Following a recent post on Velonews.com we thought we'd add a bit to the conversation.
The idea that pros choose anything equipment-related is pretty far from the truth in today's business of cycling. Money is the order of the day. On the team side, it’s about getting the biggest check and support from the bicycle sponsor. On the bicycle sponsor side, it’s all about using the team as a marketing vehicle to deliver their brand message. The big money dramatically changes the equation – it limits the number of brands involved in cycling sponsorship, pushes the focus to the brand rather than the product, and mandates volume (and low production costs which give higher margins) in order to support this big brand-building effort.
In Cyfac's history we've had pros and entire teams come to us, pay out of their own pocket, and leave with the custom frame THEY want. Of course, this was during an era when most frames resembled one another, with round to softly sculpted tubes in steel and then alloy. Paint schemes and the brand name differentiated one frame from another whereas now it’s all about the frame silhouette and mega-branding that only comes from moulded frames and the huge tube sections available for brand coverage visible at any and all angles.
As actual frame-builders, we at Cyfac aren’t big fans of this new era. With a premium placed on brand it’s almost like the rider, him/herself, is the forgotten portion of the equation. All pros used to have custom frames and now just a few get this special treatment and only in extreme cases. The big bike brands are spending a lot of money on the message that “if it’s good enough for the pro then it’s great for you” and they don’t want anything to upset that pitch. In most sports, the top echelon gets the custom product and Mr. Everyday gets something lower down the line. In cycling, a consumer can actually get a better fitting, better-adapted custom product than what the pro can access!
As the largest portion of funds go towards marketing over production there are some things that must give. That is, indisputably, quality and durability. Mass-produced, uber-light, ultra-stiff sets one consistent standard – easily broken and disposable…A pro crashes a bike, he gets a new one off the roof of his team car because the crashed one’s life is done. Today's pros are replacing uncrashed bikes every couple of months because the frames aren't resilient enough to handle the rigors beyond that. As a consumer, that’s not very reassuring…To juxtapose that against cycling’s more recent “quality” past, just take a look at the Youtube videos of racers who crashed on their steel or alloy bike, picked it up, and continued along to the finish. Most notable example of this is Bernard Hinault’s 1981 victory in Paris-Roubaix after crashing on his steel bike. You won’t see that with today’s mass-produced bikes…