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Eurobike Confidential 2008

Eurobike is to Europe what Interbike is to North America: Not just a huge trade show, but an illustration of the bike industry’s disjointed ratio between the haves and have-nots. For every one member of royalty (think Ernesto Colnago or Mike Sinyard) you have 1,000 souls toiling in bike shops only because they’re of dubious employability in the food service industry and all the world’s record stores have shut down. Their dress is ragged, their tattoos roughshod, their New Era ballcaps on in reverse and their eyebrow piercings puffy -- collectively evocative of maybe a San Diego skate park or a housing project where white people live. The Competitive Cyclist crew at Eurobike was in the minority -- we’re neither royalty nor trash. So it was -- not unlike what we feel in Las Vegas every year -- an experience of being among the show, but not of it. We soldiered through, though, in order to provide some insights for you here on the things we’ll all be talking about during the ’09 season. (In ’09 will I still be telling the story of how I found myself surrounded for a few dreamy minutes by 8 tall Asian/African-hybrid Qatar Airlines stewardesses at the Zurich airport hotel lobby? Yes, probably so -- but that’s just an aside…) The highlights, in no particular order --

1. Shimano Dura Ace Di2. Shimano had an electronic Dura Ace (known as Di2) bike set up on a trainer for test rides. We rode it. Two words: Holy Shit. If it works in the field anywhere near as well as it did in the trainer, no one who ever rides it will ever buy anything else. The shift buttons require finger pressure equivalent to what you use for the number keys on a pocket calculator. You lightly touch it, it reacts. It’s an amazing feeling -- such easy pressure causing the chain to slam precisely into the next cog. Transcendent. And the front derailleur is breathtaking: It trims automatically based on which cog you’re in. With each rear shift, the front derailleur trims just a smidgen. It’s unlike mechanical Dura Ace where you get only 2 front derailleur trim positions. Rather, it’s roughly one trim position per rear cog. With each rear shift, you get a simultaneous small trim adjustment up front. I hope someone at the show videoed this, because it’s total ghost-in-the-machine stuff. You will freak out when you try it the first time. You’ll crack up, too, when you hear the whir of the front derailleur motor when you shift between chainrings.

Based on the shift button position on the STI levers, we’re confident after our quick test that accidental mis-shifts won’t be a problem. When we purposely brushed the buttons without pressing them, it never caused a shift. What we don’t know about is this: How neatly we’ll be able to hide the electronic cabling. Not unlike an SRM, high technology necessitates some spaghetti running down the front of the bike. And we also don’t know about battery life. The Di2 test bike was surrounded by an army of Japanese engineers, and they spoke neither English nor German, so we couldn’t get much info. But even if we had to charge up the system after every ride, not unlike a high-end headlight, we’d be glad to do it. The shifting quality is that superb.

2. More new-for-2009 Cervélo. Cervélo unveiled more information about their line for 2009. For starters, we finally got a good look at the 2nd color of their new uber-road model, the S3. It’s Oakland Raiders silver-and-black, and this color combo is one you’ll see used throughout the entire Cervélo line for 2009. We got nice up-close views of the new seatstays that give the S3 its boost in compliance, and we also saw its boxy-but-significantly-more-aero chainstays for the first time in person.

The P3 Carbon, R3 SL, and RS all get a color change to silver and black. The change is perhaps most subtle with the R3 SL, since Cervélo makes the same use of black between these bikes, and the only change is from white decals & trim in ’08 to the use of silver in ’09.

Cervélo does an interesting shift in nomenclature for 2009. You’ll no longer see the ‘Soloist’ name being used. The bike formerly known as the Soloist Carbon will now be called the S2 (mimicking the ‘R3’ naming pattern they already have in use). The S2 is structurally identical to the Soloist Carbon, but gets this name change plus a new red/black paint scheme. And the bike formerly known as the Soloist Team is now known as the S1. It, too, gets another color change for 2009 to a red/white scheme (not to be mistaken with the red/silver paint scheme briefly available in the summer of 2008).

Reading between the lines, it appears that the SLC-SL will be dropped from the 2009 line as a frameset-only option. Cervélo will offer their SLC-SL/SRAM Red complete bike ’til they sell out of them, and then it appears that the S3 will stand alone atop the Cervélo road food chain. If you’re interested in an SLC-SL frameset-only, or in building up an SLC-SL with components other than Red, please get in touch with us soon. We’re already sold out of 48cm and 58cm SLC-SL’s, and once we’re out, we’ll be out for good. The SLC-SL is perhaps less compliant and very-slightly-less aero than the new S3, but it weighs ~80g less than the S3, and for many folks the weight savings is more important.

We also got a good look at Spaniard Joan Llaneras’ Gold Medal-winning P3 Track frameset custom-painted gold with world champion’s trim. It looked wicked fast -- especially thanks to its upgrade to a matching gold Oval Concepts Jetstream fork. It was one of the better Beijing mementos we saw in the show (there were in no small supply).

3. SaxoBank vs. Cervélo Test Team. Speaking of Cervélo, there was no shortage of chatter at the show about what component sponsors were sticking with SaxoBank and which ones would jump over to the Cervélo Test Team. And there was plenty of talk, too, about which riders were going where, etc. Interestingly, Cervélo co-founder Gerard Vroomen personally told us that we would be ‘blown away’ by the roster of riders they’re slated to sign. And while the Carlos Sastre signing is certainly one hell of a step in the right direction, I couldn’t help but notice Mario Cipollini hanging out in the Cervélo booth early on during the show. Just a friendly visit from the Lion King to the booth of the best bike brand in the world? Yep, probably so. But we couldn’t help but wonder if Mario has one more comeback in him…

One company seemingly poised to get involved with SaxoBank instead of the Cervélo Test Team is SRAM. It makes perfect sense from a diplomatic perspective: By joining Specialized on SaxoBank, SRAM is guaranteed a sizeable uptick in OE (original equipment) purchases from Specialized. And for component manufacturers, OE sales are where they actualize a sizeable portion of their annual revenue. Whatever SRAM can do to ingratiate themselves to Specialized is undoubtedly a smart business move. From that perspective, choosing to sponsor SaxoBank over the Cervélo Test Team was probably an easy decision for SRAM given the difference in scales of production between Specialized and Cervélo.

Do you remember that phrase from the early phases of the grunge/indie-rock era: ‘Corporate Rock Still Sucks’? For a lot of folks, that’s an axiom applicable to the Big Brother of the bike biz, Specialized. And while we feel this way about them from time to time, our dominant feeling is one of respect. Specialized is a authentically great company. They make probably the best or second best shoes and helmets in the marketplace. They make killer pumps, killer gloves, and a mess of other superb accessories. But from our perspective, the clarity & the loudness of this essential message -- we make great bikes AND we make a ton of other great products -- gets diminished in this wacky arms race they’ve chosen to escalate against Cervélo. We wonder sometimes what gives. If we were CEO, we’d be a bit more focused on battling Trek with Specialized’s strongest weapon: The totality of their superior product line -- bikes, apparel, and accessories. Instead, in all of their marketing what you get are Cervélo tropes -- frame stiffness, frame lightness, frame aerodynamics. I was recently emailed by a buddy of mine (a Specialized AND a Trek dealer) and perhaps no better summary exists of Specialized’s ostensible over-fixation on the race scene:

‘…While the prospect of seeing Fabian Cancellara riding Transitions and Tarmacs next year is appealing, six million dollars [the alleged sponsorship ransom paid to Riis Cycling/SaxoBank by Specialized] is a shitload of money for something that matters to about five percent of my customers. On the other hand, I just returned from Trek World where the Astana team was hardly mentioned. What Trek did talk about was the fact that they donated nearly $250,000 to IMBA and $330,000 to the Bicycle Friendly Communities programs last year. They accomplished this through a $1 donation from every helmet and a $10 donation from every full suspension bike they sold.’

Do you remember the message sent to the world by the vastly different TV commercials broadcast by Trek and Specialized during the Tour de France this summer on the Versus Network? Trek communicated a simple-but-massive message: We ARE bikes, no matter what kind of bike interests you. And Specialized? They had Tom Boonen -- the embodiment of the pro who treats TT stages like a rest day -- lumbering on a Specialized TT bike (eerily following the white line down the center of the road!) in a lame attempt to dent the dominance of Cervélo’s P3 in the TT/Tri marketplace. The battles people pick are sometimes unexplainable…Specialized: You’re already doing so much right. Why don’t you pick a bigger fight?

4. We love our handlebars like we love our women. And that would be shallow. Shallow is simple, shallow is beautiful, shallowness offers versatility. And top-dog Italian bar/stem manufacturer Deda Elementi expands their shallow offerings for 2009. As many of you know, they make their living-legend Newton handlebar in a shallow drop. And now they’re doing the same with a new-for-’09 alloy bar called the Zero 100. The name, of course, mirrors the hugely popular Zero 100 stem they unveiled for the ’08 season. One reason we really like Deda’s shallow design is that, unlike FSA’s line of ‘Compact’ bars, Deda’s don’t flare out at the drops, which provide the narrowness we love in every conceivable hand position. We suspect that this might put paid to the Newton line of bars and stems. And that would possibly be OK, so long as Deda continues to provide us with some sort of 86-degree stem. While most people are cool with an 82-degree stem like the Zero 100, upon occasion a Newton 86er is a huge help for folks with thorny fit issues.

Rounding out the Zero 100 line is a pair of alloy seatposts -- offered in the same two colors as the stem, black and a metallic grey Deda calls ‘Dark Metal Polish.’ It’s a much more attractive post (at least to us) than the only other alloy setback post we sell in any quantity -- the Thomson alloy setback.

And for folks keen on carbon bars and stems, Deda offers a new shallow carbon bar for ’09 and a really interesting new stem called the Zero Nero. Check out how wide its face plate is, and how much surface area it takes up. Clearly, Deda wants to protect its customers from accidental bar breakage. By spreading the clamping forces over a far larger area they do just that.

5. Assos. They’re indisputably the world’s best cycling clothing manufacturer, but they’ve had a tough 2008. They went through that corporate rite of initiation for companies determined to get really big and successful: They implemented SAP and nearly lost their minds. In addition, they introduced a new line of shorts -- the S5 series -- whose technical fabrics proved to be an immense challenge to make into flawless finished products. And, lastly, they’ve revamped their wholesale distribution channel in the US. So, in short, it was a year of tremendous distraction, and the net effect is that our Assos inventory has been thin-and-spotty at best, and non-existent at worst.

Assos has mentally turned the page to 2009. Based on all indications, our inventory will finally get on track, most importantly with the FI.13 S5 bib shorts. In addition, Assos is introducing two new products that dazzled us. One is a long-sleeve skinsuit -- exactly what Fabian Cancellara wore to his Time Trial Gold medal at the Beijing Olympics this summer. It’s lightweight (despite the sleeve length), the material feels slippery-to-the touch, and it’s built with Assos’ new S5 chamois. It was the single-most impressive piece of apparel we saw at the show. And they’re introducing one other jacket to their line, called the Luftschutz. It’s a wind shell that is specifically NOT a rain shell. For rain, the Assos ClimaBreaker is still our go-to choice. But for autumn and spring days when a vest just won’t cut it, the Luftschutz looks ideal.

5. The changing face of the shoe market. There was a time when Sidi was the title-belt-wearin’ Heavyweight Champion of the shoe marketplace. But the contenders have started stacking up of late, and they’re spoiling for a fight. No single company has done more to dent Sidi’s dominance than Specialized with their outstanding Body Geometry shoes. If you study reader surveys from publications like VeloNews and Road Bike Action, you’ll see that over time Specialized has come close to equaling Sidi in popularity. As a retailer, it’s essential to react to the demands of your customers. And since we don’t sell Specialized, we spent no small amount of time at Eurobike assessing the strongest of the up-and-coming shoe companies.

Number 1 with a bullet is Mavic. Their parent company also owns Salomon, and at first glance it’s apparent that years of outdoor industry shoe-manufacturing experience paid dividends with Mavic’s forthcoming shoe line. They’re technical, Rocket 7 light, and no shortage of beautiful details. The shoes we liked best -- the Xyellium and the Huez -- were tested by Thor Hushovd and the bulk of the AG2R team throughout the ’08 race season, so these should come as a more dialed-in product than what we’re accustomed to when a company dives into a new product category for the first time. We’re seriously fired up for these shoes. We’ve got a closet full of Salomon Raid Runner trail running shoes at home -- we dig the Salomon/Mavic connection here in a big way.

Another shoe brand ready to pounce is DMT. They’re huge in Europe, but until 2008 they had trouble getting quality distribution in the US. They’re heading into their second year of distribution by Gita -- the superb wholesaler that provides North America with Pinarello and Giordana, among other brands -- and the solidity of this distribution arm plus a redesign of their high-end road line should make DMT a bigger player in the US market in 2009.

A third brand that tantalized us was an Asian company called Bont. Not unlike Rocket 7, they come from a skating background, and they offer stock, semi-custom, and fully custom road shoes. What makes things interesting, though, is that they’re made in China (Rocket 7’s are made in Seattle). The China connection means that they’ll be less costly, and that you’ll likely see an efficiency and predictability to the manufacturing process. They bridge the look and the cost of, say, Specialized with the outstanding technology and customization of Rocket 7. Bont isn’t currently available in the US, but you can expect to see them here soon given what they offer.

6. Some neat stuff from familiar brands.

– Outside of the Assos skinsuit, the single piece of clothing we got most jazzed about is the forthcoming gloves from Giro. Not unlike the Mavic/Salomon connection, it’s easy to infer that Giro got no small assistance from Easton (both are owned by Bell Sports) in glove production. Easton does a huge business in batting gloves and hockey gloves, and their experience seems evident in the quality of Giro’s gloves. The model we liked best are short fingered gloves made from Pittard’s Leather, they’re precisely padded, and they feel ultra-breathable on the upper. We’ve always done a nice business with the Assos summerGloves, but we need a less-costly option, and Giro should slot in perfectly.

– Giro also did a showing of its new Ionos helmet colors for 2009. Of course, there’s a ghastly Garmin edition. What we noticed, though, is that they’ve otherwise gone with a bit classier look this year in the other colors. There’s a bit less tone-on-tone, and more neutrality to the color schemes. We dig them.

– While Mavic’s shoes are their big news for 2009, they’re also releasing a new wheelset called the Cosmic Carbone SL. It’s a clincher, deep-section wheel with super-aero carbon spokes. The flatness of the spokes is reminiscent of the Cosmic Carbone Ultimate or even Lightweights. But, amazingly, these carbon spokes are truable and replaceable. And the braking track is aluminum -- preferable to carbon for many of our customers. While these aren’t featherlight wheels (Mavic doesn’t believe in featherlight wheels, in case you’ve never noticed), the Cosmic Carbone SL is quite aero, they look gorgeous, and they’re certain to be ideal for flat-to-rolling courses. Mavic is trying win a huge chunk of the $2,000 wheelset market -- and provided that you don’t need climbing wheels, you’ll want to check these out.

– Zipp has a lot going on for 2009. For starters, their wheels get new hubs all around. They’re bigger in diameter -- reducing spoke wind-up when you accelerate. And -- in a design resonant of Campy Record hubs -- the bearings are adjustable. In addition, the 404 and 808 rims get reshaped to mimic the cross-section of the 1080. They lose none of their stiffness and gain no weight, but they’re measurably more aero by going to a more sophisticated profile.

One other interesting change is to the rim bed of Zipp’s tubular rims. Zipp found that a significant cause of rolling resistance is the visco-elasticity of the tubular glue (or tape) that sits between the rim and a tubular tire. In layman’s terms, tubular glue pools up in the areas where the distance from tubular tire-to-rim is greatest. As the wheel rotates, the tire compresses this pooled glue -- which wastes power. So Zipp laser-scanned the exact curvature of Vittoria Corsa CX tubular tires (which is identical to the Vittoria-manufactured Zipp Tangente tubular tires), and by re-shaping the rim bed to mirror the curvature of the tire, you get a better fit between tire and rim. According to Zipp this change will allow you to use less glue when you install a tubular, which ultimately reduces this visco-elastic-related rolling resistance.

Zipp also introduced a killer new time trial crankset, a completely redesigned stem (it imitates Oval Concepts with a version of reverse bolt technology, where the bolts thread from the back into the stem cap), and a new graphics package for their road bars.

– Pinarello showed off their new FP6 frameset. Its $3,000 price makes it the natural replacement of the beloved F4:13, a 4-year old design whose production has now been discontinued. The FP6 is made in the same carbon molds as the Paris Carbon, but with a less costly grade of carbon. It has the same essential ride quality of the Paris Carbon, but weighs slightly more since additional carbon is required in the lay-up to give it its structural rigidity. We still haven’t heard what the Paris Carbon will cost in ’09, but at the moment it’s $4,000 (and it’ll only go higher), so the $1,000+ savings makes the FP6 the best value in the Pinarello line-up.

– BMC released their 2009 Race Master SLX 01 frameset in early summer, so there wasn’t too much news from them at the show. The Pro Machine SLC 01 is still at the top of their range, and the color patterns remain mostly the same. You’ll note a new, huge decal on the seat tube that spells out ‘Nano’ and in smaller letter says ‘Nanosolve CNT’. We didn’t get a clear explanation whether this means there’s a new generation of CNT technology afoot, but we’ll get that figured out soon and report back to you.

6. Pro Bikes. Pro Teams.

– Canyon is the hottest high-end brand in Germany. They make ultra-cutting edge carbon bikes and their reputation is tops in all categories -- road, tri, and MTB. What makes Canyon so cool, though, is their business model: They’re consumer-direct. Bike shops don’t sell them. We love that, because it gives consumers the best possible experience since they speak only with experts about Canyon -- Canyon employees themselves. From what we hear, ‘expertise’ is not always the operative word when folks visit their local bike shop. Canyon offers Europe an alternative -- an alternative brand, and an alternate way of buying a bike. Options are good.

During the show, Canyon announced they’ll be the new sponsor of the Silence-Lotto team, led by Cadel Evans. They’ll be riding the Ultimate CF SLX frameset -- a bike that garnered loads of attention during the show. And while Canyon isn’t available in the US yet, when they come, it’ll likely be in a consumer-direct fashion that will surely make them the darling of American bike dealers.

– Another announcement during the show was that German bike manufacturer Focus will be the new sponsor of Milram. Who is Focus? It’s one of many brands owned by Derby Cycles -- best known in the US for its brands Raleigh and Univega. Up to now, Focus hasn’t had much of a reputation for making sought-after, high-end race bikes. But their size -- and the huge size of Derby -- apparently afforded them the chance to provide Milram all the bikes they can break, plus $1.3mm in cash.

Along with Focus, another sponsor of Milram will be SRAM. This Milram-blue Focus is equipped with a full Red component package, plus a set of SRAM wheels. You might’ve heard that SRAM will offer 3 wheelsets for 2009 -- 40mm, 60mm, and 80mm deep carbon/alloy clinchers. And while the decal packages can’t be beat, even at a glance you can tell these are nothing more than re-badged Zipp Flashpoint wheels. Zipp will continue to produce (in the US) and sell the Flashpoint line as an aftermarket item. And SRAM will manufacture their wheels -- made from the same rim, and largely the same component items -- in Asia. Taiwanese production reduces SRAM’s cost, and gives their wheels proximity to the Asian bike-assembly dungeons where virtually every high end road bike-in-a-box is put together. By physically placing SRAM wheel inventory alongside these Asian bike assembly lines, SRAM’s expectation is that it might gain their wheels some OE spec. Fat chance, at least based on our understanding of what most bike dealers want from a mid-to-high end bike in a box. From an OE perspective, Flashpoints seem to have the deadly combination of high cost + high weight. Is this really the way SRAM wants to leverage their brand prestige in the wheelset market? In copycat wheels? Dubious choice from an otherwise genius company.

– Another chapter of pro team/bike sponsor roulette is Ridley. They dropped their Silence Lotto sponsorship and picked up