My original blog was Hoses of the Holy (ca. 2003), which ended up being abandoned in the dark days of 2007. I started this one in 2011. Scroll down for the archives!

Is your new bike any good?

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new bike

Review of Trek 1.2 2011 (£700 from Trek Store, Milton Keynes)

Pros: Lightweight, Good price, Feels quick

Cons: Toe clips, You feel every bump

I’d been riding a Trek 7100 for around 8 years and wanted to upgrade to a proper road bike. The 1.2 is a proper road bike at a reasonable price, and feels like a quality buy. £700 seems like a lot of money to non-cyclists, but in this day and age anything under £1000 qualifies as cheap-ish. So you can buy bikes for a lot less, but they don’t work very well and they tend to weigh a lot more.

I’d always been unhappy with the size of my 7100FX. I went shopping for it with a friend I considered an expert, but he was a mountain biker as opposed to a road racer, and he was also a lot shorter than me. I ended up on a “medium” frame, which for the 7100 (a hybrid), meant about 50 centimetres. Although it wasn’t a question of legs being too long for pedals, I always felt like a bit of a giant on it. Still, the main issue I had with it was the riding position. I grew up riding drop handlebar bikes, and I never, ever, got used to the more upright straight handlebar position. To this day, the popularity of these things bewilders me.

I’d been thinking about an upgrade for a year or so. I didn’t want to rush into it, as the impulse to buy something at any price was what got me stuck with a bike I didn’t really like in the first place. I considered a fixie, not because they’re fashionable but because I’m hopeless at anything resembling maintenance, and I liked the idea of no gears or sprockets. I’ve always found that eventually the shifters start playing up and you end up with half the number of gears you started with. I even paid for my old bike to be serviced in an attempt to fix the gears, but that was a waste of money. So I was looking at the Trek District, and even experimented with rides on my usual circuit in which I didn’t allow myself to change gear, just to see if I could do it; in the end I decided it would be too much of a compromise, because my circuit is not very flat at all. We’re not talking Tour de France mountains, but it’s very undulating round here and I live at the top of a very steep hill.

So I got that impulse out of my system. The next step was to decide whether I was going to spend around £500 I didn’t have, or go all the way to £700 I didn’t have. At a time when the whole world was becoming obsessed with the iPad, I thought about it for a long time and decided that while I would never be able to justify spending £500 I didn’t have on a gadget, I’m quite at ease with doing so on a bike.

Earlier this year, I went to the doctor about my persistent and regular headaches. For a number of years now I’ve been getting them like clockwork: at least once a week, a headache that no amount of painkillers would shift. I could make myself woozy and I could knock myself out, but I couldn’t shift the headache. This year was particularly bad. My teaching timetable gave me 14 lessons (out of the weekly total of 22) before a single free period. Monday and Tuesday were full on, and it wasn’t till Wednesday afternoon that I got a much needed hour to decompress. Teaching can be intense, especially in the Autumn term, and I was waking up every Wednesday with one of those headaches.

So I went to the doctor, and he took my blood pressure: sky high. Which I’m assuming it had been for years. I’ve been on medication for it ever since, and I’ve had two, maybe three, headaches of normal proportions since November. But exercise is an issue. I hate the idea of the gym, and I can’t run (hips) and I hate getting wet. Cycling has been a life-long exercise for me, but in the past couple of years (mainly due to the excuse of bad summer weather), I just haven’t been out on the bike enough. So I wanted an incentive: a bike I didn’t kind of hate riding, so that if the weather was even halfway decent, I’d lack that excuse.

I shopped around. I know nothing about the technical stuff of bikes, what all the bits are called, or the differences between Shimano this and Shimano that. I know the difference between steel, aluminium, and carbon, though. I kind of knew that the lightest steel was more flexible and would be better on bumpy roads, but I also knew my budget wouldn’t stretch to it. So it had to be an aluminium frame. £500 gets to aluminium forks as well, whereas the extra £200 gets you carbon forks and a new experience of lightness.

I’m a brand-loyal person. I drive VW cars (and would, still, even if I won the lottery), and I drive Apple computers. I love Illy coffee and Banette bread. I don’t like things that only a privileged few can afford, so I admire mass-produced quality. My brother-in-law objects to the homogeneous nature of Banette bakeries; my attitude is that they provide quality bread that tastes good for ordinary people to buy.

So it was kind of inevitable I’d be looking at Trek bikes, since I’d been riding one for 8 years: even though I didn’t like riding it that much, I knew there was nothing inherently wrong with the bike. By coincidence, it turns out that Trek are beginning to experiment with retail stores, and had just opened one in what used to be the Borders bookshop building in Milton Keynes.

A few years ago, a lot of people sneered at the idea of Apple opening retail stores. I worked for an Apple dealer and I could feel the threat but even so, I didn’t imagine Apple would get so good at customer service. I get my car serviced at a VW dealer for the same reason. Our local independent garage are decent enough, but they don’t valet your car free of charge when you take it in for a service. So I was intrigued to see whether Trek were going to do it right. They’d already made it impossible to for dealers to sell their bikes using mail order: you have to pick it up in person, because Trek don’t want customers assembling their own bikes.

So we wandered down there. It was quite exciting, the shop, because it shares the premises with a Cotswold outdoor shop (I love camping gear!). We walked in, found the model I was thinking of buying (the 1.2), and a member of staff approached us. This is the make or break point. I hate bike shops and guitar shops for more or less the same reason: the staff tend to treat you with contempt. The guy in the Trek shop was friendly, non-judgemental, and allowed me to talk myself into it as opposed to giving me the hard sell.

I didn’t have the money, but I knew I’d be marking exams later in the summer. My reasoning was that, if I waited till I was paid for that, I wouldn’t be getting the bike until July. And then I’d go to France for a couple of weeks (I bought a cheap bike last summer to use when I’m at the in-law’s), and come back some time in August, and then it would be raining till September. So, if I waited, I probably wouldn’t get to ride the thing much until next Spring. Also, Trek had an offer going on where you got 10% of the bike’s value in free accessories. So I got £70 worth of bits on top.

I got the bike at the beginning of May. I went for the compact, which has just the two sprockets on the front cog – I figure that if I’d gone for the triple, only two of them would have ended up working. I’d already ridden out on the old one quite a few times, because the weather has been so good, but since getting the new one I’ve made sure to go out at least three times a week. I was immediately 2 mph faster. It feels light and fast, but the smaller, thinner wheels do not like the pot holes around here.

I use it on the country lanes near where I live, which unfortunately are not the best road surfaces in pot-hole Britain. I reckon there are few counties have it worse than Buckinghamshire in terms of road surface. There are a lot of 2-ton 4×4 cars around here, and the council have been neglecting the roads for at least 20 years.

You can’t blame the bike for the bad roads, but you can tell the difference on a smooth stretch. I reckon the quality of the roads costs me about 4mph on average speed. On the occasional smooth bit of road, this bike feels wonderful, and I’d love to try it somewhere where bad winters, SUVs, and underfunded public services haven’t conspired to destroy the roads. Yesterday, I tried out a new, longer route than my usual, and it involved a short stretch on a dual carriageway near Silverstone. This stretch was actually a little bit uphill, but I was cruising along quite easily at 18-19 mph, which is very good for me. It was smoooth – but then Silverstone is in Northants. On the usual (Buckinghamshire) surface, I can’t go very fast even on the downhill stretches, because it’s just too dangerous (the road out of Whittlebury is almost unrideable – felt like riding on cobbles).

My one real criticism of the bike is the quality of the toe clips. They were utterly useless. I know they’re a bit old-fashioned these days, but I prefer to wear a shoe I can walk in as well as ride. I’ve swapped out the toe clips for those from my old 7100FX. I think it’s a bit mean, on a £700 bicycle, to shave costs on something like a toe clip.I hate that feeling when you spend so much and have to spend a little more to get a decent experience.

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