Sometimes life unexpectedly presents one with opportunity. And the general rule is that these opportunities are to be seized immediately, and ridden for all they are worth. These opportunities must be taken even if it is 0 degrees Celsius.
And so, one of these opportunities presented itself to me. The chance to take a shiny new Vitess demo bike for an extended ride. Yes it was cold out, but the fire in my soul kept my toes plenty warm.
For those of you who are going to read this review, I would like to preface it by making one thing absolutely crystal clear.
I am in no way qualified to review a bike of any quality. My knowledge of bikes is demonstrated by the fact I tried to screw my pedal on the wrong way when I picked the bike up. If you gaze up to the top of this blog you'll notice that it's not called, SpeedMachine, or BigEngine, or CyclingFreak. It's Slowdad. And that's what I am.
I, in no way, shape or form, deserve to be riding on such a steed in the same way that my driving skills, and family commitments do not justify owning a Ferrari 599. I drive a 1996 Subaru with 380,000 km on it.
Now lets move on.
Julien Papon, founder of Vitess, while being tremendously nice, is also a little bit crazy for letting just anyone take his bikes for a long ride. I expected him to demand my first born as collateral, give me his lowest speced bike, and attach a GPS radio collar to my neck. But no, he basically said lets adjust the seat and off you go.
But first I tried to screw the pedal on backwards, as previously mentioned.
Fortunately I had brought Tom along. Tom is my go to guy for cycling knowledge, motivation, and a draft for every moment that there is not a severe tailwind. He's been riding since the '80s and I was sure he'd have something to say about the bike.
It was also going to be very windy and I needed his windshield abilities.
Ah, but what about the bike? It was a: Size 60. Regular Seat-post. Dura-Ace 7900. 3T Ergosum Ltd. 3T ARX Ltd. 3T Doric Ltd. Fi'zi:k Arione CX Braided. Full-carbon Vitess wheels 50mm. Continental Competition. MSRP $7300 CDN
Everything on this bike was a massive upgrade for me.
I have never ridden on a full carbon frame.
I have never used Dura-Ace or even Ultegra level components.
I have never ridden on carbon wheels.
I have never ridden on tubulars.
I have not had a bike properly fit in a long time, since I got sold my last bike from an local bike shop. I still resent them for it.
And so, when we first jumped out into traffic, all I could say was WOW! The Vitess took off like a rocket. It felt like I was riding on absolutely nothing. I was riding on air. Air that directly translated my pedal stroke to forward motion.
To those of you who ride high end bikes all the time, "big deal" you'll say. "Was it horizontally stiff and vertically compliant?" "What was the co-efficient of drag on the frame with a wind angle of attack of 15 degrees?"
I know nothing of this. All I know is how I felt. How I felt for my 2.5 hour ride in 25 km/hour winds at the freezing point.
I do know I felt nervous. I didn't want to slam into one of Toronto's infamous potholes. Or take a devastating crash in a corner covered in ice. There were potholes, and there was ice, but fortunately for me I kept the rubber side down and didn't have to start considering how to flee the country.
As we picked the bike up, Tom and Julien started to talk about frame geometry, and the conversation quickly whistled in one ear and out the other. All I do know is the frame did seem to fit me fairly well, and I was comfortable the entire ride. Being 6'0 exactly, and reasonably long limbed, yet somewhat inflexible, it would seem to me that Julien at least had me riding the right size.
One topic did come up during our ride, regarding the somewhat short head tube length. "If you can afford to spend $6000 on a bike, it's likely you can't afford a short head tube. Old rich guys have bad backs."
I'll leave the technical analysis to others more well versed in it than I. I know enough to know that frames are like running shoes. Different brands suit different people better than others. One has to experiment, and that's exactly why Vitess offers these demo rides.
I have to say, that for the rest of the ride I did a pretty good job of not gushing constantly about the sensations I was experiencing. One of those sensations was not being able to feel my feet, having forgotten my booties at home, but that numbness paled in comparison to the pure joy of riding a bike that was light years ahead of my own.
To say that the bike had snappy acceleration would be like saying a 911 has some pickup. It was remarkable. The experience never got old.
The ride at speed was smooth and steady. Quiet, except for a spaceship like wooosh sound of the wheels cutting through the air. Wooosh. Best. Sound. Ever.
Cornering was great, likely because of the tubular tires and I never felt skittish like I normally do, especially while descending.
The cross winds did take a bit of getting used to with the 50mm deep wheels. After an hour or so I knew what to expect and became far less nervous while zipping past obstacles.
The Fi'zi:k Arione CX Saddle? It was something I was nervous about but it was more comfortable than my current saddle. This may or may not be surprising considering I bought a second one for $5 off Ebay, but the only times I thought about it was to remark on how much better my rear end felt.
We also had some opportunities to ascend a couple of the steeper climbs around town. No, nothing serious, but for me the difference was reasonable. Yes the bike is super light. Dreamy light. But the biggest difference was made by riding a real groupo. The Dura-Ace 7900 shifted quickly and quietly and clearly had more appropriate gearing for the riding around our route.
I managed to climb much more smoothly than I ever have and I have to think that the bike should get credit for at least 30% of that.
Initially I had been planning on taking the bike out for about an hour and then carefully bringing it back to it's stable. But I couldn't resist. I was having too much fun and it felt amazing. 1 hour turned into 2.5 hours and even the 25 km/hour headwind for 45 minutes on the way home was kinda fun... kinda.
The only thing I could find fault with is that internally routed cables sounded a bit rattly over bumpy road. While the ride felt like there was less vibration on the bumps and ridges, the sound did kind of make me wonder if there was something wrong until I figured out where it was coming from.*
Edit to above. Actually I didn't have it figured out. The issue turned out to be the headset spacer above the stem. It was loose, and because of the way this headset works, is purely cosmetic.
As Tom and I checked out the Vitess at his place, prior to me heading home, we couldn't really find much to fault. This is what you'd expect from a very good bike. The frame, with it's oversized head tube, reminded Tom of a certain name brand, and the wheels appeared remarkably similar to a certain "value" wheel maker in the US. Both of which I'd ride in a heartbeat.
In the case of Vitess, what's really interesting is the business model. Get a great frame and fork built to spec. Get a zippy, yet affordable wheelset built. Spec only very good components. Build to order. Sell direct to the end user. And, finally, provide the awesome service that one expects, yet does not always get, when buying a high end bike.
I could gush all day about my ride. The ride home was cold and wonderful. Do I know if this bike is as good as the next $7k bike? No. Do I think that you could spend more and get less with another brand. LIkely. Do I think that Vitess deserves a very close look if you're in the market for a new ride and have some money to lay down? Absolutely.
Who should look at this bike?
If you're the type of person who wants to ride something that few other people own right now, then take a look.
If you want to ride a bike with some great components at a decent price, check it out.
If you want to buy direct from a manufacturer and not pay your money to a sales persons commission, check out the Vitess site.
If you'd like to get a high level of service from a really nice guy, give Julien a call.
And if you're a guy who wants to see what it's like to experience a kick ass bike... Take them up on the demo ride.
Interestingly, while plowing home through the wind, I got passed, as I usually do. The guy recognized the bike and said that he had been visiting the Vitess website the other day and asked if I was part of the organization. He seemed disappointed about the fact I was not but nodded several times as I spewed superlatives about my current luck at being on one. It's good to know that word is getting out.
I'm going to remember this ride for a very very long time, and, someday, if I can convince my wife and kids I should spend the money, you just might find me, toodling down Lakeshore, with a grin from ear to ear.
Visit the Vitess website at www.vitess.com
Disclosure: I got absolutely nothing for writing this overview of my ride. I have nothing to do with the company. The reward was the ride itself.