Thursday, August 10, 2017

I'm Losing It

On September 24th, my daughter will turn 2.  That will also mark my two-year anniversary of exiting the bike industry.  I have nothing but gratitude that I get to be a stay-at-home dad.  It's a privilege, and I try very hard not to take it for granted.  And while it took longer than expected to get used to my change in identity, I'm now more confident, comfortable, and proud telling people I'm a SAHD.  I have a wonderful life.

Still, a lot happens in two years in a tech-driven industry.

The last time I interviewed for a job in the bike industry, it was to be a part-time wrench at a shop in Boston five or so years ago.  When I spoke to the service manager, I told him the following skills by way of establishing my expertise: I could build wheels, rebuild an Ergolever, overhaul Campy, Shimano, Zipp, and Mavic hubs (among a few less notable others), face and chase the important surfaces on a frame, and glue tubulars.  At the time, it was a modestly impressive if impromptu resume; some of those skills are still important.

But you pro wrenches out there will note so many glaringly outdated skills.  Most shops can't make money building wheels, and distributors do a damn good job building inexpensive wheels, so who gives a shit if I can build a wheel?  Nobody rides Campy long enough to wear out an Ergolever anymore.  Everything is press fit and carbon these days, so prepping a frame to build is no longer needed.  My experience with electronic shifting was a test ride in a parking lot.  Boost didn't yet exist.

These days, I might just as well walk into an autobody place and tell the guy I can tune a carb.

At this point, I'm in danger of getting so far behind that to catch back up will never be worth it.  I dream of getting back to wrenching part time, but Baby Two is due in November, which means that's unlikely to happen for at least a couple more years.  If I haven't kept up some technical expertise in that time, I won't be worth much to a good shop, even if they're just paying me minimum wage.  This makes me really, really sad.  Who is Angry Bike Wrench if he doesn't now how to wrench?

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Dad Biking

The Baby was born about 11 months ago.  Before Baby (BB), I was fit, moderately successful and connected in the bike industry, and rode my bike pretty much daily, even if a ride was to grab eggs at the grocery store down the street.  After Baby (AB), I'm lucky to ride my bike weekly, and the ride is still often to grab eggs.  I've gained eight pounds.  Hills that I used to breeze I now struggle up.  Technical sections I used to clean I often dab.  I love my daughter and my life, but fuck...

I went for a ride the other day, a real ride, on my Surly Stragggler, on real trails with rocks and turns.  The trail in question is an odd one.  It's singletrack and the loop is around six miles long, but it's crammed into an area about the size of a couple football fields.  It's nothing but turns, and you're often only a few feet away from the trail as the crow flies, even if that section is a mile or two away by trail.  The hills are super short and often brutally steep.  In short, it's the opposite of a flow trail.  But, I can ride to it in less than 10 minutes and do a lap and still get home in about an hour.  It's fun, especially if you only get to ride it once a month.

So I do this ride, and it hurts.  I'm so out of shape.  But I still manage to make it up all the hills I used to ride up, albeit a hell of a lot slower, and it feels fantastic.  On the ride home, I think a lot about why this ride seemed to mean so much more than it should've.  I think it's because when The Baby was born, my identity fundamentally changed overnight.  I went from being a semi-successful and respected member of the bike industry to being a stay-at-home-dad who didn't know shit about shit.  The ride connected me back to the old me, convinced me he was still in there somewhere.  I don't want to lose the old me, even if the new me is also pretty rad.

Monday, March 14, 2016

Intro to The Fugly Stump Project

Oh, hey.  Yeah, I'm still alive, just spending more time changing diapers than brake pads these days.  As far as my "official bike industry status," I'm out.  Right now, for the first time since I was 16, I am in no way officially or professionally associated with the Bike Industry.  It's weird.

But you don't really give a shit about that, you want to hear about the FUGLY STUMPJUMPER.  Back story: an old colleague, let's call him Bob, is a vintage MTB guy with lots of connections, and he loves to wheel and deal.  I've long been pondering a vintage MTB project along the lines of a big BMX restomod - take an old Zaskar, Stumpjumper, Homegrown, etc. frame and put some cruiser bars on it, one fucking speed, and some big ol' fatty slicks and use it to bounce off the curbs on the way to and from the bar.  He knew about this daydream of mine and found himself in a situation wherein, in order to buy the really nice Stump he wanted, he also needed to buy a really ugly Stump frameset that nobody in their right mind would want.  But he knew about my daydream...

Fast forward a while, and he shows me this thing:

Somewhere under that marbletastic truck bed liner is an early 80s Stumpjumper.  I'd like to learn how to nail the year down, so you if you know your early Stumps, or know somebody who does, let me know in the comments.

I'm nearly finished with phase one of the project - I just want to swap the tires out for something even fatter, and it'll be finished for now.  Future phases will include all of the following:
  • Doing something with the finish.  A relief carving of the name on the down tube?  Maybe.  Just strip the lugs so they can shine through?  Maybe.  Despite its ugliness, somebody put a shit ton of time into this finish, and I want to respect that while making it my own.  Plus, it looks awesome.  In its own fugly way.
  • Gears?
  • Drop bars?  The geo on this thing would make for a pretty fine off-road touring rig.
Anyway, more pics to follow.  Now go ride your bike.

Friday, August 14, 2015

Lottery Bikes

You've got them, I've got them, anybody with an interest in bikes and a pulse has them: lottery bikes.  The bikes we'd put together (or for some sad people, who would pay to have them put together) if money were no object.  They run through our heads constantly, ever changing depending on the weather and the ride we took last.

Today's post was inspired by this post on the Cycle Exif site:  There are a few custom builders out there who are so far ahead of everybody else it's a joke.  I was going to list them off, but since they're going to be on the following list, let's not waste our time.  Below are the bikes I'd order today if money were no object.  Sure, we could drill down into the minutiae of component spec, which spokes I'd use, etc, but that's not what this is about.  This is about the overall intent of the bike, the feel of it, the soul of it.

Bike 1:
Firefly All Rounder Road Bike
Clearance for up to 40-45c tires
2x11 compact drivetrain, probably Shimano
Disc brakes
As close to road geo as possible given the above
This is the bike that I want to be able to take EVERYWHERE, and I like my bikes light, stiff, and responsive.  Think sports car, not a cool old Caddie.

Bike 2
Speedvagen Road Bike
Clearance for up to 28s
2x11 drivetrain, Shimano or Campy
Disc brakes
Agressive, road race geometry.  This is the bike that, when I show up for the Tuesday night ride, says, "hey, you better strap in because I'm bringing it."  Or, it says, "I'm a poser douche but have more money than you."  Either way, it's cool with me.

Bike 3
Pegoretti Marcelo
Campy (duh)
The rest I'd leave up to Dario.  That man is a fucking god, and who am I to tell a god what to do?

That's it for the bikes off the top of my head, but other builders who inspire this kind of daydream, in no particular order: Bishop, Richard Sachs (again, duh), Weigle, ENGLISH, Hampsten...  The list goes on and on and on...

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

What's Wrong with the Bike Industry

I've been pondering this question for as long as I've been a part of the bike industry, which is to say, for as long as the bike industry has been pissing me off.  It was brought back to the forefront of my consciousness recently, when an acquaintance of mine, Bike Shop Girl, wrote this excellent piece:

Arleigh knows her shit.  She's smart and experienced (which begs us ask why she still plays in the cesspool of the bike industry).  She lays out better than I can a lot of Big Problems with the industry, and her commenters, contrary to the typical trolls, lay out a few others that are important.  But they missed one, and it's particularly important to me.

One of the Big Problems she mentions (along with several of her commenters) is what I'm going to lump together into the category of Not Enough Money. This is an onion problem, with too many layers to count, and plenty of layers I don't know shit about, and I'm sure layers that I don't even know exist, but true to form, I'm going to distill it down anyway.  In the U.S, bikes are toys and as such are valued as toys.  We want them for as cheap as possible, we want to abuse them, we want to throw them away, and we want to replace them as cheaply as possible.  Because of this, the margin on bikes in the U.S. is razor thin and incapable of supporting bike shops (shops in the U.S. would go out of business if all they did was sell bikes; they make their money on parts, accessories, and service).  Because there is so little money to be made, budgets are always tight, and since payroll is almost always a shop's biggest category of overhead, employees are paid as little as possible, usually without benefits.  

So we start with workers who are paid as little as possible.  Most of those employees are bike geeks, and smarter than average when it comes to bikes (this is a generalization based on the anecdotal evidence of the employees with whom I've worked).  There is already an intrinsic interest in and motivation to learn about bikes and bike technology, and indeed, that's a big part of the job.

The problem is, the motivation is intrinsic, which by definition means there is no extrinsic motivator at play.  Unless it's a sales associate getting paid on commission, there is nothing to be gained by knowing more.

So the knowledge itself becomes the currency.

Victory when knowledge is currency is knowing more than the other person, be that an employee or customer.  The knowledge in itself causes no problems, but when your identity is so closely tied to how much you know, it becomes personal, and if your status as "smart" is challenged, you become defensive.  My hypothesis is this is the root cause of the condescending sales person and the grumpy mechanic, both of whom are frequently cited as the biggest problem with brick and mortar bike shops (and rightly so).  

It is why I started this blog.  It is why I so frequently get sucked into the same bullshit, asinine arguments in the comment section on blogs.  Admitting this makes me feel pathetic, but I long ago used up all the fucks I had to give, especially when it came to stroking my ego with my knowledge of spoke tension and my ability to overhaul an Ergolever, both skills that have next to zero value in this day and age.  

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

The $17K Merckx, Value, and Bikerumor Comments

Well, the interwebs were all abuzz with the release of this special edition Merckx:

OF COURSE, a hyper-expensive bike is going to bring out the trolls.  I know, I know, I should know better than to crawl under the bridge with them, but right now, in the doldrums of winter, dumbass blog comments are what anger me the most about the bike industry.  True to form, Bikerumor was among the first to post about the frame, and agin true to form, their resident trolls responded immediately:

Frippolini - 01/28/15 - 3:06pm
@ badbikemechanix…
I can buy the collector argument IF the bike would have been ridden by a cycling legend, but in this case its just a hyped bike with pretentious marketing and a totally exaggerated price.
However, you by chance don’t agree with me, I’ve got lots of “collectibles” that I can offer you.;)
As for my comment to Eddy Merckx (the company)… are you serious, 17k ? The only thing, from my perspective, that could motivate this price level would be if the proceeds would go to charity. Any comments?


doug - 01/28/15 - 5:46pm
A manufacturer saying something is special does not make it special.
If it was a NOS team bike then maybe… but just saying its worth 17 grand because eddy has one too is f***ing ridiculous.
They will sell all of them, no doubt. There will always be more money in the world then sense
There are other responses as well, but the above are pretty representative of a phenomenon that has been driving me fucking bonkers lately: dumbasses who confuse "price" with "value."
I'm not going to insult you by copying and pasting the definitions; you're as capable of using Google as I.  The important difference is that price is a number.  It's a statement of, "if you want this thing, you need to give this many dollars in exchange."  There is no arguing or interpreting of price.  It's a fact.
Value is a perception.  It's a person interpreting the price, comparing it to the other goods and services that might be exchanged for the same amount of money and deciding which they would rather have.  It's an opinion, and like all opinions, will differ from person to person.
The dumbasses represented by comments like those above are incapable of understanding this difference.  Is $17,000 a lot of money for a bike?  Bet your ass it is.  Actually, that's a fact insofar as you can compare that price to the price of other bikes with similar properties and see that it's relatively a lot of money.  
Is the bike worth it?  Maybe, maybe not.  If they make 70 of these, I promise it will be worth it to more than 70 people.  But it's not to me, and who the fuck cares what I think.  Green is my favorite color, but that doesn't mean it has to be your favorite color too.  People value all sorts of shit that I think are crazy - expensive cars, watches, wine, etc.  And I value a few things that other people think are stupid - bikes, whisk(e)y, tools, etc.
Why is this worth thinking and ranting about?  Because value is at the core of the bike industry's woes.  Americans don't value bikes; they're toys to be used, neglected, thrown away, and replaced for as little as possible.  We've historically done a poor job of explaining the value of buying a quality bike from a bike shop versus a department store.  What this means is there are a lot of people who ride a bike and hate it for reasons that are completely solvable, and bike shops are going out of business.  Since bikes shops are the ones who can solve the issues that make riding insufferable, there's the potential for a dangerous negative feedback loop here.  

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

The Carbon Commodity Conundrum: What to Do About It (Pt. 2)

In this, the final installment of my groundbreaking and award winning series on how carbon fiber bikes have become a commodity, we'll explore the most important link in the chain:  the consumer.  What he/she does right, and what he/she needs to improve.

Why is this the most important?  Because you, the consumer, ARE the market.  With some exceptions that are still up for discussion (650b/27.5 wheels), brands and manufacturers aren't going to do much unless they believe you, the market, will buy it.  You vote with your dollars, and they need your vote.  If this is true, and it is my aim to prove it to you, we're gonna need to get a little philosophical, and you're gonna need to come with me.

First, and most importantly, you need to know what kind of riding you're into.  For some, this is going to seem laughably easy, but if you're new to the sport, this can be a really difficult thing to nail down.  Some of the best sales training I've received taught me to help the customer write the script to his/her movie, starring them and their bike.  In that movie, what's going on?  Where are you?  Where are you going?  How far from home are you?  Are you riding at a comfortable pace, or are you pushing yourself?  Anybody there with you?  Are they your friend or competitor?  Are you riding to be social or to get/stay fit?  Figuring this out is THE MOST IMPORTANT thing you can do as a consumer.

Second, be realistic.  Did you picture yourself elbow to elbow with the pros, in the sprint to the finish in one of the classics?  That's not going to happen.  Think you're going to get fit, get competitive, and wind up a Cat 1/2?  If you need to get fit, that's probably not going to happen either.  My point is, most of us are not competitive, and of those who are competitive, we are nowhere near the front of the pack.  For the vast majority of cyclists, life is a lot better when we don't compete and just enjoy riding for riding.

This is why this is important: if you're with me so far, you don't need a carbon fiber bike at all.  You may think you want one, you may actually want one, and the sales associate with whom you're working may want to talk you into thinking you want one, but you definitely do NOT need one.  You may ask, "but so what, what's the harm in wanting a carbon fiber bike?"

Because carbon fiber is expensive, and every bike model from every brand at every price point is a study in economics.  It's no coincidence that every one of the big brands has a bike with similar parts within a couple hundred dollars of each other.  Those brands need a bike at a given price point to be competitive, so every bike is a give and take, a compromise.  Want a better rear derailleur than your competitor?  That costs more, so maybe you specify a less expensive, lower quality front derailleur, which is not as noticeable.  Want nicer wheels?  Then you need to cover the expense of those nicer wheels by specifying a less expensive part somewhere else.  This is ABW's Fourteenth Law of The Bicycle Industry: There are no free lunches when it comes to the parts on a bike.

Know what the most expensive part of a carbon fiber bike is?  Yup.  With very few exceptions that don't pertain to this conversation (wheels), the frame is the most expensive part of the bike.  You want a carbon fiber frame, the other parts are going to be less expensive and lower performance.

Again you may ask, "so what, what's the harm in that?"  Here's another place where I need you to come with me:  the bicycle frame has relatively little to do with the overall quality of the riding experience.  It's true.  When you take into account the wheels, shifters, brakes, saddle, bar tape, gloves, shoes, shorts, etc, whether or not you're riding a carbon fiber bike isn't going to have much to do with whether or not you're enjoying your ride.  Put another way, switching out the quality of the shorts you're wearing will have a far greater impact on your enjoyment than will switching out to a different frame.

What's that you say?  You want data?  Sure.  Below are MSRPs from The Big 3 for their least expensive carbon bikes, along with the general level of components found on them.

Trek: Madone 3, $1979.99
Spec: Roubaix SL4, $1800.00
Giant: TCR Composite 2, $1850.00

Trek: Mix of 105 components, in-house parts
Spec: Sora, in-house parts
Giant: 105/Tiagra, in-house parts

Compare the Madone 2.1 (aluminum frame) to the Madone 3, and you will see they have nearly identical components and parts, but the Madone 2.1 costs $550 less.  With that money saved, you have a lot of choices in gloves, shorts, shoes, and possibly even upgrades that will have a far greater effect on the actual quality of the ride experience.  Or, you can put it in your espresso and beer fund, either of which make a great excuse to stop on a ride, and either of which will boost the enjoyment quotient.

The bottom line is the number.  Unless you get paid to ride your bike, you don't need carbon fiber, and your hard-earned money is better spend elsewhere.

If the first thing you thought upon reading this is, "yeah, but isn't aluminum really stiff and unforgiving and uncomfortable," we'll cover this in the next post.  That's a horribly outdated, even ancient misconception.