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Bike Reviews

By Tom Demerly for tomdemerly.com

maik

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.

CerveloR3d200

On Wednesday, April 13, 2016 online publication Cyclingweekly.com reported that the Union Cycliste Internationale or UCI, the international governing body for the sport of cycling, has “issued a suspension” on the use of disc brakes for professional road racing events.

The new sanction against disc brakes on road bikes follows a trial period of disc brake use by pro cyclists before their permanent approval for competition.

According to Cyclingnews.com this “second testing phase [would have permitted] every rider in a team to use disc brakes in 2016 and in every major race. This is expected to spark widespread use of disc brakes during the 2016 season.”

But today’s suspension of disc brake use in the pro peloton raises a few questions about disc brakes on road bikes specifically, and about cycling technology and its role in the consumer market more broadly.

The cycling industry is a consumer industry. It relies on interest in new products to drive bike sales. Every season new features need to be released to keep customers interested.

But not every new feature has an attendant benefit.

Some features are just… new.

To a degree disc brakes fall in this category, but only to a degree.

Let’s consider a balance sheet of disk brakes on road bikes:

Pros:

  1. Disc brakes remove the braking surface from the rim, allowing new flexibility in rim shape design.
  1. Disc brakes usually have better stopping performance in wet and dirty conditions than a rim brake.
  1. Because a bike frame designed specifically for disc brakes does not need caliper brake mounts frame designers have new latitude with frame design not available with traditional caliper brakes.

IMG_2552Cons:

  1. Disc brakes are heavier than caliper brakes.
  1. Disc brakes are more expensive than most caliper brakes.
  1. Disc brake equipped wheels take longer to change in a race-service setting.
  1. Disc brake equipped bikes are less tolerant of interchanging wheels from bike to bike; the brake disc spacing on the wheel must be exact for it to work on a given bike and this often varies from bike to bike. Caliper brake equipped bikes are easier to change wheels on.
  1. Disc brakes have different stopping power than caliper brakes. This can create different braking performance on group rides where some riders have caliper brakes and some riders have disc brakes, potentially creating a hazard.
  1. There are not as many wheel options available aftermarket for disc brake equipped bikes as there are for caliper-equipped bikes.

If you weigh both sides of the balance sheet you see that disc brakes offer some advantages, but not necessarily advantages in a professional road race setting.

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As with aerobars, disc brakes are not well suited for riding in a group, especially if some riders are also using caliper brakes.

Aerodynamic handlebars are similar; in an individual, time trial and triathlon setting they offer proven performance benefits, but they aren’t optimal for use in mass-start bicycle racing.

The bike industry may not have ever intended disc brakes to be a replacement for caliper brake racing bikes. Instead, the disc-equipped road bike may have been targeted for an emerging demographic of recreational cyclist who rides in all-weather.

I use the word “may” because the cycling industry seldom plans such things, but rather throws new ideas against the consumer wall to see what sticks. The impetus is to constantly release something new, if not necessarily better.

Because consumers seem to want “new”.

Disc brakes aren’t bad. They stop a bike adequately in all conditions and better than caliper brakes in wet and dirty conditions. On mountain bikes, cyclocross bikes, dirt road bikes and randonee’/touring bikes ridden in bad weather they are better than caliper brakes.

Recall the time when suspension forks were installed on road bikes used for the cobblestones in Paris-Roubaix. The trend didn’t last, and riders quickly returned to mostly conventional road bikes with rigid forks and caliper brakes at Paris-Roubaix and in the other Spring Classic races.

Suspension forks didn’t go away. They found their own best application on mountain bikes and some recreational hybrid bikes. And there they remain, because they are a feature that provides a tangible benefit on those bikes.

Do disc brakes belong on road bikes? On some road bikes they do. Not all, and they are not a replacement for caliper brakes. If you ride by yourself on dirt roads and in wet conditions, disc brakes offer a benefit. But disc brake bikes aren’t a replacement for the caliper brake equipped road racing bike. They were never intended to be.