Fisher & The Present and Future of Road Bikes

Cronus Black

(photo by James Huang of cyclingnews.com)

Gary Fisher seems to have been reading my mind, for a preview of his 2010 road offerings popped up on cyclingnews recently (and later on velonews)…and it paralleled pretty much everything I’d been thinking about my ideal road bike recently (more on those dreams in another post). I was kind of turned off with Fisher/Trek this past year as they clearly just ginned up a Fisher road line after the falling out with LeMond – the bikes seemed just…meh, really.

However, mark my words here, the Fisher 2010 line-up of road and cross machines will be viewed as seminal.

What is so cool with these bikes (actually, there are just two framesets, but built into a few different models) is that they are totally practical but still cutting-edge road machines. The carbon frames – which are, apparently, just as tricked out as the new Madones – have clearance for 28mm tires! So, you can have a bad-ass, full-on carbon racing bike…and still run Rivendell’s Rolly-Polly tires. Further – built-in, low profile fender mounts are included, so these race bikes can be equipped with full fenders easily.

Cronus White

(photo by James Huang of cyclingnews.com)

At the risk of sounding a bit hokey here, I believe that we are entering (or have already entered, in the past two years or so) a new era of useful bike design. Most fundamentally, we are seeing the (re)emergence of useful bikes to a degree probably not seen since the 1980s. This would seem to be the confluence of a number of distinct trends within the business, some of which I wouldn’t have anticipated all that long ago, and some of which, while not so surprising, are interacting with others to produce some unintended consequences.

For one thing, cycling is just more popular again. Of course much of this derives from the Lance Armstrong factor. Perhaps some is to be attributed to a general reorientation toward frugality and simplicity in light of the ongoing recession (as well as concerns about energy, oil and environment). The fixie culture is both a sign of this popularity, but also (in an indirect way) a source of innovation and pressure for innovation in the “mainstream” cycling biz. The fixie thing (and cyclo-x to a point) seems to have opened the door to more lower-end innovation in product lines – companies competing in the sub $1k range, or even lower, by working on parts spec, paint and overall style.

All of the above seem like strengths of the market right now. Yet, on the other hand, it also seems to me that these could be read as weaknesses of sorts. At base, is this new situation not simply a reflection of  a total productive glut in the cycling biz? There seems to have been a steady growth of peripheral “manufacturers” that aren’t actually making anything – they are spec’ing bikes from a variety of suppliers (think the re-born Masi, Tommasso, Motobecane, etc.), commissioning parts (a la Velo Orange), and working on marketing and branding. If you are willing to take a real plunge, there are even quite a few full-carbon Asian framesets available at crazy cheap prices as well – and not just junk, but bikes with good details, integrated seat masts, etc.

This is not a knock on these bikes, because one of these artfully spec’d generic bikes will likely be my next. However, if anyone with a good eye, the right connections and the money up front to place orders through Asian contracting networks can put together a small line of bikes and sell them through the web or ebay….then, well, EVERYONE can do it! And, when everyone can do something, that is usually the time to stop doing it…at least if you want to make any money doing it.

The intensifying competition in all of these distinct niches within the the bicycle market certainly is a good thing for those of us interested in useful and interesting bikes. Differentiation through design is a good thing – and the Fisher line shows that there is absolutely no reason NOT to design even a high-end race bike to also be, you know, useful to those buying it. But maybe these are ultimately the signs of dark clouds on the horizon?

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Sociopaths We Have Known: Lance Armstrong Edition

Was going to post on this issue before the Tour started, but didn’t get around to it…and wasn’t sure if I cared enough! The run-up to the Tour this spring was, of course, filled with lots of talk about whether Lance Armstrong (LA) would be leader/win again/etc. Scratching the surface, however, there was also mounting evidence that things could get ugly in the next year if Greg LeMond’s (GL) lawsuit against Trek continues to move forward.

The basic gist of that one is that GL is suing/counter-suing (I’m sparing you the details) Trek bikes claiming that they intentionally screwed up his bike brand (which they owned) because LA was angry about GL’s comments about LA and allegations or doping – stretching back to the early years of the LA Tour dynasty. Trek claims the opposite, that LeMond wasn’t holding up his end of the bargain on promotion, etc., thus undermining Trek’s business interests. Whatever the cause, LeMond bikes no longer exist.

The reason this has gotten uglier and uglier is in GL’s insistent collection of evidence in support of allegations that LA did indeed using performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs), at least at some points in his career (both pre and post cancer, most likely). Nothing here is radically new for those who have followed the David Walsh-style investigative inquiry into LA: most of the same evidence and arguments (positive result at ’99, multiple positives for EPO in analyses run on Armstrong’s “b” samples from earlier Tours, multiple confessions/convictions by former teammates, lots of talk about doping methods at Postal by others in the biz, etc.). To his credit (or folly, depending on your perspective) GL simply hasn’t backed down from this and, in fact, has really intensified his claims now that the gloves are off with Trek and LA. Most notably – and in questionable moral and legal judgement – LeMond released a detailed phone conversation he secretly (and in direct contradiction to what he told the other party) recorded with a woman who worked for Oakley as LA’s personal liaison and was apparently in the room during the notorious LA confession to his doctors about PED use as part of his very original cancer diagnosis and work-up. The short story is that she had told people privately that LA confessed to PED use while in the hospital (the same story repeated by Andreu husband and wife, who were there), but ultimately testified that he did not. However, in GL’s phone conversation, she admits that she lied under oath, for understandable reasons (single mom with a long-time job at stake, etc.).

What I find most intriguing/perplexing in all this is the underlying irrationality of someone like LA thinking that he could actually control information so completely as to eliminate any possibility that the truth would eventually sneak out. My view is obviously motivated by my belief that Lance Armstrong did indeed use PEDs and other forms of doping (e.g. blood transfusions). On sporting grounds, this does not really bother me – but this is the subject of a future post. What bothers me is the self-serving deception on the part of LA. Choosing to dope does not seem strange or surprising, but why would you think that you could actually conceal this forever, particularly as you become one of the most famous sportspeople in the world? It just doesn’t compute; after all, LA knows about this confession issue, and there are likely a good number of people in the know about transfusions and other funny business from the Postal years.

The only answer I could really come up with before the Tour is that LA is essentially a sociopath – or at least has a good dose of anti-social personality. I am by no means the first to suggest this, but it just seems clearer and clearer the longer things go on. Suffice it to say, I was thrilled to see Contador beat the crap out of Armstrong in the 2009 Tour. Contador was amazingly poised, attacked when he needed to, and then presided over a pretty dismal time trial by Armstrong in the final week (a tt he absolutely demolished). Now, a bit more of the behind the scenes stuff from the Tour and Astana is trickling out, and things sound much, much worse than they appeared during the Tour. In a translated article from El Pais posted by nyvelocity, we see all sorts of powerplays by LA at Astana. In light of these revelations, Contador’s performance is even more impressive. I only hope he can find a good enough team for support next year, just to come back and serve LA’s ass on a platter.

The entire LA comeback strikes me as fundamentally sociopathic. Here the guy has the greatest record of all time in the Tour, fame, fortune, etc. and probably the knowledge that there are many out there who hold his secrets. Yet, he decides to reopen all of these issues and relationships by deciding to comeback in order to promote his supposedly morally-driven crusade. This is hubris of a stunning sort. The guy quietly knocks up a girlfriend, has a baby a month or a bit more before the Tour (which, by my reading, has NEVER been discussed), rules with an iron fist in the team when, in fact, he is the weaker rider, and then engages in all sorts of sneaky behavior to undermine Contador. This, to me, is anti-social behavior. And, the sooner LA is gone from cycling (again), the better.

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