Road Bikes

A mountain biker’s conversion to road cycling: The maiden voyage

Mountain biker Adele Mitchell gets to grips with her first – ever – ride on a road bike.

Adele’s Specialized Ruby Elite, in all its glory. Image by Paul Mitchell.

I recently collected my new Specialized Ruby Elite from the Specialized Concept Store in Kingston. There is no doubting that this bike is a thing of beauty, which is a good job because all I can do for the next frustrating days of terrible weather, flu and mad busy deadlines is look at it and feel a bit scared.

Disc brakes? Pah! Roadies stick to slick caliper brakes. Image by Paul Mitchell.

For notably absent are the disc brakes, 27 gears, front and rear suspension and reassuringly grippy tyres I’m used to on my mountain bike. The Ruby is a carbon fibre stripped-back shadow, designed to cover long distances quickly and efficiently. So light, I can pick it up with one hand.

In my mind my trusty mountain bike is the equivalent of a farmer’s wife: a strong, loyal and infinitely capable good-egg who can rustle up an apple pie while helping a ewe give birth to triplets. While the road bike? An aloof glamazon just waiting to do ‘the eyebrow’ and step over me in her Louboutin’s when I mess up.

In reality, the Ruby is designed to deliver comfort and control and on my very fast ride I soon learnt that this is one smooth and responsive road bike. Despite the feather light steering and narrow bars, it rolled into line willingly: we were instantly best friends.

I admit that the first climb – 12%, three km – almost saw my undoing as I realised there was no ‘granny gear’ to fall back on, but I’m used to slogging up steep hills and was determined not to be defeated on a road climb I have never failed to conquer on my mountain bike. Thank goodness going back downhill proved to be a lot easier, even if I did hang off the back of the seat, mtb style. On a flat road, I couldn’t believe how much ground I covered, and, despite being in a completely new riding position, how comfortable I was.

So, from my first short ride, these are the road vs mountain bike differences I most noticed:

The wheels: I have no idea how tread-free, inch wide tyres pumped to 100 psi manage to navigate the road without slipping and sliding all over the place. Thankfully, they just do.

The weight: The bikes’, not mine! Every mountain biker I know who has seen my road bike has picked it up. Everyone has said ‘gosh’ or more colourful words to that effect. The good news is that I have yet to manage to squash it.

Lack of a ‘granny’ ring and gear levers in funny places didn’t stop Adele conquering those climbs. Image by Paul Mitchell.

The gears: Twenty to be exact – compared to thirty on my mtbike. With two chain rings and no small ‘granny’ ring,  I had imagined hills would be a breeze compared to riding a heavier, grippier mountain bike. The gearing means they’re not! Also, the gear change levers are in a different position compared and move side to side rather than back and forward. I envisaged coordination carnage but actually got the hang of them straight away – a minor miracle for a technical no-hoper like me, and a nod to their efficient design.

The ride position: Much less ‘sit up and beg’ than a mountain bike and, due to the complete absence of logs, roll ups, mud and drops-offs on the road, there’s far less need to move around during the ride.

Who knew a bit of gel could make such a difference! Image by Paul Mitchell.

The suspension: Absolutely none, front or rear, although the road bike’s frame has Zertz vibration dampers to make the ride more comfortable. Good job we didn’t encounter any of the obstacles mentioned above then.

The pedals: Wider contact with the pedal to help achieve an efficient stroke is all very well and good, but at this stage my main issue is learning to release from different style clips without falling off. I’m getting there (fingers crossed).

The handlebars and steering: The Ruby has drop bars, in a nice shade of blue I hasten to add, which apparently, gives the opportunity to move your hands around. I’ve little idea of when – or why – you do this at the moment and mostly I keep my fingers as close to the brake levers as possible, just in case!

Next month: Adele builds on her road bike fitness and puts some miles in!


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