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Monthly Archives: October 2016

Photo and Story by Tom Demerly for tomdemerly.com.

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I moved to California five years ago to take a job with Felt Bicycles in Irvine. Didn’t have a car there so didn’t get around much. Friend and co-worker Dave Koesel asked me if I wanted to go with him to the Dana Point Gran Prix bike race not far away in the seaside community of Dana Point. It seemed like a good photo opportunity and a decent way to spend a day by the ocean.

I lived in Mission Viejo, California. It was dreadfully boring, with million-dollar houses and apartments packed together near manmade lakes ringed by planted palms. Living there is like being trapped inside a titanic, city-sized strip mall. Southern California is really one massive strip mall that begins north of Los Angeles near Santa Clarita and extends for miles south below Mission Viejo where the giant strip mall is briefly interrupted by the U.S. Marine base at Camp Pendleton, then the huge, connected strip mall of manufactured houses, condos, apartments and retail gallerias begins again north of San Diego. Viewed from space its a massive tapestry of buildings crammed together like a human ant colony. The freeways are slow-moving ant trails of BMW’s, Mercedes, Porsches and an increasing number of Teslas that skirt the coast moving at a crawl. It’s perforated by the San Andreas Fault at the base of the San Gabriel mountain range to the east. One day the “Big One” will hit and the entire thing will submerge in an earthquake likely to be the largest natural disaster in human history. But this is L.A., and people only think $2500 weekly paycheck to paycheck, an income which is lower middle class in this area. So no one cares that geology and plate tectonics has guaranteed that one day they’ll be swimming with the fishes.

Dana Point was probably a quaint SoCal surfer town before the marketing of Southern California made it a combination of a life-size PacSun, H&M and Forever 21 store with no parking. But nonetheless, today there is a bike race.

The Dana Point Gran Prix is a classic American bike race, a “criterium”, a race on a short, closed circuit with multiple turns per lap. It’s a great way to see a bicycle race since most criteriums are in a downtown area where there are crowds, restaurants, coffee shops and bars. The races are held in respective categories of riders based on age and ability level.

This race is the “Senior Pro, 1,2” race. It’s the fast guys. The low-level pros and the elite level amateurs and the local hot shot racers. Since this is Southern California there are a lot of hot shot locals, not all local to So-Cal.

The race progresses over successive laps and it looks like it will all stay together, no small groups or “breakaways” getting away today. Until the final laps.

One of the guys fighting for position at the front of this race is Karl Bordine. Bordine is bigger than most bike racers. He weighs nearly 190 pounds and is well over six feet tall. He is also a time trial or solo ride specialist and, even more remarkably for a bike racer in a criterium, Bordine is a triathlete. Mostly, Bordine is a little of everything. He can run, swim and bike, he can time trial and he can stay at the front of an elite level criterium like Dana Point.

And staying at the front is exactly what Bordine is doing right now.

I’m walking the course backwards from the flow of riders, the best way to watch a criterium, and shooting with two Canon EOS cameras. One camera has a 100-400mm image stabilized zoom lens, the other a workhorse 28-135mm zoom. With these two lenses you can do almost everything in sports photography.

There are three laps to go. There have been some breakaways and the group has just reeled one of them in. The race is now “gruppo compacto” or one big group of riders hurtling around the circuit over 30 MPH as they enter the penultimate lap.

In criteriums and track racing the final lap is signaled by ringing a loud bell, hence “bell lap”. While Bordine knows this he also knows his chances for a win are not in a straight-up bunch sprint. Those outcomes fall to the specialty riders with dare-devil bike handling skills and hair trigger acceleration out of the final corner on the last lap. That’s not Bordine. He is a “stayer”, not a “sprinter”. So he makes his try for the line early. Very early.

Bordine churns off the front of the pack by himself at 35 MPH. He has less than three laps to go. It’s unlikely he’ll survive without being caught. It’s the classic all-or-nothing gamble, but it’s Bordine’s best bet.

Initially it looks good. He is a bull of a man, beating his pedals and the air around him into submission. But at each turn he has to back off briefly to avoid crashing in the corners and then reaccelerate to full race speed. That effort does not suit the diesel-like Bordine. So his initially dramatic gap begins to slowly erode, the pack making progress like a virus toward healthy flesh.

Funny things happen to a bike racer at full effort. Blood is shunted to the muscles, their heart beats at 180 beats per minute, three full contractions per second. As a result the mind becomes very simple. There is only one thought; go.

So Karl Bordine makes a critical error, especially for a champion. He forgets to read the lap board at the start/finish line that counts down the remaining laps. He also fails to listen for the final lap bell.

As a result, Bordine believes he is winning on the final lap, with a big enough gap, just barely, to stay away.

Karl Bordine comes out of turn number 6 out of the saddle, the last of his legs being spent in final standing pedal thrusts slightly uphill toward what he believes is victory. The pack behind him has done the calculus and knows they will apprehend him on the last lap, somewhere on the backside of the course, where he will be unceremoniously spit out the back like trash in the vortex of a speeding train.

Bordine raises his arms in victory. And the bell rings, the bell signaling one lap to go. Karl Bordine has blown the lap count, sprinted a full lap too early, and lost the race before over a thousand spectators in dramatic style. It is one for the blooper reel.

When the USA Cycling Official raises his finger to indicate “one lap to go” as the bell clangs loudly Bordine realizes his error and that there is no use in even trying. Instead he clowns with the official, and I fire off a series of shots through my Canon.

This photo is the best one. And it shows that, no matter how fast an athlete is, no matter how good their legs and lungs are, that races also won between the ears.

Here is the entire original photo from that day:

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It’s become the script for releasing new high end bikes: tease with media “leaks”, stage a rollout with attendant theatrics, segue into “hard science” with slick videos of wind tunnel testing and release a thick “white paper” of empirical engineering speak. Follow-up with ad nauseam debate about which bike is fast-est, light-est, aero-est or best-est in internet forums. Every bike brand in triathlon has done it.

There are two problems: The script is tired and people care less and less.

“Superbike” is an overused term attached to any bike sold with cliché marketing hyperbole. The reception to “superbike” introductions among social media and triathlon forum users has become decidedly lukewarm this “superbike season”.

There are a few reasons why:

  1. You’ve Heard It All Before. 

If every new superbike introduction claims to be the fastest, lowest drag, most developed in the wind tunnel and “best-est”, every one of them is wrong except one.

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An actual race car aerodynamic engineer, who knows about science, talks about bikes. Again.

The arguments for the designs are circular and never resolved. No one ever wins. They are no more than claims, and the claims all sound so similar they get lost. So people stop listening. It’s great argument, but bad marketing. Consequently for all the hot air that is moved online and in person very few of these bikes are actually sold at full retail.

  1. The Superbike is Increasingly Irrelevant. 

Triathletes are getting slower and finisher rates at large events are dropping. Between bizarre weather events at Ironman and other factors people are having a tough time just getting to the finish line, let alone shaving two minutes off their Kona bike split- a race almost no average triathlete does. There are more beginner and middle of the pack athletes now- races are filling from the bottom, not the top. The new generation of superbikes is not relevant to them. They are too expensive, too difficult to maintain and designed for average speeds the bottom 95% of new triathletes never ride at.

The bottom 95% of triathletes have needed new product offerings in the $1500-$2500 range for a decade now, and there have been almost none. That is a missed opportunity for the bike industry.

  1. The Superbike Feeds an Ugly Stereotype. 

If you wheel a superbike into a transition area and don’t finish at the top of the podium you run the risk of becoming a harsh parody: the conspicuous consuming triathlete dandy, the girl or guy with more gold cards than gold medals.

Superbikes have become a statement that infers hubris and elitism to some, and that doesn’t always have a positive ring. It isn’t “inclusive” in tenor. The outdated perception that having a Superbike is necessary to be taken seriously has become an economic barrier to entry in triathlon, and new participants are increasingly rejecting it. But bike brands have not latched onto this opportunity.

  1. Triathletes Have a Voice Now, And They’re Using It.

The first superbikes were developed in a user-media vacuum compared to today. Triathlon specific social media was limited to specialty forums. There weren’t as many Facebook groups of triathletes. Social media outlets were more segregated. People couldn’t comment as readily to such a large audience. Bike companies had not wandered into the rough n’ tumble social media landscape to do marketing.

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Now bike brands are using social media for marketing. They’ve discovered the medium is harshly critical. That has blunted the older wide-eyed excitement surrounding new bike introductions with cynicism from contributors. It has made superbikes seem “less cool” and somewhat foolhardy.

  1. Most Triathletes Can’t Afford It, Even If They Did Want It.

The Gallup Daily U.S. Economic Confidence Index measures consumer sentiment about the economy. It has trended below negative throughout the summer with one brief foray into the positive that turned south as the election season heated up. Even if people do have discretionary income they have become increasingly cautious about spending it. They may be willing to spend $1500-$2500 on a new bicycle, still a substantial amount for most buyers, but spending above $5000 is unusual in a pre-election year with a divisive political environment. As a result these introductions above $5000 at retail are less relevant than they were in a stronger consumer market. 

What’s The Solution?

Glossy triathlon media is locked-step with their paid advertisers. They run splashy press releases within the hour of a new superbike’s release. This year the buying public hasn’t been as enthusiastic. They railed against it on Facebook and other media.

In an unscientific glance at the reception of one of the industry’s biggest superbike introductions this past week the tenor of 100 comments from four different Facebook user feeds showed 91 comments that could be characterized as “predominantly negative” while only 9 were “predominantly positive”.

The opportunity for the bike industry lies in the empty spaces, the categories no other brand is selling to: Entry level multisport bikes in the sub-$3000 price range.

While bike market segments like off-road have been diced up into multiple sub-segments by wheel size and suspension type the multisport athlete is stuck with two polarized choices: road bike or triathlon bike.

A value-priced bike that crosses from road to triathlon categories would add new bike buyers and eliminate perceived barriers to entry in triathlon. It would also create a more logical progression of products for customers to graduate to. It may actually help sell more superbikes.

The bike industry has done a bad job of asking what the rank n’ file triathlon customer actually wants. They never ask bike shop customers and end-user entry level triathletes what they are shopping for. As a result they are disconnected, and so are their product offerings.

When I worked in marketing at a large U.S. based bike brand known for triathlon bikes I never saw them survey consumers directly, in person or even with an online survey of what end-users wanted. They never asked customers what they wanted. They just went back to the wind tunnel year after year to blow smoke over another new $10,000 bike for a marketing video. Until the bike industry has the courage to change this tired script their wind tunnels are just more hot air.

 

 

By Tom Demerly of TACAIRNET.com

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This upcoming November 12th and 13th Nellis Air Force Base Air Show outside Las Vegas, Nevada will host the final flight demonstration of the McDonnell-Douglas F-4 Phantom II, a multi-mission tactical aircraft that has served the U.S. Air Force, Marines, and Navy for 58 years. The Nellis AFB F-4 Phantom flight display will be the last time the U.S. Air Force flies the F-4 Phantom II in a demonstration, closing out 58 years of incredible history for the aircraft many people in my generation grew up with.

Aviation artist Mads Bangso of Copenhagen, Denmark has created several beautiful profile prints for AviationGraphic.com to commemorate the final flight of the Phantom, the “Phantom Pharewell” series. Two weeks ago I contacted AviationGraphic.com for several of these prints in two versions to bring to Nellis AFB with me for autographing by the last operational USAF F-4 Phantom pilots in history.

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AviationGraphic.com shipped my order in flat packaging, not rolled. That makes it easy to handle the prints for framing and display. They also arrive in perfect condition.

I’ve been a collector of aircraft profile prints for years, with some of my collection dating back to the era before the images were computer renderings. These early images were sometimes paintings reproduced for squadron rooms at air force bases around the world. They were extremely difficult to obtain outside the military flying community.

Today advancements in printing and illustration technology along with international distribution and the ability of artists to collaborate on projects around the world more easily have made aircraft profile prints not only easier to obtain, but also better quality and more accurate.

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AviationGraphic.com has fully 289 McDonnell-Douglas F-4 Phantom II prints available, representing every country that has operated the F-4 across all of its versions. It is likely the largest collection of F-4 Phantom prints anywhere in the world.

Researcher, aviation artist and expert Ugo Crisponi returned my inquiry to AviationGraphic.com and dispatched a collection of F-4 prints for the Phinal Phantom Phlight at Nellis. I received the F-4 prints, along with some other remarkable prints showcasing unique aircraft that will be at Nellis AFB, a week later via air from Italy.

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Commemorating the career of (then) Col. Robin Olds and Operation Bolo, this print features his portrait along with his F-4C.

The detail in AviationGraphic.com prints is impressive, especially on aircraft with panel lines, weathering, riveting and unusual stenciling. Color rendering is also rich and accurate. Research for the images comes for both photos and from visits to many of the subject aircraft in person so artists can experience coloration, proportion and exact look of an aircraft before it is rendered. This approach provides optimal accuracy for AviationGraphic.com’s over 70 contributing artists, including Ugo Crisponi and Mads Bangso.

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This close-up gives some hint of the detail, color rendering and weathering effects that make these prints so accurate.

Along with the final flight of the U.S. Air Force F-4’s, being flown in the QF-4E versions, many other unique aircraft available no where else in the world will be at the Nellis AFB Airshow. Nellis is the home of the Air Force’s “Red Flag” combat simulation exercise, a full scale aerial combat training exercise that simulates the opening few days of an air war between countries with sophisticated air forces. The simulated combat unfolds over nearly the entire western U.S.

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Since it is the annual host of the Red Flag exercise Nellis AFB is also the home of the elite 64th Aggressor Squadron, a unique Air Force unit that flies as “red force” enemy aircraft against U.S. and allied pilots training to defeat a sophisticated adversary. Artist and aviation expert Ugo Crisponi has produced some striking prints of the unique and colorful 64th Aggressor aircraft in their unusual livery.

Nellis will also host some unique Remotely Piloted Vehicle displays from the nearby Creech AFB where RPV combat missions are flown all over the world. I ordered a print of a General Atomics RQ-4 Reaper drone to take to Nellis also to see if I could get a flight crew to sign it.

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Since I was ordering from AviationGraphic.com I wanted to add some unique prints of other aircraft you don’t find prints of from any other source. Two of these are the ill-fated F-104N Starfighter flown by test pilot Joe Walker during the tragic mid-air collision with an XB-70 Valkyrie in June, 1966 and a relatively new print of the elite Jordanian Special Operations Command UH-60L Blackhawk helicopter used at the King Abdullah II Special Operations Training Center (KASOTC) outside Amman, Jordan.

There are a number of excellent aviation profile print publishers now including the original Squadron Prints, Aircraft Profile Prints and even smaller, one man art houses like Ryan Dorling Military Litho Prints. Each one of these produce beautiful art but  AviationGraphic.com has the largest variety of subjects, especially international, and the largest number of artists of any of the publishing houses. I’m thrilled to bring these prints to Nellis AFB with me in November for aircrews to autograph.