Monday, April 24, 2023

News Season: Sea Otter 2023

I still haven't seen much about this since Thursday last week.
 Sea Otter is over for another year. This was probably, and arguably the first "real" Sea Otter since 2019. Vendor participation was almost back to pre-pandemic levels. So that meant that a lot of new items debuted throughout last week and at the show in conjunction with the festivities. 

And let us not forget that there was racing, and Life Time's "Grand Prix" kicked off there this past weekend. Of course, if you haven't heard, Life Time owns Sea Otter now, so they can do what they want in that regard. 

Okay, this will be a post of things I thought were interesting using images caught by my friend Grannygear who was in attendance at the show and forwarded me the images you see here today, except where indicated. We also collaborated on a post on Riding Gravel, so you may have seen some of these already.  I'll stick mostly to the gravel stuff and commentary here, but there may be an oddball thing or two that I post also. Okay, here we go.....

BlackHeart titanium gravel bike.

BlackHeart Bikes: I'd never heard about this company before seeing the image here. Cool looking bikes and all. The company mission statement I read said that they wanted a bike that struck a middle ground between gravel and road bikes. (??) Hint: A "gravel bike IS a road bike. 

Anyway.... Checking the specs on the three thousand dollar frame and I see that it is, in fact, a road racing bike. "Square" geometry in the most classic road bike style, it has a 72.5° head angle and a pretty shallow bottom bracket drop with a maximum tire clearance of 40mm. 

Not an "all-roads bike". I mean- you can ride this down your local single track, for all I care, but this is not "all-road" bike geometry for the masses. So, looks good - not gonna cut the mustard around here. 

This was seen on a Fezarri gravel bike

UDH Ready: Trends? How about UDH, the SRAM acronym for "Universal Derailleur Hangar". Seems that a lot of smaller companies are moving toward using this as it cuts down on expenses and, probably more importantly, is a sign of a future sea-change in drive train technology. 

I expect more will become clear on this in the Fall of this year. Stay tuned....

Another USA based aluminum rim maker? Yes!

Boyd Cycles Starts Up US Rim Production: News broke at the onset of the show that Boyd Cycles, the wheel purveyor from the East, was working on a manufacturing facility in South Carolina while COVID was going on and now that facility is up and running. This is pretty good news, I think.

Of course, it brings us up to two rim manufacturers in the US with Velocity USA having been here cranking out rims for quite a few years already. Boyd included in their press release that they are open to doing rims for other companies as well, so hey! Maybe a renaissance of sorts is happening with US based wheel making? Perhaps. 

You might have spied out above that the wheels set shown is $425.00 for the set, so they aren't just making high-end stuff there. Nice!

Hunt To Sell Straight Pull Hub Sets:

A lot of pre-built wheels come with cool hubs that you only can have if you buy the entire wheel. Sometimes you might want the hub, but maybe you want a 650B wheel, or even a 26"er. Well, now you can buy a Hunt Sprint SL set of hubs for that purpose and more.

Of course, they are disc and through axle only, so there is that, but most modern bikes are those standards anyway. You can get a couple different bearing types and the prices are not too bad. The "Ceramic Coated" bearing versions are $249.00 for the set. 

Straight pull spokes are not real commonplace, so I checked the innergoogles and found that I should have no fear. Lots of choices. Mostly DT Swiss and Sapim. Both solid choices there. 

The only caveat? You can only get these hubs in 20F/24R or 24F/24R spoke drillings. That probably limits these hubs appeal to the racing and lightweight freaks. But if that is you, hey - there you go!  I might keep these in mind for converting some older wheels I have to through axle and a better freehub system. 

Kenda "4titude" Tires:

I've opined on this channel about how those in the industry on the one hand are trying to pull gravel biking into mountain biking territory. Well, as with the BlackHeart bike above, there are those that don't understand "gravel" as a niche/type of bike and want to pull it back toward road racing. Another example is the Kenda "4titude" tire, developed in tandem with riders of the Belgium Waffle Ride. 

You might be thinking, "But wait! Isn't BWR a gravel series?" Well, BWR would love it if you thought so, but many of their events have higher than 50% pavement courses. That's NOT gravel, my friends. 

Not that it is wrong, but if you ride mostly pavement, you end up back in a road racing mindset, if you are in the cycling industry. It's like they cannot help themselves.... 

Anyway. The tire. Back to the tires! 

These will be available in a 35mm and a 40mm. I happen to actually like the tire by the looks of it. This type of tread pattern can be very fast around here at times. Probably not if it was like last Summer in Southern Black Hawk County, but maybe elsewhere and hopefully this year! (I can hope!) 

I have a set of Donnelly USH 40's that look similar to these Kendas that I think are great. So, I welcome tires in this vein. Big, poofy road tires, any road tires, are always a good deal. 

American Classic is now offering 700 X 45's

American Classic Offering A 700 X 45mm Tire Now: So, here's another smoother treaded tire I like a lot, the American Classic Kimberlite. They were offering it in a 700 X 35, 40, and 50mm sizes. But now you can get a 45mm! 

This is great. American Classic tires took a step up when they did their redesign last year and I tried Kimberlites in the 50mm size. The 45mm would be the deal for folks on a budget. The American Classic Kimberlites in this size should fit a ton of bikes out there and should roll like a champ. 

This isn't what I expected from Salsa back in the day, but now? Yes. I understand.

And A Few More Opinions On The E-Salsa Bikes:

I still think the shocker of the show was the Salsa e-bike deal. However; you hardly saw anything on this from mainstream cycling pubs and sites. Weird! Maybe there is a hidden reason for that? I don't know, but typically Salsa sends out press releases ahead of big announcements like this. I do not think that they did that this time.

Comments I saw regarding this on posts I put on social media and here ranged from quiet approval to outright disdain. There once was a Salsa Cycles that stood for ideals that many folks that I know were attracted to. And you'd think something like an e-gravel bike would fit the old "Adventure by Bike" philosophy that was once the province of this brand alone for a time. But something has changed since those days.

I think it is a lot of things, and the evolution of this brand has left a bad taste in the mouths of some. People have left the brand since those days, and that certainly has had an effect. The parent company has changed, and their values have changed, and that certainly has had an affect as well. Is any of this negative or positive? That's for you to decide.

But it "is". That's the point, and of course, the entire electrification of bicycles and the sea change in retail has affected this brand to a large degree as well. Like I said, it's a LOT of things all together that have brought Salsa Cycles to a place that has the brand at a bit of a crossroads in my opinion. I think this is what you see reflected in the comments on the electric Confluence gravel bike. The bike itself is neither here nor there. It's just a signpost of the brand and where it is at in 2023. 

UPDATED: 4/24/23 @ 12:00 NOON CST:

A Salsa eMTB as shown from Sea Otter on a QBP employee's Instagram page.

An anonymous source tipped me off to the existence of a Salsa eMTB, still in development, apparently, with a Bosch mid-drive motor. The source also confirmed that the Confluence is indeed real and was also puzzled by the lack of media interest. 

So, how about them apples?

Thanks for reading Guitar Ted Productions.


Jon Bakker said...

I had actually heard a few months ago in a casual conversation with an "industry insider" (trying to protect the innocent here) that there was a really good chance we'd see an e-bike from Salsa this year. That was the only hint of such news that I heard until your coverage of Sea Otter. I wasn't shocked at news of a Salsa e-bike - many bike manufacturers have e-bikes in and throughout their lineups - but I have been surprised at the radio (and internet!) silence from Salsa. I also can't find anything about it on their website - you'd think a new bike model (or variation) would represent an immense investment in R&D and that there'd be a marketing push to help stir up some interest...but there's nothing. In fact, I did a web search for "Salsa Confluence" and not only was there *nothing* about this e-bike...none of the first 10 hits had anything to do with cycling at all. I raced in the Barry-Roubaix here in MI, and Salsa is one of the bike sponsors. I stopped by their booth and picked up some stickers, but there was nothing about an e-bike there, either (though it was before Sea Otter).

Not that I am in the market, but I am curious about the specs of the bike, and especially the motor integration - in my limited experience (full disclosure - I have a Specialized Vado e-bike that I use for commuting), premium e-bike experiences involve motors in the bottom bracket area (middle-mounted) of the bike, and hub based setups are second-tier. All of the pedal-assist only e-bikes I know of have middle-mount motors; whereas those with hub motors operate practically independent of the human-powered drivetrain (i.e. they have a throttle dial/slider/lever). Pedaling with a throttle assist doesn't feel as much like you're riding a bike - you're always fiddling with the balance of power to pedaling, and you might end up just using the bike more as a scooter (this is what I see so often around the college town where I live - the chain is seized and rusted from non-use, but the bike still rolls by at 20+ mph!). On the flip side, the mid-mount setup feels very much like pedaling a regular bike, but there's less resistance - you "feel like you're cheating" and moving faster than your effort, but it's definitely still a cycling experience. And if you stop pedaling, the power also disappears. I'm sure there's a way to bring that experience to a hub-mounted e-bike motor, and maybe Salsa has done that, but I've never seen it before.

I'm also curious about the battery - often the most expensive single part of an e-bike - this one looks like it is permanently mounted in the frame. Can it be swapped out in the event of battery failure? If not, what does someone do when it's "cycled" through all the charges it'll take? Discard the whole thing, frame and all? Even if you wanted to recycle it, it looks like you'd need to destroy the frame just to access the battery. Again, maybe I'm completely misreading it - all I've seen is the photos posted here and on Riding Gravel, so perhaps the battery is swappable, but it doesn't appear that way from these pictures.

I say all of this as a fan of Salsa - I own a Fargo and a Beargrease, and love both bikes. I think I heard your podcast cohost once refer to them as having become "Walmart bikes for dentists and lawyers" or something like that (and I get it - laughed out loud when I heard it!), but due to my limited experience with cycling (I only started biking in late 2020) I don't have quite the same background with Salsa (or anyone else) for context. The pictures of this ebike though, along with the lack of any marketing or even basic info from Salsa, leave me somewhat underwhelmed. I hope they turn it around!

Guitar Ted said...

@Jon Bakker - Thanks for the comment and thoughts on the e-bikes and Salsa.

Yes, it is REALLY weird that this was shown with next to no marketing push or press release/promotions. In fact, it is so unlike Salsa as to be almost suspect. However; you'd think that if it was counterfeit that this would have been told to me by this point by "official" Salsa reps. However; my friend that took the images at Sea Otter is also a friend to Salsa, has no agenda, and is 100% honest and reliable, so i had no compunctions or reservations regarding showing these images. It's just that it is so odd - not the bike necessarily, but the presentation - That I was taken aback.

And the bike- My take is that this is primarily for REI accounts. I could be wrong about that, but I cannot imagine that the bike will retail for all that much and that is based upon much the same thoughts as you have regarding electrified bike technology. I think it fits the REI/mass market niche, as far as it is spec'ed, and that also adds to my take that Salsa ain't the Salsa Cycles we used to know.

I don't understand much of what is going on here with this bike, but clearly there is a backstory we don't have access to which would explain why the bikes were presented as they were.

Jon Bakker said...

Your insight on REI makes a lot of sense. Scoping e-bikes out on their website, they have a Cannondale Topstone e-bike (Neo SL 2) that looks very similar to the Salsa on the battery and motor integration - rear hub drive, non-removable battery welded into an aluminum frame, even the charging port looks the same. Retails for $3625, so maybe that's a ballpark of what to expect for the Salsa e-bike? Nobody would call that cheap, of course, but many drop-bar e-bikes cost much more than that so...who knows?

Another of your insights I remember was about how difficult it will eventually be for event organizers to prevent e-doping. While these clearly have the hub motors and exposed power wires, and the batteries are obviously welded into the frames, only people "in the know" will notice such things. To a casual observer, they look like analog bikes. The bars, breaks, wheels, and drivetrain all look like normal bike stuff. Indeed, with a bigger brake disc on one side, and a bigger cassette on the other, the hub would be hard to notice. Race directors will have their hands full!

Guitar Ted said...

@Jon Bakker - Interestingly, while the morning has progressed, I was given an anonymous tip that the Confluence is indeed real. Also, the source tipped me off to an Instagram post from a QBP employee showing a Bosch mid-mount eMTB FS bike - Something more in line with what I thought Salsa would be coming out with, but again - NO MEDIA COVERAGE??!

Interesting points on the Cannondale. And I agree on the potential for overlooking bikes like that as being analog when they are not.

Jason said...

Question about the Salsa item... You write, "The parent company has changed, and their values have changed, and that certainly has had an affect as well."
Is Salsa still owned by QBP?

Guitar Ted said...

@jason - "Change" an in "evolve", "becomes different than before", not "changed organizations".

Bart said...

Personally, I'm thrilled by the Confluence and hope to buy one as soon as they become available. I only learned about it because I was asking my LBS if they ever sold drop-bar e-bikes, and they mentioned this. It's great because I have been looking at VERY expensive drop-bar gravel e-bikes, like the 3T Exploro, Pinarello Dyodo, Cannondale Topstone Neo, and Scott Solace eRide. I have a Salsa Fargo, a Surly Disc Trucker, and a Surly Skid Loader e-bike. I love riding, but I'm bigger than most and I live on a 14% grade, so anything to help me for the last few miles home is welcome. My only regret is that it's based on the aluminum-framed Journeyer and not the steel-framed Vaya, so I'll no longer be able to say that I only have steel bikes. Oh, well.