Search the news archive:
Interbike: Trickle Down
By Staff
Date: 10/17/2003
Interbike: Trickle Down

Words and images by Kraig Willett of Bike Tech Review

Reaganomics?  Nah – I won’t bother you with that political crap, the recent gubernatorial recall election here in the state of California has hopefully whetted all of our appetites for that kind of drama for the time being.  What I’m talking about is technology trickle down in the bike industry. 

Two years ago, I wrote about the influx of carbon into the auxiliary parts of the industry (it’s not just for frames/forks, anymore, huh?).  At that time, though, peripheral carbon bits were isolated to the high end of the market and were made by a small amount of cutting edge, presumably reputable, manufacturers.  Today, everybody and their dog has a carbon stem, crank, handlebar, and heck, even a carbon clincher rim.  The high-end of the market of years gone by has trickled-down to the low end this year.  It’s beginning to feel a bit like 19-ought “CNC” again.

True Temper's Alpha Q Pilot CF bar [Click for larger image]

The logic of technological trickle-down is nothing new.  Any new technology demands a high price because of the potential competitive advantage it may deliver.  Marketing wiz’s call the folks that buy these emerging technology products “early adopters”.  The high prices paid by this segment of the market helps the manufacturers re-coup the R&D investment in the technology, and for the time being, everyone is happy.

The luxury of demanding and receiving high prices doesn’t last long for the manufacturer, however.  Typically, slightly less than one product cycle (12-18 months in the bike biz, it seems – though, I have experienced being beaten to market by a knock-off company) is all it takes before other people are copying the fundamentals of the new technology.  With the copycats come increased competition and subsequent downward price pressures.  A never-ending spiral of prices can ensue, and the end result is a complete bike with a carbon fork at a MSRP of $500.  It is kind of sad in a way, because after adjusting for inflation, I paid more than that for just the carbon fork in 1996.

Ironhorse offers a complete bike for $500 – it includes a carbon fork upgrade. [Click for larger image]

This is the natural progression of any worthwhile technology or product (the not-so worthwhile technologies/products just wind up going away).  So, how do the manufacturers drop their prices and still stay in business?  I reckon it has something to do with cutting their own costs (economies of scale, manufacturing efficiency improvement, hunting down the cheapest labor), or accepting a lower profit margin.

Does something else besides price have to give in the delicate balance of the three core design variables of price, performance, and durability?  Remember, as a rule of thumb, one only gets to have favorable weightings in two out of the three of these variables in the final part.  Want a low price and high performance - forget about the part being durable.  How about high performance and lots of durability?  You might as well forget about the part being inexpensive.  Get the essence of this line of thinking?

If it were my company, a relatively low price would have only one acceptable consequence in the triumvirate of part design – a simultaneous decrease in the performance variable (e.g, the mass goes up due to lower cost, lower strength materials, or shapes are modified to be more efficiently produced while sacrificing aerodynamics, etc.).  Low price and good durability generally means that the “performance” aspect of the product is not so favorable.

A decrease in the durability of the product below the company standard would be unacceptable to me.  Hopefully, the company producing the part has been around long enough to actually have their own minimum durability standards in place and they consistently inspect, test, and monitor product to insure everything is being manufactured accordingly (I have my hunches that this kind of diligence just doesn't happen as often as it should in the bike biz).  I’ll leave this bigger discussion of “quality” for another day, though.

Don’t get me wrong - trickle-down, when executed well, works to everyone’s satisfaction.  If it didn’t, we wouldn’t be riding with clipless pedals, or integrated shift levers at the price points we have available to us today.  The key to making the whole thing work, though, is in the EXECUTION of making the product on the manufacturing floor.  I hope all of these carbon bit-producing manufacturers are focusing on the complete, holistic execution of their inexpensive carbon bike parts.  Is this obtuse enough for you?  

Kids benefit from trickle-down as well - Colnago's offering only has friction...[click for larger image]


...but the Argon18 allows your kid to upgrade to the good stuff - aero wheels and integrated shift levers! [click for larger image]

If I had a bigger budget (or if some brave manufacturers would be willing to let the product speak for itself), we could all find out pretty quickly who knows how to make complex curvature carbon fiber bike parts and, more importantly, which manufacturers don’t…

Check out the bike porn below (I got used to saying “I’m an engineer, not a photographer” the last couple of days – if you want beautiful pictures you are dealing with the wrong guy!) as a reward for putting up with my pseudo-ranting style. 

Dura-Ace Front Hub [click for larger image]


Dura-Ace bottom bracket spindle spline [click for larger image]


"Jan's" bike [click for larger image]


No, really, it says so right here! [click for larger image]


Kestrel's "Honda Element-esque" addition [click for larger image]


more Kestrel... [click for larger image]


a closer look at the rear end. [click for larger image]


The obligatory shaft drive bicycle shot - pretty cheap price, though
(and the most relevant application)! [click for larger image]


What show would be complete without a trip to the
 new product pavilion - this invention promises to eliminate the
dead spot and increase power by up to 25%! [click for larger image]

Copyright © 2002-2011 by Daily Peloton.
| contact us |