Wednesday
Sep102014

Smells Like Team Spirit

Last week at CX practice, and again this week, the premise that if you sell cycling related stuff, you need to have a legit team came up. If I call our team anything but incredibly legit certain people would take serious umbrage, but a team of mostly cat 3s who race an average of about 8x/season isn't exactly feeding the ProTour ranks. We do have seriously pretty costumes, though. 

Let's look at a couple of different scenarios. First and most regular is the "discount in exchange for logos on a club team's jerseys" model. This is ostensibly to drive awareness, and to get people from race teams onto your gear. I haven't been on all that many teams but typically you get a pretty small buy-in rate since unless you give people gear, they're going to use what they already have, or find something less expensive, or whatever. So then you have your logo all over a uniform and some people on the gear. To us, that's worse than having not having logo on uniform. To alleviate that, you might just GIVE gear to a team. But then you are giving gear to amateurs and seriously has anyone ever gotten any ROI out of that?

So then move up a step to a regional elite team. These pitch to us all the time. Let's say there are 10 riders on the team, and if this is going to work for you at all they need to be on your gear every minute they are on their bikes. That means at the very least a set of race wheels and training wheels for each rider, plus a few spare sets because accidents and flats happen. If you're going to do anything with that, you have to build a bunch of media around it (the job you want done is beyond the team's means to get done), so you're investing a bunch of time and cash into that. In our case, say we're into it for 25 sets of wheels plus some bare bones media, plus our time. Without giving too much away we've got to sell, at the absolute very least, 80 incremental sets of wheels that would otherwise not have come in in order to come out even. And so all of that time that you've spent on the team, plus all the time and opportunity cost and working capital to sell those 90 sets just digging yourself out of the hole. Are you going to be able to make that work? Has any 10 person regional team ever been solely and directly accountable for selling 80 sets of wheels? 

Then you could go big time, and sponsor a Pro Continental team or something like that. The math doesn't change at all with these, it just gets a lot bigger. Your media needs to be bigger, your bequest of product needs to be bigger, and of course the time, effort, and cost of digging yourself back into the black gets bigger. If this causes you to tip and really go big, that's great. But if there's one guy who I'd support as a team director, it's Michael Creed. His team has been punching many many classes above its weight all year, but has their wheel sponsor tipped? Do they seem like they're about to? To me they don't.

To us, a Cat 1 or Cat 2 who pays full price to buy a set of wheels from us (and if you see a Cat 1 or Cat 2 on our wheels, they bought them just the same as you did or would) will always mean a heck of a lot more than a pro who got wheels for free. And quite honestly the Cat 4 or Cat 6 who makes a buying decision with his/her own money carries a lot more water to us than a Cat anything who's riding free wheels.  

When in this conversation I was asked what the big things I've learned in running the business are, I responded with a two-pronged thing: that you ALWAYS have to make money, which is to say that starting off losing a ton of money isn't the way to make money (see also NASDAQ ca 1999), and that you must be willing to make money slowly. When you are new and small, that kind of growth feels like you aren't getting anywhere at all, but like the miracle of compound interest, once you get a little leverage it starts to feel like something very, very real. There are a LOT of people who are probably amazed that we're still around, but tho only hurry were in is to do things the way we set out to do them, and that's provided us with a very stable framework. 

 

 

 

Thursday
Sep042014

#nextnovember

Those dedicated Twitter followers among you may have noticed some recent conversations that Mike and I have been having on Twitter about our next products. The bizarre thing is that we're having this conversation with each other, fully in public view. Part of it is gimmick, for sure, but far more of it is that we want to inspire conversation among the people who aactually might buy the things - whatever they are. The conversations happen whenever, but following the #nextnovember hash tag will let you see it all.

You're looking at my bum, you bum looker

It should come as no surprise that Mike and I are big Malcolm Gladwell fans, and given the lessons on offer in this TED talk he gave, he might be smacking his prodigious forehead and pulling out his trademark hair in frustration over what we're doing. Ask 1,000 cyclists what one product they want and they'll give you 1,500 different responses with only two things in common - that it be anti-gravity and cheaper than air. Great companies have lately been defined as giving the market those products that the market craves, before anyone in the market knows they want them, but which everyone soon realizes they can't imagine life without.

Predictably, a few of the first inputs have been for specific things with specific parameters. A great thing about this is that it allows us to discuss how various things will affect other things. For example, people generally think that disc brake rims will be great gobs lighter than rim brake rims, and cite what happened to mountain bike rim weights with the advent of discs. Which is valid but the structure needed to clinch a mountain bike tire on at 27psi (or even 40psi) is worlds different than what you need to keep a road tire on at 120 (including a huge buffer zone for safety). Add in the tubeless parameter and your bead seat needs to be strong as HAYell. There are savings to be had, but just as an example a Stan's Iron Cross rim (which I currently use on my CX bike) reliably weighs 385 grams while their new Grail, which is a little deeper, weighs 460 grams per the Stan's website. Stan's are pretty good (some of their stated weights are a bit hopeful) about published rim weights. The Grail is a bit wider outside, but the bead seat width is only .5mm wider on the Grail than the Iron Cross. The extra meat on the outside of the rim makes the Grail a full road-pressure-capable rim, where the Iron Cross tops out at 45psi. 

The conversation is definitely meant to be multi-directional, though. Different perspectives lead us down roads (or gravel paths, as it were) that we might otherwise miss, and sometimes noble ignorance (ignorance being decidedly not a pejorative descriptor there) makes us turn around and question the status quo. 

The key thing for all of this is to get a clearer picture of what the mass of people want. We have some info we can't yet release (an event that will take place in mailboxes and on newsstands in November will reveal more) that flavors our perspective, and our own testing, experience, and desires also inform us. At the end of it all, we have and likely always will see ourselves principally as editors, and this conversation amounts to background research and a rough draft which we will edit into the #nextnovember.

A final note - comments on here and on Facebook or wherever are of course welcome, but the experience will be so much richer if the conversation takes place on Twitter around the hash tag.

Thursday
Aug282014

The World's Most Expensive Suffix

Another company has come along claiming to be "the world's fastest wheels." It strikes me that "-est" must be the three most expensive letters in the English language.  

We've done a good fair bit of testing, and in doing a lot of testing, you learn a lot. To the good, you learn a lot about what makes your products good, and you learn how you might make them better. You learn how your products compare to others, which increases your ability to help people match a product to their intended usage. Like the torture that was Stanley Kaplan's SAT test-prep course, testing also teaches you how to test better.  

There is some expensive, but low-hanging fruit out there.  If you test your wheels with a whole range of tires, there's bound to be one that gives you an edge relative to the others.  If you are close enough in the first place, that might nudge you over the edge and make you "fastest." Doing this kind of testing is like lighting $100 bills on fire, which eventually the customer (or the bankruptcy) will pay for, and it doesn't actually make your wheels any better, but when you NEED to show the magical "-est," I guess it sounds like a smart spend.  

If you want to do the same with wheels-in-bike testing, that's also expensive but easy. Ever wonder why the copy says "these wheels were the fastest in the test on bike x" but the picture shows said wheels in bike y? Because they tested bike u, v, w, x, y, and z in order to find the one case in which the "-est" bell rang in their favor.  

You can also do some pernicious things, like this "removing the tare" thing that some wheel companies do.  When you test a wheel in a tunnel, something needs to hold that wheel in place. Some companies (oddly enough, there seems to be a correlation between companies claiming "-est" and this technique) run the support struts independently, and then simply subtract that drag from the figures their wheels test at. To use the simplest analogy that I can come up with, this is like saying that if you have an anemometer directly upwind of a brick wall, and another directly downwind of a brick wall, that the sum of their readings is what an anemometer would read in the absence of the brick wall. But set my analogy aside and use the analogy of the wind tunnel (A2) at which we've done our testing - "we don't consider removing tare to be correct protocol." Wait, that's not an analogy, that's a direct statement.  Sorry.  And it's not standard industry practice, either.   

Then you have the simple things.  When we tested 52 versus 404, we used a tube with an 80mm valve stem.  If we wanted to optimize our drag readings for public consumption and comparison, we'd use a short stem and inflate the tires using an extender, then tape over the hole.  The 6mm of extra valve stem that pokes out of a 52 versus a 404 may not amount to the difference that lets us claim "-est," but it's fairly likely that we're the only ones leaving that freebie on the table. Why do we do it the way we do it? Because that's the way people do it when they ride.  

The other challenges of "-est" are more subtle but perhaps more costly in the long run. If you play tricks, they're going to come around and bite you in the ass sometime, somehow. Mike and I put a lot of stock in what we've said in this and other channels, and there's nothing we'd ever have to backtrack and try to "unsay." We would hope that if you read the blog from post 1 to this one that you would see a ton of development, consideration, reconsideration, and incorporation, but no vast right wing conspiracy could justifiably call us flip-floppers on anything. Everything we write is as honest as it can be when it's written, there's no trickery at all whatsoever.  

The other, HUGE cost of "-est" is what do you do when it's gone?  You put yourself on the hot seat, and then someone knocks you off.  Your whole story had been "-est" - what's your story now? We like to think that being really really good at everything means a heck of a lot more than being "-est" at anything.  

Friday
Aug222014

Tire Size Reëxamined

Like that umlaut? The Economist does it, so I figure it's probably correct.  Anyhoo... all of this hoo-ha about tire sizes and inflation and tire size versus aerodynamic speed has had us thinking about this quite a little bit lately.  

Step 1 was to to further examine the effects of tire size on aerodynamics.  Ideally, we would have been able to naturally (i.e. without artificially manipulating bead seat width) set two of the same model of tires up to the same inflated dimensions on wheels with different bead seat widths, to test the slope that we'd earlier established that had the 404 and 52 leap frogging each other at inflated width. The 52 with a 23 is, inflated size-wise, a bit smaller than a 404 with a 25 and moreso bigger than a 404 with a 23.  It is a little closer in speed to a 404 with a 23.  What would happen if you put the same tire inflated to the exact same dimensions on a 404 and a 52?  Unfortunately, that's an unanswerable question, but we were able to test a good approximation.  

Continental makes the Attack 22.  It's a different tire than the 4000s II, but its inflated dimension on a 52 closely replicates the inflated size of the 404 with a 4000s II 23 - the Attack 22 on a Rail is .2mm narrower than the GP4000s II on a 404, and about .6mm shorter than the GP4000s II on the 404.  There are tread differences, which are known to influence aerodynamic speed, but net of everything it's the closest we could get to being able to measure exactly what we wanted to.  This was part of a totally separate trip, primarily to do some totally different testing which we can't yet talk about, and we shoe-horned this bit in.  We ran the 52 first with the GP4000s II, and then with the Attack 22.  With this testing reaching the point of diminishing returns and threatening to turn into a bottomless money pit, we kept it to just the two runs.  Since we don't directly compare different tests from different days, we used the Rail 52 with 23mm GP4000s II as the baseline, rather than the Pacenti SL23 which was the baseline for the other round of tests.  Semantics, we know, but it counts.  

 

 

As predicted, the narrower tire gains some speed.  Whether it's the same speed gain we'd get from the theoretical GP4000s II that set up to the same dimension that the Attack 22 set up to, we can't say.  We're getting well into the realm of splitting hairs here.  

So now, the million dollar question: which tires should you be using?  We've now examined the relationship between inflated dimensions and effective pressure, and the relationship between aerodynamic speed and tire dimension, and the fact that people don't want to ride around on the road at 60psi, and a few things show up.  The first is that you should ride the tires that you like, at the pressure that you like.  There's no "right answer."  That said, it seems to make little sense that a 110 pound triathlete should choose a 25, on which she'd have to knock the pressure down pretty low to get a smooth ride (also taking into account the rims on which she's mounting them), when she could instead get more aerodynamic speed, better protection against pinch flats, and a comfortable and secure ride on a 22.  Conversely, a 200 pound guy doing performance recreational rides - group rides, gran fondos, etc - on beat up roads can choose a bigger tire to advance his priorities.  

Varying tire size, type, and inflation pressure gives you an array of tools to tailor what's between you and the road more specifically to your priorities.  Rather than try and drill down into making you feel as though there's a specific answer of what, how much, and how wide, what we've tried to do is to give you the tools and information to help you discover your own perfect ride.  

Tuesday
Aug192014

Steady as she goes redux

We knew that yesterday's blog would have some birthing pains, simply thanks to the new-ness of the data we presented, the lack of a vocabulary and nomenclature around it, and the simple lack of history around it.It hadn't gone through the crucible.  Everyone's familiar with seconds saved in 40k TT, but the quantitative measurement of the off-axis forces acting on a wheel is new stuff.  Heck, we've barely just settled on using "bead seat width" for the measurement of the distance between brake tracks inside a rim.  

Anyway, we had one bobble in how we ranked stuff, which knocked the alloys down off their rightful spot in the hierarchy.  If you take the wheel in isolation, having the Center of Pressure (CoP, think of it as the location of the push from a cross wind) ON the hub axis is ideal.  When you put the wheel on a bike, it's not.  The steering axis, which is the actual line on which your front wheel pivots, is behind the hub.  This is where we get into headtube angle and fork offset and trail dimension, but at the end of a long road somewhere around 4.3cm is a good number.  That simple change made the sniff test go from "something's funny" to "yeah, that seems about right."

The alloy-rimmed wheels are the only wheels which put the Center of Pressure (which I will inevitably call Center of Effort somewhere around 1000 times, because that's what it's called in naval architecture) behind the hub, in it's ideal place.  Why exactly that's the case is a subject we will leave alone for now.  So instead of using the hub axis as our zero point, we are using -4.3 as the zero point.  That is to say that a pressure that is centered 4.3cm behind the hub will exert no steering torque on your bike.  Any center of pressure behind that will turn the front of your wheel into the wind, any center of pressure ahead of that will turn your wheel away from the wind.  

 

We also had represented the Center of Pressure and CdA (coefficient of drag) both as separate and related values.  For the time being at least, it probably gets this conversation further down the track to emphasize their separate values, as we have on our shiny new graph.  

The emphasis falls more squarely on CoP for now.  Combining the two, with the steering axis correction, does nothing but flipflop the relative position of Rail 52 and 34.  

All told, this is a more correct, cleaner, more easily understood and digested presentation of the data, and a better starting point to the conversation than yesterday's.  

A couple of quick notes:

1. Zero yaw points are excluded.  The measurement formula doesn't work at zero because the formula math doesn't work with a zero in it, and at zero yaw there is no crosswind anyway.  The values for zero are all over the place, and we were told straight away to remove them (which we had done yesterday)

2. As with yesterday's graph, this is weighted per Tour Magazine's yaw-oocurence weighting for 25mph bike speed.  That may or may not be ideal.  The differences narrow down a little bit at wider yaw angles which are more represented at lower bike speeds.

3. These are all measured with 23mm tires.  Putting 25mm tires on does change things a little, but that's a jar we aren't opening for now.  

4. At the end of it all, there is precious little context around this.  How much of an actual "on the road" difference in handling is represented by the gap from worst to first?  There is just not the landscape to put that gap into context.  Where this group of wheels fits into the overall picture is unknown.  

5. The CDA figures (which are measured in m^2) have all been multiplied by 100.  This changes nothing in their relative ordering or the magnitude of the differences between them, it is a facility to make the chart easier to present.  

Soon enough, we will all have a common language and ease with this stuff.   Until then...