I’ve ridden dozens of frames made from each of the four frame materials. In the case of steel and carbon fiber, it’s more than three dozen of each. There’s a reason why carbon fiber is king these days. A manufacturer can achieve stunning stiffness for out-of-the-saddle efforts and yet package that in a frame that weighs less than a kilo. Simple market forces have been driving the bike industry toward lighter, stiffer bikes since before Lance Armstrong won his first Tour de France.
At this point, the industry standard for bikes is this: Stiff enough not to get front derailleur rub in a 53×19 when out of the saddle and sub-kilo. Without those you need a gimmick to sell bikes. Lance Armstrong is a good one. Crazy aluminum lugs that look like aircraft parts worked for another company.
There are, at this point, so many companies achieving this benchmark in a 58cm frame (Cannondale, Felt, Giant, Scott and Specialized come immediately to mind) that those who don’t stick out (I haven’t weighed the new Trek Madone, but the previous version, while it handled better than any previous Trek, weighed 2.5 pounds in a 52cm frame … unimpressive). As a result, my A-list of bikes have been those that achieve great torsional stiffness, weigh less than a kilo, handle well and have great road feel.
For me, road feel is the great separator, the ultimate arbiter. But what is it? It’s that thing you experience when you get on a steel bike and go, “This feels so good.” You’ll feel it in titanium bikes as well. It’s an elusive quality, one that comes in many shades of gray. Aluminum bikes are almost uniformly devoid of it and for many years the vast majority of carbon fiber bikes were as out of touch with it as the pope is to the charms of Led Zepplin (I’m guessing here).
Allow me to use an analogy. I spent my formative years cultivating what creative talent I had toward a career in music. Among the many things I studied was recording engineering. My early mixes were marked by muddy mid-tones and booming bass. I played one of these mixes for one of the engineers I worked under at Ardent Recording in Memphis. He asked me where the high end was. Sounds lacked definition; attack was fuzzy and the vocals could be hard to make out. Over time he coached me into adding a great deal more high frequency EQ to my mixes. It was like shining a light on the music; it became easier to distinguish the guitar from the bass, the bass guitar reinforced the time keeping, the drums had definition, the vocals had actual sibilants (“S” sounds and such) and yet the low end, the fun in funk, didn’t disappear.
So what the hell does that mean in bikes? On the very best bikes, stiffness is achieved with enough high modulus carbon fiber that the walls of the tubes can be thinned in the middle, the way double- and triple-butted steel tubes have thin midsections. These thin midsections attenuate a certain amount of road vibration but they still allow a small amount of high-frequency road vibration to reach the rider. Too much of this high-frequency road vibration results in muscle fatigue, a la lawn mower hands. However, a small amount of it will tell you a lot about the road surface you’re riding over and can be critical in trying to get the most out of a bike on a fast descent.
The shot above is a cutaway of the new Specialized SL3, showing the increasing diameter steerer and the newly added ribs in the head and down tubes, as well as the reinforcing at the junction of the head and down tubes. You’ll notice they only use as much material as they feel is necessary. It’s key to the bike’s road feel.
This is the quality that is hardest to find in bikes, and one of the reasons is that it depends on very precise layup schedules (you can’t just use tons of material to get strength and stiffness and hope to have any road feel left) and demands a fair amount of high-modulus carbon fiber in order to achieve enough strength and stiffness.
I’ll draw another comparison that is true in the extreme, but unfortunately disconnected from any experience most of you have had. At Outdoor Demo, I rode both Parlee’s Z5 and Z4. The Z5 was a stunning success. It had the sensitivity of road feel that fewer than a half dozen carbon fiber bikes I’ve ridden have exhibited. Truly, an outstanding bike. The Z4, on the other hand, though roughly $1000 less in retail pricing, was pretty dead. It was stiff and it was light, but it just wasn’t sexy. The Z5 was Pam Anderson in spray paint while the Z4 was Pam Anderson in … burlap sack. Personally, I think they should discontinue the Z4. No one should be allowed to confuse that bike with just how good a Parlee really is. If you need to buy based on price, there’s Specialized and Felt.
I’ve still got my Torelli Nitro Express built by Antonio Mondonico. Its .7-.4.-.7-wall Nivacrom tubes epitomize excellent road feel, as does my butted titanium Seven Axiom. After riding those bikes, lots of bikes are just … not exceptional.
I’m not interested in commodities. I write about cycling because it transformed my life and a great bike can lead us to peak experiences. The bike isn’t the be-all-end-all, but a great bike can entertain us on an ongoing basis. I’ve ridden loads of bikes and the carbon bikes that are worth remembering have this rare quality of road feel and there’s no way to find out if a bike has it until you have ridden it. No test any German magazine can devise will find it. Achieving it requires a bit of art and a bit of science, but the result is pure art, and something every rider I know who has encountered it agrees upon. You might argue whether Pollock is art or not, but everyone agrees that Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel is great art. When you encounter real road feel, you’ll never want to settle for a frame without it.
In shooting industry folk for my last post, I shot so many images, I couldn’t fit them all into a single post, so I’ve decided to do another and do so knowing that I will have omitted some terrific people. They are what, for me, make the trip to Vegas something I look forward to each year.
Above is Ted Costantino, the founding editor of Bicycle Guide. It was his guidance of the magazine that inspired in me a desire to write about cycling; his editors were good enough to light aspiration in me. All of the magazines showed me that being a bike magazine editor was cool, but BG made me want to write about cycling with real literary flair. Today Ted is the publisher of Velo Press and I periodically send him book proposals. I’ve wanted to work for this guy since the 1980s; I’ll find a way to do it some day.
Carson Stanwood taught me the value of a good PR guy. Part comic, part encyclopedia, part hale goodfellow and part dedicated rider, Carson is one of those guys who just gets it. He’s never pitched me on something as unnecessary as a hernia; his accounts have always been an A-list of companies I can’t know too much about. In 1997 he gave me a T-shirt commemorating Interbike with the slogan, “Help, I’m talking and I can’t shut up!” It’s still in rotation.
Chris King’s head of marketing, Chris Distefano (left) and co-worker Abby (whose last name I didn’t get, at right), caught here doing the hangover ride to Lake Mead and back. If there’s a magnetic north pole to cool somewhere in the universe, Chris is there with a bike sporting a product you’re dying to ride.
I began reading Richard Cunningham’s work at Mountain Bike Action before I ever scored a byline. I’ve long envied his creativity in frame design and prose; a combination you won’t find in too many places.
Brad Roe, right, is the editor for Road Bike Action and the man who invited me to contribute to their editorial efforts. Jonathan Edwards, left, is a doctor and one of the contributing editors to the magazine. Brad has overseen the magazine’s evolution from being written by a single editor to one that brings readers a number of voices. He’s receptive to new ideas and has a light touch as an editor; it’s a killer combination.
Ben Delaney, at left, and Sean Watkins, right, are both very fast Cat. 1 racers. As it happens, they are both employed by Competitor Group, where Ben is the editor of VeloNews and Sean helps to oversee advertising sales for the entire group of magazines (which also includes Inside Triathlon and Triathlete). I met Ben when he was a staff editor for Bicycle Retailer and Industry News and he later freelanced for me at Asphalt. He’s everything you’d want in a contributor: good, easy going and on-time. I imagine he’s even better as a boss. Before joining the staff of Triathlete, Sean was an ad sales guy for Winning, Bicycle Guide and Triathlete when they were owned by another publisher, and he’s been fast for, well, he was a member of the Skittles team and called Lance Armstrong teammate.
Steve Frothingham is another former Bicycle Retailer guy who now works for VeloNews as their online editor. I contribute from time to time and Steve’s an easy guy to work with. In between his Bicycle Retailer days and joining VeloNews, Steve got a masters’ in journalism and spent some serious time in the trenches working for the Associated Press.
I got to know “A Dog in a Hat” author Joe Parkin in the fall of ’95 when he was racing for Diamond Back and he and teammie Gunnar Shogren spent the season racing ‘cross in New England. I already knew who he was from his days as a roadie in Europe and racing domestically for Coors Light. When I joined the staff of Bicycle Guide, I stayed in touch with Joe and he always had a ready quote for me. My trip to Interbike is incomplete without saying hi, and it’s nice to see his book has met with such success. He’s promised to carve out some time to contribute to Red Kite Prayer.
Matt Pacocha impressed the folks at VeloNews well enough to make the leap from pro mountain bike racer and freelancer to staff technical writer. It’s a good thing, too. He’s still super-fast and writes some very clear prose.
Dominique Rollin, left, of the Cervelo Test Team made the jump from domestic racing to Europe and did quite well in his first year. Len Pettyjohn, right, is the former director of Coors Light and is with a new venture now, called Centurion Cycling. Len will be producing a series of Gran Fondo rides in ’10 that will be both epic and fun. I’ve been quoting him in articles for more than 10 years.
Dave Letteiri once interviewed me for a position as a mechanic for the Chevrolet/L.A. Sheriffs cycling team. Most of the interview focused on my ability to keep cool if I was being yelled at by an amped-up rider. Since then, Dave’s career has been devoted to Fastrack Bicycles in Santa Barbara where he is an integral part of the cycling scene. His shop looks a bit like a bomb went off, but has some priceless cycling memorabilia that makes it a must-visit for anyone passing through the town.
Derin and Kurt Stockton ought to be legendary for their exploits. Kurt is a former US Pro champion (1990) and Derin raced in Europe for Tulip, among other teams. When I joined the staff of Bicycle Guide, Derin was a contributing editor and did some extraordinary work. Since then he has raced pro downhill and these days is a strength and conditioning coach for pro motocrossers in Temecula, Calif. Kurt has stayed close to the road world and has managed several teams and has plans to announce something new in the near future.
Jim Stevenson is from my neck of the woods, but got out of the South before I did. The number of mutual friends we have in Tennessee and Missisippi are enough to make you think we are fraternity brothers, and in a way I guess we are. Since his departure he has worked for Centurion/Diamondback, GT, Felt and now Bianchi, where he is national sales manager. If there is one guy’s brain in the industry I’d love to download, he’d be at the top of the list.
Nic Sims is Specialized’s media relations guy for the bike industry. You’ve probably seen him on Versus talking up the latest in Specialized technologies. He’s witty, passionate and has the energy of a five year old on Red Bull. He was one of the first guys I talked to in the industry to really understand the power of blogs as a new form of media.
Josh Rebol is one of the instructors for Specialized’s SBCU. Prior to joining Specialized, he was was at Hazard’s in Santa Barbara where all he did fits all day, every day. When I have a question about fit, he’s one of the first guys I go to.
That’s Robin Thurston, one of the biggest-picture thinkers I’ve encountered in the bike industry. He’s the visionary behind Map My Ride. His business acumen is formidable and he paid serious dues racing in Europe before thinking about how GPS could change our interaction with our world. This guy is one to watch.
Assos’ Larry Kohn and Kim Schramer. They are bringing Assos the level of recognition the line deserves and are among a short list of lines that have really seen the value in the bicycle studio concept. Larry was a big fan of Belgium Knee Warmers and stepped up right away to support Red Kite Prayer.
Of all the cycling clothing companies to see the value of offering both custom clothing to teams and a collection for those who want something fresh looking without the crush of manufacturers’ logos that some team jerseys are, I don’t think anyone has done a better job of it than Gary Vasconi and the crew at Capo Forma. Gary eats, drinks and sleeps the roadie life and gets it like only a true roadie can.
Brian Worthy is the U.S. representative for one of the world’s best custom clothing lines: Vermarc. The Belgian line sponsors one team: Quick Step. However, if you look around a bit, you’ll see a lot of PROs wearing their stuff—their teams just buy it. Why? It’s that good.
Michael Foley and Ken DeCesari are two of the men behind the incredible growth of Sock Guy. Foley was the man behind the launch of Bike magazine and was with Bicycle Guide before that. He’s well-connected and seems always to know what’s happening even before it has happened. I’ve learned loads from that guy.
J.P. Partland is an old friend who has contributed to every magazine I’ve worked for in the industry. These days, one of his primary gigs is writing the incredible detailed copy for the Competitive Cyclist site, along with honch Brendan Quirk. He lives in New York City and can be found at the races most weekends in the PRO/1/2 field.
Chad Nordwall is the man behind Above Category bicycle studio in Mill Valley, Calif., which is probably the only community in America to sport two incredible bicycle studios (the other being Studio Velo). Above Category is likely to become an object lesson in how to present cycling in a more professional manner and the competition between the two shops will make each even better.
My apologies to the dozens of other friends I didn’t see or just plain forgot to shoot when I saw you on the floor.
As much as I love going to Interbike to see new bikes and parts each year, I need to be honest and say I’m far more excited to see friends both old and new. One of the things that has kept me in the bike industry for more than 20 years is friendship. I’ve had the good fortune to make friends with a great many people in the bike industry and each year my trip to the show is often my one guaranteed annual chance to see these great people.
Above is Brad Devaney, an engineer with Litespeed. Brad and I met in 1989 while working for the Peddler Bike Shop in Memphis, Tennessee. The Peddler crew was a tight-knit, collegial bunch and we frequently rode together. Of the mechanics I worked with, Brad was clearly the most resourceful and mechanically adept. A few years ago I bumped into Brad and asked him about one of our old coworkers, a triathlete named Corey; Brad and Corey were tight. It was there on the show floor that Brad told me Corey had been hit by a car while on a ride and killed. The show floor was a rotten place to hear the news, but there was no one I’d rather have delivered it.
I ment Alan Coté when I joined the UMASS cycling team in the fall of 1989. Alan was very fast and one of the only guys on the team who knew how to wrench on a bike. We spent a portion of one summer working at Bicycle World Too in Amherst before he moved to Boulder to be with his girlfriend (now wife) Megan. Today, Alan is a contributing editor to Bicycling and has been writing about cycling for longer than I have. He got his start freelancing for VeloNews and worked his way up to Bicycle Guide. It was as a result of Alan’s help that I got my foot in the door at Bicycle Guide. He questioned my sanity when I expressed my willingness to leave Northampton for Los Angeles—”Pat, isn’t Los Angeles the on-ramp to the apocalypse?”—to which I responded, “Dude, I’ve been to Mississippi.”
Jeff Winnick is an independent sales rep in New England. His lines have changed over the years, but he’s the same warm, straightforward and honest guy I met while working at Northampton Bicycle in 1990. I took Jeff to lunch one day to ask his advice on how to move from retailing into the industry side of the biz. He was generous with his time and knowledge, still is.
If you’ve ever raced a bike in New England, chances are Merlyn Townley wrenched on your bike in a neutral pit at some point. Merlyn and I met at the Olympic Training Center in 1992 when we were there to get our mechanics’ licenses. He was a delight to share a room with then and we worked together at many events over the next few years. Merlyn always impressed me with his utterly tireless enthusiasm for working on bikes. He is one of the only mechanics I can say reminds me of the great Bill Woodul. Today Merlyn has an upstart OEM wheel building business based in Chattanooga, Tenn.
Devin Walton called me up in May of 1994 to work neutral support for Shimano at the 1994 World Cup mountain bike event at Mt. Snow, Vermont. Over the weekend I worked on more bikes than I typically saw during a week at a shop. Devin’s professionalism filled me with a new respect for Shimano and the talent they assembled. Today, Devin is still with Shimano and has one of the company’s most coveted posts: media relations guy. He handles all media relations as well as some pretty heavy lifting on the PR side.
One of the other mechanics on hand for that June 1994 weekend was this guy, Mike Conlan. Mike was the first bike mechanic I ever saw don latex gloves for grimy work. A real pro and a very nice guy. Today, Mike is the manager of Outdoor Sports Center in Wilton, Conn. His instincts are as sharp as ever and he is a guy whose opinion I always ask when it comes to retailing trends.
I met Larry Theobald in Greenfield, Massachusetts in 1991. He was working for Breaking Away Tours in the summer and riding with us in the spring and fall. His wife, Heather, was finishing her doctorate at UMASS and I rode with her from time to time. In the winters, I’d frequently see him at one of the cross-country ski areas up in the Berkshires. These days Larry and Heather have a tour company called Cycle Italia that is known for excellent rides, great accommodations and even better food.
Butch Balzano may be the only mechanic in New England who is even better known than Merlyn Townley. I worked a few races with Butch in the early ’90s and thought him so competent as to make me superfluous. He has been providing race support through Campagnolo, Shimano and now SRAM for more than 20 years. He’s as easy going a guy as there is, and one of the few guys I can say for whom a 12-second wheel change is routine.
Richard Fries became known to me as a Cat. 1 who started a magazine called The Ride. I began freelancing for The Ride with its second issue and gradually became more involved in the magazine, eventually writing a column called Shop Talk. It was funny to write for a magazine whose publisher would frequently feature in headlines (I recall many along the lines of “Fries Wins Again in Marlborough”). Richard and his wife, Deb, published The Ride for more than 10 years; it was easily the best regional I ever saw published. Along the way a funny thing happened: Richard’s son, Grant was born and became old enough to ride his own bicycle, and Richard got concerned about where Grant could ride. Today, Richard is one of the nation’s most ardent and effective voices for bicycle advocacy, working with a variety of organizations, including Bikes Belong. Oh, and if you ever need to know anything about the Civil War, he’s faster with the facts than Wikipedia.
The man in the Reynolds booth is another former Northamptonite, Jonathan Geran. Jonathan’s easy way has seen him in sales for Merlin, Parlee, McLean Quality Composites and now Reynolds. The one thing we try not to do when we see each other is to discuss the mountain biking we used to enjoy in western Mass.
Chris Carmichael called on me to help the Junior National Team with several races in 1993. He was easy to work for and had the ability to tell each rider exactly what they needed to hear right before a race. I remember thinking it was no wonder he was head coach for the U.S. National Team. In the years since, Chris has been generous in giving me quotes for many articles and a book.
Derreck Bernard was one of the first people I met when I joined the staff of Bicycle Guide. He was part of the ad sales staff and was as nice and easy going a guy as you’d want to work with. He helped change my perception of the high-pressure ad sales guy. Since Petersen’s sale and re-sale, Derreck joined the staff of Hi-Torque Publications, where he sells ads for Mountain Bike Action, Road Bike Action and BMX Plus! Thanks to my freelance work for Road Bike Action, even though we don’t work together directly, its fun to think of him as a coworker again.
Carol and Bill McGann are the former owners of Torelli Imports. Bill and Carol are an incredible team and really collaborate on everything; their affection and respect for each other is something to envy. Bill still works for the company some, so I still get to see them in the Torelli booth each year. He is one of the rare guys on the manufacturing side of the business who really taught me a lot about the industry, rather than just his line. He’s got an incredibly expansive view (he’s an armchair historian which may help explain his ability to see the bigger picture) of the bike industry and has helped me see trends as they develop. He’s also one helluva travel companion and the week I spent with him in Italy will go down as one of the finest weeks of my whole life.
Multiply one guy by three days by more than 100 exhibitors who rank somewhere between curious and fascinating and the result is a negative number. The show really can’t be fully digested that way. When I left the floor of Interbike Friday afternoon, I had more questions than when I entered. The list of products I am dying to ride is too long to prioritize.
The number of companies that didn’t display on any level was much greater than I previously understood. I had assumed that Ochsner Imports, an importer with a number of interesting lines, would be present, but they had no booth. More than a few companies had smaller booths than in previous years.
The question of the relevance of the show was further called into question by the number of exhibitors taking orders at the show. I spoke with but one exhibitor who had taken orders in meetings with retailers.
One of the biggest trends illustrated at Interbike was the number of European companies that now own their American distributorship as a subsidiary. Sidi has formed a new U.S. distributorship, as has the German bike manufacturer Focus, whose Izalco was one of the freshest takes on bike design I saw all week. Despite occupying a distant corner of the show floor, the Focus booth enjoyed an ongoing stream of visitors.
Day two of the Interbike show was a mad dash from one appointment to the next. Unfortunately, some of the coolest things I saw, including a new power meter that measures torque at the pedals, were in display cases that didn’t permit acceptable photography. There were plenty of autograph signings, lots of beer being served and wrenches trying to score schwag, but the one thing retailers told me over and over was that they weren’t placing orders. They had already placed their preseason orders or they were waiting to see how things would shake out with the economy in general and their business in specific.
I saw a number of new products today. Some of them were interesting enough to want to review. The one category I really saw explode were the number of new products recording wattage and displaying wattage data. There are a number of new products, including a system that uses Speedplay pedals which is currently in prototype. Photos of those as well as CycleOps new head unit for the bike will be coming tomorrow.
Day 2 of the Outdoor Demo gave me a chance to try eight more bikes. The photos of the five bikes contained here are the ones I liked well enough to mention. They were the Specialized SL3, the Look 586, The Fuji SST 1.0, the Cannondale Super Six and the Felt F1.
The SL3 is the bike Specialized was trying to make when it brought out the SL2. This new version eliminates the chatter that spoiled the ride of the SL2 on all but the smoothest roads. It’s stiff torsionally and uses enough high modulus carbon fiber that it offers an unusually high degree of road sensitivity. Easily one of my three favorites for the show.
Overall, the Look was a nice riding bike and would be great for long days, especially centuries. The handling reminded me of the way European steel bikes used to handle. It took a lot of countersteering to get this thing to turn. It was rock solid in a straight line, of course. Were I to review a bike, I think I’d be more interested in the 585, though.
The Cannondale Super Six is much improved from last year. The rear end used to flex a fair amount and while there wasn’t a lot of flex in the front triangle and fork, the stays flexed enough to make the BB feel a little soft, but that’s been corrected now. Unfortunately, the bike was set up with the bar so high I couldn’t get a feel for the handling. The carbon fiber felt a little more dead than some of the others.
The Felt F1 offers an incredible blend of stiffness and sensitivity to road surface. The mold is the same one used for the last few years but a new blend of carbon and a new layup process results in greater stiffness with no weight penalty I’m told. This bike balances stiffness, road feel, weight and durability (impact and abrasion resistance) better than almost any other bike out there. One of my three faves for sure.
I’ve been seeing the Fuji around here and there and wanted to try it to see how it stacked up to bikes from more established players in the carbon fiber field. I was pleasantly surprised. While it doesn’t offer the sensitivity to road surface that the Specialized and Felt do, it was on a par with the Cannondale, which is real praise. Despite the seat mast design, it didn’t transmit an unreasonable amount of road vibration to the saddle.
My top three bikes for the ODD were the Specialized SL3, the Felt F1 and the Parlee Z5. I hope to review them in the coming months. Plenty of companies are getting their frames stiff enough, but they need to spend more time looking at road feel, in particular, sensitivity to road surface. It’s a dimension that is easy to overlook, but balancing the need for sensitivity without allowing too much road vibration to zap the rider can make the difference between a vibrant bike and a dead bike. Dead-feeling carbon is so 1990s. I find it especially interesting that these three bikes, though all produced overseas, come from three different facilities, meaning it isn’t just the factory engineers who know how to dial in some sensitivity when you ask for it. Clearly the people managing these product lines know there’s more to a great ride than just stiffness.
Day 1 of Interbike’s Dirt Demo at Bootleg Canyon is upon us. Normally Bootleg Canyon is a pretty dusty affair, but this year it is a dusty, windy affair and left the road bikes looking less impressive than the deserved. Seeing all the new chains, lever hoods, top tubes and tires poofed with a fine mist of reddish smoke made me squirm in anguish, both for the bikes but also the mechanics who would need to clean them at some point.
By the end of the day everyone present had rose-rimmed eyes and I did many a double-take wondering if someone just had an S.O. spat. No, it was just the wind pushing talc-fine spindrift into everything with a nook and/or cranny. BB30 is making big inroads on road bikes, and why not? It allows engineers to design around a much wider bottom bracket shell, in turn allowing the down tube and seat tube to have a much greater circumference for increased stiffness and more efficient power transfer.
Bike 1 for the day was Giant’s TCR Advanced SL. This is the non-seatmast version of what Rabobank rides. Compared to the older TCR this thing is a wonder. The original TCR suffered from lots of lash; it was easy to twist the head tube during out of the saddle efforts and that softness also resulted in a bit of oversteer in hard corners, something most riders felt as just a bit of squirrellyness (yes, that’s a technical term). This new bike is plenty stiff and with increased use of high-modulus carbon fiber the bike offers a great deal more road sensitivity, not to mention instantaneous power transfer.
I look forward to doing a full test on this bike.
The second bike of the day I rode (worth mentioning) was the Look 566. The ride quality wasn’t crisp the way I’ve come to expect from many high-end road bikes. It was comfortable enough and damped vibration fairly well but the bike’s overall feel made more sense when I found out a complete bike retails for just $2495. Oh. At that price point, it’s rare that any bike feels this good.
The 566 has the tube shapes of a bike you’d see on the ProTour and the graphic treatment of a bike that might cost thousands more.
Look’s engineers have yet to take the leap and embrace BB30 but the wide downtube and wishbone chainstay offer considerable stiffness.
The changes are subtle, but Felt’s flagship TT/Tri bike received some new aerodynamic sculpting over the winter. The Irvine-based company’s engineers have worked hard to make sure the bike conforms to the UCI’s 3:1 ratio while increasing its aerodynamic efficiency. Dave Koesel, Felt’s road product manager (and a Campy guy from way back) enthused about the Dura-Ace Di2 being spec’d on several of their bikes.
Imagine a TT bike that allows you to shift from any hand position without needing to so much as shift your wrist.
Derailleur performance on Di2 is so quick and flawless it must be experienced to be believed. Front derailleur shifting is so fast it seems to defy the laws of physics and rear shifting is as quiet as it is smooth, and it’s quieter than a hybrid at a stoplight.
Both the Z and F series bikes are available in a Di2 version for less than $6000, thanks to a very careful component selection.
Because the Di2 has no internal mechanism other than the brake lever, the levers are very light and the hoods smaller than anything else on the market. For folks with smaller hands they are exceedingly comfortable to grip. One odd experience Koesel mentioned and I experienced in my riding of Di2 as well is that under hard efforts, old brain wiring takes over and we have both experienced trying to move the brake lever to execute a shift. That thing is stiff.
Koesel says in the company’s test rides of Di2, they have gotten more than 3000 miles on a single battery charge.
This was my first chance to actually ride a Parlee. The bike above is the company’s first production sized bike, the Z4. It had all the hallmarks of the most sophisticated carbon creations I’ve ridden: great torsional stiffness, good road sensitivity, great power transfer and low weight. It was rather hard to get a strong feel for the handling geometry due to the deep-section Edge wheels and the high winds we were dealing with; nonetheless, I liked the bike a lot.
Many components used on the Z4 are borrowed directly from the bike’s custom predecessor, the Z3. This seat lug is used on both bikes.
Parlee pushed the envelope on down tube diameter and BB shell thickness relative to the traditional 68mm BB.
The Z5 is Parlee’s newest road creation and is a culmination of the lessons learned in building both custom and production bikes. The unidirection carbon fiber that gives this bike (and all Parlees for that matter) its signature look tells you it’s all business. Of all the bikes at the show, this one was the one I was most looking forward to seeing and it was easily the most impressive in ride quality from a standpoint of stiffness and road sensitivity. The handling geometry was tough to judge again due to the presence of deep-section Edge wheels, but it seemed to track with great confidence.
Round tubes are king here; the look is simple, seamless, direct.
The Z5 uses a BB30 design which results in a BB as massive as a ’55 Chevy. The combination of the Z5 and SRAM Red had me contemplating felony larceny. Or at least a scenic (and unauthorized) tour of Hoover Dam.
Parlee has a close relationship with Edge and this was my first chance to ride their bar and stem. The curve of the drop was nice and the gently rounded shape combined with a fairly deep drop reminded me of a carbon fiber version of the old Cinelli Merckx bend.
As nice as Parlee’s Z4 is, the Z5 is a noticeably better bike. If I ride a better bike at Interbike, I’ll be surprised. This may turn out to be my favorite product introduction for the year.
The bicycle industry’s largest annual trade show, Interbike, is the show of record. It has fended off upstart shows such as the BIO show of the 1990s, as well as challenges to its supremacy by international shows such as EICMA and Eurobike. EICMA, the Italian trade show based in Milan can boast style as only Milan can provide and sports more current and former Italian PROS than Wikipedia. However, when it comes to unveiling fresh ideas, Interbike has been the place to see new gear.
Still, Interbike is a trade show and shooting holes in it is easier than aiming a shotgun at a stop sign on a back road. There are the concrete floors crueler to feet than broken glass, the droning presentations, the slightly clothed models being chatted up by every wrench without a real purpose, the terrible overpriced food, the floating threat of the flu in every handshake and open bowl of candy, not to mention the cultural disconnect and general weirdness of the Taiwanese Pavilion. Each year, I take all that and worse just to have a chance to walk through what is a live-action Sears Wishbook.
This year is going to be different, though. Of all the big bike companies, only Specialized will have a booth on the show floor. I’ll say it again in the negative: There will be no show booths by Trek, Giant, Cannondale, Cervelo or Felt. Maybe you have noticed that these companies all have something else in common. They all sponsor Division I or II PRO teams. They all sponsor off-road athletes as well (okay, maybe not Cervelo). The clear message here is that athlete sponsorship is a more important driver for interest in their bikes than a flashy trade show booth, and that’s saying something because the most crowded new product intro I went to last year was Cervelo’s introduction of the P4. I felt like I was at a Paris fashion show.
At the other end of the spectrum are the small companies for whom Interbike is an expensive gamble. The age-old question has always been, “How many new dealers will we pick up?” But what if your primary clientele aren’t shops themselves? Verge Sport, VO Max and a new clothing company, Panache, have all chosen to forego a show booth this year. Panache’s Don Powell told me, “We’re putting our money into visiting our targets at their shops.”
Their disappearance can’t be blamed on a falloff in attendance on the part of dealers. Las Vegas’s economy is code blue and any dealer willing to fly to Sin City can get a room at the Gold Spike for $9 a night through Travelocity. People, I can’t make this up.
The decision not to attend Interbike isn’t an easy one for any company trying to do business in the bike industry and is rarely attributable to a single factor, such as cost.
Serotta and Seven will both skip the show, as will Lysnkey Performance. Mark Lynskey, known as one of the founders of Litespeed and now president of Lynskey Performance said, “We looked at our sales activity coming out of the show last year and the end result was that at best, it was a break even expense. I wish it did make sense for us to be there; I think we make beautiful titanium bikes and there’s nothing like seeing them in person.”
So how is he spending his marketing dollars now? “The bulk of our marketing is being devoted to the Internet: Google ad words, our web site, Youtube videos and the equipment to make those; we now have live chat on our web site and that has been a very helpful feature. We’re looking for the most efficient path to the consumer, and we monitor it in real time. We want to know who came, how long they stayed, did they live chat—we monitor each of these metrics.”
The big companies like Trek, Specialized Giant and Cannondale have the horsepower to hold their own dealer event each year, thus getting the retailer’s undivided attention. The chance to educate shop personnel about the product line results in increased sales and improved service. They are able to command the lion’s share of floor space at their retailers.
At the other end of the spectrum are the small companies, companies whose production makes them niche players and a non-threat to the heavyweights. They will almost always be able to find space on the floor of a retailer. Seven Cycles elected to pass on Interbike for the second year in a row.
“Our perspective is that Interbike and other trade shows offer two very compelling reasons to exhibit,” says Seven’s Mattison Crowe. “They offer manufacturers an excellent opportunity to meet new retailers and expand their distribution base, and they generate exposure for new product launches.
“Given those two reasons, we determined it did not make sense for Seven Cycles as a company to exhibit this year. We have an established and effective retailer network in the US and are not actively recruiting new retailers at this time. Retailer meetings will still take place during scheduled visits to our factory and are coordinated at the account level. Also, because of our flexible R&D and manufacturing processes, new product introductions will occur on a rolling basis throughout the calendar year. Our approach means no single event can provide sufficient exposure for the range of new products we will unveil in 2010.”
Okay, so big companies and small companies are focusing on their relationships with existing dealers. But what about those companies in the middle, companies like Cervelo and the Felt?
Retailers such as the Specialized Concept Stores, the Trek Stores and Giant Podium Stores give the Big Three incredible power over what lines the retailers can carry. No longer the niche players they once were, Cervelo and Felt are impressive lines that can compete at the high-end team-to-team with their larger counterparts. But they lack the horsepower to drive dealerships as a primary line.
Felt isn’t far off; with a line that runs from road bikes to full suspension mountain bikes and TT/tri bikes to townies, there isn’t a niche the company can’t sell. Cervelo’s line is more limited, but with a Tour de France win and several Grand Tour and Classic podiums, its place as a top-tier bike is assured in any shop. Which is why the Big Three need to muscle them out.
So one would assume that both Felt and Cervelo would be found on the Interbike show floor this year, right? In ’08 they were neighbors and their flashy booths attracted, as I mentioned, plenty of attention. This year Felt will only appear at the Dirt Demo while Cervelo won’t have any official presence at all. Not even at Dirt Demo.
Unlike the big three, neither Felt nor Cervelo has the ability to hold a separate dealer event to focus on education in sales and service. And both have too many dealers to offer the hands-on approach of a company like Seven.
Which, in turn, is why of all the companies that have chosen to pass on the ’09 Interbike show, Felt’s and Cervelo’s decisions are most ominous. Both companies have large dealer networks, but in both instances the lines need the strongest dealers that can properly sell, fit and service some of the industry’s most sophisticated bikes.
Bike industry people have been bagging on Interbike for years. It’s the classic too-cool-for-school attitude, something I—quite frankly—have always viewed as total B.S. If you’re in the bike industry you love bicycles. And if you love bicycles, you love seeing new stuff, so don’t tell me the show is a drag. Las Vegas might be a drag, but seeing my favorite people in my favorite industry can get me to drive to hell on an annual basis.
So now I must reluctantly admit that looking at the map of this year’s show floor, I’m disappointed. So many companies doing fascinating things just won’t be there it’s kinda like going to your high school reunion and not having your closest friends show. It’s still worth being there, but you wonder what went wrong.
I’m not out to badmouth Interbike. Personally, I like the show and it has always served my purpose as a journalist, though this year I have to spend more time using Dirt Demo for what I should be doing on the show floor and less time using Dirt Demo for its intended purpose. In business terminology they call that misappropriated.
My concern is that there seems to be a great deal of agreement among the manufacturers of the bike industry that Interbike isn’t serving their needs as well as it could. Many companies will display for no other reason than they know no other way to do business. But those companies that have most readily and ably adapted to the 21st century are measuring the impact their marketing dollars have and in the grand scheme, Interbike isn’t cutting it.
As economies change, so do industries. Door-to-door salesmen used to be commonplace. We used to read printed newspapers and their ad revenue could support hundreds of families. It’s fair to ask if the Interbike trade show can adapt to the 21st century. After all, at some point the exodus will make the show irrelevant.
Until now there has been an expectation that so goes the team, so goes the bike industry sponsor. As evidenced by comments on this and other blogs, at least some members of the cycling public have viewed a bike sponsor’s lack of repudiation of the team of a convicted doper as a tacit approval of their doping.
Unfortunately, a sponsor such as Trek hasn’t got the ability to elect to sponsor, say, Formula 1 if they decide cycling is just too tarnished by doping. Liberty Seguros’ next sponsorship stop in sports could be golf, but that’s not possible for Specialized or SRAM.
Faust could appreciate such a dilemma.
So Shimano has announced that it will pull its sponsorship of a team if anyone in its management is found to be guiding a doping program for its riders. If a rider is caught doping, Shimano wants an explanation and a future containment plan to prevent a repeat. A second event is grounds for termination of the sponsorship.
Termination would be catastrophic to any team. A return of all Shimano equipment would leave riders unable to train or race until new equipment could be purchased, which could easily take a week or more and could cost upwards of six figures, an amount few ProTour teams (and no Pro Continental or Continental teams) would have lying around.
But let’s be real. While it is possible and maybe even likely that some directors have at least suspicions—if not outright knowledge—of his team members’ activities, the Festina Affair ended any large-scale participation by team management in its riders’ doping. We now have plausible deniability.
Unfortunately, a complete lack of knowledge of riders’ medical programs has a nasty consequence: the director appears clueless. Hans-Michael Holczer’s shock over Bernard Kohl’s and Stefan Schumacher’s positive tests made him look ineffectual.
But what of positive tests by individual riders? The number of teams that have had more than one positive inside of three months is perhaps surprising. Just yesterday the UCI announced the suspension of three riders (three!) riders from Liberty Seguros. Saunier Duval, Phonak and Astana are but three other names that come to mind.
The question is whether Shimano would actually revoke the sponsorship should the possibility come to pass and which teams are actually threatened by such action. Columbia-HTC, Euskaltel-Euskadi, Française des Jeux, Garmin-Slipstream, Rabobank and Skil-Shimano are the ProTour and Pro Continental teams Shimano sponsors. Of these, two (Euskaltel and Rabobank) have had high-profile doping issues in the last few seasons.
While it is fairly certain that most bike industry sponsors have some language in their contracts that allow the termination of a sponsorship as a result of a doping offense, Shimano is unusual in taking such a public stand. Perhaps other companies will have the courage to take a similar stand.
Shimano’s Statement in full:
With this statement, Shimano would like to make clear to all parties involved that we would like to strive for a fair and drugs free sport to protect the future of cycling for next generations. Besides the bad impact to the reputation of the sport, we all know Doping and Drugs are damaging and destroying the health and image of especially young people in and outside of the sport. Therefore we are taking a firm stand against doping in general and in the cycling sport in particular.
Basic guidelines in Shimano’s anti doping policy:
• All our contracts and sponsorship-relations are made under the condition and in the belief that there is no doping involved in the particular team or with the individual athletes.
• If the team management of one of our sponsored teams (no matter in which cycling discipline) is involved in any doping affair, we will stop our sponsorship of this team immediately.
• If an individual rider is involved in any doping affair without the knowledge of the team management, the team will be given the chance to give a clear explanation and a future improvement & control plan to Shimano, upon that it will be decided to continue the sponsoring or not. If another doping incident occurs within the same team, we will keep the option of terminating our sponsorship contract
• Terminating a sponsorship contract means return of all Shimano materials or other contributions that have been supplied to the concerned team immediately. This anti doping policy is already stated in our ongoing sponsorship contracts but Shimano feels it is valuable to emphasize this ones more to make it clear for everybody what is our opinion about the use of doping in sport. For all our future sponsorship negotiations it is essential for us that the teams show us their anti doping policy in advance.
Image: John Pierce, Photosport International