Reflections on the bottom brackets of Mark Cavendish and Katy Perry

I write about Mark Cavendish here a lot - not so much because of who he is, but because of what he represents as a rider. Above anything else, Mark Cavendish represents an unmitigated desire for power transfer. Comfort and weight be damned - he needs his bike set up exclusively to optimize the last 200M of a race. It's got to be hard to take a bike that Mark likes and sell it out in the real world, since most riders can't be so narrowly focused in their needs. Absolutely we want something that doesn't whip around when we sprint, even if we do it at 600 watts. But we also need something that doesn't beat us up on long rides, keeps us in a comfortable position, and allows us to get over the hills without pacing from a teammate, or the (alleged) help of a team car.

The other thing Mark needs his bike to do is conserve energy for the 99.8% of a race that is not the sprinter's moment of truth. I read an interview with Brian Holm where he said Cav keeps his power output below 350-400 watts all day long, saving his legs for the sprint. Can you imagine a race where you're so well protected that you don't break 350 watts once until the final couple of miles? It's no wonder he reportedly likes his Specialized Venge. It's stiff as a steel girder (Leonard Zinn reported in VeloNews that he "couldn't wait to get off the Venge" after a test ride), and the aerodynamics certainly must help him find some added shelter from the wind in the middle of the pack. It will be interesting to see how the Venge is received in the real world, once people who don't get their bikes for free start buying it and comparing it to what they've been fast and/or comfortable on previously. I think the market for the Venge's type of performance is smaller than the net it has to cast. Clearly it's aimed squarely at racers, as Specialized describes it thusly:

The S-Works Venge’s competition-crushing combo of Tarmac-inspired stiffness and light weight with Shiv-inspired aerodynamics makes this pure race machine truly more bike than aero. Shave even more grams with a FACT IS 11r carbon frame plus uber-light, Pro Tour-proven SRAM red components, and this bike will elevate you—and the riders on our Pro Tour teams—to a whole new level.

But how many racers are comfortable putting the life of a $9K bike into the hands of the 21-year-old in front of them, who will divebomb turn 4 without hesitation if there's even the slimmest chance of an upgrade point on the other side? The real market for the Venge is not the racer, but the well-heeled enthusiast fan. Trek made a killing selling Madones that looked as much at home on the roofs of Range Rovers and Porsche Cayennes as they did on top of the USPS team car. The difference is that Madones are a pleasure to ride. So far, nobody has said that about the Venge. It may prove to be too expensive for the amateur racer, and too single-minded on speed for the enthusiast with the means to buy it. 

The other side of the spectrum is a bike that positively intrigues me - the Volagi. It's the first entirely purposefully created endurance ride bike, with a seat tube intersecting the wispy seat stays so deeply that "compliance" doesn't come to mind as quickly as "sproing." It's also full carbon with disc brakes and a tall head tube, 48mm of fork rake, and a compact crank. The bike was born for Gran Fondos, where the emphasis is more on enjoying an all day jaunt through stunning scenery en route to a festival of grilled meats and a crisp chardonnay than it is on killing it for 5 hours and recovering with some GNC protein powder. It's as niche a bike in its engineering as the Venge, but much more accurate I think in its positioning. I bet Volagi sells 5 bikes for each Venge that moves out of shops in its first year alone. We're in the niche game ourselves, but the courage of the Volagi folks in their narrowness of purpose is showing us clean wheels. Chapeau, Volagi. And good luck. 

I'm happy talking about the Venge and the Volagi because anybody seriously drawn to either of those won't groove so much on what we're doing. I'm confident that someone interested in the race performance of the Venge would find the Wheelhouse a highly satisfying race bike, but the Venge doesn't just represent excellent performance - it represents the absolute spare-no-expense best available performance. We're all for performance, but the spare-no-expense part doesn't cotton so well over here. And while you could also ride Gran Fondos on the Wheelhouse (as our customers have done), it's probably not the best choice if you use Gran Fondos as training for the 200 mile ultra-rides you enjoy even more. 

Oh, and the title? No, Katy Perry doesn't ride a Volagi. Not that I know of anyway. I just want more people to read my blogs than Dave's this year.


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1 comment

Leonard Zinn is a wuss. I'll take a Venge any day! And I do sprint like Cavendish.


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