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After doing my research I decided that for the type of riding I wanted to do ( longer fitness rides and some touring), one of the new "relaxed" geometry rides would fit the bill. My price range was around $1200, but after reading some of the posts on this site I decided that I also wanted to try a carbon frame to see if the ride was worth spending more. I decided to take an afternoon off and test ride the different bikes that I was considering.

I found a shop that had a Secteur Elite $1329, a Roubiax base $1700, a Synapse 6 $1080and a Synapse carbon 5 $1990 (all 105 equipped except the Syn 6) in my size. I am 6"3" and it seemed the 58cm was a good fit for me. I asked if they had a 61cm in the C"dale to stand over just to make sure. They said they did have one, but it was out on a test ride and I could try it when that guy came back.

I decided to start high so I took the Synapse carbon 5 out first. The ride seemed pretty smooth, but I really didn't have anything to compare it to at that point. As I rounded a corner, I saw a guy stopped and looking over his bike. It was the guy testing the Synapse 6 aluminum. I stopped and asked him what he thought. Turns out he was in the market for the same type of bike that I was, and he was thinking of buying a C'dale because he had good luck with one in the past. He saw that I was riding the carbon version so we decided to do a side by side trial.

We rode for a mile or so testing the components (both seemed to work well even though it was 105 vs Tiagra) and trying to get a feel for the ride and handling. We then switched bikes and rode another mile or so. We both agreed that there was a noticeable difference between the carbon and alum bikes. The carbon seemed to deaden the road vibration and have a better feel. My test partner was regretting that he even tested the carbon, because now he was doubting his choice and asking the same question I was. is carbon worth upgrading to?

We talked and I told him about all of the research I had done and that the Specialized bikes where highly touted in this category as well. He was not considering Specialized at that point, but decided to keep the test going and we did a side by side ride on the Base Roubiax and the Secteur Elite.

I was on the Roubiax first and it was a very comfortable ride. I could not feel near the road noise and the geo seemed more comfortable as well. My partner had a favorable impression of the Secteur as well. He was even taller than me at 6' 7". (Even though he was testing 58cm and would probably need a 61cm) he agreed that the geo was more relaxed. We switched bikes and rode on. I thought the ride on the Secteur was not near the drop in quality that going from the carbon to aluminum on the C'dale was. The Secteur still seemed to be pretty smooth and handled just as good as the Roubiax. That said the Roubiax was still the best ride of the bunch.

When we got back we where both agonizing over spending the extra $400-$600 to get carbon. We decided to be fair we should compare the aluminum bikes, and leave the carbon out of the equation. We did the same ride with the Secteur and Synapse 6. We traded back and forth over various types of terrain, going fast and slow. The verdict was unanimous. We both felt that the Secteur rode and handled better than the Synapse. we felt that the Secteur, although not as nice a ride as the carbon bikes, was not that far off.

My partner decided to hang around and dicker on getting a Secteur Elite. They had a 61cm Roubiax that he was going to ride for size. I gave him a business card and told him to call me and let me know how things worked out for him. We may even get together for a real ride.

I was off to test an 09 Giant Defy Advanced 3 that I had found at another shop and they where looking to move it at $1500! I took it on a longer and more aggressive ride that I did on the other bikes. To my surprise the ride was smoother that even the Roubiax. It climbed and handled nicely and the rear Ultegra shifter seemed to be quieter and smoother that the 105's on the other bikes. It also had 25c tires which I think made a difference. The draw back was the geometry was a bit more stretched out and not as comfortable as the Roubiax. The bike guy pointed out that Giant uses a different handle bar that has a longer section before the drops. He said he would throw on a Specialized Pro short drop bar and tweak the stem to bring the geo in line with the Roubiax.

I was told Giant makes it's own carbon, and even supplies carbon for some of the other brands I tested. The frame was nicer that the Roubiax Base more comparable to the higher end Roubiax frames. The BB had a pressed in bearing and looked very clean.

All things being equal I think the deal on the Giant is to hard to pass up.

These are the observations of a couple novices. We are not racers and not going to be standing on the pedals and paying attention to BB stiffness or some of the other stuff that you more advanced and knowledgeable riders pay attention to. Just an average Joe's opinion based on side by side rides. I know there is a lot of discussion on this site about these very comparisons, so I thought I would share my experience. Hope it helps. Let me know if you have questions.
 

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Cycling induced anoesis
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Interesting post. IMO you're going about this in all the right ways. Just make sure the Giant fits well before deciding.

I don't know if Giant makes their own carbon and supplies it to others, but I do know they (and several other manufacturers) make frames for many other brands. Where you go with this info is your choice, but you may find the link below informative - if a little dated.

http://allanti.com/page.cfm?PageID=328
 

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Anchor47...it sounds like you are having a lot of fun with the bike decision and you are doing some good research. One very important thing to keep in mind is the wheelset. Wheels and tires will make a huge difference in the ride of any bike and are in fact the #1 upgrade to make to improve your ride. Good wheels are expensive, however they are a good investment as they can go from bike to bike as your experience grows. If you are able to test each of the bikes with the same wheelset your test would be more apples to apples and your opinion of the overall ride of the various bikes could likely change. So...consider purchasing some great wheels first...then take them to the lbs and do your test rides with your wheels. Also keep in mind that 25c tires will give you a much plusher ride than 23c tires. Enjoy the ride!
 
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