Saturday, October 10, 2020

Where Did It All Go Wrong?

This is the bike in question, not that it matters to this discussion.
 NOTE: Large doses of "my opinion" will be handed out in gloppy dollops today. You've been forewarned.....

Thursday the bicycle media wonks went nuts over a new Specialized road bike. It's a racy, racing bike type bicycle with a feather-weight frame and fork, electronic shifting, and costs - at a minimum- 10K+ and tops out at over 12K dollars. 

The bike is being ballyhooed as a "return to classic road bike lines", and a "bike not just for racers". The light weight is being lauded and all that with disc brakes and room for 32mm tires! (Although it comes stock with 26mm tires.) 

Comments: This isn't new. It isn't different. It's not a "return to" anything, and it absolutely is a racing bike. It's like the cycling media was shown a thoroughbred race horse and they said it was the best cart horse they ever saw. What? I know it's been some time since any of the "Big Four" (Cannondale, Specialized, Trek, Giant) have introduced such a machine, but by reading the comments, you'd think this thing was "The Everyman's Bike®" or some return to a style that we'd needed to have. Well, this was the disconnect that made my head spin. 

Apparently I wasn't the only one left scratching my head wondering just what it was these cycling oriented sites were seeing that I was not seeing. Or to be more correct, why these sites weren't calling this just another racing bike derived rig for a small niche of the populace. Because that's exactly what it is. That it was released by a brand named "Specialized" makes it only more ironic. 

There was a bit of commentary from writer/commentator on cycling issues, Peter Flax, on Twitter, and a response he got from classic frame builder, Richard Sachs, which clearly illustrates this disconnect and why we find ourselves looking at these odd comments from the cycling media on this bike, and others like it. 

Now, to be fair, Specialized and many of the reviews do not go to the ProTour/aero thing when looking at this bike. No- they say it isn't "that bike" for the most part, but it is a road racer derived design, so really, what Mr. Flax says in his Tweet pretty much nails it. 

I've been banging this drum for years. I've been saying all along that bike shops are selling the wrong bikes (road race derived designs) to the average rider to their detriment. I also have noted that flat bar, so-called "hybrid bikes", or now more commonly referred to as "fitness bikes", have outsold nearly every category of bikes for years. Yet you see little development, ad dollars, or marketing for this category. Bike companies have ignored those riders in favor of sponsoring ProTour teams, ballyhooing the "marquee" bikes which those athletes ride, and demanding technology be developed for these bikes over that of what the average person needs and wants. 

I will give you an example: In 2007 I was invited by Trek to partake in a release event for some new mountain bikes coming from the then still relevant Gary Fisher Bikes company and Trek. Mr. Fisher was on hand, of course, and at one point after a presentation in Santa Cruz, he pulled me aside and told me he wanted to show me something special. 

It was a 27 speed bike based on the Dutch city bike style with a completely automatic, electronic drive train. You didn't have to shift. The bike had sensors that determined what the rider needed in gear ratio and shifted accordingly based on power output and speed. Gary told me to take it for a ride, and to make sure I rode the steepest hills up and down, so I would get the full treatment. 

The bike was amazing! All I had to do was pedal. The bike decided my gear ratios, and shifted flawlessly to each as I went up steep inclines along the ocean in Santa Cruz, and then back down again. It wasn't a prototype either. This bike was production-ready. So.......what the heck happened? How is it that the industry hasn't produced a bike like this in the 13 years that I know this sort of technology has existed.? Richard Sachs, in response to the Peter Flax Tweet above, clues us in: (via Twitter again)

Boom! That is the most succinct, elucidated reasoning for what we've seen in the bicycle industry in North America since I've been involved in it. Yes- we had mountain bikes, but that idea was wrested away from being the people's bike by the mid-90's and it was turned into this daredevil, back country, enduro thing and most average folk feel left out. Then the "Lance Effect" hit and we got a double dose of roadie influenced bikes. 

Now you can point fingers at the gravel scene and claim we're not far off this whole roadified design misadventure, and I wouldn't argue with you there. The thing is, bike companies cannot seem to resist the siren call of road racer design and ethos. Big ProTour events are held up as the pinnacle of cycling, and what mere mortal can ever hope to attain to such lofty heights? And if you are a pretender, well your fantasy "F1-type Experience For The Street" awaits you. Not that there is anything wrong with that, but it isn't serving the masses needs either. Again- the industry caters to such a small niche of the population by foisting these bikes on us time and again, that it is no wonder that the "pie' has not grown. 

HPC's and electrified this-and-thats have also been pointed to as being the new "Bike Of The People", but when most of these are 2K and up, are they really "for the people"? No- they are not, and neither is this fancy, lightweight, wonder bike that costs 10K, and others like it.


Jeb said...


MuddyMatt said...

Drop handlebars are the alloy wheels of the bike world - not many need them but they confer instant sportiness; styling shorthand and cheap to do.

Bike companies forget they sell mobility. Put that first and your product range follows.

Maybe those flat bar gravel bikes are onto something! Just need a name...

Good points well made Mark. What's frustrating with all the old nine and ten speed road and MTB groups is the industry has it in its power to produce and sell a LOT of light, comfy, reliable bikes.

Barry said...

There's nothing wrong with drops - the problem is in slamming the stem. Get your drop bars up to the saddle height or above and you'll have a bike that is infinitely better than a flat bar hybrid.

Grant Petersen and his country bikes had it right. A nice relaxed frame that will take a reasonably wide tire (probably no wider than 38 mm - anything more for most people is just fetishing wide tires), high handle bars - maybe something that is swept back, and can take racks if needed.

Most bikes don't need disc brakes (and certainly not hydraulics) or electronic shifting. Mountain biking has been ruined by the drive make motorless dirt bikes; now that e-mountain biking is a thing, they are just becoming electric moto-cross.

I just want a nice, simple bike that I can comfortably ride long distances on any road and fix with a couple of simple universal tools. Is that too much to ask for?

baric said...

Barry, it sounds like you're describing an early generation 3X9 speed, non boost, mechanical disc Salsa Fargo. No longer made that way and hard to find because those who have them don't part with them easily. Or good alternatives, Rivendell or possibly Velo Orange. And a good, well set up set of Avid Single Digit 7 rim brakes are pretty hard to beat too.

Barry said...

@baric. Pretty close. I actually have a 3x Vaya with mechanical disc brakes. Running 32mm to 35mm tires makes it be a pretty good all rounder.