Friday, April 12, 2019

Friday News And Views

Remember those Spinergy PBO spokes?
Round Two:

Spinergy. Remember that brand? Well, they are still around and they still are selling wheels. The original carbon bladed models from the 1990's are, thankfully, not being sold. those things were super cool looking but were quite spectacular in their failure mode and presented quite a danger when they did blow up. Many of those also de-laminated from the hub shell, rendering them useless.

Spinergy left that technology behind in the late 90's and started using a fibrous spoke material covered in a protective sheath that they dubbed "PBO". This is the same basic technology they use today. Interestingly, I have actually rebuilt a set of those wheels, taking a couple sets and making one good one using the parts that I harvested from the bad set for a former local rider. I ended up tensioning them acoustically, because at that time Spinergy was defunct and parts were not available, along with any technical information. They actually turned out okay for what I had to work with. Then, I completely forgot all about Spinergy, unless my boss at work would bring around his old Cannondale road bike with the polished frame and Spinergy bladed spoke wheels. Then the old memories would come flooding back.

Recently I learned that Spinergy is back and selling wheels with the PBO spokes again. They have a set for gravel. Of course they do, and it looks as though a set might just show up for testing for soon. Stay tuned for that......

Viathon, a trade mark registered to Walmart, is a new bike brand selling direct to consumer.
High End "Mart"Bike?

The old joke about how bad "mart bikes" are has been hackneyed for decades. However; that may all be about to change with news that broke Wednesday that a new brand, whose trademark is registered to Walmart, is being sold now direct to consumer.

The brand is called "Viathon" and it sells a mountain, road, and gravel bike in various specs or as a frame and fork. You can check out the gravel bike here. What do I think? Well, the prices don't look fantastically under normal, but they are a pretty good deal. Much like a Canyon bike. The geometry on the "gravel bike" is not my cup of tea at all, so basically, I wouldn't be a customer no matter what the price was.

But some people don't care about such things and will buy the brand just because it under cuts traditional bike shop pricing, by a little bit, anyway. What people need to understand now days though is that bike shops don't charge that much more these days than direct to consumer brands. They can't. Sure- there is MSRP on websites, but that is meaningless. Real street pricing for LBS high end bikes leaves profits so low compared to ten years ago that bike shops don't really make enough to make such bikes worth selling. It's more a service to consumers now and not a profit maker. This will only accelerate to include almost all bike shops soon as the de-facto shopping method for bicycles changes to reflect these online presences. In fact, I foresee a day when there will be showrooms only in certain metropolitan markets where one could actually see and touch bikes while everywhere else will be forced to purchase online. The traditional bike shop will become an accessory peddler, maybe have low end, pedestrian level bikes, and their main source for income will be labor/service on all bicycles.

Walmart is rumored to be adding this Viathon line to their online shopping network instantly making 12,000 plus outlets places where you could pick up a carbon rocket like the gravel bike pictured. By the way, depending upon whose numbers you use, that's rumored to be anywhere from two times to three times the number of current LBS outlets. Interesting days for sure.

An old GT thermoplastic framed bike
 "Milk Jug" Technology? 

Carbon fiber is probably the most leveraged frame material in cycling today. R&D and marketing have spent more time touting the benefits of his material for all things cycling than any other material since the late 1980's. However; it remains very labor intensive due to the type of process used to make frames and parts and this is reflected in its price. What if the labor part could be lessened, or removed altogether? Well, it has been tried before, and now it is being tried again.

Before I get into the news, it is important to realize what the differences are that make one way of doing carbon cheaper than another, and why the "cheaper" option hasn't been used much. There are two different processes that are the main players here in carbon fiber production- Thermoset and Thermoplastic. What we know as "carbon fiber" in the cycling industry now is the thermoset carbon technique where patches of carbon fiber fabric are hand laid into a mold, then that is soaked in a resin to bond it all together, (or the fabric is pre-soaked), then that is all sealed up into a very expensively machined metal mold, put into an autoclave to cure the resin at high pressure and at a controlled temperature, then you have a frame, or part you can finish for use. Thermoplastic carbon is simply a type of "plastic" with carbon fibers in it that is injected into a mold, in the simplest terms, like any other plastic, dispensing with any human labor component. The entire thermoset process can be automated. It's obvious why it would be cheaper than thermoset processes, but up until now, the thermoplastic carbon hasn't performed up to the level of thermoset carbon in terms of weight, stiffness, and strength.

The process has been used for bicycles before, none-the-less. GT Bikes used it in many of their futuristic full suspension bikes of the late 90's/early 00's. Ross Bicycles also used it for a hard tail which was sold in department stores! However; frame failures pretty much shelved the material's use and it was long forgotten, until HYV, a Taiwanese company, announced it had figured out the process and will be producing frames in a fully automated way. What effect this has on future carbon bicycle frame and parts technologies, and more importantly, the marketplace for such items, remains to be seen.

Gene Oberpriller with the last haul from the infamous One on One basement. Image courtesy of Facebook
An Era Ends- One Begins:

Sometimes a bike shop is more than just a "bike shop". Sometimes certain shops define an era, or become culturally important to a locale. I think it would be fair to say that One on One Bicycle Studio in Minneapolis, Minnesota was one bicycle shop that fits those bills quite well. They made their mark on the North Loop Warehouse District of downtown Minneapolis and they touched a lot of people with their service, but more importantly, with the vibe and culture which they fostered. Now they have closed that chapter as they have moved to a new place in Minnehaha Falls.

One of the more famous, (infamous?) facets that made up One On One was their massive "bike pile" in their basement. It became a must see tourist attraction for bicycle nerds all over the world. I witnessed a few Frostbike weekends at One On One and saw international bicycle folks down there viewing the carnage of bicycles. Of course, there was a lot more to One On One than just that, but for outsiders, the basement was probably the most memorable facet of this shop's existence.

But I think the main heart and soul of the shop is most certainly "Gene-O", which is what they call owner/proprietor Gene Oberpriller. He's been there since the beginning of the current bike culture scene in Minneapolis and was a big part of its formative years. He's been a professional racer, and did you know? According to his LinkedIn profile, he is an expert marksman. Didn't know that myself until just the other day. Anyway.......

Best of luck in the new digs!

And that's a wrap on this week. Have a great weekend and ride yer bikes!


Rydn9ers said...

Oh man, glad I made it out to the original location a few years back, it really was one of those bike shops you just had to go see if you were in the area. That being said, they new location is pretty rad too... now you can visit the shop, hit Falls Liquor and go putz around at the falls without even turning the handlebars.

Biggs said...

Pretty sure this is a thermoplastic resin too, started production this year after years of making aluminium only frames.

Michael said...

Glad to hear that One On One is just moving, not shutting down. I got a tour of the basement once, it was quite the treat.