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Execute or Die

Apologies to the slogan I'm blatantly paraphrasing here, and to clarify, no this isn't a double entendre suggesting "kill or be killed." Kill or be killed happens in the first lap of a cross race, to be sure, but it's not a concept that's generally on our corporate to-do list. 

So much emphasis is placed on "new and improved" and innovation in the bike business. There could be a million reasons behind this, but generally splash sells. Put a lion on it, make it high-viz, make it wider, make it lighter, call yourself an engineer when you're not, hash tag it with #whateverdoping, pay some pros to endorse it, get a pile of brand ambassadors to spread the word, and off to the races. Sometimes that works, but way too often it's a DNF on the card.

This isn't to say that there's not cool stuff going on in the wide wide world of sports. The new Enve carbon hubs take a lot of flack for their price point, but I think they're interesting. The price is high, but there are people who will pay it. In the end, it's a super light version of a DT180 with improved flange geometry (the critical liability in DT road hubs) from a company that generally executes quite well.  

Zipp also has a new hub product out, in their new 808 NSW wheels. Zipp's carried a lot of water in the journey towards better aerodynamics and carbon wheels that can thrive in northern Classics (credit where due), but as a hub innovator they've not done as well. New graphics make the podium as a selling feature of the new wheels, though. 

VeloNews just panned the Stan's Grail wheels which come on the Cannondale SuperX, which certainly got my attention. We've built a ton of Grail-based builds and I use them all the time myself, and have not only not had the impression that the VN team got, we've experienced the opposite, both firsthand and through a ton of customer experiences. Our builds are meaningfully different from the wheels that come on the SuperX, with much different (I'm just going to come right out and say "way better") hubs and heavier gauge spokes, and of course we also offer spoke counts beyond the stock 24/24 delivered there. Sort of kind of also have to question how they can parse out that flexy wheels make a hash of things on a bike that tracks surely wherever you point it, but that's just healthy skepticism coming through.

In contrast to all of this, we're painfully boring. We're a small company that recognizes what we can do well, and what's beyond us. We can't innovate a new hub design and properly test it, but we have managed to value engineer the process of two of the most attractive hub sets on the market in order to be able to sell very affordable ultra premium builds. We're good enough at riding bikes and testing stuff to figure things out, although I'm apparently not good enough at CX to avoid getting lapped by Ryan Trebon on the last lap (hereinafter to be referred to as "being TreBONED"), and where we need help on that, we get it. We can't innovate seven new rims every year or three (one every couple of years is about our limit) but we can take a proven design and process improve it in order to make it slightly better every year while lowering the price in real terms. We can stay on top of what's available in the alloy market in order to offer the best of what's around in well-executed and reasonable builds, and also give you uniquely informative insight into using the equipment in question.

We can't do everything. We don't blow up the instagram with outrageously awesome pics all the time, media and the rest of the industry ignore us completely (with which we really couldn't be more at peace), we're just way more LL Bean than haute couture. Which means doing what we can do as well as we can do it, which hopefully means doing it fairly close to as well as it can be done, and quickly and completely making it right on the rare occasions when something gets sideways. 


Encourage Healthy Skepticism

"No one likes a tattle tale!" The world tells us this so early, so often, and so strongly that conformity is inevitable. The corrolary to this works out to something like "be quiet and accept what's going on," which is unfortunate. 

I recently bought a Jetta TDI wagon, so the VW diesel doping news is on my mind a bit. I've also long marvelled at Jack Welch and his book-cooks at GE, and countless other instances of malfeasance. For whatever reason, these interest me. Particularly, I've lately become fascinated in how the world suspends disbelief that the number one reason for spectacular outlier performance is, you know, fraud (see also: Armstrong, L.).

We've played the role of tattle tale on several occasions, and it's always wound up being a bit of a fiasco for us - we're all conditioned to dislike tattle tales. But don't tattle tales play a necessary role? I'm speaking from complete ignorance here, but I can't believe that Mercedes and Peugeot and whomever else were just sitting there saying "well, kudos to the fine gentlefolk over at VW, they sure do come up with fine engineering solutions to the conflicting needs of high performance and clean emissions!" No chance. They're either afraid of being "sore losers" and calling BS where they're in a unique position to see it, or they're ignorant, or they're in on the game and just not as good at playing it. That last one sounds a lot like our old friend the level playing field, doesn't it?

Consumers aren't usually in the position to have the knowledge to see BS where it exists. If a company comes out with a 30mm deep alloy wheel that shows wind tunnel figures on par with a 58mm deep 404, that's a breakthrough. You're not expected to get past the headlines where said company is willfully encouraging belief that their wheel is that fast, or ferret out the fine print that shows how things aren't actually as they are being willfully shown. If a new part comes out that's 25% lighter than anything else in its category, you're not supposed to have the knee-jerk response that it's too light to do what it's supposed to do given the properties of the materials that are used in it. Fancy acronyms do a pretty good job of leading people to believe that physics and materials science are more "guidelines" than "iron-clad rules." 

The people who are in this position are the others in the supplier market. It's in your best interest when they encourage skepticism. I'm not saying that innovation is dead, and the better mousetraps never come along. But if someone in a good position to cast doubt over a claim does so, at least evaluate the counter arguments and see if they have any merit. It might be chicken little or a "you kids get off my lawn we were all better off with downtube friction shifters," but it might be Christophe Bassons telling you quite accurately that nothing you're seeing is what it appears to be.  



Cross Holy Week Update 

Well #cxishere with a freaking vengeance, with over 350 people turning out on a Wednesday night for The Midnight Ride of Cyclocross. The irony of the excellent pre-event clinic at this race being taught by the exceptionally British Helen Wyman wasn't lost on me, but as she told me "ahh, it's no biggie, we were going to give it to you anyway."

Conditions were dry. Dry over dry, with a side order of dry. Course terrain consists of road, light gravel, lots of grass, some super fine silty dusty dirt, and sand. While there isn't much elevation gain, there's quite a bit of off camber riding, and plenty of roots and big-ish divots. 

I raced the 2/3/4 at 6pm, while Mike raced the P1/2/3 at 8pm. My wheel setup was a Grail rim in the front and an SL25 in the rear (seriously, they're very similar), with a Vittoria EVO XG tubeless (which is the Grifo tread) in the front and a Hutchinson Black Mamba tubeless in back. Front tire was at 24, rear was 26, which was 1 psi over what I'd initially set them up at but Mike checked my setup and got me nervous so I put a tad more pressure in. My pit wheels were the inverse rims (Grail rear, SL25 front) with Hutchinson Toro tubeless. Mike used FMB SSCs on his 30mm carbon tubulars at "22/24-ish psi," with tubeless Mud Wrestlers on SL25s in the pit. 

From the start, my setup felt super fast. Let's face it I'm not the most aggressive bike handler on a cx course (watch your leg crack in half one time and it will probably slow you down a bit, too), but on the straight paths I felt fast as greased owl shit, and in the turny sections I was less bad than I might have been with less effective tire setup. My notes are simple - let it run more in corners, stop being such a chicken, and beat a heck of a lot more people. Super confidence in the tires is helping that, but as it was I rode the course within a few seconds of Helen Wyman's time on course (imperfect comparison, I know this), so it's not crazy awful. 

FMB SSC tread

Mike's FMB's aren't too dissimilar to the Grifo-esque selection I made, and he had a great start (which I very blurrily captured on Instagram) but unfortunately got crashed out of the lead group in the first lap and spent the rest of the race battling back to 7th. With a little more pressure in the tires than optimal in an effort to not flat expensive and sometimes difficult to get tubulars right before two of the year's most important race weekends, Mike felt fast and smooth, but feels like he needs to take pressure off himself in order to stop making the silly mistakes that are keeping him off the top of the box. Funny how perspective changes when you're actually good, as with all of this he still managed to beat (edit - unfortunate original typo said "be a...") a current and a past Canadian national champion. 

Okay, the "Sorry, We're Closed" sign is just about to go on the door for the weekend as we head off to the Craft Gloucester Gran Prix. Forecast is for just as much dust, so I know I'm headed for precisely the same setup. We'll see what Mike chooses tomorrow. 

If you're headed there, come see us, our tent is in club row. 


No Bro

We almost made it to Interbike, honest. Had the credentials all set, pored over the exhibitor lists to pre-arrange a planned surgical strike of get there-see there-get the hell out of there that accommodated seeing Cross Vegas. A couple of positive developments made it unnecessary to go, though. Eurobike is really where you need to go for sourcing missions anyhow, and since a penny saved is a penny earned we bailed. Which means that we didn't get any of these awesome (yes, that was a sarcastic awesome) socks that were included in each attendee bag.

Image stolen from the InternetLet me start out by saying that neither Mike nor I are women, have never been, and unless he's keeping something secret, neither of us has plans to become one. So we're part of the problem in that, even though my sister-in-law does some part time work for us, our business really is the same-old-same-old owned and run by dudes bike thing. Not being women, this is also more of an example of the bike industry's continued refusal to grow up, rather than our fight. It would be a misappropriation for us to claim first person rage over this, if that makes any sense. 

Some knuckle-dragging mouth-breather out there is reading this right now, thinking okay great those fun sponges (I remembered it! We got called that on some forum a long time ago, one of those "wear it as a badge of honor" deals) at November are at it again, with enough self-righteousness for the whole room. Great.

Study the bike industry classifieds for an hour sometime. You can see them here and here, among other places. Universal requirement? Significant industry experience. I emphasized industry, because as far as the bike industry goes, you're either in it or not. It implies knowing and subscribing to the great and mighty "how things are done." Mike and I very studiously consider ourselves not to be in it, as we spend most of every day trying to disrupt "how things are done." 

And why wouldn't you reject "how things are done"? Shove a bunch of inventory onto dealers and then, on the first week in July, when customers are REALLY streaming into shops, obsolete all of that inventory with tech launches at le Tour. That's how it's done. Mark things with the lowest plausible weight that one of them might ever have come in at, knowing that the real product is heavier, but also knowing that few if any people will ever weigh what they get. That's how it's done. Protect "empty calorie" distribution systems that keep insiders rolling along but raise prices and create confusion in the marketplace? How it's done. And, probably our favorite, have standard prices so elevated that people think only idiots pay asking price and are sure that there's some "behind the curtain" price and everybody selling bike stuff is just screwing the public blind. That's how it's done! The "bro deal," in all its many forms, is the bike industry's ultimate tell that it's really not about growing the sport or reaching out to marginally engaged people with inclusion - no, it's about making sure those on the inside have a velvet rope so they can feel special.  

I nearly wept with joy the other day when this thread got to the thesis that our Nimbus Ti Alloy and Nimbus Ti CLD pricing is a bro deal for everyone. Which it is. If we had a proper CFO, she (see what I did there?) would absolutely neck punch us for how we've priced those builds - DECIDEDLY NOT "how it's done." Still people ask us if there's a better price, because they're trained to. We HATE IT when people do it, because it takes a serious suspension of disbelief to think that a better price is there for the asking, but we understand where it comes from. Incidentally, no one who asks for a better price ever buys. It's a though having a better price just for them is more important than having a way better best price for everyone. Which we think is precisely the psychology behind that dynamic. 

So, yeah, the socks are offensive as hell to women, but they're just what's to be expected of an industry where acronyms pass for innovation, retread leadership rides the merry-go-round, and anything that threatens the great "how things are done" is shunned. 


Tubeless Testing Summary Report

Tubeless has been the standard for most active mountain bikers for a bunch of years, and it’s been an increasingly viable option on road for a while. In cross, the adoption hasn’t been as smooth. A new crop of tires and rims has held promise that 2015 would be the year that tubeless became a viable option for cross. Since we’re inveterate testing nerds, we needed to see for ourselves if it was ready for prime time. Here’s what we learned.

But first! a two second primer on tubeless. You need to prep your rims to make them airtight. Ours come sealed with tape, so there’s nothing left to do there. Beyond that, you’ll need tubeless valve stems and sealant. There’s nothing fancy or complicated about either. You can buy valves or even make them out of old punctured tubes (just cut the stem out, but it has to be threaded and you need the nut), and there are several brands of sealant that work just fine.  

You're gonna need to getcha some of these

Testers were Michael Wissell of the Cuppow/Geekhouse/B2C2 CX Team, who’s really really good at cross, and me (Dave). I kind of suck at cross but love it so long as there isn’t much running or getting off the bike of any sort involved.  Neither of us is too heavy, I'm the fattie of the pair at a fighting 160 pounds. Most testing occurred on disc brake bikes, on Stan’s Grail and Pacenti SL25 rims.  Pacenti SL23 (rim brake) rims were also tested. The inner shape of the SL23 and the SL25 are indistinguishable, and the Grail is also very similar.

Testing protocol was basically “throw whatever hatred and evil you’ve got at the things, and see how they do.” This included terrain which no cx bike should ever see, as well as terrain that every cx bike should see, cobbled roads, drop offs, roots, rock gardens – you name it. All tests were done with sealant (either Stan’s or Orange Seal, both of which work well), and two wraps of the tape we supply on alloy rims (TESA 4289, if you want to go get some).

Partial class picture

A successful test means that we unreservedly recommend the tire for use at low psi, with little to no risk of burping. In general, for us, this meant pressures down to around 22 front, 25 rear. Security of tire/rim interface was the overwhelming consideration in these tests. Any tire’s success in that measure doesn’t mean that either of us particularly like or plan to use it, merely that if you like that tire, feel free to use it because the shit works. Well.

If a tire is not specifically listed here, it means we haven’t tested it. These results are only applicable to the rims on which we tested. Success of any partial combo should not be assumed, nor should it be assumed that a tire we found not to work with our rims is a flop. It may work great on some other rim(s).

We’ve included some notes on each tire.  Enjoy. 

Tires We Don’t Recommend:

Challenge, Clement clinchers (can’t wait until they come out with tubeless), Kenda non-tubeless, Kenda tubeless (these probably work great on some rims, and the Stan’s CX team uses and endorses these, so YMMV), Schwalbe non-tubeless (these didn’t even inflate)

Tires We Recommend:

Hutchinson Black Mamba Tubeless 34 Weight: 348g Inflated width: 33.75. A file tread-ish tire with side knobs that seems to like grass more than a lot of other file treads. Probably great in frozen conditions, which we fortunately haven’t yet gotten to try. Seats with a loud bang. Comparable to Clement LAS, Challenge Chicane, Kenda Happy Medium

Hutchinson Toro Tubeless 32 Weight: 330 Inflated width: 32. Dave’s favorite all-rounder, Mike likes it but not as much. It may be a better tire for less aggressive riders, giving less of a loose and fast feel, with a more defined and secure traction limit. Works great on hard, loose over hard, hero dirt, slight mud, and short grass. Miserable in sand and loose dirt. Soap the beads when installing to ensure easy bead seating. Seats with a loud bang.  Comparable to most of the mtb tires that Dave likes – not a traditional cx tread.

Maxxis Mud Wrestler EXO TR 33 Weight: 362 Inflated width: 33. Mike’s favorite all-rounder, which he finds works well on everything but deeper sand.  Looks a light beer version of a mud tire, but not a top choice for really muddy conditions – it will pack up with gloppy mud. Can be hesitant to inflate with pump, but it can be done reliably. A compressor inflates it instantly. Comparable to a Clement PDX or Challenge Baby Limus.

Vittoria Cross XG Pro TNT 31 Weight: 390 Inflated Width: 32 This is a Grifo. The sidewalls are quite stiff, but run at low pressures (22 is fine in the front), it feels not as good as a tubular but WAY better than a clincher at the pressure you’d need to not pinch flat. This is the most secure tire/rim lock I’ve ever seen. I don’t think it would burp at 15psi. It’s fairly heavy, though. Comparable to a Grifo, which it is, and as such it’s just about as good a grass tire as you’ll find.

WTB Cross Boss TCS Light 35 Weight: 410 Inflated width: 36.75. This thing is HUGE. If you use this, people will comment on the width. Inflates instantly, seats with a soft bang.  I repeat, this thing is HUGE. Lower profile and more tightly spaced knobs than the Toro, with basically no side knobs – the tread pattern doesn’t overhang the sidewalls at all. Works well with insanely low pressure, and turns you into a hero in gravelly turns.  

Plus size model

Despite what we’ve said about inapplicability of these results to any tire not tested, we feel comfortable that the Vittoria TNT and Hutchinson Tubeless series tires not tested would have similar tubeless performance.

Weight and inflated width are both measured brand new out of the box, with pressure set to 30psi. All tires have become at least slightly wider over time.

So there you have it. As many many many people have pointed out to me in the last weeks and months, tubeless doesn’t feel as good as an FMB tubular, but when was the last time you were able to switch your FMB tubulars to a different tread on the same wheel after your last pre-ride? They’re not for everyone and every purpose, but for what they’re good at, they’re great.