Sunday, June 14, 2009

The Ride: Spooky "Skeletor" Review

I get asked a lot of questions about my bike this season, and a lot of people aren't yet familiar with the Spooky brand. I thought I would take this opportunity to get in a little plug for my team's main sponsor, but also to offer an honest appraisal of the bike's performance.

The Spooky "Skeletor":

*Pics to follow

Spooky bikes are manufactured regionally, for those of us in the NE anyway, in Easthampton, MA. The legacy of the brand is definitely mountain bikes, and going back to the early-mid 90's they had quite a cult following. Current owner, propriety, engineer and purveyor of all things Spooky, Mickey Denoncourt, apprenticed as a frame builder with them while racing mountain bikes in the 90's, and resurrected the brand in recent years, maintaining the traditional focus on mountain bikes, but introducing a road bike line, as well. Mickey's philosophy is "bikes for bike people" and he chooses to focus on engineering and ride characteristics over pricey paint jobs and slick finishes. The result, in the form of the Skeletor road bike is a light, stiff aluminum all-race machine that handles better than any road bike I have ever ridden. The finish is no-frills anodized black aluminum with tidy, kitchy decals, and some models leave the shop matte black with no stickers at all.

Part of the philosophy of keeping the bikes priced within range of real world, workaday bike racers is an emphasis on stock sizes. With a compact geometry, steep seat and head tube angles, and beefed up and reinforced chainstays, almost any size rider can be comfortably fit to a stock Spooky. To help with this, fit Guru and Spooky partner, Carl Ditkoff has his Retul fit shop set up in the Spooky shop, so the perfect fit for your ride is all part of the package. Custom geometry is available for special needs at no upcharge, but those cases are the exception.

So what should a race bike do, anyway? Well, it should want to race, and the Skeletor does. This bike is twitchy, in the sense that it accelerates fast, and goes where you point it, but it tracks with unbelievable stability, owing in large part to the Edge Composites fork around which the frame is designed. I have raced a custom IF Crown Jewel, a Cannondale, a Specialized, and a Giant TCR Adanced 0, and I can say without hesitation that I have never been so confident while descending or cornering at speed as I am on my Spooky Skeletor. This is consensus within the team, as well, and all of our guys are delighted with the bikes.

Another common observation among the riders on the Spooky / NCC / Kenda team is that almost to a man we are set up with more aggressive positions than on past bikes, meaning more handlebar drop, but we are also more comfortable. The geometry of the bike and the seat tube angle have allowed me to shorten up my reach by a centimeter or so, better positioning my center-of-gravity over the bottom bracket, but at the same time lowering my bars by a full 3cm compared to my Giant. I am much more aero, the bike handles better through corners, and my back still doesn't hurt. What more could you ask for?

Now it might seem like I would be unwilling to say anything critical of my bike given the importance of keeping sponsors happy, and it is indeed hard to look a gift horse in the mouth. We have all been instructed by said sponsor, however, to be as honest and critical as we can in the hopes of making the bikes even better in the future. Nevertheless, I have no complaints, and genuinely love this bike. Given the price tag of $1295 for frame, Edge fork & headset, (and the Edge fork is arguably the best racing fork on the market, and American made, to boot) or $850 for the frame alone, I would be hard pressed to recommend a better buy for a race bike. And built up with Rival, with carbon race wheels on, my ~56cm model weighs in just under 17 pounds, and that's with aluminum bars, stem and seatpost. With Red, Dura-Ace or Record and carbon bars, the bike would easily skim 16, if one cares about such things, which I don't.

Aluminum is stiff, of course, and that's the point. I won't pretend that 6 hours on this bike doesn't get to feeling a little rough, and it is certainly not a touring bike. If I were to suggest one structural improvement it might be the addition of carbon wishbone seatstays, but that would jack up the price and might also compromise the stiffness and handling that I love about the bike, so I'll say leave 'er as is. You don't expect an Indy car to have plush leather interior and cup holders, right? Right. Race bikes are for racing, and whether you're into fast club rides, training crits, or full time avocational/semi-professional/professional-amateur racing, the Skeletor delivers in spades.

Basically the Skeletor just begs to be raced, it is a joy to sprint on, as it seems to accelerate itself, and it climbs as responsively as you could want it to. And as I already mentioned, the handling on descents is just about perfect.

So if you want a race bike for racing, and if performance is more important to you than brand recognition, and if you like the idea of American designed and made bikes that have truly emerged from grassroots racing culture, then get yourself a Spooky.


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