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Bike Reviews

By Tom Demerly for tomdemerly.com

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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.

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.

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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 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.

Felt FR10

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

bikeshopdentist

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.

bike shop kids

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 for tomdemerly.com

BIKEREVIEW10

I wrote my first equipment review in 1977.

I was 15, typed it on an Underwood for a paper newsletter mailed by Schuman’s Schwinn Cyclery in Detroit. I reviewed a skateboard- said it was “lame”.

It was probably my last honest review.

Since then I’ve written hundreds of equipment reviews for magazines like Outside, Velo-News, Triathlete and many others.

Bicycle and outdoor equipment reviews are increasingly shady business. They’re assumed to be impartial- expert opinions on what is good and bad about a bike gadget- based on experience. Consumers use them as “research” to help make a buying decision.

It is one of the great lies of the bicycle industry.

Bike and gear reviews are increasingly influenced by the sales motive. Bike brands and retailers often can’t say anything bad about a product. Their primary motive is selling it. Since few people are being objective- writers or readers, anyone attempting objectivity is punished for their honesty. Customers are scared away from a product if a review contains criticism, even when it is valid. We end up with canned press-release product descriptions that are not critical “reviews” at all.

That’s not right. So, as far as my keyboard can reach, I’m changing that.

There are some reviewers who have established credibility in addition to a paycheck by being objective. I spoke to three of them before writing this; James Huang of CyclingTips.com (formerly at BikeRadar.com); Dan Empfield, founder of Slowtwitch.com and Charles Manantan, of Pez Cycling News.

James Huang is among the most read and respected product reviewers in the bike industry. He began as an independent reviewer with his own blog and earned a reputation for being critical and objective. His candor won him increasingly greater readership- and credibility. From 2007-2015 Huang was the U.S. Tech Editor for BikeRadar.com. He recently went to CyclingTips.com.

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Writer and product editorialist James Huang.

Unlike many product reviewers, James Huang is both a pragmatist and a very good writer. This excerpt from his article The Unattainable Quest for Perfection summarizes the craft of the best writers in this industry:

“More than a decade at this beat — writing about bicycles and bicycle technology — has taught me that there’s no such thing as a perfect product. But I like to think that I have a decent handle on when something contributes meaningfully to the enjoyment and beauty of riding.”

Huang has had the courage to comment with balance in his reviews, and his editors have backed him up.

“I’ve certainly had companies pull advertising campaigns or raise hell with the commercial side of the business but nope, I have never had any editorial modified for commercial reasons. I’ve been extremely lucky in that sense; from what I understand not everyone in my position has been so fortunate. “

When I asked James about how objective he feels other media outlets are with their equipment reviews he told me, “I always like to believe that it’s easy to distinguish between thinly veiled pay-to-play editorial and the good stuff but the cynic in me says otherwise.”

James Huang is right. The fault lies partially with the “pay-to-play” editorial, as Huang suggests, and also with consumers reading reviews.

Here’s why: As a reviewer part of my job is writing about the equipment we use- and sell. The reason I write reviews is for people to buy something. I also write for good rankings in SEO, “Search Engine Optimization”. In many cases I am actually not reviewing, I am selling. That motive makes me one of the bad guys- at least until now.

Search engines like Google and Yahoo serve content to consumers from key word searches like “triathlon bike reviews” using complex, secret algorithms that change daily. No one outside the secretive search engine code writing industry knows how to “cheat” them. Hucksters who sell “How to Improve Your SEO” webinars are guessing. I’ve sat through a ton of them. The only proven way to rise to the top of the results is to serve a ton of original content. So I’ve had to work fast. And sometimes loose.

If you count SEO frequency as the high bar of review success, and bike brands often do, I’m pretty good at it: Do a Google search on the key words “triathlon bike reviews” and hit the “images” tab. You get 14 of my photos served to you on the first page. Most are my original content; some are copied and pasted from something I wrote and then used by another writer- an even shadier practice. I don’t care though, because more is more. In the Internet search engine world the person who shouts the loudest and the most gets heard. That’s been me. And judging by my SEO results, I’ve been doing something right- because readers like to read good things about the products they aspire to and my SEO is strong.

Chris Gustafson is a salesman, and a pragmatist. He gave me the key to writing equipment reviews in one sentence, “Tell me what you want, and I’ll tell you why it’s the best.” His doctrine was “knock ’em where they lean”. And Chris sold a ton of bikes. Because it is human nature that we want our thoughts reinforced, not challenged.

If I were completely honest with my opinions in gear reviews I would write things like, “Even after repeated adjustments we couldn’t get the rear brakes to work very well” or “The bike feels oddly heavy because, when we weighed it, it was.” But then consumers would simply click to the next review that says the crap like, “Light and aero, but stiff and comfortable too!”

Here is my challenge to consumers: You can’t handle the truth.

Consumers search for the single best-reviewed bike using some golden BB metric or measure of “best-ness”. This “research” has fed numerous marketing lies like wind-tunnel white papers, ride review payola and ad dollar ransom.

Bike buyers: look for reviewers with the courage to be critical. Consider balance and understand how you will really use something you are researching. Know that there are no perfect products and look for glaring omissions in sugar-sweet product reviews that gush without reservation. There is nothing wrong with a great sales pitch until it is veiled as a critical review.

I have seen the power of candor in equipment reviews.

In 2002 I did a review of the Litespeed Blade where I wrote, “It is an expensive bike that does not return a high degree of performance for most riders.” That was the good part. It got worse from there.

The (then) President of Litespeed phoned me and asked, point blank, “What will it take for you to take that review down?” My answer was simple, “Fix the bike”.

Three years later in 2005 the company had completely redesigned the bike and the new version was greatly improved. Whether my criticisms played a role I do not know. The shortcomings I wrote about weren’t subtle; any triathlete would notice them. But there was still pressure on me to shut up about the bike’s many problems. It was a rare case where I didn’t cave.

The moment any second party has editorial control over review content, it changes. Most times not for the better. A key ingredient in good, credible reviews is commensurate authority for the reviewer to say what they really think- good and bad. The reviewer needs an editor who will back them up, not shut them down to protect advertising and sales motives. That is nearly non-existent in the cycling industry. A key ingredient in delivering meaningful content is to grant commensurate authority for the writer to express an opinion independent from the sales motive.

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With Jim Felt, founder of Felt Bicycles (left) and Dan Empfield of Slowtwitch.com (center). That’s me with the idiotic expression on my face.

You can sometimes tell the best reviewers by the ones who have been fired. Dan Empfield has been fired from glossy triathlon publications for speaking his mind. It’s ironic since Empfield is a Triathlon Hall of Fame inductee who invented the triathlon wetsuit, the triathlon bike and a host of other innovations in the industry. He is also the founder of Slowtwitch.com, a website that does publish objective reviews and editorial.

“You have to have balance,” Empfield told me. “A few good things, some bad things. Just tell the truth.” Empfield’s simplistic editorial doctrine is refreshing- and useful to consumers using his reviews as an evaluative tool for buying decisions.

Charles Manantan is a tech writer for Pez Cycling News, a credible, dynamic cycling website packed with fresh content. He also practices an objective editorial policy in equipment reviews.

“I’ve had companies tell me that they had more direct feedback and customers from a review on our site than from sites with many times more eyeballs [on them]. I do think [objective] reviews have an influence on buying decisions.”

Manantan summarized the industry of writing gear reviews succinctly and offered an insightful recommendation for a better doctrine.

“Look at an Editor like John Bradley at Velo-News who held his ground rather than kill a story in the face of Shimano pulling ads. You see another popular bike publication get exposed for straight-up “Pay for Play” advertorial reviews being part of a paid advertising package sold to a large manufacturer. I think the biggest negative impact on public perception of bike reviews comes from publications that work on the ‘more content is better’ theory, especially when they don’t want to pay [writers] for the content. Worse yet, they don’t seem to value the quality of the content as much as the quantity.”

So here is my recommendation, and my promise: If it sounds too good to be true, it is. Not every bike can test “most aero”. Every bike isn’t “stiff, but comfortable”. If a review doesn’t contain at least some balanced criticism you likely just got a sales pitch instead of an honest opinion.

And, I promise in the stuff I write going forward to not pull punches for payola or gush garbage to go viral on Google.

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Author Tom Demerly has written a bunch of crap, some of it you just finished.

Now he’s telling the truth. It’s his new thing.