Buying a big bike without a test ride... Specialized Diverge?
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  1. #1
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    Question Buying a big bike without a test ride...

    Hey folks, first time poster, so please be gentle.

    I'm in a tough spot. I'm the type of guy that (basically) no LBS stocks bikes for - 6'7", 37.5" inseam, and right now weigh in at around 240#. Some other details: My daily rider is a heavily upgraded 25" 2005 Giant Sedona LX (see profile for the specs, it astounds every LBS I walk it into) which I'll be keeping, as there's no way I would hook up the Trail-a-Bike for rides with the kids to any road bike I buy. My goal would be to find a bike that will be my new daily rider, and turn the Sedona into my family ride bike.

    I commute daily by bike approximately 3.5 miles each way, in most kinds of weather - I even have studded tires for the Sedona for winter riding here in Michigan. The commute is rough, a mixture of sidewalks and pothole-riddled roads. My weekend rides vary, but the trails in my area are about 2/3 dirt or crushed limestone and about 1/3 paved, and my typically yearly mileage is in the 2-3k mile range, though this year I'll be around 6k. I'm 41 and not interested in racing, but want to buy a road bike for long-distance riding. I'd always thought that a CX bike would be a great transition for me, but sadly I've yet to find one made in a big enough frame size.

    In preparation for riding MS150 this fall, I borrowed a 61cm 2011 Specialized Roubaix Elite from a riding buddy for a couple of months, and rode the MS (190 miles for the weekend) on a rented 61cm 2015 Specialized Allez Elite. I learned a lot about road bike riding in that time, but the biggest lesson was that the 61cm isn't quite big enough, and I really need a 64cm to avoid neck/shoulder/upper back pain.

    The problem is that finding a 64cm in-store is essentially impossible (I've called or visited every LBS in my area, and nobody stocks a 64 in any make or model) so I am in the unenviable position of probably purchasing a bike sight-unseen without the benefit of a test ride. To make matters worse, very few models are even available in a 64, so comparing apples to apples is even harder. Specialized's 64s this year are only available on the Secteur Elite Double ($1250), the Roubaix SL4 Pro Disc ($6000), and then three models of the Diverge - Comp Smartweld ($2700), Comp Carbon ($3500) and Expert Carbon ($4000). Trek's 1.5C ($1100) and Emonda ($3150-$4520) are also available in a 64 and the Pinarello Prince in a 62 ($3800) might work, but again, nobody has them in stock. If I don't buy new, I could get a rental-retired 2013 64cm Roubaix Comp for $1870.

    The guys at my nearest LBS showed me the Diverge in a much smaller frame size, and the idea of it sounds fantastic to me - slightly beefier tires to deal with both the nastier roads below them and the greater rider mass atop them on normal ride/commute days, and I can always swap out for thinner tires for event days. My biggest concern, really, is dropping that kind of money on something I'll never have test-ridden at all, and what if it's wrong?

    I've read a bunch of the threads here from various folks referencing the Diverge - obviously with it being a very new bike, there's only a limited amount of data available. Some questions, about the Diverge and just in general:

    1) SmartWeld vs Carbon - most of the comments I've read have been down on the ALU, but are there any reasons (rider weight, primarily?) that the Carbon would be a particular BAD idea?
    1a) Comp vs Expert - $500 appears to buy you longer-reach bars, an upgrade from 105 to Ultegra derailleur/cassette, Praxis Works to FSA crankset, and Ti rails on the saddle. Will I notice any of this?
    2) Buy-before-you-ride - Any other big guys out there with experience to share on key questions/data to gather before pulling the trigger on a purchase? I've developed a big spreadsheet tracking seat tube, top tube, head tube, reach and stack on about 20 61cm+ bikes, and done a few online bike-fit calculators.
    3) Fitting - Is it worth the $X00 to get fitted at a shop when each shop/manufacturer seems to have their own fit profile?
    4) Other big bikes - Surly and Soma have steel offerings in 64-66cm, and Felt and Cannondale have 63s, anybody have any other non-custom suggestions?

    Sorry for the novel, if you've made it this far I appreciate the feedback!
    Last edited by billsquared; 10-07-2014 at 08:48 AM.

  2. #2
    Talks too much, that is..
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    Not that I'm an expert, but I'd think that if you find yourself needing to buy before you ride, then the proper fitting becomes even more important. In fact, I would go find a fitter beforehand to make sure you really need a 64cm frame. One thing I'll just point out is that while you are 8" taller than me, your inseam is 5.5" longer than mine. I think that means that you are particularly long legged - even for your height. Right? So, I'm just wondering if a long seat post and a 61" bike might be all it takes.

    I think my point is that finding a good fitter, someone with years in the business who knows various bikes, how they fit, the tricks of getting people really fitted to their bike, and starting that discussion before you pull the trigger might be helpful. Who knows, maybe he'll see you and tell you that he'll make sure the 64cm bike you get will fit when the two of you are done. But he may also want to take a shot at getting a 61cm bike installed on you properly...

    I personally like Al with Carbon fork and seatpost, but that's because you can get about 80% of the benefit at a much reduced cost - and use the money to go Ultegra. I mean if this is your nice bike, it should be your nice bike. I just have Ultegra on the rear and it seems worth it as compared to 105. (Also fine, just not as smooth and seemed to need a bit more care and feeding.)

    Good Luck.

  3. #3
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    Quote Originally Posted by nsfbr View Post
    Not that I'm an expert, but I'd think that if you find yourself needing to buy before you ride, then the proper fitting becomes even more important. In fact, I would go find a fitter beforehand to make sure you really need a 64cm frame.
    This is pretty much my starting assumption as well, that in absence of being able to control the selection of the bike, I need to know everything else I can in order to remove as many failure points as possible.

    Quote Originally Posted by nsfbr View Post
    One thing I'll just point out is that while you are 8" taller than me, your inseam is 5.5" longer than mine. I think that means that you are particularly long legged - even for your height. Right? So, I'm just wondering if a long seat post and a 61" bike might be all it takes.
    In terms of the long seat post theory, the problem that I see there is that the source of the pain I'm experiencing is from the angle of my head/neck while riding. I need a longer head tube (stated by LBS and Jax shop I rented the Allez from), and raising the seat post will only exacerbate the issue. The neck pain got BETTER when I took the visor off my MTB helmet so I didn't have to crane up so far, but BETTER != GONE.

    Quote Originally Posted by nsfbr View Post
    I personally like Al with Carbon fork and seatpost, but that's because you can get about 80% of the benefit at a much reduced cost - and use the money to go Ultegra. I mean if this is your nice bike, it should be your nice bike. I just have Ultegra on the rear and it seems worth it as compared to 105. (Also fine, just not as smooth and seemed to need a bit more care and feeding.)
    This idea interests me greatly because it's basically what I've done with my Sedona - gradually replaced all the moving pieces with far superior components. I seriously just about cried the first time I rode hills with the SRAM X0s. It was like getting a brand new bike. Under that theory I'd get the Secteur or the Trek 1.5C and go nuts on components. I'd have a harder time justifying the price point of the Diverge SmartWeld at "only" $800 cheaper than the Carbon vs. the Secteur/1.5C which are literally 1/3 the prices of the Diverge Comp Carbon.

    Thanks for the feedback!

  4. #4
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    My LBS has a 30-day guarantee. If I bought my 61 (yep, none in stock when I shopped either) and didn't like it, I could've returned it. Will your LBS do that? Do you have access to another LBS who would?

    Also, your inseam seems about right for your height - you're not "long legged" for your height. So, the fit should be easy, once you're on the right size frame.

  5. #5
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    Quote Originally Posted by billsquared View Post
    I'm in a tough spot. I'm the type of guy that (basically) no LBS stocks bikes for - 6'7", 37.5" inseam, and right now weigh in at around 240#
    I'm 6'4", 36" inseam (well the pants I wear are, not sure what I measure at). I consider myself long legged. I weigh 190. I had the same issue with bike size.

    Previously I've been on a trek mountain bike with a 21.5inch frame and that's been mostly fine. I picked up my first road bike this year though and I didn't get any test rides on bikes that would fit me. I did ride some smaller ones around the parking lot.

    The first bike shop I went to the person suggested a 64cm frame just looking at me. The next bike shop I went to had a fitting machine. It's basically a device that emulates a bike and you can pedal it like a trainer. They used that to size a bike for me, then to see what frames would be suitable for those parameters derived from the fit machine.

    It ended up that I pretty much needed a 64cm bike to have some left over flexibility in the fit. I felt comfortable buying an untried bike this way.

    I ended up with an emonda sl6 64cm. Like you, there are some other bikes I might have liked such as the domane, or one of trek's cyclecross bikes, but they just weren't in the cards because of fit.

    I've put about 60miles on the bike over a few rides so far. I've had one fit adjustment since taking delivery (with a few tweaks at delivery).

    What I found was the reach was too great for riding on the hoods (felt like there was too much weight on my hands), though I liked being in the drops. Being in the drops for a 'long' time, however, does bother my neck.

    So we changed the stem from a 110 to a 100, and that seems pretty good so far (I was surpised that small change was noticable).

    Anyway that was my experience. If you can find a bike shop with a fitting machine I think that's the way to go. It'll give you and idea before you order what will fit, and a shop with a machine will likely be better at fitting you in general for later tweaks.

  6. #6
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    1. No reason carbon would be a bad idea. Alu will save a little coin, but if you want carbon, go for it.

    2. You prob won't notice huge differences if that's all that's different.

    3. Can't remember last time I tried before I purchased. Not because it's hard to find the right size to try (I'm 6'1"), but always end up wanting something different than what is readily available. If you know what you're looking for, a test ride is completely unnecessary.

    3. Fitting is probably worth it. Even with the different fit philosophies out there, a decent fitter will work with you to get you sorted out.

    4.I do like my Surly Crosscheck and my KM.

    Good luck!
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  7. #7
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    I actually did this. I'm 5' 9" tall, but have a 34" inseam. None of the stock frames would fit, so we agreed to order a 58cm Madone 5.2, but in the "H3" frame geometry. I put money down, but the LBS agreed to let me return it if we couldn't get a fit. It worked, luckily, and after three years I still love the bike. It took some parts swaps, and about three hours on the trainer, but it was worth it.

  8. #8
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    I recommend you try Lennard Zinn's on-line fit calculator. He specializes in frames for tall people, so I'd trust his fit tool. You could reliably apply the results to a stock frame, or perhaps you'll be interested in one of Zinn's stock or custom big frames.

  9. #9
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    Quote Originally Posted by Peter P. View Post
    I recommend you try Lennard Zinn's on-line fit calculator. He specializes in frames for tall people, so I'd trust his fit tool. You could reliably apply the results to a stock frame, or perhaps you'll be interested in one of Zinn's stock or custom big frames.
    Zinn's calculator was one I'd already tried. The seat tube length on that one was about what I'd been seeing on others, the astounding part was the recommended top tube length of 713mm.

  10. #10
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    This here is quite useful and if you know the stack and reach you need (bikefitting), you're all set. I'm 6'7" and never tried a bike before buying:
    Cycling About ? List of XXL XXXL Bikes for Tall Cyclists: 62, 63, 64cm+

    Quote Originally Posted by billsquared View Post
    Zinn's calculator was one I'd already tried. The seat tube length on that one was about what I'd been seeing on others, the astounding part was the recommended top tube length of 713mm.

  11. #11
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    Overall, I see no problem with buying a bike "blind". Test rides are highly overrated as diagnostics anyway.

    Since this is your first road bike, before you do anything I would find a bike shop that has a fitting setup and allow them to figure out what effective top tube length you like. Calculators aren't going to help, you need to put yourself in a road riding position and see what you like. You can fix seat height easily with the seat post and stem length will allow you to fine tune reach, but you really need to get the top tube right. Don't immediately reject a less upright position: remember that what feels uncomfortable to your neck and shoulders at first might feel comfortable after a couple of weeks of riding and that you can't really get the weight off of your butt in an upright position.

    I wouldn't worry so much about "ride" or "road feel". Since this is your first road bike, you won't know what you like yet anyway. I would get a bike with "neutral" road geometry to start. Personally, I think the Prince is likely too old school racy for a first bike but you might disagree.

    The infamous carbon vs. aluminum debate is silly, IMO. Materials don't really matter, what matters is frame engineering and design. If a given bike has the exact same performance characteristics, I see no benefit to carbon. YMMV.

    105 and Ultegra are functionally exactly the same. Get 105.

    Make sure you get strong wheels. You're going to beat the crap out of them. I would try to get a bike with 32 spoke wheels.

  12. #12
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    Buying a bike after a test-ride just makes sense. That said, it is not always possible, but if you can't test ride, you should at least get properly fit. If you do neither you should have extreme confidence that the geometry and size will work.

    My last bike was purchased without a test-ride, but the local bike shop did do an expert fitting, and I was able to research the ride of what I bought.

    There's also nothing wrong with doing nothing.If your inner voice doesn't have confidence in the purchase,you might wish to listen. Also in your size, custom makes some sense.

  13. #13
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    I have a couple thoughts, these will be random:

    The LBS will want you to buy the thing, because if you don't they're stuck with a bike that will be virtually impossible to sell, as you probably are the customer they have that can fit a bike that size.

    However, you want to make sure your bike fits. And I'd give you about a 99% chance of being able to fit well on that bike, provided it is set up properly. It seems to me that there is a very easy way to make you happy and them happy. You'll buy the bike if they throw in the fancy fit. That way you have peace of mind that it will fit well, and are willing to buy it sight unseen.

    I'm a fitter at a Specialized dealer, and we did that very thing for a customer your height on a 64 Roubaix earlier this year. He's super happy with it.

    The Diverge should be a great bike, and the geometry is *very* similar to the Roubaix. Can you hop on that rental retired bike for a test ride?

    The e5 smartweld alloy frames are very different from the standard A1 alloy frames. If it's anything like the Allez smartweld (I have owned 3 Allez e5 frames) the Diverge smartweld frame will be fantastic. My only experience is in size 54 though, and as a big guy the stiffness benefit to carbon will probably be amplified.

    The hydraulic disc brakes on the Diverge are amazing. Also the new plug and play fenders from Specialized are really cool, they look great and are super easy to install on compatible bikes (I've seen them on the Sirrus)

  14. #14
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    Quote Originally Posted by Luck-ee View Post
    This here is quite useful and if you know the stack and reach you need (bikefitting), you're all set. I'm 6'7" and never tried a bike before buying:
    Cycling About ? List of XXL XXXL Bikes for Tall Cyclists: 62, 63, 64cm+
    That is a fantastic list, thanks for the link!

  15. #15
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    Quote Originally Posted by masont View Post
    I'm a fitter at a Specialized dealer, and we did that very thing for a customer your height on a 64 Roubaix earlier this year. He's super happy with it.

    The Diverge should be a great bike, and the geometry is *very* similar to the Roubaix. Can you hop on that rental retired bike for a test ride?
    No, that retired rental bike is in Wisconsin, and I'm in Michigan. I'm definitely leaning toward the Diverge for many of the reasons you listed.

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