Summer Lovin, Happens So Fast

I’ve been meaning to write about my bike all summer, but summer has been busy and I’ve had better things to write about, if I’ve had time at all. Better late than never?

I spent some quality time with the Jamis catalog last winter, trying to figure out what I’d ride this year. The Xenith SL looked really appealing, but it was a pretty good pile of money and had stuff I didn’t really want, specifically really expensive tubular wheels. And it’s pretty expensive. Maybe next year. Then I looked at the Xenith Team, but I didn’t think I really wanted electronic shifting. Note that I made this decision BEFORE I spent quality time on a Di2 bike. I would most certainly take electronic shifting, thank you. Then came the Elite.

The bike had a lot of what I wanted. The same very cool frame as the Team. SRAM Red drivetrain. Cool wheels. Good looks. Really good geometry, too. So I ordered it up.

As I suspect it is with many bikes purchased by bike shop people, mine almost immediately became something of a Frankenbike. I have a set of wheels that I’ve used for years and really like, so I gave the stock American Classics to my wife. I also have a bar and seat that I’ve used and liked for some time, so I put those on there. I gave the seatpost to a client. What remains stock? Frame and Red drivetrain, and I’m quite a bit familiar with the Red drivetrain, having used it for a couple of years.

That’s a lot of preamble. How’s the bike? Wonderful. I’ve ridden this bike on cold (not cool, cold) spring evenings, hot summer mornings, good roads, bad roads,  got myself a mild case of hypothermia, and experienced the heat of combustion during my first road race. And I’ve just loved it. I’m particularly impressed with the characteristics of the frame — it’s very stiff in the drivetrain while providing excellent vertical compliance. If you read any cycling magazines or sites, you’ve heard this before. What does it mean? It means that when you step on the pedals, the bike immediately scoots forward. No bending. No hesitation. Step and go. And the compliance thing? Amazing. It’s not some kind of rubbery, wimpy feeling, but you can tell that not every little thing that you run over is transmitted to your hands and posterior. Very cool. The handling strikes a nice balance. I once owned a bike that bordered on twitchy and another that very much preferred to stay in a straight line. The Elite (and every other Xenith frame, as they’re all made from the same molds) takes a middle road. It turns happily and predictably, but only when directed to do so.

Complaints? I generally ride a size 51 or 52 bike, and don’t think I’ve owned a bike that didn’t have some amount of overlap. That said, I notice it quite a lot on this one. Not enough to crash or anything like that, but it’s evident and a bit disconcerting at times.

How’s it rate overall? Really, really great. Really great. I think it blurs the line between metal bikes — specifically titanium bikes, known for the magic ride — and carbon bikes. The Elite is lighter than I can get a similarly equipped ti bike. Alternately, carbon fails to provide that “forever” feeling that one can achieve with a metal bike.

At $4600, the Xenith Elite is not an inexpensive bike, but it represents a good value. World-class manufacturing techniques meet excellent geometry, outstanding drivetrain and a suitable selection of components. Nice.

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