Words: Matt Lamy
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Back in the June edition of Cycling Active our man Matt Lamy joined the members of Surrey cycle club Team Cake, gave them a Kovert FX Pro bike with Di2 Ultegra electronic gears and asked them what they thought of it. Then, in a moment of unheard of generosity (well, it wasn’t our bike after all) Lamy even let one of the Cakers – Andy ‘Luls’ Lulham – keep the bike for a couple of weeks and ride a sportive on it.
Here are Andy’s thoughts…
“I’ve never been really comfortable with ‘proper’ cycling – I buy the kit, I wear the Lycra, I do the miles but something inside me always screams ‘fake’. When I got my first proper, drop-handlebar bike – a Dawes Horizon – I thought I was the mutts, like I’d really joined the flyweight road scene. Cruelly, I was shown up on my first attempt at a century ride by someone with calves like Popeye and a mountain bike made out of girders. He beat me up each and every climb, outpaced me on the flats and descended insanely, so much so that he had a spill 20 miles in and did the remainder with gravel plugging the cuts on his thighs.
“After two years of ‘touring’ I began to remove unnecessary parts to try and improve my speed and endurance and eventually decided to buy my first road bike. Still not confident about my road cycling credentials, I picked a coward’s training bike. That way I could ride all through winter pretending that I had a summer steed in the garage, a delusion made doubly large by the absence of a garage.
“But I improved – I did sportives, I didn’t fall off much, I embraced clipless pedals, lightweight components, tighter Lycra. I went in search of climbs and did a couple of foreign cycling holidays.
“Now I have taken that final step towards total delusion – a sportive on full carbon road bike with electronic shifting.
“At the start line I felt like a middle-aged man at a trendy nightclub. Dressed inappropriately and out of my depth with younger people pointing at me and sniggering. My confidence wasn’t raised by the comment of the start marshal who calmly informed me that he’d seen someone pushing their Di2 powered bike back to the start having not charged their battery. Seeing as I’d borrowed the bike and hadn’t wanted to meddle with it in case I broke it, I couldn’t be confident how much charge remained.
“Throwing caution to the wind, I set off and was immediately amazed at how fast the thing flew from the line – surely this was just the downhill section we’d been warned about (and would have to tackle at the end of 80km). I pushed on and found that my effort was duly rewarded. I haven’t ridden enough bikes to tell the difference between fork flex and corn flakes, but it appeared that no effort was wasted, which spurred me on to put more in.
“Retribution arrived when I hit the first climb of the day, Borden Lane, which had me puffing and gurning up 11 per cent sections out of the saddle. Later I was to discover that the gearing was different from my fatty-friendly Ribble and that I’d stomped my way up all of the climbs on a 25T, not the 28T I normally spin on.
“I really enjoyed the experience, although I confess to hating the bike for the first 20km partly because of the looks I was getting and partly because it was making my body write cheques my endurance couldn’t possibly cash. Every flat or slight incline, I pushed harder and harder, never finding the limit that fear usually induces in my cornering. The only hairy moment I had was from some gravel at a road junction, but the bike shrugged it off, even if the rider behind had to endure a cloud of noxious gas-based panic and weapons grade swearing.
“Climbing the last big obstacle of the day, the Punchbowl cycle track at Hindhead, I began to pay back the energy debt and had to consume my entire stock of gels and bars before moving on from the summit. I trundled, yet never felt the need to get off.
“So – do I feel like a proper cyclist now? Still no, but I concede that a lighter, stiffer bike is what I need, especially if I continue to swap ‘upgrades’ for going ‘up grades’. The electronic shifting was flawless, never missing a cog. I stopped checking to see what gear I was in and just got on with it. The geometry is still too racy for me and I think I’ll need a big dose of manning-up before trying any serious climbs with a rear cog that small.
“I’m not sure I’d want to invest just yet in electronic shifting when it’s still such a relatively new (ie, expensive) technology. But when the kids leave home and the mortgage is paid off we might be able to reconcile my available funds with a purchase.”