Friday, June 15, 2012

For the Love of Velox Tape

Well first, I noted with dismay one of my prior posts, the title of which suggests I would go off on the commentators who frequent VeloNews, Cyclingnews, Bikerumor, etc.  I so enjoyed my tangent of lovingly criticizing Leonard Zinn that I forgot to get back to bashing the posers, douchebags, luddites, and assholes who feel it's their duty to hate every fucking bike-related post on the interwebs.

Oh my god, Dura Ace is going to 11 speeds?!

Like this exact same thing doesn't happen every 3 to 5 years.

What do you mean I can't get an 11-38 cassette?  I've needed an 11-38 cassette for as long as I've been riding!  Surely the bike companies wouldn't miss out on the opportunity to sell THOUSANDS of 11-38 cassettes?!

Stack and reach?  I've been riding bikes for 33 years, and I've NEVER used stack and reach.  People who do are idiots!  People who DON'T use stack and reach are idiots!  I can't believe every bike company doesn't publish stack and reach measurements for their bikes!  The bike industry is idiotic!

And on, and on, and on, and on.

First, we've talked about planned obsolescence before.  I wanted this to be a Respectable Blog, so I looked for the original post, but I couldn't find it.  Fuck it.  Planned obsolescence, or The March of Technology, will come up over and over again, so just take 15 minutes to read through the pile of shit I've written over the last couple years and you'll be up to speed.

The bike industry is driven by technology and exists in a competitive economic arena.  Products will evolve into a form perceived by most to be better.  "Better" usually means lighter, stiffer, and cheaper.  Sometimes it means safer.  Eventually, I'm sure we'll get into the philosophical discussion of marketing, and which part of the dog wags the other, but not today.  Most people (noted exception - Grant Peterson, whose opinion I respect, though it often differs from my own) agree that bikes are getting better.

What this means is that products are going to change all the time.  Part of that change is adding gears.  Superficially, you can argue that the performance difference between a 10 speed drivetrain and an 11 are negligible, and you'll be right.  But you cannot argue that smaller gaps between gear ratios isn't desirable.  It doesn't happen often, but it happens: you're riding along, either in a paceline or against a headwind on your way to work, and the gear you want just isn't there.  You're spinning either 80 rpm, or 100, when what you want is 90.  Some care, some don't.  But enough people care that component manufacturers are going to keep adding gears.  So don't act like this hasn't happened before, or that it's some kind of insult to your intelligence or athletic prowess.

Second, just because you ride something and like it does not mean you represent a market worth catering to.  No, really.  Sometimes, you're just an insignificant outlier, like my ol' friend Steve-O who wanted the 8 speed drivetrain on his LHT.  He swore up and down that there were others like him, but if there were, Shimano would still be making an 8 speed, touring-specific drivetrain.  The last time my phone shit the bed, I didn't want a smart phone; I just wanted a phone that would make and receive calls and text messages, and that would store an address book.  Guess what.  They don't exist, unless you want to go with the ol' flip phone.  I got a "smart" phone, even though I don't have and don't want a data plan.  Was I pissed?  Sure.  But I was also realistic enough to recognize I'm an outlier, and I sure as shit didn't tell T-Mobile that they were missing out on millions of dollars in revenue because they didn't make the phone I wanted.

But I've digressed.  We were going to talk about the repair that stalled because my shop didn't have anything other than 10mm Velox tape.  Seriously?  I know...  There is more money to be made if you keep inventory lean, and with most distributors being within a day or two via ground shipping, just in time ordering is the new normal.  But seriously, there are certain things a shop worth a damn should just have in stock, and Velox tape wide enough to do a 26" wheel is one of them.  I ended up using the shitty butyl tape, which works, but dammit, that's just something I'm not OK with on a decent bike.  Ah well, at least this shop doesn't give away labor like the last...

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Bad Luck

Situation: a reasonably nice young man who'd recently (within last 2 months) purchased a bike from our shop came in, and the rear derailleur had grenaded.  I didn't have a chance to dig into it, but from what I could see, the spring in the P-knuckle, responsible for applying the pressure that keeps the derailleur cage pushing toward the back of the bike and tensioning the chain, had broken.  The derailleur hanger was still straight to the eye, and the derailleur itself looked "normal" for a couple months riding - a few dings and dents here and there.  Of course, he was JRA.

Now, I'm not unreasonable, but I'm also a hardened skeptic when it comes to the W-word.  Fact is, there aren't that many defective products out there.  Materials and manufacturing processes are great and getting better, and QC (most of the time) has followed the same trend.  I know it happens, but if we accept Occam's Razor, it's more likely that a stick or rock got flung into the drivetrain, unbeknownst to the rider, rather than believing it was bad materials or manufacturing.  Again, either is possible, but one is more probable.

Here's the rub: if this bike had been six months old instead of six weeks, the guy would probably have been singing a different tune.  I am now going to coin another ABW truism: the purchase of a new product does not put into effect a moratorium on bad luck.  Just because you put in a new tube does not guarantee you will be flat-free for any minimum amount of time.  A new derailleur does not keep sticks and rocks out of your drivetrain.  A new bike does not keep you from crashing out in the first turn of your Cat-5 shit show.  I'm sorry, because sometimes that sucks, but it's not SRAM's fault, or Shimano's, or Cervelo's.  It's nobody's fault.  Sometimes, bad luck and shitty things happen, even to good, responsible riders.

I don't know what we'll do for this guy; it's not my call to make.  If it were, I'd ask SRAM if they had any insight.  They know their derailleurs better than I do.  If they say the W-word, great.  If they don't though, I'd have a nice heart-to-heart with this guy, explain the ABW Bad Luck Truism, and offer to comp labor on a new derailleur.  If that wasn't good enough, I might go so far as to offer a discount on the new one, because I'm all kind and understanding and shit.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Velonews Commenters

Jesus, where to start? Well, since it's such fertile ground for comment, let's start with Leonard Zinn and his reports on the rolling resistance of fat(er) tires. For the record, I think the following things:

1. Zinn is right
2. Zinn is also a little crazy
3. Zinn is not as scientific as he thinks he is
4. Zinn often draws very un-scientific conclusions veiled in Bad Science

Point 1.  I'm not an engineer, but I do have a background in science, and I do understand the scientific method.  The tests done to measure rolling resistance are sound, and the conclusions valid.  There is zero doubt in my mind that a 25c tire rolls with less resistance than a 23c tire, but here's the catch.  I believe this is true only if the conditions are exactly as they appear in the test.  This is an important distinction, because true life conditions will never, ever match those of the test.  There are too many variables totally beyond the control of the rider to ever realize the performance benefits of fatter tires, unless you are at the pinnacle of the sport and are literally pushing your equipment to the edge of its performance envelope.  Now, all those of you out there doing that, raise your hands.  I thought so.  Just get out there and ride your fucking bike.  So why do the rest of us schlubs care?

Because we're Mericans and want to believe we can buy speed.  It is so, so much easier to lay out the 180 bucks for a pair of 25c GP4000s and slap them on our ride than it is to put in the hours in the saddle that will actually make a difference over the course of a race.

You really think a 25c is going to allow you to upgrade to Cat 3 sooner?  Go ride your fucking bike.

Point 2.  Zinn really is a little crazy, but it's mostly in a lovable way.  For instance, when readers were writing in asking about storing bikes for the winter and he recommended spraying the whole bike down with 303 Protectant?  Brilliant!  I rushed out and bought a case!  Really Leonard?

Points 3 and 4.  There are numerous instances in which Zinn cites Good Science and then goes on to augment or refute those findings with his personal anecdotal evidence.  I don't have a problem with that, as long as the author is forthright about the nature of anecdotal evidence.  Anecdotal evidence is interesting.  It is compelling.  It begs good questions.  But you can't draw conclusions from it.  Too often I find Zinn drawing conclusions from anecdotal evidence that are presented as being equal to conclusions drawn from sound testing and large sets of data.  The plural of anecdote is not data.

This is my dream: I want a testing lab.  I want to spend my days devising tests to determine how much of the marketing is just hype, and how much is worth listening to.  I want to set up mock drivetrains hooked to electric motors so I can run chains for hours on end to see which lubes really work best (of course, given certain environmental factors).  I know what you're saying - "but what you want to do is what you just slammed Zinn for."  Maybe.  I think the difference is in the reporting.  I want to accumulate and present data.

Or maybe I'm still a naive schmuck, and there is no reality.  Perception is reality.  Testing shows that tied and soldered spokes are no stiffer than not, yet people will still swear til the day they die they are.  In light of that, does the testing then matter?  Can you perform double blind experiments that involve riding bikes?  I don't know, but I'd like to find out.