicks. So far, this is neither good nor bad, just a big change from the extremely tactile CLICK! CLICK! CLICK! of my previous 8-speed bar end shifters.
- It's going to take me a while to warm up to the overall bulbosity of the lever bodies (and the big loops of exposed cable housing) from an aesthetic standpoint, but gosh, those chubby things do feel good under my hands.
- Optical gear displays? Really? Pardon my snobbishness, but is this really need-to know information? The front shifter (a double) is on one of two rings, and it's right down there between my feet. Sure, the rear has nine choices, but chains in 2011 can pretty much run across all of them regardless of chainring choice. I guess I should be glad that they're now integrated into the lever rather than a blob grafted into the cable run.
- Regarding that front shifter, I'm finding that a shift from the small ring to the big is usually a two-step affair... jam it all the way up, then tap the downshift to back off to the "trim" position. Sort of annoying but not awful. It does make me wish that Shimano would abandon front indexing once and for all, though -- a friction front STI would be heavenly.
- I do, however, applaud Shimano for including easy-to-use reach adjusters with the levers, though (and I applaud the guys at Skunk River Cycles for recognizing that someone might want them included with their owner's manual instead of just tossing them out). These custom-fit rubbery shims pop into the space where the lever opens, making its "resting" position slightly closer to the bar -- a very simple, easy to use solution. I haven't tried them yet, but I plan to, having inherited my father's stumpy fingers.
I may just be justifying my purchase (guilty), and I may sing a different tune the day these things fail me in the middle of nowhere. But for now, I'm trying my darndedest to keep an open mind. We'll see when the mileage tally on these goes from 50 to 500... or 5,000.