Pros: smooths out the bumps on rough roads
high ogle factor - everyone notices your bike
Cons: poor efficiency
steep learning curve
bad behaviour in turns
kaboing, kaboing, kaboing
I read the reviews on the Softride web site, talked to owners that I ran into on long rides, and became interested in trying one for myself. After a few months of keeping an eye on eBay auctions, I finally found a frame set for a reasonable price. Bought it, built it, tried to get used to it. Here are my impressions:
The bike feels completely weird and counter-intuitive at first. I did a few 10 km rides just to try it out and make sure that my building and tuning had worked. I simply couldn't settle down on the frame. I was tense and uncomfortable the whole time. The next thing I found was that it was difficult to fit. You have to estimate how much the beam will deflect under your weight and set the location of the saddle that much higher so that when it sags, you are in the right position - a lot of trial and error involved.
I started using it to commute to work and found it hard to control in tight traffic situations. Steering is quite different. I learned counter-steering (pushing against the right part of the handle bar to turn right) from my days of aggressive motorcycle riding and have applied it successfully to cycling as well - there is no better way to take a corner at speed. Except on a Softride. Push against the handle bar and your beam deflects in the opposite direction. You continue going straight. It is really disconcerting.
Finally, an opportunity came to do a long ride. 130 km around the back end of the Fraser Valley - mostly farm country, smaller communities. Once I settled into a good rhythm on a wide open road things went along much better. (BUT...)
I average 5-6000 km of road riding per year and have been working on my pedal stroke long enough that I know it's not that bad. As long as I kept an even circular movement going the Softride behaved itself. There was a small bounce that never went away, and that I never learned to enjoy, but the bike was usable. The problem came whenever you broke that rhythm. Try cranking it up for a hill, or just picking up speed for a while and the power of your first few strokes goes straight into making the beam bounce, rather than moving the bike forward. The frame is good and stiff when you are out of the saddle, but most aluminum frames are. I have tried a number of longer rides since that time and found that the comfort level never really increased.
I am stripping and selling the frame. (eBay buyers that are interested, please ignore this review!)
On the positive side, there were some rough roads on the longer rides, and the advertized smooth ride is there. The first time you feel a bump with your hands, and then not with your butt is a revelation. Apparently the bike is good for lower back pain in older riders. I am 45 and have found my other (traditional) steel and aluminum bikes to be far more comfortable, simply because they behave normally and I can relax.
The final odd thing about riding a Softride: if you don't have saddle sores and you are riding on a rough road, the beam suspension will help you avoid soreness. However, if you already have some soreness there, you might be used to taking some of the weight off your posterior with your leg muscles to relieve the pressure. This does not work with the Softride because it rises and stays with you when you lift off a bit. This actually makes matters worse. You have to get right out of the saddle to get relief.