A Bike Maker's Bad Math
Bad Math always leaves we dumb-shits yearning for clarity.
Stop me if you've heard this one... But I read an article in Bicycling Mag., quoting someone from Specialized Bicycle Company, the Big "S", who said and I'm quoting... "You can ask riders What's wrong with your bike?, and almost no one knows the answer"; "So we have to answer questions that no one's asking..." this pompous oratory continues but nothing in it clarifies the above whacky statement. The same day I read Greg LeMond (a heroic champion cyclist) and raw carbon supplier, describe riding one of his first steel productions bikes while visiting with his father back home. The Bike made by Rolland Della Santa had far longer chain-stays, making it steady, if a bit slack, but overall comfortable. Here is the issue...
Dramatic pause... And here again is where you have the moment to re-read that Specialized Quote: "You can ask riders What's wrong with your bike?, and almost no one knows the answer..."
The quote is attributed to Chris D'Alusio, "Creative Specialist" at Specialized in Morgan Hill CA.
I'm not normally looking for someone to tarry with, (well perhaps a little bit) but this is just plain dumb-shit.
Here are a few thing that may be wrong with my bike: My chain gets dirty, My blinkie Light dies, My ass sometimes hurts, along with my shoulders, I get flats sometimes... But there are some real things which we all may want to improve that a giant brand could react to.
"The 'S' Word" can certainly see from their silver castle that people want bikes which fit well, allowing them to be both biomechanically efficient, and free to roam, but loose, comfortable and fluid. I'm rather certain that if you ask anyone the same question they will say something similarly nostalgic like:
1. "I want my next bike to feel like the one I had as a Kid... Free, Flying, and Beautiful. I want it to feel alive and effortless".
2. "I want my bike to be beautiful, perhaps the coolest and most elegant cherished thing I own".
3. "I want my next bike to liberate me from the difficulties of the day to day, while making me feel connected to the earth, my friends, and victorious relative to everyone I can pass.
4. "I want my bike to inspire me to ride it, and to be beautiful".
5. "I want my bike to be light enough to not notice it through my own exertion".
Newton or someone smart once said, "If my big helmeted head is the largest impediment to being aero, and I wear a flowy wind-breaker this April, you can't really expect me to imagine that 3k extra for an aero bike will save me, "X" watts over "Y" Klicks, without also considering that what would really make my life perfect would be a comfortable and light bike that has lovely timeless styling. In the end We all need to look good and survive to brag about it right?
I don't mean to call out someone with such a fancy title as "Creative Specialist", but I will clear my throat, and pronounce a few things a bit more loudly, as if speaking to elderly parents...
What we want is beautiful, Lithe, and efficient. What we want is to buy a bike and then 6 months later reminisce, that "My Bike is the best, and I don't need nor want a new one". What we want is to buy something which inspires us to ride. What we want is to enjoy every ride And give no thought and less envy to others with newer, fancy rigs.
In a word... we want a Classic.
We want Classic rides, with perfect steering, balance, and handling. We want light, efficient, and lovely... Timeless.
We want great, we expect great, and if you are a big company with huge marketing resources, and people with titles such as "Creative Specialist" then you will certainly understand that. Kill the Fade Paint schemes, Kill the B.S. Aero advantage of a 20lb bike, and Kill the monologue in general and let's have a focus group.
But you may miss this one point, because it's not made in a vacuum or a wind tunnel.
Here is Greg LeMond again, in the same article:
"Weight is also a consideration. Most aero frames are up to 500 grams heavier and have odd-shaped tubes that play a role in the harshness of the ride. Since 98 percent of a race is spent riding inside the peloton, an aero bike gives the rider almost no benefit"
"...an aero bike gives the rider almost no benefit" echoed over and over again in his head...
Specialized does make some of the most slippery, and lovely bikes in the biz, and admittedly is not shy to take chances with colors, styles, and inventive ideas. In short they don't always act like a giant mean international monster corporation. They are "rider focused", or at least they used to be. But admittedly their obsession with slippery wind defying kam-tail aero bikes clouds their vision. Or, maybe it was just a dumb quote we should forgive. Maybe.
Here is LeMond again speaking the truth:
"The only time an aero road frame makes a real difference is in a solo breakaway or in a small group breakaway... And on most stages (as with most rides) weight is a bigger factor than aerodynamics."
Lustful, yearn-worthy bikes which shake your pocket change loose, and leave a kid asking the salesperson, "Hey... Do you have a lay-away program?". This is the sure sign that you are on the right path to a 'Classic'.
Our Bicycling article continues to discuss Light and Aero... the rarified lexicon for modern bike design. This is totally bull shit. While sitting up on your glossy cloud, with your pants down, Smaller leaner companies like Salsa Made Fat Bikes, Adventure Bikes, Cargo Bikes, and Gravel Bikes, and you played catch-up to these smaller brands, with "me-too rides". While later you re-tooled. Others made faster, lighter, more lust-worthy rigs, cheaply... until you descended back to earth, to hire a "Creative Specialist".
What does it take to make something people want?, and what does it take to ask them what they want?
Marketing as we know, is legend for being a one way street. A Vacuum. Hmm... "We have something to sell, and so we have to develop a clever story-board to convince people to buy it". So it goes with Cigarettes, Whisky, Light Beer, and Gasoline, as it also appears with Bicycles. Here is the typical one sided snake oil monologue which occurs when a manufacturer sets upon their agenda to pour money into "one-sided" development. Ask the staff, "Who here likes to ride these bike things". "So Tell me what you want to see this year". ...And you viola, get a Walmart Bike Brand.
Ask a rider, what they want and the answers you'll get will vary sure..., but the resounding consensus will be as espoused above. I want a magic thing that I upgrade rarely because I'm so smitten with it, that it will be a reckoning to ween me away. e.g., my U.P.P.E.R., and M.B. Zip, or a Waterford.
Lovely, light, fun, functional, and comfortable. Nobody ever says Aero vs. Stiff, vs Light. Just the marketing team.
So when you wear the title of "Creative Specialist"; wear that smock as though the company really truly needs your input -- Because the kids in the pit with actual grease on their apron could tell you, if you listened. If you merely polled techs, customers, and prospective clients, you will find that your job is maybe not so important.
Create beautiful, bikes, and make them fun, efficient, and enduring. When you have made that bike, we will fall in love. ...And, unfortunately if you've done a great job, we wont need another favorite bike for a decade.
Here is what's wrong with my recent Specialized Bike Purchase... One thing is that you make a size scale which excludes me, because I'm somewhere in-between sizes, in spite of the fact that I am the most average Cyclist Build of modern homo-sapiens. Truth is it costs too much to make a real 57, so you make a Large and a Medium. The Large is Basically too tall at the head-tube, and reach / stack, and the Medium too short overall top tube, drop.... So My large S-Works Diverge needs to lose the Hover Bar, Change the Stem, and lower the seat-post among other adjustments. But it's slack compared with my OPEN. "Touch-Points" as the Big "S" calls them. Oddly, when Specialized abandoned the women's specific "Dolce" designs, this year -- (Bikes made specifically for Women's physiques), they explained (marketed) it away as essential biodynamics. They said, 'Women were the same as Men, with different Touch Points." Women are equal for sure, but not generally the same. The latter part about touch-points, I don't disagree with. Women do have different "touch points" than men. The real truth is that making a size run in Women's specific designs costs (too much). It's a loss to the Big "S" Corporation, because Women are not worth it.
Here is the other thing. We love some of your colors, but some are waaaaaaaaaay too trendy, like circa 1996 Fade-trendy... So make a Black, Matte Navy, or a Dark Green option and we will covet our bikes for a decade, without becoming weary of the trendy graphics, and timely decals. Look to the automotive industry, if you need leadership.
Another thing..., If you make a Future Shock, (front end suspension) and parade it around for two years with McLaren in your camp, as though it is THE well planned breakthrough, with Smart Partners like McLaren... then be certain that your next iteration can be updated... Don't leave behind those who dropped 9K on the cutting edge, and drank your Kool-Aid, telling them a mere 6 months later after a recall... that the new one is waaay better, but not upgradable. As SRAM does, with a wireless Hydro Disc Shifters; These are programmed to shift 11 Speeds, but cannot be soft updated to shift 12 cogs. That's Bull-shit, and i think we all know it.
Make the best shit, you can, and consider buyers with no clue, and also those with 40 years of experience, and make shit timeless and sustaining.
Be that brand, and we will tell all of our friends to buy that same Classic bike that we just bought from you.
The magic here is that you wont need to re-tool every 6 months to make something especially new. You will be legend for making timeless things, with subtle ongoing incremental improvements, like the 911 or the Tarmac.
Tone down the bullshit, and rev up the classics.
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Age and Treachery will overcome youth and skill.