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Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Choose Your Own Adventure: The Tale of Taiwanese Bike OEM

The Torqued Wrench has an interesting little piece about The Myth of Origin for bicycle brands.

It reminded me of an OEM catalogue I recently came across that listed dozens of possibilities a brand can choose from in building their next frame. The tubes are ready to go.

This is how many brands "engineer" their frames. Despite the volumes of marketing literature on the brand's investment in state of the art engineering, this is how many modern bikes are produced. They are pieced together from a catalogue like choosing upholstery.

It is not that these are not great frames. Some of them are fantastic. It just gives a window into the economies that drive bicycle branding and production.

Multiple brands often work with a single OEM, and each of those brands may be working with multiple OEMs to build different bikes. The web is wide, and quite tangled.
For example, OEM firm ADK is partnered with CSG group, which owns Cannondale and GT, and is also partnered with Felt and ASI, who own Fuji and Kestrel. So you have frames from Cannondale, GT, Felt, and Kestrel, among others, all coming out of the same factory in Taiwan.
Giant Bicycles is unique in that it started out as an OEM, and still partners with other brands (Colnago’s M10 frame is built in a Giant factory, for example), but has also spread into doing its own R&D and, more importantly, its own marketing.

It continues...

Details of OEM relationships are therefore extremely difficult to pull out of brands. A cynic would presume that these OEMs, it seems, are good enough to build their products but not good enough to publicly associate with. Their location does not match the origin story put forth by the brand’s marketing department.
From a pragmatic view, this makes no sense. Today it is understood that Taiwanese production is as good, if not better, than anything coming out of the United States or Europe. It is clear that origin has zero relevance to end quality. But Trek reserves its top-tier frames as the only models still built in Waterloo, Wisconsin, and Colnago’s beautiful C59 is still built in Italy, while the rest of its production has gone overseas.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

When The Bikes Come Out (Updated)

This past Sunday was pretty much an excuse to go out and bask in the glory of Dom's new bike. We still managed to do a fair bit of riding between glamour shots, but nothing epic. Dom has been suffering some of the same IT band problems I have been struggling with, and believe you me... the last thing a fella' with a new Seven needs is to be laid up nursing injuries.

Dom, Michael Turton and I decided to ease into the riding season with 100k of Baguashan.

Aside from Dom's rolling display of welded steel pornography, the ride was a pretty uneventful affair. What really stood out were the ordinary displays of cycling life in central Taiwan.

The weather was nice, so hundreds of riders were out as individuals or with clubs.

Few seemed to be racing to win.

The best part were the numbers of families out biking.

We took a few minuted to pick up some of the water they leave out for cyclists at the Fengshan Temple above Nantou.

We descended the 139 into Nantou City. It was my first time actually taking the 139 into Nantou as I prefer the screaming descent into Songboling.

The 139 is not a technical descent by any means and the potential to hit 70kph is always there... without the headwind. It has few turns, so it is not the most challenging ride, but it is not un-fun.

We stopped for some lunch and were joined by a large family that could think of nothing better to say after an awkward introduction and meal where the foreigners were suddenly the entertainment, other than to implore us to be sure to drink water.

The wanna-be military baddasses were out in costume... says the guy in tight pants and jersey. I just wonder how many of them had deferments when it came time for conscription.

These are just some of the typical sights on a lazy Sunday over Baguashan.


Taiwan Links:

  • An exciting race on Ta Ta Jia (The Back of Alishan). The Changhua-based Canadian national, Fraser Young, took top honors for CCN Cycling Team. It is good to see Fraser in good form after his brief retirement. RIDEA from southern Taiwan finished with four riders in the top 10. I am also happy to see Nantou's John Tonks and Taichung's own Inigo Gisbert just edged out by William Zhuang from Primavera. Racing season in Taiwan is underway.

Other Links:

Don't try this at home... Actually... don't try this EVER!

Brazing Hell: A look at the art of fillet brazing.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Seven Is More Than Just A Number: Seven Resolute SLX

About this time last year I made the bold, and somewhat unexpected purchase of a new Seven Axiom SL. As with I have experienced with a few fine products, the sticker shock wears off when the value is revealed.

The circuit between the rider and the bicycle, when properly achieved, is a balance that has the potential to produce an array of emotional power that can be nothing short of religious.

I learned that one way to find this balance was through a custom build. For me, Seven Cyclescould best provide what I was looking for and they delivered in spades. From the customizing sheet to the interview, the process pinpointed how I imagined my ride and Seven then used the quantifiable and qualifiable metrics I provided to fabricate a frame that would be the bees knees of bicycles.
Several weeks ago I received a message from Dom, one of my regular riding buddies. He had decided to go with Seven for his new bike.

Although Seven built its reputation in titanium, the company also has depth in custom steel and carbon fiber fabrication.

Dom has a soft spot in his heart for classic steel, and Seven offers the Resolute as their dedicated steel frame.

One of the real great things about Seven's process, is that they are not bound to any one set of tubing. Seven can use any type of steel from True Temper, Reynolds, Columbus or anything else, if it is the best match for the rider. They custom butt the tubing using an external butting technique to produce their Origin line of tube sets.
Dom went to New York to visit family, and after consulting with the Seven dealer from Bicycle Planet, he felt confident enough to fill in his Custom Fit Sheet with the numbers he wanted to help Seven sculpt a bike around Dom's own taste for steel, and for the type of riding Dom likes to do.

When I first saw Dom roll up on his new ride, the first thing that struck me were the seat stays... or rather the lack of seat stays.

Titanium has about twice the elasticity of steel, and therefore, titanium tubing must be thicker or have increased diameters to reach the same level of stiffness.

For Seven's Resolute, the spaghetti-thin S-bend stays are the pinnacle of frame craft. They are elegant, functional and downright gorgeous. The rear triangle achieves a mesmerizing sense of design that is a little more understated than my thicker titanium stays.

After looking the bike over for a few minutes... and after my sense of euphoria had abated somewhat... I was struck by the nearly invisible welds joining the tubing together.

My titanium Seven has some of the finest TIG welding I have ever seen on titanium. The welds are a source of pride as welds are the mark of quality on a titanium frame.

For the Resolute, there was almost no indication of welding what-so-ever. I have seen finely joined steel tubing before, but this looked painstakingly intricate.

With any steel frame, Seven includes a paint job in the purchase price. You can go with a custom paint option or choose from a catalogue of stock designs.

Dom went for a metallic black with white highlights.

It was an excellent choice. The metal flakes add depth to the black and the contrasting white really pops. It really has a classic look about it while showcasing Seven's philosophy on design.

For the group set, Dom decided to splurge a little bit for the Campagnolo Chorus 11spd group. Although Campy is known to be pricy, Chorus delivers the same function as its pricier stablemates, with just a minor weight penalty. This makes Chorus one of the best values on the market. It is both snappy and ergonomic. Campagnolo has the best hood shape by far among the big three (Shimano, SRAM and Campagnolo).

I happen to be a big fan of Campy's use of the thumb tab. I find it easier to shift gears from any part of the bars. I have shorter fingers, so it is great for reaching over, under or to just extend a pinky out to shift gears.

Dom ended up choosing the Compact crank (50/34) matched with a 12-27 tooth rear cassette to better tackle Taiwan's hilly terrain. There are days I wish I had done the same.

Seven prescribed a fork with 42mm of rake to provide a ride on just the agile side of neutral in combination with the 73 degree HTA. Most stock designs use a cheaper "one fork fits all" approach that can result in a bike that is either too twitchy or too sluggish for the rider. Stocking only one fork saves money, but it results in a bike with less than ideal handling.

For the rest of the build, Dom made the smart choice of putting his budget where it counts, and went with a selection of FSA seat post, bars and stem. The narrower bars should help Dom stay a little more aerodynamic and not act as a giant wind sock against those awful Taiwanese headwinds.

The wheels are Gipiemme Techno 1.55 wheels.

For tires Dom went with the Maxxis Detonators; an unfortunate name for supposedly bomb-proof wheels.

I took a few minutes to ride Dom's new Seven. Although it is too big for me, I could only describe it as a light, creamy icing. It seems to float without feeling squishy. Each pedal stroke, no matter how gentle, pushed the bike forward with little effort.

The tautness of steel was an ever-present sensation, very unlike titanium. It felt like a very refined version of the Speedone I tested. It had a lot more liveliness than I was expecting. It almost mandates smiles from the saddle.

Dom seemed bemused by the sensation of riding a new bike like this one. He looked perfectly at home on the bike as we ate the afternoon miles. We pushed out into another headwind, the soreness of the pocketbook and the eight weeks of waiting had completely blown away and the soreness in the legs had yet to appear.

That is the thing about a Seven. You can get off after a long ride feeling fresh in the right places.

I am happy for Dom in that he can now enjoy riding the bike he wants to ride. I am also happy to share the Seven experience with a friend.

Now, I just hope I can entice Dom to join me for a couple races this season.

If you are thinking about buying a new bike, I would encourage you to consider the longer term and keep Seven in mind. They give a whole new meaning to enjoying the ride.