quinta-feira, 11 de junho de 2015

Why Aluminium and Why Rose Versand (Pt 2 of 3)

Car@s leitor@s, como tínhamos combinado (aqui e aqui), publico agora o segundo de três posts do meu amigo P.

Para quem estava mais distraído, a primeira mensagem está aqui.

Espero que apreciem a leitura. Eu sei que eu gostei muito.

Making My Way Towards Aluminium

In early 2014 it became apparent that my also aluminium frame / carbon fork Bianchi Via Nirone 7 C2C was simply not enough bicycle for me anymore. This despite the countless upgrades which resulted in a staggering weight reduction from the original 9.9kg to around 8.6kg. I needed more; more accurately I needed less weight, more stiffness, bigger bottom bracket, wider head tube, etc. etc. 

Big “f**ck you” to the bicycle industry for helping me believe I needed (and will always need) all your quasi-scientific improvements. Yes, it takes two to tango, and I accept this dance despite my intelligence and ability to spot a sales-pitch from a mile (or 1.6km) away. But I digress. Point is I wanted a new bike and wanted one which offered best value for money. This is where the ability to partially ignore bicycling marketing ‘science’ was useful. It quickly became apparent that a well-designed and well-made quality carbon fibre frame comes at a cost. The cost is that you will need to sacrifice the spec of your bicycle components. Mr Bontrager (same dude who makes your bicycle components of the same name), once famously said "strong, light, cheap. Pick two”. I wanted it all. It seemed obvious that a carbon fibre frame would have to wait for another day.

Picture from the manufacturers website: http://www.rosebikes.com/

 To give an example of what was available in the market, a EUR 2,000 BMC Teamachine, with a Shimano 105 groupset (with all due respect to what are excellent components for their price range) and equally entry-level wheels, where not enough for me. I did look at the BMC Teamachine with the aforementioned spec. However, I did not want to spend that amount of money only to end up with something that was as heavier than my post-upgrade old Bianchi. Moreover, my irrational side has a love affair with Campagnolo; I wanted that, in fact I NEEDED it! And speaking of Campagnolo, Veloce, Centaur or Athena was not going to be right. Ideally it would have been Record, Super or just the plain version. That said, Chorus is only 200 grams or so heavier and with all the functionality of its more expensive brothers.

Several hours, probably too many, were spent searching the web for this mythical bike. As suggested earlier, it was quickly apparent that a carbon fibre frame was drifting far from my budgetary ambitions. Responsibly, for the sake of my children and wife as I like to think, I had to stick to the budget. EUR 3,500 would have got me that carbon fibre, at least-Campagnolo Chorus etc. However, that extra EUR 1,000 was also several months of child expenses, and other family costs, both essential and not. I could not be selfish, even though for – the record – my family, probably seeing my budgetary anguish, would not have opposed me spending more than the budget. I persisted. Sometimes it’s important to stick to a plan even when most mainstream indications suggest that it is pointless.

Raving reviews of Canyon’s (also a German bike company) aluminium range and equally positive reviews of the Kinesis (a British company) Aithein aluminium frame caught my attention. These bikes not only were light but were also good looking, often a compromise when it comes to making an aluminium frame. They were also on the correct side of my budget. Inspired, I searched the subject more. This led me to the RS. Again, excellent reviews. Who knew that Rose not only sold cheap cyclo-computer parts, but also had their own range of bicycles. However, there was something I could not get over. That was aluminium itself. When was the last time a big race was won on such a frame? Pantani? Yes, but with a little help from his intravenous friends (allegedly, supposedly…). [Short history; compared to steel or carbon fibre, aluminium made only a brief appearance in the professional peloton, generally in the 1990s. Some riders skipped it all together. Le Monde, for example, went from steel to carbon fibre, and this was even before the 1990s]. 

Rationalising more I thought, pro peloton or not, aluminium is less breakable that carbon fibre. “Surely this is a plus,” I thought to myself. However, it is only a partial plus. Yes, drop an aluminium bike on a sharp corner (the edge of the pavement is a good example) and it is less likely to suffer serious structural damage. Do that with carbon fibre and the results can be potentially bad. A crack, or an important amount of resin (the only stuff that holds the fabric-like carbon fibre in one solid, stiff piece) scrapped off is grounds enough to at least lose confidence in the structural integrity of the frame. However, these days, you are very likely to find someone to repair carbon fibre professionally and at a reasonable price. If you are brave and skilful you can even try a home-repair. You can get appropriate resin and carbon fibre from Ebay (just make sure you don’t burn your hairdryer in the process of finishing off the repair). An aluminium tube crack, bend or break is not easily repaired, even by someone with the appropriate welding equipment. Also, and here comes some semi-science, everybody surely knows – because the cycling sector marketing guys tell us – that carbon fibre can be made “compliant yet laterally stiff”. This phrase if often repeated when you are reading about bicycles made of any material. It essentially means that when you push your 600W (as all non-professional cyclists are totally able to produce…) into the pedals your “stiff” machine will mostly use that to move forward, not flex from side to side. But as it is also “compliant” it means that your ride will be comfortable. So this bicycle will make you ride fast yet like you are flowing through a soft layer of clouds; you will not even know that your own backside is on the saddle; that smooth! However, and more correctly, good bicycle design can result in compliant yet laterally stiff frames. It is true, carbon fibre might have an advantage in that the fibres can be aligned in different ways so some parts of the frame are stiff (i.e. bottom bracket) but others can absorb more shock (the seat stays). However, a good designer can do this with any bicycle-suitable material. Of course, a good pair of wheels and a suitably good pair of tyres can also do wanders. Both for speed and comfort (more on this later).

Making My Way Towards Rose Versand

As you might be able to tell from this already long text, my head was going to explode with bicycle-related information. I needed a road (bike) to Damascus moment. This ultimately came in the form of Rose Versand. And it was not just the quality of their bikes. Operating mostly on an internet sales model, Rose keeps costs down by not maintaining several shops. Also, they do not sell through other retailers, so again more savings – for you and Rose – for not having to send several bikes to several shops which may or may not get sold. So, good prices for a good level of quality. Most importantly for me, Rose offers a higher degree of customisation than any of its internet sales rivals (e.g. the more than very respectable Canyon), and even shops. Vitally, this customisation is either included in the price. For example, I am tall and like (although do not need) to have 175mm cranks. I also prefer non-compact chainsets (because 50 teeth are for children’s bicycles. More on this later; spoiler alert, I am joking about the children part). Rear cassette? I don’t know, but give me choices. I will still select (for eleven speed groupsets) something in the range of 12-27, but I want to believe that I might be ‘man enough’ for the 11-23, or have an easy day on the 12-29 (12-32 if you play with Sram).  I am a fan of shallow, smooth curve handles bars, not ‘anatomically’ shaped ones. I like to select what saddle I will place my ‘junk’ on, and I even like to be given a choice of all colours of handle bar tape (so I can select either black or white). Stem length? Don’t know, it depends but let me choose! The most vital choice of all? Wheels! Wheels and wheels!

I have to emphasise. Rose is not unique at offering these choices. But all of the ones I mention, except for the wheels, are at no added cost. When I bought my Bianchi, I tried to explain to the man in the shop that I wanted 175mm cranks and a 120mm stem instead of 110mm. His response was to say “I don’t need them” but that they were available at what was a considerable cost. Maybe I did not “need them” but I WANTED them. The added cost was of course due to the fact that the store receives fully built bikes with little or no alternative components. Want longer cranks and stem? Buy a bigger bike. Want different wheels? Buy a different pair in addition to what’s on the bicycle. I admit, maybe I went to the crappiest and least customer-friendly shop. Maybe I am just an over-demanding client. But then again maybe companies like Rose do it (selling bike) better than most, especially in the age of the internet. 

To add to the above Rose offers attractive guarantees on its frames and components. Look up the details on their website. I assume the company is not unique at providing this service, but it is good to know it is there. A summary of some benefits offered to buyers of Rose bicycles are listed below:
-          Bicycles can be returned to Rose within a month if unused for a full refund. This is fairly standard for anything bought online.
-          I am almost sure that I was given an option to swap to a different size frame within a month if I needed to. This would have involved shipping the bike back to Germany where the components on the original frame would have been put on the different sized one.
-          Five-year guarantee on frame. This includes free replacement of the frame if it develops a fault, or half-price replacement if it is broken as a result of an accident / crash. The latter also covers racing and professional use (e.g. cycle couriers), which not all companies do.

In my experience, the staff at Rose where helpful. They swiftly replied to my several emails (I could have called too – they speak several languages there, English definitely not being a problem) and helped me to accurately decide what frame size I needed. There was also plenty of helpful info on their website regarding sizing, and everything else. I am a seasoned cyclist and already had a good idea of what size frame I was after. However, I felt that even a less experienced rider would have been helped to reach an accurate conclusion regarding frame size, stem length, etc. 

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