The more you know ... the more you like!
By Jose A. Hernandez
My very first "not –so-close encounter" with the Giro, during Interbike 2001, had me "looking at" but not really "seeing" this bike. Sure, the Giro did look pretty good as it meekly posed on its display stand. But I guess I must’ve felt that this bike wasn’t new or different enough to command my full attention. After all, this was Interbike and I was on a mission to discover new and weird things of the bent kind. The Giro was neither strange nor weird. Though I intellectually knew the Giro was a new model, its newness didn’t quite register. The Giro seemed vaguely similar to another bike, but I just couldn’t remember which one. I pondered this puzzle for a few brief moments but gradually forgot about the whole issue as my 50-year-old brain struggled to become a filing cabinet, full of Interbike details and my eyes continuously shifted their focus from one bike to another.
The months that followed Interbike 2001 were an unusually difficult time for me. During this time I had to deal with the loss of my father, worry about the care of my disabled/sick mother and balance the pressures of an increasingly demanding day job with the needs of my wife/kids, my "need" to pedal a bike and yes, my desire to be a part of ‘BentRider Online. The Giro was quite honestly the last thing on my mind until about two months ago when Bryan, our friendly editor, told me that our test unit was on its way. My long forgotten memories of that green & black SWB on the Interbike stand came rushing back as did the feeling that I had seen that bike before. The question started to circle and nag my conscious mind. But I just couldn’t put my finger on the answer (don’t you hate it when that happens?!!). It was time to do some research so I went straight to the web, my most "reliable" source of information to realize that the Giro was reminding me of the Kingcycle, the Speed Ross and Rich Pinto’s Aerocycle.
No, No, It is NOT a Kingcycle or a Speed Ross!
Unquestionably, the shape of the Giro’s frame and the handlebars do look similar to the Kingcycle, the Speed Ross and the Aerocycle. All of these models are short wheelbase bents that rely on a straight monotube frame to connect the front wheel to the back wheel. These bikes also feature above the seat steering with wide U-shaped handlebars. As we found out during my arduous test period (Okay… Okay… during my fun rides) the visual similarities do not tell the whole story. The Giro is indeed a unique bike with a ton of very special virtues.
In one short statement, John Schlitter managed to point out some these virtues and give us a bit of history about the Giro: "When he (Mark Colliton) introduced the designs to me of the "bullet" bikes (code name) he discussed the fact these are a lot like Rich Pinto's Aerocycles but with more features that address a broader market. Things like room for a little bigger tires and a comfortable seat with adjustable handlebars."
Having ridden the Giro for over a month now, I must tell you that John’s statements are right on the money but do not begin to tell the whole story about this bike. To get the full story, you’ll simply have to read this article and ride this bike – more on that later!
In my humble opinion, the soul of a bike is embedded in its frame. Everything else is secondary. Herein lies the Giro’s strength and character. The Giro’s frame consists 4130 Chromoly steel tear shaped monotube that not only looks classy and sophisticated, but also achieves that very hard-to-reach balance between frame rigidity, flexibility and strength. It flexes enough to ensure an extremely comfy ride but it is rigid enough to direct all your energy to the rear wheel. If any power is lost to the built-in frame flex, I sure as hell didn't notice it. The bike's performance is excellent!
But what is a soul without a heart? To find the Giro’s heart all you have to do is experience the Bacchetta Re-Curve seat. No, it’s not a RANS seat, though it’s hard to avoid a comparison. The seat back is anatomically contoured and is quite supportive. Although the bottom foam is thinner than that of a RANS, it feels extremely comfy, actually more comfortable for me than the RANS seat. I never thought I would ever say that I actually found a seat that is more comfortable than the legendary RANS seat. Well, I did, and yes, I just said it. I should mention also that the seat seems lighter than a RANS seat.
Last but not least is the bike’s spirit, which comes in the form of an infinitely adjustable handlebar assembly that employs an aluminum top-loading stem riser, the GlideFlex stem from TerraCycle and Bacchetta U-shaped handlebars. I found that it took a little bit of time to find that sweet spot where your arms are in perfect comfort and your whole body is one with the bike’s heart and soul, but once you find it, you’ll swear you’re riding on Cloud 9 or through a heavenly garden somewhere in paradise. I won’t bore you with too many more details about the bikes handlebars, but I just have to say that I found that these handlebars offer the comfort of an under seat steering system and the controllability of a conventional above seat steering system.
Unfortunately, the stem top loader is aluminum, which means it is "soft" and being mechanically challenged, I found it very easy to destroy the stem as soon as I tried to adjust the handlebars. As it happens, most top loading stems are made of Aluminum and most normal humans won’t strip the stem’s threads as rapidly as I did. The whole thing can be avoided if you just try real hard not to use force and take a few moments to make sure everything is correctly aligned. There is really no need to tighten the top loaders screws till your hand hurts. For what its worth, I’ve been told that Bacchetta is looking into this little issue and might try to make a stronger stem if they decide that there are enough idiots out there who, like me, can turn a tool into an object of mass destruction.
Component Group and Drive Train
The Giro sports a very nice array of time tested Shimano Deore/Road components (rear derailleur, cassettes, brakes, chain hubs,), SRAM shifters, a TRUVATIVE Elita triple crank, bottom bracket and black aluminum Alex Rims. The Shimano chain orbits around the triple chainrings and the nine-speed rear cassette in a fairly silent manner as a crossover chain idler efficiently controls its behavior by preventing chain slap and reducing power loss. Shifting was fairly smooth.
The Alex Rims didn’t seem to mind being squeezed tightly by the Shimano V Brakes. I never, ever, not even once, heard them scream. These brakes provide excellent stopping power and they worked just fine right after we figured out the correct cable housing length that was required. The Giro’s rear brake cable guides are of necessity, very close to the brakes and thus the length of the cable housing is critical for proper functioning (see picture).
If you’re a potential buyer, you really don’t have to worry about these very minor issues because these bikes are not sold directly to a customer. Your local shop should ensure proper installation and adjustment of the brakes and derailleur.
The only component that didn’t really meet my fastidious taste was the choice of triple cranks – not because they don’t work (they do) but because of the way the crank arms were painted; glossy on the outside and dull on the inside, which looks kind of cheap in my book.
Handling & Performance
A full month of long and short rides on bike paths, rough roads and in heavy traffic proved to me that the Giro can do many things well. The seat/crank height is low/high enough to be aerodynamically efficient and very visible in heavy traffic. The rider is placed in a commanding position from which you get a definite feeling of stability and control. Dennis, a riding buddy of mine who recently accompanied me on a 25 mile ride remarked that I seemed much more stable on this bike than in others. At low speeds, the bike seemed to be as easy to handle as a compact long wheel base bike. At higher speeds the Giro is rock solid and straight as an arrow. The bike corners beautifully. Maneuverability is excellent as I felt I could rely on "body English" with the confidence of a predictable bike response. Last but not least, the ride is extremely smooth and soft, significantly reducing fatigue.
So how fast is this bike? Fast enough to hold its own and possibly beat other bikes in its class. How do I know this? Let me start by telling you that our test bike came with low-pressure Kenda Kwest (65psi) fat tires because the high pressure (100 psi) Kenda Kwest tires I expected were not available at the time. I wanted to ride with the advanced group (rides of about 40 miles with a speed range of 18 to 21 MPH), something that I usually do on my Wishbone RT. Though I knew in advance that this ride was "doable" on the Giro because my friend Shari had just used the bike on such a ride, I worried that I had two strikes against me. 1) Low pressure tires and 2) I had just recovered from the flu and didn’t feel very energetic. But I just had to know so I decided to try to keep up with the club’s speed demons. So in preparation for this ride I went ahead and over inflated both the tires and my ego to about 80 psi. To my surprise, I was doing just fine. Yep, I was "working" but not killing myself as I kept up with our club’s fast roadies. Considering the fact that I wasn’t particularly energetic on this ride, I was delighted with the bike’s performance. Can you imagine how much faster one can be on this bike, especially with slightly thinner high-pressure tires?
I think this bike might prove to be perfect for numerous applications including touring, commuting, fast club rides, leisure rides or fitness rides. However, for this statement to be true, a high bottom bracket bike must be compatible with your bent personality.
Collective Consensus – The more you know…. The more you like…
I failed to find a single guinea pig that had never been on a recumbent for this test. It seems as though high bottom bracket bikes in general intimidate some riders, especially folks who’ve never seen a recumbent before. But I did find a number of "volunteers" of varying skill levels and experience to try out the bike and tell me how they liked it. I started with the members of my own family. My older son (Eric) is an occasional rider and absolutely hated the handlebar setup. I couldn’t get him to give the bike a chance. My younger son (Kevin), a true recumbent enthusiast, loved everything about the bike. Then it was time for my wife Susan to check out the bike. Susan has been a staunch Haluzak Leprechaun rider and under seat steering fan for years. She’s one of those persons who would rather "fight than switch". To my surprise she was absolutely thrilled with the Giro. She too liked everything about the Giro and actually considered making the switch. A couple of very experienced friends (Dennis and Conni) also tried the bike and were equally impressed. Do you see the pattern that’s emerging here? It seems that the more folks knew about recumbents, the more they appreciated the Giro. It also should be noted that the only person that didn’t like the handlebar set-up was the one that didn’t try it. My analysis was confirmed when I asked Shari Bernhard to check out the bike. Many of you know that Shari is a very knowledgeable and experienced voice in our bent world. Well, Shari went nuts over this bike!!! I can honestly tell you that I have never seen anyone as excited over a bike before. I asked her to keep the bike for a couple of weeks since I was going to be busy. Believe you me, taking the bike back from her felt as if I was stealing a baby bird from it's nest.
Shari is not only very knowledgeable; she also has a way with words. Needless to say, I respect her opinion (especially when it is in total harmony with mine) so I feel compelled to tell you what she said about this bike:
"The handlebars are what really make the bike. The hand position and adjustability of the fore-aft movement, thanks in large measure to the most excellent use of the TerraCycle GlideFlex stem, made it the most natural feeling position I've used. The seat closely resembles the RANS seat but has a slight and effective lumbar support and upper shoulder curve, which made it the best I've been on yet. I also really dig the seat's fore-aft sliding mechanism. It moves easily when the quick release is loosened, and holds like glue when the skewer is tightened."
The Bacchetta Giro deserves the glorious review it just got. I guess I would have to say that the Giro is either the most comfortable or at least one of the most comfortable recumbents I’m familiar with and is also one of the best performing "conventional" SWB's I've ridden. This bike might show you that comfort and performance do not have to be mutually exclusive concepts. Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to nag your local bike shop until you can get a test ride.