Tuesday, May 6, 2008

"...I love technology....Always and forever... "

The title comes courtesy of Kip, from Napolean Dynamite

As Twin Cities’ residents, you can understand this spring has been interesting. Freak snow falls, large temperature swings and days of rain just when the trails were starting to look ride able. Some would say "Typical MN spring". I say "Annoying".

Last night the weather was warm and sunny, and according to MORC, the trails at Harmon Park were open for riding. A quick glance at the clock shows that there wasn't much time left, so I quickly ate my two waffles for dinner, kissed Tracy and Charlotte good bye and loaded up the Taurine for it's maiden voyage on the dirt.

I just purchased new Yakima Q-towers so I could eliminate the wire hanger holding one foot closed. The "new" rack was installed this past weekend and ready to roll. I wheeled the Taurine outside the garage and introduced it to the MINI and it's new spot on the roof. Both parties were cordial and pleasantries were exchanged as the Taurine settled in to it's new top-floor home for the trip. I gathered all my riding goodies and loaded them into the MINI. It was then that I realized I hadn't swapped pedals out. The Taurine 1 is rolling with eggbeaters and my shoes are set up for Time. Ooops. A quick look at my shoes reveals last year's mud caked in to the sole and cleat. No matter. A sharp tool can remove that. Another discovery....when you have cleats that are at least 10 years old and almost stripped, there's really no point in trying to change them while you're in a hurry. The shoes were added to the pile in the boot of the MINI and I headed towards Inver Grove Heights. I pulled up the road to the parking lot near the water tower and immediately saw several others on the trail and in the lot finishing up. This seems like a good sign. The excitement is getting greater now. I park and install the front wheel to get ready for a couple laps as the sun is on its decent below the horizon.

And so begins my review of the 2008 Cannondale Carbon Taurine 1...

Immediate First Impressions:
Lightweight, short stem, solid, too much air in the Headshock, GREAT saddle, shifters need to be rotated, egg beaters seem easy to use. As I threw my leg over the bike and started for the trail, I noticed right away that the saddle was comfortable. It was just soft enough to offer a bit of suspension and it also provided a tad bit of grip to my shorts without getting caught. The profile seems just right and not too wide or "weird" feeling. Right away I notice the weight - or lack thereof - of the bike. Taking it off the MINI is a breeze and with the initial pedal stroke there's forward progress. Instantly. One of the benefits of its carbon construction is apparent right away.

After telling myself the saddle was great, I noticed that the stock stem was short. I felt cramped and pretty upright on the bike. Early on, in the garage, I had tried to flip the stem to see if it would help, but the rise is too steep and it looked like a clown bike, so it went back to normal. I'll be searching for a longer stem to stretch me out a bit. Shortly after starting the trail, I had to stop to try to fiddle with the Headshock. As this is my first experience with a Headshock, the set up was arrived at by word-of-mouth and now was showing itself to be way to stiff. The rebound was so quick that it sounded like I was riding a Huffy with a loose headset. The Taurine emitted a sound as it rebounded back to its ready-state in what must have been milliseconds. Some turns of the rebound dial seemed to slow things down a bit, but I'll be reading the manual on getting things adjusted properly.

I'm drawn to the overall design of the bike. it's very traditional looking and the paint scheme is pretty mild. There's nothing flashy about it, but it does look fast when it's sitting still. I like the fact that the Headshock helps retain the traditional look of the bicycle, while the traditional double-triangle construction is at the Taurine's core. The carbon tubes are not traditional however, with specific shapes and wall thicknesses pertaining to certain areas of use. At first glance it appears to be a normal bicycle, but upon closer inspection you notice the finer details and the coolness factor it possesses. Plus, the orange details on the decals and saddle match pretty well with the orange in our BCR kits.

The best handling mountain bike I've ever ridden has been my Bridgestone MB-1. The reach to the bars was great. The steering input was precise, immediate and I felt as if my weight was balanced 50/50. In the single-track, that bike was a monster and provided me with some great confidence and also some close calls, as it allowed me to go faster than I needed to...
In some respects the Taurine reminded me of my glory days on the MB-1 carving up the twisty, technical single-track. Times have changed since the MB-1 and frame geometry isn't quite what the MB-1 was, aside from it being rigid, but the Cannondale evoked some of those same emotions in me and made me feel like I could lean into and carve the trail like we were a slot car.
The Headshock design helps accomplish this. There's only one area of movement happening instead of two, so the steering doesn't suffer from flex and individual inputs from each stanchion tube on "the other" suspension systems. The result is confidence inspired steering inputs and solid feedback from the dirt to your hands. I also noticed that the bike tracks really nicely in corners and gave me the feeling of motion throughout the entire corner instead of the feeling of losing momentum.

I've used SRAM components in the past, but the highest stuff has been 9.0SL from about 4 years ago. The Taurine 1 comes with X9 rapid-fire style shifters and and X0 rear derailleur. Initially I wanted to replace this style of shifters with the original SRAM twist-grip. That hasn't happened and I was left tying out the (relatively) new offering from SRAM. The button placement was a bit disconcerting for me, as they felt in the way when I was just grabbing the bar. Another initial concern of mine was my thumb movement felt a little awkward to engage the shifts. This could be due to the fact that it's my first meeting with this style..However, once you engage the button and ask for a gear, the drive train answers IMMEDIATELY and with a wonderful, solid click from the shifter. The feeling from these things is amazing. Each shift feels so precise and accurate that it's like getting a reward each and every time you change gears. The buttons seems to have a slightly different spring in them, as shifting up the cogs to an easier gear is much easier than going the other way. In fact, getting 2 or 3 gears easier is the fastest I've experienced anywhere. The button travel is very quick and deliberate and doesn't require you to rotate your wrist down the bar if you want to ask for more than one gear. I'm very satisfied with the shifter pods and am almost considering keeping them. Nicely done SRAM.

With just about everything else on this bike, the addition of disc brakes marks another first for me. I'm aware of the benefits, but the maintenance and the sounds of out-of-true rotors always made me completely take the plunge. Well, here I am.
And I'm happy to say "I'm sold". The immediacy is incredible. Brake points are way later than I'm used to and the modulation is mind-blowing. With my first pull into a high-speed banked corner, I found myself grabbing at the levers, only to have to pedal back up to speed to get through TO the corner because they scrubbed off so much speed initially. Later on, I found that just a touch of the lever seemed to slow me enough to where I wanted to be and I don't always have to grab both brakes like I used to. Because they are so efficient, I can sometimes use only 1 brake or just a touch here to help keep me on my line through a corner. Feathering (modulation) is much more effective for higher speeds where you find yourself needing to constantly correct and compensate for speed - especially through large radius, high-speed corners. I love 'em!

The first lap:
The first lap at Harmon was very introductory. Not only was it my first outing on a mountain bike this year, it was a brand new bike. Unlike anything I had been riding up to this point. The bike I was most familiar with was Scott's mid 90's Klein (which is fantastic). As the first lap unfolded in front of me, I started to become more familiar with how the bike talked to me; how it fed me information from the trail through my hands, feet and saddle (speaking of saddles, I realized that I needed to raise this one a bit). A couple times it was tough to keep my feet on the pedals (egg beaters should accept TIME cleats!), but I managed to get by. The way the bike handled made me smile because it was just so nimble and responsive. What little climbing there is at Harmon was a breeze. While the climbs were dry I didn't experience any wheel spin as I stood up and pulled a Stallone to go "Over the Top".
For sure I want my bar ends back. I kept wanting to go to them and was denied. The twisty North Loop provided a good chance to feel how well the Taurine likes to change direction and speed. The loop offers an array of corners; from almost 180 turns to just a little bump around a tree, to a nice set of high speed S's. In any of these, the Taurine was more than easy to maneuver. The start of the 2nd lap came up quicker than I thought it would.

The second lap:
I quickly adjusted the seat post and just stopped to look at the bike. I was smiling. Here was my new ride, after years of saving $$ and drooling over all sorts of other bikes. Here it is. Mine. Comfortably it leaned against the back of the MINI, barely winded from our first lap, looking eager to go again. It had some mud splashed where there once was only glare from the spotless clear coat. The warning stickers had been removed and the flat plastic platforms were no longer residing in the pedals. Here, outside, muddy, wet, waiting for more, the Taurine was in it's element. And I was ready to oblige.
With the seat raised, I immediately noticed the added response to drive train input. The stem was still short and the pedals still didn't grab my TIME cleats, but that didn't stop it from wanting to go faster. The adjustments I made to the rebound seemed to work, as there was less noise over bumps. I found myself getting used to the brakes and making the most of them. The tires were sticking to the trail and I felt like a MotoGP racers leaning through the corners. The bike was becoming more familiar to me and I found myself constantly grinning and saying "WOW". As I stated earlier the climbs felt really easy. Maintaining speed through corners and accelerating out was really a great feeling. Where other bikes seem to slow a bit, the Cannondale seems to be a race horse, noticing the loosened reigns and going for it. Shifting is a breeze. Often I thought I was out of gears and surprisingly there was always one more. Finally I found myself hammering in the smallest cog in the back in places where I would have asked for a larger gear on other bikes. At times when I did ask for an easier gear, it was almost as if the next gear was too easy and I found myself shifting back to the previous gear. After a couple of episodes like that I tried staying in the gear and I was rewarded with a truly awesome feeling.
With each pedal stroke that I offered just a little more oomf to I could literally feel the bike lunging forward! This is simply amazing and I think I said "holy crap!" out loud to myself. Shifting to the large chain ring produces similar results and similar out loud comments.
Heading into the North Loop again, there's a downhill section that has a good variety of turns in it. At speed the Taurine is absolutely alive and will do whatever I ask it to. I found that I need to train myself again to look farther up the trail so I can anticipate what I need to ask of the bike. As we were slicing the single-track, thoughts of the MB-1 came to mind. As did the MINI Cooper. This bike is really something.
Back at the MINI, I caught my breath while the Taurine looked like it was just warming up. The mud didn't slow it down. The bumps didn't slow it down. The twists and turns didn't slow it down. Did I do it justice, or did I slow it down??

The Taurine has left an impression on me. I called home and when prompted how the ride went, I was almost looking for the right word to describe it. After a couple quick stutters, I managed to say "AWESOME". That's really the closest I can come to describing it right now. It makes me want to ride faster. It makes me feel like I'm going fast - of course so does riding by yourself for the first time of the season - and it rewards you with all sorts of input.

In conclusion, I love technology! The handling was spot on and combined with the reactions to my pedal inputs, my grin was getting larger and larger as the ride progressed. As I rolled to the MINI after the 2nd lap, I wished I had more time. More time for more laps. More time to ride. More time to smile.

Thanks for reading!

Of note:
My 2nd lap took me about 22 minutes - that's without being clipped in and the first time on the dirt this year on a new bike. Of course, riding by yourself always seems fast, so who knows what that time means....


  1. MelloYelloBrookMay 6, 2008 at 6:31 PM

    Very Nice!

  2. Happiness is a new bicycle! :)

    "It does look fast just sitting still". Geez, I need to talk to my bike more often.

    Enjoy. You deserve it.

    (But watch out so that the MORC Trail Nazis don't see that mud)

  3. TRAIL POTCHER!!! ;)

    That write up was aw inspiring (awesome.)

  4. ...and we're back!

    Apparantly the Googlebot thought my blog was evil and put a hold on it so it was unavailable until someone reviewed it.

    Don't you know Dan - you're supposed to ride through the mud/water, not around it.

    No poaching here Lalla - the MORC site said open. HA.

  5. And Bush said "mission accomplished." Don’t be a lemming. ;)


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