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My son, Ben, and I attended the Interbike show in Las Vegas in mid September. Lance Armstrong was the major attraction of the show and deservedly so. He attracted so much attention that security had to escort him with a bodyguard and walkie-talkies - "There's congestion on aisle 8, lets switch him to 7" [no kidding]. Well done Lance. Next year's Tour de France, with all the recent winners expected, should be one for the ages. Most industry observers are hoping that 2000 will be better than 1999. U. S. sales of adult bikes will be down from about 11 million in 1998 to 10.5 million in 1999. Walmart and internet sales worry the dealers. Bike store sales of quality bikes continue at around 2 million bikes per year. Sales of BMX (Bicycle Moto Cross) dropped off a bit in 1999. Comfort bikes were hot last year and hotter this year. Recumbents could well be the next trend. Tandems had a good year.
Just about every major company had at least four models on display. The big companies had as many as eight comfort bikes ranging in price from $200 to $600. Gary Fisher, the mountain bike icon, showed four comfort bikes. Comfort bikes cover a pretty broad range. They have pretty much absorbed the city bike and hybrid bike categories. The defining features are the suspension seat posts and suspension stems. There are now comfort mountain bikes with fat semi-knobby tires and comfort city bikes with medium-width treaded tires.
Tandems and Recumbents
Tandems had a record year with about 40,000 sales. 2000 is projected to be better. John Schubert writes for Adventure Cyclist. We shared observations at the show. Last year, John told me that recumbent sales were taking off. Sales went from around 10,000 in 1998 to 30,000 in 1999. The makers are projecting 120,000 sales in 2000. A dozen recumbent makers were at the show. These fall into three basic categories - the long wheelbase easy rider; the short wheelbase front-wheel-under-the-knee versions; and everything else. Generally, the long wheelbase versions have more laid-back handling. All recumbents stop on a dime. Ben liked the "medium" wheelbase Vision Model 32, which retails for $1500. The Greenspeed (from Australia) 3-wheeler ran rings around everyone else on the slippery-as-ice test track downstairs. E-bike sells more recumbents than everyone else combined.
Most 1999 recumbents sell for more than $1000. That may change because Easy Racer is having their EZ-1 mass-produced in Taiwan. It will sell for $499. Trek became the first major to enter the recumbent market. The Trek R-200 will sell for $1500.
Tandems, recumbents, and laden loaded touring bikes all climb like slugs and they need a low Low gear. Some recumbents have the cranks out in front, with a long chain line. A few get rid of the front derailleur and triple chainwheel by providing a second freewheel and derailleur on a jackshaft half way back. The gear freaking possibilities are limitless. One recumbent combined an 6-speed freewheel in the middle with a 14-speed Rohloff Speedhub providing 84 theoretical speeds.
Loaded Touring Bikes
It is discouraging to write this section. The same companies that made very good loaded touring bikes with unsuitable gearing in 1998 and 1999 are making loaded touring bikes with unsuitable gearing for 2000. For decades, John Schubert and I have been preaching the need for a Low gear less than twenty inches for loaded touring. Nobody responsible for component selection believes us. It could be even worse; maybe they don't even read our articles.
The year 2000 Bianchi, Cannondale, Fuji, Jamis, Raleigh, and Trek loaded touring bikes have long wheel bases, long chain stays, wide tires, braze-ons for front and rear panniers, and three water bottles. The prices range from around $550 for the Raleigh R-300 to around $1300 for the Cannondale T-800.
All six bikes use a 52-42-30 crankset. To get a 20-inch (1.6 meter) Low gear, you need to replace the 30 with a 24. Depending on the bike, the largest rear sprocket has 25, 28, or 30 teeth. You need a new cassette with a 34-tooth large sprocket. You probably need a new rear derailleur to handle the extra capacity.
Loaded touring groups are available but the bike makers don't specify them. For the past year, I've been riding Shimano Nexave. The 42-32-22 crankset combined with the 11 to 34 tooth freewheel gives a 103" (8.24 m) High and a 17-1/2" (1.4 m) Low. It's a nice setup, especially after I replaced the 23-tooth #6 sprocket with 12-tooth #2 sprocket. (The sprockets are 11-12-13-15-17-20-26-34.)
In 1984, the Raleigh Portage had a 90" (7.2 m) High and a 23" (1.84 m) Low. Today's Raleigh R-300 has a 108" (8.64 m) High and a 36" (2.88 m) Low. In 1984, the Trek 720 and the Cannondale ST-500 both had 100" (8 m) Highs and 27" (2.16 m) Lows. Today's Trek 520 has a 128" (10.24 m) High and a 27" (2.16 m) Low. Today's Cannondale T-800 has a 128" (10.24 m) High and a 25" (2 m) Low. I complained about the too-high Low gears in 1984, but it was different back in the pre-indexed dark ages. You could get a 19-inch (1.52) Low for $10.00 with a 24-tooth inner chainwheel, a 34-tooth sprocket, and two links of chain.
Road Bikes are becoming a niche market like tandems and recumbents. There are still lots on display. The Trek 2000 carbon frame, Lance's winning steed in the Tour, was the first honest production bike used by a Tour winner in years. Some manufacturers have decent aero frames - the Specialized aero Allez is light, stiff, and looks fast. For a lot more money, you can get the arduously crafted titanium very aero Litespeed. There were also a lot of truly beautiful paint jobs. If you can imagine it, there are artists out there that can paint it.
"Trekking" is a European term. SOIL (Schauf Olney Illinois) had a proper German trekking bike on display with an upright riding position, 7005 aluminum frame, chromoly forks, Shimano LX gear train, 35C tires, fenders, light and generator, rear rack, and kick stand. The weight was 14.3 kg (30.5 pounds) and the price was 2550 DM ($1350).
Electric bikes are still "to be determined." The Federal government and most states have not provided a legal framework for electric bikes. By law, in Japan and Germany, where electric bikes have a major market, they must provide pedal assistance (PA). The crux of the U. S. problem the control system. Some American bikes now shut off the power when you stop pedaling but they don't measure your pedal input.
Ben rode a number of electric bikes at the show. The PA system is perfect for fairly sedentary types, but it may feels mushy when you pedal hard. Still, they feel like about three gears higher speed for the same effort. Think about this when granny blows past you on the bike path. The consistent power of the U. S. electric bikes like ZAP provides a more solid pedalling response, albeit on a 50 pound bike. The cops love them . In the U. S., electric motorcycles with twist grip throttles are popular with people who have lost their licenses for drunk driving.
Yamaha - the largest maker in Japan, and Merida - a major maker in Taiwan, were at Interbike sampling the market and looking for distributors. Meanwhile, Trek has dropped the ElekTrek. Schwinn had two electric prototypes at the show but they are not in the catalog.
Shimano was walking on air after Lance Armstrong's Tour de France victory. It was Shimano's first Tour de France after decades of team sponsorship. There were no big changes from Shimano this year.
Two new road groups are positioned under 105, replacing RX100 and RSX. Tiagra is 9-speed and Sora is 8-speed. Both have STI brake-shift levers. Most of the loaded touring bikes use these groups. All of Shimano's road groups, except Dura-Ace, offer a 52-42-30 triple crankset. There are no optional chainrings.
The top three road groups (Dura-Ace, Ultegra, and 105) and the top four mountain groups (XTR, Deore XT, Deore LX, and Deore), now have hollow box section cranks. "Hollowtech" is exotic technology. The competition will find it hard to match the lightness and rigidity.
Auto D, the 4-speed Nexus hub with electronic automatic shifting, continues from last year. I liked the KHS hybrid comfort bike with an Auto D hub, a triple crankset and a front derailleur. You pedal on the middle chainwheel until you run out of gears, and then shift to either the big or the small chainwheel. A dummy rear derailleur takes up the slack chain.
Shimano is now in the wheel business with a very decent 16-spoke design with the spoke nipples at the hub. I watched the demonstrator lace up a wheel. The octopus keeps growing. I wonder if the people who specify components for the OEMs (Original Equipment Makers) ever think about how they let SunTour go down the tubes ten years ago.
Campagnolo won the sprocket shoot out at the Interbike corral with ten-speed Record and Chorus rear hubs. Ten sprockets fit onto the same freehub width as the 1997 eight-sprocket and 1999 nine-sprocket. The sprockets are narrower and the spacers are narrower yet. Your old Uncle Retro feels that the law of diminishing returns set in with seven sprockets and the disadvantages have increased faster than the benefits. Ten sprockets are the practical limit. I wonder if Shimano will take the bait.
Anyway, you can now get an 11 to 21 cassette with eight 1-tooth steps instead an 11 to 20 cassette with only seven 1-tooth steps. The ten-sprocket 13 to 29 cassette might let you avoid a triple crankset. Record and Chorus rear derailleurs have been redesigned to handle the 29-tooth sprocket. The tenth sprocket does not come cheap. The chain is only 6.1 mm wide. Campy's literature talks about "high precision machining and infinitesimal tolerances." Amen to that. A special one-use "Perma-Link" allows chain assembly.
Campagnolo showed an "Ergo Brain" computer to compete with Shimano's Flight Deck. This measures cadence and wheel speed and calculates the gear you are in. Shimano inputs the sprocket and chainwheels from the STI levers and calculates the cadence.
SRAM has successfully absorbed Sachs. The new hub gear factory is now in operation in Schweinfurt, Germany. SRAM is now the second largest component manufacture in the world. They offer two basic families of groups. SRAM's ESP design with a single-pivot (read SunTour VGT) rear derailleur and long cable movement is used for the 9.0SL, 9.0, 7.0, 5.0 and 3.0 groups. Plasma, Quarz, Neos, and Centera are based on the old Sachs D.i.r.t. design. They use a double-pivot rear derailleur (read Shimano Deore) that is Shimano compatible.
The groups include derailleurs, shifters, chains, hubs. and brakes. So far, they don't include cranksets or road bike shift levers.
SRAM kept the full Sachs line of Spectro 3-, 5-, and 7-speed hub gears. The 12-speed Elan hub gear has been dropped. The hybrid 3 X 7, a 3-speed hub combined with a 7-speed freewheel is still available.
The media story that bicycling makes men impotent was a false conclusion based on bad data analysis. The bicycling men in the sample were ten years older than the swimmers. Gosh, older men become more impotent. The real facts are that bicyclists are less impotent than the non-bicyclists of the same age. Thank Bud Hoffacker of Avocet for prying out the basic data. If you are one of the small minority who experience numbness, after riding, there are plenty of saddles featuring center slots for your equipment. By 1900, there were more than 1000 patents on bicycle saddles. If you find a saddle a that feels comfortable, stick with it...
Bits and Pieces
While Papa was collecting catalogs and looking for trends, Ben was visiting the off-beat booths. Power Tap is a rear hub that measures the riders power output. It cost $750 with a heart monitor and $500 without. This used to cost $5000 from another manufacturer. Coaches say power output monitors are the future of training. Champion and Powerbar have new energy drinks. Ben thought Champion's Revenge (nice name) tasted better. Maybe that's because they encase their vitamin and minerals in small crystals instead of dissolving them but they sink to the bottom if not shaken. Griptwist is a pair of 3 feet long neoprene-clad copper wires (visualize oversized, padded bread bag twists) - good for just about anything. Pygmy Pack is a waterproof nylon soft case made to fit around a bicycle's drive train. It looks perfect for keeping chain and chainrings from scuffing up car upholstery, or for keeping the drive train free from dust and bugs when mounted on a car carrier.