Sign of the Times

We’ve been having a little back and forth with one of our bike rental partners today because we were surprised to see on their website that their usual ‘base line’ of Shimano 105 bikes was no longer available. The reason: everyone wants Ultegra mechanical or Di2…and up, these days.

Then the conversations progresses.

We also notice a totally new category of e-road bikes, which we’ve already talked about on Vicious Cycle. Obviously, they are getting a lot more interest in ‘assisted’ bikes, too. I’ve got no further comment on this one till I see it face to face.

11-36Finally – and this shouldn’t surprise me but it does anyway – these guys are also getting many requests for 11-34 and even 11-36 cassettes (which they don’t offer – yet).

I’m torn here. On the one hand, I don’t want to sound elitist by suggesting that people shouldn’t ride the biggest damn cassette they can get their hands on. On the other hand, there are only a certain number of hours in each day, and if I have to guide someone who wants to climb Ventoux with a 36 sprocket, I’ll never make it home for dinner.

A dilemma I never considered when I got into this business.


32 thoughts on “Sign of the Times

  1. Maybe you shall take the job title ‘sherpa’. Ventoux is the cyclist version of killimandscharo. Once in your lifetime experience /have to! Be happy you don’t live at lake garda. There you get run over by E Mtbs…

  2. I’ve ridden a 34 cassette for a while now, recently demoted to a 32, but . . . it’s hilly here, 15% is not unusual, and one just outside the village ramps up to 22%, also I’m soon to be 70, but still cycling 8,000 miles last year. Why hurt when there’s no need (or walk?)

  3. Gerry, I feel for you: l’embarras du choix, as they call it in your adopted home country. I typically am a SRAM man (hey, based in Chicago!) who had left Shimano choices behind but my new road bike has discs and Ultegra DI2 [eTap, which I have on my other bike, was a difficult-to-justify $2700 more!]. I am impressed: aside from being a little heavier than eTap and having inelegant cables, Ultegra DI2 is fantastic. And so we get spoiled: once one experiences disc and Ultegra electronic shifting, it’s “hard” to go back. Remember, these are first-world problems, just like all of cycling-for-fun-or-competition is…

  4. Some rambling thoughts on the subjects: Some businesses say that “their internal rate of change must exceed the external rate of change or they will get left behind”. If you’re in business and want to stay in business then I think you are on a slippery slope already, balance and movement are so important. I recently upgraded from an aluminium frame with Sora brakes and gears to carbon, 105 and hydraulic disc brakes, it’s wonderful but I’m not rushing out for Ultegra DI2. But put me on a once a year or once in a lifetime tour in southern France and I will gladly pay a bit more to try DI2. As for the gearing, for me it’s the trend i might take longer but I will still go as fast as I can and feel satisfied that I’ve done something significant (and talk about it over my late dinner).
    E-bikes to me are a different clientele, it wouldn’t feel like the same achievement.

    • Andrew, thanks for the comment. We roll with the times as best we can and don’t even usually see how slippery the slope is!

      Agreed about your Di2 comment. Our clients often upgrade to something they don’t ride back home, which it totally understandable. I’m just surprised that 105 is not even a consideration anymore for this shop. It reflects their clientele, I suppose, or that shop’s ‘internal rate of change’.

      As for the gearing, I’m sure most people are like you and me in that regard. We both know riders, however, who get into their easiest cog the minute they smell a hill!

      Finally, you and I are talking about ‘achievement’ and doing something ‘significant’, which is what our little company specializes in. It’s a relatively small niche and I do realize that the vast majority of riders out there doing tours are not in this category.

  5. Hmmm… if you’re ok with a 34/36 cassette then surely you are ok with 105?
    Personally, I’ve migrated to ultegra Di2 with an 11/25 or 11/28 for proper mountains but the ultegra/Di2 is more down to comfort/consistency rather than snobbery. If you’re trying to go fast and save weight go Dura Ace or Ultegra/equivalent but if you’re on a 34/36 cassette aren’t you already admitting there’s no point on going to high end? Or have I just been sucked into the world of cycling snobbery?

    • Dan, you would think so, wouldn’t you, but it’s not the case it seems. People who rent a Ferrari for day don’t want a Ford Focus engine in it.

      I should have been more careful with my wording. I don’t have any snobby feelings towards groupsets at all. It’s more the opposite, probably, since I’m lost when it comes to fiddling with a Di2.

      So back to that Ferrari analogy, my guess is that the average Dura Ace / 34/36 client is not thinking about going fast, but rather looking like they should be.

  6. Gerry, I should have been clearer with my wording, too: I didn’t mean to accuse you of snobbery. When I said ‘if you’re ok with…’ I actually meant ‘if someone is ok with…’ not you personally!

    Thinking about, your Ferrari analogy is a good one. I don’t hire bikes very often, but if the hire company doesn’t charge much more for the higher components, I could understand people thinking “I’ll treat myself” for the week and go with the snazzier option (but, as I said, I justified Di2 to myself when I got a new bike, so who am I to judge anyway!)

    At the end of the day, if a 36 cassette enables more people to enjoy cycling I guess that’s a good thing, but you have my sympathies and I wish you much patience as you wait for the 36 tooth spinners 🙂

    • I teach English on the side down here and the ‘impersonal you’ is always a tricky one! I did actually understand you, though. Just wanted to make sure I was clear on my side.

      I agree with you (and others) about the ‘accessibility’ issue with cassettes, motors, etc., but there remains something stuck in my craw about the general direction things are going. Someday I hope to identify it and write it down coherently!

    • I’ve long been a 34 tooth (and now 32 tooth) spinner, but It is steep & hilly round here. Despite approaching 70, I don’t seem to get left behind on club rides, except by the young thrusters!!

  7. When I did the Haute Route I remember my 32 coming in real handy (I think it was about 100 meters up the first hill of the first day). They have a 36 now eh?🤔. I generally manage well with a 28 nowadays but I also don’t have those long HR rides anymore. By the way, how many years can one ‘dine out’ on one’s HR accomplishment? I got about 25 years out of my triathlon days before my wife said “will you do something else already!”

    • I think the sky’s the limit as long as you can fix the right length of cage. I just saw ’40’ mentioned in an article.

      Luc, I think, if my math is correct, your bragging rights expire 5 years after a Haute Route. That means this year, but the good news is that Vicious Cycling will be back in 2019…just in time!

  8. Hello Gerry , over the years I’ve made the odd comment , sometimes very odd maybe! and like all of your contributors i leave a name at the end , but now I going to have to sign off with a different monicker . I will now be known as the other Andrew .

  9. For tour companies and bike rental companies, I suspect there are significant market opportunities amongst the crowd seeking 34 or 36T sprocket. They’re probably older, have more time and disposable income, and prefer to have aspects of the ride sorted by helping hands like yours instead of doing the self-supported thing.

    Whilst I understand the rationale for renting a Di2 and disc brake equipped bike as a treat, I am not sure about going home thereafter to a stable that doesn’t have at least one bike with those features. There will be a significant itch that will need scratching…

    • Yeah, I don’t think I wrote this article well. I too understand completely the desire to try out Di2. Actually, we have more and more clients who demand it because that’s what they ride back home and don’t want to live without it.

      As for 34/36 I suppose that we can only expect this request in the future, given that most of our tours are challenging and mountainous.

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