17 March, 2008

Taiwan Update

I'm about to leave for the airport after a super busy week in Taiwan. I met with dozens of manufacturers and saw some fantastic new products. There are now a few manufacturers here that are ready to challenge Campy, Shimano, and TA at the very top of the quality range. Here are some of the items we're working:

  • A Japanese cartridge bearing headset that's as nice as any available in the world.
  • A VO cartridge bearing headset that's close to the above in quality, but half the price in both 1" threaded and 1-1/8"-threadless sizes. High polish and, maybe, gold/orange anodized finish will be available.
  • Aluminum fenders made by a new process that have the potential to be nicer than Honjos.
  • Leather saddles that appear to surpass Brooks in quality (but only three models are available). Also, matching bags.
  • Two models of VO cartridge bearing pedals, track and all-around. The finish is close to that on the MKS RX1, but I don't have the exact specs on the available bearings yet.
  • A very nice, but inexpensive 110bcd VO brand crank with 48/34 rings.
  • Reproduction Rene Herse cold forged cranks and rings at under TA prices. This will take many many months of development, but the manufacturer loves the idea and they make some of the nicest racing components around, so quality may be better than the originals.
  • VO sealed bearing alloy cup, hollow axle, bottom brackets.
  • I examined the first sample of the new VO city bike frame, without paint, and was very impressed by the quality. They will ship two painted samples in a few weeks and if the paint quality is up to the build quality we should have finished frames in about 3-months.
  • Straight post cantilever/centerpull brake shoes that are adjustable for toe-in with an 8mm wrench will soon be in the VO store. I have these in my briefcase right now and the first set is going on my bike. They are available only in black now, but we are ordering a run in silver.
  • I'm not sure yet if we'll import them, but I examined a short reach racing brake that looks to be lighter, stiffer, and have better geometry than the current Dura-Ace. I looked at both at the same time, but didn't have a Campy Record caliper to compare it to. The manufacturer gave me a set for my Bottechia ;<)
  • The new long reach VO caliper brake was tested by the manufacturer and a local racer; they claim that it is far stiffer and stops better than any long-reach caliper brake made today, including the Shimano R650.
We are awaiting samples, final pricing, etc, for the above and more. I'll provide more details when I get back.

Update: I'll keep adding details as I wait to board and later when I change planes in Osaka and in Detroit.

41 comments:

Felkerino said...

Chris, is it true that the weak dollar and energy costs are going to drive up the prices of Asian-made cycling goods this year, 15% or more?

Thanks for pursuing new components. It is good to know that not all is tied to the whims of Shimano, Campy and SRAM. If you are able to source 110 bcd rings, particularly ramped middle rings, of similar quality to TA, that would be a welcome addition to the VO lineup.

nordic_68 said...

Glad to hear there are more unique quality bike parts out there for someone willing to go to the effort. As a consumer and enthusiast, the only thing better than "going off the deep end" for me is doing it on a tighter budget...

Chris Kulczycki said...

Felkerino, Some manufacturers are now only willing to offer "reference prices". They are so worried about the falling dollar and commodity prices that they will only give the final price when you are willing to place a firm order.

Anonymous said...

Can't wait to see the new offerings. Keep them coming!

Anonymous said...

How about 33t 110bcd rings instead of 34t?
34 rings are a dime a dozen, but only TA makes the 33, and it's expensive. I know it's all in my head, but the hills feel easier knowing I've got 33 instead of 34 ;-)

Joel said...

Perhaps the new fender process can crank out some 700x60 long reach aluminum?

I just got the Berthoud 700x60s, but they are not near so nice looking as my smooth fluted long Honjos.

Joel said...

Just notice you have to change planes twice!

You really go all out to keep those wonderful VO parts coming to us afficianados. One advantage of living in Chicago is all the direct flights.

Hope you weather the long haul well. Welcome back,

thatcher said...

very much looking forward to hearing more about the saddles! I may need two...

Ian Dickson said...

Lots of exciting stuff. Can't wait to here more. My most pressing interest is in the "all-around" pedal. It wouldn't happen to be sneaker-friendly, would it? I've sworn off cycling shoes, but my ideal pedal doesn't seem to exist yet.

bigfoot said...

Speaking of ideal pedals, I love platform pedals, but I would like something bigger than the MKS GR-9. The GR-9 puts my feet too close to the crank and the small platform doesn't give enough support (I have size 13 feet). Any chance we'll see a new platform pedal?

C said...

Not sure we need yet another headset. Between King, Tange, and FSA there's already plenty of variety in terms of price points and quality.

Alloy fenders on par with Honjo but at a lower price would be nice.

Leather saddles better than Brooks would be a winner, especially if they use standard rails.

More pedals? Again, not seeing the need.

Silver 110 crank? Between Sugino, FSA, Shimano and Interloc this seems to be covered.

Herse reproduction cranks? At a price less than TA? Sign me up!! Especially if they come with 48x32 rings.

Interloc/Tange are making nice bottom brackets already. Not sure what a VO model would have on top of that.

The brake shoes sound interesting. I've done the caveman toe in adjustment on too many pairs of Mafac/Empella/Spooky brakes. Be nice to have a more elegant solution.

The brakes also sound interesting.

Any chance of getting a nice, modern center pull? Something a little nicer than the DiaCompe but not as pricey as the Paul? Ideally one that could be converted from regular crown bolt mounting to dedicated studs mounting?

Chris said...

Good work over there!

Leather saddles that can surpass Brooks in quality would be great. The newer ones don't seem to have anywhere near the longevity of the old ones.

In regards to cranks, I think the 110BCD is fairly well represented already. My concerns about a RH repro crank is that they take proprietary chainrings that are not available from any other sources. I think there is a small but present demand for a crank with a single main ring plus granny for climbing, such as 46T/28T. The only crank that can currently accommodate that is the TA Cyclotourist 5 Vis. Some older "microdrive" (94BCD)MTB cranks like the Ritchey can be made to work but they are rare. I would propose either a 5 Vis compatible crank (like the Sugino PX) or a 94/58BCD crank that can be set up as a double. Of course these cranks have the versatility to be run as a triple as well. Either one should have low Q. I think there is a niche market here. It makes a lot of sense especially with >8 cogs in the back. Anyone else agree?

Anonymous said...

I agree with Chris about compact cranks.
I currently use 94bcd and TA/SuginoPX to get my favorite 46/30 combo, and prefer the latter.
Maybe you could get Sugino to start cranking out the PX (and rings) again?

Ryan

James said...

Are the city bikes going to have traditional diamond frames and a large number of sizes or only a few sizes with a steeply upsloped top tube like a Kogswell?

Anonymous said...

Chris, I would like to vote for Velo Orange to sell the short reach brake. I would also like to see a 1" headset for a threadless steerer.

Thanks for your efforts.

James said...

How about a larger aluminium bell that could be anodized brass or copper? A bell that would look like the japanese bells but actually loud enough to be of use. I've seen three types of bells. Attractive and dainty, more effective but stupid looking bells and monster chrome plated chinese replicas of old bells that work well but take up about 1/4 of the handelbar. I think there is room for one more.

Anonymous said...

Wow, great trip...look forward to seeing these products at the VO store!
Jack

Notlob Dinsdale said...

I don't suppose you could tell us who might make the Herse cranks and rings?

Anonymous said...

felkerino- your question abt price increases is correct. It's not a matter of if, but by how much prices will go up. Then there's the question of just getting the raw materials.
and, it needs to be shipped on container ships which require fuel which is also very volatile pricewise. This is not just for bike parts- all consumer products will be subject to these increases.

Chris Kulczycki said...

I'll see about 33t rings; I like them too.

Regarding the headsets, I think we need a top quality polished silver cartridge bearing headset at a non-stupid price, a headset that lasts as long as the frame.

Regarding the saddles. They look simply terrific, but I have not yet ridden one. They are the result of a three-year effort by the president of a company that makes leather furniture and who is also an avid cyclist.

The pedal is sneaker friendly!

The city bikes have diamond and mixte frames and will be available in 6 sizes.

Regarding the Herse cranks, They will be made by a very small company that few outside of the industry have heard of. And if you're in the industry, I'm sure as heck not telling ;<) There are arguments to be made for having a Herse-type bcd, TA-type 50bcd, or even replaceable spiders.

I did ask Sugino about making PX cranks, but the molds are long gone.

Anonymous said...

What's the story on the "Ideal" bikes in the photo??

Anonymous said...

Here is another huzzah for a TA Pro copy (and selection of spare rings) instead of a Herse copy crank. Why not expand the supply of parts built to a proven standard already in use and currently undersupplied?

Chris Kulczycki said...

Ideal is just another new brand from Taiwan. Some Taiwanese companies are starting to move beyond the typical racing and MTB stuff and into neat Euro-retro design. This is just one example. Their bikes look great in the photos, but only "nice" in person.

hal said...

I notice that the black Ideal bike is sporting lauterwasser handlebars, ala' this old James .

That's really retro.

James said...

So this mystery taiwanese crank manufacturer, is it a company that makes outsourced cranks for more familiar companies? I'm really interested now that you won't tell us. It's not sun race, is it Je Ann? I've been looking up taiwansese companies trying to figure it out. Perhaps you could tell us what they make for another company.

Anonymous said...

Drug dealers never divulge their sources......

bonechilling said...

When you say that these saddles are better than Brooks, are you sure you don't just mean "cheaper?" Although I don't follow it closely, I don't know of any quality issues with current Brooks saddles that would require improvement.

It seems like the only way the Taiwanese could "improve" on a Brooks saddle is to make it cheaper.

Chris Kulczycki said...

The new saddles seem to have longer rails, use an Allen wrench for adjustment, have nicer welding on the carriage, have a laminated anti-stretch panel underneath, all the models have bag loops, and they use what appears to be thicker leather (didn't bring my calipers). I'll have a bunch of samples to test soon.

James said...

The Taiwanese saddle's leather seems a bit wavy, esp. on the right side and it just looks soft compared to a Brooks saddles clean cut and hard lines. Did they use softer thicker leather? The apparent thickness and softness reminds me of old Swiss army lepper saddles. Were the rivets well centered in the holes?
Perhaps this company can come up with some less silly handebar grips.

Jimmythefly said...

For those wanting to run 46/28 or similiar gearing, try White Industries:

http://www.whiteind.com/cranks/roadcranks.html

Aesthetics are up to you, but functionally there's little to complain about other than it being a proprietary system.

Anonymous said...

Dunno, those saddles just look like cheap copies of the Brooks. They don't look right...but hey, go for it folks! Maybe you could rivet a tag similar to the Brooks with lettering that was kinda close...well, nevermind. The factory could save us even more money by soaking an even cheaper leather with more chemicals and dye. But all that kind of talk is ridiculous, isn't it? We all know that a good Brooks saddle costs no more than a good pair of shoes or boots and it's just as useful as the other two.

Anonymous said...

In all honesty, I don't care how cheap the new saddles are. I'll take one because it's what I can afford. My job was shipped overseas and my new job pays half as much. So if it's half as much as the Brooks, sign me up. By the way, Chris, can't you try to get us some complete Taiwanese VO bikes for under a grand by now?

Chris said...

In regards to previous comments about the leather saddles, for those that are not aware Brooks saddles have had some serious issues in recent years.

1. The chrome rails are prone to breaking (effectively leaving you stranded if on a tour or long ride). Design has not appeared to have been changed to address.
2. The rails are very short which makes it difficult to get the saddle back far enough on many frames. Design has not appeared to have been changed to address.
3. The leather selection is not as durable as in the past. BQ's recent product test of the Pro Ti saw the saddle worn out in <3000km. Not good for a ~$300 saddle. This was not an isolated failure. I have had issues with recent models as well.

In general Brooks does not seem to be making improvements to deal with these issues. They seem more concerned with producing "limited edition" $800 saddles and such. It's a shame because they have a great history and their saddles used to last a very long time. I guess that's not good for volume turnover.

Anyway, if another company can produce leather saddles that are durable and address some of these issues that would be fantastic. This may even force Brooks to look at some of their current failings. Do note that is very difficult to produce these type of saddles. Brooks has been doing it for almost a 100yrs and they still have issues. I think the quality of the leather is paramount. It should be broken in at 3000km, not thrown out. I'm not sure the fabric laminated to the back of the leather is the best approach. Selle Anatomica uses this method and I have heard they have serious durability problems too. I think it's better to go with thick, firm leather. That's what's been proven best in the past. Don't be afraid to go to hard. I think part of Brooks problem is that they want the saddle to be relatively comfortable out of the box and not have to endure a "character building" break in period.

All this said, I have to admit that the finishing of the prototype looks a little underwhelming. Hopefully the final product will be a lot more refined. Keep us posted.

Chris said...

PS, I forgot to mention, that Brooks "rain cover" is a joke. It is, by far, the worst bicycle related product I have purchased in recent years. It's not remotely waterproof (it actively absorbs water), it self destructed (fabric worn thru, seam failed) in less than 1000km, and it has the (as Chris K pointed out) giant "steal this BROOKS saddle" logo on it. I used a shower cap under it to give some water protection. What is this thing masquerading as "rain cover"? A "saddle cozy", a "dust cover", a POS?

*rant over*

If you're looking for a saddle cover and you didn't get the gist of this post, avoid the Brooks one (Chris K, I think you should discontinue this item as it is useless and Brooks should be ashamed of it). I hear the Aardvark VO sells is OK. I'm going to give that one a try myself.

Anonymous said...

You don't want to push the saddle back too far. It looks really weird and it has a way of making the other riders around you feel uncomfortable. If you still feel the need to push your saddle that far back, consider getting a frame with a longer top tube! But more importantly: I don't care how much hardened steel you pack into a seat rail, if you're a 220lb+ guy riding a bike that weighs only a ninth of that and then you strap another five to ten pounds of crap on top of that, well then I think stuff is gonna break eventually...

Chris said...

Anon, a longer top tube doesn't move the seat further back relative to the BB. Weird is noticing how far back another rider's saddle is and feeling "uncomfortable" about it. It's a fact these chrome rails are prone to breakage and not only when subjected to the extreme use you mention. I like Brooks saddles, I ride Brooks saddles, they are not perfect.

Anonymous said...

No kidding Sherlock, but hanging yer flummox off of a diving board ain't exactly the answer either. Your pitch is dishonest. A better approach would have been to just introduce your coveted (high profit) saddles into the lineup and dicontinued the Brooks after you gained satisfactory sales. You shouldn't demonize other products to promote your own agenda. Jesus, you make me want to go out and buy a Brooks on principal alone.

Chris Kulczycki said...

Just to be clear, the commentator "Chris" is not Chris Kulczycki. I like Brooks saddles and we sell a lot of them. But they are expensive and it does seem as if quality is a bit below what it was 20 years ago. Still they are great saddles.

And, let keep things civil.

nv said...

Chris K,
Are there any Taiwanese 94/58 cranks currently in production? I'd love an affordable set or three (or five). Chasing down Suntour Microdrives and vintage XTR's on eBay is getting way too expensive.
Kudos on all the amazing new projects and ideas.
nv

Chris Kulczycki said...

I don't know of any high quality Taiwanese 94/58 cranks currently in production.

ChrisCullum said...

Chris K, I'd like to apologize for any confusion regarding our identities. I thought it was pretty clear there was more than one Chris out there in the big wide world ;-) I changed my login to be crystal clear. Thanks for the open comments forum. I'm sorry to see that particular thread drift away from civility, especially considering the exciting products you're working on.