What Makes a Bike "Magic"? Part 1
Updated: Jul 23, 2020
I would love to spark a discussion about "Magic" bicycles. When I say "Magic", I speak in terms of performance. As usual, I have some thoughts on the issue, and what this "Magic" is. Let me share them with you.
If you have ever ridden a bicycle with cleats on, you know what I am talking about. I still remember the first time I felt the added horsepower and connection to the machine. It was.....Magic.
A racing bicycle has a pretty punishing existence. The forces at work within the structure as the machine is raced are tremendous. When you descend at 50 mph and then brake into a 120 degree switchback turn, you are placing a great deal of trust in design. The better the design, materials and construction, the better the speed and ease of that turn.
I was a Combat Helicopter Pilot, but one of the most fearful moments of my life were on the back of a racing tandem. The flex and power I felt surge through the bicycle at high speed was impressive to the point of being alarming. I should have done an analysis of the bikes performance, but my eyes were closed from effort and fear.
Scott leading me around by the steer tube. There is fear in my heart.
Track Tandems are fast. The way the bike performs under periods of stress and speed are exaggerated in a track tandem, so the way the machine performs is a matter of extreme importance. I am so glad I had that opportunity, and I am respectful of the experience. It demonstrated the extreme of racing bicycle performance to me in a way I will never forget. If you ever get a chance to ride a track tandem on a track, I suggest you take it.
These forces are less noticeable in a single rider bike, but they are there. You might have experienced them and not known it. If you know what I am talking about, congratulations. That is an earned privilege. The design of the bike, in addition to the materials used throughout machine define every aspect of how the machine performs. This is all the result of engineering. Sometimes that engineering makes magic.
The old Italian mainstays, and the bikes designed like them, were amazing rides and reliable for high performance. They established the performance standard. When I ride my old Benotto it is a wonderful performance bike, but it doesn't have what I am talking about when I refer to magic.
The bicycle at the top of this piece is a GIOS V-107 from around the 2006-2007 racing season. I was privileged to be on the roster of the Excel Sports Boulder Racing Team as a track rider during that period, and this was the team bike for the road riders. Excel Sports was the US Distributor of the GIOS bikes at this time, and all GIOS bikes were from the Italian factory back then. I did my race work on the velodrome, and thus I had different needs than the road guys, but I learned what they knew. This is a magic bike.
You notice it really before you start hard work with this bike. It is easy to turn, quick to react, and effortless to move with a pedal. as you gain speed it is forgiving of error by handling so well it keeps you out of trouble. The frame is a Deda Aluminum-Scandium mix with a Deda carbon tail to take some of the sting out of the stiff shaped tubing set. It works very well. I have seen this technique used by Rich Gangl in his frames. Those are pretty good credentials for this frame materials mix.
You really feel the builders genius when you are getting the bike up to speed. When cadence is running 95 or more, and speed is running right about where it starts to hurt the way you are looking for, that it the moment you really notice and appreciate this bike. Every effort you put into the bike at this point goes to making it go forward. On a lesser bike, you can feel the forces you are exerting bleed away into the bike and wheels, and not to the road. When you are working so hard to maintain your position in the field, any wasted effort is very noticeable and undesirable. You have to work hard to get to this point of assessment of a bike. If you make it and your bike responds like this one, then you have a "magic bike".
The ride I am talking about I have felt in other places. I have ridden alot of bikes through the years. Some stand out in initial impressions as magic. The one I still wish I had, the "one that got away", did not have it. That is why it is " the one that got away". That is a great story I will tell later.
I noticed a little magic every time I test ride a Trek Madonne, and most of the S-Works bikes, as well as most Raparto Corsa Bianchi's. I have a nice Asian Serenity that has it in droves. Every single Eddy Merckx bicycle I have ever put my leg over had it, except for "the one that got away". I cannot wait to tell you about that bike. It is a good story.
If my thoughts on what might make a "Magic Bike" make sense to you, then please come back and read my next post about the most "Magic" bike I have ever ridden, and the story of how it came to exist in "What Makes a Magic Bike: Part II". If you are a bike nut, you may enjoy the tale.