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Thursday
May252017

Mavic Open Pro Exalith and AForce Al33 Ceramic update

According to my phone call with Mavic yesterday, the new Open Pro Exalith (and its disc and machined brake track siblings) will be available in early July. That's great news, and not very surprising given Mavic's size and resources. There's no reason why they should muff a launch, and they haven't. I'd also guess that the product will hit the ground running at full steam, and we're very excited to start building with them. Pricing is stable with what's been announced prior, and though they're expensive rims the process which Mavic calls Exalith (which is at root PEO) is more expensive than the base rim itself. That might seem a big concession to vanity, but when you consider that it's an aesthetic upgrade that also comes with a performance upgrade (even better braking) compared to other much much much more expensive aesthetic upgrades that come with performance downgrades (worse braking and other liabilities) it seems a good trade. 

We're also just about to get another round of 'ceramic' (again, PEO) AForce Al33s so they'll be available in both RFSW3 builds and custom builds. 24/28 is already in stock, but 20/24 is about 10 days away. Given our personal experience with them, plus what others have had to say about them (from an email we got yesterday - "I absolutely love the wheels! Sorry about the late feedback. I have a set of 404 firecrest, some older edge tubbies, a pair of Rolf vigors which I love, but these are becoming my favorite.  Thank you so much!!"), we're extremely impressed with the product that this young company has put together and are proud to have helped them get the word out, and to be so closely associated with them. We're also proud to have helped them in their process, with our brake pad research and feedback leading to their pad product being improved. SwissStop BXPs - the perfect match for these. 

Though we fully expect that the fervor for all black alloys will expand and continue to rage, the machined variants of the all black rims shouldn't get lost in the shuffle. They work exceptionally well, build as nicely as any rims we've used, and look fantastic. It's always telling to see what a wheelbuilder uses on his/her own bike, so have a look at mine.

All dressed up and plenty of places to go

These ah headed down Maine way, yessah!
All tarted up and ready to race
Beyond that, of course, there is a raft of other great options, each with a place. This week has been all about Easton R90SL builds in both rim and disc brake versions. We're always happy when a set of those is next on the list. Super rims that you know will bring an awesome customer experience. 

Final thought for the day is a slight rethink on the value of bladed spokes. Given what we know about the small overall range of aerodynamics among modern well-shaped rims, the 1w difference between bladed and round spokes that we measured a few years ago seems like a relatively better trade now, right? Nothing's changed in the absolute, but when the difference between bladed spokes and round is bigger than the difference between hand built alloy builds that come in well under a grand with the world's best hubs and carbon wheels that cost over two with... hubs, that $60 watt seems pretty cheap. Not that round spokes don't have their place, and I do honestly slightly prefer the look myself, it's just a thing I've been thinking about. 

Monday
May222017

Trench warfare

Zipp just announced a new price point carbon clincher, the 302. It's basically a set of detuned 303s, no dimples, simple hubs (which may be a better thing, given Zipp's hub history) and most importantly surface-applied decals rather than the Impress(tm) graphics found further up the product line. Not tubeless ready, relatively narrow 16.25mm inside width, $1500 MSRP, and 1650g weight for the set. 

photo from Zipp's site

This set arrives squarely at the center of a lot of stuff I've been turning over in my mind lately. For one, Zipp has never achieved lasting success with down-market options. The Flashpoint/S60/whatever that stuff turned into product bit never seemed to gain any traction and was killed off after several iterations. The 101 apparently had some production issues but for whatever reason got buried after a relatively short time. The 30 and 30 Course may have more staying power, I don't know. I think 302s will be a competent product relative to the price point, and will put a ton of pressure on sticker brands. How they cannibalize the rest of Zipp's lineup remains to be seen. 

To put it bluntly, I think the cycling industry is about to go through a serious shakeout. I predict we'll see 3 big brands off the market within 18 months (which ones I don't know, and the definition of "big brand" is malleable). There are too many brands selling too many products that are too specific to incremental use cases, sales channels are obviously in the middle of incredible turmoil, and pricing pressure from below is extraordinary. I don't think that this is a product that Zipp wanted to make, but it is probably one that they thought they needed to make. 

Given what we know about aerodynamic performance of various wheels relative to 303s, which is where Zipp has always claimed their advantage, I simply don't think there's much room left to play in the aerodynamics and technology realm. 302s are probably going to be better at heat management and braking than any carbon clinchers anywhere near their price, which still means they'll be at a big disadvantage to aluminum builds. They'll also have product liability insurance, which you don't get with Chinese rims. Any individual can make his or her own choice on that, but a lot of shops and builders are bringing in rims and selling them to customers without addressing that. To us, that's just unbelievably irresponsible but others don't see it that way.

With $1500 in my pocket that had to be spent on carbon clinchers, would these 302s be my choice? Tough question to answer since the Al33s I'm on now seem to address whatever these might, only at lower weight, with better hubs, better braking, tubeles readiness, no concern whatsoever about heat, equivalent aerodynamics, and half the price. And said Al33s are a pretty extravagant build within our lineup. So I guess I will pass on answering that question. We'll maintain happy detachment from whatever drama this will set off in the market and keep doing what we think is best for you anyhow. 

In news closer to home, the alloy rim market continues to evolve, improving the option set which we're able to offer. The latest announcement here is that HED has made Belgium+ disc rims available in 24h drilling. Not an earth shattering thing, if they are the right rim for you in 24 then they sure weren't the wrong rim for you in 28, but no-downside option increases are a good thing.

And Al33 ceramic rims are getting closer by the minute. Mavic has distributed Open Pro Exalith dealer pricing so every indication is that those are on track. It's a rare day when we aren't just as happy as quahogs to be doing exactly what we are. 

Friday
May192017

The capture principle

Not going to lie, I'm a bit dusty this morning. I helped a friend sort out some issues he'd been having with his bike (squeaks and bearing issues and such) and in return he took me out to an awesome dinner with a bottle or two too many of outstanding wine. Fixing creaks in bike causes Friday morning creaks in mechanic. 

Wheel companies have the choice to either use open market parts or to make their own proprietary parts. There are pros and cons for each. Wheel companies also have the choice to use open market parts and label and sell them as their own, but I can't call that a valid choice. If you're using open market parts, tell people that's what you're doing and, if you can and it's relevant, tell them what those parts are. More on the "why" of that at the end.

For a bunch of reasons including but not limited to our size, the availability of really good rims and hubs out in the world, our desire to offer you a big choice set, and the bicycle industry supply chain's seemingly limitless ability to screw up deliveries, we've decided that open market parts are the road (or cross or gravel or mtb - get it?) for us. Our walled garden consists of a still very broad array of stuff that does a perfect job for a whole ton of uses, and which we love building and selling and using ourselves, but we're not limited at all. 

Great stuff that we make better.

The thing that you forego with this is what I call "capture." This first came up in the wind tunnel trip we did in the summer of '14, where we tested a few open market aluminum rims and inadvertently set ourselves on course to our present perspective regarding carbon clinchers and a lot of other stuff. But while that expensive test was instructive and helpful for us, we weren't the exclusive beneficiaries of it. The number of forum posts and even direct emails we got that made reference to that test being the basis for a purchase decision that wasn't executed through us was something I had to learn to not let drive me insane. 

The other thing is that you can always compare our prices to what you can source those parts for yourself. Unquestionably, the biggest benefit of doing parts that you either source exclusively for yourself or whose identity you hide is that you make this impossible to do. It's like when Best Buy says they'll price match anything, but all of their part numbers are tailored just a tiny bit for them by the manufacturers, so the exact precise model of fridge you're comparing exists only at Best Buy. You could drown in the number of wheel sets that are made with the exact same parts as our FSW3s but cost $250 more, and because the provenance of the parts is hidden, they get away with it. Meantime, what we do sometimes requires going onto forum threads like this one and explaining and justifying how we add pretty profound value to "just building wheels."

I haven't made this point as well as I'd like to (see paragraph 1) but I think you'll get the point. There are actually probably too many good products (as well as bad and pointless ones as well) out there in the bike universe, so adding our own hair-split variant makes no sense. But we still perceive a rather profound overall lack of service, execution and price integrity. We're confident enough to make it plain that we're going to charge whatever amount we do relative to what the parts in any build are available for at retail. Whatever that gap is, we are 100% certain that it will turn out to be an EXCELLENT choice. The builders who need to hide behind obfuscation clearly just don't have the spine to subject themselves to that scrutiny, and wish to maintain their information advantage in order to charge more. It's "smart" I guess, but trying to pull the wool over people's eyes isn't exactly the most customer friendly way to go about things, either. 

Tuesday
May162017

Last fling for colors of spring

If this year's colors of spring promo is any indication, color is back. I can't remember a colors of spring/colors of fall event when black wasn't still the most popular color choice, but this year it wasn't, and it wasn't even close. And now we're sweeping the rug right out from under you.

No, no, just kidding. There's no rug sweeping afoot here. But we will be reverting back to regular pricing on colored hub builds. When you look at it closely, a lot of wheel builders and/or brands are like Hanry Ford - any color you want, so long as it's black. Still more don't offer anything like the full array of colors that are available. And of the ones who do give you the whole Crayola 64 box, few match our quality, service, and price - whether during a colors of promo or not.

It usually takes us a day or so to actually get the site back to normal status, so you've got some time and if you want to get in, get in. But unless we really get distracted (never happ... oh look, a butterfly!) you've got a limited amount of time. 

After a weekend in which I race-ish-ed (what do you call a race that isn't really a race, but people still keep score?) in wool socks, leg warmers, a thermal vest, gloves, a long sleeve AND a short sleeve jersey, plus arm warmers, the mercury's current slide to the upside couldn't come at a better time or be more welcome. Get out and enjoy it. Because inevitably, #cxiscoming before long. 

Monday
May152017

Again with the racing

The November C-suite did a combined grand total of one actual real race last year. Not a proud accomplishment but Mike has kids that are in prime "take up all of your time" years and then smoked his ACL, while I was just sort of burned out and mopey and in absolutely no mood to do the massive amount of 3 and 5 minute intervals required to keep me from embarrassing myself. Lots of riding, but only one race. Mike's injury will probably mean no racing for him again this year, but the time off has done wonders for me and I've got the jones again.

Riding a lot, and racing in particular, makes us better at what we do. Interacting with the gear first hand, cross-pollinating ideas and info with other people, learning what's working well and not so well, it all makes a huge difference. Racing of course puts an extra dollop of stress on the equipment, so it's a good crucible. Plus, going to events and meeting customers is always a lot of fun. 

I ought to know what I'm getting into with these things, but I never do

This Saturday, I did a race that called itself a ride, the Rhodekill Classic. Very fun event, one long loop with way more gravel than I was expecting, infinitely more singletrack than I was expecting, and though the pace and attacking were somewhat muted from what they might have been in a proper race, it was a fast and demanding day on the bike. While many people were on straight up road bikes (myself included - I changed nothing from my normal road setup), there were certainly a lot of cross bikes and that was a fine, fine choice for this route. With two cx national champions and all-around legends in what wound up as a nine person lead group, I put the hammer to my gear. And after it all, despite having to nurse a flattening front tire in for the last several miles, I came away with more confidence in our process than I've ever had. 

So while we don't have a bunch of pro teams out riding our gear (which is really a false assurance anyhow), it is very helpful for us to be able to ride in a way that stresses the gear and teaches us about what it can and can't handle. We don't advocate that only people who ride at some level are capable of doing our job well (it's an advantage, not a prerequisite, and we're not that sweet at riding anyhow), but do we very much do what we need to do to vet our products and processes to ensure that your wheels will do for you everything that we say they will.