Can't decide on wheels? You might have FOPO.

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Over the past couple of years, we have evolved our model from a pretty standard manufacturing / retailing approach to a consultative buying service. Not by choice mind you - there is much more margin in selling products we bring to market than there is in answering questions about what product someone should be, particularly when the options we're asked to advise on invariably include some we don't own. Many of our customers see the options presented to them as positively paralyzing, for a couple reasons. First, much energy is put into making unremarkable differences seem more meaningful than they really are. Laboring over the perceived performance differences between one brand's 28mm deep, 19.3mm internal width rim and another's 27mm deep 19.6mm internal width rim is tantamount to struggling with the choice of a Gillette or Schick razor to split a hair. It doesn't matter, and why do you want to split a hair in the first place?

But the other reason the choice is so hard - and the reason for today's blog - is that we're not only comparing our preferred wheelset to a similar offering from another brand. In an industry so focused on upgrades, iterations, new standards and transformational technology, we're comparing what we have in our cart today to what doesn't even exist yet, but may just be announced at Interbike in August. Next year's version can't be New and Improved without making what you just bought Old and Lousy. So you could buy the fastest wheels on the block today, and end up with buyer's remorse as soon as the new new thing rolls out in a few months. 

It has gotten to the point where instead of celebrating a new wheel purchase, we almost have to admit defeat at the future obsolescence we've just signed on for.

This culture within the bike industry (born of the vicious model year cycle that requires every brand to launch blockbusters every summer to write orders from shops every fall and ship new product every winter) has given us all FOPO - Fear of Performance Obsolescence. When we've been conditioned to believe that the fastest wheelset we can buy today will be outdated when the fasterest comes out in a few months, how can we not wait just a few more months for that new thing to hit the market, whatever it is and whomever it's from?

The bad news is that there's no cure for FOPO. The good news is that it's not real. As we've learned in our trips to the wind tunnel and our many other tests on wheels and components, that new new thing you're promised next year is usually no better than the thing you covet today. Sure some evolutions are meaningful, like the widening of rims from 13mm inside to 18mm, and now 19mm and 20mm as more riding is done on underpaved roads. But the difference between this year's 19.3mm internal width rim and next year's 19.8mm? Or last year's dimples compared to this year's whale flipper? Different isn't always different, and in many cases the data bears out that different isn't even different. We really don't fault any brand for this phenomenon. Everyone is doing what the system requires. It's the system itself that's the issue, and we're not going to play in it.

We see the symptoms of FOPO in a lot of our customers, and we empathize. The forces (and by forces I mean mostly marketing budgets) aimed at creating the purchase anxiety in with FOPO thrives are strong. At a macro level, we all felt it a few years ago when we really wanted a new 10-speed wheelset for our bikes but the 11 speed standard was just around the corner. Today, we have customers debating a new rim brake wheelset that they know won't be compatible with some future disc brake road bike they might buy. And they don't even have to have any intention of buying a disc brake bike. The worry that any rim brake purchase might one day be less useful or valuable throttles decision making, inevitably.

On a micro level, any of a wheelset's features could provoke FOPO: spoke number or shape; rim design, width or depth; hub points of engagement (which effectively don't matter unless you're Hans Rey), even logo color. Every time we see customers weighing these options with some reservation, we realize it's because it's very hard to find the "perfect" wheel when we've been conditioned that it can't possibly exist yet.

This is why, in part, we like alloy so much. It's less expensive and more versatile than carbon, making it easier to justify in dollars per utility than a set of carbons at 4x the price. It's also why we sell so many premium hubs by White Industries and Chris King and Industry Nine. They will live on from wheelset to wheelset. Invest in those, and treat your rims as consumables (which they are, by the way, no matter how much you paid for them).

It's also why we include so many links to contacting us by email on our product pages. We know that arriving at a decision in this industry was a long and onerous process. And we also know that even if you've configured your dream set and added it to cart, you still might not be certain you're making the right choice. 

What causes or caused your FOPO? How did you get over it? Let your fellow afflicted know in the comments and maybe we'll all be the better for it.


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  • Ryan on

    Road biking FOPA has nothing on mountain biking FOPA. I bought a set of I9 torch wheels for my mountain bike (prior to you guys doing mtb wheels, but not that much prior) and they won't fit any of the new bikes I've been looking at because of the new boost standard. It's a bit ridiculous if you ask me, but it is what it is.

  • Richard on

    Too bad you guys didn't figure this out before you started selling carbon wheels.

  • Hans on

    I guess I always raise my eyebrows a bit at the idea of people investing in hubs so that they last for many wheels. Axle standards, hub widths, and freehub body constraints can change a lot in the lifetime of a set of hubs. I can't really speak to how long a set of Novatec hubs lasts, but the bearings are ~$30 and easy to replace. My Hope Pro 2 hubs have ~20k all-weather miles on them with zero service and it's frustrating because they are 10sp-only and refuse to die. I need to replace my rear Grail rim (those rims are lovely but they sure sent easily!) but I can't justify rebuilding on a 10sp hub. And I am switching to 15mm TA on the commuter and my DT Swiss 240S front hubs, which I assume will also last forever, can't be adapted to 15.So I am gonna switch to Novatec hubs; I have good experience with their disc hubs on my road bike (only 5k miles but zero issues, now they are on my son's 24" MTB) and am pretty confident that I will get plenty of miles on a set. The price point is fantastic and weight is better than most mid-tier hubs.I would believe it if someone told me that CK or WI hubs would last longer than a set of Novatec, but I would be pretty skeptical if someone told me they would last 3x-6x longer. I think people get CK and WI hubs because they are a status symbol, and admittedly also top-shelf products. For me, there isn't a performance justification for top-shelf hubs, but then I do have a Silva saddle bag/roll, so I can appreciate why people might want nice things.

  • James Kirsten on

    I'm so fortunate to live in the Sonoran desert (Tucson) where, in my humble opinion, disc brakes are not needed. We only get 12 inches of rain in a wet year, so rim brakes are more than adequate here. I'm concerned that future market driven road bike choices will be disc brake only. Specialized and Scott seem to be headed that way. My used Niner has discs, as every Mtn. bike has discs these days. I remember getting launched over my bars when I first rode V-brakes way back when! I like to choose, not be told what is best by, well, I'll hold my tongue.

  • Quentin on

    Sometimes in life, there are many right decisions and no wrong ones.



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