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Monthly Archives: May 2016

By Tom Demerly for tomdemerly.com.

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U.S. Marine Corporal OR-4 Dave Morgan is dead.

Bled out while waiting for a medevac helicopter in Helmand province Afghanistan. His wife, 23-year-old Brittany Morgan, will find out tomorrow. It will be about three years and four months until his unborn son will find out.

A notice will run in his hometown paper. His mother, his pregnant widow, her sister, Members of the VFW and his Marine recruiter will go to his funeral.

And that will be it.

Apple will announce a new iPhone, the stock market will fall and rise, a Presidential candidate will say something embarrassing, a policeman will be in trouble for entering a bathroom to make an arrest.

But the news of Corporal Morgan’s death will not appear with those headlines.

Almost no one will know.

Morgan joined the Marines when he graduated from High School. He liked sports, did great in shop classes but not great in English. He hunted with his dad before cancer took him. He kept his used Honda Civic running himself. He was resourceful, responsible and respectful.

And now he is dead.

Why?

Morgan believed he was doing something important. Dave Morgan believed he was protecting his country and the ideals for which it stands: Liberty, Justice and Freedom. The chance to do good. The chance to do something right. The opportunity to be one of the good guys. He did not earn much money. He did it because it was a calling.

The moment at which freedom is compromised, the moment at which the headline contains your hometown, the moment when you personally become a part of the news- the moment war, terror and oppression reach out and grip your throat, that moment is one moment too late to change your opinion, to advocate for a stronger military. You will not know terror until that day. You are insulated from it.

Insulated by the efforts of women and men like U.S. Marine Corporal David Morgan.

And until that day it is unlikely you will ever understand. Because of Dave Morgan and others like him.

In the United States we live in a bubble. A bubble of security and complacency provided by the luck of geography and distance, and maintained by men like Dave Morgan. But a short plane ride away there is war and terror. We’re mostly oblivious to it. It has always been a feature of human history.

Our bubble has been maintained by 1,196,554 women and men who died protecting it in wars since 1776. On Memorial Day, we honor their sacrifice and acknowledge their lives.

Dave Morgan and everyone like him understood this. They sacrificed to prevent our bubble of freedom and security from being pierced. And in the case of Dave Morgan and many others, they died for it.

This weekend we acknowledge that.

 

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Author’s Note: The main character in this article, “U.S. Marine Corporal OR-4 Dave Morgan”, is a fictitious name representative of all 1,196,554 women and men who have lost their lives in armed service to the United States. This fictitious story spans these million-plus stories, all more than worthy of being told. Instead of telling them all here, which is impossible to do adequately, “Corporal Dave Morgan” represents them all thematically.

The photo at the top of the page was shot by photographer Todd Heisler of the Rocky Mountain News. It is one of the most iconic images of the Global War on Terror and of the armed services. It appears in this essay:

Visions of the Decade: Todd Heisler’s Final Salute

Author Tom Demerly served in the U.S. Army and the National Guard.

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Photos and Story by Tom Demerly with Jan Mack.

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I’m going to puke.

The waves just won’t let up. My equipment is too tight. It is digging into my guts. I pissed inside my wetsuit and another guy’s fins keep whacking my ankle hard enough to make my legs scream. I’m drenched with cold salt spray. The wind coming over the bow is freezing. I can’t see a thing except some vague notion that we are getting farther and farther from land and the ocean keeps getting rougher and rougher.

I’m headed south from Roatan Island, Honduras in a very crowded, open skiff that more closely resembles a Somali refugee boat than a dive yacht. My girlfriend is sitting next to me.

At least she was my girlfriend when we got on the boat.

She might not be if we make it back to shore. This week she earned her Advanced Open Water SCUBA Diver certification, often diving in silty, dark brown water with the same visibility as day-old coffee. Now we’re about to dive in heavy seas far offshore at significant depth in a school of sharks. Big sharks.

And we’re not using a shark cage.

Speaking of refugees, some of our boat crew looks more like… well; this isn’t Jacques Cousteau’s Calypso. They find some seemingly random point in the tossing ocean marked by a soccer ball-sized red buoy almost too small to see. It’s too deep to anchor. We tie off to the buoy line.

The incessant, nauseating roll of the ocean is worse once the boat stops. At least I’m not getting pelted by freezing salt spray and having my rapidly contracting nuts crushed on the fiberglass benches of the gunwales anymore.

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The idea is, “Get out of the boat as fast as you can” because being in the boat sucks. Divers are doing back rolls into the waves immediately, like there is a fire on board. I think everybody is ready to barf, and SCUBA divers know it is always calmer underwater.

I glance at my girlfriend. She isn’t smiling.

I roll off the rail and fall a long way into a wave trough before I hit the water tank-first with a commanding splat. The boat slides down the same wave and crushes me underwater. I’m glad I forgot to inflate my buoyancy compensator vest since I really would have gotten clobbered if I had, but now I’m hurrying to get compressed air into my vest since the weight of my gear is dragging me under fast.

I roll over and look down. There is a shark. About the size of a Toyota. Its pectoral fins are gracefully splayed outward; I have a perfect plan-view of it 60-feet below. There is another. And another… They circle slowly in silence down there.

The sharks know we are coming. They swim up from the depths and wait. Wait for something to eat. Wait for us. Wait for the black-rubber bubble monkeys to come see them.

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This is the Cara a’ Cara dive site. In Spanish, “Face to Face”. It’s named that because it is world famous for having a face-to-face encounter with big sharks at depth without protective cages.

There are a few species at Cara a’ Cara but the most common are Carcharhinus Perezi, the Caribbean Reef Shark.

Caribbean Reef Sharks are large, about 10-feet at full size. They share the top of the food chain with other large sharks in the Caribbean reefs, especially in shallow water above 200 feet depth.

These sharks are not dangerous or aggressive. If they feel threatened, which is rare, they exhibit a “threat behavior” posture akin to a cat arching its back. They eat fish, and because there are a lot of fish around them in the Caribbean, they are seldom hungry. These facts make them a rather threatening looking, but actually agreeable shark species.

We’ve brought fish with us, and a load of camera toting “adventure” tourists looking for a thrill, a good story, a good Facebook post. And I am one of them.

We brought our dive master with us. His name is Russell Nicholson. Nicholson would fit easily into the crew of the Calypso as one of the divers in a Jacques Cousteau documentary. Bearded, slim, handsome, fit, 26. He speaks with a British accent that seems like narration in every Discovery Channel wildlife documentary you’ve seen. Nicholson has dove everywhere. He is calm and relaxed underwater. During our dives earlier this week I studied his technique, fanning his fins in a motion more like an aquatic animal than a SCUBA diver to move slowly along underwater.

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I don’t know it now, but Jan is still on the surface, tossing over the waves and expressing concern about the safety of this dive to Russell.

Me? I’m a tourist who just wants to pet sharks.

As usual it is decidedly less chaotic underwater. Visibility is good, maybe a couple hundred feet, the water is warmer than the air and there are, thank God, no waves churning my stomach down here.

A queue of divers who speak five different languages hangs onto the mooring line beneath the buoy. Our languages don’t matter underwater. We descend the mooring line as a group, as though we are rappelling into the steel blue depth.

There is a reef at our back forming a natural theater. We keep the theater wall to our back, presumably to limit the approach of sharks from behind us but more realistically to keep a bunch of tourist divers from swimming off willy-nilly chasing sharks and getting lost a couple miles off shore.

We pack in, divers next to one another against the reef at 70-feet depth. A moray eel who makes his home here sticks his large, green head out inches from my right elbow in greeting or in grumpy warning to “stay off my lawn”.

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The dive master on this dive brings a bait box to feed the sharks. And this is why they always come. And also why what we are doing may be considered wrong.

According to the late R. Aidan Martin the former Director of the ReefQuest Centre for Shark Research, a Research Associate of the Zoology Department of the University of British Columbia, and an Adjunct Professor of the Oceanographic Center of Nova Southeastern University:

“In recent years, organized shark feeds have provoked considerable controversy. Critics claim that this activity changes the behavior of sharks and the structure of reef ecosystems. There is concern that sharks become dependent on these ‘hand outs’ and may associate all humans with food, increasing the likelihood of attack. Proponents argue that sharks are simply opportunistic, if the feedings stopped, the sharks would simply disperse and go back to feeding upon whatever they fed on before. Although accidental nips have occurred (mostly received by ‘shark wranglers’ conducting the feed underwater), there is no good evidence that shark feedings increase the likelihood of attack away from the feeding site. The issue of modifying reef ecosystems is more difficult to assess. Yes, shark feeds may concentrate predators artificially and the intensified removal of fishes from the environment for use as shark bait is a concern. But populations of sharks and other reef predators have been seriously depleted by overfishing and habitat erosion and many operators use left-over scraps from local restaurants, using fish remains that otherwise would have gone to waste. Clearly, this is a complex issue and a quick or easy resolution is not on the horizon.”

My guilty concerns about reckless “eco-tourism” are somewhat assuaged by Martin’s remarks. If we leave, the sharks won’t flop around on the bottom waiting for handouts from tourists. They’ll just keep being sharks, like they’ve done for millions of years as one of the oldest surviving species on earth.

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The sharks are close now; there are about 20 of them. And they are breathtakingly beautiful.

I’ve loved sharks- or the idea of sharks- all my life. When I was a kid I read Peter Benchley’s novel “Jaws” and saw the movie over and over. I’m not sure why I liked it so much. It just seemed… adventurous.

But as we grow up our perspective changes. And hopefully we learn. Between my years as a zitty teenager reading Peter Benchley books and sitting in the dollar theater and now I had traveled the world. I remembered my fascination with sharks. After nearly 200 triathlons, quite a few of those in the ocean, I had never seen one- a big one, up close. I was a SCUBA diver, but all I saw were nurse sharks. One time a big bull shark followed me while snorkeling in Belize. Another time I found a school of sickle fin lemon sharks in the Virgin Islands and waded in to swim with them while they dined on a school of panicked baitfish.

But I never had that moment with sharks, big sharks. Until now.

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Operating my camera took work as the sharks circled in front of us at 70 feet. I tried to stay relaxed so I got decent photos. Prayed my camera would work down here.

Then I looked up. She was four feet from me, swimming right into my mask. A big 8-footer. A shark bigger than me. I shot one photo of her coming head-on, then gently kicked my fins once to scoot over, to let her pass.

She was only inches from me, so I touched her. You aren’t supposed to touch the sharks on a shark dive, but I will die someday and this may be my only chance. It was selfish, but I wanted to know what it felt like to touch her, and I wanted her to know I did.

I gently laid my hand on top of her right pectoral fin. It remained motionless as she glided forward slowly. I was struck by her… firmness. Her pectoral fin was hard. The sharkskin, just as you read, was rough and like sandpaper. Fine sandpaper.

She did not react, flinch, dart away, rear around and bite. She just swam- glided rather- straight ahead. I watched, her tail barely undulating slowly side to side in an elegant kind of Hula.

The divemaster opened the bait can and the sharks went berserk, a wild spinning mass of 8-foot rifle bullet bodies darting into the same space. The clear water was stirred into a silty mess, and I was surrounded by sharks ripping a small bait bucket to pieces.

I don’t know where my girlfriend was.

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The silt settled quickly as it does at depth, and the sharks regained their composure. Now the divers left the rock amphitheater and swam amongst them. We swam with them, alongside them.

It seemed so incredibly good, so beautiful and safe and wild and good. The gentle sharks, retired from their feeding frenzy, glided amongst us, cameras going off, divers marveling at their size and shape and girth and elegant power.

And then divers began to ascend the rope. But I wanted to stay. As divers left I was on the bottom with more and more sharks- there were more of them and less of us. Finally, the last diver and myself started toward the buoy line to begin our sad ascent to the world of air and problems. I did look down one more time at them, and they were leaving.

I fear that we are losing the world. Nature. Animals. The sea. That it is already damaged beyond repair and despite our quaint efforts to save it, it is too late. And I am old. 54. So this may have been my last chance. And I did, quite selfishly, take it.

One day I will die.

If I am lying in a bed, doped by drugs and drifting in and out of life, I hope I remember them still- the beautiful sharks- and how I felt with them. How perfect and majestic and regal they were. I hope I remember them as I die of old age.

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Author Tom Demerly likes cats as well sharks, can’t help petting them both and has been all over the world.

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By Tom Demerly for tomdemerly.com

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Your chest is tight, your wetsuit is gagging you, you can’t breath, you’re sinking, you can’t see a lifeguard. You are drowning…

It’s your responsibility if your triathlon open water swims are terrifying- and dangerous, and that is good.

Since it is your responsibility, you can do something about it.

Following the death of U.S. Army Col. Gene Montague in the swim at the Chattanooga Ironman 70.3 triathlon on Sunday, May 22, 2016 here are five things to do now to prevent another potential swim accident:

  1. Yes- You Should Get a Medical Check. Even You 

In 2008 I had a stroke while running as a result of a common cardiac birth defect I never knew I had, a Patent Foramen Ovale or “PFO”. If I had the same stroke during an open water swim the likelihood is I would have drowned. Before that day I did hundreds of events without a single cardiac problem. One day, it just showed up out of the blue.

And it nearly killed me.

There are a number of pre-existing medical problems that may be minor if they present themselves on land, but could be deadly if they show up in an open water swim. Many of these are easy to detect with an EKG or other medical tests.

Take the responsibility to have these tests done yourself, because race organizers have not taken the responsibility to require them.

The harsh reality for triathletes is that, if one of these easily detectible conditions strikes during the swim, it is our own fault. We could have detected and prevented the accident prior to race day.

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Cardiac fitness certificates from a physician are common in ultra-distance running races and some ultra-distance adventure races like the Marathon des Sables and the long course Raid Gauloises. But they are oddly absent from Ironman and triathlon, where the numbers of participants and the lack of preparation make them more relevant.

This is our responsibility, so go to the doctor and have a cardiac check-up and an overall physical to assess your risk to having a serious open water swim medical problem.

  1. Own It: Proactively Manage Thoughts, and Preparation.

Practice Mental Rehearsals and Visualization to Manage Fear. Take control of your pre-race thoughts before they take control of you.

Make a conscious decision to replace destructive fear with constructive mental preparation. Proactively eliminate fear using conscious thought.

If you do not have a purposeful approach to mental preparation for open water swimming then involuntary and subconscious fear will surface. Don’t let it. It is your decision.

Your cognitive brain has a given processing capacity. If you use all of your brain’s processing capacity for purposeful, constructive thought you won’t have any remaining cognitive capacity for fear. You won’t have time to be scared.

You’ll be too consciously occupied visualizing a positive outcome to have fear of a negative outcome affect your performance.

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Four to eight weeks before your first race find a quiet place to sit without distractions for 15 minutes. Close your eyes and visualize what you think the transition area might look like on race day. Look for photos of the race venue on line to assist with this preparation.

Imagine yourself racking your bike in the transition area; chatting with other athletes, feeling the cool morning air before the sun rises. Think about pulling your wetsuit on, adjusting it into place. Go over the actions again and again in your head.

Focus on concentration- it isn’t easy to concentrate this purposefully. Visualize walking to the water’s edge, having your goggles with you, stretching your swim cap on and pushing in your earplugs. What will the race announcer be saying over the loudspeaker? What wave will you be in for the start? How many people will you be swimming with? Answer these questions in advance using the race website resources and information about last year’s race.

Occupy your brain purposefully and teach yourself to think calmly and in an orderly manner about controllable factors. Use all of your brain on things you can control and let the rest go.

  1. Practice Swimming In Open Water Before Race Day.

Seems obvious, frequently ignored.

Especially in inland fresh water lakes in the Midwest underwater visibility is poor. Add glare from a rising sun on the horizon and you are swimming blind in the open water in a group of people kicking you with no idea where you’re headed.

That’s scary if you aren’t accustomed to it. Get used to the open water swim environment gradually and in increments before race day.

To moderate your open water anxiety, practice swimming straight and parallel to the shore in shallow, open water prior to race day. This will teach you straighter swimming, sighting strategies and get you mentally acclimated to swimming in poor underwater and surface visibility.

Get used to mucky, sandy and weed-covered lake and ocean bottoms you never encounter in pools.

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Ramp your pace up to the speed you’ll swim in a race. Bring a friend to swim with- never swim open water alone- and practice swimming close to each other with occasional bumps. This will get you ready for rough and tumble swim starts.

As your comfort and proficiency swimming parallel to shore increases then practice swimming toward a landmark into deep water with your swim buddy. Always use an area free of boat and watercraft traffic. Try to navigate straight out toward an object on the horizon like a water tower, tall tree or other visible, stationary landmark on the horizon, and then reverse your course back to shore. Keep it short and comfortable and repeat several times to improve your comfort, confidence and proficiency.

  1. Swim More Before Race Day. Way More.

Also Pretty obvious.

Except in competitive swim, surf and lifeguard circles swimming is the event people like the least and practice the least. Change that.

If you increase your swim volume before race day you will get slightly faster , slightly more fit but significantly more comfortable in the water.

This is a simple fix, but since swimming is less convenient than going for run or a bike ride and more people are afraid of it, it usually gets relegated to the thing we train for the least. Most people simply train enough to “get through” the swim. That makes an event less enjoyable and more frightening.

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Too late you say? You’re big race is a month away and you’ve only been to the pool twice? They will have the same race again next year, and there is wisdom in picking your battles, taking time to competently prepare and coming back in a year.

  1. Get Comfortable With Your Wetsuit and Swim Gear Early. 

I’ve sold triathlon wetsuits since they were invented in the 1980’s. To this day people will buy a wetsuit on Thursday and try to race in it on Saturday.

Don’t do that.

Buy your wetsuit at least a month before race day. Do a dry-land try-on and make sure it fits precisely (read: tight) enough so no excess water enters the suit. Learn to pull the legs and torso up without tearing the outer surface of your suit with your fingernails. Practice getting the torso and arms pulled up so the suit is not restrictive.

New wetsuits usually feel uncomfortably tight and restrictive when you’re doing a dry land fitting. That’s normal.

Follow-up the dry land fitting with a pool and an open water practice swim in the wetsuit and race clothing you’ll use on race day.

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Tip: Triathletes who say it is easier to swim in a sleeveless suit than a full sleeve suit usually didn’t have their full suit on correctly- that is why they had problems swimming in it. Full suits are faster, warmer, more buoyant and you travel farther per stroke making them more efficient. But you have to put them on correctly. If a a suit is not pulled up high enough in the upper torso and the arms aren’t pulled up high enough excess neoprene in the underarm will make swimming more difficult. It isn’t the suit- it’s a poor job of donning the suit.

Few triathletes go to an open water swim venue with their equipment and practice. This is a key error.

Put on your wetsuit, get it adjusted correctly, enter the water, get used to the suit in the water well before race day. Then do some shallow water, slow, controlled swimming to get used to the new sensations.

Take all your race day gear and do a test swim at low speed in waist-deep water. Take time to stop, stand up, adjust your wetsuit, your goggles, and your earplugs. Get used to how all your equipment feels well before race day. Do this in a controlled, non-pressured situation.

If you practice these five proactive behaviors before race day your open water swim will be safer, you will be a more responsible, better-prepared athlete and you’ll have a better performance and enjoy your event more.

Take responsibility for your own performance.

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Author Tom Demerly has raced endurance events on all 7 continents, written for numerous triathlon publications including the official USA Triathlon newsletter, Inside Triathlon and many others. He’s done Ironmans around the world Including the Ironman World Championship in Kona, Hawaii and the Discovery Channel Eco-Challenge, The Raid Gauloises, The Marathon des Sables and the Jordan Telecom Desert Cup in Jordan. He is a former member of a U.S. Army Long Range Surveillance Team and a certified Advanced Open Water SCUBA Diver. Demerly also worked with athletes at Doug Stern’s Open Water Swim Camp in Curacao, Dutch Antilles for three years. Most importantly, Demerly loves the water.

 

By Tom Demerly for tomdemerly.com.

Felt FR30

Spy shots obtained at the beginning of the May 15-22, 2016 Amgen Tour of California have revealed a new Felt Bicycles road platform likely slatted for a 2017 season release.

The new frame platform, likely to be designated an entirely new lettered/numbered series, merges a host of design concepts from previous Felt designs such as the Felt “Z” series high head tube road bikes with the traditionally “long and low” Felt “F” series bikes. The result appears to be a road racing bike with a moderate head tube height and several new frame construction and fit features.

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This previously unseen Felt Bicycles platform photographed today at the 2016 Amgen Tour of California shows a new head tube configuration, greater differential from top of head tube to top of seat post and different cable routing from previous Felt road bikes. The fork also appears to have a unique carbon fiber lay-up resembling previous TeXtreme materials used by Felt in their FRD (Felt Racing Development) program.

The appearance of the fork crown and head tube suggest a new construction technique that retains a low, racy appearance with a short head tube but moves more material to the fork crown. This design provides additional fit options while improving comfort according to sources.

Cable routing on the new platform also appear different from previous Felt “F”, “AR” and “Z” series road bikes with cable inlets apparently going directly into the head tube of the frame.

There is no release date for the new platform that was seen in a generic paint and decal livery typical of Felt Bicycles’ prototype bikes from previous development programs.

 

By Tom Demerly for tomdemerly.com

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Was at the dentist today. $2,297.00.

My dentist is excellent. Truly. Does a fine job, professional and current on modern dental techniques. Great staff. Nice guy too.

As luck would have it my dentist is also a triathlete. While I was at his office I picked up his bike and brought it back to our bike shop to do a tune-up on it. He’s got a nice bike. He should.

I got to thinking: Why can my dentist command $2500 for services, but I will only bill him about $90-150 for his bike tune-up that takes about the same time? And before you argue that your teeth are a serious “health issue” I will suggest that your bike brakes are too when you need to avoid a collision with a car.

Why is the bike industry unable to command prices for service and products commensurate with other industries? Why is a doctor, a dentist, a plumber, an HVAC repairperson or an auto mechanic so much more expensive to hire than a bike fitter, bike salesman or bike mechanic?

Why are similar things so cheap in the bike industry, when they are priced consistently higher in other industries?

Like any single economic question, there is not one singular answer. It is worth inventorying the reasons why the bike industry, benchmarked against other industries, is habitually under-charging- especially for service- despite growth in demand and technology in cycling.

U.S. culture teaches us bicycles are children’s toys. Labor rates for servicing a Jet Ski, motorcycle, snowmobile or an RV are similar to automotive repair rates. But fixing a bike is something we grew up doing in our driveway. Our value calibration of bicycle service starts in our driveway as a kid. Because the bicycle industry as a whole remains largely unsophisticated compared to Apple and Tiffany’s stores, that value calibration of bike retailers remains lower than other consumer experiences.

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What can the bike industry do to change the perception that bikes are toys and labor should be cheap or free? There are a few answers, but the most apparent are to provide a more modern and sophisticated presentation of services and an updated visceral customer experience congruent with newer high-end client services and retail.

Let’s go back to my dentist’s office.

Days before my appointment I always receive a text message reminder from his office. They also phone me and leave a message with a reminder.

The dentist’s office has a trained receptionist, a “Concierge”, who coordinates services, attends to questions and generally administers logistical concerns with patients. It is her only job- to facilitate a smooth and pleasant transaction. She also handles the payments. The entire payment process is segregated to a different staff, a different physical location in the building. This helps solidify the payment experience as finite, non-negotiable, consistent and repeatable.

My dentist’s office is clean and modern, beginning with the exterior of the building. The signage and everything that transmits his brand message is attractive. His treatment spaces are spotlessly clean and meticulously arranged, not only for obvious sanitary reasons, but also to transmit the impression that this is serious business.

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Bike shops, by comparison, are less formal places where employees dress in shorts and T-shirts and customers “hang out”. You act how you dress, and you charge how you dress too. The vibe in bike shops is decidedly less professional, and consequently, so are the prices.

For these and other reasons my dentist can command $2500 for a service that takes about the same time and experience as rebuilding his Shimano Di2 carbon fiber triathlon bike. He collects more than ten times the revenue I do for a service that is more similar than dissimilar. And remember my analogy about your bike brakes being as important as your cavities when you’re riding toward an intersection at 20 MPH.

And before old timers argue that a more polished, cleaner, professional approach won’t work in bike shops, I will argue that it likely will, since most adult cycling customers are actually new cycling customers whose benchmark of what a customer experience should be is formed in retailers like IKEA, Apple, Victoria’s Secret and Abercrombie– not hanging out with the guys at the local bike shop. In fact, it is likely the only bike consumers that still want a homy, small-town, casual “buddy-buddy” personal feel to bike is the guy behind the counter, not the customer in front of it.

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Change channels.

Tiffany’s is a high-end jeweler made famous by the movie “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” and is still famous for a few reasons, one of which is their iconic “Tiffany blue” (trademarked) brand color. Buy any engagement ring of a given size at Tiffany’s and it is roughly ten times the price of an equivalent sized ring from the corner jeweler. It also carries a consistently higher perception of worth and brand identity.

From 2007 to 2015 Tiffany’s revenue grew 60.49% according to Morningstar.com. That is despite the brutal recession in the U.S.

How does Tiffany’s command a price often ten times higher than an apparently comparable product and still increase sales, even during the recession?

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There are several reasons my dentist and Tiffany’s can command more revenue for seemingly similar services and products to the adult cycling industry.

Firstly, they ask for it. And dress for it.

Setting price immediately establishes a value calibration. When I lived in the Middle East I noticed this value calibration is often highly nuanced. The Arabs (and Chinese) invented commerce as we know it today. They know, unless you ask, you will never get the price you want.

Tiffany’s has also established uniqueness and differentiation through their fortunate product placement in a popular old movie and in every brand message they send, right down to their packaging and bags. When a person walks through a high-end shopping mall with a Tiffany blue bag in their hand, it not only calibrates our perception of the customer as affluent and discerning, it also spreads the brand message of Tiffany’s. It’s advertising. And it bolsters our impression of the customer.

By comparison most bicycle retailers use customer bags that look like you should empty a cat litter box in them.

Tiffany’s also maintains a quiet, reverent display and sales environment. A salesperson in Tiffany’s is never interrupted by a telephone ringing on the sales floor. Phone calls to the stores are answered off the sales floor. A phone never rings in the shopping spaces.

Change channels.

e-Bay is backwards retail. People list items, often used, sometimes of dubious value, on e-Bay and consumers compete upward for price in the auction format. Think about that: compete upward.

 Why do people compete upward for price on e-Bay when normal market forces exert downward pressure on pricing in retail?

Two reasons: Time component and repeatability of transaction quality (different from item quality).

e-Bay auctions end at a specific time, and the expiration of an item’s availability manipulates our perception of its value. e-Bay is also competitive since supply on unique items is finite and limited. When it’s gone, it’s gone. Both of those components exert an opposite competitive effect on pricing.

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The quality of the transaction on e-Bay is almost always identical. This is different than the conduct of the seller and the quality of the item being sold/purchased. But it makes a case that the quality of the transaction (separate from the item in the transaction) is a key driver in our perception of price.

If the transaction experience is inconsistent and/or below industry standards it devalues the purchase price. Buy an antique figurine at a local resale shop, pay $10 for it. Buy the exact same figurine on e-Bay, pay $20, $25, $40…. Whatever the final bid is. People negotiate upward in a proven, repeatable transactional template with finite constraints on supply and uniqueness rather than commodity.

How can bike shops leverage these strategies to improve both the customer experience while raising revenues and profits?

The good news is there are tons of opportunities for the bike industry to provide a better experience for its customers. Of course, the reciprocal is that our current standard of customer experience is poor and lagging behind professional offices and forward thinking retail brands like Tiffany’s, Apple and others. Still, this creates a massive “empty space” where bike retailers could be earning more and providing a better experience.

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Step One: Recalibrate the Bike Shop Experience.

Why do you stand in line at a cash register when paying for a $5000 bike when you sit in a comfortable chair at an automotive dealership or at Tiffany’s to pay for your car or engagement ring?

Seated checkout in a non-cash/wrap setting is a small but significant step in recalibrating customer’s experience and perception of what it is to shop at a specialty bike retailer.

Having one staff member in each shift designated as the “Concierge” who greets, directs customer traffic and may also administer the customer checkout experience during slow traffic hours is another key experience quality feature that recalibrates customers’ perception of our industry.

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There are many, many other opportunities for bicycle retail to improve the customer experience by changing the transaction environment and appearance and also by adding tangible value to adult bike sales and service.

In fact, there are enough for me to fill a book with.

A problem in the bike industry is that few bike retailers and service providers are benchmarking outside our industry for ways to make the experience better in our industry. Until that changes, we’ll keep hanging out with our customers before and after shop rides in cool shorts drinking expensive beer while earning cheap wages.

“Nobody knows the future, you can only create the future.” Jack Ma, founder of Alibaba.com.

By Tom Demerly for tomdemerly.com

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German pro Maik Twelsiek had the fastest bike split at the Ironman World Triathlon Championship in Kona, Hawaii in 2015 on a Dimond beam bike. It may suggest the re-emergence of the beam design.

In a different life I gathered intelligence for the U.S. Army.

On some missions we would watch something, say a building or a road intersection, for hours or days. And nothing would happen.

Sitting on a target for days and seeing nothing happen may seem like an intelligence failure. But it may not be. It is in the empty spaces that most possibilities exist. And when the silence is deafening, there is often a reason.

Such is the case with a seemingly innocuous set of events in the bike industry over the past two years.

Before I begin, I want to state the standard diatribe about predicting anything in any setting, the analysts’ safety net: I will state facts and from these facts I will make some vaticination about an outcome. This outcome is neither assured nor probable. You may or may not recall what Victorian journalist George Eliot wrote about such insights as I am about to proffer: “Vaticination is only one of the innumerable forms in which ignorance finds expression.”

Exhibit A.

On January 5th, 2015, nearly a year and a half ago, Cannondale hired a man named Damon Rinard.

Rinard is a quintessential geek. Seemingly uncomfortable in his skin, he frequently glances at the ground when talking until the conversation turns to his field: engineering. Specifically, bicycle engineering. Most specifically, aerodynamic bicycle engineering.

When Rinard orates about bicycle aerodynamics and frame engineering his chin is held higher, his voice drops an octave and he commands attention. Rinard is arguably the most sought after engineer in the niche of a niche that is aerodynamic road bicycle design, including most significantly, triathlon bikes.

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Rinard was instrumental in the development of the Trek Speed Concept and contributed to the current generation of Cervelo aerodynamic designs. These two brands sit number 1 and 2 atop Lava magazine’s “Kona Bike Count” for 2015. Rinard’s influence touched a staggering 797 bikes at Kona in 2015, nearly half the field. As such, Damon Rinard owns the place as the most important man in triathlon bike design that no consumer has heard of. Your concept of what a triathlon bike looks like is shaped by what Damon Rinard has already done.

When Rinard went to Cannondale at the beginning of 2015 the brand had a strong line of road bikes. These include (arguably) the most advanced aluminum road bikes available since Cannondale is a pioneer of the oversized aluminum road bike and has continued to develop the niche even in the carbon fiber era. Additionally, Cannondale has numerous carbon fiber road and triathlon bike models.

But Cannondale has no aerodynamic bikes.

Enter Damon Rinard. One glaring omission from Cannondale’s current line-up is an aerodynamic road bike platform. A second, more significant, omission is an aerodynamic triathlon bike.

Cannondale has an offering in the “third generation” triathlon bike, the “Slice”, that occupies a nice niche’ for the company. The Cannondale Slice is a short-reach, moderate stack tri bike that excels in fit for short torso riders and in low frame weight. But Cannondale does not have a fourth generation triathlon platform developed using CFD (computational fluid dynamics) with visually conspicuous aerodynamic styling. Nor does Cannondale have an aerodynamic road bike analogous to the Felt AR or Cervelo “S” series bikes.

Rinard is an expert at engineering both the aerodynamic triathlon and aerodynamic road categories.

Was Rinard hired eighteen months ago by Cannondale to introduce new models in the aero road and aero tri categories? Because these two categories, one of them a prominent one (aero tri), are so conspicuously absent from Cannondale’s line-up?

Exhibit B. 

If Andy Potts isn’t the most likeable professional triathlete in the sport, then he is among the top three. Potts is articulate, aware of his image, handsome, affable and fast on the racecourse.

Although Potts has never won the Ironman World Triathlon Championship in Kona, Hawaii, and likely never will, he brings much more to the table than race results. Potts knows what to say, and when to say it. He is also conspicuously American, a trait valuable to a brand that originated in the U.S.

Andy Potts is the perfect front-man for any triathlon brand.

On January 5th, 2016- exactly one year to the day Cannondale hired aerodynamic bike super-engineer Damon Rinard, Cannondale announced sponsorship of Andy Potts.

Exactly one year.

I briefed a private intelligence analyst on this information about Cannondale, Rinard, and the Andy Potts sponsorship and asked them for their calculation, based on my briefing, of the probability of Cannondale releasing new aerodynamic road and triathlon bikes in the next 18 months. The analyst’s probability: “80%”.

The Missing Cervelo.

There is an argument to be made that more things are related in the bike industry than are not.

Only 279 days after Rinard’s announcement that he is going to Cannondale, Cervelo announced they were… announcing a new bike in six more months. That bike introduction has since been delayed.

It is worth merging, for the purpose of discussion, these facts:

  • German athlete Maik Twelsiek set the fastest bike split at Kona in 2015 on a beam bike. Twelsiek rode 4:25:10 at the Ironman World Triathlon Championships in Kona with an average speed of 25.34 MPH for 112 miles. He rode a Dimond carbon fiber beam bike.
  • Damon Rinard’s third bike ever, the “Rinard DR-X”, a one-off technology demonstrator handmade by Rinard years ago, was a beam bike.
  • Beginning with Softride bikes in 1996, beam bikes have already been used in triathlon competition. In an early article about Softride beam bikes published years ago (date unlisted) in Slowtwitch.com, the publication wrote, “They’re more aerodynamic than almost all other bikes, if wind tunnel tests have any validity at all- Softrides always ‘win’ or come very close to winning these tests when they’re applied to a wide variety of bikes.”
  • In an article also published in Slowtwitch.com Damon Rinard told journalist Herbert Krabel that in 2009 he had worked on “…measuring comfort (vibration transmission and human perception).”

The amalgamation of these facts could be used to support an argument that Cervelo’s delayed new bike design may be, and probably is a beam bike.

Additionally, a similar beam bike concept could conceivably be in the works at Cannondale, a dividend of the Rinard “brain drain” from Cervelo to Cannondale.

While the idea that Cannondale is working on a new beam bike under the engineering influence of Damon Rinard’s recent arrival at the company may be a stretch, especially for a 2017/18 model year intro, it is more likely the Cervelo intro may be beam-shaped.

Any Cannondale move to a new triathlon fuselage design would likely have to span several price points, from about $2000-$2500 for the entry range to a full “superbike” spec with race wheels, carbon aero cockpit and electro-mechanical transmission controls (Shimano Di2 or SRAM ETAP) at the lofty $7000-$11,000 price range. This alone may constrain Cannondale and Rinard’s potential new tri bike design to a conventional blade-shaped triple triangle configuration.

In any event the quiet machinations of the industry behind the scenes will certainly lead to a season of significant new introductions during the next 700 days.

 

 

By Tom Demerly.

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A couple years ago I moved back to Michigan from California to start a new business. I went to Costco with friend Sue Nichols Riegle.

I needed coffee filters for my old coffee machine. Costco only sold them in a 1000-count pack. That’s 1000 pots of coffee. A lot of coffee.

If you make one pot of coffee every day that will last you 2 Years, 8 Months, 3 Weeks, 5 Days, 11 Hours, 33 Minutes and 19 seconds.

When you buy them in bulk, the filters are cheap. So I bought the 1000 coffee filter pack, not so much to make coffee, but also to measure the progress of my life measured in coffee filters.

I made a commitment that by the time I got to the bottom of the coffee filters, all 1000 of them, that my life would be a lot different, and better, than it was when I moved back here to Detroit to open a new business.

This morning I noticed I am about half way through the coffee filters, and my life has changed dramatically from when I opened the container. Dramatically for the better.

One pot of coffee, one coffee filter at a time.

Sometimes I drink coffee when I have to stay up late to finish a project, other times I drink it when I have to get up early the next morning to continue the project, and other times I drink it when I finish a project.

They’re half gone and I’ve made a lot of progress. I wonder what I will have accomplished by the time they are all gone?

Here’s what I’ve learned from the coffee filters, and it’s a pretty simple lesson: It’s rare to make huge improvements in your life over one pot of coffee, over one day. It takes many pots of coffee, drunk on many mornings and many nights, to make the slow, grinding, progress that goes into any kind of success.

A friend of mine named Kim Ross once told me, “Successful people are usually just the ones who never gave up.”

She told me that when we were drinking a pot of coffee many pots of coffee ago.