Well, I made a decision. Decided on a frame, clicked a digital box, paid invisible money. It will be here in a couple days.
I went with the Cannondale CAAD 12 Black Inc., which seems to offer the light weight, race geometry, and badass looks of the Canyon I had planned on buying, at a similar price. From what I can tell, the whole “Black Inc.” thing doesn’t really mean much; it’s the same as the CAAD 12, but with a cooler paint job. Works for me–a paint job doesn’t make a bike, but it can certainly break one.
So, with a frame and wheels figured out, I’m on to the final step: groupset. I know I want to go electronic–I made that decision when my shifter cable snapped 60 miles into a century last winter. I waffled between Sram Red eTap and Shimano Ultegra Di2. eTap is more expensive, but there are no wires to deal with, and even a mechanical novice like me can supposedly install it. Di2 is about half the price and offers many of the same shifting advantages, but isn’t cable free and is reported to have some issues with cables popping out of batteries and the like.
I’m leaning towards eTap. Here’s why
- This is the last bike I will buy for a long time. As Donna says, treat yo’self.
- I spend more hours per week biking than on any other voluntary activity (work does not count as a voluntary activity, since the purpose of it is to accumulate money and vacation days to spend on biking.)
- I’m getting a sensible aluminum frame and aluminum wheels, not elitist, fragile carbon, so I can allocate money elsewhere in the build.
- Shifting is the aspect of riding I notice the most, so why compromise?
- Cables and seat tube batteries intimidate me. I want to be able to (mostly) put this bike together myself, from scratch. I want to actually attach all the various pieces I’ve assembled, to see the bike go from a collection of objects to a fully functioning machine. That’s one of the main reasons I opted not to buy a complete build. While I suppose I could figure out how to install Di2, it seems a hell of a lot more complicated.
- Early adopters look cool when the technology becomes ubiquitous.
But these could all just be post-hoc justifications of my wanting something that is maybe a little too nice, a little too expensive, a little too unnecessary. Rationalizing a want, rather than wanting something rational. For the difference in price between Di2 and eTap (or between either and a perfectly good mechanical groupset), I could literally save children’s lives in Africa by donating to the Against Malaria Foundation (one of the world’s most effective charities that distributes anti-malaria mosquito nets around the world). That fact is not lost on me; I am aware of my own selfishness. Yes, I already donate monthly to charity, but I could donate more and spend less on this bike without affecting my own happiness in any substantial way. Peter Singer’s famous analogy gnaws at me because I know I could do more, because I know that lots of what I buy is by any definition unnecessary.
Or, think of it this way: for the $1,000-$2,000 difference in price between groupsets that are ultimately 95% similar in performance, I could buy more than 10 Buffalo bikes for people who need bikes to go to school and retrieve clean water, needs which make mine (things like “my mental health” and “getting a good workout in”) seem pretty puny. The truth is that any of us cycling-obsessed people could. All the money spent on kits and racing and bikes, most of it to look cool or be a few grams lighter, doesn’t really make us happier. It could do more good elsewhere. Ultimately, I think we would still enjoy cycling with vastly less stuff. Fewer bikes, fewer jerseys, fewer wheelsets. If everyone had a perfectly decent aluminum bike with Shimano 105, we wouldn’t stop feeling the wind in our faces or seeing beautiful vistas or laughing with friends.
I’m not lecturing. Just plumbing my own guilt. Because despite knowing these things, I am still going to get eTap. No doubt, it will be crisp and wonderful. But it won’t be morally defensible. Not really.