OK, so before I get into today’s post, I just had to repeat this line, which Andrew Hood must have been smiling when he wrote, about the upcoming Clasica San Sebastian:
…but the most combative rider at the Tour de France, Sylvain Chavanel, is sidelined with a toenail infection.
As you may or may not be aware, I have a couple of sites wherein people can post their times riding up some popular climbs. These sites are really more about dick waving than anything else because, due to self-selection, most of the times submitted are from people who are reasonably fast. If you’re just surviving the climb, after all, why would you want to announce to the world how long it took you? Especially if you had to stop and lean against the guard rail on your way up.
Anyway, not too long ago, I had someone submit a time for the north side of Suncrest. It was a fast time, too. He sent me his name, his time, and the date he did it, just like everyone else. And then he also pointed out that he did it on a Trek Madone.
Why the hell do I care what bike you did it on? One of my friends did it on a mountain bike, and I posted his time just like everyone else’s. Am I supposed to be impressed that you ride a Madone? I was impressed by your time, but I can’t see how it’s even relevant what bike you did it on. I mean, Madones are fine bicycles, but so are Super Sixes, Team Machines, C50s, TCRs, and F1s. Determining which is better really comes down to the individual, what fits best, and what you want it to do.
That you’re on a model ridden by a famous professional and bragging about it suggests that you probably don’t know much about bikes and just bought one because you-know-who rides it. If you know bikes and chose that one because it was best-suited for the job, you probably wouldn’t feel the need to point it out.
Bike shops exist and manufacturers sell through them for two reasons. First, because shops can save us from ourselves. And second, because when they can’t save us from ourselves, they can make money for themselves and their suppliers as a result of our poor judgment.
They save us from ourselves because bicycles are specialty products. And except for the bike nerds of the world, most people are ill-equipped to choose a bicycle or bicycle equipment without assistance from someone with specific product knowledge. Bicycle manufacturers want their products to be used correctly because it reinforces the value of their brand. They sell through specialty channels to help ensure consumers are getting the right product for their needs and will therefore be happy with it.
In some instances, however, a consumer knows what he wants, and what he needs is immaterial. These customers are easy to spot when they walk into the shop. They’re always wearing yellow bracelets, and they inevitably come in looking for Madones to ride while wearing
US Postal Discovery Astana Radio Shack, Mellow Johnnies, or Livestrong team kit. Bike shops are happy to indulge these consumers’ desire to look like their favorite professional (and the only one they know by name). Even if these customers actually look nothing like their hero.
They look nothing like him because professional bike racers don’t wear kits that come in sizes large, extra large, and 2XL*. And I have it on good authority that a local shop that happens to sell Radio Shack team kits only stocks them in large, extra large, and 2XL (mostly the latter two sizes). In these instances, the shop is happy to take said customer’s money, send him happily out the door with his Mr. Incredible suit, and will no doubt be getting a good chuckle from their knowledge that said customer, for all his fancy equipment, would get absolutely destroyed by the 18 year old shop employee in the T-shirt and trucker hat who bit his lip to keep from laughing as he watched the transaction go down.
*Even amongst amateur racers, small and medium kits are the norm, with the handful of larges** ending up on the sprinters, rouleurs, and guys well over six feet tall for whom the mediums are just too short.
**I don’t mean to imply that there’s anything wrong with wearing a large. XL or bigger, and you might want to diet if you’re really into riding bikes. Unless you race MTB, where, thankfully, they offer a clydesdale category. But nothing wrong with a large. I mean, If I were proportioned as I am and of even average height, I’d wear a large. If I were over six feet tall, I'd be looking at XL or bigger. I’m just sayin’ don’t go rolling around in Radio Shack kit. Or any pro team kit for that matter. (Actually, if you don’t want to look like a Fred, don’t wear Radio Shack or Mellow Johnnies or Livestrong kit ever, no matter what size.) Unless the team is defunct and it’s a retro look. (Which is why Rock Racing kits are on the verge of going from only being cool to the hot chicks with douchebags crowd to being unequivocally cool.) Or unless you’re really fast. If you’re fast, you can wear whatever you want.
Taken to the extreme, these transactions can be both a huge windfall and a huge pain in the derriere for the shop. For instance, at the above-mentioned shop, a well-healed customer recently pulled into the parking lot in his Maserati. Apparently some of the people that work for him ride bikes and encouraged him to take up the sport. And to do so, he needed the best-of-the-best bicycle, which of course meant a Tarmac like those ridden by both the winner* and runner-up of Le Tour.
*The real winner of this year’s tour was Specialized and their CEO, Mike Sinyard. Specialized’s sponsorship of Contador when they already had the Schlecks and Saxo Bank under contract assured them of having some very high-profile product endorsements to complement their already-effective campaign highlighting Cancellara’s domination of the spring classics. Fit, function, and need aside, brand recognition leads to brand preference, and a brand recognized for having been used by race winners can certainly tip the scales in your favor.
The loser of the endorsement battle is Shimano, but it’s only for their own ineffectiveness. Mark Cavendish is more exciting and noticeable than about anyone else in the peloton—Shimano should be blasting all over the place that his 15 stage wins in three years all came on Dura Ace and PRO components, yet all I’ve seen so far is a little inset photo of him on the back cover of Velo News as a stage winner at the Tour of California. SRAM has gotten more mileage out of Mara Abbott winning the Women’s division in Tour of the Gila than Shimano has gotten out of Mark Cavendish dominating pretty much every field sprint he contests.
Of course the shop was happy to sell this high-end Tarmac to this well-heeled customer. Even if he’s a novice and probably doesn’t know not to wear underwear beneath his bibs. The problem arose when he said “and I’ll need ten more so each of the guys who works with me can also have one.” It’s mid summer, and not even the Specialized warehouse has that much inventory.