Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Thundervolt M1 Review

Like most riders, I've always been attracted to beautiful new bikes and the prospect of going faster. I'm way past my biking prime so any advantage I can find is welcome. I felt a strong attraction when I discovered the Velokraft Nocom, but alas the price, at $8-10,000, was just more than I was willing to spend to indulge my speed lust. I considered a used Nocom, but there just aren't many of those bikes around.

Then I discovered John Morciglio and his line of Thundervolt CF bikes, hand made in Waterford, MI. The bike is available from John as a frame kit for $3700. This includes fork, carbon/aluminum tiller, front and rear brakes, headset and front wheel. That's an amazing price for a bike that gives Nocom performance and a responsive, available builder right here in the USA.

When I contacted John he was already working on a team order for 5 of these beauties so I would have a 6 week wait for mine. John sensed my eagerness and offered to sell me his personal M1 which was set up and basically ready to go. He threw in his gorgeous, custom CF wheel covers and a rear wheel. All this for a smoking hot price, not much over what the frame set would have cost me.

The box arrived from Michigan safe and sound. John packed it so well that cutting the box open and actually getting the bike out was a major chore. It was pretty much ready to ride when I got it. John and I just happen to be the same height so the bike was a perfect fit.

One of the reasons I bought John's personal bike as opposed to ordering one was that I was intrigued by the machine gun handlebar set up. John tells me this design is more aero. That makes sense since it tucks your arms in while riding. On the other hand, it does make the bike very twitchy at low speeds until you're used to it. With 150 miles under my belt, I am now able to start and stop easily. While cruising with these handlebars, the slightest steering input brings immediate results. It took a bit of concentration during the first 50 miles or so to adjust to this characteristic. On one ride I reached up to scratch my forehead and was immediately off the road. These issues disappeared as I gained more experience on the bike. Now I ride with comfort and confidence. I'll be clipping in soon.

People who have seen the bike ask about visibility. It turns out that the view from this cockpit is perfectly adequate. This brings up another issue. Since the bike is so aero, there really isn't anywhere to mount a mirror. I've experimented with a helmet mirror, but I am still looking for a better solution.

There is storage space in the hollow chains stays. I will soon be using a bladder for hydration. I fit a couple of spare tubes and basic tools on the other side. Wallet, phone and car keys fit into the integrated storage compartment in the seat.
Now for the good stuff: this bike flies like nothing I've ever ridden. I can cruise easily at 20+ and so far have had the bike up to 27. Acceleration is smooth and once the bike reaches the desired speed, it wants to stay there. The ride is a little bumpy on chip seal pavement (I try avoid it), but nothing to complain about. The bike is best, of course, on smooth, straight roads where you can really unwind it. I like riding the Memorial Park Picnic Loop, but there are so many turns it's hard to get going faster than about 20. Nevertheless, it's exhilarating to lap DF riders.
The riding position is extremely comfortable. It reminds me of lying in bed with my head propped up with a pillow to read a book. My weight is evenly distributed and there is no soreness or aching after an hour in the cockpit. Mounting and dismounting is a bit of an effort for an old, fat man like me, but I'm getting better at it.
The bike is rear wheel drive and there can be some chain rub on the front wheel. This hasn't really been a problem since there is seldom an occasion to deflect the front wheel enough make contact. Perhaps one day John will come up with a front wheel drive version.
Since I broke my femur in January of last year in a fall on wet pavement, I've made it a rule never to ride in the rain. Last weekend I did get caught with Jim on wet road at George Bush Park on the M1. It has drizzled earlier, but was not raining when we started the ride. As soon as we were up to speed I had the impression that it had started raining hard. It was difficult to see with the rain on my shades so I took them off. I had to squint with the rain hitting my face. As soon as I stopped, the rain did too. I thought that odd. As soon as I resumed, so did the rain. It finally occurred to me that the rear wheel was throwing water up over my head and onto my chest. I was making my own rain. That is not to detract from this bike as it is not meant to be ridden in the rain or even used as a road bike for that matter. There's no way I'm going to fool with fenders either. I will just reserve the M1 for great roads and good weather.
The bike rides so low that I've been concerned about being seen by other riders and motorists. For George Bush Park, I've mounted a blinking white strobe for oncoming traffic. For road riding I plan to find a good spot for a tail light.
The bike has a weight limit of 230 pounds and, happily, I'm well below that now.
John has been a dream to work with and very responsive to all my questions and concerns. He's asked that I check both wheels and the frame before every ride and I've done that religiously. No defects found. Both wheels remain perfectly true and the frame is perfect. More than once he has offered a replacement frame if there are any issues at all, but I am pleased to say there haven't been any.
If you're interested in acquiring one of these rocket sleds, contact John at kmorciglio@comcast.nospam (replace nospam with net).
Thanks, John, for an amazing bike!