Tag Archives: cycling

The industry & advocacy & pro team sponsorship

Forget everything you read below! After John Burke’s rousing keynote address at TrekWorld, their annual dealer show, Chain Reaction is going to step up to the advocacy plate with an even-bigger commitment than before, adding $1 for every Trek helmet sold, and $10 for every dual-suspension mountain bike, to a fund that goes to People for Bikes, IMBA (mtn bike organization) and the League of American Bicyclists.

It doesn’t matter if it’s “fair” that we should be doing more than others. It’s a job that simply has to get done, and life isn’t about fairness, it’s about doing what’s right and stepping up to the plate when the need arises. As John Burke said, it’s time to double-down and seize the day! But I’m going to leave my original whine intact below, since there are still some valid issues. We’re just not going to let them get in the way of doing the right thing.  –Mike–

Sounds like strange bedfellows, lumping Pro-team sponsorship (the top-level teams you see racing in the Tour de France) with advocacy, but bear with me for a moment.

Many companies supplying local bikes shops are spending millions of dollars sponsoring professional cycling teams, and untold millions more on advocacy efforts.

Just a tiny percentage of the bike industry participates in advocacy.
Just a tiny percentage of the bike industry participates in advocacy. Many of your favorite local shops among them, many many more who aren’t.

Of course advocacy isn’t an option, it’s an ongoing requirement if we’re to have safe places to ride and a legal counter to the automotive industry’s attempts to legislate us off the roads. But as a tax, it’s imposed on only a part of the industry, paid for by visionary companies and, by extension, dealers who are paying higher prices and seeing lower margins on the bikes they sell. In a very real sense, your local bike shop is subsidizing sales of bikes purchased elsewhere. Inevitable? Is there a way around this? Don’t know. The local dealer is not in a position to do much about it; it’s become a necessary cost of doing business if you believe in bicycles. Even my bringing up this question publicly runs the risk of looking like I’m putting business concerns ahead of the needs of cyclists, which couldn’t be further from the truth. Like a defrocked great cyclist once said, I believe in bikes. Unlike the defrocked great cyclist, I also believe in truth and fairness.

It’s a good question whether on-line and department stores believe in bicycles, or if it’s just short-term business optimization for them. Can we get their help, or do they recognize a good thing when they see it and have no intention of becoming part of an active movement to make cycling better, because somebody else is doing it for them?

The on-line world already benefits from not having the costs of a physical presence where people can touch and feel and try out product; some even encourage their customers to find what they want locally and then buy from them. They’ve also fought to avoid having their customers pay sales tax for the community in which they live, which means local services are suffering because the people who use those services aren’t paying for them. Thus I’m not expecting to see many from the on-line world stepping up to the place to make voluntary contributions to cycling advocacy. It’s not in their DNA.

Are we doing what we should be to capitalize on the $$$ spent supporting professional cycling?

Regarding pro team sponsorship, I of all people am an odd one to have issues with it, since I’m such a fan of cycling as a sport that I’ve been to the last 11 of 12th Tour de Frances. But that’s obviously not typical, and I can identify two significant downsides to marketing oriented towards racing. First, high-end racers don’t buy their own equipment; it’s given to them by their teams. And aspiring high-end racers, and even wannabes who race, often have a sense of entitlement such that they believe they deserve to buy for less than everyone else. I cannot come up with a rational explanation for this; I used to race myself, and saw a little bit of it, but nothing like I see today. Why should someone who takes up racing as a hobby be subsidized by others? A long way of saying we’re marketing to a group that we’ll never profit from.

It’s cool to hang around top racers. I get that. And they can offer a lot of valuable input for making the product better. I get that too! But they’re not the target audience for bikes that are actually sold off the floor. We need to get a better focus on the customer who actually pays for the cycling experience, especially those who are willing to buy something far above what is needed for basic transportation. Does that mean that you don’t sponsor a pro cycling team? No, but it does require that you make a conscious effort to remember who the paying customers are and market appropriately.

Here’s what I want to see- “You don’t have to be Jens Voigt, ripping apart the competition in the Tour de France, to love this bike. You don’t even have to be in good shape to benefit from its smoother ride, greater efficiency and confident handling. What makes a bike great for the Tour de France translates perfectly to a mere mortal looking for more fun & better performance on a bike.”

My part of the industry is paying a good chunk of change on both advocacy & sponsorship. Is Chain Reaction getting its money’s worth from it? That’s the question. Does our core customer, the enthusiastic cyclist, which comes in all shapes and sizes and capabilities but share a common belief that bikes are great to ride, see the value?

i’m going to work hard to make this the year we put the enthusiast first. –Mike–

A higher/bigger gear will not make you go faster

Going faster isn't quite that simple...
Going faster isn’t quite that simple…

I recently spent a fair amount of time on the phone with someone convinced the only way he’s going to go faster on his bike is with a bigger sprocket. He’s currently got a 50 tooth up front, 11 tooth in the back. (Before going any further, the basics of gearing are that the larger the front chainring, the higher the gear. For the rear, the smaller it is, the higher.) To put that in perspective, he’s already got a higher gear than the legendary Eddy Merckx had, probably the best bike racer who ever lived. And he was very, very fast!

A “normal” bike comes with a high gear that’s probably a 50 tooth chainring up front, combined with a 12 tooth sprocket in back. With a 700 by 25c tire (normal for a road bike), you would be going 26.2 mph at a leisurely cadence (number of times your crank is going around each minute) of 80rpm. A mere mortal cannot sustain that high a speed, regardless of gearing. A highly-trained professional cyclist can maintain 30 mph on a bicycle designed specifically for time trials (for about an hour, racing against the clock, without other people around), but for the rest of us, 22-24 mph is the best we can hope for over a distance of greater than a mile or so. Seriously.

24 mph (with that 50/12 combination) is only 73 rotations of the pedals per minute, well within the range attainable by virtually anybody, regardless of physical strength (73 rotations of the crank per minute that is; 24 mph is another thing entirely). Even at 60 rotations per minute, you’re still doing 20 miles per hour, and of the many thousands of my customers, a relatively small number can probably maintain that speed for any distance.

Which chainring will make you go faster, the larger one or the smaller one (which came stock on your bike)? Answer: The smaller one.
Will you go faster if you replace the stock chainring on your bike, like the 50t one shown here, with a larger chainring, like the 56t behind it? 99% of the time the answer is no, you will likely go slower.

That example is for a 50 tooth front, 12 tooth rear sprocket. The gentleman in question already had an 11 tooth rear, so at 60 rpm he’s going 21.5 mph. To get to 30 mph, he’s only pedaling at 83 rpm. But the laws of physics won’t allow him to get to 30 mph, unless he has a strong tailwind or is descending. And if descending, he’s going to go even faster if he tucks in a bit and gets a bit aerodynamic; pedaling will actually slow him down, due to turbulence.

But why not have that ultra-high-gear anyways? What’s the harm? The human body is simply not made to produce optimal power at very low pedaling rotation speeds (rpm). You need more horsepower than you have to push a really high gear at low RPMs. A tandem, where you have the horsepower of two people pedaling, can often make use of higher gears. A normal person, even an abnormally-strong person, cannot.

Let’s talk first-person here. Me. I’m known to be a high-gear sort of guy. People make fun of me because I use higher gears than most others that I ride with. How high? My flat-land cadence is typically around 80 RPMs (it should be closer to 90). If I’m feeling good, I can do 21 mph using a 50 tooth chainring up front, with a 15 tooth rear. If I shift to a higher gear, I will not go faster! I will simply pedal more slowly and my speed will gradually drop as my legs become sluggish from trying to push too hard on the pedals.

What about descending Skyline from Kings Mtn to Sky L’onda, where you can get to 40 miles per hour? My highest gear, a 50-tooth front/11-tooth rear, would have me pedaling at 112 RPMs to get to that speed. And yes, I can pedal that fast, if I want to. But I will go faster if I don’t pedal! Pedaling creates choppy air that slows you down. The only exception to this is if you’re drafting (following closely behind) a large truck, but even then you’ll probably get sucked along behind it without having to pedal.

So how high a high gear do you need? For most, a 50 tooth front, 13 tooth rear would manage everything needed. There might be a very rare time something taller would be useful, but not too often. At 90 RPMs, you’d be going 27.2 mph. Nearly every road bike (and most hybrids) have a higher gear than that though, typically with a 12-tooth in the back. That would give nearly 30 mph at 90 RPMs. You might never have occasion to use a higher gear.

And if you’ve already got an 11-tooth in back (as many bikes come with stock), don’t expect a receptive audience at your local bike shop as you’re trying to explain your need for a bigger gear so you can go faster. Don’t take my word for it. Read what Kevin Metcalfe, a top racer (if 10,000 people read this post, there might, maybe, be a single person faster than him), has to say about gearing. And a discussion in a triathlon group on the same subject.

Thanks for listening-  Mike Jacoubowsky, former racer, present-day bicycle retailer, long-time cyclist and more patient than I should be entertaining people who think they need higher gears.