March 1, 2015 § 52 Comments
One of my friends in the “industry” sent me this link to a review of Wal-Mart skateboards. Since the sound on my brand new HP computer is already broken, it took me a couple of days to get around to viewing it. When I finally saw the video, well, let’s just say you don’t need the volume. Two skateboard dudes take turns jumping off concrete stairs on cheap-ass, defectively designed products that are marketed to little kids.
The boards fail catastrophically. If you have kids, grandkids, know anyone who has kids, or were once yourself a kid, this video will scare the hell out of you.
I see this a lot in the bike “industry” as well. I love it when people call it “the industry” because it sounds like a huge conglomeration of space-age manufacturing facilities, globally designing, testing, marketing, and retailing sophisticated services and products, and it doesn’t sound like some smelly old unemployed guy in his underwear, hunched over his computer screen in his mom’s basement sipping his third cup of coffee after awaking at noon to put out his bicycle industry blog. In short, it doesn’t sound like Steve Tilford.
Fact is, part of the bike industry revolves around the same kind of deadly, low-quality, defective products that Wal-Mart loves to sell on its skateboard shelves. Full carbon wheels made of 100% carbon that disassemble on steep descents when ridden by over-the-weight-limit riders, a weight that is often “super plus” sizes like 190 or 200 pounds–weights that are completely normal for certain body types. New generation disc brakes (always the front) that mysteriously stop working. Front fork failures. And of course my personal favorite, a Specialized tire that was slightly non-round at the bead, which meant that it would seat and inflate, then blow off the rim once you started going downhill.
“Oh, you tore your face off and spent a month in the ICU like the guy who runs my sister publication at Red Kite Bore while exhibiting your descending skills down Las Flores? Here, have another tire. It’s on us.”
In addition to the physical danger of product failure, there’s the fraud that occurs in the advertising of such products. Mrs. WM likes to go to the Korean spa around the corner. It’s a place where chubby middle-aged women, Asian and non, go to sweat away a few pounds of water weight while chowing down on the pork noodles and ice cream. The key thing about the Korean spa is that you aren’t allowed to wear clothes.
The other day I went to pick her up after her day-long bathing session and she was hopping mad. “I’m so onna sick of these cheaters,” she said.
“Yes, they are cheaters.”
“The blonde bathing ladies, all coming onna spa dressed up all onna fancy with a pretty blonde hair.”
“I didn’t know you had it in for blondes.”
“I like onna blonde hair it’s pretty hair but then they are takin’ off onna bottoms and it’s all black like a parking lot in a Wal-Mart, that’s a fake advertising.”
“That’s what I’m saying. If I was a boy and getting all happy at a pretty blonde lady and she’s dropping off onna her bottoms and it’s all a black patch like a motor oil I’m gonna cry and ask for a moneyback.”
As usual, Mrs. WM had a great point. Nobody wants to pay for blonde and get black, or pay for black and get blonde, or pay for carbon and get rim failure at 50 mph going down Tuna Canyon.
Super products that have been tested and that work make a difference, and yep, they cost more. In a pinch, and when you’re racing your bike there’s always a pinch, good products can make the difference between a bad accident and losing your eyesight. Just ask Ronnie Toth, who would have been blinded without his performance glasses, made of course by SPY Optic. Save a few bucks and get a cheaper brand? The worst that could happen is, well, you go blind.
Quality matters. Choose wisely.
For $2.99 per month you can subscribe to this blog and stop buying substandard products. Click here and select the “subscribe” link in the upper right-hand corner. Thank you!
You can also follow me on the Twitter here:
February 17, 2015 § 63 Comments
I saw this VeloNews load of crap when it came out about six months ago, and ignored it because, obviously, it was written by a triathlete.
“What do you have against triathletes, Wanky?”
Nothing. Some of the people who I might otherwise consider friends are triathletes. But the bottom line is that when you’re looking for bike racing advice, triathletes are complete, hopeless, and utter morons. The only thing worse is seeking bike racing advice from a blog on the Internet. Nonetheless, what triathletes do has nothing in common with bike racing. They get on a bicycle and pedal it hard. Hardest pedaler gets there first. Brain not required.
So when I saw that Jim Gourley is “demystifying the science of triathlon” I kept on going. First, last time I checked, there is no section in Science for “Triathlonology.” Nor I have ever heard of a “triathlonologist.” What I have seen, and seen plenty of, are tri-dorks.
Unfortunately, someone brought this corpse of an article back from the dead and posted it on Facebag, where a handful of actual cyclists noted their approval. Oh, brother.
To sum it up, Gourley wants you to believe that bike weight doesn’t really matter. He proves this by taking out his calculator and plugging in some numbers, assuming identical rider weight and an identical steady grade. Air resistance, we’re told, isn’t factored in. That’s so we can have a model that is as far from reality as those triathlon outfits are from attractive.
What he “discovers” in his windless lab where everyone rides along at the same power output is that a one-pound weight advantage only gives you a 2.5 second advantage in his fantasy lab setting. And who doesn’t race in a laboratory?
Unfortunately, if you read this correctly, you need to go screaming out to your nearest bike shop and get the lightest bike you can find. Why? Because 2.5 seconds in a hilly road race — or any bike race — is a crushing, dominating victory. Unlike triathlon, where 2.5 seconds on the bike is easily wiped out in the run, if you put 2.5 seconds on someone at the end of a bike race you have made them your bitch and they will have to spend the whole fucking morning on Monday looking at stupid pictures of you with your arms raised on Facebag.
But there’s more. Gourley the Triathlonologist says that a 3-lb. difference will give you a 7.5-second advantage when racing in his laboratory. This is not just a beatdown, it’s being skinned alive. And here’s the good part: For about a thousand bucks you can shave 1.5 pounds off your bike with a light pair of full carbon tubulars that are full carbon and made out of carbon.
Now, I know what you’re thinking. “The last time I was in a lab someone bent me over and put on a latex glove.”
Exactly. The only people who race in labs are, apparently, triathlonologists as they’re working on the latest research project that will hopefully get them a Nobel Prize in Triathlonology.
The rest of us contend in road races that are on roads with actual wind, and we compete against people who don’t weigh exactly what we do in events that don’t require a steady power output. This means several things:
- The weight advantage of a light bike is increased when you’re racing someone who is in the wind while you’re sheltered. The guy pounding it on the front of the climb, even if he isn’t saddled with a heavier bike (which he often is), is taking the brunt of the wind. When you’re sucking wheel three bikes back riding a rig that’s 3-pounds lighter than his, Gourley’s “7.5 second advantage,” or rather the savings in watts, becomes even more significant.
- The weight advantage of a light bike is increased when you’re racing uphill against someone who’s fatter than you are. On the flip side, if you’re the porker, a lighter bike diminishes your chub disadvantage to the tweezly twig-men who are driving the pace, especially if you’re combining a light bike with massive wheelsuckery.
- Different riders have different power profiles. Tri-dorks tend to dominate in the “Duhhhhh” power band, which requires mindless mashing at a steady state. Hilly road races, however, are surge-fests. Intense 2-3 minute bursts on the climb shake out the wankers. The leaders take a rest and the pace drops dramatically. Then they kick it again. These continual surges thin the herd and put a premium on your ability to go fast on a climb, slow down, then go fast again. In this context, bike weight in general and wheel weight in particular is huge when you’re on a hard climb because you have to get the damned thing up to speed over and over and over, unlike the tri-dork who wraps it up to 27 mph and holds it there until his teeth rot out. In other words, every last gram matters when it comes to acceleration.
The other problem with extrapolations from the science of triathlon to the witch craftery of bike racing is that disparities caused by weight don’t make themselves felt in a linear fashion throughout the race such that, at the end, the lighter wanker is 2.5 seconds ahead.
What actually happens in a hilly bike race is that the 10 or 15-watt differential enjoyed by the guy on the carbon bike made of full carbon makes itself felt early on, and it results in you getting your ass shellacked on the climb. Once unhitched, you spiral off the back and are left to battle with the wind — no shelter from the peloton — by yourself. The “2.5 second” differential turns into minutes by the end of the race, with you dejectedly struggling through the finish zone and embarrassed onlookers try to make you feel good by ignoring you or saying “Good job,” in mousy, quiet voices.
How many times have you been in a race where the difference between hanging on and getting kicked out the back has been a mere one or two pedal strokes? Suddenly those “7.5” seconds look like what they are: A huge differential that can decide the entire race. And of course when you’ve got great form, are already tiny, are riding smart, and have the lightest rig, you’re truly stacking the deck.
Weight matters when the road tilts up. Every single gram. And if you’re listening to a triathlonologist for bike racing advice, well, you deserve what you get.
For $2.99 per month you can subscribe to this blog and learn all the secrets of bike racing. All of them. Click here and select the “subscribe” link in the upper right-hand corner. Thank you!
You can also follow me on the Twitter here:
December 31, 2014 § 27 Comments
Scientists say that according to the laws of physics the ideal number of bicycles to have is “n + 1,” where n = the number of bikes currently owned. I disagree. The proper number of bikes is “n – u,” where n = the number of bikes currently owned, and u = the number that are unused.
There are lots of reasons to use the “n – u” formula. First is the Law of One. This law states that unless you belong to the German Women’s Bicycle Gymnastics team, you can only ride one bike at a time. No matter how many bikes you have hanging from the ceiling, you can only ride one of them. So contrary to popular belief, having more bikes will not increase your ratio of fun per ride.
Second, multiple bicycle ownership of the same type of bicycle invariably creates what is known as a mutual parting reaction. The MPA occurs when broken parts on one bike are replaced with functioning parts on the unbroken bike, eventually resulting in two bicycles, neither of which works. It is the existence of the non-functioning bicycle duality that often leads to a purchase of the third bicycle, typically around the same time that a new product roll-out or planned obsolescence occurs, cf. “29-er,” “electronic shifting,” or “disc brakes for road bikes.”
Many cyclists, understanding the multiple parting reaction, refuse to buy more than one road bike because of the ancillary spousal reduction effect. This effect manifests itself when a two-party marriage or relationship reduces itself by half due to the purchase of multiple same-type bicycles, most often when the per unit cost exceeds $5,000, not including carbon wheels or pedals.
In order to avoid the MPA and spousal reduction effect, cyclists often attempt to double (triple/quadruple) their fun by purchasing additional bikes for use in a different discipline. Although few MTB riders are stupid enough to branch off into road riding, many road riders will attempt to become mountain bikers, violating the reflex time principle. In brief, this principle states that no person over the age of forty can develop reflexes quickly enough to avoid crushing his skull/bones/internal organs against a tree or rock, or to avoid plunging over a steep cliff.
However, even for the roadies who do not immediately violate the reflex time principle, another important factor comes into play with the acquisition of a new MTB. This is known in scientific circles as the time investment quandary and its corollary, the law of diminishing returns. The TIQ is a principle that states that the more time a roadie invests in MTB, the crappier he will become as a roadie. The law of diminishing returns states that as the roadie becomes a worse roadie due to time spent on the MTB, he will soon reach a point where he achieves modest mediocrity on the MTB (‘cross bike, track bike, TT bike) no matter how much time he spends riding it. Before long the time investment reflex will kick in and he will fracture a spine or a face, bringing the whole thing to a bloody conclusion and a bargain sale on eBay.
Although experienced cyclists sometimes become satisfied with mediocrity in various disciplines, following the n + 1 formula eventually results in the phenomenon of bicycle furniture polarity. In essence, this polarity results from limited physical space for beds, couches, bookshelves, and other utilitarian furnishings due to the concentration of bicycles, all of which are too expensive to put in the garage or on the porch.
As a result, the bicycle molecules force out the furniture molecules, causing the bicycle molecules to rearrange themselves as the main furnishings of the living room, bedroom, bathroom, kitchen, or crack lab. This polarity is generally considered unsightly, as only a tiny fraction of interior designers, a fraction which cannot be measured with existing instrumentation, considers a 50th Anniversary Campagnolo DeRosa frame to be an attractive wall hanging.
Unlike the n+ 1 formula, the n – u formula reduces the universe of bicycle molecules to those that are actually ridden, triggering the fitness feedback loop, the credit card equilibrium phase, and the marital detente syndrome.
In other words, my 2012 Giant TCX ‘cross bike with SRAM Red, eggbeater pedals, and dicksaver saddle is for sale. Sale proceeds will activate the carbon wheel purchase reimbursement mechanism, which should need no explanation.
For $2.99 per month you can subscribe to this blog and learn about bicycle science. Click here and select the “subscribe” link in the upper right-hand corner. Thank you!
December 4, 2014 § 45 Comments
He’s already angling. “Honey, we’ll take a family ski trip again this year!”
“Oh, great! The kids will love it and we’ll have some time together,” you say.
“I’m really excited about it! Also, there’s a really cool wheelset I’ve had my eye on for Christmas.”
Or maybe it’s a new frame, or a new electro drivetrain, or whatever. But it’s not something that will save your cyclist’s life every single day: It’s not a full-bore head and rear taillight.
“Oh, Pooky doesn’t need lights!” you say. “I don’t let him ride at night.”
Well, I’m not talking about riding at night. A powerful headlamp with a 4-hour blink mode and a powerful taillight with an equivalent blink time is the single biggest safety upgrade your wanker will never make. If I had to choose between riding without a helmet and riding without my daytime lights, I’d forego the helmet ten out of ten times.
Why? Because in the daytime we are constantly dealing with cagers in front who are exiting driveways, exiting parking lots, pulling away from the curb, turning into traffic, and merging into traffic. The flashing headlamp invariably gets the attention of the few drivers who never even see us and arrests their development.
More importantly, the front flashing headbeam gets the attention of the cagers who already see us, which is the vast majority. The problem is that although they see us, the average cager has terrible depth perception and an even worse ability to judge our speed. That’s why so many drivers look us square in the eye even as they haul out in front of us. We’re on bikes. How fast can we really be?
The flashing headlight has a hypnotic effect on the cager contemplating a quickie pull-out. It pierces the multiple levels of dumb, the thickened callus of maroon, and spears deep into the tiny, pealike structure that devolved from its hominid-like brain. Once the neuron-like signal of “bright flashing light” strikes the tiny, shrunken, dessicated cager brain, it causes a chain reaction. The next thought is “Duh … ” followed by “Flashing light mean danger maybe,” followed by “Keep concrete foot on brake pedal thingy until blinky go bye-bye.”
In the six or seven seconds it takes the cager to process this complex thought, your cyclist honey has zipped on past. I’ve experienced this countless times. The flashing headlamp in daylight works.
The flashing taillight has an even stronger effect on cagers approaching from your honey’s cute and compact rear. The red light screams “DUI checkpoint!” and automatically causes cagers to slow. By drawing their attention to your cyclist’s hunky bottom, the cagers then give a wide berth, or at least the light focuses them long enough not to clip you when they pass.
Do your honey a favor and make sure that he/she gets a pair in his/her stocking.
“But Wanky!” you say. “What kind should I get?”
Glad you asked.
The power of a bike light is measured in lumens. More lumens means more light means more money means fewer purchases of neck braces and Tegaderm. For the headlamp you want a minimum of 500 lumens, but given the low cost you can easily go to 750.
Serfas has an awesome 750 headlamp that clips to the handlebar, recharges with a USB connection, and will stun the average cager for long enough to sneak past his bumper. There’s no reason to get the excellent and $20 cheaper 550. For $160, which is less than a pair of nice bib shorts, less than half a good pair of shoes, and roughly the price of two decent tires, you can equip your wanker with something that will keep him alive.
For your fanny, a great choice is the retina-searing Serfas 80-lumen taillight. This is like a lighthouse beacon combined with a fire engine light and neon strip club sign. It has a blinky mode that will run for hours and keep all manner of bad drivers alert to your existence.
Now, I can hear the objections. “My wanker already has a light!”
I know. I’ve seen it. It’s a puny little blinky thing that you can only see when you’re ten feet away. Please toss these inferior, false-sense-of-security things in the trash. Even if your biker has a good light, say 350 lumens, now is the time to upgrade. Remember, this is the person who thinks nothing of tossing $2k on a pair of wheels that will be toast in a season and that won’t even get him on a podium. When it comes to lights, think “upgrade.” The power goes up every year as the cost goes down. If you’re going to cheapass your bike stuff, cheapass the arm warmers. Don’t skimp on the lights.
The final objection will of course come from the rider himself. “I ain’t riding that during the day. It weighs too much/It looks stupid/I ride with a group/It’s too much of a pain to charge it.”
You can deal with all of these objections by pointing out that your cyclist is a bleeding maroon and telling him that the only time weight and cool matter is on race day. The rest of the time it’s his job to come home alive and in one piece. If you have to, withhold. Girls will know what I mean.
So, there you have it. Merry Christmas!
For $2.99 per month you can subscribe to this blog and get great life-saving tips which your cyclist won’t much like but will help you sleep soundly while he’s out pounding his brains out. Click here and select the “subscribe” link in the upper right-hand corner. Thank you!
November 30, 2014 § 37 Comments
I’ve always been a late adopter when it comes to trick bike stuff. Part of that, say, 99%, is out of sheer cheapness. Nothing makes me sadder than spending money on a bicycle part. Except one thing, which is the other 1% that explains my resistance to change — the only thing I hate worse than spending money on bicycle things is having a bicycle thing break while I’m using it.
The importance of things not breaking on a bicycle is generally important, but with some components it is very, very important. Bikes have multiple back-up safety systems. When one wheel goes, you generally still have another. If the right brake fails, the left one is usually still working. There are multiple bolts to keep your handlebars in place. Two derailleurs. Thirty-two spokes per wheel. Etc.
But there are a couple of components whose failure can be catastrophic. One is the chain, and the other is the pedal. When your chain snaps, better hope you’re not out of the saddle. Same for your pedal. If it decides to go, and you’re sprinting or climbing out of the saddle, something bad is going to happen.
One of my current cases involves a pedal failure. The rider was out of the saddle and the spindle sheared off. It was a new pedal, and he suffered pretty severe injuries. We’re still waiting for the metallurgist’s report, but I will be very surprised if the pedal wasn’t defective. New, high-end racing pedals aren’t supposed to snap off when you press down hard them. The more I’ve looked at this pedal and its design, the more impressed I’ve been with what a flimsy piece of equipment it is. There truly is no “there” there.
Ever since the second generation of Look clipless pedals came out, I’ve exclusively used their pedals. Look isn’t the pedal company referred to above, by the way. Their pedals have traditionally been, well, bullet-proof. I used one pedal set for more than ten years. The pedals were fairly heavy and had a lot of metal in them.
Two or three years ago I upgraded to the top-of-the-line Look racing pedal, which had just come out. This was a major violation of my “don’t buy trick” rule. The pedals were super light and had a broad platform. I loved them.
Then one day about six months ago I was coming up to a stop light. I twisted my foot and the entire pedal body came off the spindle. Thinking the pedal had broken, I got off and examined it. It wasn’t broken. The pedal body screws onto the spindle by virtue of tiny, shallow, plastic threads in the end of the body. It is flimsy beyond any description.
I mentioned it to a friend, who said that in the heat of battle during the BWR, she’d tried to dismount going up a dirt wall and her Look pedal had gone flying off into a field. It too had simply come unscrewed.
I’d not thought much about the problem with my Looks until contemplating the design of the pedal that had sheared off at the spindle that’s probably going to result in litigation. What kind of design is it that would put such a crucial component subject to so much stress at the mercy of a few thin plastic threads? Were the extra couple of ounces worth it? What if the plastic screw-on edge had cracked, and the pedal body shattered when you got out of the saddle? Did anyone at Look know? Or care? How many people with Look pedals examine the pedal body assembly for cracks every time they ride? Or ever?
Then I thought about all the other trick bike items that magically appear on shelves every year, components tested in the field on pro teams where the “big” guys weigh 170, the “average” guys weigh 150, and the “small” guys weigh 130 — about the size of a rather large dog. And the “testing” of these products may only involve one season, where the component is maintained by a Pro Tour bike mechanic.
Shattered handlebars, carbon wheelsets that melt when real world big people descend on them, chains that are too weak, crankarms that bust off, and seatposts that break under the rider’s weight or the shocks of the road are only a few of the under-designed trick bike parts that I’ve seen break, and sometimes the consequences have been catastrophic. As the UCI prepares to further loosen weight requirements, look for new designs that are truly disposable, frames and components made — if you’re lucky — to survive a single race season, or maybe even just a single race.
Throw into the mix the thousands of idiots who’ve recently entered the sport and who have no idea what they’re buying, no experience with component failure, and no one to tap them on the shoulder and say, “Hey, pal, until you get the late night tubs of ice cream under control, better steer clear of the 12-pound full carbon rig.” They think they’re buying something snazzy that will help them get fit; I think they’re buying something that’s not designed with them in mind.
After almost 30 years as a devoted Look customer I did some research and bought a heavier pedal, one with more metal in it, and one made by a company that seemed willing to compromise a little bit of weight for a lot more durability in a component where failure shouldn’t be an option. Because in the end, no amount of money from a lawsuit is going to compensate you for a catastrophic injury from which you never fully recover.
And if you save a few bucks in the process, which I did, well, winning.
For $2.99 per month you can subscribe to this blog, which will really make me train harder so that I can keep up with guys with helmet visors and triple chainrings. Click here and select the “subscribe” link in the upper right-hand corner. Thank you!
September 26, 2014 § 45 Comments
I thought I was the only person with a droopy sack until I saw my buddy Pablo post about the same problem on Facebag. It is quite embarrassing when your bag doesn’t hang tight against your post and sort of droops and sags. Like Pablo’s, at times mine droops so low I have to reach down with both hands to haul it back up. Maybe because of age or overuse, no matter how often I grab my sack and pull it up, after a while it sags back down.
There are lots of cyclists out there with droopy sacks, and it’s a big problem. For one, your sack is where you keep your multi-tool, and it can be a big headache when you’re trying to get to your tool but your sack is just dangling around. Part of the reason my sack dangles is because it’s mostly empty. This makes it flop from side to side. Back in the day when I was young, my sack was always snug up against the post, and it was always full. I think having a full sack made it more stable.
Unfortunately, none of the things I’ve tried have worked. My first attempt involved grabbing my sack with one hand and then with the other tightening a strap around it. Too much pressure on the sack makes it bulge, though. My second attempt was to just shift it over a bit, but it seems like the sack itself is unbalanced, as one side of the sack hangs down lower than the other. I think that may be because of the contents of the sack.
Some riders have done away with their sack entirely, and they just stuff their tool in their jersey. I’ve tried it, but with your tool in your jersey pocket it sometimes pokes you in the back, which is uncomfortable. Plus, the tool itself is quite hard and can rip through the jersey fabric. Still other riders have actually replaced their sack with a smaller one. I can’t imagine jamming all that stuff into a tiny bag.
Anyway, I’ve had this sack for a long time and it has served me well. For now the best solution is simply to reach down and grab my bag when it dangles too low, shove it back up and readjust the way I’m sitting to keep my thighs from batting it to and fro. It can get whacked pretty hard if you bat your sack with your thighs by mistake, but generally this seems to work fine. If anyone out there on the Internet has any good ideas about how to handle a really droopy sack, let me know. My current sack is a medium-sized Serfas, with two zippers and a clip-on belt for a light or rear reflector, and it easily holds two tubes and cartridges, as well as my tool.
For $2.99 per month you can subscribe to this blog, which is kind of a bargain. Click here and select the “subscribe” link in the upper right-hand corner. Thank you!
August 10, 2014 § 56 Comments
I have always felt guilty about riding high-end carbon bikes. That’s because I rode handmade steel ones from 1982 until mid-2009, and the mystique of a lugged frame has never gone away. There is something mythical and appealing about the lone frame builder dedicated to his craft, perfecting his technique over decades as he builds each frame by hand.
One. By. One.
It’s this imagery that comports so well with cycling, which is essentially a solo experience. Moreover, the craft bike revival of the past decade has proven that you can race on a modern steel bike and the only limiter will be your legs and your smarts.
And for non-racing applications? A steel bike brings to the table durability and comfort that very few high-end carbon bikes have achieved.
Still, I ride a nice carbon bike, a Giant TCR in fact. It handles better and is stiffer than any bike I’ve ever ridden, and it is without question as comfortable — more comfortable? — than any of the lugged bikes I used to own. So why the guilt?
As with most things, it has to do with stereotypes, in this case the old canard about Asian mass manufacturing and how Asians, whatever their skill at making things in large numbers, could never equal the quality of the European or American craftsman.
I remember as a young kid in Houston how Toyotas and Hondas were derided as “rice rockets,” among other much nastier epithets. The Japanese might be able to make a cheap car, but they’d never make one as good as a Chrysler.
Same thing for cameras. Sure, Canon and Nikon were cheaper than Leica, but we all knew which one was the real camera: it was the one made by white people.
Much of that racial baggage has adhered naturally to carbon frames made in China and Taiwan. “They’re mass produced in China,” the purists have always sneered, as if that combination — mass production and China — by itself defined the thing as flimsy and inferior. We’ll forget for the moment all of those iPhones made in China, which are somehow different. They’re made in China but their “heart and soul” is American, made by a great American, Steve Jobs, who was actually of Syrian extraction. But that’s a different story.
More to the point, mega-bike companies like Cannondale and Specialized go out of their way to obfuscate that their bikes are mass produced in Asia and that the Toray carbon fiber used for every single one of their high-end bikes is produced in Japan.
No bike marketing campaign I’m aware of has ever put, front and center, HANDMADE IN TAIWAN BY TAIWANESE ASSEMBLY LINE WORKERS. Why not? Because the image of inferiority is overwhelming. MADE IN ITALY BY ITALIAN CRAFTSMEN? I’ll take a dozen please.
The closest to being open about its Asian roots is perhaps Giant. Unlike Specialized and Cannondale, American companies who used to make bikes in the USA, only later outsourcing their manufacturing to Asia, Giant is and has always been a Taiwanese company. And although Specialized and Cannondale hammer away at the European and American imagery of their company even though the product is almost 100% made in Asia, Giant has recently placed more emphasis on its Asian provenance.
Still, the bad rap lingers in the air, and it is infectious. You could have a really nice handmade American bike, or you could get one of those mass-produced Asian carbon things. If you’re like me, you will probably still get the Asian rig, but if you started riding bikes “back in the day,” in your heart of hearts you’d probably rather ride a lugged Gianni Motta, a Bottecchia, a Masi, an Eddy Merckx.
One day I was sitting on the bricks at the Center of the Known Universe and a nice fellow came up to me with a clipboard. He was doing a survey for the government of Taiwan, and did I have a few minutes?
“Minutes,” I said, “are all I do have.”
We started on the survey. Was I aware of any Taiwanese products? Did I own any? What did I think of them? What was the image I had of thingS that are made in Taiwan? How did I feel when I saw the phrase “Made in Taiwan”? If I had a positive experience with Taiwanese products, why did I think that “Made in Taiwan” wasn’t prominently displayed or used as a marketing tool in the same way that “Made in Germany” often is? Etc.
After thinking about it for a few days, I concluded that a lot of the problem, aside from the racial assumptions that Chinese/Taiwanese were people who only made cheap crap, I honed in on the phrase “mass produced.”
There’s something about “mass produced” that doesn’t feel as homey and quality as that imagery of the lone craftsman in his workshop, patiently lugging a steel frame amidst a shower of sparks and fire.
So I wondered why it was that Giant’s TCR frame was equal to those crafted bikes in some ways and superior to them in others. What was it about mass production that was superior to what we all know to be true — that when it comes to bike frames, no assembly line can replicate the experience and skill of someone who has become a master frame builder.
The answer lay with Giant. I was surprised to learn that they never describe their high end road bikes as mass produced, and it’s not for marketing purposes. The bikes are simply not mass produced, nor are they produced on an assembly line, if your idea of an assembly line is one where most of the work is done by machines, and the people only stand there to make small adjustments/additions, or to perform minute actions that machines can’t (yet) replicate. (Think Willy Wonka’s father’s job screwing on toothpaste caps.)
The Giant TCR is made on an assembly in this key respect, however: the bike is made in stages and moves along, not a line, but a production facility. What’s special about the bike is that almost all of it is made by hand. The handwork is broken down into components, but by the time a TCR is completed it has been touched by no less than 48 pairs of hands.
These hands aren’t screwing on toothpaste caps, either. They are highly technical craftsmen and craftswomen who are expert at conforming a hard-to-work material to complex and challenging designs. It’s different from the lone frame builder concept of handmade, but it’s handmade through and through, and it’s done by people who have to constantly exercise skill, judgment, and experience as they construct the frame.
In other words, they aren’t widgets.
When I learned about the way my high-end bike was built, it made me feel better about owning it, and it made me admire and respect the skill that went into its construction. It also helped explain why the thing was so damned good: It was the product of numerous craftsmen and craftswomen bringing to bear their lifetime of experience in making the bike. Would I still like to own a lugged steel bike?
Of course. Who wouldn’t?