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Monthly Archives: February 2017

By Tom Demerly for tomdemerly.com

racermate_computrainer_booth

According to an e-mail sent to sponsored athletes last night and reports on social media, Computrainer, the innovator of the computerized indoor ride simulator, is closing.

Reports indicate an e-mail was sent to sponsored athletes late last night. Phone calls to the company, Racermate, and its sister company, Floscan, were not returned as of this hour. In a phone call with a representative from sister company Floscan, who asked not to be named, early Tuesday, February 28, this reporter was told “I don’t know what is going on over there [at Computrainer].”

A copy of the e-mail received by tomdemerly.com via social media reads:

“It is with a heavy heart that those of us here at RacerMate must tell you that we are closing the doors on CompuTrainer. Technology and competition from larger companies have both eaten into the marketplace. As a small company with the premier indoor trainer in terms of performance and durability, we have found ourselves in a place where we cannot continue. It has been a marvelous 40+ years and we have enjoyed sharing in the victories and friendships we have made along the way.” [signed]

Chuck Wurster, Vice President

RacerMate Inc.

Seattle, WA

Voice mails left at Computrainer’s extension contained the message, “Please don’t be surprised if it takes several days to return your message.”

Computrainer is related to Floscan, a company that provides aviation and maritime fuel flow monitoring equipment.

The Computrainer indoor ride simulator revolutionized bicycle training by projecting performance telemetry on a screen in front of riders while a load generator varied resistance creating a realistic ride simulation indoors. The system also enabled riders to “compete” with each other in a virtual environment and to ride against themselves from previous performances saved on a computer that controlled the Computrainer.

If reports are accurate, contributing factors may include an unusual, non-retail sales model, low profit margins, service intensive products and the introduction of other computer controlled ride-simulation “smart” trainers into the competitive space from companies like Tacx and Wahoo Fitness who have a dealer network and existing distribution at the consumer level from brick and mortar retailers.

While this report remains unconfirmed from Computrainer as of this hour, the inability to receive or return sales and service inquiries throughout the first half of Tuesday, and reports of the e-mail announcement sent to sponsored athletes have surfaced on social media.

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By Tom Demerly for tomdemerly.com

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Disc brake road bikes, new tire sizes, new brake caliper brake placement, new models, new categories, new components.

The cycling industry has a spastic obsession with newness

The belief is that, to keep cycling compelling for consumers there must be a continuous flow of new products, exciting products.

But not necessarily better products.

In an incident today in Stage 1 of the Abu Dhabi Tour top professional rider Owain Doull of Team Sky told reporters his left shoe was sliced clean through by a disc brake rotor in a crash. Doull sustained additional cuts he attributed to the sharp-edged disc brake rotor from the racing bicycle of sprinting sensation Marcel Kittel of the Quick-Stop Floors pro team. The two were involved in a crash near the race finish; a common occurrence in fast, bunch sprints.

Disc brakes on road bikes have been a new feature for three years. The jury is still out if they are better. This latest exhibit does not bode well for the future of disc brakes on road bikes, and it isn’t the first time.

Gregor Brown of Velo-News.com wrote this today following the Abu Dhabi incident:

“It was not the first time a rider has accused disc rotors of inflicting damage. At Paris-Roubaix in 2016, Movistar’s Fran Ventoso claimed that a large cut on his lower leg was caused by a disc rotor used by the Roompot team. That assertion has been disputed, but Ventoso stands behind the story.”

The sales pitch is often something like, “Everything is going to disc brakes!” and “Cars use disc brakes, discs work better in wet weather.” But there is a contrarian argument to be made that disc brakes are a feature without a benefit, or, at least, not a benefit commensurate to their attendant drawbacks.

In a balance sheet format, disc brakes look something like this:

Advantages:

Better wet weather stopping performance than caliper brakes. Greater tire clearance at fork and rear triangle facilitating wider tires on disc equipped bikes. More frequent use of structural thru-axle wheel design for better lateral stiffness. Removal of braking surface from wheel rim allows new rim shape designs.

Drawbacks:

Reliance on disc-brake specific wheels. Difficulty maintaining adjustment of brake calipers relative to wheel brake disc. Slower wheel changes compared to caliper brakes. Difficulty moving wheels from one bike to another due to tight tolerances. Heavier weight. More expensive. Fewer wheel options for disc brakes. New maintenance requirements, especially with hydraulic disk brakes.

So the question for consumers is, do the drawbacks outweigh the benefits? Another attendant question for consumers is, “Was there anything wrong with caliper brakes?”

In fairness, road calipers have had decades to evolve. Brake surfaces, rim profiles, brake calipers, brake levers, brake pad materials and brake cables for caliper brakes have been evolving ever since they were invented in the late 1920’s. That is a century of technological evolution in favor of calipers.

Conversely, disc brakes are new to road bikes compared to calipers, and the technology is not quite ready for prime time. If it were, the incidents with rider injuries, complexity surrounding wheel changes and maintenance wouldn’t exist.

During the past two decades when the bike industry introduced a few ideas that made it to market when they arguably were not mature we saw an increase in service and warranty related inquiries. These included, most notably, bottom brackets following the move to press-fit bottom bracket formats.

And the bike industry has a dismal record of owning its bad judgment unless compelled to do so via litigation, usually in the form of mandated recalls or personal injury lawsuits. Until those things happen the pedal is to the metal on selling new innovations with an often-subordinated regard for technical merit, let alone safety or integrity.

Solution: Do a Better Job of Selling What Already Works.

While the bike industry has done a great job of introducing “new” it has mired itself in an increasing number of sales narratives.

For every new innovation there needs to be a new sales case, new sales materials, new web assets, new sales and distribution channels and new marketing materials. It takes time and resources to develop those assets, and they cost money. It makes sales conversations longer on the floor of the bike shop on Saturday morning. It may not increase sales, but it makes it longer to complete sales. There is simply more to talk about.

An alternative solution exists in other industries where price maintenance, dealer cooperation and better marketing of existing products along with more judicious management of the supply chain has maintained product quality, profit margin and customer satisfaction.

Perhaps the best example of maintaining profit and demand for a static, non-evolving product is the diamond industry. Despite the rising supply of diamonds (there is actually a surplus) and the introduction of nearly indistinguishable synthetic diamonds, prices for diamonds have consistently risen. The diamond industry has created an emotional perception of worth although all other metrics suggest diamond prices should be falling.

The bicycle industry has not mastered any version of this perceived value equation. It is consistently undercutting price and negotiating a seasonal “surplus” of inventory that has conditioned consumers to buy previous model years at discounts. While some bike brands have reduced the emphasis on model years this has resulted in sometimes-stale offerings since the marketing narrative was not supported vigorously enough within the bike industry. They forget to sell. But they remember to invent new shiny things.

When the bike industry begins to focus on the job of selling rather than the novelty of making shiny new things then product quality will improve and profit margins will follow. And, most importantly, consumers will get a better, safer, more valid product instead of just the latest shiny thing.

By Tom Demerly for tomdemerly.com

vice-admiral

We got him because no one else would take him.

Malcom the Cat was in a crowded foster home with dogs, cats, ferrets and rabbits. Food was competitive and the population changed frequently as new foster animals came in, and older ones were (hopefully) adopted.

The lady from the animal foster home told me, “He’s a… handful.”

The arrangement seemed somewhat odd. The lady would bring Malcom to us, we would not go to the animal foster home to meet him. She asked me, “If I bring him there and it seems like it may work out, are you willing to keep him then?”

I said “Yes”.

Malcom was big, even before he turned one. A large, sturdy male cat, tall and long with powerful limbs and a large head. He was bright white with unusual striped spots and a dark striped tail. And claws. Very, very big claws.

We took him.

I am the first to admit that it did not go well at first, and that I was concerned. Our other cat, MiMi, is a gentle and polite girl with soft fur, one eye (she lost the other to a snake bite in the Arizona desert next to an air force base before she was rescued) and kind disposition. She’s a lap cat.

Malcom was a competitive, territorial predator. A fighter.

One day, when the house was torn up, MiMi was hiding somewhere terrified and I was losing blood through another series of scratches on both arms, I sat down and spoke with Malcom.

“You know Sir,” I told him, “This is a cooperative home. Every cat has to get along here, do his share, and be a good cat.”

Malcom stared at me.

“I know you are a fine cat, you just need some time.”

Time went by. One day I picked Malcom up and he didn’t tear me apart. He started purring. One night I felt something heavy on my leg. He was in bed with me.

Soon after a little cat named Chester showed up outside our window. And Chester moved in. Now there were three.

viceadmiraladministers

The Vice-Admiral oversees the delivery of new equipment.

I sat them all down one morning, as well as you can do that with three cats (which isn’t very well). We laid some ground rules: every cat must get along with the other cats. Meals are in the morning and the evening. Everyone eats together, served in order, from their own bowl. Everyone gets up at the same time. Everyone is allowed to sleep where they want but no fighting over sleeping places. There were more rules.

The three cats listened, seemingly interested, likely indifferent as cats are.

Finally, I appointed Malcom as the de facto leader, largely because of his physical prominence, but also because of his experience in an animal foster home. Apparently he used his size, strength and razor-sharp talons to enforce a kind of martial law there. Hence, he became Vice-Admiral Malcom Fredrick Davis III. Named from a number of sources, the third in an honorable naval lineage of cats who rose to equal prominence and distinction from the crucible of adversity.

Today the Vice-Admiral, as he is formally known, presides over nearly every activity in the house. He is served first at breakfast and dinner, eats in the highest position and in matters of cat politics, is subordinate only in seniority to MiMi, who is several years his senior and hence the wiser.

It took time to understand Malcom. It took time for him to become comfortable with the rules and procedures of a house with three very different cat personalities and two people. But with guidance and compassion and patience he has become a very fine man, a leader of cats, and an example to all cats. That every cat can rise above a difficult past, learn to stop scratching, accept and show affection, behave in a gentlemanly manner and enjoy the many things that cats take amusement in.

It’s just matter of patience and understanding.

viceadmiralportrait