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Tuesday
May032016

Internet Showrooming

I have really wide feet, and you know what they say about guys with wide feet - it's hard for them to find cycling shoes that fit. Northwave had been my go-to brand for a long time, as they had really wide lasts. Then they changed, which resulted in a year of foot misery for me. Last summer, I went into a shop I like and asked "what's the widest thing you've got in my size?" Ten minutes later, I walked out with a pair of Sidi Mega in size 43.5. Sidi's Megas have actually gotten wider - they used to not be wide enough for me. My feet have been happy since, even if my wallet stung for a bit after.

I paid full retail, which I didn't mind, and here's why: the shop was uniquely positioned to solve my problem, had invested in their ability to do so (both in knowledge and inventory), and bore a cost structure as a result of that investment and ability. People can argue it until the sun goes down, but after having had my problem comprehensively solved, I'd have felt like an ass if I hadn't bought the shoes right there. Some may see tremendous irony in the guy who runs an online wheel builder having such an attitude about it, but I don't.

A little bit of bling can go a long way

We've invested really an inappropriate (relative to our size, for sure) amount of resources into learning about wheels - everything from aerodynamics and stiffness, to what cx tubeless setups are 100% reliable, to carbon supply chain and manufacturing, to everything about how components fit together, to what is going to work best for what rider in what circumstances. For most people, opinions form more quickly than knowledge accumulates, but we maintain that in our case it's precisely the opposite - informed opinions are the only opinions we want to have.

We have the product scope and assembly ability to cover a tremendous range of use cases, needs and parameters. It's not a question of "pick whatever OEM wheel set is burning a hole in our inventory and floor space" like it is with so many wheel choices. We really do recommend without regard for margin - we steer A LOT of people to a lower cost solution than what they might have had in mind. And there are times when we simply say "we can't meet your needs" simply because someone either has a budget that's below our strike zone, or wants something for which we don't feel we're the best solution. We don't do disc wheels (though we kind of rul at disc brake wheels) and we're not up to speed on downhll/enduro/fatbike type stuff, so you're better off finding the November of those products - because we simply aren't the November of those products. But of what we do, we are the November. 

We also share what we've learned quite freely. Aggressively, even. Sharing what we've learned with the market both advances the general conversation about wheels, and (hopefully) convinces people that we do in fact know what the hell it is we are talking about. Sometimes we get shouted down, and it's not at all unusual for us to learn something new through discourse since things are evolving and we can only focus on so many things at any point, but what happens most often is that people approach us for input. Sometimes people ask for a 1000 word discourse on something, which is when the blog archives help, so we do what we can in those situations.

We're empathetic to an absolute fault, by which I mean that we want to steer you only to what is going to work best for you, generally at the lowest cost, over your given time frame. We're happy to help you arrive at your decision, happier when we can provide that solution, and happiest when you choose us to provide it. 

 

Tuesday
Apr262016

Pressure Drop Follow Up

The one time I go short format on a blog and all my contact points just blow up with follow-ups about yesterday's blog

First, this phenomenon is generally linear along the depth axis (the deeper the rim section, the more resistant it is to compression) and material (carbon exhibits this behavior generally less than alloy). 

Second, like Rod Stewart sang, the first cut is the deepest. The first time you cause and adjust for this wheel behavior is the most it's going to happen. When you put a tire on after the ajustment, it's not such a big effect. A useful guess is that the lingering effect is about half of the initial effect.

2.5th, you should see what happens to tension as we bed the spokes. We don an initial spoke line correction as part of lacing, and then do a bit as we bring the tension up. Once we get them nearly up to tension, they get their big bedding in. That can drop tension by 50%. How we do that is a trade secret. We're allowed to have those. 

Third, the difference in spoke tension drop between a tire at, say 80 psi and one at 110 isn't that big at all. You don't need to adjust your wheels because you like high or low pressure, nor do you have to change your tire pressure because we did this step with a 100 psi tire as a guide. 

Fourth, your rim's sidewalls bulge just a tiny bit when your tire is fully inflated. We've studied this extensively on alloys, and our pressure recommendations are informed by this. The general behavior is that the brake tracks (or the equivalent place on a disc rim) will open by a small amount (~.15mm) up to a point, after which it really starts to open up more. We want to keep you the hell away from that point. Danger be there. I'd be willing to guess that the common guesses on the relative lineup of how this happens on rims we use are wrong. Again, carbons generally do this less than alloys. We don't measure this spread on every wheel that goes out, but being aware of it sure does inform what we look at in the "with the tire on and inflated" part of the build process. 

Believe it or not, there's a good fair bit of IQ and a really broad range of experience brought to bear on all of our processes. Nobody, and no thing, is perfect, but we really really (really) do have your best interests at heart. Almost painfully so. That's something we can never adequately express through our pithy yet eloquent blogs. Every the whole "professionals built the Titanic and amateurs built Noah's Ark!" line of logic comes up, we die a little bit inside. A f-ing LOT goes into trying to put perfect in a box every freaking time. 

Monday
Apr252016

Pressure Drop

Thanks to Toots and the Maytals for today's title - it was an obvious choice.

People often ask us whether there's any break in period, or any adjustments that need to be made after riding our wheels. There aren't, and there are several reasons why. First is that we go to great lengths to ensure that all of the spoke lines have been corrected, and that everything is 100% bedded in. We also use an extensive destressing process. These ensure that the spokes take the shortest distance between the two points they connect, that they won't move around once you start riding them, and that the spokes don't have any residual stresses or "memory." Good wheel builders do these things, because wheels where these things haven't been done won't stay true for long. New wheels shouldn't sound like popcorn when you initially use them. 

Another step that we take is to inflate a tire on each and every wheel, and do a final adjustment to spoke tension and true. As this video shows, a clincher tire compresses the rim and lowers spoke tension. This means that if you had just enough "off" side tension (non-disc side spokes in a disc front, non-drive side spokes in a rear) before, then you don't have enough now. It also moves the wheel's dish a tiny bit toward the more tensioned side. 

This final step takes a bunch of time, but in order to deliver the best built wheels we can time after time after time, we find that it's worth it. 

Friday
Apr222016

Engineered and Optimized

One of the oft-cited mantras in the "how few spokes can I get away with" conundrum is that many factory wheels have parts that are all "engineered to work together." We spend enough of life discussing spoke count so I'm not even going to talk about it now, but I will mention that since my Quarq caught the flu I have been using my old 24h Powertap, which I built into an aluminum rim. 

Neither Mike nor I are big E Engineers (those who possess engineering degrees and PE certs are big E Engineers), but engineering things isn't their exclusive domain. Heck, beavers are some of the planet's most prolific engineers, and despite many adorable animated stories about them which would have you believe otherwise, they don't talk or go to college or wear hard hats. That didn't keep MIT and CalTech from adopting them as school mascots. Alas, neither of us is a beaver, either. 

Tim (see what they did there?)

Small e engineering is a reasonably simple process. All it takes is a good working knowledge of the traits of the materials you're using, and the parameters you want the finished product to hit. Certain factory wheel products have proprietary parts that are designed to work exclusively together, in the ways they interconnect parts, or in the way they use local reinforcing to address certain stresses. And in their being that way, one could say that thesed are optimized for their configuration, but that doesn't mean a wheel that's built using non-purpose-built-to-work-exclusively-together components can't be optimized for any given set of parameters. Optimizing builds and component selections using standardized parts has been going on for far far longer than we've been doing it, and will hopefully continue long after we're done. 

The proximate cause for this blog is that a wheel company out there is once again passing off a standard product as their own, engineered and optimized to work in their wheel "system." They use a unique hub of their own design, standard but not specified spokes, and a rim that they buy from the brand that owns the rim's design and has exclusive rights to its manufacture. They lace it only in 20/24, and call it optimized and put no rider weight limit on it. When asked about it the rim recently, they stone cold straight up lied. And if you are going to do what they're doing, the rim they've chosen isn't the one to do it with. And they charge well north of $1000 for them. Well north. Presumably to support the array of athletes and teams they sponsor. The people behind this company may be the nicest people on the planet, I have no idea at all, but I disagree with their approach. 

You can't swing a dead cat without hitting a company that's selling wheels with a sub-$250 cost of goods for $700 or $900 or $1150. Many of these still BS and pass their components off as "designed and E/engineered by us, manufactured just for us." Buying OEM stuff and having it laser engraved isn't engineering. Or Engineering. And it's probably easy to spot that our cost of goods is a hell of a lot higher than $250 on any build. 

A big part of why we're so open about the branding of the components we use is so you know what you're getting, and you can make informed choices based on your prior experiences with them, their reputation in the marketplace, and our reputation for putting them together correctly. If it isn't really obvious, our patience with companies that play stupid tricks is 100% gone. We used to be pretty tactful about this stuff, but I wouldn't expect that anymore. 

 

Thursday
Apr142016

The issue with pro racing is...

Bear in mind that I write this while having my coffee on a morning when a significant task on hand for the day is to keep testing the current Range disc wheel pre-production rim. Our product lineup is a reflection (we hope) of what people want to buy, and not what we are "pushing." You're absolutely kidding yourself if you think we have the market presence to push. About the furthest we can go with pushing is to encourage people to try tubeless (I've said it a million times, I'm done with tubes. I've also said a million times that it might not be for you). So we have a dog in the disc fight, but we also have a dog in the not-disc fight (if you race with rim brakes and don't use Rails, it's your fault). In that aspect of the business, we are agnostic and happy to try and supply the best solution for whatever path people wish to pursue. 

Long preamble, huh? Okay, so Francisco Ventoso got his leg sliced into pretty badly in a near-accident on Sunday at Paris-Roubaix. The apparent (and really we've got no reason to doubt it) implement of this cut was a disc rotor. As a result, the use of disc brakes in the pro peloton has been suspended. You can't use discs in UCI pro races until further notice. 

This highlights two situations that I'd like to briefly explore. The first is best introduced by a quote from an article that Caley Fretz posted on VeloNews yesterday:

“We’re always going to follow demand,” Yu says. “In the past it was, ‘You race on it on Sunday and sell it on Monday.’ But nowadays more people are into experience and adventure. So the goal now is producing a bike that is optimal for the job. Sometimes that’s racing. More and more often it’s not.”

The "Yu" in question is Chris Yu, an aerodynamicist who works at Specialized. The sentiment he expresses - that riders take their equipment cues less and less from what pros race on - is something with which we absolutely agree. Whether it's backlash from years and years and years (and years) of doping, or just that the UCI can't respond to things as quickly as the market wants what it wants, or something else, I can't say. The UCI has a tough-ish job there, I'm not calling them a lumbering beast though they might be that - I really don't know. My point is that when you're trying to reconcile the needs and wants of the many-headed Hydra that is pro racing, you have to consider more than any individual has to worry about for himself. And when I say "himself" I mean a gender neutral "him." We love and respect women here at November Bicycles. Seriously.

The other issue is highlighted (highlit?) by a commenter someplace on the internet, who writes about this incident:

It's time for a union and for the UCI to do its job and resist industry profit pressures.  

The problem with this, kind sir, is that industry profit pressures are the reason that pro road racing currently exists. Cannondale, Lampre-Merida, BMC, Giant-Alpecin, Trek Segafredo - all teams sponsored primarily by the industry. Remove the endemic sponsors, even the ones that aren't top-line team name sponsors, and pro racing ends tomorrow. The sport has failed to execute a revenue model that allows it to exist without being little more than a promotional vehicle for the products used within the sport. 

This is the issue that I have whenever discussions of minimum rider salaries or whatever arise. There's no economic justification for them. The economics of pro cycling are more or less the economics of patronage. 

Don't misunderstand me, though I dislike pro sports in general, I enjoy watching bike races. After I raced Sunday, I watched a replay of P-R with friends and though it was great. And as regards said race, a guy crashed mere inches from me when he failed to pay attention at a moment when he should have been paying attention, but was futzing with his bottle instead. Should bottles be banned? But the other channel was showing The Masters. Want to talk about a legitimate economic model?