When I was thinking of buying a race bike, I feared I would have a hard time finding the right one in terms of looks. Most bikes out there have a frame design that screams. At least that's how I see it, and that's through the eyes of a graphic designer. The logo is usually too big in proportion to the frame, and the color combinations are also often not really my thing. Not to mention the typographical hell of some of the logos, where a terrible typeface or bad kerning is applied. I'm no expert in this type of design but I can't help noticing these imperfections. My closest experience was helping with the design of a series of tennis rackets for Snauwaert in my early days as a freelancer.
Through the eyes of a designer
As a graphic designer, aesthetics mean everything. Design is very important, because it's part of who I am. It's also emotional, it's there in everything I see around me; whether it's form, color, composition, proportion, or a combination of all these aspects. Sometimes I'm inspired, moved or touched, or even totally in love. Sometimes I feel nothing, because what I'm looking at is just plain boring and uninspiring. Then there are also moments when I look at things that are totally wrong, and an itchy feeling is taking over. It's a different way of looking at things in general. As a designer I try to consciously observe things in a way as if I experience it for the first time. It's a way to try to find inspiration.
My Merckx EFX-3
Before I decided to buy this bike, I tried out just a few (Colnago, Trek, Pinarello, Koga) and none of them were 100% to my liking. As far as I could tell, riding them felt alright. Some were more comfortable than the other, but I just didn't like their design: the frame, the colors, there was always something that bothered me… One of the conditions I had was to go for a women's bike, but not all brands have such models. I also preferred a Belgian brand, though this was a preference of mine that I hoped to fulfill. The brand that caught my eye was Merckx, and not just because of the name and legend, also because the bike's design felt elegant, sporty, and graphically not too overloaded. It's not 100% perfect but as close as I could get. The logo is prominent, but still very proportional and used in a creative way. Its design felt right to me, and I thought if this bike rides as it looks, than that's the one that I'll buy. Another big bonus was that the frame and fork are covered by a lifetime warranty.
At the beginning riding this bike was really getting used to for me because of the different position. It took me more than a few rides really to feel really confident. Even now, there is still a percentage of insecurity. It's a constant learning process for me, but the most important thing is that I have fun riding this bike. I came a long way, and I'm getting better and better, while keeping it all fun, trying out new challenges, but never overdoing it. Just taking small steps, and enjoying every ride. Sometimes the ride is tough, sometimes it's pure relaxing, just spinning the legs.
If there is something important that I learned over the years, it's buying a bicycle that perfectly matches your measurements, not just a frame that you think is your size. It's pure basic stuff, a non-brainer really, and has absolutely nothing to do with fanciness or being snobbish or whatever people might think. It comes first, or you've made a big mistake. That's of course if you are serious about cycling. After all the rides I've done, especially the longer ones that take 3 hours and more, I know that if you ride a bike that isn't 100% your match, you'll feel it. Whether it's your knees, your shoulder, your neck, your back, your hip… Some parts of your body will suffer and hurt. My bike feels very comfortable, and right, and I feel I bought the right one for me. The people at the shop (Fietsen Godefroot) measured me very well, and I have this sheet now that I take on my holidays if I want to rent a proper bike. It sure came in handy during my Summer holiday, as the bike the shop delivered was just perfect.
You can of course have pain in your butt towards the end of a very long ride. It is probably one of the most common pains when riding a bike, but in most cases this is because of a different reason. Could be you just haven't been riding for a whole while, and so your butt needs to get used to it again, or like in my case, you have a saddle that doesn't fit you. The saddle that came with the bike felt alright at first, but as soon as we did longer rides (more than 60 km) I felt a horrible pain in the front area. It was a different pain than the typical one around the area of the sitting bones. At first I thought maybe it's because of the different position, as I'm leaning more forward than how I'm used to, and so I need to get used to this. After giving it some time, it kept on coming back and it was becoming way too hurtful. So I decided to try out another saddle. I tried a Selle Italia SLR Lady Flow, and that seemed to solve my problem. I'm sure there is nothing wrong with the original saddle. Everyone is different, and for me that saddle didn't work out. You learn as you go.
Before this bike I never rode with bicycle cleats as I didn't believe it was necessary. When I was out riding with my cycling friends Jered & Ashley I found out what a difference they make especially on the climbs. They ride & climb a lot when they are out shooting pictures of bikes professionally. To put it mildly, I wasn't too fond with the idea to be clicked in. This took some getting used to and the predicted fall manifested itself when stopping to cross a road. At the beginning I stayed away from anything too challenging until I got the hang of it.
Just ride it
From the moment that I took my Merckx EFX-3 to cobblestones and climbs of the Flemish Ardennes I couldn't believe how very keen this bike is. My Koga Sportslady is a fantastic bike too but this one surges forward with real verve. They engineered a high degree of stiffness into the frame - it immediately responds to changes of direction and does it with a crisp precision. I love the good feedback through the handlebars, you can feel the road surface beneath the tire and, importantly on days when the roads are wet and slippery, how much grip there is from the front. I'm no cobblestone lover but the EFX-3 makes me feel comfortable enough to ride them. On the climbs you feel its lightweight but that's not that only thing that matters, that stiffness I referred to earlier is important there as well. At first I was scared to go out of the saddle but now I'm comfortable doing it on the though climbs with their crazy changing percentages. My Merckx EFX-3 feels good when i'm out of the saddle; there's no twisting or deforming under high load, and its response to pedal power is super so I make good progress as a result. This bike is fun, fast and agile just as I hoped it would be.
Maybe it's also a women's thing, judging things by its look. All the technical stuff about this bike were secondary really. Of course I wanted a light weight, so I preferred a carbon frame, but the type of gears and such, I trusted that a brand like Merckx only sells quality & knows what is best. I'm not the type of person who would buy just a frame for example, and then try to construct the whole bike myself with the parts that I prefer. Some people like to do that, and probably also have much fun doing that. Turns out they're often spending more time fiddling than actually riding. For me the riding part is all I'm after, and I leave the rest up to the mechanics that know what they are doing. I never fiddle with my bike. The only thing I do, and I do it a lot, is cleaning my bike, by making sure it shines and the chain and gears are in good shape. Besides this, there is replacing a flat tire, but that's basically it.
So in that respect I think I fit the bill, the type of people that this bicycle was created for. I can't agree more with the quote by the man himself :)