I set out looking to test ride the Specialized Amira Compact and the Trek Madone. Before heading out, I posted on each of the manufacturer’s facebook pages, “why should I buy your bike versus the competitor?” Of course, I knew only I could decide what was right for me, but I was curious what they would say.
The Amira caught my eye in Bicycling Magazine, which named it one of their top picks for women’s 2012 models. The review gives the bottom line, “Buy it if you want an affordable bike that will let you go fast.” Yes – that’s me! The Amira Compact is the entry-level model of Specialized’s more expensive Amira line, which includes 7 models in total. The entry-level line comes in 3 models: the base model ($2,000 msrp) with Shimano Tiagra, or the next model up ($2,200 msrp) with SRAM Apex components, and the Amira Elite ($2,700) with Shimano 105, upgraded tires and carbon seatpost. All three models have the same racing designed carbon frame.
I received a postcard in the mail for Cycle Center’s annual bicycle sale in March. I showed up on a sunny Saturday with my shoes and peddles in hand. The store was packed but there was an adequate and friendly sales staff to quickly service me. As it turned out, Cycle Center in Stamford, CT had the Amira in my size available for a test ride. They directed me to a route around one of North Stamford’s reservoirs. They definitely get the award for “best outdoor environment for a test ride” out of all shops I visited, which is actually a very important factor.
I took the 20 speed, carbon frame base model out for a ride and zipped around the reservoir. The Shimano Tiagra was an upgrade to my Shimano Sora shifters. I liked the fact that the 20 speeds, double crank saved weight and had easier shifting over my current triple crank, 27 speed, although I wondered if I could make it up some of the steeper hills I encounter in my CT and Martha’s Vineyard rides.
Next up, I headed to Danny’s Cycles to take a test ride on the Trek Madone. The only WSD in my size was their more expensive 5 series model (retail price I think was $3,300). Christina was ready for me and took me out for a test ride, which was a nice touch to have the sales rep accompany you. She advised me to just wear my sneakers with normal pedals for our test ride, which was on some side streets around downtown Stamford (probably a wise thing for being on an unfamiliar bike having to watch out for cars and broken glass in the city streets). Of course, this being such an expensive bike, the ride was awesome, even given the less than ideal street conditions. I asked to ride the less expensive 4 series, which they had available in a men’s slightly too large frame. I could tell the difference between the 2 models in shifting and absorption of road vibration but the 4 series was still a great ride.
Now, I was confused. On one hand, the Trek felt more comfortable but I couldn’t put my finger on why. And I wondered why Bicycling Magazine hadn’t rated it side by side with the Amira (was it some sponsorship deal?). For some reason probably having to do with brand perceptions and style, I was in love with the Amira but my head was telling me the Trek was more comfortable and therefore rationally a more appropriate bike for me. I checked my facebook query and the responses, which came from all over the world, were all from regular consumers who either were simply advocating “their brand” or very unbiased and good advice to just get what was right for me. But I really wanted to know the facts of why I should get one versus the other (being a professional marketer, the manufacturers missed a huge opportunity here to have a conversation with me in social media to help me through my choice and have the response on display for other viewers).I stopped back at Cycle Center. They had told me if I got confused or liked something about another bike to talk it through since many adjustments to any bike can make a difference. We looked online together at the Trek models and it became evident why the “comfort” factor was different. The Trek only makes a geometry in the Madone series that allows for a more upright position. If I wanted more upright comfort, I should be test riding a Specialized Ruby for comparison to the Trek Madone. In the end, I wanted a racing bike, so it became clear that would be my reason for selecting the Specialized Amira. Now my heart and my head could agree!