Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Interbike, Observations

Last year, when SRAM introduced Red, I observed that Shimano and Campagnolo would need to keep on top of their game to face the threat SRAM represented. OEM spec for Force and Rival hadn’t been too strong, but the boost in perception that SRAM got with the introduction of a group to compete with Dura-Ace and Record really elevated SRAM in the mind of many, if not most, consumers.

Normally it is harder to shift a company’s identity toward quality rather than away from it. Anyone can dumb down a brand, but elevating Ford to the status of Ferrari would be harder than finding an atheist in a foxhole. However, Stan Day and company introduced a group of parts that got as complete a response from the competition as has been seen. Shimano and Campagnolo have both taken notable steps forward.

While I heard many people say that this year’s show was not particularly notable, I think the introduction of Shimano’s new Dura-Ace (7900-series) as well as the coming introduction of the electronic Dura-Ace (Di-2), as well as the introduction of Campagnolo’s new Super Record, were significant introductions and represent a major change for both manufacturers. That so much media attention was given to each group prior to Interbike blunted the force of their introduction at the show. Most attendees had seen photos and descriptions if not actual parts, so by the time they arrived at the show, it was more, “Oh yeah,” rather than, “Oh wow!”

Di2 works so well the experience is shocking. After trying it, you won't have to ask, "How come?" An early media introduction notwithstanding, the introduction of the three groups was easily the most significant news at the show.

The big news in wheels was the near ubiquity of carbon fiber rims. From Shimano to SRAM’s Flash Point, to Edge, to Easton and Fulcrum and more, the concentration was less on light weight than increased aerodynamics. The finish quality and molding of carbon fiber rims have come a very long way as well with Zipp and Edge leading the way.

Which brings me to the real watchword of the show: Aerodynamics. There was hardly a major company present at the show that wasn’t showing off either a new aero frame or a revised design of some sort. Cervelo had the P4, Felt had the AR and TK1 and there were new models from Time, Fuji and more. While wind tunnel numbers can be fudged (test a bike with no cables and it will seem VERY fast), a few of the bikes did look like they had been designed over the course of multiple wind tunnel visits.

More and more research is bearing out the Cervelo assertion that an aerodynamic bike will save more effort than a super-light bike will. Their slideshow “Col de la Tipping Point” is worth checking out. Felt's research has led their engineers to determine that more time can be gained with significant aerodynamic design than can be lost through an addition 200g of weight.

The new frontier will be trying to maximize aerodynamics while keeping weight low without losing torsional rigidity. The unfortunate reality of aero designs is that they tend to be very rigid vertically while suffering in torsional stiffness. As you pull out material to reduce weight, torsional rigidity suffers yet again. The 2008 Interbike show may be remembered as the year when the industry acknowledged for the first time the incredible role aerodynamics play outside of the time trial.

If nothing else, the 2008 show demonstrated that the bike industry is in a period of great innovation and change. This may be a transitional year, but the transition is plenty fascinating in its own right.

Images courtesy Shimano.


Georges Rouan said...

Great post: I could not agree more about the new frontier of being more aero. Deep dish wheels have such startling benifits in performance and yet more often than not people are looking at weight as the litmus test to success for the product. Thanks again.

Anonymous said...


great post!

here's the thing. i think there's a fundamental paradox at work from folks that offer aero frames.. but then offer them in only five or so sizes rather than 12 or 15 sizes.

the aero-ness of the frame is pointless if folks are on bikes where the rider has to compromise fit to get the thing to work.

i've seen one too many 6' tall guys on aero road bikes with 90mm stems... or too many 5'6" guys with saddles slammed all the way forwards on bikes that come in the same seat tube angle throughout the sizes.

what good is aero if we've lost the fit? i'd rather see frames come in 1cm increments than with non round tubes. there's too many folks that fall outside the bell curve to justify the marketing claims.

(and don't forget reynolds for their fantastic factory built carbon wheels).

aero is a fantastic concept but it falls further down the hierarchy of needs that just basic simple fit. somehow fit has been reduced to forcing a bike into points of contact at the expense of the rider.

the average punter on the bike has the bars too high and is rotated too far backwards on the bike to derive and gains from aero tube shapes. they'd get more from being offered bikes that fit. more molds, less fancy tube shapes please.


jza said...

The Electric Dura-Ace looks and works great. Very impressive.

"Super Record" looked like over-designed garbage. Who wants 11 gears?

SRAM Rival is the "it" product for next year. Shifters are lighter than DA, cheaper than Ultegra, everything works great. Throw on a lighter crank and you'll have no problem building a sub-17 race bike.

SRAM is actually lowering prices while everyone else is raising them.

Anonymous said...

@ jza

They said the same about 8 speed......

Anonymous said...

Dura Ace and SR are just there for folks to be able top purchase something hardcore. Rival is there to be used by the the actual hardcore. And "Aero" isnt gonna do a damn thing unless ya know how to race.
These companies make me feel like everyone who rides a bike is desperate for an advantage. that sucks.

DMC said...

Did you get a chance to look at the NEW Sun Race Driven Line?
I know that it dose not come from the big Three but the quality is there and preformance is top notch.
Take a look I think that it is worth it.

jza said...

I realize that ever since 5 speed, there are cyclists who say you don't need anymore gears.

With a 10-speed you can run an 11-26 which is perfect for most any terrain. Most R/Ds can't run larger than a 26-27, and it can't get smaller than an 11.

I just don't see the benefit.

Anonymous said...

With all due respect, "observing" that Shimano and Campagnolo would need to keep on the top of thier game to face the threat of SRAM is pretty obvious. Not an inspiring post in the least. And the Driven drive train is hilarious. Let the companies keep telling us what we should be riding, because even the most discerning racers seem to be unable to decide for themselves.

Anonymous said...

Electronic shifting is stupid. Batteries are needed to operate the bicycle. That is just wrong. A bicycle is HUMAN POWERED. Seriously, the UCI needs to make a rule about it. It's against the essence of a bicycle.
Gosh, I sure hope noone comes up with ABS for cross racing.

Anonymous said...

You were much more impressed with the DA electric than I was. Maybe it had gone out of adjustment by the last day of the show when I tried it, but I thought the shifting was awful.

Anonymous said...

shameless cervelo promotion!

No One Line said...

Campagnolo's 11 speed was the result of attempts to manufacture narrower-but-still-as-strong chains, so that cassette spacing could be tighter in order to improve performance. When they achieved chain strength and narrower spacing, Campag engineers realized that they had room for an 11th cog. It wasn't a "let's see if we can shove another cog in there" experiment - it was an attempt at improving performance.

Also, to the anon commenter who claims that battery powered shifting somehow makes the bike not human powered - it's still the rider that makes the bike go forward. would you say the same about battery powered lights? i hear your skepticism but all we're talking about it devices that move the chain around - not devices that power the bike.

It's not that I'm some industry apologist - I tend to think that the high-end racing market gets ridiculous in cultivating a buy-higher mentality. But still.

Anonymous said...

Lights don't contribute to the mechanical function of a bicycle.
A bike isn't just about the power coming from your legs. It's about the bike being independent of any power source besides your body. To have to charge up your bicycle to ride it is just wrong. Even if it is once every 2 weeks.

RMM said...

Electronic shifting is an answer to a question that none of us asked.

Radio Freddy said...

rmckittr - Well said.

C said...

"Deep dish wheels have such startling benifits in performance and yet more often than not people are looking at weight as the litmus test to success for the product."

Startling for who? Maybe for elite level racers. Of course that's maybe .0001% of the buying public. Most people spend the vast majority of their time riding at well under 25mph and at those speeds the aero benefits are pretty minimal. Ditto for saving 200g. Most people would be better off focusing on how well their bikes fit.

As for electronic DA, well it's not my cup of tea but then I don't race these days. As a mechanic who has worked with teams I can see a LOT of benefits.

Still think the coolest thing I saw from Interbike coverage is the Pedro cog wrench. Ditching chain whips is truly something to celebrate!!!

Kk said...

Having just read your open letter to LeMond I hope this is a good place to leave feedback.
I want to express my gratitude for writing what many of us are thinking. It has been excruciating to watch one of my heroes tear down his legacy with his own hands. I've often wondered if those close to him are saying 'please stop'. I hope your letter reaches him and that he will take heed.

Padraig said...

Thanks KK. Heroes should be as inviolate as rock. I'd like to see LeMond weather the years with grace.

Anonymous said...

I will never ever put a battery operated gearing on my bike!
The "analogue" technology is part of the beauty with bicycles. Especially in these days of computers in most workspaces.