2017 S-Works Tarmac eTap Review

Earlier this year I replaced my previous Tarmac with a new 2017 S-Works Tarmac eTap. I’ve spent almost six months putting it through its paces. I’ve put just over a thousand miles on it and during that time I’ve been measuring it against my previous S-Works Tarmac and also what I want out of a road bike in general.

The frameset is great. I loved my previous S-Works Tarmac SL4 frame but this one takes all the best qualities of that and adds a vertical compliance that frankly I have a hard time believing is real most rides. Every bit of effort I put into the pedaled directly results in the bike driving forward. There is zero frame flex in the bottom bracket through the chainstays and the same holds true in the front end. The steerer tube is solid. The steering is sharp. It’s a race bike through and through here. I dig the hidden and integrated seatpost tightening mechanism. I love that the engineers at Specialized cleaned up the ports for the task at hand seeing as this bikes shifting is wireless. No drive side ports for braking or shifting here, just clean purposeful carbon construction.

The S-Works handlebar is great. I love the drop, width, and reach. It fits my build and hands perfectly.

My road bike fit needs are met with a straight S-Works seatpost again paired to a S-Works Romin saddle. My favorite combo.

The group is where my I’m a little more torn.

The eTap group gave me some trouble early on but it’s not given me any trouble for hundreds of the latest miles. While I’m painting the background for my feelings on groupsets it seems fitting to state again I loved my previous Tarmac’s Shimano Dura-Ace Di2.

Sram’s eTap is not a bad group by any means, it’s a good group. It just falls a little short compared to Di2 in a few areas in my eyes.

The eTap front derailleur has worked perfectly for the past eight hundred miles, but early on it threw the front chainring while on the trainer this winter. I’m not sure if it was the trainer changing the chain alignment, being bumped in my bike bag flying it back home, or some other weirdness but the end result was ten or so dropped chains after shifting the front derailleur. Unfortunately that left several nicks and scratches on my brand new crankset. Since getting it looked at a few times and not riding the trainer it’s not thrown the chainring once.

The other nocks are less severe in my opinion. Sram’s eTap doesn’t shift as fast as Di2. It’s not an instantaneous shift. The delay was weird at first but my brain and everyone else I’ve talked to quickly adjusts. It’s second nature now. The battery also isn’t as long-lasting as the Di2 experience I’ve had. Where I would get months out of a Di2 internal seatpost battery, I’ve now got a new reminder on my Google Calendar to charge my batteries every three weeks.

It’s not all negative marks for Sram eTap though. I like the physical feedback when shifting, a great quality carried over from my previous experience with Sram’s Double Tap. The audible and tactical feedback from a shift is impossible to miss in the best way imaginable. That can make a big difference in colder months with thick gloves on. Furthermore, the simplicity of having only one button on the left shifter and one on the right removes the miss shift from thick gloves. The left shifter shifts the rear to a slower gear and the right shifter shifts the rear to a faster gear. To shift the front chainring, you press both at the same time. One great feature from my days on Di2 that carries over is you can hold a button for a sweep of gears, something I miss every time I ride a mechanical shifting bike.

Again, Sram’s eTap is not a bad group. It’s a damn impressive group. Several people I ride weekly with prefer it to all other groups, some even over Shimano’s Di2. Chevy vs. Ford. No bad choice right? I will say it feels good to support a group manufacturer who treats local bike shops right (context from Dean’s Riding Against the Grain). The fact that it’s wireless and doesn’t make any mistakes like my homes router or cell phone says something. I think Sram wants to avoid any recall nightmares so they double checked everything and then re-checked about ten more times on everything. Kudos.

Sram’s new DZero Quarq Power meter is great now. I had a little trouble with this at first too. In the end, Sram asked my local bike shop down here in Dallas to send it back to them so they could look it over and either fix it or send me a new one. Turns out something extra weird was going on with it so they kept it and sent a new one back to me. The replacement one’s been perfect since. Reliable and accurate data for power output helps me gauge efforts and to be honest, I’m a bit of a data nerd.

The brakes are good. They do their job in rain or shine with no complaining. A big part of that success is attributed to Specialized’s Roval CLX40 wheelset. The braking track is supurb here. In fact, I love everything about Roval’s wheel options. The combination of light weights, hub parts replacement availability, braking, and engagement are hard to beat and when costs are factored in, it’s a no brainer for me. I’d love to try a fancy set of Zipps or Enve’s but with how crashes can and will happen in racing I can’t justify it. I’m a big fan of Roval wheels. Kudos Specialized.

The Specialized Turbo Cotton tires are genuinely great. Saying they are smooth feels like an understatement. They do fine in wet and dry. They do wear but I’m over a thousand miles on my set and they are still going strong. I’m a big fan.

Overall I’m super happy. The bike is super light weight at 15.43 lbs. It climbs superbly (although Dallas is maybe the flattest place I’ve been to). It is very comfortable even after many hours into a ride. It hits all the marks I want in road bike and then some.

My heart won’t let me miss another thank you to Bloomington Cycle & Fitness for obtaining the bike for me and then spending time to get me fit on it and add some tid bits I wanted. Thanks for being a rad shop filled with rad people.

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Acknowledging Change

Honest Retrospect

Time for some honest retrospect, not only for you but me too. Cycling for me has changed. When I lived in Bloomington I was introduced to cycling. I met some of the best people I’ve ran across in my life. When my family and I decided it was the right move for us to move to Dallas Texas we knew that change was a part of that decision but I didn’t know how that change would actually play out beyond planning and furthermore, I didn’t know how it would impact me.

At 33, I’m settling into the person I think I am. I’m finding what is important to me, what isn’t and still trying to learn how to balance life. I guess a little change like moving away from friends and across the country lead to more time being introspective.

Why I ride is the biggest change I think.

When I first started riding, I rode for exercise.

Pretty quickly I found a great friend at a local mountain biking weekly ride. Little did I know how much that random life encounter would influence the next ten years. Randy, you’re an amazing friend. I started riding in weekly group rides not really for exercise but more to hang out with chill people with zero hidden motives, no stress, and great experiences.

I was riding to spend time with new friends.

That snowballed into meeting more great local cyclist. I was exposed to different circles of cyclist. Some commuted to work for an escape from everything else, some commuted to work because it was their transportation. Some people were avid members of the local mountain biking club – CORBA who were working to further grow awareness and fun times. Some people were focused on bicycle racing. I was discovering a cycling community made up of many parts that added up to something rad.

I met Scott and Caryn from Bloomington Cycle & Fitness around this time. They built a shop and a culture that means a great deal to me and many others. Something genuinely special. Wanting to spend time around the shop and the people who raced for Bloomington Cycle lead me to a path of gradually getting into racing. It was around this time I broke my neck on what can only be described as foolish moment of building and trying to ride a mountain bike obstacle I had zero business trying to build or ride. When I was recovering for a full season I watched my friends on the race team seeing success and I wanted to prove to myself my fastest days were still ahead of me. I caught the bug to put in a serious year of riding and racing with the goal of being on the podium at the end of the Illinois category two mountain bike racing series.

I was riding to prove to myself I was still capable, see what I could accomplish, and spend time with great people.

I’m a mediocre amateur racer at best but I had a lot of fun and had some local success in the “I’m serious about racing but not for real serious about racing” category. Also known as “I’ll shave my legs but I’m not doing intervals every morning before work”. All good fun. I enjoyed these years. After winning Illinois’s category two mountain bike series I was full of smiles. I was also a little nervous about what was next. The following year I moved up to category one mountain bike racing. I put in more training than ever before and the results I found were both what I expected and also surprising. I knew I wasn’t going to do anything close to winning but I wasn’t expecting the majority of the season to be riding solo in the woods for long races. A result of small but very dedicated fields in category one at the time I think. I don’t want to take anything away from them. I wish I was that fast. Kudos.

I wasn’t finding what I wanted out of riding, at least in the mountain biking I was doing. During a trip to cheer on the roadies that raced for Bloomington Cycle in a Chicago crit I found myself really interested in the tactics and how different it was from all of the racing I’d done before that. I was hooked. Mountain bike racing, at least how I experienced it isn’t a team sport. While racing in the woods, it’s you versus everyone including yourself. Racing crits was a team sport. Success could be measured in so many more ways than just crossing the finish line first. I wanted to help teammates with leading them out, chasing down breaks, and more.

I was riding to play a role in team objective and enjoying something new.

I had a lot of fun racing crits. It was the most exciting racing I’ve ever done from the combination of beautiful chaos and team tactics aspect. Something happens every lap, every turn. Watching attacks, positioning, planning, making bets with matches in your legs and learning from positive and failed outcomes. The downside to crits for me was hearing that horrible sound bikes flipping and sliding on the road at speed. People all looking out for themselves and hoping their time wasn’t up. It felt like a matter of time before your number was up.

And them my number came up. It wasn’t fun but I’m alright. I still over worry about every time I think I feel a tire going flat. That happens about every half hour of riding on the road still.

Shortly after my family and I decided to move to Dallas Texas for many reasons including a work opportunity.

Since moving to Dallas I find myself riding for fitness again, a way to stay active and get out of my head.

Feels like I’ve come full circle in a way.

So, How Does A Changing Reason For Riding Effect Me?

I’m learning how to be honest with myself about all of this. Not racing this year has resulted in benefits and negatives. I’m spending more time with my awesome wife and daughter. That’s been a huge benefit.

The downside largely has been feeling guilty for not being in the shape I’ve been in from previous years. I’m learning to be honest that this is the reality of my current cycle in life and it’s alright. I don’t need to feel guilty or ashamed.

I have been enjoying a weekly group ride on the road and North Shore mountain bike trails.

Some of those feelings of unsure how to feel about my lack of race fitness were the catalyst for the lack of blogging in the past months.

What’s the latest?

This week my family and I drove up to Bloomington Illinois to get our dog an operation after she tore her ACL. She’s recovering pretty well after the surgery so far.

I also brought my Tarmac to catch a long overdue ride with some great friends. It was something that was good for my soul. I missed these people and these roads, although they feel narrower than I remember :)

Thanks for reading a rather long post from me. I hope you’re having a great holiday weekend!

P.S. I miss #RATG How are you? :)

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Today on a Bike

The Tuesday Dallas Pop Ride is one of my favorite weekly rides I’ve found after moving. It’s a 36 mile route with three or so groups depending on the pace you’re looking for. Here’s some pictures from tonight.






Strava Ride Data

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Frustrating & Sad End To My Season

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Photos by David Ford

This was it. I’d started my season of training in February and seven months later I was ready. All year I’ve been thinking about two races. The first being the Bloomington Criterium and the second being Chequamegon 40. This past Saturday I rolled up to the start line of the criterium, which happen to be the 2016 Illinois State Championship. I felt good in the hours leading up to the race and even better as the race went on. I was riding smart. I could stay with the attacks and sat in where it made sense. I stayed in between third and fifth conserving energy and watching for breaks that may stick. I was riding well physically and mentally. About 30 minutes into our 40 minute race we were going around turn six as we’d done so many times…

Then it happen.

At first I was confused. I knew what had happen, I was laying on the tarmac watching people run into me and my bike, hearing the horrible sound of carbon and metal scraping the ground at speed and bodies desperately looking for hope in chaos. In the apex of the turn at about 25 miles per hour my front tire went flat. I felt my tire not hold the angle and turn I’d asked it too. I knew in the split second before I hit the ground my front tire was flat and then I heard the rim hit the road followed by my body. I say I was confused because it didn’t feel real. I’ve crashed on the dirt plenty but until that moment, I’d never crashed on the road. I’ve thought about it, hoped I’d never know first hand what it was like, but I found my mind realizing that I was living in a moment, I’d spent so much time hoping to avoid. I couldn’t believe it happen.

When my front tire went flat, it didn’t feel normal or right. Something felt off. I walked to where my team was at, sat down and was trying to come to terms with what happen. My wife who is a nurse was tending to my wounds and my good friends that own my local bike shop were right there making sure I had everything I needed and was alright.

Then I heard about the tacks. People were finding tacks on the course. Handfuls of tacks. To be clear, my race was the third of the day on the course and no one from the previous races had any tacks or flat issues. The Sram neutral support found something like 15 tacks in tires from my race (cat 4), my teammate alone had three tacks in his rear tire. My rear tire still has a tack in it. To me the abundance of tacks in tires in the cat 4 race but none in tires from the previous hours of race course use makes it probable someone threw tacks on the course after the cat 5 race but before the cat 4 race.

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This next image is a little graphic, sorry if it makes you squeamish. My hands are just one part of my body with skin missing now. My left hand is pretty bad. My elbows, my left hip, thigh, knee, shin, and both ankles. My right shoulder. My chin.

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Here’s a video of the crash. It happen so fast and from my perspective out of nowhere.

Video by Patrick Murphy

I still don’t know how I feel about all of this. I’m typing this with bandages all over my body and hands. My body is banged up, my bike is pretty bad, and my season is either over or will have a different ending than I would have had if someone hadn’t decided to throw tacks on the race course. A frustrating and sad end to my season.

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2016 Lake Tahoe Trip

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The highlight every year cycling for me are the big group trips. Winning a race is amazing, but doesn’t come anywhere close to a great trip. Time spent with special people who feel like family, amazing locations, and shared experiences that will last a lifetime are as good as it gets for me. This year, we traveled to Lake Tahoe, California. The week we spent was perfect, great weather, amazing trails, smiles shared on the porch around meals, I could go on and on…

A lot of the amazing downs are captured in the video at the bottom of this post. Check that out, I’m pretty proud of it.

Day One, Cold Water Downhill – Garmin Data

After unpacking our bikes and building them up, I joined a good friend for an out and back to get our tires into some Lake Tahoe downhill action. The trail’s surface was made up of sandy granite dust, dirt, and rock. The elevation wasn’t as bad as trips to high mountain areas but rides starting around 6,500′ and climbing to above 9,500′ on some days did remind you where you were.

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Day Two, Armstrong Pass to Corral Downhill – Garmin Data

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My loved Ibis HD3 and I were in real harmony this trip. It’s dialed in to what I wanted in a trail bike almost to my idea of perfection. I love the one by eleven drivetrain. The 28 tooth chain ring paired with the 42 tooth cog allowed for easy work up any pitch and the 10 tooth cog allowed me to pedal as fast as I dared. The brakes were great, the tires were great, I’m really happy with the bike.

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My good friend Matt riding his Ibis HD3 much better than I can, making fun work of the terrain. It’s really fun to ride behind him until he disappears riding away from me. His bike skills as well as his character are equally impressive, and I look up to both traits, even if his signing is pretty bad on the climbs. Spending time with him and his family make these trips a great experience.

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Day Three, Star Lake Loop – Garmin Data

This was our big ride of the week, climbing over 3,800′ to Freel Pass at 9,535′. The last 1,000′ were pretty steep and tough. The views were great up there though.

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On the descent, we passed by Star Lake, a real beauty tucked away in the mountains that my iPhone picture doesn’t do justice.

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Day Four, Family Beach Time

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Day Five, Mr. Toads Wild Ride – Garmin Data

Mr. Toads Wild Ride is probably my favorite downhill I’ve ever ridden. It’s really good. The top section has tech far bigger than I feel comfortable riding but it soon fades into tech right at or slightly above my comfort level, making for great fun. The trail didn’t let up like many of the downhills I’ve ridden. Mr. Toads Wild Ride felt like the tech, speed, and fun were turned up the entire down. I loved it.

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Day Six, Armstrong Pass to Corral Downhill Revisited – Garmin Data

We revisited the Corral Downhill on day six, it didn’t disappoint the second time, great trail.

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Day Six, Flume Trail – Garmin Data

Flume Trail was one I wanted to ride after hearing about it, so I doubled up on my last day to catch it. The ride had a 1,400′ sandy climb up and down on the out and back route I rode. There wasn’t any real tech and once on Flume Trail, there was no real climbing or descending, but the views of Lake Tahoe were second to none. The beauty of the ride for me is only rivaled by 401 in Crested Butte, CO.

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Beyond the amazing riding, this vacation was perfectly rounded for me personally. There was a great balance of family time, resting away from work, hanging out with friends, and cycling. It was a great recharge, and a reminder of what cycling trips mean to me.

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Here’s a video I put together of some of the downhill awesomeness. The climbs were definitely worth it. The video is a bit shakey in parts and there’s the occasional annoying Camelbak chest strap in the view. I’m still learning and to be fair, tech is bumpy :)

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