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Reviewed: Pinarello Dogma Carbon

When you were a kid, did you save up for one authentically nice part for your tank-of-a-bike? Maybe you had a Panasonic with a motley mix of Shimano 105 and 600 components, but you were most proud of your Campagnolo seat binder bolt. Perhaps you make up for your early deprivation by buying the highest quality available now.

Pinarello Dogma CarbonWith the Dogma Carbon, Pinarello got back into the game of sponsoring more than one ProTour team. Caisse d’Epargne and Team Sky are both making use of the Dogma’s asymmetrical design. And even though Caisse won’t be around come the 2011 season, we’d wager another ProTour team will take up the slack. Though Pinarello’s name value can certainly handle a few seasons without multiple top teams riding their bikes, the Pinarello seems to appreciate both the market influence and influx of feedback that sponsoring a proper professional team provides.

If you’ve heard anything at all about the Dogma, you probably know that it’s the first totally asymmetrically designed frame in the business. The design is more than a question of a little bit more material here or there — in the way that Pinarello Dogma Carbonthey used hydro-forming several years ago on their Paris frames — but rather the shapes of the tubes have been made to deal with the differing stresses each withstands. The idea behind these variations is that the drive train side must endure greater forces placed on it while the non-drive train side will be more likely to deal with slightly subsiding pressures. So how does it feel?

Apart from an initial rumble around the Treviso cobbles outside the Pinarello shop, the first real ride we took this beauty on was over the chip and seal roads of southern France. A newly paved French road is a wonder to behold: fast, grippy and smooth. However, the majority of the roads there are not so blessed. They’re rutted, Pinarello Dogma Carbonrough and jarring, especially after the terrible winter that region suffered last year. Being used to riding on these roads with a not-too-shabby 2005 Pinarello Prince SL, we were super interested tofind out how this high-powered descendant would acquit itself. Is epiphany too strong a word? It was like all the roads had been re-laid with the ideal French tarmac. Though at first were gentle with the bike, not wanting to ruin all the fun with a too-emphatic descent on lousy roads, we soon gained confidence. Whipping it around tight corners on steep descents which were formally roads fit only for vine harvesting tractors will certainly be among our most indelible memories of this frame. The control was never-questioning. Not once did we wonder whether the bike would fail to hold the tight line, and on the one or two occasions when we had to counter-control our line due to the arrival of a maniac French driver going in the opposite direction, the bike responded with lightning fast reflexes.

Pinarello Dogma CarbonThe awe-inspiring rigidity and responsiveness were somewhat expected after we examined the beefiness of the tubing around the bottom bracket and the chain stays. All that special shaping must mean something. It was the unbelievable comfort and vertical compliance which surprised. We didn’t even regret using our normal, spartan saddle. The vibrations barely made it as far as the seatpost with the s-shaped fork and seat stays taking the majority of the shock. Changing locations meant changing wheels, and though all our French rides took place with a trusty pair of Ksyrium SLs, a move back to the States meant that we could slap on our Lightweight Ventoux wheel set and see really how superbly the rig would climb. The bar was already set super high, so we had some trepidation on that first Ventoux-wheeled ride. Of course, since the whole set up, including Campagnolo Super Record, weighed just a breath over 13 pounds or 5.9 kilos, we were pretty certain it would be a fun ride. But would it be noticeably better than all the other great bikes we get to ride?

A popular canyon just north of Boulder, Colorado acted as the proving grounds. Being keen climbers, we were anxious to hammer from the start. This particular climb allows that pretty well by starting out softly, stiffening up, laying back down and then finally churning up the gradient so that we can relive our clearest Tour de France fantasies. At first we were thinking: feels good, feels light, feels snappy, but we need more. Come the first kick up of gradient, and we hammered the pedals, jumped out of the saddle and went as hard as our sea level lungs would take us. Not a whimper from the frame.

Every pedal stroke seemed to be so solid, so tight that there was just no hint of flex, weakness or hesitation. We literally glided up the climb. Up and over the 10% bits near the top, we could look forward to a super sweet, super trafficked descent down the other side. Wanting to squeeze Pinarello Dogma Carbonthe most out of the frame, while still hoping to hold a line that would see us survive to ride another day, we never had one instant of worry that we would be anything but in control and literally faster than the cars. This bike could handle with absolutely no fuss an unexpected need to power-slide on the descent while avoiding running into the erratic back wheel of a cycling companion. In addition to its responsiveness, the ability of the Dogma to absorb vibrations became even more evident after slipping on the super rigid Lightweight wheels. Though we would have expected to lose the magic carpet feel of the ride, there was no such rude awakening; rather the quality of the carbon and the dampening curvature of the fork and seat stays seemed to keep the bike comfy while providing for perfectly immediate handling. The responsiveness of the rig, the snappiness of the wheels, just kept us grounded and ecstatic.

But there is nothing that can bring us down to earth with a thud faster than sticker shock. And the Pinarello Dogma packs a wallop. At $5500 for the frame, fork, headset and seat post, we must admit that you’d better be happy with the package. Since it’s $500 more than the Wilier Cento1 SL and $1500 more than the Cervelo R3SL (though an astounding $4300 less than the new Cervelo R5ca), a certain amount of brand worship may need to figure into your economic decision to buy this frame over some of its competition. Your financial consultant (especially if she is your wife) might recommend that you buy the Cervelo R3SL which offers astonishing value for money. However, if you are in the enviable position of price being no (or practically no) object, we’d still be hard-pressed not to extol the Dogma. And you’ll thank us when you feel how beautifully it marries rigidity with comfort. One other thing that might give you pause, though, is the way other riders will envy and hate you when you pull up to the start line, or alongside at the stop light. You’ll get looks, stares, comments. And you’ll get your ass embarrassingly whipped on any day you are off form because every rider out there will want to rip off your legs. And yes, we have felt the sting of being dropped by a fellow on a much inferior bike. Actually, it was not the Dogma’s fault; it just hurts our ego more on a Dogma.

If the price doesn’t throw you, then the sizing might. Take a long, hard look at the measurements before you commit to one size since Pinarello typically runs fairly large. If you ride a 61cm, the 59.5 should fit you nicely. If you ride a 54cm in a Cervelo, a 53 Pinarello Dogma will probably suit you better than an Italian 54. But where Pinarello excels in the sheer number of choices they provide in sizing. It is practically unheard of for a carbon monocoque frame to come in 11 sizes.