I’m not really a gear freak, as will become apparent, but decided it was time for a new bike. How hard could that be…
What did I want, why?
My dear (as in endearing, not expensive) old Avanti Triplo is nearly 15 years old. It was a pretty modest bike even when new, ~$1600 back then, but I still like riding it. With the Waitakere Ranges at my back door I never regretted going for a 21 (3x7) speed with ‘grannie gears’. I’m not a racer and it suited me fine but the technology has moved on in a few key areas.
It’s an all alloy bike and NZ has increasing use of coarse chip tarmac. On alloy with 23c tyres (running 80-100psi) there’s quite a bit of vibration and having ridden carbon fork bikes I appreciate the difference. ‘Rapid Rob’—my Giant Talon 1 MTB—introduced me to the precision, power, and wet/dry stopping ability of hydraulic disc brakes so they were a must.
Other than that the old Triplo is spec fine for my needs so I set out to find a similar successor. I’m not a racer and although prefer drop bars was looking for a more robust tourer/cross country spec (grannie gears) than all out race/sprint bike. I have a Rapid Rob for the really rough stuff but it would be great if it could take on an occasional gravel road/bike path (or Auckland arterial route pot holes) without wilting, yet still offer decent performance.
I’ll keep the Triplo, it is worth literally nothing and sentimental value means it has earned a place in my garage.
Sizing up the options
After a bit of tyre kicking (just looking while buying other bits n pieces over the last few months) and a whole lot more web searching I settled on one of these three:
- Avanti had an AR 2 alloy frame/carbon fork, Shimano 105 22 speed drivetrain (50/34 & 11-28), BR-RS505 Hydraulic Disc, 700x28c tyres on 32 spoke rims, around $2000 list.
- Giant offered composite frame/carbon fork, Shimano 105 22 speed drivetrain (50/34 & 11-32), BR-RS505 Hydraulic Disc, 700x25c tyres on 28 spoke rims, around $3200 list price.
- Trek had an alloy frame/carbon fork, Shimano 105 22 speed drivetrain (50/34 & 11-32), BR-RS505 Hydraulic Disc, 700x32c tyres on 24 spoke rims, around $3000 list price
The Avanti was more in the price range I wanted. For the type of riding I do a carbon frame isn’t essential, not worth an extra $1200 for the Giant even if it would brand align with Rapid Rob! Part of my reservation was also the design. I just don’t think the current Giant graphics or drop rear stay/seat post frame junction look very elegant.
The Trek is a better bike than the Avanti, probably a bit lighter, and very elegant. The component spec was similar but I doubt the frame was worth the $1000 difference for me. However I’ve ridden a lot of kilometres on an Adventure South Trek (below) and really liked it so was interested in getting another opinion.
Some friendly advice from a Pro
It was his concern about the reliability of lightly built wheels combined with additional stresses of disc, hub rather than rim, braking. That led him to recommending (much to my surprise) the Avanti that I’d been favouring on price/spec alone.
So the AR 2 seemed a good bet. The only other thing I had to get my head around was the VERY YELLOW, like it or not, colour but I guess I could live with that.
So, lets go shopping…
Avanti Shop 1
They had a cheaper AR 1 model (similar but mechanical brakes) on display. I had called in there a couple of weeks ago to get some chain oil and seeing it was partly responsible for this whole exercise.
After a bit of a chat, yes I was interested in the AR 2 model, no I didn’t really care to have a carbon frame, yes 105 was fine for me, yes I was looking to spend around $2k they suggested another bike. It was $3200 carbon frame/105 Scott they had in stock. An attempt to up-sell to a price/spec I didn’t want. After getting past that we got back to talking about the AR 2:
Me: “Can you get one for me to look at? I am serious but don’t want to commit $2k on a bike without seeing it, trying it?”
S: “Well, it is a bit of a rare bike, if we get it in we have to buy it, then we could be stuck with it… I’d put you on that AR 1 but that is a large… too big for you…”
Me: “Would anyone else (other Avanti dealers) have one I could look at?”
S: “You could try the other stores…”
I work for a company with a division that sells bikes, in direct competition to Avanti, but it didn’t really factor into this purchase. They sell Giant and Trek but I had come to the conclusion, staff discount aside, they weren’t the right bikes for me. I did disclose this during the conversation. Maybe they didn’t believe I was serious when told I had decided in favour of the AR 2 irrespective of that? So it was back on the faithful old Triplo and off to…
Avanti Shop 2
It was a similar story, a few questions about my needs but no attempt at an up-sell, until we got to the sticky question of ‘have you got one’:
S: “No but I might be able to get one, not sure if I’m supposed to [which I thought an odd comment but it was not the owner/manager I was talking to] but can probably do that. What size do you want?”
Me: [thinking I’m standing here having just got off a bike, surely you could judge?] “Not sure, the web site said S/M based on my height but… I have short legs and more normal arms so reach is more a factor”
S: “Well, all the geometry is on the Avanti web site, I’d suggest you compare that to your current bike, decide the size, then we can see if we can get the one you want.”
Me: [thinking this is rather odd, bike fit is one huge advantage a physical store has over the web. If I do all the measure and selection why not just buy a bike on-line and forget about the store?] “Um, ok”
So I got on the faithful old Triplo and cycled home.
At this point I was rather mystified…
I really thought if someone cycled to your bike shop on an old (but obviously well maintained) bike, walked in and said I am seriously interested in buying a particular bike, I’ve researched and discounted the opposition, I probably want (if it fits) to spend a couple of grand it would generate some real interest in getting a sale?
One last try…
Avanti Shop 3 was not on my route so I emailed them a day later.
Me: “I’m interested in the AR 2, the website says SM/MD is probably the right size, do you have one in stock I could try”
S3: replied by email 8 minutes later: “No, but we have a ex-demo AR C1 in stock that size. It has similar spec componentry to the AR 2 but is a higher spec carbon frame version. We can offer you a [very attractive] deal on that if interested.
Me: “Yes, very interested”
They were happy to hold it until I could get over there the following Saturday but a work meeting nearby (booked weeks ago, honest!) meant I got there on Thursday. The first ride was pretty brief, just a lap of the carpark wearing long trousers tucked into socks and dress shoes! It was enough to know the fit was right and decide I wanted it.
So that’s how I am the happy owner of a not new Avanti AR C1. It has a carbon frame (other spec all but identical to the AR 2) but the price was so close to the alloy AR 2 it didn’t really matter. I had to drive across town, versus a store near home or work, but having someone show real interest made that no real hassle.
Although I had accepted that the VERY YELLOW AR 2 would be ok this one is a rather elegant natural carbon black with red accents. It had a few cosmetic scratches (heel strikes on the rear chain stays) but they are easily sorted. At least I’ll never have that awful new bike first scratch drama to go through!
First (real) Ride
I picked up some accessories and spent Sunday morning fitting them. A flash (for me) Cateye computer with cadence, slim black Bontrager bottle cages and small black Leznye Road Drive pump (because the silver one off my Triplo would just look wrong!). I touched up the scratches and swapped my favourite (but far from exotic) BBB saddle and Keywin pedals over from the Triplo.
An impulse purchase, in a web sale a few months back, bike work stand makes this sort of tuning much more pleasant! The entry hall isn’t a permanent location, just had better light than the garage on a gloomy day, but made a nice workshop!
My first ride had quite a few stops adjusting the saddle location & height. It was a local route with some road, concrete bike path (Henderson Park), a bit of gravel shared path (Te Atatu, seen in photos below) and even a few hundred metres of soft wet grass as I shortcut from the bike path back to Te Atatu road.
Overall I’m really happy. The 22 (11x2) speed gears are close to what I’m used to in terms of spread but swapping between two (rather than three) front cogs makes managing shifts a bit simpler. The ride is the real difference; 32c tyres and carbon frame mean much less vibration on rough surfaces or those timber bike path sections with alloy traction strips.
I did a few practice ‘emergency stops” from 40-50km/h and the brakes are amazing. Two fingers can stand the thing on its nose. To get the best of the brakes/traction you have to slide back off the saddle, mountain bike style, to prevent a front wheel stand!
Overall it rolls much like a decent road bike, feels nice and stiff when you crank it up, is responsive in the turns but has much more grip, stopping power and softer ride than a pure racer. The only change I might make is a shorter reach stem, as I did on the Triplo all those years ago, but will give it more time to be sure. Now I just have to think of a name for it…
So, what about the local bike shop?
I really do wonder about the plight of the neighbourhood bike shop. Between the internet and major retailers I know they have an incredibly tough time. But the last week or so has made me wonder, do some really want the business at all?
The impression I got is they only want to sell the bike they have in stock, if it is not right for you they are not really interested. I wonder if that is driven by tight margins or limited supplier stock to call on?
It is rather ironic that I ended up buying a bike off the floor because two other stores didn’t stock the bike I wanted or seem very interested in getting it. In the end, they did me a favour…
(full spec below in extended post)