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Tuesday
Aug282012

Euro- and Interbike Predictions

It's the most wonderful time of the year, for cyclists as well as parents. Eurobike kicks off this week in Germany, with Interbike following three weeks later in Vegas. Both shows are principally designed for brands to show off their shiny and news to the dealer network, though of course the press generated at both events serves to help pull products through the retail channel as much as retail placement pushes stuff through. And since almost everything we see there is at the tail end of a 9-18 month production cycle, there is no clearer harbinger of what will be big (whether through supply or demand) in the market this year. 

From our corner of the cycling world - dealing principally with our own merchandise and not 5000 SKUs from hundreds of different brands - we don't get too much insight into what's coming down the pike. But it's fun to guess, isn't it? Here is what I think we'll see this year:

1. Wireless and other Di2 adaptations: Shimano obviously has a number of future iterations of Di2 planned. Some were surprised when they rolled out electronic shifting in their internally geared Alfine hub in March, instead of letting it trickle into 105 instead. It was argued that this brings the price point down and introduces masses to electronic shifting. But the Alfine hub used by commuters and recreational riders - less concerned with performance than simplicity - signals to me a future of automatic transmission in bicycles. Look for a computerized control that automatically maintains a given cadence range, possibly including an inclinometer that detects when you're on a hill and adjusts cadence appropriately. 

That's a feature that's irrelevant to us and our customers of course, but it does point to a future vision that I think Shimano has for Di2. The major deveopment that we will see is wireless shifters. Not only does this make them easy to port from the drops for crit days, to the tops on climbing days, and even on clip-ons for TT days; it also opens up accessory integration. Why dot your bars with electronic shift buttons when you can buy a pair of gloves with the buttons already integrated at the finger tips, and a transmitter sewn into the cuff so that it's no more noticeable than a wristwatch? Press anyplace with one finger to shift up, or another to shift down. 

2. Real-Time Strava Apps: Part of the fun of Strava (and now MapMyRide) is getting home, syncing your Garmin and comparing the day's feats of strength to the leaderboards on the segments you rode. If it's a regular ride, you may have known where the segments were and really gone for it. But how often do you realize you rode one pretty well, not even knowing it was a segment at the time? I think we're soon going to see some 2-way communication on devices used for Strava. The device knows where you are and communicates with Strava, and Strava alerts you (through the device) that you're approaching a KOM, informing you what average speed or power you need to win the KOM, and even graphically shows you where you are relative to the segment leader or your own personal best time on the same segment (like those machines at the gym where you ride around a track against a computerized oponent). The iPhone is the natural starting point for an app like this since it already has internet connectivity and no shortage of available bike mounts. And I don't even think it's Strava who is on the hook to develop it, as we're already seeing third party applications of Strava data, like RaceShape.com, which shows you (after the fact) your second-by-second peformance in KOMs against anyone on the leaderboard, allowing you to see exactly where you got beat. 

3. Murdered Out is pronounced DOA: We've done black on black on black for a couple of years now and like it plenty. So do Cervelo, Trek, Colnago, PinarelloFelt and others, particularly in their flagship bikes. We personally still like the color, but the big brands pay a lot of attention to differentiation through design, and a bunch of high end bikes that look exactly the same don't work as hard for the brand out in the world as design elements that immediately provide brand cues. Look for more strategically integrated color (Dave thinks we'll see a return to dayglo but I'm not so sure). I do think raw carbon (or paint designed to look like UD carbon) will remain - not only is a bike lighter without paint, but it also has a more sprightly and less muted feel. It's not necessarily better, but different. And with UD and 1K weaves now de riguer on high end frames, carbon looks more like basic black than a gimmick. 

4. Custom frame paint: With most of the high end carbon bikes coming out of the same small group of factories in the far east (and customers increasingly aware of this fact), then built to spec at assembly plants and shipped fully boxed by container ship before standing soldier-course on shop floors, personalization becomes challenging. I think that's the next great battlefield for the big brands though. Developing your own carbon fiber manufacturing facility is prohibitively expensive for most, but building a paint shop is a piece of cake. Look for more brands to introduce and amplify custom paint and decal options like Trek's Project One program. These will be limited to flagship bikes for now, as only a $3K frame carries enough profit in it to justify selling it without a fully build and wheels. Custom paint, decal schemes, even personalized name badges will all be options. The big brands will try to make buying an off-the-shelf bike (even one for $6K) seem pedestrian by comparison. 

5. The emergency of the Gravel Grinder segment: We have a lot of customers asking us about disc versions of our HOT BUNS to use for Gravel Grinders, provided that they can accommodate wider tires and that we can offer them with a protective strip running up the down tube. This is an underserved segment to be sure. Cross bikes are light and fast but don't allow for the necessary rubber; 29ers are not quite road-bike enough, even when setup with drop bars; steel trekking or general utility bikes almost work but aren't light and fast enough; and custom titanium with wide clearance and disc mounts would be perfect if they were only $3K less and available right away. Someone is going to tackle this segment head on and with perfect purposefulness, in the same way that Volare did for the endurance segment. I think it's going to be Nick Legan.)

What innovations and machinations do you think we'll see this year?

 

Thursday
Aug232012

Testing Some Assumptions

We've talked a few times (maybe more than a few) about wind tunnel data around here, and it's something we continue to think about quite a bit.  The basic quandary is that on the one hand, until you test something, you kind of don't know much.  On the other hand, how to apply what you've tested for is a real issue. 

Apparent wind angle, or what bike companies insist on referring to as "yaw" angle, is a vector sum of the bike's speed, the wind's speed, and the wind's angle relative to the bike's direction of travel.  Here is a page worth looking at and bookmarking.  Look at the charts, play with the calculator at the bottom, go to town with it.  But what you will see is that the yaw angles that a bike will experience are REALLY dependent on the bike's speed.  If you go fast, you won't get to very high yaw angles.  If you go less fast, you will see some higher yaw angles.  If your bike is going 30 mph and the wind is blowing 9 mph at a 90 degree angle to you, your yaw angle will be about 16.5 degrees.  If you slow down to 20 mph, the same wind conditions will give you a yaw angle of nearly 25 degrees. 

Critically, the bike that's going 30 will "feel" 31 mph of wind, while the bike that's going only 20 will "feel" only 21 mph of wind.  Since air force increases with the square of the velocity increase, a 31 mph wind is about 2.25 times as forceful as a 21 mph wind.  And since power required to overcome air force increases with the cube of the air speed, it will take 3.375 times as much energy to overcome a 31 rather than a 21 mph wind. 

For those of you who have power meters, next time you have a seemingly windless day, ride along at 20 mph on a flat straight road.  If this takes you 200 watts, dial your speed up to 25 without changing your body position.  It's going to take you 312.5 watts to go 25.  If you want to go 30, it's going to take you 450 watts.  So as we go faster and faster, any amount of aerodynamic savings becomes more important.  And as we go faster and faster, we are going to be more and more concerned with aerodynamics at lower and lower yaw angles.  During the Tour de France, we looked at some of the gear that the top guys had used and saw that Wiggins used a front wheel that is VERY efficient at low yaw angles.  Given his parameters (he is fast, averaging a shade over 30 for the tt, and it was not a windy day), he made a great choice.  For an Ironman competitor, riding at relatively much slower speeds at a reasonably consistent angle relative to a predictable, strong tradewind, the same wheel would be the wrong choice.

So the whole ball of wax gets pretty confusing.  Manufacturer A and Manufacturer B might each test their wheels against one another and come up with different numbers for each wheel in both the relative and the absolute - from memory I think HED's data shows that Zipp's wheels are better than Zipp says their wheels are, but HED of course shows their wheels as being even more better still.  Then you have the environmental assumptions that dictate what yaw angles will be relevant at a given bike speed.  Then you have the factor that rider speed is the biggest variable relative to both what yaw angles you are going to experience, and how critical a role aerodynamics in general plays.  It's floating point math, and you just have to peg some parameters onto something in order to get anything that resembles something that makes sense.

This is a topic that neither Mike nor I can get out of our heads.  Stay tuned for more. 

Tuesday
Aug212012

The Humble Alloy Wheel

Last weekend, I was at the Lost River Barn in Wild and Wonderful West Virginia, where in speaking of the roads, one might say that indeed the wild comes first.  In 2009, I founded a race in the area where we rode this weekend.  The Highway Superintendent for that part of the state, a guy named Bill Robinette, became a good friend leading up to the race.  He made miracles happen with the roads we used for the course, but Bill and his guys fight a literal and figurative uphill battle against extremes of weather, topography, and budget tightness. 

On Friday night, when we got out there, I did a ride down and back up "the back side," which is kind of a nutty hill.   For this section, you lose about 630 vertical meters in about 7.6 kilometers (per Strava, which is why I reference it in metric).  The average grade is 8.3%.  It's the archetype of the kind of riding where we say carbon clinchers are a bad choice - steep, tons of switchbacks, and "interesting" road surfaces.  I did the descent twice over the course of the weekend, both times in the rain, on carbon clinchers.  Why?  To some degree to prove a point but also because we were there mostly to ride cross, and between my wife and myself and the road bikes and the cross bikes we were tapped out metal wheels to ride.  With clean wheels, good brake pads, reasonable tire pressure (~95 psi), and good braking technique, even in crappy rainy conditions on rugged roads with switchbacks where letting it roll is likely to see you imitating John Lee Augustyn, a 160 pound cyclist (Green Mountain starts soon - I'm a few pounds light these days) can safely ride our carbon clinchers down hills like this.  My wife did the descent with me, also on 38 clinchers, but she is light and a very very good bike rider.  This is the kind of thing where had I seen someone else doing what we did I would have straight up said "that's really stupid." 

Because so many people ride our carbon clinchers for every day wheels, I feel like I have to as well.  I need to know how they stand up to huge mileage, how they cope with situations well outside of their intended use window (since I am apparently trying to set a hyperlink record, check out some "mixed surface" riding we did last month), and generally have as much first hand awareness of as I possibly can.  But I'd much rather do my regular riding on alloy wheels. 

Why?  Carbon clinchers are light and stiff and they ride well, and they feel like they're pretty darn fast, and they make your bike look really cool.  They also don't brake as well as alloy wheels, you can almost buy a new set of alloy wheels for the cost of getting one carbon wheel crash replacement, and if you do smash into a pothole and ding the brake track you can usually coerce it back into shape and forget it ever happened.  I smacked a rock SO hard on my mountain bike in June, I was sure I'd broken something.  Nope, just a (pretty big) dent - the tubeless tire neither flatted nor lost air, and apart from adjusting air pressure I did no maintenance to that wheel until after my last race, when a piece of barbed wire proved too much even for my secret sauce (Stan's mixed with a bunch of glitter) tubeless juice. 

So if alloy wheels are so sweet, why do so many people want to ride carbons all the time?  I think the biggest thing is that there are SO MANY CRAPPY OEM wheelsets out there, that are woefully poorly built, that weigh a ton and are as stiff as French pasta, and that have super cool "bladed" spokes someone decided were "rad" but are aerodynamic catastrophes, weigh a ton, and make the wheel feel like (deleted) to ride.  The grail of lower spoke counts, driven entirely by aesthetics (these types of wheels consistently show up in the bottom of the barrel in aerodynamics tests - so the low spoke counts are doing nothing to make you faster), need butt heavy rims in order to have any sort of durability.  If I had to guess, and I do, I'd say that it's the preponderance of really lame OEM wheels out there that tar all alloy wheels with the same brush. 

A properly spec'd and built alloy wheel set will be durable, stiff, lively, responsive, far from heavy, and will stay true for a long long time.  If you want to ride carbon clinchers as your every day wheel, that's fine with us (subject to using them within their recommended parameters), but we sure do feel pretty strongly about our alloy wheels. 

I definitely set a hyperlink record there.

Friday
Aug172012

Hubs Hubs Hubs Hubs (re-post)

We're still selling a whole lot of wheels with White Industries and Chris King hubs, and this post neatly addresses an question we get at least every couple of days, so I thought it was worth reposting.  Enjoy. 

We've been selling a lot of wheels lately, and a lot of them are getting built with either White Industries or Chris King hubs.  Like nearly half of them.  We also sell a lot of wheels with Powertaps.  

The exact same hubs we use as our standard get anodized in fancy colors and laser etched with fancy logos and show up on some pretty expensive wheels indeed, and having used our hubs now for going on two years with I couldn't even count how many miles, including plenty of cross racing, our first hand experience with them has been fantastic.  I replaced a rear hub bearing for one customer after, by the owner's reckoning, over 5000 road miles.  The fact that I replaced it for her tells you that I wasn't wild about the bearing having gone out even with the mileage (water intrusion was the evident cuplrit), but jeez collectively there have to be like I don't even know, 250,000 miles on our hubs?  At the very least.  Maybe triple that.  Apart from that one hub, I know of one guy who's going to replace some bearings because of a happy power washer guy at cross races. Point a power washer at a hub and the bearings are marked for death, I don't care which hub.  That, as far as Mike and I are concerned, is a pretty fantastic track record.  

So why are so many people buying White Industries and King hubs?  I think there are a lot of reasons, including but not limited to both having awesome reputations, both being dead sexy, both making lascivious (sp?) noises, the general overall affordability of them when built into our wheels, their availability, and maybe some other factors.  But I'm less concerned with the "why" right now than talking about when we recommend them, and how we come to those recommendations.

Both have pretty legendary durability, but Chris King hubs are sealed better than pretty much any other hubs around.  If you want to get yourself a really astonishing set of wheels which are primarily intended for CX use, you can't beat King hubs.  Both have really really tight engagement (how many degrees the cranks need to go before the hub engages and makes the wheel go 'round and 'round) which is absolutely prized by mountain bikers who constantly ratchet their cranks to get around obstacles, but is not super relevant in road, but is of some import in cross.  So for the ultimate cross wheel set, Kings.  

Both Kings and White Industries use wide flanges and big bearings.  These are both great for big dudes and people who are generally hard on their wheels.  In any case, I really start to hesitate on radial laced front wheels for guys who start going over 200 pounds, but for Clydesdales, the flange diameter of both Kings and Whites is a boon.  

Bigger bearings are pretty wheel always better.  They turn more smoothly and get stressed less than smaller bearings at any given speed or torque.  If you want something to roll more smoothly, put a bigger bearing on it.  This is a benefit for all, but again I think bigger guys who throw big torque at things are going to be the main beneficiaries.  Both are excellent in this regard.

For a long time, Campagnolo users couldn't have Chris King R45 rear hubs.  They didn't make them.  Now they do.  And having built Campy wheels with both Kings and Whites, I prefer the Kings for this application.  The geometry of the King hub is such that non-drive spokes are tighter on King builds than Whites.  Novatec hubs actually build very very nicely in Campy wheels as well.  It's not a door closer for the Whites in any respect (there are people who will read this who own or will soon own Campy-based White hubbed wheels from us, and I would have advised them against were it that big a deal), but if you are starting from a blank sheet of paper with all else being equal, it's Kings for Campy.  They even include a cassette lockring on Campy hubs, that is of course suitable for wearing as jewelry.  It's a notable lockring.  Get that?  A notable lockring.  The whole package is just beautiful.  

When you hold either hub in your hand, the quality is self evident.  You pick them up and say "holy cow, this is a precision instrument."  Chris King had his fabrication start making medical implant equipment.  That legacy has clearly stayed strong in his company's products.  White is not far off.  If you are looking for a set of wheels with hubs that display 100% masterful machining and will be precision pieces for longer than probably any other part on your bike, either fits that bill.  One of my favorite builds recently was a set of FSWCX with Red Kings for Campy.  They're headed to Europe this year to do a whole bunch of bucket list riding over there.  Bucket list wheels for bucket list riding.  It was HARD to part with those ones.  

Have you seen the red, pewter, and mango finishes that King offers?  The pink?  The blue?  Look, it's bikes we're talking about, and people want their bikes to look TOIGHT like a TOIGER.  The King colors are seriously lustful.  

That said, you'll have to dig a bit deeper for Kings.  They ain't cheap.  

Whites have a titanium freehub.  In keeping with the advantage that I perceive King to have in the Campy geometry, the Campy freehub's superior spline design makes aluminum more feasible for cassette bodies.  Eventually, any aluminum freehub body will get chewed up when you use it with a Shimano/SRAM cassette.  You will never wear out a White Industries cassette body.

King hubs have a really nice bearing pre-load adjustment mechanism.  Whites also have bearing pre-load.  Both work well and allow you to tune your hubs to virtually eliminate bearing play yet allow your hubs to roll as freely as possible and last a good long time.  For some people who are more of a set it and forget it inclination, this may not be the best thing.  But if you can't live without tinkering, well, there's this.

Now, on Powertaps, the classic design ins't exactly revered among wheelbuilders for being the greatest geometry, but it's passable.  The new G3 hubs look much improved in this regard.  But that's not really what a Powertap is all about anyway.  You get a Powertap because it's a convenient and (relatively) less expensive, accurate, power option.  People like them.  We have two in my family, that have some psychotic number of miles on them.  So they're sort of a sidebar to this discussion.

Any of the hubs that we offer are going to build into great wheels.  A lot of people are choosing Whites and Kings, and there are good reasons to do so.  Sometimes, one has an advantage over the other for a specific purpose.  If you have any questions about using one or the other, let us know.  We're happy to help.

Race Smart.

Wednesday
Aug152012

Carbon Cross

We get pretty regular inquiries about using carbon clinchers for cross, and our answer is always the same, that we don't recommend it.  The primary issue is that it's just too easy to hit the wrong root or the wrong rock and damage the brake track, but there are other things at play.

On the road, sure you can hit a pothole and if it's sharp enough and you hit it hard enough, you can damage your rim.  Certainly plenty of people have dented aluminum rims on potholes and stuff (I have), but on the road you tend to have a little more latitude to avoid these kind of things, and you've got a heck of a lot more air pressure in your tire to buffer the impact.  A cross (or mountain bike, for that matter) wheel is protected by a HECK of a lot less air pressure, and is subjected to a steadier stream of bigger hazards. 

On the topic of air pressure, you're basically trying to run as little as possible in cross.  Lower pressure gives you better traction and control.  Lower pressure also gives you more vulnerability to pinch flats.  Tubulars suffer pinch flats a lot less frequently than clinchers, and thus you can run them at lower pressure than clinchers.  Tubulars suffer fewer pinch flats than clinchers because the tubular tire's construction make it somewhat less vulnerable to them, but mostly because the tire bed of a tubular is WAY less sharp than the brake track of a clincher. 

Wider clinchers offer some means of protection against pinch flats as well.  With a wider rim, the tube "muffin tops" outboard of the brake track less than with a shallower rim.  There's less "tube flab" hanging out to go and get pinched.  Because I was using a disc-equipped frame last year and never got to the point of making myself a disc-specific tubular, I raced all season on an aluminum clincher rear.  I had one flat, which was from a sharp rock and was not a pinch flat.  I rode quite a bit on single track trails last year, and just did a singletrack ride the other day on aluminum clinchers.  I'm convinced that the wide rim on our aluminum clinchers prevents pinch flats, but alas the rim from last year is not in "as new" condition.  Despite having never felt a brake pad, it does have minor dents and dings from rock strikes.  Nothing crazy, but I still wouldn't want to expose a carbon brake track to this kind of lifestyle. Our carbon clincher rims are pretty wide, but not as wide as our aluminum clinchers, and since the brake track on the carbon rim is slightly thicker, the inner width is even less. 

Carbon is stronger than aluminum, ounce per ounce, and is going to resist damage better than aluminum.  A carbon rim will laugh at many rock strikes that put nice dents in aluminum rims.  On the other hand, aluminum bends, and carbon breaks; when you exceed the yield point of a carbon rim, it's got permanent damage.  With aluminum rims, you coerce the bend out of them, hit the spot with some sandpaper to feather out the hump, and on with life you go.  Not so with carbon - you crack it, it's cracked.  If the rim is badly damaged, an aluminum rim is a lot less bankroll to replace.  Even with our crash replacement policy, which is as generous as we can make it, you can buy a complete new set of aluminum wheels for not a ton more than the cost of having one carbon wheel rebuilt. 

Carbon rims offer some nice benefits for cross, for sure.  On carbon tubulars, you get a pretty profound level of stiffness from the wheel which really lets you feel how the tire is working - nearly no feedback from the tire is lost in translation through the wheel.  It's nice.  But the benefits of tubular fully outweigh the benefits of carbon.  

Our carbon clinchers HAVE been used for cross, by one of our team mates, who's really really really good at cross - he destroyed a clincher in a pileup early in the year last year and had to go clincher for a couple of races while he waited for the replacement tire.  He did very well in the races in which he used the carbon clinchers, and they suffered no damage.  It's not a case of "you WILL destroy them," it's more a case of it being a risk that we don't think is really worth taking.