This Is Leap Year

(What follows is a commentary based on my post from two days ago. After it went live, my pals at Sram called and we had a 90+ minute chat about the state of things. The company was going to send a counterpoint to my original tome but it has not arrived. This text is a summation of what was discussed.)

The component groups we were sold for the North American Handmade Bicycle Show are 2011 product and will carry forward into 2012 unchanged. What we were offered (thinking that it would be the latest available goods) is from the 2011 menu and called Black Red. What is being promoted as of February 1 in Mallorca is referred to as – get this – Sram Red 2012. That the company will have both groups concurrently might explain the ambiguity. We (no one I know, at least) were not informed that what we were ordering in advance at any price, much less at a show price, would be delivered AFTER the launch of new stuff that we are reading about now. And again – despite placing my order in late November none of it has arrived. The peeps and luminaries in Mallorca have been riding the new (Sram Red 2012) parts for the last week. Sram told me that some 450 Sram Red 2012 groups are en route (that’s french for in the route…) to their U.S. distributors who will have them in the second week of March. While the company considers these parts 2013 model year production, they have named them Sram Red 2012. I was also told by Sram that their year starts on April 1st. No comment atmo.

So we are all going to the show with 2011 parts that will not be changed at all, except maybe in name. But a month before we leave for Sacramento, consumers will know about, and possibly clamor for, newer parts that were not available to us (though they will be available to them by mid March). In the long conversation I had with Sram, the rationale that was used to hold back product from exhibitors at NAHBS was twofold -

1) The company line is that NAHBS is about the frames and the men who make them. Had the Sram Red 2012 been made available to us at all, the overwhelming buzz in the press and blogs tied to the three day weekend would be about the parts groups and thus would steal focus away from the frames (and the men who make them).
2) The February 1 launch has to be when it is because they (Sram) are up against their competitor’s launches too. The NAHBS show, the dates, and the amount of commerce that is part of Sram’s (and Shimano’s, and Campagnolo’s…) business model make it such that the framebuilding community ends up collateral damage in a fight to win a bigger battle that involves HUGE purchases from the Treks and Orbeas of the world.

Data point: I have NO problem with the second part of this explanation and it’s at the very core of why I fear for my trade’s future going forward. The component makers and their mainstream customers are so many, many worlds away from what we all do. And it’s ludicrous to try to play the “hand-crafted” or the “at the vanguard” (or similar) cards in a conversation like this. It’s business, and in the big picture, none of the players really make enough money from this niche or from our clients to change their strategies. But I certainly do have issues with the first part. I think the framebuilding community is important and influential, and it represents the jewel in the crown that sits atop the bicycle industry. The niche has always worked in step with the component suppliers and to suggest that some new model year parts would overshadow what we do is – well, it’s not a very well thought out explanation.

The conversation I had was long and completely civil. While I would prefer a different outcome, this is where we are. I have pals at Sram. I use and sell the parts. My ‘cross team races on the parts. And life goes on. To be clear, we are not getting old inventory, dead stock, or shop soiled parts. But we are also not getting 2012 parts. I expected to get 2012 parts since the offer was made in conjunction with the 2012 show. The 2011 parts are being renamed as 2012 parts because Sram is keeping them in the lineup until late summer (their words). By then, the carried over inventory will have been sold, discounted, or jettisoned, and I’d wager that the stuff in the news now is what we’ll all consider 2012 parts.

NAHBS, the dates, AND the framebuilders are collateral damage in the industry’s bigger picture to wage war in battlefields it normally wage wars on. The niche and what we represent are less important to them than what else is out there. And again, I do not question that or begrudge them for it. Well, maybe I begrudge them a little.