Softride has a winning narrative. The bikes have four virtues:
1. They are comfortable, by virtue of their suspension.
2. They are also faster by virtue of the suspension, if you believe those who apply reason and science to the problem, and it's the same reasoning that smart people use when making racing automobiles faster.
3. They're more aerodynamic than almost all other bikes, if wind tunnel tests have any validity at allSoftrides always "win" or come very close to winning these tests when they're applied to a wide variety of bikes.
4. These bikes are very adjustable.
That's pretty-much that, right? Why consider anything else? For those who own and ride Softrides, that really is the end of the story. Not only do age-groupers, duffers, MOPers, ride these bikes happily, but so do hard chargers like Jurgen Zack and Ryan Bolton (to name two of many top pros who've ridden Softrides over the years).
The cycling world hasn't accepted Softride's narrative in the main, however, because the bike is just too different. It's not "classical." It's too far afield from how bikes have historically been built. But triathletes have embraced the design, because they don't have a historical prejudice to overcome.
This isn't to say that Softride isn't without its issues. Its design adds weight, and the bike's manufacturer has to work extraordinarily hard to keep the weight of the finished unit comparable to those in its competitive set (it's not hard, however, to make a sub-20 pound Softride these days).
It's also not exactly a snap to adjust the bike. Yes, it's very adjustable, but it's not quite as easy as a rigid bike to adjust, because you're fiddling with the bike in its "unsprung" state in order to achieve a position once loaded down with your body weight. It's not a problem once you've owned the bike for a bit, but there's a learning curve.
Once you decide that you're interested in a Softride there are three questions: which beam, which wheel size, and at what complete bike price?
There is the "classic" beam and frankly, though it is older technology, it is very hard to beat this beam. Lots of people prefer this over the new beam. They're both very good.
You'll want consider the 650c version if you want to be low in frontthe head tubes sit quite a bit lower to the ground. If you're riding shallow, 700c is fine. If you're stuck on getting a 700c version and you want to be low and sleek, you're probably going to need a flat (minus 17-degree) stem, and/or an aero bar with low profile armrests, like VisionTech or Hed (these are the counter-measures which offset the 700c models' taller head tubes).
Slowtwitch reviewed the Rocket TT and we found it a very nice-riding bike. Buying one of these is like getting pregnant: You don't take this step lightly. It's a commitment: financially ($2600 for a Rocket TT frame/fork/beam); and philosophically. It's a commitment toward a particular technology that is more or less unique in the sport. But don't let that scare you. Softride owners are like Libertarians or Zoroastrians: They may be in the minority, but they believe with tenacity.
An entire bike is going to cost you $3500 or as much as $5000 depending on what parts you choose. I've ridden this beam extensively, and I prefer it to the classic beam. But then I've never ridden a classic beam for weeks and months at a time, and you can't blast a long-time user off his classic beam with a keg of dynamite.
Softride makes another frame, the Classic TT, and it's frame/fork/beam MSRP is $1300. The most popular kit that Softride matches with this bike is the "105/Ultegra Aero," and a Classic TT with this kit will sell, built, for about $2300. Do not assume that this is a budget-value Softride. As stated, plenty of Softride owners prefer this designand this beamto the newer Rocket beam. The Rocket design is a bit lighter, but this older beam design offers a plusher ride.
There is no meaningful difference between the Qualifier Road and the Qualifier Aero, except for the front end spec'd with the bike. If you're going to ride shallow get the Road, which comes with road bars and STI shifting. If you want to be steep and low get the Aero, with its pursuit bars, bar-end shifting, and so forth. If you get the Road you'll have to buy a set of aero bars aftermarket. In any case, this complete bike will cost you between $1800 and $2000, and this is a thousand dollars less than it used to cost when this frame first came outthis Qualifier is a great deal.
Softride's road models used to differ from its triathlon models mainly when it came to wheelsize and front-end stack, that is, the road models had 700c wheels versus 650c, and the head tubes terminated higher above the ground than was the case with corresponding tri models in the same size.
Softride makes tri frames in 700c, however, and there is not much difference between these frames and Softride's road frames. Just don't get tripped up by sizing nomenclature. If you're having a difficult time finding (let us say) a Rocket TT7 in size M/L (which corresponds, sez Softride, to 55cm to 58cm sizing), don't fret. Consider a Rocket R1 (the road version) in size L (which corresponds, sez Softride, to 57cm to 59cm sizing). As far as we can tell, these frames are pretty-much identical (and not just in this size, there are road-to-700c-tri crossovers in other sizes).
Don't worry, therefore, about the size of the bike. Softride gives you everything you need to know on its geometry charts, which are the effective top tube at the seat angle you prefer, and the size of the head tube. That, plus the wheelsize, will allow you to pick the frame that fits you best, whether it's the R1, TT, TT7, or whatever Softride frame you're looking at.
This is nice to know, because you might find a price difference between one frame and another (maybe a dealer is doing great with his Softride tri bikes but over-ordered on his Softride road models, or vice versa). When you liberate yourself from road v tri nomenclature and realize that many of these frames are essentially identical to each other you can cut your best deal.
Visit Softride's website for full details.