One of the beautiful things about a great marriage is the way that God will bring together two people who have different skill sets and abilities so that two heads are truly better than one. You complement each other, and therefore are better off. Companies work this way too. A few years ago, the university I work at decided we needed a faculty member who was a real expert in Real-Time Systems. We have people who know a little, mainly out of necessity. That is, they needed to learn a little in the course of their research just to get the job done. We wanted somebody who could fill the gap, complement our existing base of knowledge. So let’s turn this to cycling a little bit. When the Schlecks went to start their own team, they needed people to fill in all the holes. Sure, they can climb, but they needed time trialists (Cancellara), sprinters (Bennati), domestiques (Voigt) and so on.
But here’s the question that prompted this post in the first place: When you’re buying a bike, do you buy the one that reinforces your strengths or the one that helps shore up your deficiencies? While I was riding at the 12 Hours of Potluck over the weekend, I was trying to figure out what my next bike purchase would be. The course for Potluck, despite only being 5.6 miles long, has just a little bit of everything. There’s an extended climb (around 3-4 minutes), followed by some swoopy singletrack and doubletrack descending. There’s flat spots to motor along and a nice long technical section that will challenge your handling skills. What I noticed was this: I can hammer on the flats, I can climb pretty well and I can clean the technical stuff. My descending is… well, let’s call a spade, a spade. I constantly had people pulling away or catching me on the descents. Even this teenage kid was distancing me on the descent. Now part of this was the unfamiliar bike I was riding, but it’s been an issue before on my own bike.
So as I continue to consider what to do about my warrantied frame (still no real news on that, by the way), I find myself in a dilemma: Do I select a stiff, whippet of a bike that reinforces my strengths in climbing and steady state riding? Or do I find a bike that won’t hamper my strengths much, but will give me more confidence on the downhills? Of course, you would ideally find a bike that enhances your strengths and covers your weakness. Let’s assume such a machine doesn’t exist. Since we’re primarily considering this in a racing context, do you pick the ride that will let you put serious time into the competition on the hills so that you can ride the descents at your own pace?
Ultimately, there are characteristics that are more important — the fit, the cost, will it make the riding fun? All other things being equal though, which is it? I tend towards the bike that suits your strengths, but would be open to discussion on the topic.