I've got a post up at Wired.com talking about some of the new generation of carbon bikes that try to combine performance and comfort:
When I first raced bikes back in the dark ages, the pinnacle of the bike makers art was the handmade Italian steel frame, built up with Campagnolo components. This was the era of unindexed downtube shifters, gluing on tubular tires, non-aero brake levers. A great steel bike like a Colnago would tip the scales at 22 pounds or so, and come with gearing so steep that just climbing my driveway was a significant effort.
We've come a long way. My bike now, with absolutely no effort spent in cutting weight, tips the scales at a hair under 16 pounds, and the gearing reflects a much more realistic version of my fitness. The components shift with a speed and precision that I could have only dreamt about as a skinny junior racer. And while the ride of tubular tires still surpasses anything else out there, clinchers are more than good enough for what I do.
But there's one area where those Italian bikes still shine compared with today's superbikes -- handling and comfort. There's an organic feel to a steel bike that's hard to replicate in carbon fiber, although the road feel of carbon bikes just keeps improving.
The handling is a different story. Those 80s steel bikes were stable and predictable, made for the long haul. Most high-end bike today have a racing geometry, one that's much steeper and quicker handling that those older bikes. Most of us don't need a bike tuned like a Formula 1 car; we need a bike that's stiff and fast, but one that doesn't require too much physical or mental energy to keep pointed where we want it.
I've written about Specialized and their Roubaix model before; it was really a bike that changed the industry when it first came out. Over the past couple of months, I've had the chance to ride two other wonderful bikes that also look to combine race-level performance with increased stablity and comfort: the Cervelo RS and the Felt Z15.