Skinny Dipping:  The Postscript- by Grannygear

It has been a while since I dipped my toes into the waters of what my MTB friends called “The Dark Side” and rolled out on the tarmac astride a road bike.  See the process that led up to that moment in these links:

The Intro

Why do it at all?

How to get there from here

Jumping in and getting wet

I went out and rode that steel Ritchey for quite a few miles over the spring and summer on group rides, centuries, training miles, etc. What I found was this roadie stuff was no fad for me or a quick romance but rather it seemed to be a solid relationship between myself and those skinny tires.  I will never give away all my mountain bikes, but I bet I have more hours on the road this year than on the dirt and that, to me anyway, is remarkable.  I have met a whole new group of folks that do not MTB ride, traveled more as a couple (my wife and I) to organized rides, and increased my fitness over the summer time where typically I ride less due to heat and crummy trail conditions.

Ritchey Logic road bike

The Ritchey has been a really fine bicycle.  Steel on the road is not in vogue for some good reasons (and some not so good reasons), but all in all, I was always smiling when I rode off on that bike.  It is smooth as smooth is, and yet was surprisingly spunky when prodded.  Some thoughts in no particular order:ritchey frame

The ride.  Likely the best part of this frame set was the ride.  It would take a really, really nice carbon bike to beat the ride this Ritchey has, especially as the road surface got worse and worse.  And it is not just impacts up through the saddle that are muted, it is tip to toe smooth.  Unlike something like a Trek Domane or a Volagi that has tons of compliance in the back of the bike but not in the front end, resulting in what many report as an unbalanced feel to the bike, the Ritchey with its straight 1.125″ steerer and compliant fork has a very even response to impacts front to rear.  Up through the bars, even with an aluminum model on there (a nice Ritchey bar), it matched what I expected to feel up through the saddle, even through a carbon post.  It did not kill the buzz like some of the carbon bikes do, but if I had to ride on crummy roads all day, steel like this is really hard to beat.  Of course we have to consider…

DSC05638The wheels and tires.  The American Classic Hurricane wheels not only looked proper on this bike with a classic-ish 32 spokes and rim design, the light weight and stiff construction meant I could spin up to speed with no issue and not fear potholes.  They never needed one touch up for nearly a 1000 miles.  The tires, Continental GP4000S in a 700×25 size, plumped up nicely on the Hurricanes and have fended off road debris and some dirt excursions with no problems and no flats.  That wide rim and the bigger tire allowed me to run 90lbs F/R and still have good all around performance (with tubes).  It was a great set-up and fit the personality of this bike to a ‘T’.


The Drivetrain.  It was a gamble to go with SRAM Rival on this bike, but I have always had good luck with SRAM on the dirt side of things. One ride on the Double Tap shifting made me a fan. It just worked and worked, although front shifting was so-so.  How much was the FSA crank and how much was the less than industry record setting stuffiness in the front der cage is hard to say.  SRAM gets some criticism for front der cages that tend to be flexy under shifting load.  So it was not Dura Ace Di2 but it always was just as good as it ever was every time, every shift, regardless.  The FSA brakes were okay, nothing amazing, and the rest of the bits just did the job with one issue that I will talk about later.

Handling.  That Ritchey was a surprisingly sporty ride.  Built with that long top tube, steep angles, and moderate chain stays, it walks a line between a true sport bike and a sportive bike and pulls it off pretty well, but maybe not perfectly.  It would only take a nudge of the hips to get it to turn into a fast corner and once there, it would dig in and stay there for the most part.  Fun bike.  Some of the rush to the new endurance geometry has produced some rather dull feeling bikes.  Not this one, at least not to me, but it never scared me either.


And yet, I found myself thinking about a new road bike build.  Why?  Well, some of that is a touch of rampant consumerism that I can fall into like anyone, but there were some things I did not love about it and I was also very curious about what it would take to step up one ‘notch’ in overall performance.  For all the lovely ride and sporty handling, there were times, when pressed hard, like during a hard sprint or when trying to close a gap in the group, I could feel the bike wind up underneath me pretty good.  Was that stealing speed?  No idea.  But it felt like it was.  There were a couple of times when, in the middle of a fast corner, and I hit some bad pavement, the bike would just feel a bit loose like it cycled though some sine wave before settling back down.  It also was more active than I really liked, even on the flats.  A 73.5° head tube angle is pretty quick, even when paired with a proper fork offset like this one is, and although the long top tube and moderate chain stays reeled that in, it still hunted around in the wind and when I was less than steady at the tiller.

Although Ritchey says this can run a 28mm tire, and it can, I found that the clearance that was so generous at the chain stays was less so at the front fork.  That combo of the FSA front brake and the limited distance from the top section (crown) of the fork made it impossible to ride on muddy surfaces as there was really no room for anything but the tire.  A 25mm Conti on those wide rims is almost 28mm wide.  A true 28mm tire would not have fit without a brake swap and it still would have been very tight on the fork.  No biggy in dry So Cal, but still.

The bike fit was perhaps a bit long for me.  I had based my size on my old road bike that had a 59cm top tube and this Ritchey was the same.  I ran a 100mm stem and although it was very close, It was juuuuust a bit long to the brake hoods.  I did not want to go to a shorter stem for handling reasons and the bars already had a pretty short reach.

And then I was curious about carbon.  I know that when I went from moderate steel to decent aluminum to good carbon on my single speed, not only did each change bring along an improvement in pedaling response, the bikes got lighter too.  What could carbon do for me on the road?  Oddly enough, I never even considered custom steel as a solution.  I could have tweaked the angles and dimensions and beefed up a tube diameter here and there and likely been very happy.  Hindsight, because by now I was on the search for a carbon bike that I thought might be a answer to some of my issues.

I had no huge budget here, so no custom Parlee for me, and even S Works level stuff would be a stretch.  I looked at what was near me in the local bike shops and compared that to other brands a bit more exotic like BMC or Bianchi.  It is difficult to get a good ride on a prospective bike.  Some shops would rent, others not.  So I had to go by the all revealing parking lot impression and back it up with ride reviews and specs for the bike, just like any consumer would do.  I brought it down to three local bikes:  The Specialized Roubaix, the Giant Avail Advanced, and the Cannondale Synapse.  The Synapse had really caught my eye, both for the concept behind the bike and for the package of what looked like a balance of sporty but comfy.  Riding them as best I could, the Roubaix felt a bit stodgy, the Avail felt rather brilliant and the Synapse fell right in the middle somewhere.

None of them were spec’d with the parts I wanted to run.  It seemed like time to step up to 11 speed and, if I could swing it, I would go one step up in wheels too.  That meant SRAM Force 22 and wheels of my choosing.  Shimano has a death grip on Giant so that meant I would need to buy a $3K bike with Ultegra 6800 and strip it to get what I want.  Too costly.  Specialized had some bikes with the right  SRAM parts but the bike just did not impress me.  I really wanted to be impressed because the Ritchey was really quite good and frankly I was not expecting magic improvements, but rather incremental changes.  Those changes needed to add up to something really ‘better’ for me or I was just chasing the Jones’ next door and looking for greener grass.

Everything I read about the Synapse was consistent.  The reviews and ride impressions all spoke about a bike that did not give up much at all to the race bikes yet went a long way toward keeping long days from beating you down.  I was not looking for a rolling easy chair.  If the bike did not jump up and move out when I wanted it to, then I would be unhappy.  As well, I could buy the Synapse (not the Hi-Mod) in a Shimano 105 version which made the jump in cost very reasonable and parting it out made more sense.  Done and done.  Orders were placed, time went by and wrenches flew.  After a few hundred miles including rides like the High Sierra Century and Gran Fondo, how did it turn out?

cannondale synapse 5

Really, really well actually.  What you see here is what’s left of a 2014 Synapse 5 (only the seat post remains).  The entire package as I built it dropped 2 lbs off the Ritchey build and that’s not hay.  In fact, the Ritchey was lighter than the stock Synapse 105 build.  The Force 22 SRAM goods have a positive snap to the shifting that I absolutely love and this is a nice step up from the Rival as far as the actual response and feel at the Doubletap levers.  You have to been very dialed in with 11 speed or it gets a bit persnickety, but its not that difficult if you are a decent wrench.  The wheels ended up being some American Classic Argent Road Tubeless in a special graphic treatment that really set off the look of the bike.  Wide internally and darn light and stiff, they are a real treat.  I carried over the great performing Continental GP400s tires, running tubes of course.  The Ritchey bars were the same model I had on the steel bike as I had fallen in love with the bends and shape.

I also made two tweaks in the drivetrain, one being gearing and one being crank length.  I went with a compact 50T-34T crank with the 11-28 rear cassette.  That is the lowest gearing I have ever run on a road bike.  I like it for sure, not only for the lower granny gear, but also for the way I can stay in the 50T longer over the previous Mid Compact 52T.  I seldom get into long and fast downhill duels where I might run out of top end, so this move has been a winner.  The crank length went from the 175mm of the old FSA crank to a 172.5mm in the new SRAM Force 22 crank.  It may not seem like much, but it let me spin better and my legs feel fresher over long stretches of road.  Win, win.

So is it magic?  Well, not really but it is super nice and it is a step up over the Ritchey steel bike in every way except ride/comfort (and maybe durability, but I am speculating here).  While Cannondale did a fine job with the back end of the Synapse, and in the world of carbon road bikes, even with the front end as well, the steel bike with the slimmer front end is smoother and more forgiving.  However, that is about the only thing I gave up.  Fit is better for me now as I can run a 110mm stem and yet the hoods are 1/2″ closer to me.  Perfect.  Pedaling it is pretty amazing as far as the way it accelerates.  The combo of that carbon layup and the great wheels just feels…here is that word again…’effortless’.  Yeah, its not, but it really is quick and it stays that way under hard efforts, sprints, and big gear runs.  Uphill it really shines, carrying speed along well.  The handling is just a smidge backed off compared to the Ritchey and while it still is sporty, it is much steadier on the flats and in the wind.  Fast downhills show a front end that stays in sync with the back end no matter what I do to it so the confidence is off the hook.  More winning going on here.

I ended up with everything I expected and hoped to have and lost pretty much what I thought I might lose, including the uniqueness that riding a steel bike gives you.  if I had to do it again, I really would consider a custom steel frame, but that is something for the future if ever.  For now, the new build is out there under me turning miles into smiles.


First ride pre-parts swapping. Note the cool old MTB jersey. The dirt in me dies hard.


Note: The bike was purchased at retail at a LBS and some parts were bought at discount. We are not being bribed nor paid for this review and we will strive to give our honest thoughts and opinions throughout.