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From the pages of Velo: Stiff & Stones

Editor’s Note: In April 2011, we unveiled VeloLab, our in-depth bike and component testing program that combines objective, lab-based metrics with on-the-road evaluation. In the 14 months since, we’ve tested more than 25 bikes, from sub-$1500 budget road racers to the bikes of the WorldTour. We’ve even given four commuter rigs a spin. We’ve also recently put seatposts to the test and in the July 2012 issue, our tech team runs five aero wheelsets through the lab and over the road. The following cover story first appeared in the July 2011 issue.

It’s no coincidence that endurance bikes and gran fondos have blossomed in parallel. They represent a common denominator across the incredible breadth of cyclist archetypes. From the weekend warrior to the World Tour pro, we all love to just go out and ride. Sometimes fast, occasionally slow; over glass-smooth pavement or dirt roads or potholed mountain passes. It’s all good.

Most bikes skew towards either stiff efficiency or comfort. For most cyclists, the ideal bike is one that does both. This is exactly what the four bikes we tested here purport to do.

Can a bike really be stiff and responsive under power, and yet comfortable over the rough stuff? That’s what we endeavored to find out, through long rides over famous European cobblestones and with vibration and stiffness tests in the lab.

As with all VN Bike Lab reviews, each endurance bike was ridden for a minimum of 30 hours. In addition to plenty of time on our local roads, they were also put through the ringer at both the Tour of Flanders and Parix-Roubaix cyclosportifs, 100-mile affairs on the same rough, cobbled courses where the pros do battle.

The four bikes were subjected to two lab tests, co-designed and performed by Microbac Laboratories, Inc. The first, our torsional stiffness test, is a constant throughout all VN Bike Lab reviews. It measures fl ex at three points on the frame with a 100-pound static pedaling load. The second is a vibration test designed to determine how bumps are transferred through each bike and to a rider.

In concert, the two tests paint a picture of how well each bike performs in the real world.

Each bike is rated in five categories: scientific testing (30 points), ride quality (30 points), value (20 points), user friendliness (15 points) and weight (5 points). We encourage you to look at the scores as distinct characteristics and weigh those against your own preferences.

The Contenders

Endurance bikes have become their own distinct category in the last decade, but the individual components that set them apart are nothing new. Taller head tubes and longer wheelbases have been back-pocket tools of frame builders since the dawn of cycling.

There have always been comfortable bikes, and race bikes. A good endurance bike is both. After much deliberation, we picked four that seemed up to the task: Cannondale’s Synapse Carbon 3, Lapierre’s Sensium 300 CP, Specialized’s Roubaix Comp, and Bianchi’s Infinito.

Long wheelbases and tall head tubes are the norm, with the latter at least 2-4cm taller than each company’s pure race frames. That means a more upright position without a skyscraper of stem spacers.

Details of the geometry and carbon lay-up diverge, though, reflecting the varying ambitions behind each bike. All are built up with Shimano Ultegra and either a compact or triple crankset, and each frame is built with comfort-adding features, from Specialized’s Zerts inserts to Bianchi’s K-VID Kevlar technology. All four fall within a price window of $3,000 to $3,700.

The Testers

VN tech writer Caley Fretz isn’t exactly the target market for these bikes. As an early-20’s Cat. 1 racer, he’s at home with an aggressive position and twitchy handling. Actually, he finds tall head tubes and a smooth ride a bit disconcerting, and compact cranks do nothing but confuse his little racer brain. But that makes him a perfect candidate for evaluating the performance side of endurance bikes.

VN tech editor Nick Legan, in contrast, loves compact cranks. We all love long days in the saddle, but Legan takes it to another level. His next big event, for example, is the
200-mile Dirty Kanza, which is held almost entirely on gravel roads.

In addition to the 136 hours of ride time Caley and Nick put in near the VeloNews offices in Boulder, each bike was subjected to further punishment across the pond under editor in chief Ben Delaney, managing editor Neal Rogers, and friend-of-VN Anthony Carcella. Along with Nick, these three spent a couple of weeks riding the test bikes in Belgium and France, including the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix cyclosportifs.

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