KNOW’S NOTES – TARIFFS, SHIMANO WHEELS, NEW AERO DATA
In this week’s Know’s Notes, I’ll share my thoughts with you on cycling product tariffs, Shimano wheels, a new approach to wheelset aero data, and your gear poll results.
TOPIC OF THE WEEK
US TARIFFS ON CYCLING PRODUCTS FROM CHINA – We’ve been hearing for months about threats of tariffs, initial rounds of tariffs, and threats of more tariffs on Chinese exports of all sorts of goods coming into the US. The threats have become reality and those who analyze these things tell us neither side is going to back down anytime soon. They also say that elections in November, no matter the results, will likely not change the path we are on.
So what does it all mean for those of us cycling enthusiasts who live in the US and have been thinking about buying a bike or some gear or kit?
Bottom-line, most hard goods like bikes, frames, wheels, tires, and components (but not groupset ones) are going to be a lot more expensive when a new round of 10% tariffs start Monday and a whole lot more expensive when tariffs increase to 25% the first of next year.
Why? Most bikes and other hard goods are made in China no matter the brand. Further, most US retailers sell bikes and frames on very small margins already and can’t absorb price increases from the bike and gear companies, most of which can’t absorb the price increases either.
A strengthening dollar could offset some of this but will not likely to overcome most of the increases from these tariffs. Working in the other direction are the margins that the bike companies and distributors want to maintain on the goods that are now costing them 10-25% more.
Soft goods like cycling jerseys, bibs, and other clothing won’t be affected as most are not made in China.
There are, of course, several premium brand cycling gear companies who make their products in the US or who source through Taiwanese factories. I’d expect they’ll be reminding you who they are as we get into the fall.
Will prices from those brands remain the same? Likely some will go up due to added demand for Taiwanese capacity or the tariffs on steel and aluminum from every country that US makers of bearings, bottom brackets, wheels and the like have been paying since March. Some US companies may just take advantage of the added price headroom others have created for their own unaffected products. It’s business.
What can you do?
Politically, probably not a whole lot. The US bike industry had their association reps testify and otherwise lobby in Washington largely to no avail except to get safety gear like lights and helmets removed from the tariff lists. And, as you probably know, this is an executive branch policy so any changes to the control of the US Congress will not change what appears to be a rather strongly held view by the US President. (I’m observing the reality and trying to avoid commenting on it. This is a cycling gear blog, not a political one.)
As US shoppers, we will probably see the price differential for products affected by tariffs grow wider between local bike shops and online stores as the later typically have higher volumes and a larger range of products including more non-tariffed ones to help lessen the overall impact.
I’d also expect the price differential between the US and the UK and European online stores to grow wider. Those US cycling gear brands that import or set up subsidiaries in Europe to bring in products from China will avoid the tariffs.
In the meantime, I’m working with a major US online cycling store to provide you an exclusive store-wide discount as In The Know Cycling readers. I hope to be able to give you the specifics in next Friday’s Know’s Notes.
COMMENT OF THE WEEK
WHAT ABOUT SHIMANO WHEELS? – Earlier this week, In The Know Cycling readers Bob, Ferdinando, and Andrei asked or commented on my lack of reviews on Shimano wheels. I gave a short answer then and promised a longer one in this post.
First, here are the comments.
Shimano used to make what I thought were great wheels. I reviewed and recommended the Dura Ace 9000 C24 as a Best Performer among alloy upgrade wheelsets and the C35 as the Best Performer in the climbing wheelset category and the best carbon alloy wheelset among all-arounders. The C50s were good too though I recommend the ENVE SES 4.5 as the Best Performer in the mid-depth aero category.
Dura Ace hubs were great – quick, light, quiet, durable, and easy to service. Carbon alloy rims used on all of those wheelsets were the best compared to other companies combining those materials – light, durable, and stiff for riders up to about 180 lbs with confident braking.
Prices weren’t bad either – usually discounted by 30-40% off the MSRP especially if you bought them online through UK superstores which bought directly from Shimano eliminating the markup from distributors. Ultegra wheels were the best stock wheels around. Spokes were unique to Shimano but there were Shimano dealers on every corner.
Those wheelsets were reviewed and recommended back in 2014 and 2015 after the Dura Ace 9000 series wheels and groupsets were introduced. A lot has changed in the wheelset world since then but little changed with the Shimano rim brake wheels. The new Dura Ace 9100 C24, C40, and C60 rim brake wheels were announced in 2017 but, when they finally became available about 6-9 months later, only the names and graphics had changed.
The new C24s and C40s still have 15mm wide internal and 20.8 mm external widths and the C60 remains a 17mm internal, 22.4mm external width wheelset. This is during a time when similarly and lower-priced models from high volume competitors Mavic, Campy/Fulcrum and DT Swiss have gone to 17mm internal width alloy wheels across the board. Other alloy wheel makers have gone to 19mm and even 21mm internal widths in line with tires going to 25mm widths for added comfort and handling.
While the C24 name didn’t change, the deeper Shimano models changed their names from C35 to C40 and from C50 to C60. But the wheel depths stayed the same. They lost a lot of credibility suggesting that these were new wheels were wider, deeper but not disclosing the actual rim dimensions until the wheels finally shipped long after being announced.
At the same time they introduced the “new” C24, C40, and C60 Dura Ace rim brake wheels, Shimano also introduced the first all carbon disc brake wheels and used the same C40 and C60 names albeit with the nerdy 9170 disc brake designation. Compared to the competition, these tubeless wheels are 17mm internal, 24mm external at a time when most carbon disc wheelsets are at least 19mm internal and 27mm external. And these new wheels were even later coming into stores than the rim brake ones, something like 9-12 months from the time they announced them around, and aren’t in stock at a lot of places now.
You can find the C40 carbon disc wheelset for $1600 and up, not a great value like the C35s and C50s used to be. I can’t even find the C60 carbon disc wheelset in stock at the 35 or so stores I recommend.
Shimano made a big push on the component side into disc brake gruppos and also noticeably improved their rim brake ones over the same time period. It seems that’s where their attention and investment has been. In my testing, their latest Di2 and mechanical disc and rim brake groupsets are better performing and better priced than SRAM eTap and mechanical ones and clearly superior to than their prior generation ones.
Campagnolo has lagged and is just now catching up on the disc brake groupset side. They also introduced a new 12-speed mechanical gruppo. Campy are about as far behind as Shimano when it comes to road disc wheelsets. Campy’s Fulcrum division is well ahead of both.
Shimano, like Campy, has struggled financially the last 3 or so years. Shimano reports their financial performance and profits were off something like 17% in 2015, less in 2016 and 2017 but both were notably off prior years. The numbers I’ve seen for this year suggest things are leveling out.
They aren’t alone. Everyone is struggling. Mavic is currently up for sale.
My speculation is that Shimano probably backed off on rim brake wheelset development and pushed forward on gruppos where they owned a dominant share of the market. They may have only done road disc wheelset development to follow the lead they’ve established on disc brake components but their effort on both carbon and alloy disc brake wheels lags the field.
I write all the time that I focus on performance rather than specs, backstories, and other things that don’t affect performance. In Shimano’s case, there’s nothing new to review on the rim brake wheelset side other than the graphics (eh?). Their carbon disc brake wheelset offering, essentially the C40, specs out as a high-priced second generation wheelset when there are so many others I’m filling my time and budget evaluating that are already third generation ones.
That’s why you aren’t seeing new reviews of Shimano wheelsets from me.
TIP OF THE WEEK
BICYCLE WHEEL AERODYNAMICS – In The Know Cycling reader Velt brought a recently published study of wheelset aero performance to my attention earlier this week. It appears to be unique, comprehensive and independent of wheelset manufacturers.
It’s a refreshingly different study in that it approaches aerodynamic testing using real-world, variable wind conditions and regular enthusiast rider speeds rather than 1% yaw angle increments and speeds only pros and high-level amateurs can maintain. It also includes about 20 wheelset models and the author, a guy named Sachini Hambini, is adding new models as he tests them.
Hambini is an engineer that sells stocklist bearings to UK wheelbuilders and hand machined bottom brackets directly to cyclists. He doesn’t appear to have commercial ties that would bias his analysis.
The study can be found in Hambini’s blog here. In addition to the Q&A with Hambini at the bottom of his blog, there are also active discussions going on about it in forums at Slowtwitch here and Weight Weenies here.
Warning: Reading and digesting all of this (like I tried to) is a huge time suck. Do it late at night while having a beer or some wine (like I did) instead of watching a meaningless football or baseball game (like I do too often).
WHAT YOU’D LIKE TO SEE REVIEWED SOON – Thanks to all of you who voted in the poll the last couple weeks. Interestingly, the top vote-getter was tubeless tires, a category I reviewed in June (here). The others in the top 5 were for categories I have teed up to publish reviews on in the next couple months, specifically disc brake wheels, all-around carbon wheels, and budget carbon wheels.
I don’t know whether you are reminding me to deliver on what I’ve already committed to or that you and I are just in synch about what you want to see and what I’ve been working on. Either way, it’s good and coming.
There were some gear and kit categories I had planned to review that didn’t get a lot of votes and others I hadn’t planned to review that did so I’ll shift those around.
Thanks again for your input.
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That’s it for this week. I welcome any comments from you on the above or on other topics you’d like me to address in an upcoming Know’s Notes.
Have a great weekend of riding.
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