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I spend quite a bit of time on the Cycling Plus Forum, where many cyclists gather to exchange ideas and know-how, or in Cake Stop, all sorts of surreal wierdness. One of the Forum Members, Terry, has been raising sponsorship for Guide Dogs for the Blind, by cycling some of the Pyrannean Routes. As part of his fund-raising effort, he raffled a bike from JD Cycles in Benfleet, Essex. I won, and recently took delivery of a nice new Claud Butler San Remo. I have only managed to get out on it a couple of times so far, but initial thoughs are good.
I have been expecting delivery of the bike for a few days, and in preparation, I had raided the bits bucket at home for components to fit - not from a dislike of anything which would be supplied in the GroupSet, but because all cyclists have there own preferences for bits of kit. the bike was delivered to me at work, and as soon as my clinic had finished, I set about building up the bike. Drop-handlebars were ditched in favour of Lo-Pro bars. Saddle was swapped for a fi'zi:k Arione, which is an expensive, but very comfortable performance saddle. STI levers are something I dislike intensely - indexing in general I do not like. These were replaced by Dura-Ace Bar-End Shifters and basic Shimano Brake levers. Pedals are Look 3.1s. Brakes are Shimano 105 dual-pivot. Tyres are Michelin Race Pro with Vittoria Lighweight tubes.
My first impression of the San Remo is of a lightweight bike. This is my first true road bike, and it is far lighter than any of my other bikes. There's no suspension to soak up effort. Hills are a joy, and the San Remo just flies up any of the climbs I've tried so far. On the flat, the bike just goes on and on. Shifting is a little off at the moment, but that's because I'm still fine tuning the set-up. Brakes are excellent, with lots of power on the front though the rear is a little spongy. Steering is a bit twitchy, but the forks have less rake than I'm used to, so that will improve as I get used to the geometry. The San Remo has changed my mind about one aspect of cycle design - frame geometry. Until I got the San Remo, I was not a great fan of the compact frame design. Not from any experience, but from a purely aesthetic approach. I just didn't think that compacts looked right. Fine for MTBs, but not for a road bike. In use though, the compact frame is great. The tight geometry gives a very stiff ride and there is very little frame flex as far as I can tell. It feels like all the energy you're putting into pedalling is really going into the rear wheel.
On the flat, this is a good bike. It's very responsive, and acceleration is good. Pick a line through a corner and it will stick to it. Not quite so hot if you try to change your line whilst taking the corner, and you can get a little twitchy, but as long as you look ahead and ensure that you have a line, then handling is good. On fast descents, the steering does get rather twitchy and a little unpredictable, and there's a bit of skip and a buzz from the front end. On the climbs though, this bike comes into its own. Get up out of the saddle and put the power on, and this bike just flies up the hills. Gearing is perfect for the Chiltern Hills, and I never find that I'd like more at either top or bottom of the gearing range. None of our hills are too long or too steep, and if I was doing longer hills then I'd probably like a little a triple chainring, but for the climbs which I encounter, the double works just fine.
My other concern in in cycle design is frame materials. I have always riden steel framed bikes, and have been rather sceptical about the use of aluminium. My first aluminium bike suffered a frame failure after less that 500km of use, so I was a little wary of applying too much power through the cranks. Well, we've done about 1000km so far, and the frame is just fine. As to the long term reliability of the frame, I'll wait until after a winter season until I pass judgement.
I am not a fan of accessorising any more, there are some things which are useful on a bike, other things which are just dead weight or serve little function. Now I don't race and I don't need to do any coaching programme, so I haven't seen any point in a computer. I did use a computer for a while, but found that I was getting too much caught up in the number crunching. However, I have fitted a computer to the San Remo. Initial impressions are of a fast bike, so I have decided to go with a computer for a month or two to see if the additional speed is real, or just an impression.
All in all, the San Remo makes a first class entry level road bike, and I'd ceratinly recommend it.