JOURNAL

Being Frank: Fading Stain

Brent Graves
Brent Graves – President and CEO

Years ago as a young product manager I learned that there are three big mistakes that can limit, hurt, or kill a new product: price, spec, and quality. A pricing mistake can be addressed quickly, and if done so correctly, may have little or no long term impact on a product’s success. Spec’ing (selecting) the wrong item like tire width on a production bike usually takes longer to correct. The brand can make a running change to the desirable item or decrease the price of the bike to offset the wrong spec. Running changes can be confusing when the supply chain is mixed, and due to lead-times can take three to six months from decision to delivery. So changing spec is not nearly as quick as an overnight price change, but it can be as or more effective. And then there is the product quality problem. If it is truly a quality issue, then price and spec changes are not real options, and the timing and cost of re-designing the issue can be significant and daunting. The consequences can be “stop-sales” decisions, recalls, boycotts, and loss of customer confidence. These can definitely kill a product and even do serious damage to the brand.

No product manager is perfect, and no brand big or small, inside or outside the bike industry is immune from quality issues. From Shimano to Chipotle to Honda, it can happen to anyone — perusing the recall list on the cpsc.gov site can be depressing. With that said, some companies operate in a manner that decreases the probability of mistakes. At each company where I have worked, I have seen how the culture and operational mindset affect mistake probability. And as a whole, I have seen the bicycle industry mature from the go-go 90s to one that spends a lot more time on development and testing these days.

Here at Cane Creek we have had some missteps over our 46 years, but the one that hurt the most was the DB Inline shock introduced in 2014. The shock took the unique twin tube damping technology from the DB Coil/Air downhill shock and packaged it in a smaller, lighter shock for trail bikes. The shock promised a lot and many were excited during the development stage. One of those excited was the group of MTB developers at Specialized. Always looking for a way to one-up the competition, Specialized went big with the DB Inline, spec’ing it on several of its most popular bike models. But what should have been a big win for Cane Creek, was not. Packaging the twin tube damping into an “inline” arrangement was challenging, and unfortunately we did not do as good a job as we should have. The “win” of getting on thousands of bikes from one of the top bike brands in the world meant that too many riders had a poor Cane Creek experience. To compound matters, we really did not completely dial in the DB Inline until the fall of 2016.

Consequently, Specialized decided to not renew the spec for the next model year, riders were frustrated with sending in their shocks to have them rebuilt, and a hard-earned brand reputation was taking on water. The cost of losing the Specialized business was big. The cost to perform no-charge rebuilds was bigger. But the cost of the stain on Cane Creek’s reputation was the biggest of all. As I said at the beginning, price and spec can be addressed relatively quickly with little or no long-term damage. But a quality misstep can take a long time before it is overcome.

On June 8th, six years after the DB Inline was launched, we launched a significantly updated Helm fork. While I can be accused of being biased, it is a really good fork. Regardless of how good it is or that we have introduced other shocks and our first fork (not to mention a titanium crank that outperforms everything) that have proven themselves for years since the DB Inline, that stain on our brand has not fully faded to some – as a few helpful forum commentators like to point out. It’s a part of doing business, we accept the responsibility, and we will continue to develop cool and unique products that help make riding better and prove to you that Cane Creek is a brand to trust.

Introducing HELM MKII

helm mkii

INTRODUCING HELM MKII

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Cane Creek Cycling Components is proud to announce the release of the HELM MKII suspension fork. The HELM MKII is the first major revision of Cane Creek’s HELM fork lineup and improves on its predecessor in nearly every way. To celebrate the launch, Cane Creek has also announced a Hot Pink limited edition of the fork with only 50 units available.

MKII damper
Helm MKII Damper
The HELM MKII has seen a major redesign to the air spring.

The HELM MKII includes a newly designed damper featuring a new compression and mid-valve circuit for increased support and control while a new SKF oil seal head and 2.5 weight damper oil reduce friction and provide a more supple ride-feel.

The air spring has also seen a significant redesign with a new air piston designed to reduce friction, an increased air volume for better traction and suppleness, and a threadless seal head for easier travel change. In addition to the updated damper and air spring, the HELM MKII features a variety of external usability improvements including easier to turn knobs and a D-LOC bolt-on axle.

SKF Seal
New SKF low-friction wiper seals

The fork also includes low-friction SKF wiper seals on the castings. These seals are typically seen as an after-marketing upgrade on most suspension forks, however they are a stock feature on the HELM MKII.

The HELM MKII also includes all of the innovative features of the original HELM fork including a tokenless air volume adjustment design, independently adjustable positive and negative air chambers on the air spring and rider-adjustable travel which allows HELM MKII owners to change the travel of their fork at home with just a few common tools.

Tokenless air-volume adjustment

The HELM MKII comes in 29/27.5+ and 27.5 wheel sizes with both air and coil sprung versions available. The 29/27.5+ version of the fork is available in 51mm and 44mm offset and is adjustable from 130mm to 160mm of travel while the 27.5 fork is available in 44mm offset only and is adjustable from 130mm to 170mm of travel.

29/27.5+ models of the fork will come in a gloss black finish with matte black stickers and the 27.5 model will come in a matte black finish with gloss black stickers. Aftermarket sticker kits are available in brushed silver and gold.

Helm MKII decal kits
Aftermarket sticker kits are available in silver and gold

Additionally, a launch edition Hot Pink HELM MKII is available in 29/27.5+ only and is limited to 50 units worldwide. Orders for the Hot Pink HELM MKII will be taken on a first-come, first-served basis. Customers interested in the fork should place their orders as soon as possible as supplies are not expected to last long.

Being Frank: COVID-19 Impact on Cane Creek

Brent Graves
Brent Graves – President and CEO

COVID-19 has likely impacted everyone to some degree, and while it has impacted Cane Creek, things could be a lot worse. I’ll try and spare you the CEO-speak that is intended to project how morally and ethically correct corporations want to appear, and instead share some of the situation we’ve been facing. I aim to stay away from politics as well – primarily because what we do at Cane Creek and why we do it is as removed from political rhetoric as possible.

March was rolling along relatively normal for most of the month. Lockdowns in Seattle and the Bay Area (CA) certainly raised awareness, but the announcement of a stay-at-home order in our area led us to shut down operations for the first two weeks in April. Lack of information and answers left us unsure of what we could do and could not do as individuals and as a business. During those two weeks we stumbled some as we learned how to work remotely as a group. In that time our objective was to keep the pilot light on so that all of our work would not grow cold. Halting operations is not a luxury most small companies can afford to do for too long. We’re like sharks, we have to keep moving to stay alive. We need to ship and be paid for our product in order to pay our employees and provide health insurance for them.

Reports of bicycle retailers around the U.S. staying open as “essential businesses” led to the re-opening of some of our distributors to supply those retailers. This seemed to be fueled by people re-discovering the bicycle while their normal activities were forbidden. Our website activity began increasing which led to more web orders. At the same time retailers were contacting us to find products that our distributors were out of, and then those distributors started looking for parts. More recently we have seen a similar pattern from Europe. While it seems the “mini bike boom” some are talking about is not being evenly experienced by all, it is definitely resulting in much stronger May demand than we expected. With the shutdown and uncertainty our April demand was off about 35%, but May is at or above normal level. I say “at or above” because May is benefitting some from April pent-up demand.

Better than expected demand is a good problem to have, but it is still a problem. With no precedent, we did not know when we would have what level of business. So we closed our supply chain down except for parts we needed to complete orders in hand that customers would accept (cannot take that for granted). That was about a 95% closure. Fortunately our vendors were very accommodating and recognized what was in Cane Creek’s best interest was in their best interest as well. When demand started picking up as mentioned above, we took a conservative approach and ramped things up slowly. Not knowing if the demand pick-up would last meant not only that we wanted to avoid getting dressed up for a cancelled dance, but we also did not have the production capacity any longer.

When we re-started operations, it was with a skeleton factory and warehouse crew, and everyone else worked from home. While the skeleton crew punched above its weight class, it’s not possible to be at 100% capacity with 30% staffing. The health precautions (masks, gloves, safety glasses, wipe-downs, partitions, rotating crews, distancing between workers, etc.) challenged productivity but were necessary for protection and peace of mind. The bright spot in all this was seeing the commitment and resolve everyone at Cane Creek demonstrated. We’ve been down on the mat before (another boxing metaphor), and got up, recovered and grew stronger. Now this COVID-19 has thrown a wicked left hook that made us drop to one knee. And I’ll be damned, we’re getting up again!

Now more than ever, no one knows what the future holds, but this experience has reinforced that riding bikes makes life better, and that’s why we will continue to be here.

Announcing eeWings Raven

eewings raven

We are excited to announce the latest addition to the family of critically-acclaimed eeWings titanium cranks – eeWings Raven.

The eeWings Raven are constructed of the same high-grade titanium as traditional eeWings, painted deep black with a premium automotive-style paint, affixed with a water-transfer decal “W” logo and then clear coated with a high-gloss protective finish.

eewings raven cranks

Though durable, as is common of almost any painted bicycle part, the paint on the eeWings Raven can be expected to chip, scratch and wear over time with use. The amount and timeframe of this wear will vary depending on care, riding condition and the amount of riding you do. We recommend using the included protective film to ensure that the paint on the eeWings Raven lasts as long as possible. If the prospect of chips, scratches and wear over time is an issue, we suggest customers choose the original eeWings instead. Their natural brushed finish is far more robust and can be easily refinished.

ORDER eeWINGS RAVEN NOW!

In addition to the eeWings Raven, we are happy to announce that eeWings Mountain cranks are now available in 165mm arm length in their original brushed titanium finish and that the Cane Creek preloader is now available in a variety of anodized color options.

DON’T FORGET YOUR PRELOADER!

 

eewings crank preloaders
The Cane Creek Preloader is currently available in orange, red, green, blue and the original black for only $29!

Being Frank – Unconditional Joy and Wonder

Brent Graves
Brent Graves – President and CEO

Like most everyone, I am consumed by the uncertainty and anxiety being caused by the coronavirus pandemic. So I have decided to force myself for a few minutes to focus on something that brings me unconditional joy and wonder: our dogs. As with bikes, we follow the N+1 philosophy. So our house has twenty short, hairy legs attached to the long and low bodies of five miniature dachshunds. While this blog is about dogs, there is a bicycle connection. Maybe you can figure it out before I tell you at the end.

Growing up I was bothered, even angered when someone would refer to my best friend as a wiener dog. Now I relish in the off-color jokes that I should not share here! If you did not know, dachshunds were bred over 300 years ago to burrow underground and confront ornery creatures like badgers in their hideouts. Their short legs, powerful torso, and loud bark were all traits specific to that task. They are also smart, stubborn, protective of family, and great companions.

Our five are all of the long-haired variety. Three are from California and two were born in North Carolina. Two of the Californians are related, and the two from North Carolina are also kin (see how I fit in the regional slang?). That leaves one guy that’s an orphan, but they are all family. Their names are Veloce, Zonda, Neutron, Athena, and Tullio. To avoid hurting anyone’s feelings, I will talk about them in order of their age.

Veloce is a seven year old female. Always with a pleading look on her face, she becomes alive outside. More so these days as she has limited mobility due to IVDD. This is a spinal disease that can lead to paralysis. Veloce has some custom-made wheels, and when she is harnessed and pointed outside, what follows is a distillation of what living is all about. Veloce is the natural hunter of the five and has tremendous vision – she is also the only one that sees and reacts to animals on TV. Though I have found most all dogs to be stoic, Veloce takes it to another level.

Zonda is related to Veloce and is a few weeks younger. He is happiest alone with people and would not mind being an only-dog. Of our five, Zonda is the least dog-like. I’d call Zonda’s coloring dirty blonde, as he looks like someone spilled bleach on his face. He’s beautiful and acts like he knows it. He trots like a show dog, usually with an aloof air that makes me really think about reincarnation. He is also the best behaved.

Neutron is like the anti-Zonda, and he is the most dog-like of our gaggle. We picked him up at seven weeks and then proceeded to drive across the country. He’s four now and is still full of puppy energy. While all of them become wired when a small animal is spotted, Neutron goes absolutely crazy. That behavior combined with his build and obsession with digging and chasing, mark the clearest connection to his ancestors. While usually the tough guy of the five, he is very sensitive and easily startled.

Athena is a real sweetheart. She will be three soon but may not make it to four. Six months ago she became ill and was diagnosed with an autoimmune disease that has caused her joints to rapidly degenerate. It’s a heartbreaker because she was the most playful of the five and was always taking on two boys at a time. Walking is very difficult for Athena, but her mind and spirit are as strong as ever.

Tullio lost out in the brains department but made up for it with a shy, loving disposition and stunning looks. He never seems to be sure about anything and follows the lead of Neutron – for better or worse. Tullio is the youngest and smallest, but his presences is as big as any other’s.

Growing up in the 80s with bicycles was impossible to do without becoming a fan of the Italian brand Campagnolo. Though few know Campagnolo once made mountain bike parts (though they missed the mark), even fewer know that there were some BMX parts before that. Anyway, our dogs’ names are all Campagnolo product names: Veloce and Athena have been grouppos, Zonda and Neutron have been wheels, and Tullio was the founder’s name – the man who invented the wheel quick release. My friends Dino, Michele, and Marco in Vincenza get a real kick out of our dogs’ names.

Being Frank – What’s in a name?

Brent Graves
Brent Graves – President and CEO

Marketing and politics are considered dirty disciplines by many, but they can be used for positive results – well sometimes. However, what follows is my rant on how Marketing and its managers can become disconnected with product. This was sparked by reading about Cadillac’s new model naming philosophy (details further down) and sharing my candid thoughts with a friend who happens to be a strategic product planner at Toyota. He likely tires of my bombastic armchair quarterbacking of automotive decisions, but I can’t stop myself when I’ve got a smart guy on the inside to unload on. Here’s the meat of my rant:

“You’re right, it was an unfair characterization (calling Cadillac product planners “automotive flunkies”). But at the end of the day, the company size or complexity or culture or whatever doesn’t matter to the consumer facing something idiotic. What matters is that the product is right/well thought-out in the consumer’s eye. As with government bureaucrats who seem to forget what it’s like to be treated like a human when they go to work, it seems that many product people spend more time with spreadsheets than really thinking and remembering about how they interface with products.”

Like I said, a rant.

Being the pro that my friend is, he responded diplomatically. What stuck out to me in his response was this passage: “I tend to agree that the product typically strays from the consumer in proportion to how far we (product/brand managers) stray from actually using the product ourselves. I think the element of play, especially in product jobs, has been muted at best and eviscerated at worst.” Well, that’s depressing. I like to believe there are people at Ducati obsessed with developing sexy and fun motorcycles for themselves and me.

Let’s get back to where this started, Cadillac’s new naming philosophy. Cadillac’s new scheme uses numbers that first appear to be related to displacement or horsepower. But they are not. They are related to much less commonly understood torque. And, wait for it… are based off the torque output in newton-meters! No, Cadillac’s main market is not Germany or somewhere else that has an idea what newton-meters are. But Cadillac is a newcomer to the name confusion game. The current BMW 330i is named because it has a 2.0 liter four cylinder engine that BMW says delivers the performance of a 3.0 liter. And benefits from the legacy of those great 3.0 liter inline six engines. Traditionally the last two numbers in the BMW model name referred to the engine’s actual displacement. But now it refers to its virtual displacement. Furthermore, BMW also lays out odd model numbers (i.e. 3 series) for sedans (typically 4-doors) and even numbers for coupes (typically 2-doors). Nice. But in recent years BMW has twisted this by adding “4-door coupes” that are 4-door sedans with a coupe-like slope to the rear window. So you can buy a 4 series 4-door sedan that is basically the same as the 3-series 4-door, but you get to pay $4,000 more for the 4-series. And why not, 4 is higher than 3! And now Porsche’s first electric car the Taycan (how is that pronounced?) comes in a “turbo” version, but because it has only electric motors there is no turbocharger to be found in the car. However, the legendary 911 Turbo was turbocharged.

It appears that in the name (a pun?) of selling more units, some brands are leveraging the equity they have earned from years of well thought out models by creatively (or disingenuously if you’re so inclined) attaching those names to new models that are not what they once were. Don’t even get me going on the Mustang Mach E. Like appearances, names are not always connected to what’s within.

Not to imply that we are perfect here at Cane Creek. Back in 2014 we introduced a ground-breaking technology in the Inline shock. However, its design was not as robust as it could have been making it more susceptible to cavitation and stuck-downs. We took heat that was particularly hot on some rider forums. When we made the key improvements, the damage to our reputation had already been done. So when its replacement was being finalized in early 2017, we struggled with what to call it. It was basically all-new compared to the 2014 Inline, but it was still the same size and shape. So was it an “Inline” or not? Looking at it, one would say the new shock looked like an Inline. But we wanted to distance it from the Inline’s bad rap while acknowledging its clear lineage. We landed on Air IL with the “IL” referring to Inline. Not a great solution, but the best we could come up with at the time.

https://youtu.be/R13OFdSZjV0

The Hellbender Neo Bottom Bracket

At Cane Creek, we are all about making advancements in technologies that make cycling better. Demand for Cane Creek to make a bottom bracket has long been on our radar. But we wanted to offer a product that was more than just another competitor. With the collaboration of SKF’s MTRX bearing technology, we were able to bring a product to market that provides unmatched bearing performance and reliability. Pair our eeWings titanium crankset and Hellbender bottom bracket, and a rider will experience the most robust crankset/bottom bracket combination in cycling history.

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Introducing The All-New Thudbuster

For over 20 years, Thudbuster has been the bicycle industry standard in suspension seatposts by providing unequaled comfort and reliability to riders around the world. We are now proud to announce the latest evolution to that legacy with the all-new Thudbuster ST. The new Thudbuster ST is superior to its predecessor in every way.  Building on Thudbuster’s proven parallel linkage technology we have completely re-designed the seatpost for increased durability, a higher rider weight limit, and additional suspension travel, as well as ease of use through tool-free elastomer change and a single-bolt seat clamp design. By improving on this already legendary design, we’re confident to say that the newest generation Thudbuster is the most advanced suspension seatpost ever made.

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Tool-Free Elastomer For Easy Adjustment of Rider Weight

Thudbuster G4 Single Bolt

Single-Bolt Seat Installation

 

50mm of Travel For Increased Comfort

 

Being Frank: More Is Not Always Better

Brent Graves
Brent Graves – President and CEO

I will admit that I am predisposed to want more of a good thing. If one piece of homemade chocolate pie is good, three pieces should be better. If a four-hour road ride in the mountains is good, then five hours should be great. If 400hp in a 3,000 lb. car is good, 500hp should be fantastic. However, there is a key word in each of those examples, and that word is “should”. But benefit does not increase infinitely – at some point too much of a good thing is just… too… much. Economists refer to this as diminishing return. The bicycle industry is certainly not immune to this concept. Actually, I think we in the bicycle industry have perfected diminishing return!

From 1995 to 2015, road frames continued to get lighter and stiffer. Less weight generally results in a bike that feels livelier and that climbs faster. More stiffness usually means that more of a rider’s limited power is transmitted to forward motion. Aluminum’s properties meant frames could weigh 20-30% less than traditional steel frames, but the tubes had to be larger in diameter to compensate for aluminum’s lower stiffness and limited fatigue life. Thus aluminum frames traded some Ride Quality for efficiency. Carbon frames could be another 20-30% lighter than aluminum and stiffer as well. But carbon’s properties also meant frames could be “tuned” to mute vibrations. Initially, carbon got a sometimes bad rap for feeling “dead” because the muted vibrations resulted in a disconnected feeling with the road.

On top of the evolutionary material improvement was the competition among brands, wherein weight and stiffness could be quantified and used to market a clearly (claimed) better frame. At the same time, a similar dynamic was occurring with rims. Here carbon enabled wind-cheating benefits with no weight penalty and greater stiffness. But throughout this frame and rim evolution Ride Quality was forgotten, dismissed, or purposely misrepresented as its inherent subjectiveness allowed.

When it became ever harder to squeeze out 50g more and increase frame stiffness by 15%, some brands began searching for another way to differentiate. This led to tube shape and carbon layup manipulation in the name of improved Ride Quality. But these gains were much bigger in advertisements than on the road. Ironically, the big improvement in Ride Quality was a byproduct of the push for faster rolling tires. Larger air volume was shown in certain road conditions to lower rolling a tire’s rolling resistance, thus making it faster. Lower air pressure was needed to realize the lower rolling resistance, and that meant a much smoother ride. This is a big deal. For example, a tire measuring 28mm on a very stiff frame and wheel combo likely rides significantly smoother than a 23mm on a more flexible/compliant combo.

Diminishing returns is alive and well on the MTB side as well. While only a very small portion of riders compete in enduro racing, the industry has moved at full speed to frame geometries deemed optimal for that discipline. There’s no doubt that the road bike based geometry was in need of change. Modern MTBs enable a much wider and arguably better riding experience than their 90s counterparts. However, there is a point where long/low/slack can be too long/low/slack. While long/low/slack, touted as “progressive geo”, enables a rider to descend steep and rough sections faster and in more control than previously thought possible, there is a price to be paid. More and more of these are point-and-shoot bikes – they utterly consume anything in their path. The geo enables a rider to point it straight down the trail and let the suspension to do its thing at the expense of handling agility.

While the progressive geo bikes can be amazing in the right environment, not all riders have the terrain or desire to ride these bikes in the manner in which they excel. Nonetheless, the bicycle industry is charging forward and applying progressive geo to more and more bikes beyond the enduro category. And this is where too much of a good thing is too much. While these bikes are amazing descending Big Rock and Greens Lick in the Pisgah National Forest, they are lethargic on twisty single track found at Glacier Ridge on Long Island or Blankets Creek outside of Atlanta. If you are in the market for a new bike, be mindful of how and where you ride and choose a bike accordingly regardless of the marketing hype. As the old saying goes: the right horse for the course.

Being Frank: To Hellbender With Bottom Brackets

Brent Graves
Brent Graves – President and CEO

We like to say that we do the products that we want to do, the way that we want to do them. But that is not the full story because we also strive to ensure that each of our products has a reason to be – that it provides real benefits that riders appreciate. Our eeWings are the toughest cranks in the world while being one of the stiffest and lightest as well. The eeBrakes offer a massive weight reduction over the competition as well as offering unmatched modulation adjustment and a patented quick-change pad design. In creating the lowest stack headset possible, we had to remove cup and cover seals and create a much more corrosion repelling bearing to make the SlamSet happen. These are some examples of products that merit being in production as a Cane Creek product.

For years there have been requests for us to make bottom brackets. These requests have been both internal and external. When we asked why, we got responses like “Chris King has bottom brackets” and “because some riders like to have matching headsets and bottom brackets”. While there was little doubt that we could sell some bottom brackets, those responses fell well short of meriting our entry into the bottom bracket business.

There is no doubt about riders’ anxiety about bottom bracket “standards”. If one is building up a frame, it can be hard to determine the compatibility and proper spacing set-up. This was more evident to us when we entered the crank market with the eeWings. While there are literally millions of bikes that will accept a 30mm bottom bracket spindle, we saw that fitment anxiety was possibly limiting our eeWings sales. But was that enough for us to offer bottom brackets? We thought not.

A couple of years ago, mega bearing and seal conglomerate SKF, announced MTRX “solid lube” technology for bicycle bearings. It turns out that an SKF employee was also a hardcore marathon MTB racer frustrated over short-term bearing life in his bike. This motivated him to explore SKF’s various bearing technologies. He found that technology created for the food processing industry was great in bicycles. This MTRX technology was developed to withstand the rigors of being pressure washed repeatedly to ensure that equipment was free of contamination that could infect food. The MTRX solid lube could not be flushed out, left almost no room for contamination to reside, did a much better job at keeping the ball bearings lubricated, and lasted much longer than grease. Those benefits are great for bicycles too!

So when eeWings began selling and fitment anxiety became a concern for us, we eventually recalled SKF’s MTRX announcement. It took a lot longer than expected to make contact, navigate bureaucracy, and validate with testing. But when we did, we found the missing piece to offering a bottom bracket that had a reason to be –  a bottom bracket offering much longer bearing longevity. When we added precision and detail in the form of minimal mass, aluminum dust covers, dual anodization, and tight tolerances, we had our Hellbender Neo bottom bracket.

Here’s a bit of Cane Creek trivia: The “Neo” part of the name is a nod to the main character in the Matrix movies. You see, MTRX is pronounced as matrix.