Thursday, January 09, 2014

Some Flex Is "Good"

The Salsa Cycles "Regulator" Ti Post
If you just pay casual attention to the cycling industry, you'll hear the words "stiffness" and "stiff" used a lot. You might begin to think that cyclists are looking for the most rigid structures known to Man to ride upon. If you are in this camp, please know that this is really not the case. Some "flex" is good. Really good!

In fact, like most things in life, balance is key to cycling comfort, and not just for the painfully obvious reasons. A good balance of stiffness to flex is not only good for riding, but it is necessary. But it goes beyond this- Flex needs to be not only something in a balanced proportion to stiffness, it needs to be in the right places as well. 

Okay, here's a "Captain Obvious" example for you. Think about tires. A totally stiff, unforgiving tire is a bad thing. Uncomfortable, slow, and hard to control. However; a nicer, pliable casing with a reasonable amount of air pressure? Heavenly! (And faster to boot, I might add.) So it is with flex in some other places on the bike, and here is one place you may want to consider having a modicum of flex: that being your seat post.

Mountain bikers kind of figured this out a long time ago. Due to the necessity for more clearance when standing over the bike on uneven terrain, or for bailing off the bike in a hurry without entangling one's appendages on the frame, mountain bike design started to make the main triangle of the frame smaller and shorter. This also had the added side benefits of making frames stiffer and lighter, both good things in an off road frame. However; leg extension needs meant that seat posts needed to become longer. In making these posts, a side benefit was discovered in that while seated, the post tended to flex backward slightly under the rider's weight when the rider hit a trail obstacle. This lead to some wacky designs like the Allsop/Softride beam, various suspension posts with linkages, and to some degree was a factor in the Unified Rear Triangle (URT) designs for rear suspension.

The Ergon CF-3 Pro Carbon Post
Some materials technology advancements have also helped bring some of these mountain bike bred ideas further. Titanium was discovered to have exemplary attributes for a seat post, so Moots, then Kent Eriksen, (under his own name), started making titanium posts that have become standard fare for those looking for something to take the edge off on hard tail rigs. Cane Creek bought the Thudbuster design, refined it, and now it is also a highly regarded design for a bit of engineered flex.

Ergon has taken the beam idea and turned it into a spectacular post with the CF-3 Pro Carbon model, which unfortunately is only rated for road bikes now, although a mountain bike version is said to be in the works. Modern choices in "flexible' posts have also been proffered in carbon fiber, maybe none more specifically than Niner Bikes RDO post, which is marketed as being made from "Unstiff Carbon".

Okay, so that's all fantastic, but is it a good idea? Well, from my experiences, and from those of others I have spoken with, and watched riding, the unequivocal answer is "yes", flex in the seat post is great, but maybe not at the expense of toughness, durability, and weight. The trouble with many of the suspension posts is mainly weight. Durability has been an issue with some, and tough carbon posts exist, but the spectre of shards of broken carbon fiber jamming into a rider's thigh after a sudden breakage of a carbon post, (either real or imaginary), is enough to put some folks off that idea for good.

All that to say that the off road, or heavier rider, that wants a bit of edge muted during seated riding usually favors titanium posts. They seem to have the greatest following now, although the Niner RDO post and the Ergon post may change some minds there given time and the proper post for the job. I am helping to conduct a test of some of these ideas over at Gravel Grinder News. (You can see the initial Ergon post write ups here and here. The Niner RDO post and the Salsa Cycles Regulator post reviews will follow soon.) The biggest negative I can see so far is the price of entry, with all of these posts falling between the 200-300 range. But if they do the job as advertised, it may actually save you money in searching for a more comfortable saddle or it may allow you to run a slightly more efficient air pressure in your rear tire, saving a bit of energy. Or, maybe you'll just be more comfortable, and that may be all it takes to get you out more and for longer rides on your bicycle.

Of course, there are other places flex is good, but for now, I will be focusing on the seat post. Stay tuned, there will be more to come.....  


JYB said...

It seems that carbon is the king of comfort:

I really dig Ti posts, but I would love to know exactly where the Ti Salsa post is manufactured. If it's made in the U.S., then it's price is justified. If it's manufactured in China, then $275 is laughable. That is more $ than an Eriksen post! Really!?! I was told by my LBS that all Salsa Ti is now being made in China. I'm assuming this includes seatposts. I bet they'd sell a whole lot more if their prices were structured better. Is Salsa getting "too big for their britches"??? Just my 2cents.

Guitar Ted said...

@JYB: I will have to confirm this, but I believe they are Taiwanese made.

So, let's say for a second that someone with greater talent than Kent Eriksen is welding titanium seat posts in China proper. How does this affect your viewpoint?

I really dislike the "It's Chinese so it has to be cheap and/or crap" argument. They have talented, highly skilled folks putting stuff together there, so I cannot buy into your (apparent) logic regarding the Salsa/Chinese comments.

jkeiffer said...

Let me know when my dropper post can also have some give. Then I'll be interested! ;-)

Velocodger said...

I love my Eriksen Sweetpost! It is a thing of beauty, and does take the edge road. It is not a part that wears out, so the cost is not as much of a factor to me as it would be on something that normally wears out like a cassette or a chain.

Matt B. said...

Hi Ted,

Can you share any preliminary thoughts on the Salsa? I'm intrigued by it (despite being a bit appalled by the price), but have not found a single ride report. It seems to be one of the heavier Ti posts out there, which I thought might be a good thing for us bigger guys...


Guitar Ted said...

@Matt B: When I have some time on it, I will chime in here on the blog. Stay tuned....

JYB said...

In no way, shape, or form am I trying to say that Chinese stuff is crap. All I'm saying is that $275 for a post is outrageous. They could easily charge far less for this post. I'm just interested in how this price tag is justified. They "outsource" to mass produce and cut costs. Clearly, they are not passing any of the savings on to the consumer.

I also highly doubt these are nicer than an Eriksen post.

These are just my opinions, but it seems to me that only Salsa mega-fan boys would pay such a price for this post.

Guitar Ted said...

@JYB: Okay, first off you say this:
"In no way, shape, or form am I trying to say that Chinese stuff is crap"

Then you write the following:
"I also highly doubt these are nicer than an Eriksen post."

Clearly one can see what sort of an opinion you have of this post before you have even seen one. Nice.

Of course, you are welcomed to your opinion, and that is fine, but your presuppositions are colored so far to the negative side that it makes me wonder what else is on your mind concerning Salsa to have you formulate such a negative view of a their seat post. Especially if you've never even seen the seat post yet, or ridden it.

If I feel it isn't a worthy post of the price, I will say as much, but I, (and likely you as well), do not know that as yet.

JYB said...

I have no personal vendetta against Salsa, if that's what you're thinking/implying. I think QBP has done some great things. I ride some surly rims and tires on my Krampus, surly tires on my Fatback, and have more than one Salsa bar and stem. I just think the price point on that Salsa post is out of whack. It may be a great post, but I highly doubt they've revolutionized the Ti post. I just say they're asking too much. I don't need to ride one to formulate this viewpoint. My criticism is their price...period.

Even if this post rides great, I would love to hear the justification for purchasing this over something like an Eriksen.

One Eyed z said...

I have a Moots post on my rigid Karate Monkey so it just made sense to get one for my Krampus. However, Moots posts have jumped up a bit in price since I got one last. I noticed the Salsa Regulator and pulled the trigger (China made or not this is a nice post). The clamp was problematic at first. I was fearful of clamping the bolts too tight. Ended up having to go well above the recommended torque spec to keep the saddle from moving. However, now that its snug I love the post.

Guitar Ted said...

@JYB: Well, there are a lot of words of yours here to say that "I don't agree with the price/value of this seat post".

Interesting that it took the longer route to get there and what you said on the way has some meaning, no?

Or maybe not.....

JYB said...

I guess that it took the "longer route" because you pretty much put words in my mouth:

'I really dislike the "It's Chinese so it has to be cheap and/or crap" argument. They have talented, highly skilled folks putting stuff together there, so I cannot buy into your (apparent) logic regarding the Salsa/Chinese comments. '

I never called anything crap, and cheap has more than one meaning. Both definitions (low quality or very inexpensive) do not jive with the intentions behind my original post.

I picked Eriksen as a comparison because I feel that it is an appropriately priced, domestically produced, high-end bicycle component. Eriksen posts are pretty well respected. I feel they are a solid deal.

I have been repeatedly told by many in the industry that manufacturing of many bicycles and components is taking place overseas because it would be far too expensive to have these products manufactured in the states. I get that. If you look at a 170mm Al Fatback frame and fork you'd pay about 50% more than a Salsa Mukluk and fork($1060 vs $700). For many, that's a huge premium to pay. I would prefer to buy stuff made in the US, but it's nearly impossible to do this 100% of the time. I own plenty of products that are made in foreign countries like China and Taiwan(my computer for instance along with many bike parts).

I just find it laughable that a foreign sourced Ti post is being priced 20% higher than a well-sorted domestically produced post(Eriksen). There are no molds required for seaposts. Their construction is pretty basic. If anything, I would expect the Salsa post to cost 20% less than the Eriksen. I don't see how this logic is fuzzy. This would make the Salsa post still expensive, but maybe more appropriate. As the current pricing stands, I say it's overpriced. If it didn't have a Salsa label on it, I doubt anyone would pay $275 for this post.

Here's an example of a Ti seatpost from Taiwan that is only $85. It's not "laid back", and I'm sure the clamp is different than the Salsa clamp. Does the Salsa post, however, really demand $200 more than this? How will we know unless we ride both?

Guitar Ted said...

@JYB: I didn't put "words in your mouth", but I did ask this question which you have up to this point ignored:

So, let's say for a second that someone with greater talent than Kent Eriksen is welding titanium seat posts in China proper. How does this affect your viewpoint?

The "China" part is of no consequence in regards to Salsa, since the post is not made there, but your LBS, and consequently you, have brought this up, and my question regards the philosophy behind that question, which is, as you yourself said, usually means "prices are cheaper due to "outsourcing because USA made is too expensive."

Or is it really that these Asian made products are made there because that's where the better skills are?

See what I mean? this is what I am trying to point out, and where comments and thoughts like your LBS's and subsequently yours usually stem from. If you simply have a price issue, fine, but you are bringing in these other issues: Outsourcing, things from non-US manufacturers are/should be less. I'm saying it doesn't necessarily say that if Salsa, or anyone else, has things made in Asia, or wherever. Maybe it does, but it isn't a given.

And again- if I think it seems to be an overpriced-undervalued component, I'll say as much, but I'm waiting to actually use it and live with it before I jump to any conclusions.

One Eyed z said...

Not that it matters but...
The country of origin for the Salsa is listed as Taiwan and it is constructed from the same 3/2.5 Ti with a similar head clamp design as a Moots but lists for $85 cheaper. I have both and so far have noticed no difference in quality compared to my USA made Moots. Granted I've only had it for a month or so.