Monday, December 21, 2009

Racing - The "Team Bike"

I went to the local shop the other day. It was kinda quiet, a bitterly cold day, one where you don't think about riding along swathed in a layer of lycra, a foam helmet, and light, slim shoes.

No, it was a day where you debate 2 or 3 long sleeve layers, winter coat, hat, hoodie, gloves, insulated boots, thick socks, flannel lined pants...

And that's just to go grocery shopping.

Anyway, since it was so cold out, and since the supermarket is next door to the shop, I figured it'd be safe to leave my food in the car and shoot the breeze with the guys at the shop. Plus I wanted to buy them a few lunches in exchange for my fit session, and the supermarket has a branch of my bank in it, I got some money out for them, and... you get the idea.

I left my perishables in the car, hoping the 15 degree temps didn't freeze things before I got back, and strolled into the nice, warm store.

At some point we started talking about low end road bikes. You can get them now for a song - carbon bikes for about $1200-1300, aluminum ones for under $900, steel ones for a touch less.

It made me think of some of my more outlandish ideas for whatever team I was on at the time.

One of them had to do with team bikes. See, I think it would be cool to have team bikes. Not just any team bike. I mean, come on. SRAM Red? Campy Super Record 11? Di2?

That's for pretenders. (And pros, okay, but we're not pros, so I'll stick with pretenders).

We're talking real bikes. Bikes that the sponsoring shop can sell. Bikes the team riders can afford.

We're talking the sub-$900 bikes.

Check it out.

Manchester Cycle sponsors Expo Wheelmen, my team for 2010, and they sell Trek. Okay, fine, we get a discount on some Treks, but seriously, check this one out:

MSRP: $875, about $925 with tax around here.
(Image from Trek's site)

Okay, I can see a few weak spots right away, but those will be there on virtually all the bikes at this range.

Work with me here.

First, pedals. You need clipless. Use whatever you have now. If you're buying pedals, get a consensus and get the same pedals. I use the Look Keos and they seem reasonable. Cheap too, and that's key.

Second, fit. You need to fit the bike right, so you'll probably have to change the stem, post, saddle, and maybe the bar. It would be nice to keep the same brand, to maintain the pro harmonious image. We'll talk about moving around in the product line later.

Along the fit thing goes stem adjustment. Most racers will slam the stem down, so you'll need to cut the steerer tube and such.

Third, tires, and if you want to get fancy, wheels. You can use the stock wheels for training, but for racing you'll want at least Kevlar bead tires. Bonus would be some lighter, higher tension wheels, aero would be nice. I know the latter is getting a bit much, but you may be able to lace new rims and spokes onto the current hub. Who knows, you have to get creative.

Fourth, you'll be able to judiciously pare weight off the bike. Cheap bikes have cheap parts, and by getting rid of some of those unseen or discrete parts, you can shave literally pounds off the bike. Steel chainrings? Out. Heavy saddle? Take the opportunity to substitute in a lighter one. Stem, bar, post, same thing. Again, keep in the theme (meaning the product line, or at least color), but ditch the weight if you can.

Finally, if you cheat a bit, you can get some nicer brifters. They'll really improve perceived feel of the bike, and they won't wear out in a season. Don't worry about derailleurs - they're totally over-rated, at least until they wear out.

Figure without the brifters or pedals you'll be out $1200, with all the bells and whistles figure $1500 or so.

What will you end up with?

(Image from Trek's site)

No, not quite. (Note - MSRP = $6500).

But you'll get a bike that fits, that rolls reasonably well, and that, most importantly, matches your teammates' bikes.

Totally pro.

The point here is not that you'll win necessarily. Or dominate. Or anything like that. The point here is to have fun as a racing team. You have matching kits. Use matching helmets. Bikes. Shoe covers (shoes are too individual).

And then you can go have fun.

Attack in pairs, as a team.

If a break gets away, chase, as a team. Line up the train and haul them back.

Do huge leadouts for sprints, whatever the result.

Laugh, have fun.

I figure the riders will eventually follow. People like having fun, and people will join other people having fun. The ones that take themselves too seriously will get fed up and leave, and you're left with a bunch of racers grinnin' like fools.

And maybe, just maybe, someone will actually give some sponsorship money to the team. Heck, hopefully they'll be responsible for a nice uptick in sales.

The local shop can say to a new, uncertain, maybe-will-be-a-roadie, "Yeah, the team races these bikes, with typically these upgrades. You can get it too, at the 'standard' level for $1200 and 'deluxe' level for $1500."

Shop makes money and it'll be easy to upsell the bike with accessories and such. Everyone wins.


Bike by itself (ignore the higher end parts)? Fine.
(Image from tenetracing)

Bike as part of a cohesive team? Much nicer.
(Image from KendaUSA)

Look, I'll be frank.

I'm not going to go and buy a new bike every year. I'm not one to drop a few thousand dollars to get a team bike, just for the sake of it. Heck, I carefully dole out my schwag money, doing wheels every now and then, frames every 3 or 4 or 5 years.

But if a new bike costs, say, less than $900, if it were part of a fun thing, if I could recycle (heh) a bunch of my race equipment, I wouldn't be too opposed to it.

Of course, I'm getting a relatively inexpensive ($650) custom frame this year. That means this whole post is moot for me.

Unless everyone on the team starts buying the same custom frames...

With team graphics.



Anonymous said...

forget the team bikes..............
did the ice cream melt?
i know it was cold, but you had to have parked the car in the sun and then go into the shop for about 4 hours.

Brad said...

Great post Aki!

Aki said...

I tried to heat up the car before I went into the shop, to keep things from freezing. So far so good... none of the food seems to have frozen inadvertently, like the bananas or the canned soup :)

I think I was there about an hour. We used to call the shop the time warp - time went by so fast sometimes it was crazy.

Ironically I saw the shop owner just after I left the shop, and we shot the breeze briefly while we got gas for our respective vehicles. Talking in the cold puts a damper on things.

Ian Schmidt said...

hey Aki - great post!

As to your point of "team" rigs, I completely agree. Doing things collectively somehow makes doing them more fun.

Especially as regards 85% of the racing that happens in the US (crits & circuits), a decent (low-mid line) frame with mid-line parts is more than enough to find success on any amateur team.

Granted, the frames and bits wouldn't be the resplendent jewels that many racers seem to covet - but on a team that was interested in a craftsman's approach to racing, this would go well.

Hobbyists are fond of buying shiny, pricey tools which don't see that much use.

Craftsmen own long-term tools that have a patina of use and comfort when wielded.

I hope you manage to pull this off, and with the frame you are getting - perhaps you can convince some team-mates to start buying them. It sounds like a ridiculously good deal as long as the frame rides well.