Allow me a short story about cycling in Hawaii, and the difference between a bike for racing and a bike for riding.  It takes place some years ago, before Speedhound was born, on a trip with friends to the island of Kauai.  In addition to having the rainiest place on Earth (460 inches and 335 days per year), the southwest area of the island also features the breathtaking Waimea Canyon, with a ridgeline road that rises from near sea-level to over 3,000 feet in about 12 miles.  Naturally, this presented a riding challenge for me (my friends, not so much).  After a day of settling into our vacation cottage and knocking around the beach, I was itching to spin the pedals, and managed to find a road bike to rent.  It was one of the big brands, with an aluminum frame and a 27-speed drivetrain (52-42-32 X 12-23).  Riding back to the cottage before setting out on my hillclimb challenge, I immediately noticed something quite peculiar about this bike:  the handling was exceptionally darty.  Keeping the bike on a line took much more concentration than I cared for, and any inattention required immediate correction.  I’m not a bad bike handler, and would ordinarily think nothing of riding “no hands,”  but not on this crazed machine.  It wanted to go left and right, but not straight ahead.

My point is not to criticize a bike brand or frame material, but to highlight the importance of frame geometry (and the resultant handling) to a bike’s intended purpose.  On closer examination, my rental bike appeared to have a very steep head angle (around 74 degrees or higher).  Because I don’t make a habit of packing the precision tools needed to measure frame and fork geometry, I can’t say for sure what the spec was.  But I do know that this bike was far less stable than anything I was used to riding back home.  Despite the triple chainrings, it was a bike best suited for racing in a downtown criterium, not for riding Kauai’s narrow and steep roads.

As it turned out, I was able to manage this twitchy beast and climb the ridgeline.  I got to the top in about 1:20 of grinding work in the smallest ring.  A view of the canyon from a turnout provided all the reward I needed, and there was even a vending truck with cold drinks.  After a refreshing pause, I descended back down to the shore in about 25 minutes, touching the brakes only once or twice before entering some hairpins.  I had to concentrate for every one of those 1,500 seconds to keep the bike on the right side of the road and out of the ditch.  It was exhilarating, but I would have enjoyed it far more on a bike designed for riding.