Tuesday Titanium bike day dawned. Brilliantly - it was clear, and sunny, with an early hint of spring warmth in the breeze. I kitted up and rolled around to the bike shop - they needed my daily ride for the measurements.
And there it was, gleaming grey metal and black carbon, set up on a trainer, ready.
I just looked at it for a moment. This was something to savour, this first meeting. This is what I had dreamed of for more than a year, and researched, exhaustively, for six months. Had I got it right? Well visually, yes. It had a beautiful, understated titanium-and-black look. It spoke of quiet quality. Not the 'look at me' effect of some bikes, all red and bold and loud. This would look just as good in ten years time. Because this would have been a class act ten years ago. Everything fit together. The Campagnolo gruppo just looked right. The wheelset had the visual strength to carry the bike. And the black leather bar tape just finished it all off beautifully.
A couple of things weren't as they should have been. The seat post and clamp were cheap 'fill-ins' while we waited for the correct post and clamp to arrive. The only 30.9mm seat post the shop had was a straight post. For the Aquilo I really need a setback post to give myself enough cockpit room.
The Australian distributor for Van Nicholas had stuffed up royally with this order. I don't know if it was lack of care or unfamiliarity with the product. They sent the wrong grommet set with the frame. Admittedly, this frame was quite new when I ordered it. It was previously only available for di2 (electronic group sets). Then Van Nicholas made the frame compatible with both electronic and mechanical group sets. All that is required is the correct grommet set. So maybe the distributor wasn't fully conversant with this.
But they also sent the wrong diameter seat post, and the wrong seat post clamp.
These aren't huge mistakes in the scheme of things. It has delayed the build by a week, and meant I've had to buy a cheap seat post and clamp so I didn't have to wait a month or more for the correct ones to arrive. They should have done better though. You pay more than enough for a good titanium frame set (especially if you buy through an Australian source), enough that you don't expect mistakes.
For the first time, I swung my leg over the frame of my new bike. Slightly awkwardly, because being in the trainer meant the bike was about three inches off the ground. Kirsty adjusted the saddle height. I peddled. The bars were too close, I felt cramped. Kirsty slid the saddle back. A bit better. This was repeated a couple of times, until I felt I had the right height and the most reach I could get. I still need a little more - I need to wait for the correct seat post for that. I can't yet make a judgement about stem length either.
The handlebar height seemed right, so we left that. The full riser was still poking up above the spacer stack and stem. Before I could ride the riser was cut back to about 10mm, enough for any minor adjustments later, and capped.
Kirsty added on my Garmin mount and a bidon cage and I added a rear light and a small saddlebag. Damn I dislike saddle bags, they spoil the line of the bike. I'm just not quite ready to carry absolutely everything in my jersey pockets. So for now I use a mini saddlebag that I can fit a tube and multitool into, just.
And that was it, ready to ride! I clicked in and slowly rolled out of the shop. Someone had said earlier 'I'd be too scared to ride it', but I didn't spend all this time and money building a bike just to look at. This is my life bike. I'm expecting to be riding it in 20, 30 years time. From today.
My first stop was home, so I could show my partner what I'd been spending countless hours on the internet for. Then I filled a bidon and turned on the Garmin.
I decided to ride my coastal loop that I have ridden so many times. It is 50k of flat, bike-friendly roads. It's a ride I'm familiar with, so I can concentrate on the bike a little more.
The first short stretch is up Semaphore road to the Esplanade, less than a kilometre. Just to test me there were trucks and cars stopping and turning into parks everywhere. Once on the Esplanade though, traffic faded away and I could begin to understand this new bike. The first thing I noticed is it turns quicker than my Avanti Cadent, with it's endurance geometry. It seems more agile, yet still very stable. And then I realised it was smoother. I could still feel the road, in a way that gave me confidence, but the bike glided over rough sections of tarmac. And it took the edge off potholes. It brakes a lot better than my Cadent, although the comparison is perhaps a little unfair because the Cadent has full carbon rims.
At Outer Harbour I stopped and adjusted the saddle tilt just a little.
This was one of those days where the wind seems to come at you at about 11 or 2 o'clock no matter which way you are riding. More that that, that morning I had begun to feel as though I was coming down with something. My son had been off sick with some virus the last two days, maybe I'd caught it. So I had to push a bit, all the way along the coast.
I stopped down at Glenelg, and took a couple of photos, then pushed on back towards home. It was a good ride, but I'm going to reserve judgement on this new bike until I have ridden some more. And until after this damn virus has gone.
For the last few days the bike has stood in my lounge room, propped carefully along one wall out of the way. Just so I can see it while I wait to be better to ride it properly.
The next weekend I felt well enough to go out again. I rode along the coast, because I still wasn't 100%. This bike just feels … fluid. It flows through roundabouts. It glides through potholes. It smooths the road. It's not that you don't feel the road, you do, but the edge is taken off, so you don't tense at potholes (not that you try to hit them either). There is a section of rough tarmac, not quite chip seal, that changes to smoother tarmac. On this stretch, on my carbon bike, the roughness makes it just that little bit harder to ride, and you really notice when you reach the smoother section.
I've ridden that stretch three times now on the Aquilo, and not noticed the rough section.
I find I'm often 1 or 2 gears higher on the Aquilo, with the perception that I am using less effort compared to my carbon bike. This is what I was hoping for, and I don't even have my correct setup on the bike yet.
As for riding Campagnolo for the first time? Lovely. It has a great feel to it, and it clicks into each gear, which is a more positive experience than Shimano. I'm still getting used to upshifting with my thumb, and that I can shift a few gears at a time. And the downshift paddle moves diagonally, which is a different action to Shimano.
This is a way better bike than I am a rider. Which is a good thing. Because I have lots to learn, and I have a bike that I won't 'grow out of'. Happy? You bet.
Many thanks to Seb (mechanic) and Kirsty (ordered the frame and parts, and got me the best price she could, and hassled endlessly for decent delivery) at Semaphore Cycleworx.
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