Being Frank – Where is it Made?

Brent Graves
Brent Graves – President and CEO

The question of where a product is made is more important to some than others and seems to be less important to many than it was in the past. Certainly the world feels smaller these days with the ability to see, hear, and learn about anything with a digital device. Case in point, in the mid-nineties I was traveling with a co-worker to visit potential suppliers in mainland China. While born and raised in Southern California, his Swedish ancestry was evident in his height (6’ 3” or so), fair skin, and blonde hair. Within minutes of entering this one factory nearly all the machines came to a halt and the rumble of mass production was replaced with a deafening silence. We saw dozens of workers scurrying to our perimeter where they were giggling and pointing at – no, not at us, but my co-worker. Our guide explained that the workers had never seen blonde hair! It seems hard to imagine such a scene these days. Foreign things are not as foreign as they once were.

It is increasingly rare for any product to be fully made in one place or by one entity. First, there is the question of what “made” means in this context. Does “made” include where the raw material was produced, where the processing of the raw material was done, the place where the subassemblies were completed, and where final assembly was finished? Because short of a belt and buckle made from locally sourced goatskin and brass, the belt tailored in a shop in Asheville, NC is not completely made in Asheville, NC. Second, does “made” include where the design and engineering originated? Is a car designed and engineered in Japan but assembled in the United States, not a Japanese car? If yes, how does one reconcile that with the concept of Intellectual Property? Finally, the concept of geographical Competitive Advantage continues to become less and less relevant. Is France the only place for great red wine (Napa Valley would disagree), Italy the only source for fine sports cars (Germany would have something to say about that), or Switzerland the only home of precision watches (Japan would dissent)? I can only raise enough doubt to conclude that there is no simple answer to where a product is made.

I admit that the romantic notion of authenticity or uniqueness related to the perceived country of origin resonates with me. I like my Swiss watch, German car, and American jeans. But I recognize this is a more subjective than objective response. That is fine, and everyone has a right to value products however they want. One cannot disconnect the economic realities either, as Honda employs 15,000 workers in Marysville, Ohio, and Apple pays top wages in Silicon Valley as a result of revenues derived from millions of phones made in China. Another reality is that the strength and history of a brand can transcend borders. And lastly, there are nationalistic and political factors as misguided as they often times are.

When we have to make decisions on what we do here at Cane Creek, we distill it down to: “Where do we add real value?” Almost always it is in product development. A product is a Cane Creek product because we conceived, designed, engineered, and tested it to surpass our standards – the most important of which is that we want to ride the hell out of it. We machine many aluminum prototypes in house because it can lead us to a better final design. Forks and shocks are assembled and 100% tested in our building because we believe the feel of how good suspension performs requires empathy during assembly as well as dyno graphs. If a vendor can do a better job assembling than we can or if they have capabilities that we do not possess, then we don’t limit the product’s potential just to say it was made here. After all, what does made-in really mean?

 

The Big Show – Thoughts From Eurobike 2019

Sarah Montplaisir - Cane Creek Director of Engineering
Sarah Montplaisir – Director of Engineering

I’ve been an engineer for 18 years, I’ve been riding mountain bikes for 13 years, but I’ve only been an engineer in the bike industry for 8 months.  Over that time I’ve been to more than a few trade shows in my career – mostly of the machine tool and material processing variety.  Boring. Before last week my only bike show experience was as an attendee at Sea Otter when I lived in nearby Santa Cruz.

So what was it like to be a vendor at the biggest bike show in the world?  In one word – energizing. Four days at a trade show is usually a hellish undertaking and by day two your feet and back are screaming for mercy, but not here.  The pure energy of being surrounded by the latest in bikes and bike tech and people excited about bikes made every minute of every day exciting.  As each day passed I was consistently left with the feeling that there wasn’t enough time and had a never-ending list of things to see the next day.  There were so many amazing people that I met from other companies who were just as excited to show off their new products.  Then there were the fans of our products that came up to our booth to talk about how much they loved their cane creek “insert product here”.  Couple that with the excitement around our new bottom bracket product release and the media coverage it got and it felt like I was in the middle of the bike universe. 

The cane Creek booth at this year’s show

One thing that was like all of the other shows I’ve been to in the past – you have to have to be really looking to find the cool stuff, often times the neatest ideas are the easiest to walk past so one must be on their toes and on the lookout at all times.  And there was PLENTY of cool stuff to see, almost overwhelmingly so.

Cane Creek Hellbender bottom bracket
The Hellbender Bottom Bracket stole the show

Now that I’m back, I’m going through my notes, compiling ideas from all of the things that I saw and with the sheer magnitude of the show this is going to take a while.  One thing I can say is that at the end of the week I didn’t want to leave and see this all go away, it’s actually sad to think of all those halls empty and I’m already looking forward to next year!

Being Frank – Developing Product

Brent Graves
Brent Graves, President and CEO

I am not aware of set product development process for the bicycle industry, though the companies I’ve worked for and with do follow the same basic concept. Some companies have a more regimented and formalized process, while others seem to operate on tribal knowledge and routine. Over the last twenty years there has been a clear trend towards more methodical decision making with greater emphasis on schedules and commercial realities. The maverick and visionary product managers of the 80s and 90s are gone as a result of a challenging market that no longer absorbs gambles and statement-making. Here I will outline the basic product development process we follow at Cane Creek and likely by the brand of your bike.

From conceptualizing a new product to putting it into customers’ hands can take one to three years or more. Rare, groundbreaking products can be in “advanced R&D” for years before (if ever) getting on the runway for takeoff. Conversely, product enhancements and product line extensions can fast-track in six months. Lastly, while some things must occur before others, the phases are neither fully sequential nor linear.

Product Management has five basic phases: Research, Analysis, Development, Production, and Go-To-Market. While it seems obvious that the “development” work is done in the Development phase, the gestalt perspective does not have the product completed until it is delivered. The baton changes hands numerous times as the product makes its way through the phases. The product manager is always on stage, but industrial designers, engineers, marketing hacks, quality techs, supply chain experts, operations managers, and others all play crucial parts in various phases.

The Research phase has been the least formalized, but that is changing as bikes have become better and better, competition fiercer, and forums and tweets deadlier. Research includes tracking developments and trends in related, crossover, or influencer industries. For example, typically motocross has been an influence on mountain bikes, and snowboard apparel has informed colors and graphics. But even watches, sunglasses, and running shoes are researched. Consumer and dealer focus groups and rider intercepts help hone in on nuances to exploit. Storyboards are created to visually map the landscape and point the direction forward.

The Analysis phase is aimed at making sense of all the collected data. Reviewing industry stats from groups like NPD (retail) and BPSA (wholesale), as well as customs import data, can help identify trends. Creating a Competitive Spec Matrix enables a product manager to get a view of how her products compare to the competition on key specs and features. At times an objective view on one’s own brand leads to a S.W.O.T. analysis. The goal is to make informed decisions instead of just “wouldn’t it be cool to sell one of these.”

The start of the Development phase is the product brief which includes all critical targets, features, specs, performance requirements, cost/margin targets, etc. Ideally it is a one-page compass that keeps the team on track. Timelines and milestones are then established to enable management of the project. Brainstorming sessions can be used when dead ends are encountered, and there is the eternal tension between engineering and design. Concepts turn into designs that result in prototypes to (hopefully) prove out the concept. Prototyping is the longest piece of the Development phase, though computer modeling gets one closer before physical iterations. Once the fundamental design is established, the focus moves to passing ISO standards, selecting vendors, creating tooling, and detailed cost negotiation. There can be multiple simultaneous phases like frame engineering and colors/graphics.

The development process does not end with placing a production purchase order. The Production phase includes planning how many to produce and when. And when one relies on various other suppliers that have their own new products, getting your product produced when you want it and in the quantity you want it can be a major headache. Don’t think for a minute that in-house manufacturing is easier – in my experience it’s harder. While there are defined quality standards, there are also standards that must be determined for paint color, acceptable non-critical dimensions, assembly, and packing.

Go-to-market can easily be tossed aside as marketing instead of development. But a pro product manager knows that her product will not likely succeed if it is not presented literally and figuratively in the right manner. From photography to videos, copy, press camps, internal sales training, customer service support, and shows, you want to make sure everyone and everything is aligned on the story and what it means to the rider. Some brands do this much better than others, and while one might infer that those brands that don’t tell their story well are more “real”, sometimes it just means that they’re off-the-back marketing-wise.

There is a tremendous amount of time, energy, and emotion that can go into bringing a product to life. While this only scratches the surface, it should provide a better understanding of how your bike came to be.

 

 

Being Frank – Utopia is Lazy

Being Frank - Utopia is Lazy

 

Brent Graves Cane Creek
Brent Graves, President and CEO

I find it fascinating that the human race seems to equate utopia with sitting on our ass. The deeply rooted belief is that the less we have to do physically, the better off we are. Thus in utopia we would have to do nothing. Forget the interdependence of physical and mental health, it seems the human race wants to experience the world virtually where there is no physical strain, stress, or sweat. This is really amazing since our bodies are built for movement. I do wonder where this concept originated and why progress towards an advanced civilization is a function of inventing things that relieve of us of doing stuff ourselves.

Maybe it’s like scattered intelligence where not one of the population sees the whole picture – A certain substitute for doing something oneself looks appealing, and before we know it the world is awash in convenience products independent of a master plan. I will admit to succumbing to the Dark Side in some areas. It find it great to get in my car at the end of the workday and lower all four windows with a button. While a hand crank on the driver’s window is not that big a deal, leaning across to the passenger door to crank a window is a bit more of a task. It really becomes a task when driving and a cloud burst has sideways rain pouring in the passenger window while I desperately try to crank it up without crashing. And then there is no way around having to get out and crank rear windows. And yes, I have a garage door opener too. Go figure, another car-related convenience. One would not be far off in theorizing I have certain obsessive issues when it comes to cars.

I am old enough to know firsthand what it meant to “dial” a phone, “change” the TV channel, push a lawnmower (which I still do), kick start a motorcycle, and “write” a letter. The common justification seems to be that convenience products will give us more time to do the things that we really want to do – like play virtual reality games I guess. But it seems like the convenience may be becoming the end instead of a means to an end.

My wife is an expert on how the human body is supposed to move, and she deals every day with the consequences people increasingly face by using their bodies less and incorrectly (as is the case when tilting your head down to read your smart phone). But there is also a mental consequence as we rely on things to do more work for us. When I started road racing, I’d have to get a road map, chart my course to a race, and write down directions. And to follow those written directions I had to be attentive to distance traveled, road signs, direction, etc. Now we just input the address into Google maps and a friendly accented voice of our choice tells us exactly what to do, and we don’t even have to think. And thinking is brain exercise, and like physical exercise, when we stop doing it the ability fades away.

However we mountain bikers, roadies, cyclists, etc. are not like the masses. We revel in self-locomotion. We love to see what our bodies can do. Many of us like to get somewhere and make a smaller impact on the environment. We appreciate learning and applying the mental side of cycling like choosing the appropriate gear ratio for a climb, carefully applying just the optimal amount of braking for an off-camber corner, loading our bags for self-sufficiency, pumping up our tires for optimal performance, calculating how much energy to exert in the headwind and still have enough to get home, and judging how fast to hit a jump to avoid coming up short.

Certainly nothing is black and white. Each of us has different priorities, abilities, desires, and resources that affect, or even dictate when and where we seek assistance or convenience. And to me, anyone riding any type of bike in any way is a good thing. I just hope we don’t let the fundamental benefits of riding a bicycle slip away in the name of Progress.

Thomas Turner rides Cane Creek eeSilk at Dirty Kanza 200

Living up to its name and not disappointing, Dirty Kanza was one of the hardest, single day events I’ve ever done.


Part I: Preparing the bike

Thomas Turner rides Cane Creek eeSilk at Dirty Kanza 200At 4:00am Saturday morning, things began to get real as I was woke from a peaceful slumber by the sound of my alarm.  Only two short hours remained before go time! It’s amazing how quickly time seems to speed up as race time approaches, and what you thought was ample time quickly deteriorates to minutes…….seconds!

But let me roll the clock back a couple days. We arrived to the expo area at the Dirty Kanza in Emporia, Kansas late Thursday afternoon, and I was greeted with the task of building up one heck of a bullet proof bike: my “hot off the press” 2020 Jamis Renegade C1! This was going to be one of the toughest, longest, most grueling gravel events I’ve ever done.  So as I happily set about building up this new pup, I knew I needed to check and recheck everything because there wasn’t going to be any fix’n or making adjustments on course. So, headset installed, cables routed, brakes bled, bottom bracket pressed, derailleurs installed, wheels mounted, brakes adjusted, bar/stem/saddle/post all set and bars wrapped!  This thing was beginning to resemble a race rig!   And with that,
Thursday seemed to zip by!
On Friday, the plan was to get out early for a quick ride and make sure there wasn’t going to be any surprises to pop up.  She worked FLAWLESSLY! What a relief! I was a little concerned since I had to pull parts from bikes back home and that the fit might be a little off, but I felt right at home, so things were looking good!  Time to register, get files imported into my Wahoo, some new tires mounted and my work at the expo would be done and then I could start packing nutrition, filling bottles and organizing supplies.  Over dinner we formulated our game plan on how we envisioned the feed-zones would go and what I’d need at different  points. The thing with racing is you can try and plan for so many different scenarios, but once you’re out there racing you have to be able to adapt… kinda like when you pre-fill hydration packs with one drink mix, and decide 150 miles in you’re burned out on it, and you’d rather drink plain creek water than subject yourself to anymore of it.
And before you know it, it’s bed time because Saturday morning is inevitably going to roll around waaaaaay to soon!

Part II: Race day

Thomas Turner rides Cane Creek eeSilk at Dirty Kanza 200

Saturday morning at 4:15am, we’re loaded up and rolling down the road towards Emporia, KS forty-five minutes away. I manage to choke down a couple PB&J sandwiches… because they’re delicious and nutritious… but mostly they’re simple and require no cooking; time is of the essence! After a quick gas stop, we’re unloading and it’s time to kit up.  Check, check and recheck I have everything I need and that my packs are loaded up for exchanges. I roll over to the start line around 5:45am for a 6:00am start time and try and find a pretty good spot.  BINGO! I am in place and ready to rock and roll with friends Kaysee Armstrong and Cory Wallace around me.
10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1, GO!  The clock strikes 6:00am and we’re off!  This year the Dirty Kanza had over 2,700 registered riders, so it was a sea of cyclists leaving town behind the police escort. The first few miles through town were a neutral start, but no one wanted to drift too far back so the tension was so thick it could be cut with a knife. Once the Emporia police pulled off at the first turn for gravel, it was GO TIME!  My primary concern at this point was to maintain my position and not drift too far back or get tangled up in some silly crash, which there were plenty of! I immediately started having flash backs to Croatan Buck Fifty and how you were at the mercy of the rider in front of you not to lead you astray into a pot hole or rock, which is daunting considering you’re cruising down the gravel at pretty fast clip and in a cloud of dust.
The one nice thing about being at the front is most folks here have been riding a while and have pretty decent handling skills… other than the roadies… just kidding, I meant triathletes… so many aero bars! The miles seemed to zip by fairly quickly, and we quickly eclipsed my previous day’s pre-ride distance.  This year’s course was said to be rougher and chunkier than last year’s, and it seemed pretty chunky to me (the course changes every 3 years).

Part III: Disaster strikes

Thomas Turner rides Cane Creek eeSilk at Dirty Kanza 200

This leads me to my next bit: being prepared and not quitting! Unfortunately with pack riding it’s hard to see what’s coming and avoiding something can be virtually impossible. The rocks here are
 flint… hence the nick name, “Flint Hills,” and they’re sharp as razors! When we got to the first really rough section it was a yard sale! Crashes everywhere with people getting caught in ruts and washing out, going over the bars, and flatting! Total mayhem! In preparation the day before, I mounted up a new set of Maxxis Ramblers with Silk Shield to try and thwart the “razors”. If this was a paper-rock-scissors match… well, “rock” beats “rubber” every time! And unfortunately I fell victim to them, as so many other folks did, at mile 30. It wasn’t even a matter of taking a bad line or hitting something I should have avoided. Everything looked the same; unsuspecting gravel. But man, catch one of those rascals at a bad angle and it’s game over! When I flatted I thought, “Crap! Too soon for this nonsense, we’re barely into this race and it was too early to lose the lead group now!” But I knew it was a good one (aka really bad one) because the tire went flat immediately, and it was everything I could do to keep from going down on the descent and getting run over. When I stopped to fix it I thought, “Oh, that’s a doozy, I hope my boots/patches are going to be up to the task!” The gash in my sidewall reached from the center of my tread to a nick in the rim! I was about to put this tire up to the ultimate test… for a 170 miles!
I put two 5″ boots inside the tire, the tube partially inflated to hold them in place and then hit it with the CO2. I was golden and back rolling, but the number of folks who passed me seemed to go on FOREVER! I “reassured” myself I still had 170 miles to make up time… but that didn’t make me feel all that much better to be honest. 170 miles sounded pretty rough considering I had only been 30! So I got back into a rhythm and paced myself; this race wasn’t going to be decided anytime soon for me… or anyone!
I soldiered on with 35 miles to go to the 1st aid station. When I got there, I was met with my support team and swapped out bottles and took my hydration pack with fresh supplies. This next leg I knew was going to be a long one because it was now 9:30am, the sun was up and getting hotter, and the next aid I would see my support crew at would be at mile 150. There was a neutral support at mile 120 where only water would be available so I packed drink mix to add to it.
After the feed-zone at mile 65, it felt like the heat had been dialed up to “high,” and I was getting baked! There’s absolutely NO shade whatsoever to hide in, and the sun’s rays were brutal!  Whatever sunscreen I had put on was long gone from the sweat and water I’d been pouring over myself, and the miles seemed to barely roll over. I was beginning to think this race had been a terrible idea: “I am 87 miles into this thing and still not halfway!” I was starting to go through fluids pretty quickly too, even though I had stayed on top of them really well earlier. How was I going to stretch my fluids another 30 miles?! And then around mile 90, the gods smiled down on me and an unplanned, unexpected aid station appeared before me! Was my Wahoo lying to me about mileage? Had they changed mile points and moved the neutral feed? NOPE! The EF (Team Education First) guys had set up a water tank for the racers, wahoooooooooo!!! Man was that AMAZING! I was given a cold towel while I filled my bottles, drank as much as I could, topped off my pack and poured some cold water over myself. As I left the aid I felt like a new man. This stop was an absolute life saver.

Part IV: Just when you think you’re safe

Thomas Turner rides Cane Creek eeSilk at Dirty Kanza 200

I wouldn’t say the next 30 miles zoomed by, but they certainly went by a lot quicker and a lot less painful than had the aid station not been there. So after 30 miles of motoring along, I reached the “official” neutral aid I had planned on. I refilled my bottles and pack again, added my drink mix and cooled myself with water. One of the volunteers offered to put ice down the back of my jersey, and I happily took them up on it! While there, I took the time to inspect my front tire; I couldn’t believe the cut hadn’t spread any further, and somehow the casing was still holding its shape! I’ve cut tires similar to this in the past, and usually when they’re this severe, the cords fail and the tire loses its structural integrity and tears apart or flexes into a weird “s” curve. Not this joker! Like a dang ROCK! Other than a huge cut in the side, it looked good, Silk Shield was holding her together! The one thing I did notice was the boots had migrated up and exposed a portion of the tube. I knew there was no way that was going to last, so I decided to deflate the tube, unmount the tire, and reposition the boots. Disaster averted! With all that done, I was ready to get rolling again! Roughly 35 miles until I’d see my support crew!
… And then disaster struck again! TUBES! Can’t live with em, can’t live without em! On another “mystery flint” (because ya never see ’em), I flatted
again! I pulled over and went about my way fixing it. However, when I dug through my pack I couldn’t find my extra tube and CO2s that I had gotten at the aid station with my support crew. Then I remembered I still had one mounted to my bike but that meant once I pulled it, I’d be running without supplies for the next 20 miles. This was a scary thought considering every a couple miles I would pass someone fixing a flat, and that could easily be me! And at this time the only thing worse than riding the Dirty Kanza would be walking it! I took the time to eat some food and then begged my legs to cooperate and loosen up again. We could stand around all day! Needless to say, I tried to tread extra lightly as I navigated the remaining miles to the aid station. A few miles down the road I saw Tony, one of my support crew members, snapping pictures of the racers, and I yelled to him to tell TC to get my tubes and C02s ready… and maybe wrangle up a Coke!

Thomas Turner rides Cane Creek eeSilk at Dirty Kanza 200

The highlight of the day wasn’t any of the gravel roads. Rather it was a quarter mile section of multi-use trail into aid station three that was shaded! I wanted to go sooooo slowly through that section just so I could revel in the shade; anything to make it last longer, but seeing as how this was still a “race” I thought it was best not to. There my savior, TC, was standing, waving for me. We went over to the truck, and I restocked tubes, CO2s, food, swapped bottles and added water to my pack. I had originally planned to swap hydration packs here but the thought of more drink mix didn’t sound too appealing, so I stuck to water and kept my current pack. There’s nothing quite as good as pouring cold water over yourself, except maybe having ice packed under your jersey on your back… which I did again! Talk about feeling like new! Oh and TC did have that Coke ready, thank god! So after pounding back a cold Coke and feeling like a million buckaroos, I was ready to put the hammer down! As I set out on my final stretch of the race I had an optimistic feeling! In my mind I was trying to divide up the remaining miles into little blocks. I pre-rode roughly 6 miles of the end of the Dirty Kanza, so I knew what those would be like. I had just traveled five miles. That left me with only 39 unknown miles! And that’s close to 30 miles, and that’s a cake walk!
Oddly enough, between mile 150 and 200, I actually felt really good. I had plenty of supplies with me so I could fix anything, plenty of food and water so I could kill the pack on the first thirty and have 10 miles per bottle… things were looking good. Or maybe I felt so good because I had the tough part behind me and the end was in sight! Either way I felt great, and I was catching people! I think some folks that went out hard were beginning to crack, and I was starting to reel them in. Up to this point, I had been caught in “no mans land,” and soloed from mile 30 to around mile 185.  But now I was catching people riding at similar speeds which was nice. We had a small group of 4 that stuck together all the way to the finish. As we motored along and knocked out the miles, I couldn’t help but think, “This sure would have been nice 120 miles ago!” One of the riders in our group had paint sticks in his pack, and I asked what those were for.  He said they were for scooping mud off tires when they would become caked with it (previous years issues). Fortunately we didn’t have to contend with mud, just a couple tiny sections around creeks and sections of dried car tracks in old mud.  The dried car tracks in old mud actually posed a real threat because it was easy to get caught in one and high-siding became a real issue.

Part V: So close I can smell the BBQ

Thomas Turner rides Cane Creek eeSilk at Dirty Kanza 200

As we hit mile 194, I knew where we were! I was starting to recognize things, and this signaled the end was in sight! We turned onto the pavement with a couple miles to go and the pace quickened ever so slightly. However, by the time we hit main street it was back into a RACE! I wasn’t sure how these guys were feeling but I wasn’t really sure what I had left in the tank either. I went early, hoping I might be able to dissuade a sprint or a counter attack, but I guess they were feeling froggy too. It was a sprint! To us it felt fast and we were FLYING, but maybe to the spectators it was in slow motion. After all, we did have 200 miles in our legs! But no matter what, when I crossed the line I knew I had given it everything; right up to the end. That’s racing and that’s what makes it fun… “fun” being the operative word.
I wouldn’t describe DK as fun, but maybe it’s the sense of accomplishment or the satisfaction of seeing it to the end that’s “fun”. DK200 was an absolutely incredible experience, one with so many high and low points. It’s a race where anything can happen for 200 miles, and often a lot does happen. You can plan and plan and plan, but it comes down to experience and one’s ability to adapt and overcome. DK teaches you a lot about yourself and what you’re capable of. The thought of racing 200 miles on gravel didn’t sound that appealing to be honest, but it was something worth trying. For so many of the almost 3,000 people who do DK, I believe that’s what they are there for: not to podium, but to survive and have a great experience. My only two suggestions to make DK better: fewer sharp rocks and more shade!
And yes! That crazy Rambler tire managed to ramble on for 170 miles with that huge cut in the sidewall! I wasn’t sure if it was up to the task, but the Silk Shield did it’s job and held that tire together. INCREDIBLE!!
Now, time for some BBQ!

Words and photos by Thomas Turner

Being Frank – Those Responsible for Me Being Here

 

Brent Graves Cane Creek
Brent Graves, President and CEO

One never really knows the actual beginning, but a yellow Huffy with a banana seat in 1970 seems to be about right. Before that anything with wheels had my attention, but after that bicycles were clearly the front runner. But the start of this story begins almost a decade later. This story is about how I got here. Over the years strangers have asked how I got such a great job. I’d give them the two minute version of my life story that has passion, perseverance, risk taking, and hard work at the foundation. But the real truth probably lies with the universe and about a dozen awesome individuals that did not give up on me even when I gave them a good reason to do so.

Packing up to move this week had me uncovering old belongings. One such was a trophy from my first bike race forty years ago (and my most recent race was yesterday). I don’t know where I would be now if that “Rocky Ridge Enduro” race had not taken place. So the first big thank you goes to Ken Burnett. An off-road motorcycle competitor that wanted his son and friends to get a taste of racing in the woods, Ken organized what amounted to XC races long before there were MTB XC races. Ken would ride his motorcycle through the woods and staple paper directional areas to trees to map out a course. Then he would ride the course multiple times to bed it in a bit before launching waves of kids wearing skateboard helmets into the woods.

When Mr. Charlie Justice (a gentleman that truly deserves the “Mr.”) brought the stories of organized BMX racing to town, Ken led the way to get a track built in a state park and promote races. Mr. Justice introduced us grommets to the slick, big time, and fast world of BMX racing in the 80s, and my trajectory got a little tighter. I learned a lot from the Justice family – like how to never go to the next moto with a dirty jersey from a crash in the previous moto or how to build a starting gate and perfect starts. During this period my Uncle Gary stayed with us a while, and ever curious, he dug into the BMX world and was instrumental in my development. There, a couple more thank-yous.

The Oscar-winning movie Breaking Away had a big impact on me, but the unrelated brothers Jay Sandefur and the late Chris Hinds taught me how to live like a cyclist and pursue that dream. Before that dream could be realized, spine surgery derailed me a bit. It might have been a permanent derailment if not for the confidence and expertise of the late Dr. Richard Elkus. After he fused some of my 21 year old spine, he told me that only my mind, not my back, could keep me from doing things. Thanks guys.

Clark Kent, legally known as Peter Sweeny, spent a week visiting bicycle dealers with me in 1991. See, Pete was the VP of Sales at Diamond Back (two words back then, and the #4 brand in the USA at the time), and he made the mistake of asking my opinions on Diamond Back, model names, frame design, component spec, etc. Back then I really thought I knew it all, so Pete got more than he bargained for during the trip. But here’s the crazy thing, months later he tossed out my name for the open MTB product manager position. So to California I went. I don’t know what you were thinking, but thanks Pete.

While I’ve learned from others before and after, Al Stonehouse, was my bicycle industry mentor. He forced me to experience the Asian industry rituals, challenged me to think out-of-the-box, and taught me how to anticipate competitors’ moves and strategize. Bob Arnold was also at Diamond Back when I got there, but his contribution to my journey came when he offered me a landing at Answer/Manitou. From Bob I learned what real selling attitude really was, and my sales guys should forever hate him teaching me.

While it was tremendously valuable to learn about real selling, it was neither natural for me nor my strong suit. Enter Scott Boyer, the thinking man’s product manager. Scott had an amazing track record with motocross products before bicycles, and he taught me the value of being observant, insightful, and projecting possibilities based on similar past occurrences. That mindset led me to Reversed Arch patent/design still in use by Manitou twenty years later. Thanks Scott, and it was great to catch up at the Taipei Show.

This guy played a part in my BMX days, but his real impact in my life was about twenty years later. Dan Thornton had worked relentlessly for 27 years to build one of the best names in retail, when he needed a break. It took more courage than I have for him to hand the reigns over to me, and watch as I took his business a step backwards before taking two steps forward. I am very grateful for his trust and confidence. 

While I am definitely a product of all the contributions made by those mentioned above, there is no way that I would be here if not for the two most amazing women I have ever known, my mom and my wife. My mom sacrificed everything for me many times, and my better half has brought out the better in me time and again (and she still needs to find more!). Certainly there are others, but these people are the reason that I have had the best jobs in the world my entire career. 

Cane Creek HELM Works Series 130 Climb Switch

First things first, we need to get one thing straight: Cane Creek’s proprietary Climb Switch Technology is not a lock-out.

In fact, we’re strongly against a full lock-out, and we’ll explain why below. For now, suffice it to say, if you experience a full lock-out, it will feel like riding a rigid fork, and could be down-right dangerous if you forget to re-open the compression for the descent. That’s why we, and most other suspension manufacturers, tune the closed compression (“lock-out”) damping force so that it only feels really firm, appropriate to the bike it is on, and will “blow off” (or re-engage) when the suspension takes a big hit (like if you forget to re-open the compression). So why do manufacturers and riders use the word “lock-out”? The term connotes a firm force in the compression damping, but it does not denote a fully rigid setting. It’s just a matter of semantics… call it what you want, but we’re going to stick with Climb Switch.

Now that we’ve settled that little issue, what is “Climb Switch” and why do you want it?

What is Climb Switch Technology?

Traditional “climbing modes” (aka what a lot of riders call “lock-out”) only address half of climbing dynamics, requiring the rider’s body to respond to the rest. Climb Switch provides climbing-specific damping in both compression and rebound. The suspension firms significantly, but is still active while you climb, which results in better connection to the trail, more control, and increased efficiency without annoying pedal-bob.

Why Climb Switch? 

HELM Works Series 130 is equipped with Climb Switch Technology, seen before on Double Barrel suspension. Why would you want Climb Switch? As alluded above, suspension gives us two things: comfort and better traction & handling. Utilizing suspension in technical climbing is helpful for maintaining traction and not getting jostled around, but too much bobbing can create inefficiency in your pedaling. HELM Works Series 130 allows you many clicks of high speed compression adjustment to tailor the amount of squish you need for your climb, but the final “click” restricts the flow of oil so that the fork has a very firm pedaling platform (and you can leave your low speed compression adjustment alone). Double Barrel Climb Switch works very similarly.

TECH SPEAK: Our Climb Switch Technology is a dedicated compression circuit with completely different internals than the high and low speed compression adjustment on the standard HELM. When you activate the Climb Switch on the HELM Works Series 130 or Double Barrel suspension with a Climb Switch lever, you are completely restricting the flow of oil through the low speed circuit. This prevents the high speed circuit poppet from “blowing off” except under extreme forces (like forgetting to open up your compression on the descent). In essence, it feels really stinkin’ firm.

On the standard HELM, you would have to close both high and low speed compression to mimic the same feel, but it still wouldn’t be as firm as Climb Switch. HELM Works Series 130 is optimized for cross-country and short-travel trail bikes. Climb Switch Technology is a crucial feature for long days in the saddle and optimal performance on climbs and descents alike.

 

Curious about more in-depth Climb Switch Technology and it’s introduction on Double Barrel suspension? Read more about Double Barrel Climbing Efficiency.

Extra UK Ltd. Cane Creek Partner Highlight

Did you know? Cane Creek has four different sales channels: retail dealers, OEMs, distributors, and eCommerce. Our retail dealers and eCommerce channels are only open within North America, which means we rely heavily on our distributor network to represent the brand globally. Extra UK Ltd. is a long-standing partner who has exclusive distribution rights of Cane Creek products to the UK and Ireland. It’s no small task, but Extra knocks it out of the park.

We caught up with Michael Braybrook, Extra’s Marketing and Events Manager, to discuss Extra’s UK presence as well as their first impressions of the HELM Works Series 130 suspension fork. But first, some background:

Extra UK Ltd. was founded in 1995 by Brian Stewart and John Phillips who still own the business today. The company is a B2B distributor supplying to over 750 bike shops, outdoor and sport retailers in the UK and Ireland. Extra’s partnership with Cane Creek began back in 2001. “As the exclusive UK distributor of Cane Creek, we carry pretty much the entire product range including spares which amounts to almost 700 SKUs! eeWings have been a big hit with UK riders, both for MTB and Road/Gravel use. However, our best-selling product over the last year or so is the DB Coil IL shock, as UK riders look to improve the suspension performance of their bike.”

Today, they also support seven appointed Certified Cane Creek Suspension Service Centres located around the country to help customers with everything from sales to set-up to servicing and spares. These Service Centres, like J-TECH Suspension and Sprung Suspension Workshop, are experts in Cane Creek suspension and are guaranteed to help you get the very best from your Cane Creek products. Cane Creek insists that riders only service their Cane Creek suspension through certified service centers. “Our suspension isn’t like ‘everyone else’s’… for the best performance and best service, you need to have your products serviced by people we’ve trained. They use specialized tools and required equipment, like a vacuum-fill machine, to ensure that your fork or shock is leaving the facility as though it is brand new,” explains Brian Williams, Distributor Sales Coordinator for Cane Creek.

J-TECH Suspension Certified Cane Creek Service Center
J-TECH Suspension
Sprung Suspension Workshop Certified Cane Creek Service Center
Sprung Suspension Workshop

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As a distributor, it’s easy to feel disconnected from the end-user, as there are several parties in between. However, Extra has made a point of being highly engaged within their community, showing up at major events throughout their region to connect directly with riders, shop owners, and service technicians. This allows them to keep a finger on the pulse of the industry from the rider’s perspective, something that has undoubtedly contributed to the success of their business. They are able to find out what products rider’s want, not just what products manufacturer’s want to sell. As a result, Extra is able to share this information with our sales and product teams in order to make sure that Cane Creek, and thus Extra, is able to work to stay ahead of the curve.

Extra recently showcased Cane Creek products at both the 2019 COREbike show and the second round of the UCI Mountain Bike World Cup Downhill series in Fort William, Scotland. One thing they know for sure, Michael explains,

“I think UK riders appreciate the quality and durability of Cane Creek products as well as the adjustability and performance enhancing features of many products. [As for us,] Cane Creek are great people to deal with, both on a personal and professional level. The products are well thought out, wonderfully engineered and genuinely unique which is really refreshing in an age of lots of me-too product coming from the same vendors with just a different brand name.”

Extra UK Ltd. and Cane Creek at COREbike Show
Extra UK Ltd. and Cane Creek at COREbike Show
Extra UK Ltd. and Cane Creek at Fort William World Cup
Extra UK Ltd. and Cane Creek at Fort William World Cup

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Extra UK Ltd. received one of the very first HELM Works Series 130 suspension forks on the market and took it to the Fort William World Cup. Michael gushes, “The [HELM] WS130 offers the control and stiffness of a long travel Enduro fork in a shorter travel and lighter package which makes it perfect for most UK trail riders. The initial suppleness of the fork right out the box feels identical to the longer travel HELM Coil fork, and it took no time at all to dial in the settings for our preferred style of riding which is fairly typical in the UK.”

Cane Creek HELM Works Series 130 on a Rocky Mountain Element bike
HELM Works Series 130 on a Rocky Mountain Element

While Cane Creek is headquartered in Fletcher, North Carolina, USA, we have a wide global reach thanks to our distributors and industry original equipment manufacturers (OEMs). As a brand, we are particular with the firms we choose to do business with. It’s essential each of our partners has a mission closely resembling our own, as they are, in essence, our most tangible presence within their regions. Extra UK Ltd. is the exclusive Cane Creek distributor for the United Kingdom and Ireland, and we couldn’t be more honored by our 18 year partnership with this highly motivated team.


Extra UK Ltd. is located at Morris Close, Park Farm Industrial Estate, Wellingborough NN8 6XF
Special thanks to Extra UK/Mark Greshon, Michael Braybrook, Andrew Searcy
All photos provided by Extra UK.

eeWings + Stages Power Meter

Cane Creek’s Senior OEM Sales Manager, TR Maloney, is no stranger to endurance races…

“I am a cyclist and ultra-runner. In the past, I was an Ironman triathlete and even did some track racing. I am currently training for Leadman in beautiful Leadville, Colorado. Leadman is a 5-race event that includes a trail marathon, 50-mile mountain bike race, a 100-mile mountain bike race (the Leadville Trail 100), a 10k run, and a 100-mile run (also the Leadville Trail 100). All of these events take place within a 9-week span and at an altitude of 10,000′ and higher.”

We recently sat down with TR to discuss his training, why he chooses to train with Stages power meter, and whether or not training with power works well for both endurance athletes and for “Joe/Jane Shmoe” (aka the rest of us).

Cane Creek: You train with Stages Power meter – why? Does it help with non-cycling events?

eeWings + Stages Power MeterTR: I train with a Stages Power meter on Cane Creek eeWings cranks. With over a year of power-based training I have seen how it has changed my approach to cycling and how it has bled over into my running fitness.

Training for two 100-mile events simultaneously is tricky – especially when they are from two different disciplines (bike & run). I need to teach my body to absorb a lot of workout volume to be able to ride and run silly long distances back to back. This means I am in constant danger of over-training and injury. By working with a coach and a power meter, we can make sure I am working hard enough – AND SMART ENOUGH – on the bike to promote fitness advances while not destroying my legs for the run training. It’s a delicate balance.

 

CC: How does training with a power meter impact your training, and thus riding/racing?

TR: While the idea of being fed a lot of data can be overwhelming (it was for me at first) it’s a great tool. I work full-time and my training can be a 15-20 hour a week part-time job. I don’t have time to waste on junk miles. My training needs to be specific and with a result. The Stages Power meter keeps me on the path during interval or steady state workouts. I can see the difference in the power numbers and know I am on the right training plan. Before, without a power meter, I was left to rely on heart-rate (HR) and speed. The problem with HR is that, if I am tired, my HR can sit a little higher than usual. If I had a huge coffee before the ride, it can tick up a bit. Just being in a nervous pack of riders can lift my HR, [so it can paint an inaccurate picture]. Likewise, speed is a crazy number to solely rely on for training. One day’s tailwind can be tomorrow’s headwind.

 

CC: Can you notice a difference when you are quantifying your workouts?

TR: My coach puts me in pretty specific power parameters. It allows me a nice warm up, then I get to work for a couple hours and then cool down. All of this is controlled by watts. My favorite climb is up Highway 64 to the Continental Divide. Earlier in the year I held an average of 250 watts up the climb. Recently I held 284 watts up the same climb. The difference in the two efforts is my targeted training and the 5-pounds I lost, both of which really help when the road points up.

Another feature I pay attention to is the average watts on the two weekly Cane Creek lunch rides. These rides can get really rowdy. Having the Stages Power meter lets me know how much effort I’m adding to the group. I also use the wattage number to not blow my engine. I know what wattage I can lay out and not blow up. As the year progresses I can also figure out how many watts it takes to drop certain friends in the pack.

 

CC: How would a “newbie” get started with training with a power meter?

eeWings + Stages Power MeterTR: What I like about Stages is that it’s a discrete, crank-based meter, and you have the option to go with only one sensor on one crank arm. This saves weight and money while painting a clear picture of your power. While there are plenty of long technical books that will easily put you to sleep, I suggest a basic – crude – approach to start. Go out on a ride and find a mile long hill that’s not too steep (4-5% grade), but enough to get your heart pumping. Ride up the incline at a pace that you think you can hold for 5-minutes. If you can’t catch your breath and you’re rocking your shoulders you are going too hard. The goal is to make this a strong steady effort. Hit the “lap” button at the bottom and again at the top. Keep this data and see how your wattage improves from week to week.

On group rides or training rides you will start to see patterns like being able to hold 180 watts for most of the ride or soon learn that you tire out your legs/lungs trying to hold 290 watts for more than 30-seconds. You really learn you. As you progress, you can start pairing your heart rate and watts and really get into the details of your human engine.

 

CC: C’mon… is training with a power meter really worth the cost?

TR: Once I put a Stages Power meter on one bike and realized what it did for me, I put Stages power meters on two more bikes. Yes, there is a cost to having this awesome technology. Cycling is evolving and the riders are evolving with the sport. Back in the 90’s I was installing small wireless (non-GPS) computers on bikes. Those were about $29 to get speed/average speed/time and distance. Today, most riders won’t ride without a $250 GPS device and usually carry an $800 phone too!

 

CC: Any final thoughts?

TR: Cycling makes my life better so I am happy to invest in my equipment. I’ve been in the cycling game for 25-years. In that time I would say the biggest game changers have been power meters, disc brakes and dropper posts. A power meter will really be beneficial if you are tracking your fitness. It’s an investment in your well-being. That’s always money well spent.   

The Pros Trust Hellbender 70

For more than two decades, Cane Creek has set the standard for bicycle headsets. By introducing the world to threadless technology, Cane Creek helped redefine modern bicycles; making possible the introduction of suspension forks, shaped head-tubes, carbon steerer tubes and other innovations that continue today. We don’t stop at designing and manufacturing the world’s best headsets. Cane Creek is also committed to providing the resources you need to guide you through the increasingly complex headset landscape. As always, all of our headsets are backed by our unsurpassed commitment to customer service.

In fall 2018, Cane Creek launched the Hellbender 70 headset series to help bridge the gap between the premium, best-in-class 110-series headset and the economical 40-series headset.

“There is so much value and performance packed into this headset. With most of the major features of the 110 – including the Hellbender bearing – at a more accessible price-point, the Hellbender 70 is going to allow more riders to have better quality headsets on their bike. That’s a big win for everyone” – Sam Anderson, Product Manager (to Pinkbike)

Put simply, the Hellbender 70 is designed for abuse. But what really makes it a great headset? It’s all in the bearings. Our Hellbender bearings are made from high quality stainless steel with a higher ball bearing count and housed in a stainless steel cartridge. It’s 40-series ZN40 counterpart is made from bearing grade steel and housed in a steel cartridge with zinc coating. The Hellbender bearing has more durable, robust, and tight sealing and a more viscous grease. What does this mean for you? A longer-lasting, high-quality bearing that will withstand the dirt, sand, grime, sweat, and water that covers your bike ride after ride. But you don’t have to take our word for it… Find out why the pros choose Hellbender 70.

We chatted with three pros running the Hellbender 70 headset to find out how they really feel about premium headsets, why an upgrade is worth it (or not!), and why they trust Hellbender 70 and Cane Creek.

 

Caroline Washam, Pro DH

Caroline Washam on Cane Creek Hellbender 70 Photo by @burkelawrencephoto
Photo by @burkelawrencephoto

1. Hometown? Mooresville, NC, USA
2. Who are your sponsors? SRAM, RockShox, Liv Racing, Industry Nine, Schwalbe, TLD, Flat Tire Defender, Joes No Flats, Fryer Performance, Thunder Huck Bikes
3. What is your favorite trail/where is your favorite place to ride? I love riding anywhere in Western NC! Wilson’s Creek, Dupont, Pisgah…it’s all so good.
4. What do you do when you aren’t racing bicycles? Riding bicycles, teaching other people how to ride bicycles better, and working on content about bicycles! Life doesn’t suck.
5. What do you know about headsets? What’s your opinion on what makes a good headset and what makes a bad headset? I know that on my DH bike, the headset usually requires a ton of maintenance. With all the mud, power washing, and pressure the headset is under racing downhill, I usually have to take my headset apart, clean and regrease pretty often. A good headset stays smooth under pressure with seals that resist abuse.
6. You’ve been riding Hellbender 70 this season… how’s it been going? What do you like? What do you not like? Switching over to the Hellbender from the stock headset this year has been awesome. Even after some of the muddiest racing I have ever done earlier this year (and lots of power washing to clean all that mud off after each run), I didn’t hear that all-to-familiar crunching sound coming from my headset, so I could get more runs before having to perform any maintenance!
7. Why would someone upgrade from a 10-series or 40-series headset to a Hellbender 70? Who is a candidate for a premium headset? Why does it make a difference? If you’re rough on your bikes, ride rough terrain, or just want a headset that’s going to last, the Hellbender 70 is the one!
8. Why Cane Creek? Because Cane Creek creates a top-quality product, they’re a great group of humans, and they do a lot of good for our local MTB community. I couldn’t think of any better reasons to support a company.
9. Anything else? I also run the Cane Creek AngleSet on my dual slalom bike to get slacker head angle for steeper courses with technical turns. It has been one of the most beneficial upgrades to my dual slalom bike for increased performance.

You can find Caroline at @caroline.washam | @carolinewashamMTB | @carolinewasham | Be sure to wish Caroline luck as she races Fort William UCI DHI World Cup this weekend! Go Caroline!

 

Caroline Washam on Cane Creek Hellbender 70 Photo by @caroline.washam
The AngleSet is right at home on Caroline’s Liv slalom bike

 

Caroline Washam on Cane Creek Hellbender 70 Photo by @jackiericecakes
Photo by @jackiericecakes

 


Brice Shirbach, Pro Enduro

Brice Shirbach on Cane Creek Hellbender 70 photo by @bricycles
Hellbender 70 is perfect for single-crown hard-chargers

1. Hometown? Wilmington, DE, USA
2. Who are your sponsors? Pivot Cycles, Pearl Izumi, Maxxis, MRP, Julbo, Shimano, 9point8, Deity Components, Leatt Protectives, Stans No Tubes, Evoc, Topeak, Dialed Health, Cane Creek
3. What is your favorite trail/where is your favorite place to ride? Sunshine Coast of BC!
4. What do you do when you aren’t racing bicycles? I don’t race much as it is. Most of what I focus on is content these days. But off the bike I’m focused on parenting like a mofo!
5. What do you know about headsets? What’s your opinion on what makes a good headset and what makes a bad headset? I know that almost everything I do with my upper body while riding is transmitted to the bike via the headset. A good headset needs to have quality bearings, is well sealed, and will can hold up to the rigors of of the elements.
6. You’ve been riding Hellbender 70 this season… how’s it been going? What do you like? What do you not like? It’s been flawless so far.
7. Why would someone upgrade from a 10-series or 40-series headset to a Hellbender 70? Who is a candidate for a premium headset? Why does it make a difference? If you are intent on progressing as a rider, then you have to accept that you will be putting greater stresses on your bike. The more aggressive you are, the more you tend to start putting more down force on the front end, which makes the headset design and quality all the more important.
8. Why Cane Creek? Because the products are top notch, and the people are as well.

You can find Brice at @bricycles | Pinkbike

Brice Shirbach on Cane Creek Hellbender 70 photo by @bricycles

Jon Hanson, Pro DH & Enduro

Jon Hanson on Cane Creek Hellbender 70 photo by @shoot.fred
Photo by @shoot.fred

1. Hometown? Vernon, NJ, USA
2. Who are your sponsors? Spoke Apparel, Mountain Creek Bike Park, Cane Creek, Shimano, Onyx Racing, Santa Cruz, Boa Technology
3. What is your favorite trail/where is your favorite place to ride? Favorite trail is a tough choice; favorite place to ride would have to be Mountain Creek Bike Park.
4. What do you do when you aren’t racing bicycles? I weld dirt midfield race car chassis
5. What do you know about headsets? What’s your opinion on what makes a good headset and what makes a bad headset? I know good amount about headsets. What makes good headset is quality seals, cups, and bearings.
6. You’ve been riding Hellbender 70 this season… how’s it been going? What do you like? What do you not like? The Hellbender 70 is great! I used to run a 110. So when I got the Hellbender 70 I was amazed by the quality. It’s pretty much on the same level as 110, [but] at a affordable price.
7. Why would someone upgrade from a 10-series or 40-series headset to a Hellbender 70? Who is a candidate for a premium headset? Why does it make a difference? The Hellbender 70 has smoother higher quality bearings along with better seals to keep things clean. Anyone can be prime candidate for the Hellbender. As this headset comes such an affordable price for amazing quality.
8. Why Cane Creek? Cane Creek right here in the USA with quick knowledgeable staff that can help you out, whether it’s warranties, finding out what size headset you need, or servicing your suspension.
9. Anything else? I also ride Cane Creek HELM Fork and DBCoil CS suspension #HELMYeah!

You can find Jon at @JonHans8n
Jon Hanson on Cane Creek Hellbender 70 photo by @shoot.fred
Photo by @shoot.fred
Jon Hanson on Cane Creek Hellbender 70 photo by @shoot.fred
Photo by @shoot.fred

Hellbender 70 Specifications

Cups and Covers
6061 T-6 Aluminum, Internally contoured and relieved to minimize weight and maximize strength
Covers
Low-friction upper bearing seal completely seals cup from contaminants and is fully captured by the top cover with no loose parts
Crown Race
Alloy Dual-Seal crown race provides excellent seal efficiency with low friction
Bearings
Premium, sealed stainless-steel Hellbender bearings
Interlok®
Interlok® spacer compatible
Color and Finish
Bright – Dip anodized Black finish
Warranty
2 years
Stack Heights
  • External Cup (EC) — 12mm bottom
  • ZeroStack (ZS) — 8mm top, 4mm bottom
  • Integrated (IS) — 9mm top, 1mm bottom