It’s all because of a truck and the still pending progress of the Coffs Harbour bypass.
I’d spent the past week thoroughly enjoying my highly customised Focus Mares around the Bellingen area of Northern New South Wales (river country, bad roads, wonderful lack of people, deep mysterious shaded coastal hill country, almost tourist free and certainly no caravans and their spit drooling manic geriatric drivers). I can’t imagine a better bike for these roads that are more a case of connected flooded potholes than the tarmac our privileged and astoundingly overindulged city cousins enjoy day in day out. Wet, rough, narrow, scenic and mostly neglected roads with few cars and almost as few cyclists; and lots of dairy cow action on the North side. I put in about 900km on these roads over a more than regular, if not utterly ingrained riding spree for two weeks every year. It’s all so different from our sheep country, 1050metres further up in the clouds where I live.
Yes, I love my Mares. It has an almost perfect split personality across pure road bike and mountain bike genres. It climbs almost like a road bike. It smashes through the potholes and disappeared tarmac like a cross country pro racing bike. Well, it is a pro cyclocross bike. This bike is perfect for this place except for one thing. That one thing gives me pause every time I cross the mighty Kalang River back to the bush cabin where I stay. From high up on the bridge across that river, I feel tempted to throw the whole bike in. I consider that prospect as some kind of sweet revenge. Not against the bike itself. No. But against the cancerous, malignant garbage laughingly called a groupset that this bike is insulted by: SRAM Force 1. Force 1 came with the bike, and with four other gravel bikes that I own. It’s just fine for the first 5000km. Then there are hints of disease for the next 2000km. Then terminal rot by 7000km. For each and every bike that this junk is on.
It’s not like I am some kind of newbie klutz when it comes to mechanics. My bikes are all lovingly maintained to a degree that is unusually fastidious. I know how to tune gears. I know how to adjust the B screw. I know how to replace cables and housings. I know how to align even minutely bent derailleur hangers. I know how to lubricate and how to maintain the nasty, cheap, offensive teeth inside the one-by shifters. I spend hours and hours trying to keep this junk working. But this time, on this trip, Force 1 decided to totally rebel against my apparently unreasonable demands that it should change gears, up hills, when trying to keep moving against the tide of rabid ute driving tradies furious at the prospect of being kept waiting from their mission to catch yet another cache of cash. Yes, it is not fun to be on a steep hill with your gears in a state of total indecision with regard to which cog the chain might like to eventually choose.
There’s a house at the top of one cedar clad hill. It’s right beside the road and the residents tend to live on the verandah overlooking the traffic below. If one car per hour can be regarded as traffic. They must be getting used to me by now. Because every day, at the very same time, I ride on past during their coffee hour, shouting very choice advice to the gears mis-shifting for their apparent entertainment. I guess they think it’s funny. I don’t.
After every ride, I spend an hour adjusting these gears, a quarter turn here and a quarter turn there. I shift the mis-shifting from one section of the cluster to the next. There are two choices. You can have adequate upshifting or adequate down shifting. But not both. Never both. No matter what. No matter how new the chain, how new the cog, how new the cable, the housings, the lubrication or the perfections of a properly aligned derailleur hanger. Or the deep dark mysteries of a well-tuned B screw. Yes, it’s an hour a day that are hours I could be doing stuff that’s more fun. All to no avail.
The Internet forums are quiet. The mechanics I consult suggest it’s all in my head. They tinker too and reckon they have it fixed. It is fixed for a day then it’s back to pure spite. On every single bike that has this stuff installed. Every single one. Exactly the same. On five separate bikes.
I want Ekar. I want five boxes of Ekar. I love Ekar. My Lauf True Grit is laughing. Ekar equipped perfection. It just works and works like art. Even after 7000km. But Covid killed Italy. Ekar is made in Italy. Yes, it is. In Italy. So it can’t ge got. No way. One day, Campagnolo will come through. I will get five sets. And I am going to collect all that SRAM Force 1, put it in a 44 gallon drum, douse it with diesel, and burn the bastard lot.
But it seems SRAM has beaten me to it. They have ditched mechanical Force 1. Wow! I wonder why… Now it’s all e shifting with their dumb and dumber wireless systems running the show.
If there is one thing in this world less reliable than Force 1, (and Telstra’s 3/4G network which is just as bad), it’s wireless connectivity. Drop outs, continual pairing conniptions and the like; wireless is a perfect match to Force 1. Go away SRAM. I am never, ever going to buy any bike with SRAM anything installed. Consider me a one person protest movement. SRAM is the Big Brother, doublethink system for idiots who are devoid of intellect.
That bridge is burnt.Count me out. Hello Campagnolo. Hello Shimano GRX. Hell, I’d rather ride single speed than any more SRAM.
Anyway, there I was, motoring into Coffs Harbour to pick up a new SUP (Stand Up and Paddle board, because I was once a sailboarder and sailboarding has died because the wind is as unreliable as SRAM). As usual, the traffic through town was a transplant from the Sydney CBD. Stalled. Stopped. Stopped right outside one of Coffs Harbour’s two bicycle shops.
As one does in stalled traffic, I looked around and my eye caught the outrageous shop window glint of a bike endowed with manic paint. I knew that look. I’d been reading about Cervelo’s latest gravel bikes in recent times. Could that bike in the window possibly be the new Cervelo Aspero 5? Could it possibly be the bike that’s been intriguing me since the beginning of the Covid blasted, zero supply bike drought that continues to assault bike buyers around the world? Not in this little shop. Surely not. I could see the paint and I could see the colour and I could see the knobby tyres. It’s a Cervelo. It’s something like the Caledonia. But it’s not. It’s also not the old Aspero as that most definitely did not ever come in this outrageous purple colour scheme. I had to stop. And stop I did.
It was. And, astonishingly, it was my size. And not yet sold. And!!!! It was NOT the model decked out in SRAM (as two out of the three model options are). This one was dressed in Shimano GRX Di2.
Within a minute, it was mine. Locked and loaded.
Fate had intervened.
I have never ridden GRX before but I reckon that anything, absolutely anything had to be better than SRAM Force 1. And it most certainly was, and is. GRX is just like the Dura Ace I enjoy on a few of my road bikes. Lovely stuff. On a lovely bike that has been rave reviewed by absolutely every cycling journalist who has managed to cajole a ride.
This bike has only been available in this country for about six weeks. Fate has been kind. I am ever so thankful to Coffs Harbour’s amazing traffic jams.
I am not going to attempt a usual review of the Aspero 5, because there are many great reviews available, with the best of the lot by Cycling Tip’s Dave Rome. Read that review here if you are keen. The review is of the exact same model I now have. The one with the ‘purple sunset’ chameleon paint job. I am trying hard not to be superficial and I can most certainly claim that I was not taken in by this bike's green to purple to gold sychophrenic shifting colour way. Actually, I absolutely hated it. I would way prefer a model in basic matt black. Just like every other bike I have except the wondrously green Focus Mares.
So with deeply tinted sun glasses toning this thing down, off I went to try it out. Now I know, that even with five gravel bikes, I have always had a gaping hole waiting for a fix. The Aspero 5 is unlike any other gravel bike I have or have had to date. This one covers the biggest use range of any bike I have ever known. My Open UPPER and my Exploro LtD are seriously great when the rough stuff would otherwise set off dreams for a mountain bike. The Aspero is more road bike than any of my Giant TCX’s or even my Focus Mares when it used to run OK. The Aspero is even faster on the tar than my Lauf. It is almost as capable on the tar as my S Works Roubaix! But, and here’s the thing. It’s also almost as capable as any of my cross country racing bikes when the dirt gets bad. This thing can do single track. It can do our paddocks. Hell, I can claim it as a work bike for tax purposes on my sheep station. I have just defined a quiver killer. A real one. Yes, this is the one bike to have when you can only have one bike. It is THAT capable.
And there is one more thing. It’s a bit odd to note. But this is rather intriguing I think. We bike nurds are always wondering just who, in Taiwan, made the bike we ride. If it’s a Giant or a Specialised, the answer is pretty straight forward. But who actually makes the Open UPPER? The 3T Exploro, and my wondrous Lauf True Grit? These are all made in Taiwan. But by who?
For the first time ever, this Cervelo comes with a maker’s sticker on the bottom of the bike. This bike was made OEM by the Kenstone Metal Company. Look them up. I did some digging. Kenstone made my Lauf True Grit. It made my Open UPPER. It made my 3T Exploro. Mystery solved. These are all seriously high quality bikes with utterly cutting edge technology and superlative skill. Kenstone Metal Company. Well done you.
After two weeks and around 700km on the clock, I can now say that yes, this purple-fade-to-green-and-then-gold colour scheme did grow on me. It matches the bike’s character to a tee. A real, genuine, chameleon.