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 When we've been conditioned to believe that the fastest wheelset we can buy today will be outdated when the fasterest comes out in a few months, how can we not wait just a few more months for that new thing to hit the market, whatever it is and whomever it's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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  • Mike T. on

    I'm just waiting for my 26" MTB wheels to come back in fashion again so I can be smug that I ignored all the 26 ~ 36inch "bigger is better" wheel hype. My old MTB riding buddy cleaned my clock in the gnarly stuff and he would have still cleaned my clock no matter what wheel size I got suckered into.

  • dave on

    Dear BYcycles – I like the cut of your jib, sailor. "For the vast majority of us, quality components put together by someone that knows what he/she are doing will be all that is ever needed." – This statement has been becoming our general elevator pitch for a long time, and is now precisely what it is. "Another way to get over FOPO is to go on a super-hilly ride with lots of participants and then count the number of epic wheel failures." – Still happens. Last summer's Vermont Gran Fondo, I'm going to say there was like a 4% overall wheel failure rate. Lots of smoked carbon brake tracks. Thanks for the comment.

  • BYcycles on

    The only cure for FOPO is self-awareness. Once you realize that you suck just as much on a gee-whiz carbon wheelset as you do on a traditional alloy 32h 3X one, you will no longer spend time chasing non-existent incremental gains that were invented by copy writers in a marketing meeting. In fact, you might even go the other way— "Just how 'obsolete' can I make my wheels". For the vast majority of us, quality components put together by someone that knows what he/she are doing will be all that is ever needed. Anquetil and Merckx stomped out 30 mph TTs using "obsolete" equipment and nothing "aero" except for a drop-bar. Think about that the next time you feel compelled to part with large wads of cash for a set of plastic wheels. Another way to get over FOPO is to go on a super-hilly ride with lots of participants and then count the number of epic wheel failures. You will almost never see an "obsolete" wheel that is warped or that has flown apart like a piece of peanut-brittle simply because it rolled over a pothole.

  • Dave Kirkpatrick on

    Ryan – No jokeQuentin – TruthJames – It will be interesting to see where that one goes, that's for sure.Hans – Some choice is probably better than infinite choice and no choice. Paradox of Choice is a great read.Richard – There's a reason that "if I knew then what I know now" is such a powerful concept. It takes commitment to learn today what you didn't know yesterday. I'd rephrase your statement as "it's too bad that all this information is there and it takes a tiny little company like November to take the risk of learning it and talking about it." Potato, patata.

  • dave on

    Mike, I have to say.. I actually got way quicker when I went from 26" to 29". And then I got faster again when I went full suspension (with the side benefit of actually being able to stand upright after rides). I don't think that train's coming back into the station. And I think the narrow rim time is over, too. But isn't it always fun to watch and find out?



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