(Note: This was stuck in the management queue. I wrote it about a year or more ago, and somehow never posted it. Dunno what I was thinking.)
Did anyone else read the issue of Procycling where they did a side-by-side between an 83 Pinarello and a new Lapierre Carbon? It was interesting, if not completely scientific, as a double-blind was pretty much impossible. Such a study would be interesting between frame materials, I think.
I ride several bikes, including a MAX-tubed Argonaut, a 1981 Pogliaghi, a Moots Compacts SL, a Ridley Excalibur, and a Roark Titanium.
The reality is just as has been said before, in this thread and elsewhere–the bikes each have their own personality, and this personality extends beyond the material of the frame to encompass their geometry, their build, their wheels, and just how I feel when riding them. I’ll grant you that some of this is terribly subjective and VERY insubstantial.
My Moots is, although not a custom-build for me, a wonderful bike. It fits me very well, and with the right wheelset, it’s the best climbing bike I’ve ever ridden, even though it’s not as stiff as my Ridley. On the descents, it turns responsively and rides easy…and it REALLY sucks up the road noise on a bad downhill. I never feel out of control on it, even at 60. It’s super easy to clean, and I don’t worry about it rotting beneath me in the worst weather, even at the beach. If I can’t clean it for a couple of days, so what? For a difficult ride, it’s the first bike I turn to, though this may change as I acclimate to my Argonaut and new Kirk. On it, I feel fast and steady, as though I could go forever if need be. It’s comfortable and quick, which has become what Ti SHOULD be, in my mind.
My Roark is very stiff, surprisingly so for a Ti bike. It’s polished, so it needs a lot of wiping to look good, although it’s unnecessary. It feels faster on the flats than my Moots, though it’s heavier overall. I don’t really like the way it descends, though in fairness, I’ve generally ridden the Moots in the hills and haven’t given it its fair shake. It’s the same size as the Moots, and they both wear Dura Ace, so they’re pretty comparable. Still, I tend to keep the Roark at my office for occasional use when I’m caught there and need go for a ride.
My Argonaut is appropriately stiff, as a MAX-tubed bike should be. It really doesn’t have the bottom bracket flex that a more traditional steel bike generally has, so climbing and intense efforts really feel pretty good, even compared to my Ti or carbon bikes. That said, it’s not a carbon wonderbike, and I don’t expect it to be. It IS quite a bit heavier than my Ti and carbon bikes, however, and though I don’t mind climbing on it, for a serious climb-fest, I’d turn to my Ti bikes every time just for the weight savings and snappiness underfoot. It is the prettiest bike I own, and I worry about protecting its finish and keeping it beautiful and polished. When I ride it, my mind wanders to my racing heroes on their steel bikes, hammering through the classics in the 70s and 80s. On a bad road, it’s not as supple as the Moots, but it feels STRONG, and that makes ME feel strong. I want to put down the hammer and HURT those boys riding carbon; hurt them BAD. I ride this bike the most these days; I like to look at it and talk about it, and it’s an absolute joy to ride.
My 1981 Pogliaghi makes me feel like the Argonaut does, in some ways, but it really isn’t as good a bike as the Argonaut. It’s a bit heavy, but it rides very well on long rides and club rides without a hammer-fest. It’s been restored, so I generally keep it hanging on my office wall, and only ride it when I feel like pulling out the wool jersey and going retro. That said, it was THE bike I always wanted, growing up. It’s lovely and supple and interesting to ride. It has a LOT of personality, and though it’s not the bike I most quickly turn to when needing a ride, it’s one of the last bikes I’d ever part with.
My carbon bike, a Ridley Excalibur, is sub-15 pounds with climbing wheels on it. It’s super-light and really almost too snappy beneath me. When getting underway one day on a slight incline, the front wheel shot into the air and I found myself catwalking a bit, completely unintentionally. It climbs like a rocket, but downhills are chattery and nerve-wracking at high speeds; I never feel like I can really throw myself into a curve with it, no matter how good the wheels and rubber are beneath me. In a sprint, I guarantee I do 10 watts or more better on it than on any of my other bikes.
I hope I’ve given you some insight. It seemed as though you were looking for some subjective qualification, and that’s what I’ve tried to give you. The geometry, the build-up, the wheels, and even the rubber on the road make SUCH a big difference when you really get down to comparisons. I love all my bikes, but I do have my favorites. I came up riding Italian steel, so I tend to compare things to that baseline. I have friends who think otherwise, comparing everything to their first Madone. So, as you see, you may get something from a bike that NO one else will get. Making a choice on a custom builder is usually a safe bet, however. A custom Ti or steel bike will make you happy, I guarantee it.
And make sure to consider our friends here, mentioned and unmentioned in this post! You’re among the best of the best.