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Renovo Ride Reviews and Commentary
A comprehensive and unsolicited review of the R4 (from Facebook)
Joe Martz, Los Alamos, NM, November 15, 2011
I received my Renovo R4 build 3 weeks ago, and have had some time to ride her on the mountain roads of northern New Mexico. This bike is actually an engagement gift for my soon-to-be fiance, and we ride identically sized frames. This gives us the opportunity to switch bikes during our rides, which is a fantastic way to compare frames, equipment, etc. We've taken the Renovo out along with a few other bikes, and done some extensive back-to-back comparison. (the engagement gift is not a surprise to her; she's been eagerly awaiting delivery as have I).
In summary, the Renovo has been jaw-dropping impressive with its stunning ability to absorb bumps and provide a smooth ride while also remaining stiff and nearly flex-free when standing on the pedals. I've been riding a very long time on some very good frames. When young, my father purchased the first Reynolds double-butted 501 alumnium frame, a 1973 Raleigh International with a 2x5 Campagnolo Record groupo. I still have that bike (with the sales receipt for $376!). I rode some of the first carbon frames, and I've had lovely Colnago steel bikes, to this point, some of the best riding frames I've owned. Currently, my main ride is a Specialized Roubaix SL3 with full Shimano DI2 while my fiance rides a Trek Pilot 5.0. This was my first electrically shifted bike, and once you've ridden DI2, it can be really hard to go back to mechanical. I was so impressed with the DI2, I specced the Renovo for the same drivetrain.
I did the build on the Renovo myself, and in addition to the full DI2 drivetrain, I added full Ritchey WCS carbon forks, seatpost, and bars, and choose Mavic Kysrium ES Speciales for the rims. A note on the drivetrain. Lots of steep hills here in New Mexico. I use compact cranks (50/34) and have lately been using extended range rear cassettes. SRAM makes a great 11-32 10-speed cassette, and it works fine with the DI2 rear derailleur. I had no problems getting this setup with the Renovo frame. This gives you a gearing range greater and lower than a triple, with the weight advantages of a standard double.
The build went super-easy, not a single problem, as the Renovo guys are perfectionists regarding all the frame geometry issues. While not something you think about right away, it's non-trivial to get all the mounting points for derailleurs, seatposts, brakes, bottom brackets, and headsets correct on a wooden bike. Renovo does it to perfection, and the payoff is an easy build that takes standard components and fits perfectly the first time you mount them. Kudos and well done. My build, including pedals and cages, weighed in a bit over 19# when finished. Not bad at all.
I've posted pics of the build earlier here; the end result is stunning. Aesthetically, this is finest bike I've owned or built, and that's saying something. For my build woods, I choose Wenge, Red Paduck, and flamed Maple. We decided to try something different on the Maple, and I sent samples of a favorite guitar I owned, which Renovo was able to match in staining the inner flaming. The end result is jaw-dropping in person. And yes, it is quite a match to my guitar!
For a test-ride, I use a favorite loop on forest roads near my hometown of Los Alamos. The backgate route to Bandelier National Monument is a great, 25 mile ride that has a long, slight descent of 6 miles over an older road with plenty of snakes and cracks. This road is almost unridable on aluminum bikes, as you do about 30 mph while your teeth get shaken out from the regular imperfections. The best carbon bikes I've ridden on this road are the Roubaix and the Colnago CLX 2.0. Steel-framed bikes do well here, but still transmit a bit of high-freqency vibration. Once I began the descent on the Renovo, I was shocked. You still feel the bumps, but they are extremely damped. And there is almost no high-frequency vibration at all! The wood frame just soaks up this road, and gives a ride like some kind of magic, natural shock absorbers. Back-to-back riding on this with the Roubaix clearly shows that the Renovo has a smoother ride.
Of course, the price you pay on this ride to Bandelier is a steep, 3000' climb back out of Ancho Canyon. Here, low gears and plenty of sweat are in order. I found the Renovo amazingly stiff on the climbs. Only the slightest bit of bottom bracket flex was noticeable. The SL3 and Colnagos are just a tad (barely) stiffer in this respect, and the Renovo was stiffer than most of my older carbon and steel frames. As a side note, I've mounted auxiliary DI2 climbing shifters for both the SL3 and Renovo; these are wonderful. You keep your hands on top of the bar, and a quick thumb-press provides a gear change. This ability to shift DI2 from alternate points is a great feature, and underutilized. Expect to see some innovation in shifting control as electrical shifting becomes more mainstream.
Design of any bicycle frame requires a set of compromises among weight, stiffness, compliance, and shock absorption. Race and climbing frames put a premium on weight and stiffness. Touring frames favor ride quality. There is no perfect frame, geometry, or construction method which provides class-leading abilities across all these requirements; everything is a compromise. With that said, I honestly believe the Renovo wooden frames cover a wider spectrum of this diverse design space than any other frame I've ridden. Ride quality is clearly class-leading, just stunningly smooth and compliant. It soaks up the larger shocks, and dampens the high frequency vibration better than any other frame material I've ridden, even Italian steel. Yet, this frame is still surprisingly stiff, certainly rigid enough for anything I might need. The 19# build is plenty light, you pay less than a 2# penalty over the lightest, dedicated climbing frames. And of course, the aesthetics. I can't imagine a more unique or beautiful frame.
Overall, the Renovo is simply a stunning, class-altering bicycle. The wait can be long. As a small, boutique builder with a growing reputation, I'm afraid that wait is only going to get longer as others discover the magnificent capabilities of well-crafted wooden frames.