Sunday, September 23, 2007

Seeing Red

Consolidation is the watchword for most industries in the world. Big guys are buying little guys, investors are tight with cash and upstarts are having a tougher time finding shoulder room than a sapling in old-growth forest. In short, the planet is being homogenized in great swaths. Species extinctions are happening at an alarming rate. Even languages are disappearing at a rate of one every two weeks.

Doesn’t look good for competition, does it?

I offer that as a backdrop to SRAM’s introduction of its new group called Red. On paper, the idea that an American company could enter the road market with a top-end component group and actually compete is, well, laughable. Who in their right mind would actually wish to compete with Shimano or Campagnolo? After all, no component maker has more emotional cachet with its owners than Campy. Assuming you think you can tackle that, okay. Who would then wish to go head-to-head with the 800-lb. gorilla from Manilla (okay, Tokyo)?

The brain trust at SRAM is neither stupid nor delusional. For those of you who haven’t ridden a bike with wheels smaller than 700C since you were in grade school, it bears mentioning that SRAM has been producing good mountain bike drivetrains (easily the crux move in any groupo) for more than 10 years.

Without resorting to licensing technology from either Campy or Shimano, SRAM found a creative middle road. For two years SRAM’s double-tap components have been quietly gaining acceptance in the road market. This is no small feat.
Consider that Full Speed Ahead (FSA) offers cranks, bottom brackets, front derailleurs, brakes and wheels. But they don’t do control levers or rear derailleurs. Given how good their current offerings are (let’s not forget their stems, handlebars and seatposts), it is fair to surmise that manufacturing control levers and a coordinated rear derailleur is more difficult than getting the ASO and UCI to play nice.

We have before us a few curious details to consider: Red is reputed to be the lightest road component group on the market. It will also be the most expensive. The dollar is worth less (relative to the Yen and Euro) than Britney Spears’ career. The UCI hates innovation almost as much as they hate American lawyers. Even so, the new competition will be good for consumers. Neither Shimano nor Campy can afford to react slowly, and Campy—God love ‘em—is rarely mistaken for a scalded monkey. The introduction of Red will spur innovation and price competition and soon enough, bicycles will be so light that the UCI will need to address their weight limit. Or not. Capitalism might have some predictability to it, but we probably shouldn’t expect anything predictable (or logical) from the UCI.

So maybe the pros won’t be able to ride a 13-lb. bicycle, but you will. Rapidly approaching is the day when you can ride a 12-lb. bike with bar tape. Or any frame you want (including lugged steel) without violating 15 lbs.

So despite all the economic pressures that make this introduction as unlikely as a smash hit from Kevin Federline, SRAM has put together the financing, engineering and tooling necessary to mount an assault on the road market. For many folks, this is the most eagerly awaited product intro in 10 years. But it would seem that this is just the serve; the move to watch is the return. For that we’ll have to wait until 2009.

Stay tuned for Tuesday's late report on just how Red rides.

10 comments:

Tarun said...

Given all the new aspiring entrants (FSA, Sunrace Driven, Sampson, etc..), I think the group market should be pretty interesting if not downright crazy.

Mike said...

Nice writeup. If you happen to see the Sram doubletap MTB triggers at Interbike, lemme know how they look!

bikesgonewild said...

...sram corp is crazy like a fox...i applaud each & every move they make...nobody in the industry has moved w/ such deliberate cunning in the face of the big guns, campagnolo & shimano...
...almost inconceivable in a way, & yet if it was to be done (old cliche' line here but absolutely true) it couldn't have happened to...or been created by...a nicer group of people...

...sram has never fudged on quality & if mistakes have been made, the company has always countered strongly...i'm an old diehard campagnolo man but i have to be a sram fan for their very honest approach to this business...
...they worked their way up slowly as real contributers, in not only the product market but also w/ a strong cycling advocacy program...

...no, i'm not a paid company shill, but having worked in the biz when sram was just getting off the ground, i find this to be not so much an amazing story, as a deserved one...
...i tip my cycling cap to Stan & FK Day...

Baughb said...

I....... wait a minute........ my language just disappeared.... never mind

Ari said...

There is no reason the road market should be controlled by two companies. In the old days it was possible to get stuff from many companies and more or less you could have a bike built up with a dozen manufacturers on it. I think Sram is here to stay an if anything more people should ride and just abandon the idea of driving their cars everywhere. Cars are just not cool anymore!!
Ari

pompier said...

rumored to be that sram is buying zipp wheels, listed on cyclingnews.com and also was told to me by a friend who works for sram in chicago

Anonymous said...

You talk about market consolidation and capital in this post, but interestingly you leave out the anticipated merging of SRAM and Zipp. Can anyone define "synergy?"

STC Captain said...

For those that have tried out Force on their own rig or even a friends - RED redefines fantastic. I LOVE the Froce group, but RED makes it look like old school stuff. The price that has been leaked out seems to vary a bit - but mark my words - getting RED on your bike is a better investment than the trickest wheels you could possibly buy.

ira said...

i have the force stuff on my rapha team bike with is also lugged steel and is a quality set up. sram picked the right design and hit the market dead on with something that works well, feels good and seems to last so far. it is popping up on more and more bikes every day. i encourage it on most of the road bikes i build.

Anonymous said...

Zipp is worth noting. Not just a rumor--it is happening and it has been confirmed by my sources at SRAM. I didn't note it in my post only because I wrote the piece 24 hrs. before the announcement was made. Synergy is a very apt description.

Padraig