Monday, January 19, 2009

More on the Park Summit (Training vs. Marketing)

At the recent Park Tool Tech Summit, in addition to hands on technical training on servicing their components, some of the manufacturers took the opportunity to slip a little marketing in. I don't really begrudge them doing a little of this, but I did find some things a bit, well, amusing and bemusing. It wasn't really a surprise to me that the two biggest manufacturers whose seminars I attended were the most "marketing" oriented... SRAM and Shimano, with the latter being the more blatant of the two.

The first hour or so of the three hour Shimano session was all about their internally geared hubs, the Nexus and Alfine series, and was quite useful. They showed how to open one up, and their new maintenance regimen, which basically consists of soaking the hub in an oil bath for a while, letting it drain, then reassembling. Simple and should be effective. They also explained how planetary gearing systems work, which was a good thing to cover, since I think a lot of folks think of them as mysteries.

But then they moved on to DuraAce 7900 and the new Di2 electronic shifting systems, and at that point it pretty much became all about telling us how great the new systems are... in other words, marketing. Little if any service information was passed on... instead they touted the features of the new systems, features which to me are pretty minor. I'm not all that excited that they managed to pare 130 grams off the weight of a DuraAce group... that's basically the weight of two Clif bars. Or to look at it another way, one and a third boxes of the standard Gem paperclips. Now, think about it. Hold either of those two items in your hand. How heavy is that, really? Now, add up the total weight of your bike. Think about the paperclips again. Now, add whatever you weigh. 130 paperclips. Seriously. If you're not a racer competing at a pretty high level, you do not need to race out and buy this latest and greatest group for the weight savings. And the other features they touted were equally minor refinements to already really good parts. So sure, if you're already in the market for a new bike, great, 7900 will be spiffy, and you can be the coolest kid on the block... until 8000 comes out, or whatever they call the next generation.

Or until one of your buddies shows up on the even more expensive Di2. What's Di2, you ask? Well, it's Shimano's new electronic shifting system. Istead of the spring and cable systems we're all familar with, this new shifting system relies on small electric motors to move the chain from sprocket to sprocket, and from chainring to chainring. And it is cool... and it seems to work pretty darned well. But again... do you need it? Unless you are a pretty advanced racer, again, no. The tiny microsecond advantage it might give you is really insignificant. And the price is NOT insignificant... to the tune of $3900 just for the two derailleurs, the shifters and a battery. Wow! Don't get me wrong... it's not that I think the system is stupid or anything.. I just think it's another "must have" item that very few people really should worry about having... and those people are on professional, sponsored racing teams. But I'm sure the usual thing will happen... guys (they're almost always guys) who have the money and want to impress their clubmates, or just simply love having the latest gadget, will be the first in line to buy this stuff.

Me, I'll stick with what's been working for me for years. I'm not trying to be intentionally retrograde, really... I just don't feel a burning need to have the "latest and greatest" when I don't ride competitively. Shaving a few grams or seconds really doesn't matter to me when I ride for fun or for transportation. For me, it's more important that what I use be reliable and serviceable. I'm not one of those guys (and again, it's mostly guys) who insist that indexed shifting is an abomination or that the height of bicycle technology was achieved in the mountains of France long before I was born. Some of my bikes have indexed shifting, some have friction shifting, and I've even got a couple of three speeds and one singlespeed and two fixed gear bikes. The common theme among them all is that they work well, and require very little fussing to make them work well.

But if you want to run out and buy the newest toys from Shimano, more power to you. If that's what is fun for you, I won't tell you you're wrong. I just don't think it's necessary to have in order to have a good time on a bike.


beth h said...

You can tell how well a thing will sell by the mechanics' reaction to it at such seminars.
That's why the teaching turned into marketing.

(Shimano's Coasting? Yawn. Mavic's wireless shifting? Please. Don't even get me started on Campy's 11-speed cassette. And what is UP with a 31.8 handle clamp size becoming STANDARD? It all just makes me wanna holler...)

Now we have tiny little motors running the shifting system, meaning that we'll have to know how to repair each of those little motors in addition to knowing how to maintain what is otherwise the same basic drive train design that bikes have been using for nearly 80 years. (Do I want to spend my time working on little motors? Not really.)

My reaction at Shimano's latest has gone from yawning to shuddering. I hope to God I never have to repair one of those silly things. And if that makes me retro, grouchy, or both, that's just fine with me. I really wish the bike industry would start making stuff I can believe in again.

Tim said...

I don't get the impression that Shimano expects shop folk to actually service the motors. They have a diagnostic "black box" that one day you will probably be able to buy, but I suspect that if one of the electronic components dies, you simply replace it. Not my idea of good serviceability, but it seems to be the trend.

Syke said...

Actually the most important thing about Dura Ace 7900, or SRAM Red, or Campagnolo Spinal Tap is that within a couple of years whatever technological advances show up in 105, Rival or Centaur.

Or - in my case - the trendiness of Campy Spinal Tap or Shimano electronic whatsoever means that perfectly good 9-speed Ultegra (my current system of choice) drops in value another 25-35%. Which means I can afford to build up another relatively modern road bike.

David said...

perfectly good 9-speed Ultegra
(my current system of choice)
drops in value another 25-35%.
Which means I can afford to
build up another relatively
modern road bike.

But you will be able to get build up several nice 9-spd ultegra bikes for not much. That's the only advantage I can see. It's nice that you've got room for 18.5 bikes, Tim. I've only got room for 2 or so, so I fend myself having to get rid of tons of perfectly good parts. I can hardly give them away fast enough. This is why every bikey person has chestfuls of old parts--they get replaced even though they're perfectly functional.

By the way, Tim, do you have any expereince with Kidztandems? (The ones with the kid/stoker in front.)

David said...

Man, that was, like, the worst typing/spelling/grammer ever!

David said...

Man, that was, like, the worst typing/spelling/grammer ever!

David said...

Man, that was, like, the worst typing/spelling/grammer ever!

mrktg said...
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