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New and improved truth and rumors.

Item #1. The truth liberates. The truth hurts.

If you’re bike geek in the least you owe it to yourself to bookmark the rouesartisanales.com website. It’s run by a gang of crazy Frenchmen, and the prose (charming broken english and all) is far less relevant than their spy shot photos and amazing performance tests. It’s a scoop a day over there, and I don’t know where they get their prototype product photos and other info -- is their bowtie really a camera? -- but it’s where news is broken.

Roues Artisanales graphPerhaps no rouesartisanales article in 2008 will have as far reaching implications as their recent 2008 wheelset aerodynamic testing. You’ve gotta check it out. The question they ask is a simple one: At 50kph, how much of your power is consumed through front wheel aero drag? We’re all humanities major-types here, so we can’t comment on the validity of their testing protocol. But to our eyes it looks like real science.

We’ll let the test speak for itself. But our off-the-cuff conclusions are the following:

  • Zipp 808Zipp fares exceptionally well here. Both the 808 and the 404 get high marks, with the 808 proving to be the fastest wheel of all wheels tested. And, interestingly, Zipp fares even stronger for the fact that the rest of the top-10 is rounded out by brands whose wheels we don’t know (because they’re made by some crazy German in his garage), we don’t trust (because they have a rep for spontaneously exploding), or we don’t like (because the manufacturer provides crappy service to dealers & consumers).
  • The biggest surprise is the performance of Shimano wheels. Their 50mm depth carbon tubulars had respectable drag numbers, but what’s news is that their shallow wheels (at 24mm deep) were nearly as aero as the 50mm. This was a stunner, and it forces us to look at Shimano’s new-for-2008 24mm tubular and 24mm clincher wheels with a new level of seriousness. Indeed, Shimano wheels have won gobs of races, but Shimano has never done a good job in providing hard performance data, and in the 21st century wind tunnel data is just as important to marketing your wheelsets as winning Tour stages. This is really good stuff for Shimano, and it’s even better because they weren’t the ones doing the testing.
  • We’ve tried to find some silver linings in the data for Mavic, but truth of the matter is that they get their ass kicked here. Sure, their Cosmic Carbone Ultimate gets decent results. No surprise that its drag mirrors a Lightweight Standard -- since all Mavic did was copy a Lightweight with the production of the CCU. But did you see the performance of the Ksyrium ES and the new R-Sys? YIKES. Since the summer of ’07 we’ve been preaching the fact that the R-Sys has all the earmarks of an aerodynamic atrocity -- spokes as fat as a banana, an uninspired rim profile, a bloated hub shell. This test provides confirmation, and it proves just how un-aero they are -- nearly 10% worse than the next-to-last wheelset.

Item #2. The truth can be a bit boring, but it’s still important.

Here is your official warning: What the bike industry did to the headtube with integrated headsets 7 or 8 ago, they’re about to do again to bottom brackets. It’s not happening in 2008, and it probably won’t happen in 2009, but sooner or later the BB30 standard, as it’s known, will be everywhere.

The BB30 is an open-source (to use software terminology) standard where you essentially press bearings directly into an oversized BB shell. It eliminates the need for external (or internal) BB cups Unlike integrated headsets, the BB30 actually has performance upsides: You get a substantially lighter and stiffer BB. You reduce Q factor. In theory prices should be reasonable since road bikes and mountain bikes will share the same BB design (no more 68 vs 70 vs 73).

The most hyped example of unconventional BB bearings in 2008 was with the new Trek Madone . FYI, theirs is not an example of BB30. Rather, all Trek did was move the cups from outside the BB shell to inside the shell. There was no meaningful weight savings and no consequential reduction in Q-factor. We don’t understand, exactly, why they did this. With BB30 you essentially rid the bike of BB cups. That’s the key. And it’s the future. Ben Delaney of velonews.com wrote a great summary here, and you ought to check it out.

Item #3. The truth sometimes matches the rumors that precede it.

It’s no secret that Shimano will be introducing electronic Dura-Ace (eDA) in 2009. We’ve seen enough spy photos & in-the-peloton prototypes to gather its imminence. Once any product photos, substantive technical data, pricing, or availability is announced, you know you’ll find it here at Competitive Cyclist before anywhere else. Nothing new to report there.

But what IS newsworthy is the recent rumor that there will be a new non-electronic Dura-Ace for 2009. Apparently Shimano has finally recognized that their brake hood shape is terrible (it’s the brake hood equivalent of anatomic handlebars -- they make a bike unrideable as far as we’re concerned). Campy and SRAM both offer shifters with zero curvature on the top of the brake hoods. Our understanding is that Shimano will finally emulate this, which will finally allow cyclists with human hands an added benefit in riding Shimano.

Dura-Ace cranksetOther alleged changes include completely under-the-bar-tape cable routing, and a continued commitment to an alloy crankset. Yes, someday the Dura-Ace carbon crankset will be released for sale. But Shimano firmly believes that they can build a lighter, stiffer, and substantially less costly crankset from forged alloy, so you’ll still see this as a part of the new DA.

When Shimano releases new high-end componentry -- Dura-Ace, XTR, etc -- it’s a huge deal because they rarely release anything before it’s perfect. And given the quality of their recent high-end releases (their ’08 road wheels, the new XTR, their ’08 road shoes), they’re on a hot streak. We’re more excited for the new non-eDA than we are for the e-version.