Monday, April 11, 2016

Smurfette has her panties in a wad... or part 2.

     In our industry, we tend to get our information directly from media sources. I recall the times when a manufacturer's representative would stop by for a quick clinic and introduce new technology, but that simply does not happen any more. If it does, it is a rarity. Technicians are reading about it one day, figuring it out the next, and watching it change during production runs.



     Shops and consumers are reading the same websites, learning the same controlled, dispersed information. Sites like BikeRumor.com have taken off. I myself check out BR daily, just for the comments. BR does a great job of re releasing manufacturer's press releases. I cannot even recall one thing they were not excited about. ( Well maybe that one time when they were testing road disc brakes and they didn't work so well, causing the rider to crash. ) I guess what I am asking here is, can you operate a journalistic entity and be critical of the parties that support you?

     Maurice Tierney knows exactly what is happening behind closed doors. He preaches about it here. Now this is a somewhat slippery slope he has to tread upon. If you have ever met MT you know he isn't exactly sleeping on bags of money. He is seemingly doing what he loves and making enough to keep on keeping on. A bit down the road he inadvertently get an email meant for a competitor. You can read that bit here.

     As a writer for a cycling publication you are a journalist. You get paid to write about your impressions of a product, flown all over to attend press releases and trade shows. One would assume that a bit of journalistic integrity would follow. You would write your own words, cough, using your own impressions and findings, and report back to your readers honestly. I am not saying that if a product failed at every aspect you should burn the bridge completely, but maybe you should.

     Velonews published a recall of Mavic R-SYS wheels a few years back. Mavic then hit the reset button and sent out updated versions of the R-SYS. I recall that time in shops, pretty amazing wheels, but I was very skeptical of the over all construction and theory. I am no engineer, I just fix their designs for a living. Six months later, redesigned Mavic R-SYS wheels were back on the market. Velonews writer Ben Delaney seemingly committed career suicide detailing his experience aboard the R-SYS v.2.

     I recall the waves this article created. I was fluttering about the industry side of things during all this and had some amazing rumor mill festivities over beers at industry events. I knew some journalists, I knew some marketing guys, and I knew some yellow clad Mavic people. It was interesting to watch this play out. Play out it did. Kudos for Velonews in allowing all sides to have their respective opinions heard.

     Fast forward several years.

     I am going to copy Velonews technical writer Dan Cavallari's article and his Editor's response rather than hyperlink to it, in hopes you read it. None of these words are mine, they are Velonews'.

From Dan Cavallari of Velonews:

 The best is getting better. The next generation of Shimano’s top-tier Dura-Ace group, already our favorite on the electronic and mechanical fronts, will include a power meter, road-specific disc brakes and rotors, improved Di2 integration, drag-free hubs, and the same clever shifting firmware debuted on the XTR Di2 mountain bike group.
We reached out to a Shimano representative, who refused to comment. But weeks of research, including conversations with industry insiders briefed on the group (who all requested anonymity), and analysis of published and unpublished spy photos, indicate that the group is an ambitious update that closes a few important holes in the current group. The most obvious of those is a Dura-Ace level disc system, which is both lighter and better tuned to the specific demands of road discs than the current technology, much of which is borrowed from Shimano’s mountain bike division.
New Dura-Ace will still be an 11-speed system and will retain the shiny aesthetics of the current generation (somewhat similar to the old XTR 960 finish). But most of the fine details, from hub internals to front derailleur cable routing, have been changed or updated. The Di2 version has been slimmed down, with smaller motors and batteries, and features firmware borrowed from XTR Di2.

Road-specific disc brakes

The addition of a Dura-Ace level hydraulic disc system is the single greatest change. This is the first hydro group from Shimano that appears to be designed from the ground up for road use. (R785, available now, was launched with a rebranded XT mountain bike caliper.) The rotors are road specific, with a new aluminum carrier that presumably cuts down on weight. The steel braking surface of the rotor has fewer holes, which has been shown to reduce brake pad wear.
Internally, the flat-mount caliper has some sort of internal brace for (we assume) improved stiffness and has more clearance for frame manufacturers. Other internal changes offer slightly more pad clearance, which should reduce rotor rub.

Power meter

The new crankset, which retains the current four-arm design, includes a power meter with strain gauges on the crank arms and a “brain” mounted on the inside of the crank spider. It is Shimano’s first power meter.

Integrated junction box

Perhaps taking a cue from the Trek Madone’s control center — a port in the down tube that hides the Di2 junction box — Shimano has developed a sleek, integrated junction box that secures into the bike’s frame. That means no more hanging the junction box off the stem, and more options for internal routing. It also means frame builders will have to build frames that can accept this new feature.
But don’t worry if your favorite manufacturer doesn’t offer this nifty new pocket, because it also appears the junction box will fit in a bar end, as well. The box seems to press into the handlebars much like a bar end plug.

Customizable shifting

Updates to the Dura-Ace Di2 firmware also look imminent. It appears that Shimano will bring the Synchro system debuted on XTR Di2 to the road. Synchro is essentially automatic front shifting, requiring the use of only two shift buttons to shift the entire drivetrain. When the derailleur reaches a certain point (which is customizable) on the rear cassette, the front derailleur shifts, while the rear derailleur shifts in the opposite direction. The idea is a rider gets similar gear jumps with each button push. It’s a system that is made possible by Di2’s incredible front shifting. It’s similar but not identical to Campagnolo’s new auto-shifting options made possible through the My Campy app.
Front derailleur cable routing has been changed for the cable-actuated group, further reducing shift force. The system is apparently much easier to set up now, too.

Radical new hubs

Some of the most exciting advancements are hidden in places you’ll never see. Patent applications for Shimano’s Scylence hub leaked months ago, and now it seems like we’ll see it in action soon. Unlike a typical freehub body that relies on pawls that engage with grooves when the rider pedals, or a star ratchet system that features notched teeth on two rings mounted against each other, Scylence works more like the clutch on your car, but somewhat in reverse, if patent applications are telling the whole tale. An engagement ring is mounted around the axle inboard toward the hub shell, and it’s spring-loaded in such a way that the spring pulls the ring toward the hub shell. A specially designed freehub body with splines essentially pulls that ring toward it, against spring tension, to engage the hub when the rider pedals. When the rider coasts, the engagement ring disengages, creating nearly drag-free coasting.
It wouldn’t be the first pawl-free design to hit the market — Onyx showed off a sprag clutch hub at Sea Otter 2015 — but if history is any indicator, Shimano has taken the drag-free idea and perfected it.

Read more at http://velonews.competitor.com/2016/03/news/confirmed-details-new-dura-ace-discs-power-meter_400229#q0IebwCbQQJRZTR8.99


         So who knew the shit storm that would follow? On the surface it seems like just another article about what many believe is coming down pipe from Shimano. But apparently, Shimano was very unsettled. This from Velonews editor John Bradley :

   Drawing a line JOHN BRADLEY·THURSDAY, MARCH 31, 2016 UPDATE: Hey, everyone. Thanks for reading and commenting. This went way bigger than I expected it to. To me, it was just a Facebook post I wrote somewhere over the Atlantic when I couldn’t sleep. Got to my hotel a few hours later and was caught off guard by the response. It’s been refreshing to see so much support for our stance and also interesting to hear from those who disagree. For the most part, everyone has been respectful and engaging, two things the internet tends to struggle with. So thanks. And I want to reiterate that the situation that prompted this note was one of many similar situations that have happened in the past. This isn’t a problem with a single band but, rather, one facing enthusiast media in general. To focus on a single brand is to ignore the much larger issue. So my intent wasn’t to punish any one brand; it was simply to explain the how and why of my stance on this stuff. And now, back to the original post... Instead of running a story earlier this year based on rumors and spy shots, VeloNews spent the past few weeks digging for details and confirmation. We got the facts, double sourced, and then, before publishing, called the main subject of the story for comment. Their reply: Run this, and we’ll cancel our remaining advertising with you for 2016. In fact, they threatened to pull their ads not just from VeloNews but also from another title that is owned by the company that owns us. They even reached out to other brands in the cycling industry to try to increase the pressure on us. We didn’t do anything illegal in our reporting, nor were we under any embargoes or NDAs. (Nor were we the only ones chasing the story.) We got the news the same way journalists always do: By calling sources, doing research, and verifying information to tell a story that is of interest to our readers. Indeed, no one has questioned our accuracy. The only issue is that we gave our readers facts that someone didn’t want them to have. I love the brand in question. I count many friends amongst their staff and am a huge fan of their products. They'll continue to receive fair coverage in VeloNews, ads or no. They know, as do other brands in the cycling world, that I would never hold coverage hostage for ad buys. By the same token, we won’t give into coercion or allow brands to hold ads hostage in exchange for editorial influence. I’m all for sponsored content, co-branded events, and other ways that media create new advertising formats. But letting brands use ads to influence editorial coverage crosses a line. If you think I’m taking myself too seriously, let me ask you this: At what point is an industry small and insular enough that the journalists who cover it no longer have to be ethical? I would say no such point exists. So I made a decision this week that cost us money we can’t really afford to lose. (If you’re in enthusiast media, you know how tough things can get.) But we were asked to choose between money and integrity. My point is this: If you stick with your principles only when it is easy to do so, and abandon them as soon as they become inconvenient, you have no principles at all. So know that, while VeloNews’s ad content may change from month to month, our editorial integrity will not. We respect this sport, its brands, and our readers too much not to be honest with them.

     Bicycle Retailer followed up with a commentary that seemed to favor both Dan and John. Read that here. Cycling Industry news' Chris Garrison took to pointing out that part of the issue is publications should not place themselves into relying on advertising dollars to support them. Read that here. Rather, generating revenue from circulation should be enough to support the budget. This is a sticky situation for journalists and their employers.

     In today's online world how many of you pay to read the local paper? How many of you pay to read Velonews online? How many of you pay to find and read any information online? Most of you answered with a scoff. The internet has created a platform that changed not only the way a brick and mortar does business but also the way media supports itself. I would dare say most retail that has any chance at all of surviving, has to find a way to gain presence in the online market. At the very least savvy retailers are becoming familiar with utilizing some form of Search Engine Optimization.

     Back to media. Media publications online rely on advertising dollars. Those banner ads, the pop ups, the sidebar, and most annoyingly the autoplay videos with sound. That is what supports your favorite source of information. I have proven that any jackhole can create a free venue to voice ones opinion, and not make a dime. I can say whatever I want. One would sincerely hope that the journalist writing a review could as well. They have already been vetted by the publication. They have already been scrutinized by their peers and been tasked to create an honest review that must appeal to a broad spectrum of readers. Keen readers will begin to discern whether or not they mesh with a certain reviewer's riding style or capability.

     I for one always found it odd that publications with a ton of advertisements for Brand B, would eventually name Brand B bike, component, or gear of the year. I worked for a retailer who had deep ties to a certain brand. This brand could be counted on heavily to support the shop team. This particular team had a few national champions on board and was well recognized for its role in the community. When the brand had several issues and consumers would ask my opinion as a suitable replacement for that brand I was told to toe the line. Even though I felt strongly otherwise. I knew this issue would present itself, and I was right. I was told in no uncertain terms that I had to fall in line. That Brand B was the reason I could collect a paycheck.

    At this time a co worker wrote reviews for an online publication. His reviews were edited to suit the advertising. He reviewed a fork for this site. He called the manufacturer several times to get input on tuning the fork to his riding style. He conversed with them on what he felt the shortcomings were, and if there was a manner in which he could adjust the fork to remedy the issue. His review was sent in, and the published review went from a 2 to a 4 out of five. The website was plastered with banner ads and pop up ads for the product in question. His editor bowed before the advertising dollar.

     So I ask you. Do you feel there is any integrity left in reviews of product? Are you convinced that Brand B simply buys the review in one form or another? Or do you simply go to BikeRumor for the comments like I do knowing it is smoke and mirrors? Hilarious smoke and mirrors by the way.



   






2 comments:

  1. Thanks for a thoughtful piece.

    I too have been in that situation, and exited the world of bike journalism over almost that exact same conundrum.

    The drift towards more and more blatant 'Cash (or advertising revenue) for comment' makes you a whore two ways: the necessity of sucking on the corporate teat for your daily bread, and knowingly misleading consumers (more or less), or at the very least uttering meretricious half-truths.
    The pics your followers send you, and similar feeds 'The Funny Side of Bicycle Mechanics', f'rinstance, shows just how badly beta-testing of products on customers can go. The indeterminable '24% lighter!!! 14% stiffer!!! 13% more vertically compliant!!! breathless hyperbolic chickens eventually come home to roost as warranty claims mount up (but don't talk about that) and the occasional recall enters the general cycling consciousness. Indeed, readers and users of componentry having their expectations massaged by these claims for superiority of one kind or another, until cranksets have lifespans measured in months, and the next upgrade/incipient obsolescence tsunami gathers itself to empty the wallets of the susceptible yet again, is starting some questioning about the general honesty of the industry/sport as a whole. I wonder if we're ready for more of that, just now?
    Marketing (styling)/engineering: this is the eternal battle the bike journo, in particular the bike tech journo, gets splattered (and eventually soiled by)in the byproducts of. How to shift units vs. the benefit each of these individual units will bring in terms of happiness, for how long.

    Used to be that happiness quanta as generated by bicycle bits were measured in decades (or at least years), and a general settling of opinion on examples of good design and manufacture would take equally long. The feelings these components gave you were reliably good, and that's what you had to work with.
    Now, bike journos are simply pimps for ongoing catwalk of twitchy and easily fatigued new models, their handlers demanding that said BJs preen, primp and pamper their coverage for the cameras, platforms and column-inches.No matter that it has bad and unreliable habits, or comes to bits under stress, or will be superseded by a sexier, skinnier model next year: that is what the punters should adore and lust after, because Brands B, C and D deem it so.
    Critical judgement, gained from years of comparison, testing and analysis,is thus discounted, almost down to 0 in the equation. Like mainstream media, critical thought, as an activity in relation to a specific topic, is gaining the reputation of something to be distrusted: that if you don't lionise the coked-up hyperbolic, groomed, smoothly suggestible spruikings of the opinion-makers, and regurgitate their press-releases adoringly, you are some sort of untrustworthy brain-shrivelled retrogrouch with an axe to grind.
    Fuck that. Being in the position to play with blingy gadgets is one thing, but the freedom to state, informedly and disinterestedly, an opinion which dissents from the talking-points issued is the mark of critical intelligence being allowed free rein, and vastly preferable as an activity to measure the worth of your actions by. If they don't want that, if they are scared that their precious new baby X is going to get a few critical knocks and bumps before it gets on its own feet, under its own steam, then perhaps they should have tried a bit harder to make an honest product in the first place.

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  2. That last paragraph, sir I am pretty damn positive you plagiarized that from my brain. Thanks.

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