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So, Can We See The Future?

Prior to Interbike and Eurobike, we made a few bold predictions about trends that we would see in show season.  How did we do?  We'll start with Mike's.

1. Wireless and other Di2 adaptations: Mike predicted automatic transmissions, body wearable shift buttons, etc.  Did it happen?  No.  Score -1

2. Real-Time Strava Apps:  Mike predicted that someone would come out with apps that would alert you to upcoming segments, etc.  Did it happen?  No (but it will).  Score -1

3. Murdered Out is pronounced DOA: Mike thought the Goth Kids look on bikes would take a back seat to the reintroduction of a more colorful palette.  Did it happen?  Yes.  Score +1.

4. Custom frame paint: Mike predicted that custom frame paint programs would expand. just ran an article about Felt's custom paint program, so I'm calling it a win.  Did it happen?  Yes. Score +1

5. The emergency of the Gravel Grinder segment: Did it happen?  In spades.  Score +1.


And now, mine:

1. More disc brakes whether they work better or not. An absolute layup.  I might have gone further out on a limb and said "there will be bikes there!"  Did it happen?  Yup.  Score +1
2. Related point, shifting and braking will decouple. I think the era of the "brifter" will end, especially as hydraulic brakes (rim and disc) and electronic shifting proliferate.  This happened, but not to the degree I'd have thought.  I'm going neutral on this.  Score 0
3. Day-glo. Did it happen?  Did it ever!!  Score +1
4. More aero everything.  Did it happen?  Yup. Score +1
5. We'll learn a lot more about the world of 11 speed. Did it happen?  Yes.  Score +1


Mike went much further out on a limb than I did in his predictions.  Apart from my absolute dead certainty that neon would be the new aero, I really didn't make any bold guesses.  Of course, there weren't really any paradigm shifts introduced during the shows anyway.  Maybe everyone in into "marginal gains"?

While we were on the lookout for trends and not specifics, there were some cool things like the Stages power meter.  We'll have to see if it does a little better than the Garmin Vector at actually making it out into the world.  One trend we did not see at all was the upsurge in lace up cycling shoes.  Giro and Vittoria definitely have some sexy looking dogs out there. 

So yes, we can see the future. 


Silent But Deadly

Given our normal chronic verbal diarrhea, our relative silence of late may seem strange.  It's just that there's a ton of stuf going on, some of which we aren't quite ready to blab about and some that we don't really have time to blab about. 

Mike is learning to embrace cross, even as he does not embrace the stick that punctured him off the podium on Sunday.  I need to go back to Sesame Street and learn how to count, since not tuning into the old "ONE, ONE lap to go - ah ha ha ha ha!" cost me dearly on Sunday.  The team tent continues to be the velvet rope that everyone wants to be behind.  The huge boxes of rims and hubs keep showing up, and the smaller boxes of built wheels keep going out.  We're in the middle of cross but the next road season is just around the corner. 

Life is grand, stay tuned, and in the mean time do as I say and not as I did Sunday - Race Smart. 


Going to 11, Part Zwei

So, yesterday we talked about some of the challenges of going to 11 speed from a wheelbuilder's point of view.  It's still early days and there aren't a lot of 11 speed hubs that have hit the market, but we know that the cassette body is wider, which means that the drive side flange is moving in since that's the only way to accomodate a wider cassette. 

Campagnolo has had the wider cassette for a while now.  By and large, the drive side flange on hubs for Campy are 2mm closer to the center of the hub than on hubs for SRAM/Shimano 10 speed.  Some wheels basically ignore this difference and just have the rim a little bit off center.  I don't love that approach, and we don't do it, but there are big companies out there who sell a lot of wheels like this. 

Campagnolo's approach for their own wheels has been 2:1 lacing.  This puts two spokes in the drive side for every one on the non drive side, like in this Bora.  With half the spokes on the non-drive side, each one does double the work, therefore the load on each one is doubled and the tensions between drive and non-drive are more equal.  This is a great solution for pre-built wheel "systems" where the components (hub, rim, spokes) are all dedicated to one another, but it does present logistical problems to wheel owners.  If you crash and bust a rim, getting just a replacement rim is somewhere on the scale between "expensive and difficult" and "just plain impossible."  Spokes for these systems have a tendency to be challenging to get and expensive.  These things can be game breakers for a lot of people.  Your options are also limited in terms of which rims and hubs will allow you to build a wheel like this.  Rims need to be drilled in multiples of 3 in order for this to work, meaning that the only currently popular and widely available drilling that works is 24 hole.  For a lot of purposes and riders, that's just not enough spokes.  It's not just number of holes that is the issue either - spoke holes are drilled directionally, so a 24 hole rim that's drilled for normal lacing doesn't work as a 2:1 rim.   

As one commenter wrote in response to yesterday's post, there is also the option of doing an off center rim.  I love this idea, and have been working to get our alloy rim supplier to do it. 

The other option is to put really hard spoke tensions on the drive side.  This doesn't stiffen the bracing angle of the drive side at all (some people think high spoke tensions stiffen the wheel, but once you have enough tension to keep spokes from going slack, it doesn't) but it does allow you to get the non-drive sides hard enough that they don't go slack.  On our carbon rims, we can use PLENTY of spoke tension, so getting enough non-drive tension is no sweat.  Some carbon rims have a 100kgf spoke tension limit, and many alloy rims do as well.  With those rims, this option is closed to you. 

You can do some funny things with drive side spoke lacing to eke every bit of room out for the flange.  Radial drive side spoking with with either j-bend or nail head spokes lets the flange get a bit further outboard since crossing the spokes requires room between the flange and cassette.  Eliminate the need for that space and you get it back for the flange.  I'm not a huge fan of this since then you have to pass the drive torque through the hub and the crossed non-drive side spokes actually do the driving.  There are a bunch of wheels out there that are made this way but I don't have to like them.  (the wheel pictured doesn't take full advantage of this, as the spoke heads could be inside the rim and the spokes go outside the flange, but it was the best picture I found to illustrate the deal)

So, just kind of a primer on some of the issues of the change to 11 speed and letting you know that we're working on it.  Even if you don't wind up using 11 speed yourself for a while, this is an issue that you'll probably deal with since the majority of hubs will want to accommodate 11 speed. 


Going to 11, Part Eins

Can we just dispatch with the Spinal Tap references already? 

We're beginning to see the inevitable conversion to 11 speed hubs, with White Industries being first out of the gate.  Fans of White Industries will immediately notice the revised hub shell spacing.  Real notice-niks will also see the loop of masking tape around the (still as awesome as ever) titanium cassette body - in order to use 11 speed hubs with 10 (or fewer) gears, you'll need to use the spacer between your cassette and the hub. 

In order to accommodate the wider cassette of Shimano 11 speed, White (and I'd guess most others to follow) have more or less shifted the hub shell 2mm to the left along the axle.  The profound thing that this does is to decrease the bracing angle of the drive side while increasing the non-drive side bracing angle.  There's no two way about it, this creates a challenge for wheelbuilders. Because the non-drive side spokes, because of the wider angle, will pull the rim off center so much more than a drive side spoke for any given spoke tension, the trick is two fold; keep the drive side stable, and get enough non-drive side tension to keep the non-drive spokes in tension. 

It's probably pretty easy to visualize that the steepr the angle of the spoke from the hub to the rim, the less side to side stability that spoke is going to naturally provide.  Increasing tension doesn't do much for you (more on this in a bit), but there are a couple of things that you can do.  One is to use a heavier gauge spoke.  This is when the REAL wheel geeks will start talking about Young's Modulus and eyes the world over start to glaze and roll back in heads.  Simply put, a steel bar is going to do a better job of stiffening a poor angle than a thin wire spoke - hopefully that's pretty easy to visualize.  So you put a heavier gauge spoke on the drive side and that helps. 

Another thing to do is to add more spokes - the "many hands make light work" theory at work.  The pictured wheel is 32 spokes, and is built for an aggressive rider who isn't all that heavy.  In this case, I stuck with Lasers (instead of going to heavier gauge Race spokes) because I think that the wheel is sort of kind of borderline overbuilt for him at 32 spokes.  Race spokes would have added weight that I didn't necessarily think was beneficial. 

My magical number for non-drive tension is somewhere around 50 for a 24 hole rear, and decreases to around 40 for a 32 spoke rear.  That's just a tension that I think, and have had proven through a whole lot of wheels built, works.  If the non-drive spokes aren't tight enough, they go slack when they are between the hub and the ground.  If they go slack, they eventually break.  This is why using light gauge butted spokes on the non-drive actually produces a more durable wheel - the lighter butted spokes bend in the middle, reducing cycle stress at the ends.  Straight gauge spokes on the non-drive side are a terrible idea. 

You need a lower tension on wheels with more spokes because there are more spokes "between the hub and the ground" at every given moment.  The bottom of the wheel has more support because of more spokes, so each individual spoke is shouldering less of the load.  The distance between spokes becomes relevant here, which is a big part of why deeper section rims need fewer spokes - the distance between spokes at the rim is so much less.  Take an 85mm deep rim and put 28 spokes on it, it will be the functional equivalent of a box section rim with 40 or so spokes in this regard. 

Non-drive side tension is purely a function of drive side tension.  On a Chris King 10 speed R45 hub, I get about 55% of the drive side tension onto the non-drive side.  So if I put 120 kpf on the drive side, I get about 66 kpf on the non-drive, which gives me a really structurally sound wheel.  Put the same 120 kpf on a hub where you get 40% on the non-drive and you wind up with 48 kpf on the non-drive.  Still above my mendoza line, but closer to it.  Small variances in non-drive tension are impossible to avoid, which means that you're going to have some a bit higher and some a bit lower (the ability to minimize these differences is part of what makes a good wheel builder good).  If the "some a bit lower" get too low, you can have durability problems. 

Over time and with tire pressure, spoke tensions gradually relax a small amount, which decreases the margin that you get. 

Some lightweight aluminum rims spec a max tension of 100 kpf.  If you take the drive side to that max, and get 40% of the drive side tension into the non-drive side, then you have no margin for my 40 kpf tension requirement for a 32 spoke wheel, and you're not close to it for my 24 spoke preference. 

We're way over the "eyes glaze over" word count so next time I will talk about how we (November) are a bit insulated from these issues, how we will likely deal more actively with them going forward, how Campy has dealt with this issue up to now and why that's a good solution for their wheels but impractical as an across the board solution, and some of the products we'd love to see in order to respond to these new issues. 


Marketing: A Dirty Word? Part Deux

This post is an example of what you get when you have a zillion and four ideas to tie together, which you can no way do within your self-imposed word count constraint, yet fail to leave yourself a clear enough outline to follow later. 

An old boss had a pretty enlightened view of marketing, that how you did everything you did was part of who you were and part of what people would think of you, and that was the important thing.  There should be no disparity between what goes on in front of and behind the curtain (the reception area should probably be a bit cleaner than the manucturing floor, but if you're running a good operation your manufacturing floor should represent how you do things, so there should be plenty of order there as well).  I HATE HATE HATE being watched while I work, and some of my wheel destressing techniques might freak people out, but if there was a hidden camera on me while I build wheels, I'd be happy to have how I do that work represent us. 

The sort of dirty part of marketing is promotion, which is what most people think of when they think of when they think of marketing.  Our approach to promotion has been different than what's considered normal.  Here are a couple of bullet points about it:

- Advertising: We didn't have the money for it when we started, and when your message is that you are going to cut out a lot of the costs that traditional companies wind up charging you for, spending a bunch of money on advertising seems kind of stupid.  Our word of mouth approach has developed slowly, but strongly and sustainably - kind of like your fitness after a winter of good training.  As we move forward, it's possible that we'll go beyond the very small forays we've made into advertising, but I can't ever see us moving too far in that direction.  Good products and happy customers will always tell our story best. 

- Sponsorship: We could have gone pretty deep into this one right away, but chose not to.  First off is that for every dollar you spend giving something to one person, that's a dollar you have to charge someone else to come out even.  We'd rather give everyone the best deal that we can.  The other huge issue is what are you getting with sponsorship?  If I give you a set of wheels, the expectation is that you'll tell only good things to the market, and give us knowledgeable and reasoned input on the strengths and weaknesses as you find them.  The first compromises the value of your endorsement, the second never happens.  The premise of "we give free stuff to some guy -> his masterful use of it and awesome reputation and influence convinces many others to purchase" is functionally false.  We have our own team, and we think it's a nice team and we're able to offer some nice support in various ways, but they don't get a discount on our stuff.  We'd have to vet the living hell out of anyone who we'd have representing our stuff, and that turns into a lot of time and work and expense and we don't think it works anyway so we don't do it. 

The funny thing is that we're starting to be sincerely flattered, by which I mean imitated.  The message that we've been sending seems to resonate with a lot of people.  Maybe I'm giving us way too much credit (I know that there are cases where I'm not) but it seems that our perspective and message is no longer the lone voice howling in the woods that it once was.  On one hand it feels validating and a bit exciting, on the other hand it feels a bit like "hey we cut this path, who said you could use it?"  But one thing it will do is keep us on our toes. 

Next time I'll make a better outline.