Last week I gave you Mike-the-bike-company-guy's perspective on the dojo - what it means to our business and how it fits into our brand and product portfolio. Last night I was talking to one of our customers - let's call him Bob (since that's his name) - who is himself itching to get a dojo and really wants the pre-order to succeed. In addition to Dave and myself, Bob also had the opportunity to ride the dojo and wrote an unsolicited review of it over on Weight Weenies (which was not met without some cynicism from people who thought he must be on the payroll to actually like the bike that much). He and I have talked about the bike a lot so he is very familiar with why I'm so fond of it. In fact, everyone I've talked to about the bike knows how much I dig it. It occurred to me while talking to Bob though that Dave and I haven't done a lot to share with everyone else why we as cyclists like the dojo. As the person with the most direct experience with the dojo, maybe I ought to publish my own review of it. So I will.
By way of relevant background, I stared racing road bikes as a kid in 1985. In addition to our own Wheelhouse and dojo, I've owned and raced bikes by Blue, Eddy Merckx, Cannondale, a handbuilt steel Brodie Rodie (whassup Vancouver), an OEM carbon of unknown origin, and Giant. My racing style is to rely pretty transparently on hard and tactless accelerations so I appreciate stiffness. My training style is to not to, so I focus a lot on efficiency as well, preferring a setup that lets my body get plenty aero. For this reason, I usually run a frame size smaller than Dave even though we're the same height and same inseam. I like a slightly lower head tube because I do more work on my hip flexibility than lung capacity. My event of choice is a crit, so cornering confidence is paramount. I also used to care not at all about compliance, but that was before I rode the dojo. More on that in a bit.
In my mind, the perfect next bike for us would combine the best characteristics from every bike I've owned, and then go further in ways I hadn't imagined. Just as Henry Ford realized that if he asked his customers what they wanted they would have told him they wanted a faster horse, I was hoping we'd come up with a bike that moved a needle I didn't know existed or mattered.
Before we could even start riding a bike though, it had to check a number of boxes on paper. First and foremost, it needed to be produced by a supplier we could trust, had reasonable terms, and who was earnest about wanting to do business with us (we had gone down a road previously with a supplier who said yes to building out some demos to our spec, but then changed their mind about actually accepting an order from us). It also needed to be lighter than the Wheelhouse, which was about 1150g in a size Medium. We knew that to be competitive in 2014 we would need to have a frame around 900g or better. And the aesthetic is also important. Dave uses the word "bike-flavored bike," which essentially is gimmick-free geometry and features. We both vastly prefer the traditional double triangle of Cannondales and Colnagos to the swooping gallantry of Specialized and Pinarello.
We looked at many many bikes before finally deciding to bring one in for testing. When it arrived, I was unprepared for how elegant the tubes were. Where the Wheelhouse was muscular, this bike was lithe and sinewy. I told Dave that the Wheelhouse looks like it hangs out in the free weights room, but this bike takes yoga. He immediately dubbed it the dojo and I knew it was a keeper. Like a stray cat, once it has a name it's part of the family.
Our demo frame was a size M (54) and finished with UD carbon fiber and a gloss clearcoat. (Production versions will all be matte.) The frame with bottle cage bolts, r/d hanger and BB cable guide was 850g. We expect grapics for the production version will add about 30-40g to the frame. The fork was 390g uncut, making the frameset about 300g lighter than the Wheelhouse. We built it up with SRAM Force, a Deda cockpit and a Quarq crankset. We tested it with FSWs and Rails. Dave went first, training on it in February and racing on it in March and April. I took it from there and trained and raced on it into August.
When I first rode it, my very first impression was to ignore my very first impression. The first time you get on a bike, you are more aware of the thickness of the bar tape, the position of the shift levers and the precise height of the saddle than you are to any meaningful reflection of the bike. So I spent a few days getting used to the inconsequential differences before trying to focus on the frame itself. This is why we're not big believers in test rides, by the way. Unless a test bike is set up exactly like the bike you've been on, with the same wheels, tires, bar tape, gruppo and measurements, it's really hard to filter out all the noise and feel the differences that matter.
Once I was able to do so, one thing about the dojo became abundantly clear to me. This was the best cornering bike I'd ever owned. Dave corroborated this observation, finding that the bike - particularly when paired with Rails - was able to find and hold lines in fast turns with facility. I'd describe the steering in technical situations as almost intuitive - the lines you want are the ones the bike naturally finds itself in. It's really a hoot in the curves.
The next thing that became clear was the increase in compliance, which I wasn't even looking for. On one of my regular training routes there is a stretch of recently repaved road riddled with tiny undulations. (For those local to DC, it's the downhill section on Tuckerman Lane headed towards Falls Road, passing Herbert Hoover Middle School.) I call this section the "invisible cobbles," and I get bounced around it pretty mercilessly. The first time through on the dojo though, I didn't even realize I was in the invisible cobbles until I was almost out. I started paying attention to other places where I'd experienced road chatter and found the bike ate them up too. It was particularly apparent in rough corners. The more rigid Wheelhouse bounces a bit through rough turns but the dojo keeps the rear wheel on the ground, providing more speed, traction and confidence.
Using the Quarq, I tested the frame's stiffness under measured hard accelerations. Comparing the stiffness and acceleration of different bikes is always subjective, even when using a power meter. You can look for evidence of flex like chain rub, but it's very difficult to tell if you're giving away power on one bike or another. Purely subjectively then, I can say that I found the power transfer on the dojo every bit as good as the Wheelhouse (and better than any other bike I've owned). My testing protocol, such as it is, was to remain seated and punch hard for 10-15 seconds, seeing how high watts would spike and how much speed would increase. I was pretty consistenly getting 100-150 watts more out of the same perceived effort on the dojo. This is likely attributable to the lower head tube, which changed the angle of my arms and upper body and allowed them to achieve greater purchase in generating torque. But whatever the exact reason, the same perceived effort had me going harder and faster, and I like that. I suspect you would too.
The 300g weight difference was most noticeable when lifting the bike onto and off of my car's roof rack. Long, steep, grinding climbs remained long, steep and grinding. As is their nature.
So does the dojo succeed in delivering the best of all of my previous experiences, and then something more? It has the power transfer of the Wheelhouse, the compliance of the Blue, the race-eager geometry and classic good looks of the Cannondale, and the road feel to rival the steel Brodie. All at a price that is not far from the OEM and otherwise unremarkable carbon. It lacks the pedigree of the Merckx and always will, as neither Dave nor I are threats to win multiple grand tours and classics and hold the 1 hour record. But somewhat unexpectedly, it corners like it's on, um, a train track. Combined with all its other attributes, it really is a remarkable bike - more so than I would have expected. It's delightful to ride - either balls to the wall for 45 minutes of productive pain, or on a multi-day memory maker. I really think our customers will be as happy with it as I am.
On the one hand, I want us to pre-sell 100 dojos so November continues in the frame and bike business and we can meet a need we perceive in the market. But I mostly want to sell 100 dojos so I get one to ride and race myself. In my mind, it has long been "my next bike." This is my pitch to you to go ahead and pre-order one. I'm a selfish bastard with a discerning palette, and I this is the bike I want to ride every damn day.