October 8, 2015 § 45 Comments
Cruising the ‘Bag yesterday I ran across a strong statement about the superiority of handmade Italian carbon frames. The writer was pimping Cipo’s new brand, which has the amazing benefit of being 100% fully made completely in Italia, and it is all Italian. The writer went on to say “You can feel a substantial difference between hand made Italian and the Asian made stuff.” For a minute I wasn’t sure the subject was still bicycles.
But he brought me ’round when he said “Specialized, Trek, Cannondale — wish they could say that #notchinese.” Then things came hot and heavy and illiterate with this gem:
“… to say Taiwan isn’t part of China is like saying Texas isn’t part of the US, both think there independent but in reality there not. The point is about Quality and workmanship. Nobody way back in 1998 said were sending our production to Taiwan/China because the workmanship is better, it was to increase profits with cheap labor. I have a few Asian bikes other then my felt’s and they ride fine, I might be wrong but made in Taiwan was not much of a selling point… BTW- I’ve shot over 15,000 x-rays on all manufactures and there is a distinct difference in workmanship with the big box Asian brands the smaller Euro brands. I’m pretty sure I’ve x-rayed more carbon then any man alive and can tell the subtle difference between the quality & run of the mill brands.”
So while the author trumpeted the awesomeness of Italian racing frames, a market they once owned and now have a tiny sliver of an itsy bitsy percent, I was left to try and understand what the fuck he was talking about. And then I got it! I’d heard it all before! Just substitute “Asian stuff” (because Asia is one place with one nationality), “China,” “Taiwan,” and “run of the mill brands” with the word “Japanese” and we’ll go right back to the early 1980’s–without even needing a flux capacitor.
Once upon a time …
The Japanese entered the U.S. market with transistor radios, courtesy of Akio Morita and SONY. In a short while they destroyed the U.S. market, first with products that were as good and cheaper than ours, and later with products that were much better, more innovative, and more expensive. Remember the Walkman? The PlayStation? Bet you’ve never owned a Sylvania TV.
The little Asian people who were only good at copying and ripping off the smart white man quickly proved his equal, then his superior, in the entire field of electronics.
Then Honda and Toyota got in on the act. They first had an uphill struggle even finding people willing to sell their cars, and the first Japanese vehicles I saw in Texas were labeled “rice rockets,” “rice burners,” or simply “ricers.” By the way, these are all considered pejorative, racist terms. As with transistor radios, Americans quickly chose cheap, reliable, efficient quality over the shitbombs that ‘Mercan ingenuity flung from the anus of mighty Detroit. Remember Lee Iacocca’s “The K cars are here!”
Hahahahahaha! NO, THEY AREN’T.
So the Japanese first knocked down our electronics and motorcycle and automotive markets with competitive pricing and competitive quality, then eviscerated it with vastly superior, innovative products that carried a luxury premium while Chrysler has been sold around to foreign automakers like a rusty old Colnago on e-Bay. Toyota is now the largest automaker in the world, and the first two Nobel prizes doled out in 2015, for medicine and physics, went to Japanese scientists. That makes a tally of 24 for the “copycat” race, by the way.
What happened is simple. White people couldn’t fathom that “Asians” were able to learn, imitate, improve, and innovate. So what if they invented gunpowder, the compass, and Hello Kitty? When the ugly reality of WE’RE NUMBER ONE became a mantle assumed by Japanese carmakers, (number two is now German, give or take a secret piece of exhaust software), the former masters of the universe drowned their beaten pride in “classic car shows” and automotive memorabilia that glorifies some of the worst, ugliest, and poorest performing vehicles ever made: The “muscle car.”
So it’s no surprise that we have people like the ‘Bag poster dissing on Asian bikes while he reps Cipo frames on the side, and that he thinks “China and Taiwan” are just like “Texas and America.” It’s no surprise because racism and prejudice run deep, and when your “inferiors” kick your ass, take your markets, and scoop up your Nobel prizes, the best that most people can do is namecall and rest on laurels that haven’t meant squat since the first major American bike manufacturers began producing in China and Taiwan.
Why Taiwanese carbon bikes are the best
Actually, they aren’t. That’s because there is no “best.” Bikes are made to do a variety of things, and no single manufacturer does all of those things better than every other manufacturer. The U.S. handmade bike industry is proof positive that small shops with skilled craftsmen can satisfy many thousands of customers. And steel is not only real, it is one of many materials, along with bamboo, that has proven its mettle in the real world of real biking.
But Taiwan is the indisputable center of carbon fiber bike manufacturing technology, and its base is built on the world’s best carbon fiber which, if you want to name names, is made by Toray Corp. … a Japanese company, not an Italian one.
People like the ‘Bag poster can point to crummy carbon bikes that come out of China and Taiwan, but so what? Crummy cars come out of Italy, crummy cars come out of Japan, crummy cell phones come out of China, and crummy everything comes out of the U.S.A. This only points to market segmentation, not to bad products at the top. As surely as some Chinese manufacturers make shitty bikes, others make world class ones.
Do you really think that Apple uses Foxconn because they make a bad product? And do you really think that top of the line Specialized, Felt, Giant, and Cannondale bikes are anything other than superlative? Because if you do, you’re going to have to come up with something more objective than “there is a distinct difference in the workmanship.” Please do share some of these 15,000 scans with us and compare apples to apples. And then show us how those “differences in workmanship” which you can only see with a flux capacitor x-ray MRI electron scanning microscope translate into performance, durability, comfort, or aesthetic differences.
And this is what gets the “Made in Italia” people’s goat: China and Taiwan (and before them Japan) entered “our” markets with products that had a high cost/quality compromise, and now dominate the market across all segments, from entry level to expert.
Nor is the story limited to bikes, cars, and electronics. Canon and Nikon are all there is in the world of cameras; everything else is a tiny little asterisk, and the Germans haven’t gotten over that, either.
Code word: Bigot
Using words like “Asian stuff” and conflating Taiwan and China is racist. Taiwanese speak a language that is unintelligible to speakers of standard Beijinghua; it’s called “Taiwanese.” Taiwan has a completely different political system, a radically different history, and a totally distinct economy from China. Just because the writer is too stupid, too lazy, and too prejudiced to know the difference between Taiwan and China doesn’t mean that Italian bikes are better. It just means that he is stupid, lazy, and prejudiced. Oh, and the Taiwanese use traditional kanji rather than the simplified ones introduced by the communists, so the writing is different, too.
In other words, not the same as “Texas and the USA.”
The market is screaming at you, glad you’re listening
Ultimately, the “Made in Italia” hard-on that Cipo’s bikes are using to try and get a tiny sliver of the U.S. racing market is a good thing. The customer, who’s apparently lots more discriminating than an x-ray, has told Italy that their bikes suck. People don’t want to pay a premium for something that’s inferior, or that is only marginally better for an astonishingly bigger cost, which is why the Italian bike making industry has dried up and mostly blown away. It’s why Campagnolo is now a niche product and it’s why Shimano and SRAM dominate.
But it’s disingenuous to take a technology that was perfected in “Asia” and whose products saturate the global bike frame market and claim that this is somehow Italian, even when the brand is Mario Cipollini, a guy who doesn’t make, has never made, and will never make a bike. Italy has given the world some great things, and forgetting bikes for a moment, has given us the most wonderful food known to man: Pasta.
Oh, sorry. That too was originally MADE IN CHINA.
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November 3, 2013 § 34 Comments
An article came out in Bike Radar a couple of days ago that reasserted what pros have known for a long time: quit gronking.
Gronking, of course, is the pedaling style of 99.9% of all bicycle riders everywhere, except for those who “super gronk.” I passed one of those dudes on the Donut Ride today, buried in the most intense super gronk I have seen in a long time — no helmet, rusted out MTB from 1989, and going up an 8% grade at the astounding gronk rate of about 20 rpm. I could count the hairs on his leg, he was pedaling so slowly.
Spin to win
We’ve all heard that stupid line. Has it helped? Hell, no. We keep gronking away, shoulders swaying so far from side to side on steep grades that they scrape the pavement, knee joints popping, IT bands snapping, and the only one who’s winning is the physical therapist.
So instead of “spin to win,” which plainly motivates no one, I’m urging you to “spin to beer.” The more you spin, the sooner you’ll get to the end of the ride and beer. You won’t win shit, and you won’t care.
The science of gronking vs. spinning
“Everything happens for a reason, and the reason is usually physics,” a wise woman once said. With regard to cycling, everything happens due to physics and, of course, drugs, tainted beef, and volcano doping, but today we’ll just focus on the physics.
“There is an optimum torque for a given individual, much like there’s an optimal torque range in a car,” says Allen Lim. “Generally speaking, there is good research that shows that as power output goes up, the most efficient cadence for that power also goes up.” Lim, of course, is the former trainer of dopester Floyd Landis and employee of the now completely disgraced dopester team RadioShack during the Armstrong era.
If anyone should know about power output and the variables that affect it, it’s Lim, who’s now doing penance for his association with the dopesters by selling healthful nutrition for athletes.
But back to gronking …
What Lim is saying is that you, essentially, suck, and that in order to reduce your suckage coefficient you can either train harder and smarter (har!), volcano dope (not happenin’ with the kids’ orthodontia, etc.), or raise your cadence.
Why we gronk
Our terrible, inefficient, power sapping, esthetically unappealing cadences are a function of laziness. Intuitively, our bodies know that the faster we pedal the more tired we will get. This is the same body that tells us to have just one more for the road, to give crystal meth a try, and to invest in penny stocks.
In other words, our bodies and minds are clueless and delusional. Doubt me? Look at all the people who have purchased an Elliptigo. Or a unicycle. Or lottery tickets.
Your body, although generally stupid, is simply operating based on the data you provide it. When you were a little kid, you noticed that the faster you ran, the more exhausted you got. When you graduated to bicycling, you noticed that the faster you went, the more pain you felt in your legs. Your body then did the arithmetic and concluded that “the more pain you feel, the faster you’re going.”
Never mind that you are a slug, and never mind that external data contradict your internal arithmetic: even though you’re slow as shit, as long as you’re feeling discomfort as a result of mashing harder than a Tennessee bootlegger, your body concludes that you’re “going fast.”
So while your body is telling you to lapse into that laboring, soul-sapping gronk, physics is telling you to find an easier gear and spin. More importantly, fashion is telling you that when you gronk and slog and mash and grind, you look like you’re giving rectal birth to a watermelon.
For years, the compact crank has been regarded as the old man’s dying wheeze or the refuge of sissies. That’s still true. However, by replacing your current 56-47 chainring configuration with a more svelte 50-34 you will not only cease showering the bunch with the juice from your exploding knee joints, you will go faster.
To add even more kick to the likker, you can abandon your corncob and hit mountain bike ratios on your cassette. SRAM offers a 12-32, a 12-36, and, for those who are unreconstructed gronkers with a penchant for double IPA’s and cheeseburgers, SRAM also offers a 15-75.
So the next time I see you on the road, let’s quit gronking and “spin to beer.”