Soma Smoothie: Pt.6, the first ride.

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At the time of this photo: 40 miles on the frame and fork. 300mi on group set. I am VERY satisfied.

The density altitude figured up at 11,400 feet at high-noon today. 100 degrees, high, thin air and like Stephen King’s Under The Dome taking place inside a gigantic hair dryer. That’s exactly what it felt like. Hardly a time to go on a moderate ride after literally no training volume this year, but I wanted to ride a standard twenty-something mile loop on a newly built-up frame. Curiosity got the better of me. I turned down a hard pack road used in last year’s Boulder-Roubaix race. I rode the eighteen-mile course to see how it performed. I knew this would be a much different ride. I expected immediate amazement. I didn’t get that, well, the instant amazement part. What I got was the slowly warming amazing of what a bike can give the rider when it can go most anywhere, AND, still deliver a performing ride.

My build goal was to build a fast and durable bike that would easily tackle a surface like the legendary cobblestones of Belgium and France. The key ingredients of such a build would rely upon the tires and the frame. Both would have to absorb bumps and vibrations but the frame would also need a responsive performing feel.

The Soma Smoothie has the same tube angles of a Cannondale CAAD9 aluminum race frame. It just weighs about 800 grams more. That’s all. To preserve the racy frame angles and handling, I picked the IRD Technoglide headset for its shorter than average 11mm stack lower cup and matched it with a Kinesis DC07 carbon fork for it’s lesser axle-crown measure than most, at a very reasonable price. This combination allowed a long reach fork with a minimal change in stack height to the front end. About 6mm, or, a quarter of a degree to a third perhaps. With decent Easton EA70 wheels, Shimano’s 5800 series 105-11spd group set and some Michelin Endurance Pro4 v2 tires, the whole ship came in at about twenty-one pounds. That first hit down the hard pack gravel road told me I had chosen my parts well, and the frame was a great selection.

It’s not just the steel frame that absorbs road vibration, it’s the tire size that the frame allows. The 28c Michelin tires, that measure true to 30mm on my 17.5mm internal width rims, really did the extra trick. As a whole package using an aluminum seat post and cockpit pieces, the pavement vibration was nicely absorbed by the frame and fork and to be honest, I felt it was at first marginally better than the aluminum frame I had been riding before, but as the miles ticked by, I realized something. I was moving faster down rougher roads than before. the 32mph coast down a rough dirt hill was chattering before and now, fun! That’s right, 32mph, down hill, over washboard dirt and gravel on 30mm tires was downright enjoyable and at no point did it feel like I was getting shaken down for lunch money in the hallway by my previous CAAD9 aluminum. Weather encountering manhole covers or surface cracks or rail tracks, I rolled through them and through washboards and other light bumps. Notice I didn’t say over. Through is the word. I felt especially smooth on this stuff, where the previous CAAD9 would jar my body as well as physically slow the ride. Now, large bumps on the previous magnesium frame? Well, it would roll through as well but do so and come at me with a baseball bat in hand. Peculiar for sure, like moonshine – an unstoppable and unforgiving force once on the roll. Not a single moment of anything like that with the Smoothie. In fact, this steel bike on that 50% dirt road course is a faster bike because of the ride quality.

Any cycling enthusiast would be happy to discuss the merits of Steel vs. Aluminum vs. Carbon and what they’re good at or deficient with. When I put power into the Smoothie, there was hardly any more flex over what an aluminum race frame delivers and to get to a point where this frame is reaching it’s limits and impeding your abilities would take some serious trained rider ability. It takes bumps. It absorbs road vibration. It is not a wet noodle on power. It’s comfortable and a fantastic all-around bike that you could actually race, because, it can do most any road you see and that’s more gravy on the Thanksgiving plate. I chose this bike over a Cannondale CAAD and a storied magnesium alloy frame. It fits better than they did and rides better and takes better tires. It’s very close in stiffness and feels great on a downhill.

I recommend this frame. Be advised, there is prep work to accomplish upon receipt. Standard facing and chasing of bottom brackets and head tubes are common in a steel frame and this is no exception, but $400 for frame alone and this becomes an absolutely great deal especially when you shop around for others, finding the equivalent weight and quality costs much more. You’re not getting anything lighter and for a higher Reynolds number material for three times the cost, you don’t get much different performance. This Smoothie is a true race geometry and responsive steel frame that can fit tires that measure true at 30mm. Zero complaints. Get yourself one.

The end of my ride began fifteen miles in. I saw climbing a shallow gravel road with my heart rate near 180. At the top I realized the water I just drank was hotter than my body. I could have made tea in that bottle. At the top, I was able to ride down a long shallow descent of coasting in the mid twenty-mile-per-hour range. I took what was last of that bottle and sprayed myself in the front, everywhere, to cool off. At first, the water burned as it soaked through, but then evaporated away in the wind, doing it’s job and cooling me to immediate effect. I stopped at the small general store five miles from home to cool down and get some colder water, not to mention their excellent slice of cherry pie. Many other cyclists stop through here and all of them had their head low and stumbled around a bit. It was not just hot, but painful hot today. After thirty minutes I could see straight again and went home. Twenty-one miles was all I could do. Sixty wasn’t a problem in February, but seeking, finding and getting a new job got in the way until today. This bike is now the go to ride for any training and specialist competition involving a mix-up with  dirt packed roads.

Thank you for reading.

 

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