The Mandem.

Jean Claude ManDamme.

Yes.  The Mandem.

Screen Shot 2015-08-30 at 12.11.51 PMScreen Shot 2015-08-30 at 12.15.24 PMMore specifically, it’s a Ritchey Breakaway tandem.  All steel, and built as a breakaway; it breaks down into 3 components (front triangle fore of the captain’s seatpost (red), mid section from captain’s seatpost back to stoker’s seatpost (white) and rear triangle (blue)).  I’ll go into build details at some point in the future, but the relevant data is that it’s an all drive-side tandem (single chainring up front, triple in the rear–the outboard chainring on the rear goes to the captain’s chainring, and the inner 2 chainrings on the rear are used as a 2×10 drivetrain to power the bike).  An eccentric captain’s BB handles chain tension duties.  Brakes are currently a set of 1st Gen BB7s that are awful; a set of TRP Hy-Rds is sitting in the box, awaiting install.  Big 180mm rotors handle the slowing down.   Contact points are all top-notch…Cambium saddles, Fizik Bars and tape, Crank Brothers pedals.  For the stoker, a set of Fizik carbon flat mountain bars with bar-ends, and with taped grips, provides comfort. So what do you do with a Mandem? Obviously, you bro-it out.   11920372_10204700690381842_1120105312_nAnd then you hammer.   11880990_10204700690181837_11128513_nThe Mandem was built up with my good friend Brendan.  We’ve only had it out a handful of times now, and it’s ridiculously fun to ride.  When we both put our minds to it, the mandem is ridiculously fast on a flat surface.  Descents are dangerously fast.  Climbs…well, we’re still working on those.

The Ritchey frame is a masterpiece.  It’s not only beautiful, but amazingly rigid.  The ride quality is perfection.  There’s no lateral whip, and while it has some vertical compliance, it isn’t noodlely as I had feared it might be.  You do have to pay attention to tire pressure; if that gets at all low, the rear of the bike wanders around as the tire deflects.

As a stoker, it’s been a new experience.  There’s no steering from the back, so you just have to have confidence in the captain.  My job is to pay attention to the little cues from the captain (a smidge of back pressure means slowing…watch for the cue to unclip and stop…synchronize the clip-in and pedal, etc.).  I try to be neutral in terms of cornering, letting the captain control the bike…and on sharper corners, providing a natural lean to compliment, rather than upset, the status quo.

There are times when it’s way easier to pedal than I expect…and times where it’s surprisingly challenging.  Brendan’s a great bike-handler, so even things like car-control gates and tight switchbacks are not a problem.  The Ritchey is designed to handle 700c wheels and also 27.5 mountain bike setups, so it’s got tire clearance for days.

The weirdest thing is the reduced feedback while pedaling.  When riding solo, if you push harder, the bike immediately responds.  You can sense how hard you’re working based on the response of the bike, changes in speed, etc.  If you need to stand and pedal, you stand and pedal.  If you want to increase or reduce cadence, you shift.  On the Mandem, that’s not really how it works.  It’s hard to know exactly how hard you are pedaling.  (In some ways, having power pedals would be intensely helpful for the stoker…at times I find myself pushing really hard and not realizing it).  It sounds ridiculous (you should be able to tell how hard you’re pedaling a bike), but it’s disconcerting.

At night, the sensation of speed is crazy.  Not only do you have darkness, but you have limited forward visibility.  All you see is trees rushing past.  It takes some adjustment.

The Mandem might be the most fun bike I’ve ever ridden on a flat road.  It turns a regular ride into an experience.  I really enjoy riding bikes with others–and it brings  cooperation into a whole new dimension.  It’s a stunningly beautiful bike.

I’ve realized more and more that biking is a social experience for me.  I love the places you go, the scenery you see, the sense of accomplishment from a hard ride well-ridden, sure.  I get satisfaction out of good solo training rides that I do.  But ultimately, I train so that I can ride with others, and not hold them back.  If my riding was all solo, I don’t know that I’d do it.  I’d much rather ride in an event with a team and enjoy it, than ride a solo event and win acclaim.  I spend enough of my non-biking life in other contexts.  For me, bikes are a way to come together with friends and share experiences.  The Mandem is the ultimate expression of that concept.

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No longer Trek’ing to the store.

In case you missed it, Trek has announced that they are going to start selling bicycles online.  In short, customers will be able to buy a bike online, and then the bike is delivered to a local Trek dealer of their choosing.  Trek will pay the local shop a “service commission” roughly equal to 80% of their normal margin on a bike sale.

I’m not a bike dealer, I’m a consumer.  Frankly, I find this move appalling.  Appalling enough that it makes me think long and hard about ever buying another Trek.  I’m sure that Trek feels that this is the wave of the future, and that they have to compete with other brands that are selling direct to consumer.  In my opinion, it is a great disservice to their dealers.

Until now, Trek has prohibited selling new bikes online.  A few years ago, I found a rare trek frameset that I wanted to buy–it was a several-year-old model that isn’t produced anymore, and there was one left in the Country, at a shop in Florida.  I contacted that shop, and they literally could not sell me the bike, over the phone or internet, because of Trek’s dealer restrictions.  We go from that arrangement of incredible restrictions…to Trek selling bikes online directly itself.

I’m guessing that Trek’s arguments are along these lines:

Shops still get 80% of their margin.

That’s true.  Shops still get 80% of the margin.  *(“Roughly 80%.”  Note the comment from someone indicating that they are a Trek dealer below; payments provided not as cash, but as a credit against the shop’s Trek account, 3x/year.  Ouch.)  But shops lose the ability to choose what products they sell.  A shop may choose not to sell some closeout bikes, or may choose not to stock certain bike lines, because even at 100% of margin, there isn’t enough profit in the sale to warrant the expense of carrying that particular bike.  They may choose not to sell certain bikes because of poor experiences with that model, or because they lack the expertise or interest in selling a given model or type of bike.  That option is now gone.  Shops have lost the ability to determine what they will and will not sell.

Shops have historically placed orders based upon knowledge of local conditions–how many hybrids, road bikes, mountain bikes, etc., that they’ll sell.  That historical information is now out the window, as the shops still have to place their pre-season orders, but now they have no idea how many of their customers will place an order online, rather than through the shop.  Think about it: if a shop pre-orders 200 bikes, and 10% of their customers buy online, the shop will be left with 20 extra bikes at the end of the year.  It places shops in direct competition with Trek for the sale.

I’m sure Trek justifies the 20% reduction in margin by saying that it is “doing the work” of selling bikes for the shops.  Frankly, that’s just Trek eating 20% of the shop’s (already thin) margins.  The shop still has to market itself, still has to have sales staff, still has to have mechanics, and still has to have new bikes on the floor.  The shop still has to do everything it did before Trek sold bikes online–and bear all of the same overhead and expense.  If a customer walks in to buy a bike, the shop can’t say, “you can look and order it online.”  So shops still have the same expense, and less revenue to cover it, because now, some portion of their bikes will be sold online, at a lessened margin.  From Trek’s perspective, their investment of updating the website to add a “buy now” link is minimal.  They can gobble up shop margin as corporate profit, which is pure win for them.  More profit for Trek corporate, on the backs of local bike shops.

And what happens when there’s warranty work to be done?  What happens when a customer (invariably) buys the wrong size bike online and has to exchange it?  Who deals with all of the issues associated with buying something as particular in fit as a bicycle?  Does Trek handle those online?  Of course not.  Those tasks go to the shop.  Buying online greatly increases the likelihood that a customer will select the wrong size bike, or even the wrong type of bike.  Selling a bike is a personal experience.  When done properly, a shop evaluates the customer’s needs, their physical build, their desires, and their budget, and puts together the right bike for the need.  There have been many times when what I’ve thought I wanted turned out to not be what I ended up getting–because I received valuable advice from my local bike shop that guided my decision.  There have been many times when the fit and size I thought I needed turned out to be wrong, and local fit advice was invaluable.  (For that matter, what happens with returns?  A lot of shops have restocking fees, particularly on custom orders.  Does the shop get stuck with an online order that is returned, or does it go back to Trek?  (And if it goes back to Trek, does that mean that the shop receives, builds and delivers bike, then unbuilds and ships the bike back, and receives no income?)

Selling bikes online suggests that there is no need for that local expertise…a customer should be able to pick their own bike and fit themselves; there’s no need for an experienced, knowledgeable local contact to help with those processes.  That’s just flatly wrong.  I’m a pretty informed, educated bike consumer.  But the more I learn, the more I value the advice and consultation from a local bike shop.  So Trek increases the likelihood that customers will make bad decisions and be unhappy with their bikes, or will require extensive fit work or exchanges, and then Trek reduces dealer margins on the bikes.  Trek is inventing new problems for dealers, all while reducing their margins.

Delivery still occurs through a local shop.

Yup.  The local shop still has to deal with all of the issues, as described above, while earning reduced margins and likely dealing with more problems.

Service and accessories are the new markets for local bike shops.

It’s true–if you follow Bike Retailer and Industry News, there’s a lot of smart people saying that the next frontier of bike shops will be service, accessories and experience-based revenues (trips, etc.).  Margins on bike sales are already thin.  So I’m sure Trek is telling dealers that when a customer comes in to pick up their online purchase, the dealer can upsell with accessories and baubles.

As a customer, I can tell you that when making a bike purchase, it’s mentally easier to make one purchase than it is to make two.  It’s easier for me to make one purchase for a bike, with bottle cages, seatbag, and any other accessories I want, than it is to make one big purchase for a bike, followed by a dribble of smaller purchases.  It is purely a mental issue, but it is one that I suspect is not unique to me.  I suspect that making the bike purchase online will reduce the amount of accessories that accompany each bike sale.  Customers will come in to pick up their online purchase, and will view upselling at that point as a nuisance.

I could keep writing about this, expanding on the points above, but essentially, my view is that this hurts Trek in the long-term, as it will enhance short-term profits on the backs of its dealers, and will diminish the value of dealers as experts in their craft.  When a bike is just a commodity that can be bought or sold online, what’s the difference between buying at a LBS or buying on Amazon…or Walmart?  From my personal perspective, seeing a bike manufacturer dishonor the concept of a local bike shop so significantly makes me sad.  I don’t buy ‘direct to consumer’ bikes (unless there is literally no other option), because I value the local bike shop, and the meaningful input that they have on the experience of buying a bike.  I value the local bike shop because I want them to be there when I have a problem, or when I need service.  I’ve written about that before–I see local bike shops as community partners, and as employers of people who need to earn reasonable wages.  I’d much rather my dollars went to a local shop, than to a corporate behemoth.  For that matter, I’d rather make sure I get the right bike, in the right size, by benefitting from local expertise and experience…than buy a bike online and get frustrated by ending up with the wrong commodity.

If this is the industry trend, then it’s a race.  To the bottom.  When next I’m in the market for a new bike, this is a move by Trek that will influence my decision, and will influence it away from buying a Trek.  Go order a Fuel.  Or a Fezzari.

Two brief notes in update: 1) I did recently purchase a bike online, for my daughter.  That purchase was completed only after conducting an exhaustive search of local bike shops, and finding that I literally could not get the bike I needed for her locally.  2) I’m not a Trek hater generally.  Many of my posts on here are very Trek-positive–I own 2 very high-end Trek bikes that I love, and I shop at a Trek bike shop.  I do have to say, though, that of late, I’ve been questioning their corporate judgment.  Between this and the recent skewer recall, which I wrote about here and here, I’m not sure what they’re thinking.

Helmets.

From time to time, I see people writing that it’s dumb to wear bike helmets, and that groups which require helmets to be worn when riding bikes are engaged in counter-productive behavior.  The logic espoused behind such statements tends to focus on one of a few arguments.  I’ll outline, and briefly respond below.

1)  Bike helmets cause and exacerbate injuries.

I have yet to see a single, creditable, peer-reviewed article suggesting that modern bike helmets pose greater risk than reward, overall.  Certainly, old foam bike helmets without a hard shell could catch on rough surfaces and cause neck injuries; that problem has been eliminated with modern helmet design.  I’m sure that in some weird context, you could design a circumstance where a helmet would case more harm than good.  On the whole, those weird circumstances simply don’t support an argument that helmets are bad.  Even a quick google search will yield a multitude of creditable studies showing the benefits of helmet use.

2)  Bike helmets reduce bike ridership, and thus overall hurt individual health.

If you’re so lazy or egomaniacal that wearing a helmet keeps you from riding a bike, then I really don’t believe that it’s wearing a helmet that keeps you from riding a bike.  A helmet may be a convenient excuse, but honestly, if you’re out of shape, being out of shape probably has a greater impact on your appearance to others than does the presence or absence of a helmet on your head.  I tend to believe that this is anecdotal and largely made up.  And if it’s not, then you deserve the consequences of not exercising.

3)  Countries with ingrained cycling culture do not engage in extensive use of bike helmets, and hence, bike helmets are unnecessary.

This is true–many cycling cultures do not espouse serious helmet use for transportation cycling (e.g. commuting).  Note that even cycling cultures use helmets for race and sport.  The fact that some cultures do not use helmets does not make helmets any less effective. If they used helmets, they’d have even fewer injuries–which is a hard benefit to argue against.  Also note that cultures which espouse cycling in far greater numbers also have far more drivers that are also cyclists.  And drivers who are not cyclists were raised in a culture of cycling.  Perhaps it is the case that their roads are safer for cyclists not because they don’t wear helmets, but because they accept cyclists and treat them with respect.

4)  The Man shouldn’t tell me I have to do anything.

I don’t think I’ve seen mandatory bike helmet laws, and I’m not speaking in support of them.

5)  Wearing a bike helmet makes drivers more aggressive towards you.

This seems to be an emerging argument.  “I want drivers to see me as a frail human, so I’m not wearing a helmet.”  I would be curious if there is any real science behind this.  If there isn’t then, it’s BS.  If there is, then it’s terrifying what that says about our culture.  Regardless, how is it logical to decline to use safety equipment because you think it may cause others to treat you with more caution?  Should we ride at night without lights, because drivers may think we’re crazy and cut us a wider pass?  Do we leave our bikes unlocked, because thieves will think our bikes aren’t worth stealing?  I just fundamentally don’t get the logic behind this argument…  I wear a helmet not because I think it makes drivers more hostile to me, but because I’m protecting against the consequences of a true accident.  I see far more cyclists injured from bike accidents than from intentional, homicidal car drivers swerving towards people wearing helmets.

6)  We don’t wear helmets when walking or driving a car, so why should we wear a helmet while biking?

There are different levels of risk in driving a car, walking and riding a bike.  And some, like my friend Chad G, do wear helmets while driving.

But in all seriousness, there’s a quantifiable difference between driving a 4,000 pound steel box with seatbelts, ABS and airbags, and riding a bike surrounded by others driving cars…  There’s a quantifiable difference between walking down the sidewalk and riding a bike at 20mph on 2 contact patches the size of a dime.  Risk versus reward.

In the past 12 months, I’ve personally seen the following accidents:

1)  Friend who is a lifelong, avid cyclist wipes out on gravel, and lands on his head.  Ends up with a wasted helmet and a headache.  In the absence of a helmet, this fall would have resulted in serious injury.

2)  I endo’d off of a mountain bike and landed on a rock, headfirst.  I dented my helmet and left an imprint of the inside of my helmet on my forehead.  I can say with every confidence, having fallen on rocks without a helmet before, that in the absence of a helmet, I would have had stitches at the best case scenario, and a skull fracture at the worst.

3)  Friend hits a rock on the street, riding a road bike, and slides down the pavement, partially on his head.  Helmet is scraped down by pavement.  Friend endures road rash.  Friend’s face comes out unscathed, protected by helmet.

4)  Friend hits another cyclist on the street, riding a road bike.  He endo’s, front-rolls across the ground across his helmeted head, and lands on his feet.  In the absence of a helmet, serious injury would have resulted.

Those don’t include the countless fatbike wipeouts on snow and ice, where people hit their heads and walk away unscathed. They don’t include my own fatbike wipeout last year, where I fractured three vertebrae but my head was protected by a helmet.

And the one that’s closest to home:

My daughter, learning to ride a bike.  She’s been riding without training wheels for about a year.  We’re riding in a nature preserve, on a paved surface, down a small hill.  Something freaks her out and she bobbles the handlebars–and wipes out.  I watch her launch off the bike, hard, landing in a superman pose with her helmet down on the ground.  The visor on her helmet snaps off (as it is designed to), and she slides on the ground a bit.  She skins her hand, her knee, and the very tip of her nose.

In the absence of a helmet, she would have landed with her face flat on the pavement, sliding forward.  She would have lost skin, and likely broken her nose (and possibly some teeth).  She would have peeled her forehead right off.  Her helmet saved her from serious injury.  This wasn’t a race.  We weren’t riding fast.  The surface was dry, hard and clear from debris.  There was no outside force or car or anything else that threatened her.  It was pure accident.

The helmet saved her. She landed hard enough that the helmet was permanently deformed.

IMG_3161And this is the only injury she suffered. IMG_3156

Afterwards, she was rewarded with a new helmet.

IMG_3165

Scars heal.  Lu’s scar is gone already.  Brain injuries are forever.  Thanks to Bontrager for keeping my daughter safe.  Thanks to Kask for keeping my friends safe.  Thanks to helmet manufacturers everywhere, for constantly improving the quality and efficacy of helmet design.