For the first time in weeks I got on The Butcher for a real ride. Woke up, ate light, got dressed and got on the road. As if I was living on a schedule again. I felt like singing. Riding was effortless, having been off for weeks has done my body good. Eating a carb bonanza has also loaded enough glycogen into my muscle tissue that I’m practically overflowing with fuel. A perfect day to ride to Triathlete Zombies to check out the Jamis Xenith T1 and talk to Scott about my bike search.
Scott is awesome. He knows his bikes, he’s a vast resource of solid, no frills advice and having ridden so many bikes and fixed even more, I trust him implicitly. John had done a good job of moving me towards two options, the Jamis and the Specialized Transition Comp. I rode up to TZ, delighted to be riding again, even fighting with cars felt great. For those interested in a life threatening thrill, speed down Santa Monica Blvd in front of a bus with Jimi Hendrix wailing “voodoo chile” in one ear. I’m not supposed to break zone 2 right now, but it felt so right.
Scott gave his full approval on the Jamis, confirming that the Specialized frame was good, but as second from the bottom it would be paying for a brand. Jamis was lesser known, but made a great, fast bike. I asked what I’d need to schedule a test ride and, looking at the clock, he said “how about now?” In less than ten minutes he’d moved my pedals over to the Jamis and adjusted the seat height and geometry off my road bike to get a quick and dirty fit. When I buy a bike from TZ, a real fit session comes with the purchase, but just having Scott do the setup was well worth the visit. Not to belabor a point, but this is why having a relationship with a good shop makes a huge difference. I didn’t just hop onto a factory set bike, I was set up well for a real test ride.
I was nervous – this was my first time on a tri bike and I desperately did not want to wreck. Getting on was simple, the bullhorns were the same feel as a road bike. But the moment I started pedaling the difference was immediate. Even without moving into an aero tuck, my quads were working much harder than they did on the road bike. Turning from the small residential side street onto the Broadway bike lane I carefully took hold of the aero bar and with more than slight wobble gripped the bars and dropped my elbows to the bar rests. Quickly I had to adjust my balance – my elbows were just a few centimeters apart, pulled further in towards my body, and my weight was shifted significantly forward on the bike. Pedaling increased my stability and I felt my way forward on the rails to the bar end shifters. Just like a road bike the left adjusted the front derailleur and the right adjusted the rear. The system, Shimano Dura Ace, shifted smoothly and quickly without any slip on the teeth.
The bike is incredibly lightweight. Much lighter than my road bike, perhaps weighing 19lbs. But as an all carbon body (including carbon fiber fork, seat stays, and seat post) it transmits the feeling of the road while not vibrating every bone in my body. The new position took some getting used to, but once in it I could feel the road comfortably without being shaken to death. Tri bikes are not heralded for their comfort – the desire is speed über alles. But this was not a bad ride and I could envision several hours on the bike working out pretty well.
I was warned ahead of time in the reviews that the brakes were not very responsive. They were right. Pressing hard on the levers sent a Western Union telegram to the brakes and, like most telegraph offices, had closed for the night. Before the ride I mentioned the review comments to Scott and he said, “yeah, but how often are you stopping in a time trial?” While correct, I could also envision eating the back of a Ford Explorer, the drivers of which are known for slamming their brakes randomly on Broadway. Such was the case as I pulled up to Cloverfield and needed to stop quickly. It took a lot of effort, but I did manage to stop in time and not eat car. But it is a significant point against the Jamis. The brake system is very cool – the front brake is hidden inside the front fork and the rear brake is tucked behind the frame, both nearly invisible. But because they are custom made for the bike they are not replaceable, other than pad service, and that means those are the brakes in both meanings of the term.
I looped Broadway several times to get the feeling of the bike on the flats. I flipped my GPS around on my wrist so I could see my speed and I was shocked at one point to see I was going 25 mph without much effort. Off a cold start I was up to 19 mph quickly, easily cruising in the low 20’s. I could see that with practice and comfort on the bike I could cruise at 25 happily. I turned north on 7th, a slight incline and dropped my front gear. It shifted easily again and climbing was easy. Not a huge incline, but slight enough to get the idea of what stronger resistance felt like. The Jamis answered handily.
I came back to the shop after about twenty minutes of riding. I felt like the Jamis performed well, exactly as reviewed, and it did not disappoint. And yet I have no frame of reference on which to compare. I told Scott this and said that before I bought it I owed it to myself to test drive several more. I’m going to ride this weekend with Ironman J, who has graciously agreed to let me test ride his Kuota Kalibur. I’m also going to test ride a Specialized and see where I can get my hands on a Cervelo. Cervelo is the Pamela Anderson of the tri bike world. Everyone loves Cervelo, it’s on all the magazine covers, and middle aged men smash their genitals on them across Southern California. But I don’t need to ride the same thing everyone else rides – in fact, I loathe blending in. But it is worth checking out her issue of Playboy just to see what the hype is all about. A test ride ought to satisfy that curiosity and put it to bed. Pamela Anderson is big boobs, blonde hair, and a willing attitude. This is L.A. Those grow on trees around here. (Grapefruit trees?)
The Jamis is a fun, lightweight, easy to ride tri bike. Braking has a lot to be desired, but it answers the call for speed instantly. It was not love at first ride, but like a teenager I don’t know yet what love is. In a few weeks I should know better, or at least be ready for my first long term relationship.