Monday, August 12, 2013

Me and My Crystal Balls

First of all, I've been right about certain things in the past.  

OK, so this one time at work in the bike shop, way back in the 1900's (okay, so it was 1998), I built a hardtail mountain bike with hydraulic disc brakes.  I had already been paying attention to industry standards in brake technology and I was impressed with the potential.  Upon test riding this bike I told my employer and coworkers that within 5 years, most mountain bikes would come standard with disc brakes.  Of course, being the teenage shop kid, I was subsequently laughed at.

This Hayes hydraulic brake changed the way we ride our mountain bikes.
Not long after my proclamation regarding the future of brakes, I made a similar statement about tires.  "Tubeless tires are it," I said, after riding a dozen or so hours on my first set.  "They're incredible!  I can ride on, like, 30 psi!"  There were obvious benefits to riding without tubes off-road.  I was eventually riding with 27 psi in my tires and keeping traction on terrain that the naysayers were crashing their bikes upon.  Still, I was laughed at.  From what I can gather, the shop I was working for at the time was still refusing to promote tubeless tires as late as 2009.

To be fair, I didn't put disc brakes on my own bike until 2002.  Brake technology had a long way to go before it would be worthwhile for the average rider and, really, it took more like 7 years (not 5 years, as I had predicted) for the standard to really take over.  After 10 years, though, rim brakes were seldom an option on mountain bikes.  Nowadays, the disc brakes on a mountain bike are just known as "brakes".

I switched to tubeless tires instantly, though.  I adopted Stan Koziatek's methodology before he even released his NoTubes conversion rim strips.  It was remarkable just how reliable it all turned out to be.  Tubeless tires were not then, nor are they now for all riders everywhere and they probably will never be right for everybody.  Even when tubeless technology took off, we all knew it would be an eternity before tubeless tires would come to the entry level - and that still hasn't happened.  Tubeless systems are, however, far better now than we could have hoped for a dozen years ago.  Even back then, all it took was a little experience and some persistence to get what was - at that time - an unreal performance advantage.

In both cases - tires and brakes - the technologies are now accepted as the gold standard for off-road riding, and they are gradually creeping into road applications as well.

Then came the 29" wheel.  Beneficial?  Absolutely.  Right for everyone?  Not by a long shot.  Anybody with a hand in bike fitting or an understanding of long-travel suspension knew it.  Yeti knew it, if that tells you anything.  I knew it and I was, once again, chastised for knowing and being capable of explaining the related facts.

Ever notice how bikes for children have different wheel sizes than bikes for adults?  This is not a coincidence.  Would a 6' 6" tall individual be able to ride a bike with 12" wheels if the frame was built to fit someone his size?  Of course.  It would be a daunting task for any frame builder, and the drivetrain would require some absurd adaptations in order for the bike to be the least bit useful, but it could be done.  Those tiny little wheels would put their rider on the ground the instant they ran into a pine cone or a bit of sand, but they would otherwise be "fine".

Switch the scenario to building a bike on 29" wheels for a 4-year-old who just learned to pedal.  The combined length of those two wheels would be longer than his whole body.  No part of that scenario will play out in a way that is beneficial to the rider.

Granted, these are extremes.  The point is that when something gets bigger, it takes up more space. It's important to acknowledge that at some point, you run out of space.

Any way we want to look at bigger wheels, the fact is that a bike has to fit its rider.  29" wheels have resulted in a lot of really horrible-fitting bikes for a lot of short riders who were told via marketing and some very clueless, very tall riding buddies that 29" wheels would automatically make you a better rider.  The effects of a larger/longer/heavier bike are not all that noticeable for a rider who is over 6 feet tall and may already weigh 200+ lbs by himself, but when you're 5'6" or less and you weigh 120 lbs dripping wet, you end up with a bike that hinders your ability to take advantage of your smaller build due to the added weight, abnormally long reach, and cumbersome/sluggish handling.

Since it became so freaking obvious that larger wheels roll a bit better and offer greater traction and an ability to stay on top of softer dirt a bit more easily, we all really have wanted to ride bigger wheels.  Anyone below a certain size has had to make allowances and just deal with the problems that are created by trying to fit their smaller selves between two bigger wheels.

Well, it seems that the big guns in the bike industry are embracing the fact that making our wheels as big as possible may not be the best approach for every bike and every rider.

Like many industry veterans, I've insisted from ride one on 29-inch wheels that the benefits are there, but that they wouldn't work for everyone.  It seems that grumblemumble years later, the industry as a whole has cried "uncle" and decided that smallish riders don't fit with wheels that are taller than their inseam length:

“When we were doing the 29er, one of my goals was to fit an XS rider,” said Abigail Santurbane, the Liv/giant category manager. “And it was atrocious. We did our best, and I think we did a really good job, but there were compromises. And with every 29er, there are compromises, but with the 27.5, it just fits.”

She's talking about this bike:

If only someone had said something sooner:

“For riders my size,” (John) Stamstad said, “you really have to make compromises in the geometry to use a 29-inch wheel.”

That would be THE John Stamstad, by the way.  He stands at about 5' 8" and has won more ultra-endurance MTB events than just about anyone else alive.

Big John, on the brink of another Iditasport title.

Not that he'd know anything about the relationship between bike handling and bike fit from riding a few billion miles . . . 

(climbs up onto soapbox)

To every rider of applicable height who insisted that the rest of us ride ill-fitting bikes: I F###ing told you so!

(climbs down from soapbox)

Honestly, though, it's good to see 650b wheels finally happen for realsies.  One of the great things about the bike biz is that the right decision eventually gets made by somebody and when that decision pays off, others follow suit.

Of course, 650b wheels are no longer a new concept.  I only mention these bits of bike industry history to preface my next prediction:

Cyclocross bikes will fade away even faster than 26-inch wheeled hardtails.

This will happen soon, and it will happen for many reasons.

#1) Cyclocross riding is not enjoyable on its own.  Nobody runs through soupy mud with a bike on their shoulder for the sake of a good time.  This only happens when you've paid an entry fee and you insist on "getting your money's worth" by ruining a perfectly good bike that had been fully functional until a fat guy with a megaphone yelled "GO!".

#2) Cyclocross bikes are designed and built around cyclocross racing.  Believe it or not, most bike owners are not bike racers.  Hence, the (vast) majority of people who own 'cross bikes never ever enter a cyclocross race.  They use these bikes for all-purpose riding.  Maybe their 'cross bike is a makeshift road bike.  Maybe it's the bike they use for weekend excursions with dirt road connections.  Maybe they ride it on singletrack a few times a month.  Maybe it's the daily driver with a rack, fenders, and enough rubber to make a go of any surface they might need to ride on.


#3) Like TT bikes and any other machine made for a specialty event on a closed course, they are less than awesome for almost everything else.

Owners of cyclocross bikes are riding them.  They are noticing a lot of top tube/crotch contact whenever they stand over their 'cross bikes.  They're noticing a lack of stopping power and, commonly, unnerving and sometimes scary amounts of fork chatter (thanks, everyone, for keeping vintage brake technology alive in cyclocross canti's).  Top it off with all the cornering stability of a roller skate, and every cross bike owner has invested a lot of money in a bike that can only ever be "pretty good".


Bike rider buys new 'cross bike.  Bike rider rides the new 'cross bike to some bike-nerdy barbecue that night.  His friends are stoked and curious:

"You've just invested $3000 in a new bike that will be your most-ridden utility for many years to come!  What can you tell us about it?"

"It's adequate!  I'm gonna go ice my groin for a few minutes . . ."

(end scene)

Gravel Bikes are the cyclocross bike that everybody actually wanted in the first place:  Sloping top tubes for standover clearance, lower bottom brackets for stability (which also helps with standover clearance), and disc brakes - something that cycling purists seem to rabidly oppose - that stop as well when they're wet and dirty as they do when they're clean and dry.  Disc brakes solve the old problem of fork chatter which has plagued 'cross bikes for ages.

Sloping top tube for peace of mind and comfort of crotch.  If you ask around, you'll probably find that most people stand over their bike regularly, but can't remember the last time they had to carry it on their shoulder.
People are about to start test riding "Gravel Bikes" - which resemble 'cross bikes - and realize that they can have a bike with room for big tires and fenders without giving up cornering stability, standover clearance, and real brakes.

#4) Grassroots road racing is on the decline.  Traditional road racing itself has become a bad brand.  Recreational cyclists do not care to be identified as Armstrong disciples.

Cycling enthusiasts are figuring out that even if they look like this:

Non-cyclists see this:

And then they remember this:
Like emulating a certain Texan, this was only slightly cooler before the sequel.
Making matters worse, road racing has become astronomically expensive.  The sport's marketing tells us that we need a minimum of two race bikes and eleven pair of wheels in order to be the least bit competitive.  That'll be $19,000.

They'll still ride, though.  Gran Fondo attendance is on the rise.  There is a big movement of recreational riders toward so-called "epic rides" that are basically day trips by bike that may include a lot of unpaved surfaces.  The best part for everyone involved: You can do all of this stuff with one bike and not feel like you're wasting your time.

Gravel Racing.  It's what cyclocross can be when it happens in summer, leaves the confines of a short, repetitive course, and leaves out artificial barriers.  Simply put, Gravel racing is a version of cyclocross as an actual bike race.  It's already here and it's growing.  Really, it's always been here.

Gravel Racing right now:

 Road Racing back in the day:
If gravel racing seems like it's nothing new, that's because it isn't.
The movement is right on the heels of the cyclocross boom, meaning that everybody already has a 'cross bike.  Never before has a cycling discipline become available to so many riders who already possess viable equipment needed to participate.  Events are sprouting up in a lot of places.  These are events that are very doable on 'cross bikes, which will get curious riders hooked enough to upgrade to a true gravel machine.

Gravel Racing will become even bigger than MTB racing was in the mid 1990's.

The Gravel Bike will change the face of the entire bike industry.  You can quote me on that.

Monday, May 27, 2013

My Chainrings Are Disappearing! Here's Why:

Any bike rider who's been out shopping for a new bike recently has no doubt noticed the disappearance of a certain third chainring that was almost a universal standard no more than five or six years ago.

Road Triples (7/8/9spd) were limited to a 30t small ring in most cases. Most of the compatible rear derailleurs could only handle a 27t rear (though, in most cases, everybody rode 25's). A 27t got you down to ~7mph at 80rpm. Pretty dang low. Low enough for touring bikes for a couple of decades.
However, extra chainrings can make a mess of front shifting, often causing more frequent chain suck and more frequently dropped chains. This is why triple cranks are beginning to disappear.

This was a common sight on triple-equipped bicycles in the 90's and early 2000's.

Chain suck is something that has plagued triple drivetrains from day one.  Partly because of the stresses and tight chain angles of a gear shift between two sprockets of very different sizes, and partly of the excessive wear on the middle chain ring due to its use for almost 90% of the bike's mileage.  On a typical double the chainrings get used more evenly by the rider, increasing the life of expensive chainrings and helping prevent incidents like the one pictured above.

This is why double cranksets are awesome:  They are simplifying the bicycle's drivetrain and your climbing gears are still getting easier.  It turns out that bicycle engineers know what they're doing.

Newer compact doubles (34x50t rings) can offer even lower gears than the triple setups we were used to in the 90's. Sram's long-cage road derailleurs can shift into a 32-tooth cog at the rear. If that's not quite low enough, Sram 10spd mountain derailleurs are compatible with their road shifters. That combination allows you a 34x36 low gear, which gets any bike rider down to a walking pace. This is why Sram does not offer a road triple: Nobody rides slow enough to actually use it.

As for mountain bikes - yeah, we needed 3 chainrings back when our lowest gear was a 22x32. Actually, I remember struggling to stay upright when I actually climbed in that gear - it was only marginally faster than walking. Now we have mountain doubles with even easier climbing gears - as low as 24x36. That's 17 gear inches. I can ride slower than I walk and I never seem to drop or jam the chain the way we all used to with triples.
Modern 2x drivetrains make this climb doable.

Funny thing, though - no matter what I do to my bike, the top of the climb is always higher than the bottom.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Bicycles Are All Made In . . .

Your bike was not made in the United States.  The label on your Trek Madone is lying to you.

Granted, the above photo is not a Trek Madone.  However, even a bicycle that is actually labeled "Made In USA" is only partly made in the United States.  The "Made In" label refers only to the frame.  I know nothing about your personal bike.  However, I can tell you that if your bike has a crank, shifters, derailleurs, and brakes from Shimano, Capagnolo, Sram, or anybody else who manufactures these things that make a bike rideable, then your bike is composed largely of parts that are not - and never have been - "Made In USA".

Of course, it all depends on how we choose to look at these things. For example:

Where is this bike made?

I know this seems like the kind of question that should have only a one or two-word answer, but this is usually not the case.  If someone answers "Italy" when asked about the bike pictured above, they may be partly accurate, but that doesn't begin to cover the whole story.  The frame is most certainly labeled "Made In Italy", and the frame definitely was.

When a Pinarello ships out of Italy, it looks like this:

That is not a bicycle.  Therefore, we cannot say that the Pinarello Dogma Bicycle pictured above was really "Made in Italy".

Where did the rest of the bike come from? Shimano is a Japanese company and they still make Dura-Ace components in a facility of their very own in Japan, but their wheels are built in Malaysia.  The tires on the complete Dogma above are handmade in France.  The handlebar and stem were made Taiwan.

Still, we don't have a bicycle.  So far, all we really have is a box of parts from all over the world.

These ingredients are then handed over to the final link in a chain of craftsmen, commonly known as a mechanic.  This mechanic has the sole responsibility of building the final product, producing a functional bicycle.  The ground upon which that mechanic stands is where your parts are made into a bicycle.  So from that point of view, if you bought your bicycle complete from a bike shop in the United States, then the bike as you receive it was actually built on U.S. soil - made in the USA.

I cannot find another type of product in existence that is assembled in one place, but must bear the label of another.  I've looked.  Can't find it.  Maybe we should quit worrying about what nationality frame builders tend to be these days.  Maybe we should be more interested in the quality of the design and the work that went into the product you're actually riding.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Bicycle Myths #1 Bikes Are Supposed To Be Cheap.

Bikes are cheap.

Well, yes . . . but no, at least not in the way most of us tend to think of bikes being "cheap".  Which is to say that they aren't free.

Riding a bicycle you already own on a day-to-day basis is pretty cheap. Not just because you don't have to buy gas and throw money into the pocket of some Saudi Prince in whereverthehellistan, but also because you're not paying for insurance, you're not paying for a gym membership, and you're saving money by limiting the wear and tear on the truly expensive car that is likely parked at home as you pedal about.  These are all things that are worth remembering when you pay a bike shop to tune and/or renovate your beloved bicycle.

You will spend money on your bicycle if you ride it at all.

Tires, brake pads, grips - these are all made of rubber.  They wear down.  If they don't get used often enough to wear down, they dry out and when they do, the replacements cost money. Your bicycle has dozens of moving parts.  Moving parts can - and will - wear with use.  The more you ride, the more these things are going to stack up and you're just going to need to replace certain parts of your bike once in a while.

F.Y.I. - If you're spending $100 per year on bike maintenance, you're riding for as cheap as you ever will with a quality bike. It's worth remembering that if we put that kind of use into our cars, we're spending $9,000 per year, according to AAA.

"My cheap bike is just as good as the expensive ones, it just weighs more."

People will frequently tell you that the main difference between cheap bikes and expensive bikes is the weight.  This is a lie we tell ourselves as cheapskates when we want to rationalize a bad purchase (Never trust the opinion of a self-proclaimed bicycle expert who claims to have never made a purchase at an actual bike shop).
This is also one of my favorite myths in all of bikedom.  Bicycles cost money for all kinds of reasons.  If you've owned and ridden multiple bicycles, you've likely experienced a difference.

Bikes from these places are typically offered in only one size, which pretty much guarantees that whatever you buy won't fit.  Even beyond that, there are lots of reasons that people say that department store bikes are junk.  Poor assembly is at the top of the list.  When a bicycle is shipped out of a factory, it isn't rideable.  It is packed into the smallest box the manufacturer can squeeze a bike into in order to keep shipping costs to a minimum.  Wherever you buy a new bike, it pretty much had to be built in that building. 

If your bike comes from a place that is not a bike shop, it was probably not assembled by a meticulous and experienced mechanic.  No self-respecting bike mechanic will take a job at a department store.  If that shows up on his resume', he will have a great deal of difficulty finding work in a real bike shop when Target lays him off.  No, the bike from Target was built by whomever assembles their barbecues and patio furniture.

If Wal-Mart doesn't care that the fork is backwards, what else do they not care about?:
To a bike shop employee, this is a picture of job security.
There are numerous accounts of critical parts of these bikes coming loose, leading to crashes and injuries.  When a business's reputation does not rely on the quality of its product in order to succeed, it does nothing to control the quality of its product and carries on anyway.

A bicycle, as a machine that has to safely carry 8 to 12 times its own weight in a safe and controllable manner, is far more complicated than a lawn chair.  There are numerous moving parts that require numerous adjustments and proper alignment in order for the bike to work as well on the 47th ride as it did on the first.

Even beyond that, it's worth thinking about the fact that one of these bicycle-shaped objects will cost just a few bucks more than the labor charges for a single tune-up from any mechanic worth paying.  How do you build a reliable machine with the remaining $50?  You don't.

Manufacturers of these bikes frequently acknowledge that the quality of their product is sub-par.  "Not to be ridden off road," or some scrambled version of that statement is a warning label found on many "mountain bikes" found at your typical big-box retailer.

Awesome.  This is right up there with "Keep toaster away from heat source," and "Warranty void if boat used in water."

If you're on a budget, you may be surprised to find that even an independent bike shop will have affordable bikes on their sales floor.  If Wal-Mart has a great "deal" on a bike for $200, your local bike shop has one for $300.  One that was built by a mechanic, one that the bike shop hangs its reputation on,  and one that comes in multiple sizes so that it will actually fit you.

Long story short: Your bike can be as inexpensive as you'll allow it to be, but there does come a point near the bottom rung of the dollar ladder where quality drops faster than the number on the price tag.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

The High Cost of Used

Being cheap can be expensive.  

The situation was really quite simple.  Jimmy had posted a bicycle frame for sale.  The frame itself was considered high-end at the time and had never been built or ridden - it was essentially brand new.  This frame would require the addition of a press-in bottom bracket, but other than that, it was ready to build. 

Enter the buyer, Scott, who decided that this frame would do nicely for his needs in a bicycle.  He contacted Jimmy and the two met, exchanged payment, and parted ways.

Months later, Jimmy was contacted by Scott, who said that the frame had broken after less than 200 miles of riding.  Scott requested either cash for the work required to repair the frame, or a return of his payment in full.

From an industry professional point of view, the frame itself likely had a defect.  When a bike is purchased through an authorized dealer, an issue like this is usually subject to a manufacturer warranty.  This frame would have likely been replaced at a minimal cost or free of charge, had it been purchased from a dealer.

Scott's frame was not purchased from a dealer.  Jimmy could not be held responsible as he did not develop, build, or design the frame.  The breakage wasn't really Scott's fault because he was using the frame the way it was intended.  However, as the legal owner of a bike with zero warranty, Scott was solely liable and it was his responsibility to replace or repair his own frame.

There lies one of the many risks of buying second-hand.

Scott and Jimmy's issue is an example of how buying your equipment second-hand catches up with you.  We all love to save a buck.  I realize that we all want to ride nice bikes without breaking the bank.  I have bought and sold many used parts and such throughout my life.

With that said, bicycle dealers exist for many reasons.  Warranties are one of them.  Frames break.  Wheels crack.  Shifters can fail prematurely.  Sometimes hub flanges crack.  Bike shops take care of things like that for cheap or free on bikes that are under warranty.  They also tend to only sell product that they can back, which is something that no private party can be expected to do.

I know that bikes, frames, wheels, and various other parts can be found on the black market Craigslist and Ebay.  Buyer beware: the seller is usually not the industry professional that you'd talk to at a decent bike shop.  The seller usually isn't fully aware of the condition of their own equipment.  They're often clueless and have no idea if what they're selling to you is "like new" or on the brink of failure.

It's in "great shape."
You betcha!  It's always in "great shape".  Tune-ups come to my shop all the time, fresh off of Craigslist, in "great shape" with cracked rims, ovalized headtubes, wheels up to 6mm off-dish, and even broken frames that the previous owner simply didn't know about.  It's usually not the fault of the seller or the buyer - its a blind-leading-the-blind situation.  Bikes aren't their line of work, so they can't be expected to spot every detail.  As the buyer, you have to expect to correct the potentially hazardous issues that the previous owner of a used bike has overlooked.

The Seller is not "upgrading". 
Who wouldn't sell their full Dura-Ace Cervelo for an 80% loss before the year is out? 

Get a clue.

Nobody sells complete bike that was a top-of-the-line anything after just 6 months of use - Maybe if they work for the dealer (maybe).  When a cyclist invests $5k or more in a bike, it is meant to be a long-term'er.  A seemingly-new used bike that is offered for less than half the purchase price?  We in the bike business generally know that bike as "Stolen".  If you know anything about Craigslist and Ebay, you know that neither site requires a seller to provide a serial number for any listings containing stolen used bicycles and/or frames.

Maybe you're okay with feeding the stolen bike trade, but I am not and never will I be.  As long as I've been in the bike business, I've actively avoided working for bike shops that deal in used equipment for exactly that reason.

The Warranty is non-transferable.

This applies to pretty much everything that comes with a warranty.  If I call a manufacturer about a broken whatever on a bike a customer has brought to me for a repair, I have to be prepared to provide evidence that the item is still in the possession of the original owner.

Without that proof of purchase - from a legitimate dealer and that rules out Ebay, mind you - sometimes I can talk the warranty department into a crash replacement "deal".  Usually they just laugh at me and then I get to have a difficult conversation with the cheap-skate who insists his 10-year-old carbon whatever should've lasted forever because he "bought it from a Pro" after haggling the poor guy down to almost nothing.

There is no "free" replacement for a broken frame without proof that you respect the manufacturer enough to buy a bike from their dealer.

Considering all of this, I realize you're going to buy whatever you want from whomever you feel like.  And you should.  Just get a tune-up before your first ride.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

If I Had A Dollar . . .

. . . for every time someone asked me:

What's the Best Bike? 
People ask this question as if there were a single answer for every single human who will ever throw a leg over a bicycle.  The best bike for who? 

 Arguably, the "best bike" is the one this guy is riding:

(You're probably not him.)
The Pinarello Dogma pictured above may very well be the "best bike" for the man riding it in the photo.  However, if you ride more like these two . . .
(Their helmets are missing and they're both going to die!)
. . . then the Pinarello begins to suck pretty hard.

The highly subjective "Best Bike" idea can be a trap. Walk into 10 different bike shops and ask about the best bike and you'll get 10 different answers.  None of those answers will lead you to the "best bike", because it simply doesn't exist in such a generic way.  However, if any of those bike shops are staffed by people who know their product, they can at least point you in a direction that will lead you to the Right Bike.  It may not be what you had originally pictured, but if it is indeed the right bike, it will be better than the "best bike", whatever the hell that is.
For a lot of people, the Right Bike looks more like this:
Scoff, if you like.  Ever try to ride a Pinarello in a skirt?

Do You Sell GianTrekAlized?
No.  Not anymore.  In terms of customer benefits, Giant, Trek, and Specialized jumped the shark years ago.  Maybe if one of these companies decides to clean up their act and re-focus on simple quality-to-dollar ratio, I'd think about it.  I have a list of bicycle labels I refuse to sell.  This limits my job options as a mechanic, but not as much as you'd think.  On the flipside, I get to sell bikes that don't break (or at the very least, RARELY break).

Manufacturers of this size make bikes that break.  I mean to say that they fail catastrophically.  I'm not making this up.  This is common knowledge in the bicycle industry.  Google "Bicycle Recall" and you'll see what I mean.

I've sold roughly 50 different bicycle brands over the years and I've never seen as many warranties as I did with these very large companies.  The fork failures, the cracked rims on their house-branded wheels, and broken frames were too frequent to ignore.  That's just the blatantly broken stuff.  There were also numerous alignment problems (read: the bikes were built crooked) from the $300 baseline all the way up to the $9,000 wonderbikes that Armstrong and company supposedly couldn't break.  Any one of these by itself would be a problem, but the combination of major issues indicates a severe quality control problem.

But **@@** is a good brand!
There is no such thing.  A brand is merely a word or symbol that can be written, painted, or otherwise attached to anything.  It's just a stamp.  Specialized can put an S on any two-wheeled object and it'll become a Specialized brand bicycle.  Trek can put their name on a ceramic turd and call it their product, if they like.  It would sell, too.

Look at it this way.

This is a Ford:
Not what you'd expect.  Nice, eh?

This is also a Ford:
If you don't have one, you know someone who does.

And that is the most recent version of this Ford:
(Free Pyrotechnics Kit included in every gas tank)
Hence, brand names account for nothing but the word painted on the side of your bicycle.

Believe it or not, there are plenty of bicycle manufacturers who have to produce a product that doesn't suck on order to survive on the income that the product creates.  The biggest companies don't worry about that.  They have marketing departments to make damn sure their bikes will sell regardless of their shortcomings.  Incidentally, when you buy a bike from such a company, you're paying for their marketing in addition to the bike itself.

But my friend says his bike is awesome!
I realize that you may know someone who bought a Trek after he saw Lance win yet another drug-addled Tour and he loves it and never had a problem and he rides much better than you.  It must be the name painted on the side of that bike, because it couldn't be that your buddy just rides way better than you.  

Your "friend who rides" knows precisely dick.  He's not helping you, he's just trying to validate his own delusions by convincing you that what he bought is what everyone should be riding.  Trust me on this.  Once you own a bike like his, he'll have a sudden need to "upgrade" to yet another "Best Bike" and proceed to tell you that yours is now junk by comparison.

Shouldn't I get a bike from a good bike shop?
Yes.  Absolutely.  The thing about shops that sell hyper-marketed bicycle brands is that their bikes sell far too easily.  When a bike shop has a product that customers sell themselves on before they ever walk in the door, they get complacent.  When a shop owner thinks that all he needs is a warm body to hold a wrench and talk about rear derailleurs, cheap and inexperienced people get hired to "help" you, the customer.

The last time I worked for a Trek dealer, I was the only guy in the building capable of performing routine maintenance on a Fox suspension fork or even identifying standard wear and tear on our customers' bikes.  I spent the majority of my days correcting the shoddy (and sometimes dangerous) work of the incompetent chimps the management kept hiring.  I've actually seen brand new carbon road bikes go out the door with the brake pads set to wear into the tire sidewall - and when you least expect it, you'll be on the brakes on a steep hill and . . . bang!!  A front tire blowout and maybe a trip to the nearest hospital.  Seen it happen.  Not pretty.

I want a bike that's made in America.
First of all, depending on how you want to define "made", all bikes sold in American bike shops could be considered to be "Made in USA".  Bicycles arrive at bicycle dealers in a disassembled state.  They are then built at the dealer by the Americans who work there.

However, if you insist on an official "Made in USA" label directly on the frame, you're actually asking for an American made FRAME.  That's all.  odds are that no other part of the bike was fabricated in the United States.  The parts are Japanese,  Taiwanese, Chinese, or in many cases American-engineered and Taiwanese-made.  Deal with it.

Moving on . . .

Specialized does not fabricate their frames.  Not a single one is U.S. made.

Giant is not even a U.S. company.  You will never find a Giant with a "Made in USA" label on it.

Trek makes some frames in the United States.  Some.  About a dozen models out of the 250 or so in the catalog are made in Wisconsin.  Of course, those are performance bikes that start around $3500.  If your budget is less, then your frame will be made in Taiwan or China, as they are for roughly 98% of all Trek owners.

Worse yet, at the Trek dealers I worked for it was common practice to peel the "Made in Taiwan" and "Made in China" labels off of the bikes during assembly.  In fact, at both dealers it was expected of all mechanics during initial assembly.  According to my supervisors at the time, if Joe Biker wanted to believe that his $400 budget bike was "Made in USA", who the hell was I to tell him otherwise?

It didn't sit well with me then and it pisses me off now.

Of course, as I explained earlier, the bike shop is responsible for the condition and function of the bike on the day you pay for it.  I suppose it won't matter that it was built by an incompetent mechanic employed by a warranty house for a bike brand that was made famous by the most successful and widespread doping program in human history.  Just as long as it was "Made in USA".

 . . . who else needs a drink?

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

You're Blind and Wet. If only there was a way to prevent that.

What month is it, now?  December?  Right.  Get your living room tree adorned with various ornaments and "tencel" (which we all know is robot-jizz) and hunker down for the end of the Mayan Calendar.  I predict a major upset in Middle America when nothing happens, along with the usual fit of blame-throwing at Fox "News" that inevitably comes after every major non-event.

Onward to bicycle wankery.

As I mentioned earlier than now,  it is December.  Those of us riding our bikes in North America, whether for fun or transportation, are all stuck in the same rut as the rest of our local pedal-pushers.  We're all wading through the same crap as every other cyclist we see during our daily ride/commute. It gets dark early, the sun comes up late, and it's usually some kind of wet out.  We all have to ride in it.

Over the past month, this has raised two questions.

1) What does everyone have against being able to see and be seen after dark? 

Every night I ride home amidst a sea of lemmings who seem self-assured that their invisibility will somehow protect them as they run . . . every . . . single . . . red light and stop sign.  For the love of Coppi, if I can't see you, we're going to hurt each other and our helmets can't stop that.  Lights are cheap.  Get some.
2) How is it that, given the known toxicity of storm runoff (a.k.a. the stuff you ride across in the rain), so many cyclists seem to think that all they need for the wet season is rain pants? 

Fenders aren't there merely to prevent the wet stripe up your ass.  Water on the road is contaminated with motor oil, anti-freeze, roadkill, dog shit, and a lot of other substances I'd rather not think about.  A good set of well made, properly installed fenders keep that toxicity not just off of your clothes, but also off of your face and out of your mouth.  Fenders.  Yeah.

**Steps down from soapbox**

Please consider these things, because there can be no respect from non-cyclists if we do not respect ourselves enough to light our own way and keep shitty road-water out of our mouths.