By Tom Demerly for tomdemerly.com
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.”
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.
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?
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.