Monday, February 11, 2013

What The Bike Industry Doesn't Want You To Know

A friend – let’s call him Tim McGrath for the sake of this post – arrived for a road training ride one Saturday morning on a bike adorned with a peculiar mix of componentry. Tim had discovered the previous night that his regular rear wheel had lost a spoke and was unrideable. At such late notice, he had to improvise with whatever spare parts he could scavenge together – and the result was quite extraordinary.

The only spare road wheel that he had available was a Shimano Tiagra and the freehub body would thus not accept the Campagnolo Veloce 10-speed cassette from his regular rear wheel. Rather than let this major incompatibility ruin his chance for a great Saturday training ride, Tim improvised by installing a SRAM 9-speed mountain bike cassette. A few tweaks were necessary including blocking out the large 34 tooth cog on the cassette, but once this was completed, Tim claimed that the shifting was flawless and quiet – and possibly even better than with the correct 10-speed Campagnolo cassette installed. So, aside from only having eight useable cogs (and with rather large steps between gears), the mechanical melting pot that Tim had created was clearly a success.

Diversity and acceptance, it seems, are what allowed this seamless integration of brands to come together for the benefit of not only Tim, but the entire cycling community. But this is not what the bike industry would have you believe. All the big brands assert that in order to achieve top performance a totally integrated ensemble of components that have been designed specifically to work together should be used. Roadies are often staunchly loyal to their preferred brand and the Campagnolo vs Shimano – and now SRAM – debate has raged for decades. Enthusiasts (or often just owners) are quick to espouse the benefits of their preferred brand over another and are often blind to any deficiencies. Campagnolo’s quality and serviceability vs Shimano’s whisper-quiet shifting and reliability vs SRAM’s fiercely competitive, um, marketing. And while it is certain that no clear winner will ever emerge from these battles, perhaps the truth is that the most superior and reliable performance can only be achieved with an alliance that harnesses the best aspects of all three brands.

And so it was, on that otherwise uneventful Saturday, that a new coalition was born…Shrampagnolo. And the ensemble pioneered by Tim on this day would be the Shrampagnolo Fusion – a masterful blend of Italian craftsmanship, Japanese precision and American, um, patriotism.

The trickle-down effect that is common with component manufacturers these days will see some more affordable offerings surfacing during the next year – a more durable ‘Merge’ groupset will be aimed at the amateur racing scene while the ‘Mingle’ offering will be targeted at recreational cyclists. Surely a good sign of things to come in the cycling industry.

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