I went over to the U Village branch of Counterbalance Bicycles on what was a fairly blustery and cold day to try out a new 2009 Jamis Aurora. The shop itself is fairly nondescript along the Burke Gilman Trail, which makes for a good test ride area (now if it weren’t so cold). The technician helping me out was quite patient and willing to explain the new shifting mechanisms that have gone on to a good majority of bikes since the last mountain bike I wrote with grip shifts a decade ago(!). After the ride, he was even nice enough to offer a few pointers on what to look for when selecting commuter/touring bikes and to talk a bit about what could be added to the bike itself.
I didn’t ride much more than five minutes on a flat trail, partly because I was using this as an initial assessment, and partly because it was a cold wind (and I can’t say I was that well layered, though I did, at least, have my favorite polar fleece jacket on, plus helmet, but no gloves). I ended up on a 53cm frame, since apparently every site I looked at that recommended a 54-56cm frame for my inseam size and height was patently nuts. The ride went quite well – accessible gear shifting, good braking, and with the drop bars, I felt like I had a fairly comfortable position. I felt a lot of bumps/vibration through the saddle, but since the saddle wasn’t perfectly tuned in to my riding style, both the tech and I wrote that off as potentially fixable with saddle adjustment (it was also a fairly hard saddle to boot). The gearing was responsive to shifting, though since I’m not adjusted to the gearshift style, it was somewhat hard to remember which lever did what (easily correctable).
I didn’t try any hill riding or normal street riding due to the wind, but the trail was close enough quality to some of the not-so-well maintained roads so as to make it a fairly good indicator of what to expect. The gearing range was wide enough just on the flat portion to make it rather clear that hills should be no problem for a properly trained rider (though there is this one rather large hill on 35th NE between 95th and 110th that I’d be interested in trying this out on).
A couple interesting things the tech pointed out: one was to pay close attention to the quality of the wheel on the bike, as well as the overall component quality. Weight is not that big of a concern for me for this, so the steel frame of the Aurora wouldn’t present a problem. The tech did point out that the Aurora Elite would have higher-quality components and thus (theoretically) longer durability, if it were in my price range. He certainly didn’t seem to think that the Aurora was a bad fit – there wasn’t any particular indication of “um, maybe you should go more for this one”, but that might be because I was specifically requesting that exact bike. Amanda suggests that perhaps part of the reason we didn’t hear any push-back from the tech is due to the economy and the price of the bike, but I would hope that someone concerned with making the sale would be more concerned with the satisfaction of the buyer (thus garnering repeat business), even if that means going against what the buyer thinks they want. Perhaps this makes me nuts.
Most of my time on whatever bike I get would be commuting back and forth from work to school with some other destinations as required, probably with some recreational riding thrown in. The major concern health-wise will be making sure that my wrists and back stay fairly well supported so as to not throw those any further out of whack than they already are.