Friday, September 19, 2014

Stick a Fork In It.

I feel like my last rant went in a direction that I was not prepared to go so I decided to save it for another time. That time is now. What started as a conversation about bottom brackets ended in picking a fight with Trek's newer "endurance" style bikes. The point was not merely to express my disapproval with Trek, rather, the industry as a whole. I mean, the conversation could have included Specialized for that matter and the bull crap bottom bracket standard that they created for their own brand bikes. Meaning, they too use press fit cups but their frame (bottom bracket shell) is just about 3mm more narrow than that of their competitors. They make up for this by making the edges of the BB itself, about 1.5mm thicker on both the left and right side cups to take up the space. This means that while this makes them technically the same width as every frame, you have to use their products to take up the extra space that would be left by using another product. So this means you must go to a Specialized dealer ONLY* to have it replaced as they (and the other brands) will not let a non-dealer order the parts. This is just another example of how the entire industry is guilty of bending you over.  

*There are finally some after market makers of these bottom brackets now which helps makes the butt hurt go away just a bit.

It is true that I went a little steel-happy which made me come off as a retrogrouch. "Back in my day, we rode steel bikes and they were just fine!" While my feelings on the matter are no secret, I was simply making a comparison that was dead-on as far as the point I was trying to make in two instances. Let's revisit:


"That's fancy Trek Speak for "It has a very similar ride quality to steel given the fact that a smaller diameter, round seat post can move around under you. But since we made the frame out of square carbon tubes, we had to do this or you wouldn't buy it because it is too stiff. Had we just stuck to normal diameter steel tubes and maybe a carbon 27.2 seat post, this point would be moot. 
Thanks for the money!""

It is true that in the before times we did only have steel frames. At the time, steel was of a particular small diameter. This made the frames flex, which made them comfortable. Part of that comfort was because the tubes, being round, required a round, small diameter seat post. This allowed for deflection. The seat post could essentially move freely in any given direction under you as you changed position, pedaled faster, or encountered rougher roads.

So if you look again,


Trek is trying to sell you the same concept by designing the frame to flex in much the same way. Only, they designed the bike around square carbon tubes. That means it simply cannot flex as well a round tubes as it is harder to flex a square tube than a round tube. So they had to design it with flex in mind if they wanted to sell you a bike that was comfortable. Does that mean that all carbon bikes can't be stiff and flexible? No. Brands like Cervelo have had great success with bikes like the R3. A square tubed bike that tapers from a square profile at the BB to a round profile near the seat mast. 

 
Low and behold, they are able to use a 27.2 seat post which, in addition to their thin seat stays, makes for a great riding bike that has stiffness where you want it. Scott attempted the same thing with their Solace frame.


Smaller diameter round post atop a seat mast featuring thin stays with no brake bridge. This allows for vibration reduction in the rear end (that means two things ;) while keeping the rest of the frame as stiff as possible.
Volagi did it as well. They were able to isolate the seat post by terminating the seat stays at the top tube which moved vibration around the seat post, essentially "softening" the ride.

  
So they all do it in one way or another, some just do it better than others.
That doesn't mean I have to like it. Make sense?

Moving on...
The rest of the argument was based on the fork:
 

"That's fancy Trek Speak for "We copied damn near the exact same rake as an old steel fork because we don't want to admit that steel forks were already proven to be the most comfortable. And then we added the silly inverted fork drop out mostly for laughs, but also because a shortened wheel base is important since you are going to be racing all the time. Thanks for the money!""

This is an area where I find fault with the industry on many levels. One being the introduction of carbon forks on all (even the cheapest) road bikes. At the lowest price point, they are simply a marketing gimmick. They are being sold to the consumer as a feature which they boast "Dampens road vibration." 
They are totally full of shit when they tell you this. 
Carbon forks can only do so much to dampen vibration. With that, they need to have a lay up that is super thin and light in order to accommodate any type of dampening qualities. Also, the addition of a fork with a carbon steer tube can help the handle bar flex, reducing vibrations felt by the hands. That said, most carbon forks are crap. Meaning, the type of carbon fork that comes on a cheap bike is nothing more than a ploy to get you to buy a cheap ass bike. 
"...this one is aluminum and has a carbon fork. It dampens road vibrations..." 
It dampens vibration about as well as a brick. Cheap carbon is exactly that, cheap. There is no forethought given to weight reduction or ride quality. Because of that they are manufactured in a way that makes them thick and heavy. But they look like carbon so they must be good... right?


You would like that wouldn't you.

I have seen this particular brand up close. As a factory direct brand, not surprisingly, this fork is actually heavier than its steel counter part.
Yet it is marketed as an upgrade. "An upgrade from what?" I ask.

The second fault I find with carbon forks is what they actually do to the ride quality of the bikes they serve. If you have ever really looked at the difference between carbon and steel forks, it becomes clear why the ride quality differs so much.




Now some would argue that one turns faster than the other but that is not what I am driving at here. Let's assume that we have two frames, both having the same head tube angle and length. Then consider the rake of the fork, that is, the distance the fork tips slope away from the center line of the fork. Modern carbon forks look more like the one you see on the left. With just enough rake to keep the bike stable while cornering, it reduces the wheel base (moves the wheels closer together). This then equates to a ride that is sporty, but not necessarily comfortable. With more rake however, the wheel base is extended. With the shape of the fork, the frame as a whole becomes a giant leaf spring.


This makes for an extremely smooth ride by eating up road bumps and vibrations. It makes your bike an active part of your ride.
So, what Trek basically did with this "Iso speed thingy" fork,
was put a nice big curve on it to make it comfortable, and then invert the fork tip to close up the wheel base.

  They are not fooling me, they did this to (shortened the wheel base) to keep the fork legs from snapping off, rather than to make it sportier.


I am not arguing the fact that Trek did anything wrong here. I mean, they have to sell bikes, right? But... I am saying they re-invented already proven technology. Mostly because they had to. If you created a carbon fork with that much rake, it would certainly stand a much greater chance of failure. 
It is plastic after all. 
  
So, if you want to put a carbon fork on your steel bike, go ahead! I mean hell, even I did...


I will take the ride quality of this steel bike over a carbon one ANY day!

...but I knew what I was getting myself in to. I bought the most basic Easton carbon fork I could, solely to reduce weight. I knew it would make the bike a little stiffer than the stock, steel fork that I could get for it but that was what I wanted for this bike: a racy yet old school feel.

So what does it all mean? Do I hate Trek? No... well, maybe. BUT, I hate more the fact that they are ALL doing this. They are literaly selling you old technology dressed up in new plastic designs and making a killing doing so.
They are literally using the stiffest materials and designs and bringing them to you in a way that is deemed "compliant." 

In the end, I blame it on you. As year after year you do this:


...and the industry thanks you for it.

*UPDATE: A reader informs me that Rivendell made a charming little video about carbon forks as well... you should click on this picture:

Fun With Forks

That is all.