Real World Durability Testing

Dave and I talk a lot about what I refer to as "meaningful points of differentiation." Differentiation is the ways products are different (real or perceived), though the meaningful part is more important to us. It's great if your frame has a proprietary RDSC Carbonic Scrim designed to enhance cornering arcs and precisionism, but not all "features" in the modern racing bicycle seem destined to improve a bike's performance. 

We believe that bikes at this level are 99% the same, and we differentiate by ignoring the diminishing returns from the other 1% and charging hella less. In a sense, much of our differentiation comes from not trying to. 

But in order to have a bike that is 99% comparable to what the big brands have on offer, we still had meet some standard of raceworthiness through a combination of stiffness, weight and durability. Of the three, we erred on the side of stiffness over weight, as detailed previously. Durability was also important, and part of the reason we banked so heavily on stiffness. Stiffness is not the same as durability, but there is normally a strong correlation between the two - certainly more than is commonly seen between lightweight and durability. 

Some brands have pretty sophisticated and expensive testing equipment right in house to measure durability. Since we don't want to charge our customers for an "in-house" much less expensive testing equipment filling it, you won't be surprised to learn that we have no such apparatus. Our suppliers in Taiwan do, and we don't see the need to replicate their own stress testing of our products, just so we could claim a measured fatigue rate comparable to a giant redwood, or a life expectancy of a gozillion cycles. Durability is important, to be sure. But turn 3 at the office park is not a controlled environment. So we supplement our suppliers' scientific durability testing with some empirical tests of our own design. Or rather, of our customers' design.

One of our customers who I will not call Ethan in order to protect his identity, helped us by devising the "Max Headroom Test." To simulate the impact generated by driving under a "max height" barrier at a parking garage with a Wheelhouse on your roof rack, this customer drove into a "max height" barrier at a parking garage with a Wheelhouse on his roof rack. In the first attempt, his approach speed was sufficient to rip the rack clean off the roof of his car, sending it - with a Wheelhouse still clamped on - clamoring to the pavement. Excepting a scratch on the Thompson Masterpiece seatpost, the bike was unscathed. The second attempt is not yet scheduled (neither was the first, so this may be part of the test's design), though the tester indicated that he wishes to replicate the first trial exactly, only using the Wheelhouse of a teammate who laughed at him.

Customers in Rhode Island, Massachusetts and Maryland have collaborated on the "Spring Classics Simulation," by racing our RFSW, FSW and RFSC 38 wheelsets in gravel road events, including Tour of the Battenkill in upstate New York, and the Poolesville Road Race in Maryland. Results included a 4th, 5th and 13th place finish. One tester supplemented the Spring Classics Simulation with the "Horizontal Steamroll Test," in which he deftly maneuvered himself into a mid-pack crash in the precise manner required to slam his RFSC 38 front wheel to the ground, directly beneath the high speed oncoming wheels of a racer with a decidedly Cobbled-Classics build. Tests like these are important for establishing the failure rate of products, and we're grateful to this tester for doing so. Future RFSC 38s may include a warning label that reads, "For best results, do not lie wheel flat on ground directly in the path of a 180+ racer traveling at high speed." This tester is further adding value to our quality control program by being the first to sample our Wheel Crash Replacement initative.

Some products are actually designed to fail in order to prolong the life of other products. Derailleur hangers are an excellent example. One of our Wheelhouse customers has developed veritable testing expertise in identifying the failure point of derailleur hangers on his Wheelhouse, by crashing in a race, replacing the derailleur hanger, and repeating. He is now on his third derailleur hanger and has not even raced the Cat 4 event at BikeJam yet. We have increased our supply of replacement derailleur hangers should other customers wish to replicate the test on their own.

Dave has created an entire testing battery entitled the "Do as I say, not as I do protocol," in which he advises customers against all manner of product treatment and usage, only to be seen pursuing the same forbidden activities himself. I do find some fault with his methodology, however. Much of his action seems intent to try and brake everything all at once - frame, steerer tube, wheelsets, qr skewers and even prototype items not yet in production. The test may have more merit if he used some control items and only tried to break one thing at a time. Since he has so far failed to break anything, however, I don't have any skewed results to try and interpret.

While we are thrilled with how well our products are holding up to the rigors of real-world racing, we do have more tests to complete before we're able to start marketing their specific durability measures. If you see the 2012 Wheelhouse promoted as having "Now with more garage door impact than ever!" you'll know we've completed a testing cycle to our satisfaction. Until then, please feel free to design your own durability tests of our products, by racing the bejeezus out of them in confidence.

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