Le Tour de France may be an all-male affair but the latest hybrid racing bikes with flat handlebars are a perfect fit for women. Gizmogirl took Giant's FCR Zero racing bike on a road test through the Oxfordshire countryside.
When this bike arrived, I thought Giant had sent an empty cardboard box by mistake. It felt so light it was hard to imagine there was a bicycle inside.
Once out of the box, the first thing I noticed was the bike's frame and its wheels. The frame uses FluidForm technology. Giant claims this process gives its designers a freehand and results in more beautiful shapes. I have to agree. The frame on this bike is beautiful. The go faster wheels have just eight spokes and razor thin Michelin race tyres. This means the critical rotating weight on the bike is minimal. Unusually for a road bike, the FCR has flat handlebars, which gives a more upright riding position. Some cyclists will feel this gives them more control than drop-down bars. If your focus is not shaving seconds off your race times, then sitting up means you can enjoy more of the countryside, assuming you are on the open road.
I tested the FCR on good and bad roads, on hills and descents and with head and tail winds. Although it looks far less stable than a mountain bike, the Giant was no less difficult to ride. On bends, I could lean over on racing tyres without losing balance just as much as on mountain bike tyres. The bike being as light as a feather meant that for the effort I put in, I travelled probably twice as far as I would do compared to similar effort on a mountain or comfort bike. Although I cycle over eight miles almost every day, I have never raced. Since this was a racing bike, I felt I should do some time trials of my own. For Le Tour, racers have the most sophisticated timing to pick winners even after riders have all piled into each other. Instead, I used the chime on the 18th century church clock tower in our village for my start and finish. I tried various routes - or stages - that I cycle regularly. On the FCR Zero, my race times were halved, which is a better improvement than Lance Armstrong's year-on-year gains, though I don't think I'll be breaking his new record anytime soon.
Uphill, the bike was a dream. On badly made roads, the hard tyres were far less giving than knobbly mountain bike tyres. The answer is to steer clear of potholes and lift your backside when the surface becomes very uneven. Into the wind, drop-down handlebars would have been an advantage. Even with flat handlebars, the bike's ergonomics helped keep up speed. Long distance cyclists will argue that drop-down handlebars or even tribars give you the option of changing position. For shorter rides, I found plenty of comfort with the flat handlebars. They were not too wide, the brakes were easy to reach and I felt in control.
Road racing was invented in Europe at the end of the 19th century. Its European heritage is evident today in the millimetre measurements of tyres and seat posts on racing bikes. In recent years, road bikes have been overshadowed by mountain bikes and unfortunately the price still reflects this. In the 1970s, hippies living in California decided to ride down the sides of mountains. They needed a bike to do it on, and the mountain bike was invented. Whatever type of bike you ride, cycling is all about your own effort, Once you discover the efficiency of a road bike like Giant's FCR Zero, you won't ever take to the road on anything else.