Bethel Cycle, New England's Road and Triathlon Bicycle Headquarters Bethel Cycle, New England's Road and Triathlon Bicycle Headquarters

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Serotta's Heart of Steel Bike Review

by Greg Pelican 08/15/06

After a frustrating and hectic Spring I found myself longing to find my center and just ride the bike.  Part of the master plan to get back to the basics was to build up a nice steel road bike.  Some of my all time favorite bikes were steel and I miss that supple yet connected ride.  I remember my last Serotta steel bike (around 15 years ago) as the kind of bike that made you happy just to ride and it put a smile on my face.

 

I picked Serotta’s Cour de Acier as my project steel bike.  Don’t let the name scare you, it means “heart of steel” in French (if the pronunciation scares you than just say CDA).  The CDA is Serotta’s latest evolution of the Colorado Concept steel frame.  The first generation of the Colorado, nearly 30 years ago, made Serotta famous.  By shaping the tubes Ben Serotta created a bike that was stiffer where needed yet still very comfortable.  The 2006 CDA takes the time honed design and utilizes the latest Columbus triple butted steel tubing.  Not only is today’s steel tubing lighter and stronger it is also more corrosion resistant.  The latest high tech steel actually gets stronger where it is welded so lugs are no longer needed which also helps keep the weight low.

To be honest, I really had two goals with the steel bike project.  The first was just to find that steel feel and character that I miss.  The second object was to build a modern steel bike and see how it compares to the best carbon and aluminum rigs.  The second objective was the fun part.  All of Serotta’s high end frames are custom inclusive.  So not only did I get to pick the geometry I had a ton of design options that affect the ride and looks, to choose from. 

I think it’s safe to say that Serotta has the best bike fitting system in the world.  They developed the Serotta Size Cycle which is a fantastic tool.  Think of it as an infinitely adjustable bike jig that you can ride.  Every Serotta Dealer must have a Size Cycle and attend an excellent hands on training course to be certified.  As I bike fitter I work with each rider to determine the optimum size is on the Size Cycle.   These coordinates are transferred to a custom bike form which Serotta uses to design the frame.  Every detail is considered such as the stem rise and seat-post setback.  For my new CDA I followed the same approach to bike fit that I do with all my customers, which is putting myself in an efficient, powerful and natural position.  For what it’s worth that translates to a 58.5 c-c seat-tube and 59 top tube, which is not something I can get find in  any “off the rack” bike.

As far as looks go I decided to stick with my modern theme.  I wanted someone to look at this bike and not be sure what material it was made from, that way when they pick it up, or ride it and I tell them it’s steel they will be shocked.  Over time I have grown to like the look of a slightly sloping top tube with a little extra seat-post exposed.  That said, I don’t like big frames that have a steep sloping top tube (10+ degrees) and 400 mm of seat-post showing.  I think this looks ridiculous (Mario Cipolini on his Specialized bike comes to mind.)  The beauty of designing a custom bike is that it was simply a matter of giving Serotta the angles, tube lengths and asking them to slope the top tube 5 degrees. Also keeping with the modern theme I elected to have carbon seat stays which is a no charge option.  As far as paint, I blended a classic Serotta paint scheme accented with the natural carbon of the seat stay and the fork.  Keeping to Bethel Cycle team colors, I choose the yellow to red fade.  OK I admit this is a little retro, but it’s rare today that you see a nice fade paint job, and it really does pop with the carbon bits and high tech parts.  Many people have commented that they love the look of the bike.  The cool thing is that Serotta is happy to build a CDA that looks however you like.  Sloping or traditional frame, steel or carbon seat stays, and any paint scheme you can imagine.

As far as performance, I wanted this to be a great all around racing bike.  Not only something that was comfortable on long training rides, but a bike that rocked in a full out sprint, and was happy bombing into a tight twisty descent.  Serotta describes their benchmark bike as stable, comfortable with neutral handling.  You can adjust the bias of the design to whatever you like (for example faster handling or stiffer ride.)  At 155 and 6’ 1”, I’m not heavy for my size, but I have an attacking style and love to climb out of the saddle, so I wanted a stiff yet stable platform.  I discussed the project with James at Serotta who designed many of the Sierra Nevada pro racing bikes last year.  We came up with a design that used oversized tubing throughout and a bottom bracket height slightly higher than their default for improved cornering clearance.  The low bottom bracket height (lower than Cannondale for example) reduces the bike’s center of gravity which is part of the reason for Serotta’s legendary rock solid descending manners.

A big area that I see as a weakness on many high end bikes is the fork.  The fork has a huge effect on the ride of the bike.  Too soft and the steering is vague or even scary at high speed.  Too stiff vertically and the ride is harsh and you never relaxed on the bike.  Serotta understands this and have worked with Reynolds to custom design a series of forks to meet their own design specifications.  The fork called the F3 is expensive but worth it if you are seeking the ultimate in performance.  The F3 comes in three options.  Normal, stiff and extra stiff.  I choose the stiff version as I was looking for a fork that would be very stable laterally on high speed descents.  Also in an age of carbon dropouts, the F3 has beautifully aligned titanium dropouts without the dreaded “lawyer tabs”.  For those of you not familiar with the previous phrase, this the term bike shops give to the extra bits manufacturers add to the dropouts that keep your wheel from coming out when you open the skewer.  Of course the first thing we do for our sponsored racers is file them down!  No need to do this one on the F3.  This is a pro fork.

When I unpacked and inspected my new frame the build quality was flawless.  The welds were almost not visible.  The paint was beautiful and the tapered and shaped tubing was both subtle and substantial at the same time.  For example, the diameter of the seat tube gradually increases near the bottom bracket so much so that it requires the largest front derailleur clamp made.  Yet the frame doesn’t have that fat clunky oversized look.  And the S chain stays are a work of art.  Not only does the frame look good, it was perfectly finished and aligned.  You gotta love it when you can thread the bottom bracket cleanly in by hand.  And the wheels naturally center in the drop-outs without a fight.  As the old saying goes, you get what you pay for!

 

For the parts selection I picked the best available, that is well proven and suitable to stand up to everyday riding.   The drive train is Campy Record.  Wheels are Mavic Ksyrium ES.  And the bars, stem and seat-post are Easton’s top carbon of the line parts.  The saddle is the carbon railed Fizik Arione.  For you weight weenies this put the bike in the mid sixteen pound range.  Oh yeah, it kills me when I read about quoted bike weights at 15 pounds, yet that doesn’t include some very real world items like pedals, cages, and a computer.  So with these important items, Keo carbon pedals, 2 carbon cages and a Cilcomaster HAC4 computer the bike tipped the scale at 17.3 pounds.  This is very respectable for any pro bike made of any material.  To prove the point I bet one of our employees that my “heavy steel bike” was lighter than his new Cannondale R5000.  The Cannondale features their lightest CAAD8 Frame, lightest fork, DuraAce components and Mavic Ksyrium Elite wheels.  He also had Look Keo pedals on his bike and cages.  I won the bet with a safe 4 ounce margin!  The CDA was also a little lighter than my Cervelo Carbon Soloist with very close to the same parts. 

 

So far the project was looking good.  The proven design and built quality of Serotta, the “steel is real” ride and weight that is close to many of the pro carbon and or aluminum bikes.  But how does it ride…

In a word, AWESOME.  This bike felt special in the first 100 yards, and I feel that way 1500 miles later.  I’ve said it before, and this bike just reinforces my past experience while raising the bar a notch.  A good steel bike has the best ride quality.  And this bike is the best riding bike I’ve ever been on…PERIOD.  You feel connected with the road, feel the texture of the surface, yet at the same time it’s not a harsh vibration like you get with aluminum.  The best carbon bikes come close to this feel, but tend to mute the road feel a little too much.  And after 4 attempts at building the ultimate titanium bike, I never had one that matched the responsiveness of steel.  They all seemed too soft and lacked an edge when going hard.  The Serotta CDA is smooth, but when you launch a sprint the bike springs to life and with the rear wheel staying firmly planted on the ground.  The CDA inspires confidence in high speed cornering and descending.  It just makes you want to take a fast line.  Its fun to ride, this bike is a keeper!

I started writing this review in May and due to work, training and racing I’m finishing it in mid August.  And if anything my conviction about the Serotta has grown stronger.  I have two of the top carbon bikes in the world, and guess what bike I always pick for training rides, the Serotta.  In fact I have been racing on it as well.  It fit’s me perfectly and I just feel natural on the bike.  The bike is telepathic, I just think where I want it to go and it does it.  Two nights ago I was mixing it up with the local hotshots in the Bethel A Race (lots of great Cat 1 and 2 Racers) and the bike felt just right in the high speed paceline as we ripped along the back straight at 30 mph.  I even won the field sprint.  I’ve been racing the Bethel Crit course for 15 years and have used many different bikes, and the Serotta is right there with the best of them!

In conclusion it is possible to have a great all around bike, with the great ride of steel, that is also a competitive racing bike.  The Serotta CDA is indeed a modern bike and stands up well with the best bikes in the world.  The CDA is the type of bike that is just makes you want to ride.  When you consider that you can get a full custom Serotta CDA frame for $1599, and that some carbon frames are well over $4,000, it is a very good bargain as well!