With another Interbike under our belts, we're ready to tell you about some of the significant trends and stand-out products we spotted at the mega-cycling trade show last week in Las Vegas.
This week, I'll give you a quick rundown of my Best of Show individual products, and Sheri Rosenbaum will cover the trends that are shaping new product development. In Tech Talk, Jim Langley will add his own take on some interesting products launched at the show. Jim wasn't able to attend this year, but he did follow closely the online coverage of the show and the voluminous press releases announcing new products.
Next week, Sheri and I will continue our coverage with a rundown of a few more noteworthy products we saw. RBR will be reviewing many of these products over the next year to provide a detailed look at their features and performance.
Tenor of the Show
Before I tell you about what I considered to be the top products from this year's Interbike, let me give you a brief feeling for the show. First, it's important to know that this is a show for retail buyers (bike shops and related companies) and distributors. The show kicks off each year with the Industry Breakfast before the doors open. Of note is that all of the industry speakers talked about what a challenging year it's been for the cycling business, and how much bike shops are struggling. This in itself is an ongoing trend, unfortunately.
This year's show continued a trend, too, of getting smaller, with fewer exhibitors, and with many big-name bike makers and companies either not showing up at all or scaling back to display only a small slice of their wares. (Some now host their own invitation-only displays and prefer to control their information output.) In short, the show seems to lack the Wow! factor that it has had in past years.
There are still scores of new, interesting products, ideas and approaches to see, but as Jim Langley sagely predicted in his Interbike preview column a couple weeks ago, there really wasn't a single "runaway best new product" like some we've witnessed in the past few years (Shimano's Di2 and SRAM's eTAP come to mind). Innovation – at least in terms of it delivering a great leap forward or a singularly new approach with a potential paradigm-shifting impact on the industry – seems to have hit a cold spell.
John's Best of Show
Now that I've written that last sentence, let me backtrack just a bit as I introduce my favorite new product from Interbike 2016.
While it may not seem to be a game-changer on par with electronic shifting, this new approach to saddles is indeed innovative. And it may replace the "try them till you find one that works" approach to how most of us end up with the saddle we ride.
Meld Saddles, the brainchild of computer science Ph.D. Ethan Ee, a former Google employee who has worked at various startups as well, offers direct-marketed custom saddles built to your specific physical "impression" and inputs you add on the company website to help determine the shape and final attributes of the saddle.
Here's how it works:
- You sign up for an account at https://www.meld3d.com/
- Meld sends you an "impression kit" – a box containing a piece of foam on which you sit (wearing cycling shorts) to create an impression of your anatomy that contacts the saddle. See photo.
- You send back the box.
- Meld scans and computer maps the impression in order to customize the saddle to your body. For example, the distance between the lowest points on each side of the impression equates to your sit bone width, which in part will help dictate the overall width of the saddle. And so on.
- Using the "Dashboard" in your account, you input such things as your weight and choose various parameters to meet your needs (shape and type of saddle – there are 6 different shapes; carbon fiber or stainless steel rails; short or tall rails; thickness of the foam; graphics (you can get your team logo, nationality and/or name on the synthetic leather cover); etc.
- Combined with the "suggestions" inherent in your mapped physical impression and inputs (for instance, a Clydesdale-weight rider would likely be directed toward the super-strong stainless steel rails, which are also preferred by MTB riders), a final saddle will be decided on and custom made.
- The actual fabrication takes a minimum of 1.5 weeks, though demand will dictate the final timetable for delivery.
The shell of all Meld seats is aerospace-grade carbon fiber, mated with either the carbon fiber or stainless steel rails, and synthetic leather cover. Depending on the model and the types of rails, etc., a Meld saddle can weigh across an approximate range of 126 - 260g. (Again, as each saddle is custom-made, a rider with narrow sit bones, for instance, choosing a smaller saddle shape, carbon rails and thinner padding would get a saddle that weighs less than the same saddle made for a larger rider – which would by definition be wider and contain more material.)
The full carbon saddles cost $325, including shipping, and the stainless steel rails models run $250, including shipping.
Perhaps the coolest thing is that, if you're not satisfied with the finished products, Ee says Meld will continue to work on additional iterations of the saddle for you. And if the product is still unsatisfactory, Meld will issue you a full refund.
I look forward to going through the process myself and testing a Meld saddle as soon as possible. You'll certainly be hearing more about this one.
Stac Zero Trainer
A trainer with: zero noise, zero tire wear, zero moving parts? Yes, that's exactly how the small Canadian firm advertises its run-silent Stac Zero trainer.
The "magic" is magnets, but not in the way they've traditionally been employed in trainers. Stac Zero resembles a regular old trainer but features two magnetic arrays that look like big, curved brake pads. The magnets sit on either side of the bike's rear wheel, 1-3mm off the aluminum brake track, and create resistance of up to 2,000 watts (I won't bore you with the physics details of how it works.)
You create the level of resistance by shifting gears, old school-style. With no moving parts, and no friction, the only noise you'll hear is the noise of your bike being pedaled (from the chain moving across your rings and cogs). Oh, and your cooling fan sitting in front of you. Absent will be that hum-verging-on-a-roar of the flywheel of the trainer that you're used to hearing.
Because your tire touches nothing, you don't have to bother putting on a "trainer tire" or wearing down your perfectly good rubber. And while the trainer won't work with a full-carbon wheel, any wheel with an aluminum brake track will work fine (including carbon wheels with an aluminum brake track).
The Stac Zero comes in two versions, one with and one without power measurement. The power version transmits your date via Bluetooth and ANT+ to pair with any of your devices, as well as with apps such as Zwift, TrainerRoad, Kinomap, etc.
Weighing in at a svelte 13 pounds (think about how much a flywheel trainer weighs), the trainer folds flat for easy storage. The version without power sells for $399. The version with power goes for $499. Purchase direct from the company at http://www.staczero.com/hero. (Note: The company is fulfulling orders from its recently closed Kickstarter campaign. Current website orders are estimated to ship by December.)
One of the themes discussed at the Industry Breakfast I mentioned was how to get more people interested in cycling. It stands to reason that the earlier you set the hook, the better. Which is why my interest was piqued when I saw Frog Bikes mentioned in the show literature.
Frog makes kid-specific bikes, from a balance bike to 20-, 24- and 26-inch road bikes optimized for kids from 6 to 14 years old. All of them incorporate scientific info about how kids' bodies are different, in the same manner as women-specific bikes. For example, the road bikes, which top out at $700, utilize a Shimano Sora groupset mated with Microshift shifters – because Microshift is the only shifter maker with models optimized for the limited reach (hand size) of kids.
Additional kid-friendly features include appropriate crankarm lengths and narrow, short-drop handlebars. The two smaller bikes are both straight 9-speed models with a single ring up front. The 26-inch model, for kids from about 11 to 14, adds a 42-tooth chain ring to the 34 to create a traditional double 18-speed.
All three road bike models come with cantilever brakes and two sets of tires, one road and one cyclocross for any "off-roading" the kids might want to do. (Frog even makes track bikes!)
Frog is a U.K.-based company with production done in Wales. The company sells worldwide and is just entering the U.S. market. Another positive aspect, in my book, is that they sell only through local bike shops (no big-box retailers, which typically peddle the cheapest bikes, in all respects).
If there's a youngster you know who might love a road bike designed especially for kids, it's worth checking out https://www.frogbikes.com/ for a dealer near you. (Frog also sells all manner of kid-sized accessories, including helmets, backpacks, jerseys and Team Sky swag.)
John Marsh is the editor and publisher of RBR Newsletter and RoadBikeRider.com. A rider of "less than podium" talent, he sees himself as RBR's Ringmaster, guiding the real talent (RBR's great coaches, contributors and authors) in bringing our readers consistently useful, informative, entertaining info that helps make them better road cyclists. That's what we're all about here—always have been, always will be. Click to read John's full bio.