Disc Brakes Are Coming -- and Right Soon!

I recently rebuilt a carbon rimmed wheel for my customer Jessica; she had distorted the front wheel after a long descent, stuck behind a slow moving vehicle - forcing her to brake for long periods at a time. It was no problem for me to lace up one of my Fifty rims to get her back on the road but it got me thinking about disc brakes for bicycles.

In the past few months I’ve set up a number of bicycles with hydraulic braking systems from both Shimano and SRAM. We share premises with Stinner Frameworks and do all of their complete build-outs, more and more of which are set up to runs discs. I was happy with the relative ease of installation for each company’s products, but I was ecstatic with the way each system worked. Each offered smooth, controlled, and powerful braking, easily surpassing the best rim brake systems with which I have familiarity. So, disc braking is on its way onto consumers’ bicycles and into the professional ranks; it would have happened this model year if Campagnolo had a disc braking system ready by now. As it is, they’ve been given one more year to get something ready for the Pro peleton, so we’ll see discs getting the full UCI blessing for the 2017 season, accompanied by a comprehensive offering of discs on consumer product, maybe reaching down as low as the 700-800 dollar range.

 So, why the mixed reaction to discs?

A bicycle frame is the heart of the machine; it can make a bicycle feel like an extension of the rider. It can be your best buddy on a hairy descent, a tricky sprint, or the last twenty miles before reaching the hostel where you’ll spend the night. Riders develop a connection with their machines in the most personal sense. If the bike that you’ve trusted for countless races, for adventures beyond number, is now obsolete because it can’t accept disc brakes, it’s not going to be easy to accept new technology, no matter how good “they” say it is.

 I’ve been around long enough to witness a few milestones in bicycle technology. I remember when Shimano introduced SIS, or Shimano Index Shift. The traditionalists said SIS really stood for “Shift into Spokes”, or “Stupid Idiot Shifting”. Nonetheless, it gained widespread approval when we realized that it took less time to make a gear change and we could concentrate on riding faster because of it. The relocation of the shifters to the brake lever made it even easier to be in the optimum gear at any time, further increasing our average speeds. On most bicycles, the index system was accompanied by a rear hub that was wider than previous hubs. In time, we sucked it up and bought new frames because the benefit of superior shifting became so hard to deny.

A similar thing happened with rear wheels when freehub systems were introduced by Shimano and Suntour. Cyclists had been happy with freewheels (and broken rear axles) for fifty years before the Japanese introduced “freehubs”, which offered vastly more durable rear hubs. It also ushered in the possibility of introducing more sprockets onto a rear wheel without undermining reliability. Once again, we recognized this as a good thing and dumped our Regina, Suntour and Atom freewheels in favor of the new system.

 I think the same thing will happen with road disc. Part of the confusion has been because the industry has not moved in a monolithic fashion on the subject. Company A is all for disc brakes; company B is holding back. Company C releases their version and has to recall most of its product. How can this do anything other than muddy the waters? I think, in a few years time, this will be viewed as a hiccup. Of course, If you want rim brakes on your 2018 model, you will still be able to source bikes that feature them; but there will be no remaining doubt about the efficacy of disc brakes.

If you doubt my predictions, I invite you to contemplate how disc brakes have changed the world of mountain bikes.

(Photos by Gabe Fox)


Hooium: The Start of a Revolution!

I was recently contacted by a friend, Hogey Hooey. He’s a longtime employee at MIT (landscaping department), who has been working on an amazing product that he’s decided to call Hooium (pronounced hooey-um). I only received the package two days ago, so today was the first day I could announce it; but imagine a tire additive that is ONE THOUSAND (yes, you read that correctly!) times lighter than Helium (pronounced he-lee-um).

One afternoon, Hogey (or Ole Hogwash, as Stephen Hawking likes to call him) was in the Institutes’ potting shed preparing a batch of RoundUp for the next day. He didn’t rinse the container and inadvertently mixed a couple chemicals together. The next thing he sees is the container floating clear of the bench and bouncing gently on the ceiling! I kid you not.

A landscaper doesn’t make a lot of money, so he put his mind to making dough with his discovery. He tells it this way--

This stuff is concentrated. Here I am experimenting with excessive amounts of Hooium. It's like riding on the moon! 

This stuff is concentrated. Here I am experimenting with excessive amounts of Hooium. It's like riding on the moon! 

“I looked over at my old Schwinn five-speed and thought; what if I could make it lighter?  I weighed it on the manure scale and it was 37 pounds. I deflated the tires and carefully inflated them with the contents of the RoundUp container. Then I weighed it again...24 pounds!"

Hogey has sent me a carton of 48 cartridges containing compressed Hooium. They go for the low price of $41.99 each. Do I really need to spell this out for you?!

Just imagine KOMing all over Strava!
Imagine thrashing your rivals on the Sunday ride!
Imagine impressing that good-looking girl on the Amira!
Think of the possibilities!

Supplies are limited; no club discounts, cash only. 
*Jones Precision Wheels is not responsible for any injuries or mid-air rescue charges caused by Hooium.


If You're Proud of the Job, Sign Your Damn Name!

I recently made a decision to change the logo on my wheels; the old one wasn’t bad but I wanted to go with something more indicative of the thing I do. I build custom wheels for individuals; I talk with them, find out what gets them excited, find out what will work best for them, and keep it all within budget. Each wheel set is my attempt to fulfill the rider’s aspirations and dreams. The job isn’t done on a wheel building machine. Not done by a guy who has thirty five minutes for the job. If the parts take an hour to become a wheel, no worries. If they take an hour and a half, so be it.

It’s personal for me; it’s my skin in the game. I couldn’t think of a better way to express this, than signing my work, literally. From now on, the logo is my name, my signature. It’s been re-worked by a terrific designer named Jadyn Chen because my actual signature is unreadable. As the old cowboys used to say;

If you’re proud of the job, sign your damn name.

The old cowboys also would have liked for you to give Jadyn a visit at jadynchen.com. Thanks again, Jadyn!

Daniele and I

Back in 1995, I signed on as Head Team Mechanic with Diamondback Racing, managed by Keith Ketterer. Two of our riders, David Wiens and Susan DeMattei were competing in the World Championship Series, or WCS; thus it was that I found myself in Cairns, Queensland for the Aussie leg of the series. Diamondback Europe had also sent a team which included Daniele Pontoni, amateur Cyclo-cross World Champion in 1992 and destined to be Professional World Champion in 1997.

Cairns is in the Tropics, so all the riders were using two bottle cages on their machines. Many Euros, however, only used one in Europe because of the lower temperatures and different nature of the courses on which they competed. So here I am, slaving over Susan’s bike when the Italian mechanic comes over. Pontoni’s bike has a seized water bottle bolt on the seat tube. It needs to come off so that a second cage can be installed. Pontoni was riding a steel bike constructed by his trusted frame builder that was then sprayed in Diamondback colors. It had been spray washed numerous times and the bolt threads had rusted into the frame.

I always brought along too many tools when we travelled abroad, and on this occasion it turned out to be a blessing. I went back to the pit area and found a tool known as an “easy-out”. It’s a device that looks like a coarse left-hand threaded screw. You drill a pilot hole into the back of the seized screw or bolt, insert the easy-out and if you’ve done everything right, you stand a good chance of removing the stuck bolt. I got lucky; out comes the bolt — Pontoni is saying “Bravo, bravo!” and the Italian mechanic is my new best friend.

The next day, Pontoni wins the race. To this day, I cannot remember seeing a rider turn over such a large gear so quickly, with no apparent effort. With one lap to go, he came through the finish going so fast and smoothly that he was surfing the tops of the bumps!

Later that day, I’m walking through the pits and Pontoni’s coming the opposite way with his entourage. He sees me, turns to face me and gives a nod. Then he walks on.

It was a good day to be a mechanic.

Killing the Goose That Lays the Golden Egg

Recently, my customer Ron asked me to make some changes to his new Trek bicycle. He wanted to swap out the rear derailleur to a long cage Ultegra 6800 (MSRP approximately $105), change the cassette to an 11-32 (MSRP also around $105) and throw on a chain. He asked me if I could match the prices that he would pay on the Internet. I was honest with him; one of his prices was lower than my wholesale price, the other would have given me a two dollar profit. He proceeded to buy the parts online and I installed them for him. In a world so taken by e-commerce, how can I fault a consumer for seeking out the best prices online? I cannot. Aside from product warranties, which tend to become complicated by purchasing overseas, the consumer has little to lose and a lot to save. I do not see this customer as my enemy. No, the “enemy” is elsewhere.

Presently, there is a huge disconnect in our industry. A customer can go online and purchase goods at a price that my wholesalers cannot sell to me! Shimano, for example, has a price of $100 MSRP on Part X. Let’s say my wholesaler charges me $63 for this part, a markup of fifteen/twenty percent from the manufacturer. I will pay to have it delivered, so it probably owes me somewhere south of $67 by the time it arrives at my door. Can I sell this part for less than $90? If I want to continue paying rent, paying employees, paying my suppliers, and keeping a roof over my family’s head and food in their bellies, the answer is, quite simply, no. If Shimano, SRAM, Campagnolo, or any other manufacturer advertises an MSRP of $100, sells it to wholesalers for $55 who sell it to me for $63, how can an online entity sell it for $65? OEM (original equipment manufacture) pricing, quantity discounts, VAT (value added tax), and exchange rates  all might have something to do with it, but the terribly disappointing  answer is — no one really knows for sure. 

Original Equipment Manufacture is a fancy name for componentry that is sold to bicycle manufacturers such as Trek, Specialized, Bianchi, etc., for the express purpose of ending up on their complete bikes. The price of OEM is significantly less than even the best wholesale price. Even though this equipment is sold specifically for new bike manufacture, somehow this product finds its way into mainstream online retail (also known as grey market) and makes a mockery of retail pricing. If a company is able to buy a massive amount of some product, they are often able to receive a deeper discount on said product, similar to OEM pricing. These huge quantities require significant storage space and a far-reaching customer base to unload product — both of which almost all brick and mortar bike shops lack. Aside from grey market and purchasing discounts, it is interesting to look at differences across borders. VAT, or value added tax is, for all intensive purposes, a much higher version of the sales tax we pay here in the States. In England, for example, it is 20%. Lucky for American consumers, the tax is typically only charged when the item is purchased in the country it is being sold – in other words, American consumers don’t pay it. 

At the end of the day, it’s hard to say how much these variables play a part in online deals. The truth is, regardless of how they do it, the problem remains.  

I don’t need to mention the adversarial atmosphere that’s created between consumer and retailer, do I? In addition, the retailer feels confused and neglected by manufacturers who appear to talk out of both sides of their mouths. Manufacturers have suggested retail prices on which they base their wholesale pricing to shops, MSRP. Then, they sell to companies who degrade pricing structures, altering perception as to the value of an article. It may come to a point where bike shops will hesitate to keep anything in stock, other than the basics. 

If there is one thing I think we can be sure of, it is that all of this will damage the industry. The number of bike shops across the country will diminish as owners find other ways to make a living. This also has the effect of producing a larger number of riders who install their own parts, some of them not very well. Cycling could end up poorer when all is said and done.