One of the things we've reluctantly had to admit is that bicycle marketing is a numbers game. Every metric a brand can attribute to its product has currency. One of the dearest is grams of course - all else being equal, fewer grams is always better. Of course, all things are not always equal with variable weight, so we see the introduction of new metrics like stiffness-to-weight ratio. Market a high stiffness to weight ratio and it almost sounds like you're marketing high stiffness and light weight at the same time, though that isn't necessarily the case.
The metric we focus most on is price, but not in an absolute sense. Our approach to price is through value. We're not just trying to sell the least expensive carbon wheelset or SRAM Force bike. We're trying to sell the highest quality carbon wheelset and SRAM Force bike we can put together, at the lowest price we can afford. That's harder to nuance than "our prices are INSAAAAAANE!" and is no small part of the reason we spend more energy here on the blog explaining our what and why than we do with splashy ads that try to reduce our essence into a action-driving tagline with a number.
Here's an interactive quiz to today's blog: go to VeloNews right now and look at the ads, refreshing a few times to load new ones. What percentage of them are completely reliant on a tidy number to generate interest in their product? More importantly, what percentage of the ads that caught your eye lead with a number? I got to 70%. In this business, numbers speak louder than words.
Much of the game then is to figure out which metrics serve your products better than your competitors, and then pump up the relative value of that metric's currency. The wind tunnel is perhaps the most powerful tool at brands' disposal for this purpose. I'm not going to talk about how some brands abuse the metric with unrealistic testing scenarios and irrelevant comparisons (not today anyway); rather I will concede that the value of wind tunnel derived currency is high enough that we can no longer ignore it. We're in the final stages now of sending a bunch of wheels to the wind tunnel for testing, an initiative precipitated by our upcoming wide carbon clincher, which is making the trip in prototype format for some early aero feedback. We'll have much more on this in the next few weeks, including what we're sending, why we're sending it and what we learned.
My point today though is that we're not betting the farm on the wind tunnel in the way that some brands do, because very few races are contested in a wind tunnel. Our approach to a new wheel is to improve aerodynamics along with road feel, handling and acceleration - in short, to create the first wheel optimized for every single part of the race course, not just the straight flat bits. We're learning what the R&D challenges to this approach are now, but I expect the marketing will give us even more fits. The single metric that encompasses a wheel's aerodynamics, rolling resistance, inertia and handling all at once simply doesn't exist. We're not just creating a new wheel; we have to develop our own form of metrics currency to explain how well it functions. Frankly, we're not sure how we're going to do that yet. But we are pretty confident that designing a wheel for the real world instead of a measuring contest is the right way to start.