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Thursday
Sep132012

Velonews: Are They Serious?

Lately, I just can't believe what I read on Velonews.com. 

Earlier this week, they published an article about the Spanish Worlds team, in which, for the infinity-eth time in recent history, they referred to Contador's ban as having been 2 years.  This is the kind of willful misrepresentation that earned sharp kicks in the ass in the house where I grew up.  Here's a list of races he raced while he was banned.  "Banned" means "a period of time in which he didn't race."  It doesn't mean "a period of time in which he was racing and winning major tours and acting for all intents and purposes exactly like he would have otherwise."  Yes, these results were "stripped" from him, whatever that means, because clearly he still thinks he keeps all the results that he got during his "ban."  As far as the benefits accrued, he's functionally right. 

This isn't really about Contador or doping at all.  I mean, yes it is, in that none of these stupid convoluted BS *asterix era* whatever you want to call it things would even be going on were it not for doping.  And if the UCI weren't apparently the flock of idiots that they are.  But the point is that in that article, the message serves the myth that he "served" a two year ban.  He did not.  He served approximately a six month ban and had some results vacated.  There actually IS a need for editorial precision - always. 

The next one that got me going was this article about pimping your BB7 brakes.  I don't really know what to say, other than "wow does that sound like a freaking party to me."  To address the weight cost of having discs, they advocate spending about $60 on titanium bolts to drop about 25 grams.  They also advocate trying different pads, at $20/per, until you find the ones that work best for your specific application.  It's like you're a complete pariah in their eyes if you choose to use rim brakes - all the cool kids* are using discs so who even gives a rat's behind about rim brakes. 

*except if by "cool kids" you mean "the cool kid who wears the cycle racing t-shirt done up to be all America-looking because he's the FREAKING NATIONAL CHAMPION.  he's a pretty cool kid, and he uses rim brakes despite this article in Velonews (of all places) that would have you think he's totally ditched rim brakes in favor of discs.  To be fair, that was likely the impression that Velonews was given when the bike was presented to them. 

This isn't really about disc brakes on cross bikes.  It's about an editorial entity describing things as one thing (DISCS ARE TAKING OVER THE WORLD!!!!!!!!!!) when they really aren't that way at all (I thought I saw fewer bikes with disc brakes at our local season opener even than I recalled seeing at most races last year.  But that sample size is only like 610 people or so).  And it's about unquestioningly shoving the "next great thing" (at least for their advertisers) straight down your throat, despite all of these issues that the author is telling you how to overcome.  It's like "oh yeah, she's got hep C, a raging coke habit and a mean strike a mile wide, but you should totally ditch the girlfriend that you're totally happy with for her!"

Finally, they have this wheelset review.  Again, it's got to do with the disc brakes thing, but that's not mostly what's relevant here.  It's that, first, they get it completely backwards in favor of their advertising constituency when they say things like "if a rider wanted a competitive set of tubular wheels, the only real option was to get a custom set built and pay the associated cost."  The context of this is of course talking about tubulars for disc brakes, but I raced Sunday on competitive tubular wheels.  They were built by hand, by me, as yours would likely be if you ordered them from us.  The set I laced yesterday were just like the ones I raced this weekend, only they are for disc brakes.  The customer paid a WHOPPING $505 for them.  Boy, talk about associated cost!  Thank heavens this machine built set which weighs more, on which you can't choose the spoke count, type, or color, or have built with ultra-premium hubs, is here to save the day - at two and a half times what our equivalent wheel set costs.  It's not that I think the wheels in question are bad.  The opposite - I think they are probably great - about on par with the ones we make.  And then of course there's that little 130 gram penalty, which in the other article they suggest mitigating at the cost of about $2.50 per gram.  So by implication if you get these wheels, then go ahead and figure on spending a bit north of $300 to take weight off elsewhere. 

This isn't about the wheels in question.  It's about how the supposed "editorial Chinese walls" are a complete farce and editorial departments are often the best ad sales force you can buy. 

I won't even go into the fact that two of three of these stories come in a series called "The Fall of Discs."  Have your own fun with that. 

Wednesday
Sep122012

Marketing: A Dirty Word?

Not without some degree of complicity on our part, we're somewhat known for an "anti-marketing" marketing approach.  While I think this is bascially an appropriate shorthand description, it's far from the whole story. 

I've always thought that "marketing," in its highest connotation, simply described the efficient means by which producers and consumers met.  It starts with the identification of a product need in the marketplace, which the producer either has the current capacity to provide, or they decide that it makes sense for them to develop this capacity.  Concurrent with this is the identification that the product can be provided to the market at a price in line with market demands (EC101 - price elasticity of demand) and at which the producer can meet its costs and make an acceptable profit.  Distribution is a key step in the whole process, and the producer has to decide if the Value Added Reseller is a reality or not; in making the choice to go with a sales intermediary (basically, a retailer), the producer has to be convinced that their ability to provide the product to the market, and the consumer's experience with the product, is going to be enhanced by the inclusion of the "VA"R.

Promotion is just the next step in this, and is really just a means of helping consumers identify the producer's product and include it in their purchase decision.  Product attributes (consumer benefits, product specifications, capacities, aesthetics, price) need to be made known to the consumer - "hey, we make this thing, it benefits you in these ways by doing these things, and it costs this much."  Mike would describe any of these as a potential point for meaningful differentiation.  A product can perform the same functions better than other options, or perform valuable functions that other options can't perform, or do either or both of those at lower cost, or it can do any or all of this in a more attractive way. 

These are all pretty unglamorous, technical things, right?  Breaking it down, we decided that there was a market for racing frames and complete bikes that provided an equivalent or superior level of performance to more expensive options, and that we had the means to develop the product (in our case, "developing" means acting as an itermediary between an actual producer who wants to be a manufacturer and not a retailer), and could do so at a price that was attractive to the market and which allowed us to make enough money that it was a good way to spend our time and resources compared to other options.  We also decided that within our scope, it made the most sense to retail the product ourselves, since IN OUR CASE the added cost of storefront retailers didn't add value in line with their added costs. 

I capitalise the "in our case" part of that because I want to emphasize that we don't think that storefront bike retail is a valueless entity.  What we do realize is that, for ourselves as we went through our day to day lives as racing cyclists, it wasn't adding value in line with costs.  Costs in this case aren't even necessarily monetary - one of the things that I didn't love about going to a shop was the time investment and obstacles to be overcome in finding what I wanted.  But there are absolutely positively those shops that tick very nearly all of the boxes for customers like us.  I've experienced them first hand, they're just not generally local enough to me, and globally they seem to be very much the exception.  Remember also that I'm talking about a niche customer here - you'd be crazy to go into business trying to serve the customer I'm taking about here.  Oh, wait...  Just kidding, the difference there being that the internet is a better amalgamator of these customers than geography is, so our critical mass draws from a really wide geographic base.

Seriously overstressing the critical word count metric here so I will have to expand the scope and depth in the scintillating PART DEUX!

 

Monday
Sep102012

Religion for Atheists

Yesterday, before I could get my ipod plugged into the car stereo on the drive to the race, I got hooked into this segment on NPR discussing this book "Religion for Atheists."  From what I could discern, the book discusses the delineation between spirituality and religion.  As a touchpoint for that, think about a very technically proficient musical performance that is nonetheless said to lack "soul."  The overlap between spirituality and religion is seemingly quite large, but the two are not mutually inclusive.  The discussion also touched on how even atheists are "forced" to turn to religion at various times like death, because there's really no atheistic tradition for dealing with grief, and humans aren't programmed just to turn off the lights on a loved one and say "that's it."

"Okay Dave," I can hearing you thinking even now, "what in tarnation does this have to do with bikes?"  Good question.  The author said that he'd taken heat from both sides on this deal, that while there were factions of understanding from each side, the larger feedback from each was derisive toward the other.  The atheists felt he'd betrayed them by I guess admitting that there was value for atheists in things that religious traditions hold, and that religious people were basically like "you're all going to hell so it doesn't matter."  And his position is one in which we find ourselves somewhat often with respect to other companies and how they do things. 

In this case, the part of the religious faction is played by the BIG BRANDS and entrenched industry, and I guess we play the part of moderate atheists?  Yeah, there's some amount of "you're all going to hell for riding those bikes" that we get from the entrenched industry.  So "I crashed and bent my derailleur hanger" is met with "YOU GET WHAT YOU PAY FOR FOR RIDING THOSE KNOCK OFF BIKES YOU'RE GOING TO HELL! I WEEP FOR YOUR SOUL!" instead of "good thing the derailleur hanger did its job!"  On the other hand, if we take time to admire work that's being done at the bleeding edge by some companies, it can sometimes come back as "those crooks are just trying to screw everyone and make things cost a lot more!

The middle ground is sometimes the toughest ground to live on, which I think after all is why Mike and I started this in the first place.  Yes, there's a TON of money and effort spent trying to convince you that every asymptotically incremental gain is a "complete game changer" and you're just not being responsible to yourself and anyone else if you don't run right out and pony up.  And there's the opposing view that would have you riding some 36 pound straight-piped steel beast with a steady chorus of "it was good enough for Eddie, man!" and "it's all about the engine!" behind it.  The simple fact is that there's a big window between the two dogmatic stances, and we're trying to help people recognize and make use of it. 

In our sport, equipment counts but it's not all that counts.  Of the however many hundreds of people at the race yesterday, I wouldn't have traded either my equipment or the price tag on it with anyone.    I had a dead stock HOT BUNS Max Perkins with the exception of an SLR saddle upgrade (my ass is both a spectacle to behold and a complete princess in its preferences), which, yeah, it's a fair bit of dough but it's also generally about $1200 or so less than equivalents.  There is clearly an ever increasing number of people who feel similarly because we are starting to see a lot of our bikes and wheels on the starting line which is awesome. 

A couple of notes:

1. Discs?  I think I saw fewer, as a percentage, than I did last year.  There were pretty much none, including on Jeremy Powers' bike (which is significant because there was a big splash in Velonews recently about how JPOW! (it's fun to type) would be in a disc bike this year.  And seriously, I woundn't have traded my bike for his.  This is the kind of thing where I generally get crucified for having an agenda, but I'm just stating what I observed. 

2. At least half of the people who did HOT BUNS did them up with orange accents - bar tape, hoods, cables, whatever else.  Is this because my road bike looks so ultra wicked with the subtle orange accents I did to it (cable ends and spacers)?  Perhaps.  My cx bike is pretty mainstream for now with black tape/cables/hoods with white seat and red spacers and housing ends, but watch this space because I'm going to fabulous the thing out.  FABOLOUS - holler back, young'n.

3. People have been practicing way too much.  People showed up with their NOVEMBER games in early September.  The upside?  I didn't get crushed even though I'm currently far more suited to going in one direction for half an hour and then making an easy turn on pavement.  The downside?  WTF people? 

Thursday
Sep062012

New Wheel News from Eurobike

One prediction for Eurobike that I forgot to put in my post last week was that more frame and bike companies would be getting into the wheel business (I'll discuss why we're in both the wheel and frame business here on the blog in the next few days). It's just as well as I would have been wrong. But there was still (as ever) a lot of new wheel tech (and brands) at Eurobike this year. Here's what caught my attention:

Deda enters market with 5 road wheels: I probably should have seen this coming. With FSA/Vision and 3T launching road wheels in the past few months, other component brands were sure to follow. There are a couple notable attributes to the Deda wheels. First, they use an inverted spoke design that places the nipples at the hub, in order to reduce rotating weight (which 3T does as well, and Cane Creek did 10 years ago). Here's an example of a fast-follower innovation that the established brands would have a hard time adopting. If Zipp or Enve want to switch to inverted spokes, it would mean production overhauls ranging from a wholly new rim drilling process all the way up to all new molds depending on how they did it. (Not to mention all new hubs, spokes and wheelbuilding processes.) What's more, the rims would not be available for custom builds around standard hubs (which is of course Enve's stock in trade). No PowerTap, no Chris King, no White Industries or other premium hubs (which is the main reason we're not considering a switch to inverted spokes anytime soon). Like road discs, the lowered brake track also leaves you SOL on game day if you flat - pit or replacement wheels won't work on your bike. Secondly, the Deda carbon clinchers combat braking heat buildup through a lowered brake track. Shifting the brake track up the rim wall a few millimeters helps keep some of the heat away from the unsupported section of the tire bead, as some of the braking is actually taking place on the rim wall. If you run your carbon clinchers all the time - and you can get your brakes to work just as well with the pads run up high in the holders - it's not a bad solution. But if you ever want to change to alloys or other wheels you'll have to perform a wholesale adjustment on your pads. Given that many riders don't even like to perform a 90-second pad swap between their carbons and alloys, this extra step requiring actual tools and some finesse may be a deal-breaker for many. But given how many people are rolling carbon clinchers all day every day (which is what 3T is banking on), the setup makes a lot of marketing sense. It's not a decision we would make, but I can see why they did. The Deda carbons are expected to sell for $2500.

HED finally offers a full carbon clincher: Info on the HED Vanquish is still thin. Here's what a Google search turns up.Dubbed the Vanquish, HED's new wheel is the first full carbon clincher the brand has introduced, sticking with the alloy brake tracked Jet until now. HED was a pioneer of the 23mm wide clincher rim, a width it dubbed C2. The Vanquish is also labeled as a C2 rim, though the width at the rim bed is actually 25mm. Brake track walls are thicker in carbon clinchers than aluminum, so the added width likely allows HED to have a comparable inner diameter to its popular Ardennes clinchers (though I haven't seen any published data on internal rim width). The width is attributed to an interest in aerodynamics around the tire (HED says the wheels are optimzied for 22-24mm, a contrast to the Zipp Firecrest which are optimized for 21mm tires that nobody uses.) HED says they are building the rims in Minnesota. Absent from any of the articles covering the rim launch (that I've seen) is any discussion on heat dissipation - no mention of proprietary resins or brake track coatings or even any heat testing. It doesn't mean the info is not out there, though it does suggest that HED chose to make the Vanquish story one of aerodynamics (which is understandable given the brand's heritage and reputation among triathletes). The HED Vanquish is priced at $2500.

Easton's new EC70SL Carbon-Aluminum Wheel Looks Baller: Dave and I were talking the other day about machined sidewalls - specifically, how alloy rims made for discs don't have them, and if they're even 25mm or 27mm deep they look like carbons. Dave mused that the advent of road discs - while purportedly a boon for carbon clinchers - may actually create a cottage industry of unmachined alloys that look like carbon because they're absent the tell-tale silver sidewall. With that in mind, chapeau to Easton for bucking two trends at the same time, by relaunching the 42mm deep carbon/alloy clincher and for making it distinctively not full carbon in a striking silver/grey combo. The wheelset has been around for a couple years and boasts none of the current wind-tunnel-tested profile or the wide rim characteristic of just about every other road wheel at Eurobike this year. But given the growing awareness of the limitations of full carbon clinchers in extreme terrain, pointing at a carbon/alloy hybrid makes sense. At 1660g (claimed) it's a better bet for Triathlons and TTs than the rapid accelerations and sharp climbs that characterize crits and road races. But the grey sure is pretty. The EC70SL sells for $1500.

Zipp 202 Firecrest Clinchers: The new 202 is 32mm deep and are claimed to weigh 1370g. That makes them a highly suitable all-rounder like our RFSC 38s, which are 6mm deeper and 5g lighter. Zipp touts them as a climbing wheel, which is fine except that it also requires they are a descending wheel. Should that be a concern to any prospective customers, Zipp assuages anxiety by continuing to insist that "in their 2.5 years of producing carbon clinchers they’ve had no heat-related failures." Simply, this is a lie, but they got CyclingNews to print it so the actual veracity of the statement is obviously not as important as its reach. Zipp also resports that the 202s reduce drag by 60% compared to 32 spoke box rims that nobody uses when they're interested in going fast. Zipp works the tradeshows well, and is masterful at shaping the stories that emerge on its new products. The 202 Firecrest clinchers are $2575.

Wednesday
Sep052012

Discs for CX?

Well, Eureobike is here and almost gone and SRAM's highly anticipated hydraulic shift/brake lever didn't make it to the party.  No word on when it's going to get here.  What does this have to do with our plans for CX and discs?  Plenty: until there is a readily available and economical and good performing hydraulic disc option, there's no great reason to offer a disc bike.  You must keep in mind here that my perspective is that a cross bike is a bike designed for best performance on a cx course, and training for cx racing.  Other uses are incidental and subservient to cross racing use. 

For a short time still, I'll have the chance to stand on my soapbox and wag my finger and say "I've got more experience racing cross with disc brakes than most people, and you kids get off of my lawn, and stuff!"  Last year when I wrote a midseason blog about it, it was mostly about what a logistical pain they were proving to be.  This is still true.  It's not the entire story, and if there were some completely rampant advantage that discs had, I'd sacrifice the convenience for that advantage. 

Mechanical discs work pretty well, but not very well.  They have pretty poor pad clearance, meaning the pad is never more than a hair (if that) away from the rotor.  If your rotor/caliper interface isn't aligned PERFECTLY, your pads rub your rotors.  It probably costs a few watts, but more than that it's annoying.  Of course on nice mechanicals like the BB7s that I used, you can easily dial out pad contact, but this comes at the expense of power.  Power goes away QUICKLY as you dial your pads out. 

In soupy mud, they don't stop.  They just don't stop.  I tried both the organic pads and the sintered pads and neither stopped in mud.  The organic pads wore out crazy quickly - in one muddy race (Kinder Kross), the disc didn't even pretend like it was going to stop me by the time the race was over.  That was fun.  The sintered pads wear out less quickly but still quickly - enough to change braking dynamics during the course of a race.  Hydraulics self-adjust for pad wear. 

Rotors go out of true really easily.  You have to be super careful with them at all times, as the slightest warp/bend is going to cause them to rub the rotors like mad.  They also squeal like a stuck pig in almost all conditions.  I can't tell you why the hydros on my mountain bike are quiet but the discs on my cx bike were the opposite of quiet, but that's what it is.  Maybe it's pad pressure or I don't know.  Pads are the same.  LOUD.  Properly toed-in cantis will neither shudder or squeal. 

Cantis are lighter, and the wheels are lighter, and the frames and forks for them are lighter.  Last year my bike was around 17.5 pounds - not much different than the disc SuperX that Tim Johnson used.  This year's setup is is a bit over a pound lighter.  I'm not a weight weenie in any respect, but a pound's a pound.  Since the logistics of being able to use RFSW38s (tubulars) as both road and cross wheels means that I WILL do so, I will have a somewhat significant weight loss beyond that.

Discs were of course supposed to collect a whole lot less gunk than rim brakes (I should stop saying "cantis" because mini-v's are a great alternative too).  It may be the case, but judging from my bike compared to others last year, this wasn't the case.  I also watched a lot of races to see how often Tim Johnson, using discs, pitted relative to others.  He pitted no less frequently than anyone else.  Maybe it wasn't the brakes that caused him to need to pit, but the discs didn't save him from having to pit. 

We're not against discs at all per se, it's that in our minds they aren't yet the best solution.  I just read a review of the new Dura Ace, at the end of which the reviewer said "with gruppos like this and the new Red, I'm at a loss to figure out what exactly electronic shifting does for you - these mechanical groups shift angelically, and electronic weighs more, adds some complexity, and costs a TON more."  I never used canti brakes other than Euro-X (and not very much at that) and Shorty Ultimates.  I know there have been some super crap cantis that people have had to use for a while, but comparing Shorty 4s to Shorty Ultimates is like, well, even I don't have a metaphor for that.  Shorty 4s are tough to set up, a pain to maintain and don't work well, while Shory Ultimates are easy to set up, easy to maintain, and work crazy well.  

I'm sure in 5 years we'll all use discs, because that's the way these things happen, but we don't think it's the best solution for cross yet.