Beware marketing driven advancements

Aerodynamic design has hit the forefront this season with the marketing folks. Sure, some bike companies have been ahead of the curve, aerodynamically speaking, such as Cervelo, Blue, and Kestral to name a few. Recently the Big Dogs in the bike industry, Specialized and Trek, have weighed in with aero-road bikes.

I’m all for it as I think this is an actual benefit rather than the seatmast marketing craze we had to deal with a couple of years ago. Thank god that has almost been squelched. As I mentioned, I’m all for aerodynamics, but recently there’s been a few over the top aero-benefits that have left me scratching my head.

First off is the new Trek Madone 7-Series. One of the aero features of this new bike is a Kamm Virtual Foil shape. Trek has used that design in their time trial bike and it makes sense to apply that design to a road bike. However the head scratcher is the placement of the rear brake.

Tucked underneath the chain stays is the rear brake. According to the media kit I received from Trek, this new brake position reduces weight and improves the airflow in that area for a claimed 16 grams.

First off one problem I see is doing a simple brake adjustment. With this new location the bike has to be flipped awkwardly upside down to adjust. Or does Trek expect bike mechanics or owners to lay on the floor like their automobile mechanic brethren to get underneath? Adjusting on the fly (admittedly not a common occurrence, but does happen when the rider has been a victim of a sloppy wheel change) is impossible. There goes the excuse of the team mechanic hanging out the window “adjusting” the brake as the rider gets a free ride.

Also, all kinds of road grit and grim is going to be thrown into every nook and cranny of the brake. Over time this will grind away at the tolerances and pivot points in the brake arms and braking will become further diminished. I also wonder how road grime and water won’t be dragged into the brake housing, further compromising performance.

I like the idea of the front brake tucked into the front fork and it looks sharp, but the “aero positioning” of the rear brake just doesn’t jibe with me. I’ll give Trek the benefit of the doubt and say that there is an aerodynamic advantage for the brake being in that position, but I don’t see how that outweighs the negatives. I also wonder if the aero benefits were tested in real world conditions or just the vacuum of a wind tunnel with just the Madone 7? Was a pedaling rider on the bike when it was tested?

Schleck on a Trek
In fairness to Trek, this is not the first time a rear brake has been placed in that location. However, those have been on time trial bikes. A time trial bike doesn’t generally receive the amount of miles that a road bike does. It’s a special event bike that we take out of the garage for the local time trial. A road bike is ridden by far more often and in varying conditions. Bottom bracket mounted rear brakes were also a short craze in mountain bikes, but that didn’t last…

Also to be fair I didn’t attend the Trek press junket where journalists were probably shown impressive Power Point slides proving how the Madone 7 is the (or at least one of the fastest) road bikes out there. Also the free food and drinks, with a cool trip to Europe, probably helps convey that point as well (full disclosure – I’ve been on a Trek junket and they’re pretty cool. My room had a view of Monaco and the Mediterranean Sea). Anyways, I await the reviews to come in and perhaps I’ll be proven wrong.

Hmm…not so sure about this experiment
The other aerodynamic head scratcher is the claims made by Speedplay pedals. I love their pedals as they are light, easy to clip into and require very little maintenance. However, they run an ad that claims, “the 33 seconds of speed gained when using Speedplay pedals is equivalent to the speed gained when switching from a standard front wheel to a deep-profile, aerodynamic front wheel. It is also double the roughly 15 second per hour advantage gained by switching from a standard front fork to a bladed aerodynamic front fork.” I gotta say – that’s a ballsy claim.

Speedplay arrived at this conclusion by using the lower half of a mannequin pedaling at 100 cadence with the wind blowing at 30 miles per hour. I don’t believe Speedplay gamed the wind tunnel to arrive at those figures, I just have a hard time thinking this is accurate for real world conditions. Regardless, I’m still going to use my Speedplays.

Not to seem like I’m picking on Trek or Speedplay, there are plenty of bike companies out there that make dubious marketing claims. Fi’zi:k saddles, which I also run on my bike, have a “spine concept” marketing campaign that asks what animal you are and recommends the appropriate saddle. There’s the snake, bull, and chameleon. Taking the Fi’zi:k Spine Concept test I’m a “snake” and “genital compression is not an issue.” I beg to differ. I don’t care what animal you are, compression in that area, while riding a bike, is unwanted no matter what animal you may be. Regardless, I run an Antares saddle which is recommended for a “chameleon.” God only knows what damage I’m doing to myself because of this.

Curiously Fi’zi:k claims David Zabriskie is a “chameleon,” a person who can only reach to about their ankles with their hands. I know from watching Zabriskie that he is far more flexible than that and bet he could palm the floor. I suspect he’s a “chameleon” because that saddle feels the best for him.

Just the other day Giro showcased a new aero road helmet called the Air Attack. This new aero helmet looks like something a skateboarder might wear. I’m not sure it will be fully embraced by the roadie population because, frankly, it looks odd. That said, we’ll see the Air Attack on the heads of some sprinters in the upcoming Tour de France and I’m sure that will help roadies get over the fact that it looks like a roller derby lid.

Sometimes advancements are just that – advancements that create a desired affect. An aerodynamically sculptured frame, using more or less material to increase or decrease weight are examples. But beware of the marketing driven advancements, those ideas born in a committee meeting. They only come back to haunt us. Now does anyone want to buy a Scott Addict with the seatmast cut for someone 6’2”?


    • Shai says:

      TT bike is a special event bike for cyclists. It is a pretty common use bike for many Triathletes. Though I have both a road and TT bike (A Trek speed concept) In preparation for a long distance triathlon I ride the Speed Concept a lot. Dry conditions, wet conditions etc. Never had an issue with the BB mounted brakes. Not sure how it’s going to work out on the new Madone but from the TT bike experience there is no real issue there. Besides – it will help you remember to keep your bike clean :-)

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