Friday, October 7, 2011

Cross-Pollination

GB Lugged Threadless Stem
There has been an increasing trend for "cross-pollination" lately between bicycle makers that specialise in transportation vs sport. Every mainstream manufacturer at Interbike seemed to have a step-through city bike on display, and custom builders known for catering to the racing crowd have come out with commuter models as well (the Independent Fabrications Caffeine Racer being one extreme example worth having a glance at!).  But it would be inaccurate to suggest that the industry is moving away from roadcycling and toward transportation, because the reverse is happening also. 

Pashley, Carbon Fork!
Pashley stunned Interbike visitors by displaying a lightweight Clubman model with a carbon fiber fork and threadless stem. Rivendell caved to its speed-loving customers and introduced the Roadeo earlier this year. Velorbis sent round press releases about its new line of "sport bikes." Velo Orange published a blog post entitled "Why I race and why you should too" (could a cyclocross bike be in the works?). ANT is considering launching a pure road-race model after experimenting with the Fire ANT line.

Velo Orange Camping Bike
While bicycle commuting is more popular than ever, so are racing, touring, club rides and bicycle camping. And what seems to be happening is that manufacturers are "diversifying" their offerings to cater to the general rise of interest in cycling of all types.

The trend is exciting to observe, but one question often raised is that of whether the other side can ever really "get it." Can a manufacturer specialising in racing bikes make a comfortable and practical transportation bike with a long wheelbase and relaxed geometry? Can a transport bike manufacturer let go of their "weight does not matter" and "fenders are a must" principles and make a competitive performance-oriented machine? Some would say no. But then remember manufacturers such as Raleigh and Gazelle, whose production of iconic road and transport bikes in decades past would suggest otherwise. Ultimately we will have to wait and see. This could get interesting.

47 comments:

  1. "Can a manufacturer specialising in racing bikes make a comfortable and practical transportation bike with a long wheelbase and relaxed geometry? Can a transport bike manufacturer let go of their "weight does not matter" and "fenders are a must" principles and make a competitive performance-oriented machine?"

    Why would it matter that some makers are known as racing or transport cycle makers? The market will always support the two types since bicycles makers do specialize to make the best product they can. No one wants a product made by a jack of all trades that always yields a mediocre product.

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  2. There's more variety in the types of bikes that are available on the U.S. market today than at any time since the "Bike Boom" began in the early 1970's. This is, in my opinion, a very good thing.

    The enthusiast bicycle U.S. market was for far too long dominated by bikes that were perceived to be racing types by the unwary consumer. It's obvious that many of these bikes didn't provide a satisfactory experience for their owners when you peruse the number of basically unridden bikes that are available on eBay and Craigslist.

    Granularity in the bicycle types available for cyclists should translate to more active and lifelong cycling enthusiasts.

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  3. In reading your comment to the VO blog racing bit, I find the same issue...that I'm curious about my local (cyclocross) racing scene but I have no idea where or how to get started. Is there a Boston-area resource for a never-raced beginner like me? Sounds fun to try something new.

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  4. The move towards the center is easy enough for the guy with a lot of chops if he's willing to prototype and develop.

    The guy who never had the chops is going to have a much harder time. I know of at least one guy who doesn't like his Roadeo, said it was sluggish. Pashley is never going to be able to make a truly fast bike without the injection of an outside consultant. Raleigh and Gazelle are also way behind the tech learning curve. Sure they can make "sporty" bikes, but they'll never win races.

    I see IF qualified to make a fast comfy transpo but the caffeine racer, like the comooter, is kind of inane.

    The big companies already have plenty of models in the middle, albeit wrapped in marketing.

    Anyway, the middle is the place where a lot of people want to be. Once they're there they can change their minds again if they want.

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  5. Anything that gets someone on a bike is a good thing, right. As long as the bikes are well thought out and built, it should only benefit people. That said, I would be concerned that companies slap something together to get into a new market niche and end up alienating customers.

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  6. A lot of manufacturers succeed in reaching several market segments, from big companies to boutiques. Trek makes its 520 touring bike, its Madone racing series, and a number of different hybrid and city bikes. Jamis and Surly have similar ranges, just to name a couple of smaller companies, or look at Green Gear/Bike Friday, which offers a range of styles of small-wheeled packable or folding bikes, from road bikes to off-road tourers.

    The real question is whether a company is willing to do the research to figure out what its new market wants or needs. Surly, with its Fatties Fit Fine chainstays, seems to have done that for everything except the Pacer, which still takes ridiculously narrow tires if you want to use fenders. There, I think Riv's Roadeo does better (for about three times the price, to be fair). That's a matter of who is in charge, though, rather than the size or specialties of the company.

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  7. GR Jim - Not talking about the current Raleigh and Gazelle, but "back in the day." The Gazelle Champion Mondial was a pretty well respected model in Europe.

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  8. Yeah, I know. Just wanted to point out they haven't kept pace tech-wise.
    The old Raleigh Super Course was a dream bike for me.

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  9. Brian - One could argue that Trek does not make a good product outside the road/racing group, and that the other stuff sells jus due to marketing and the popularity of their name. But that's another point entirely.

    GR Jim - What makes IF qualified to make a commuter in your view? They've made a few, none of which look right to me. Same with Seven's attempts. Geekhouse is maybe getting it right with their Woodville bikes, but I have not tried one in person.

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  10. The IF attempts are kind of in keeping with their philosophy - sport first, transpo second. If they wanted to go the transpo route they have extensive experience in how to tune ride quality but it would dilute the purity of their message. Something to keep in mind is although I don't like the Caffeine Racer's looks it could very well ride like your Royal - fast, springy, yet with tight handling.

    Mike F I think could build a really good fast bike but things have change since he left IF.

    Seven, IF, Moots, Serotta are all in the same boat - to move to the middle is down market.

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  11. I forgot - IF has a proven touring model and the Club Racer, so they're already positioned in other parts of the market.

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  12. I'm just tickled pink that cycling in general is on the rise, whatever your flavor of bicycle.

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  13. I find it hard to get excited about transportation companies doing bog-standard racing bikes. There are plenty of excellent racing bikes already.

    What I'd like to see is a bike that combines the performance of a racing bike with the utility of a city bike. That would provide real choices that aren't available today.

    The car world has done this decades ago – even Ferraris have fenders and lights – yet the bike industry seems to believe that performance and utility are mutually exclusive.

    Only small custom builders offer randonneur bikes and similar machines that combine the joy of riding a performance bicycle with the ability to ride in any weather, even at night, while carrying a change of clothes or a few groceries.

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  14. The Pashley clubman looks great except for one thing-- the non-aero brakes. Why would they do that? It seems like they're going for a retro "look" by sacrificing the convenience of routing cables under the tape. In the 80's we were all thrilled when aero brakes came out, why would anyone want to bring those awful things back?

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  15. janheine: can't you accomplish that rather easily by adding either Honjo low profile or plastic racing fenders, a Supernova Aistream and a Carradice Nelson to the Seven that was reviewed here recently? What could be lighter, faster and better? I fit a lot of stuff in my Nelson.

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  16. I think angelo is talking about the standard Clubman model on Pashley's website. The one shown at Interbike (and in my photo) was lighter-weight, Columbus tubing (not Reynolds), with Campagnolo ergo levers and carbon fork.

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  17. Just back from working on a friends bike. Don't want to name but it's (in alpha order) a Giant/Specialized/Trek. Over objections he paid $1500 last spring for a "hybrid". To avoid TCO the seat tube is so steep the nose of the saddle is in front of the bottom bracket. When pushed alla way back. Every part on the bike looks shabby even though it can't have over 1000 miles. It has more mechanical problems than either of us can face. He's back to riding his twenty year old Diamond Back MTB from a yard sale.

    Unwary consumers are not well served by the current market.

    As much as I think we all pay too much and all oughta get more yard sale bikes, any and all of the bikes discussed on this blog are a better value than $1500 for one season of a bum ride. The industry has a long way to go. They can only go up from here. Or just go away and leave it to little guys who care.

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  18. MDI, I was talking about the old-style brake levers where the brake cable housing loops into the air above the handlebars and onto the top tube. I've been seeing these more and more lately and I wonder why it is being brought back. There's no advantage to it, is there?

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  19. janheine: A big "thumbs up" to your comment. Seems to me that you are correct in pointing out what seems to me to be a gaping hole in the world of bicycle product design. Perhaps it does take a discerning taste to see the difference, but I have found that retrofitting doesn't always quite meet the need.

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  20. I don't see Rivendell caving when they came out with the Roadeo, they have had a few similar bikes in their lineup before. The Rambouillet and Romulus come to mind. The Roadeo keeps most of their bike criteria, namely fender room, wider tires and higher handlebars, but is made lighter than their more rugged bikes and has a threadless headset option if the buyer chooses (which may be a first for them). They aren't loosing their roots or trying to do too much with the Roadeo IMHO, it isn't a skinny tired road race bike.

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  21. "Pashley stunned Interbike visitors by displaying a lightweight Clubman model with a carbon fiber fork and threadless stem."

    I remember Huffy stunning the world, and years later GT, with the introduction of serious road racers. The Huffy was a bogus PR stunt (re-painted Litespeeds?), but the GT ZR1 was legit, and even won some Euro spring classics. Hell even I rode one, in the Lotto Team colors of Belgium of course. I actually like the bike.

    I think most of them are technically capable for jumping between sport and transportation and are capable of doing something really interesting, but also stupid stuff, IMO. Brand and culture don't adjust easily. These forays can be fleeting. The Pashley road racer could end up a real collectors item.

    Sometimes it doesn't matter. Despite GT's immediate success in pro cycling they soon went bankrupt anyway.

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  22. angelo t

    The advantage is that it's easy to work on. Easier to tape. The disadvantages - I'll admit they exist - seem small to me, possibly because I grew up with pre-aero cables. In the case of Pashley it's probably self-conscious Luddism combined with cost-cutting. Or they just had a few boxes of old levers in the storeroom.

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  23. GR Jim,
    I beg to differ. I have been working on and saving to build up a sweet champion mondial and when it is done, it will be light, fast and incredibly beautiful. I won't win races on it cause i am not that rider but someone else could.
    The fact of the matter is, with the right material, geometry and components, anything is possible. Framebuilders are amazing, mechanics are magicians.

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  24. Look at Vanilla, they seem to do it all pretty well. Transport, Road, Cross, Track.

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  25. Jan - While I myself am interested in the sort of bikes you describe, and obviously randonneuring bikes have a following, I wonder whether the idea appeals to the average cyclist. What I mean is, would most people who are not racers not rather have a relaxed touring bike rather than something racy but fendered?

    Keir - Yeah, Vanilla seems to have been diverse from the very start. Their bikes are extremely limited in availability though. What is it, a 5 year waiting list at this point?

    Ann - looking forward to hearing about your Champion Mondial once it's built up!

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  26. GRJjim and Velouria : Gazelle offers a Silhouet carbon frame that seems pretty competitive to me. They're mostly involved in transportation bikes, but they carry a few road bikes too.
    In holland, Koga, has a rather wide range of models too.

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  27. I would like to point out that I developed the IF Independence and Club Racer. I had to argue, at length, with my partners at IF to bring these bikes to market. This was 99 and 2000. Going through so much difficulty with this bike development was so troubling, that it inspired me to move on and create ANT.
    I developed the Club Racer, not as a Touring bike, but a light weight Road Racing bike that could fit fenders.

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  28. Ann, I'm not sure what you're disagreeing on as I wrote a lot, but I don't disagree with anything you wrote.

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  29. Mike, I think it was Matt who told me that story but I didn't know it was you. Great bikes and a great legacy, thanks. Anyway, looks like the Fire Ant carries some Club Racer dna.

    Philippe, going to the Gazelle site kind of reinforces what I said earlier - the carbon models aren't listed but regardless, are probably generic Chinese models made in the same factory as many "racy" brands. I kind of doubt they have a dedicated team within the company developing race bikes.

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  30. Jeesh, someone is actually on a five year waiting list for a bike? When the buyer and seller agree to put off delivery of a bicycle for five years there's just all kinds of issues on both sides of that equation I don't understand.

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  31. Bif - Waiting lists of 5+ years are not uncommon among the well known frame builders. I believe Peter Weigle's list is close to 7 years at the moment. Personally I would not be willing to wait longer than a year tops for a frame, but everyone is different in that respect.

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  32. GRJ : http://www.gazelle.nl/Collectie/Sport
    I have no idea who designed this, though.

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  33. angelo trivelli,Anonymous, re non-aero brake levers, apart from the theoretical and no doubt extremely small aerodynamic disadvantage of having the cables out in the windstream what are the disadvantages of old style brake levers, I can't think of any myself.

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  34. I wouldn't wait over a year either. Well, maybe if I was 44 and wanted to get myself a 50th birthday bike I may, but I kind of think it is too long to wait and I wouldn't be able to pull the trigger. To each his/her own though.

    I think Jan is right though, I would like to see a mass produced randonneuring bike produced by bigger companies. Something with integrated fenders and lights that aren't afterthoughts and still sporty and well mannered for speed. It is a market that hasn't been tapped by the larger bike makers.

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  35. GRJ/Philippe: See also www.gazellesports.nl - Dutch only so I suppose they don't offer them overseas.
    Gazelle apparently supports a racing team.

    It will be interesting to see what the future brings now that they are owned by Pon (a Volkswagen importer!) which also is negotiating a takeover of German conglomerate Derby Cycles (which among others own Raleigh).

    Koga, sister company to Batavus, has been making light and sporty bikes with all accoutrements of transportation bikes for years.
    See www.koga.com/koga (language selection in top right corner).

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  36. Philippe, ah I was on the US site. Not enough brand recognition to sell in the land of Trek, Giant and Specialized, apparently.

    Frits & Philippe, I think we're on a tangent as the Gazelle and Koga offerings are of the pure sport, big label carbon variety whereas perhaps V is writing about metal bikes with or without a nod to the past, maybe with a level top tube.

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  37. "I wouldn't wait over a year either. Well, maybe if I was 44 and wanted to get myself a 50th birthday bike I may"

    Maybe by then I'll stop experimenting with bikes and know what I want!... Maybe : )

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  38. "V - Waiting lists of 5+ years are not uncommon among the well known frame builders. I believe Peter Weigle's list is close to 7 years at the moment."

    I suspect that any of the builders whose bikes are chosen as "The Best in Show", "Best Lugs", etc. in the major bike shows (Cirque du Cyclisme, NAHBS, etc.) are likely to have their build cues quickly filled for years.

    This means that Peter Weigle, Vanilla, DiNucci, et. al. and other boutique custom builders are out of the picture for anyone who wants a bike built in a year or less. (Don't even think about ever buying a Richards Sachs new build bike...).

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  39. Peter Mooney is one old guard/ master builder (of lugged steel bikes) I can think of who does not have an unreasonable waiting list. But then he does not advertise either.

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  40. Look at the trends in cycling over the past few decades. When I was a kid it was the 70's bike boom and everyone was on road bikes. In the 80's I had bmx bikes and girly bikes growing up, and there seemed to be a real mix of cycling. I rode my mom's old 3 speed in high school...but in the 90's the industry got heavily hooked on mountain biking and all the lovely lugs, steel road bikes, touring bikes started disappearing from the rosters. It was all mountain bikes. Unless you were a knowledgeable road cyclist who keep up with that world, all you could buy was a mountain bike. I commuted for years on a mountain bike. I went through 3. I would sometimes wonder why it was so slow compared to the old 3 speed or road bikes I tried. We were all told mountain bikes were great because the big tires were great for bad roads etc.. Everyone I knew was on mountain bikes.
    And then it started changing. I wanted a bike with 700cc wheels, I wanted a road bike, or a touring bike, or a city bike! I became aware of the niche custom builders, the craftsmanship of older lug bicycles etc and started looking for a commuting bike that a film prof had that I drooled over for years. A dutch bike with enclosed chaincase, fenders, etc.. The bike industry is just catching up to the consumer demand for commuting friendly bicycles and they are out there in the good, the bad and the ugly.
    But, at the same time, all of us who have been deprived of road biking for years because our formative years were spent with only mountain bikes in the public eye, want to ride fast on a road bike. We've gone from mountain bikes to commuter bikes and have missed out on the joy of road bikes. It seemed something only for rich elderly people at times.
    So, what's a small bike company to do that's been so focused on providing lovely touring and commuter bicycles when the customers are suddenly asking to go fast?

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  41. Ryan M. said...
    "I don't see Rivendell caving when they came out with the Roadeo, they have had a few similar bikes in their lineup before."


    When they were first coming out with the bike and describing it in their news/blog entries, I really got the sense that they were doing it in response to market demands/ customer pressure and not because they were really into putting out that kind of bike. It may be similar to some of their very early models, but they've moved on since then, and this move has been in the opposite direction of the Roadeo. Also the threadless stem option was a big step no doubt.

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  42. Well GRJim, you're the one who argued about bikes that "win races".
    Actualy, I'm unconvinced by the starting point. Velouria post, no offence, strikes me as rather small US frame builer, or US niche brand, centric. (Which makes sense, for a Boston blogger...)
    As far as metal, sporty, bikes are concerned, every major euro brand carry quite a few in their rooster, along with utility bikes. Gazelle, Batavus, Lapierre, Orbea, you name it. As they always did.

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  43. Philippe,
    To make you happy and not let this become a big polemic, the brands you mentioned do not exist for us in the US in a certain aesthetic sense. The bikes that reside in this realm don't win races, but are fast enough for their riders. Carbon is a tangent.

    Clear enough?

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  44. Bill Davidson is another old-guard frame builder with a reasonable queue. Of course I'm not sure how "old guard" he really is because while he still builds lovely lugged steel frames he does a lot of welded steel and titanium, and even some carbon.

    Still hard not to respect a guy who seems to have taught most of the US frambuilders who didn't get their start at Waterford.

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  45. Don McMahan

    Your question deserves an answer. Better late than never.

    With aero levers a new hand position opens up, palm of hand right over the peak of the hood. It's also possible to move your hands around the bars more freely without snagging cables. How much are these worth? Up to you.

    This morning I had to do an on the road no tools reattachment of a brake cable. Only possible because I was on old style levers. Also might not have happened in the first place if I had newer levers. Around and around we go. I like both styles.

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  46. Regarding the Pashley: Non-aero levers work fine with center-pull brakes. I think the non-compact crankset is a worse choice.

    But yeah, there is a dearth of sporty yet practical bikes. I don't have the money for a nicer bike, so I converted an 80s road racing bike to 650B with fenders, no rack, and a Carradice bag.

    I like the way light, flexy frames feel with the plump tires. It's fun to ride and gives me confidence when riding vehicularly on the pock-marked arterial streets of L.A., and I love being able to take it on fire roads or lock it up with a second thought.

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