KNOW’S NOTES – 12-SPEED GROUPSETS, CLEARANCE SALES, SHIMANO’S NEW BORDERS

Every new cycling season brings new products, clearance sales on last years models, and further changes in how products are sold. This year is no different.

In this edition of Know’s Notes, I’ll touch on each of those and try to help you navigate what to do about them.

TOPIC OF THE WEEK

12-SPEED GROUPSETS – Campagnolo was the first to introduce a 12-speed gruppo last fall. This past week SRAM announced their own 12-speed groupset. Shimano has said nothing about 12-speeds. Their historical 3-year product development cycle suggests a major new groupset that might include another speed wouldn’t come out for another summer or two.

For those of you who haven’t read the Campagnolo and SRAM press releases or read between the lines of them and the “first look” reports of those attending the media sessions surrounding them, you may be wondering:

  • What are these new groupsets all about?
  • Should I buy one?

Here’s my take.

12-speed groupsets from Campagnolo and SRAM

Campagnolo left (photo: BikeRadar), SRAM right (photo: DC Rainmaker)

As usual, Campagnolo and SRAM have gone about these new groupsets in very different ways. Whether it be their contrary design philosophies, the patents that protect their technology, or their different market strategies, it’s great to see that Campy, SRAM, and Shimano take alternative approaches to create drive trains for our bikes. Sure beats the similarities we see in so many other cycling and consumer products.

While 12-speed is the common terminology in these new groupsets, the developments are less about the number of speeds and more about what the companies are trying to accomplish.

Campy, ever the innovator for the traditional road cyclist, wants the 12th speed/shift/cog to give you more shifting efficiency – shorter jumps and smoother shifts – with the same range available in today’s 11-speed road groupsets. They pack that 12th cog within 11-29 or 11-32 cassettes taking up the same space on your freehub and give you the same standard, subcompact, and compact big ring options in your crankset.

SRAM, ever the mold breaker, wants you to use the 12th gear along with changes in the number of teeth in its accompanying new chainring options to give you added range to more easily ride terrain steeper than typical flat and hilly roads and for increasingly popular and more variable off-road cyclocross and gravel riding.

While the biggest range 10-33 SRAM cassette option sounds little different than the 11-32 or 11-34 offered by Shimano, the super compact 46/33 and 48/35 chainring options that you can pair with the 10-33 can give you something closer to a 1:1 ratio for the steepest alpine climbs. They are also designed to provide more efficient combinations on the bigger/easier cogs for the variability of unpaved roads.

SRAM also offer a more typical 50/37 compact but that seems to me to add little to what’s already out there in 11-speed groupsets. They don’t offer subcompact or standard chainring combinations so you can see they are clearly taking a different path. And since the SRAM 12 cog cassettes require a SRAM XDR freehub, you’ll have to retrofit the rear hubs on any wheels you currently own that have the common Shimano/SRAM freehub.

As with the updates of most groupsets, these two also attempt to make evolutionary refinements rather than radical changes in the shifters, brakes, ergonomics, electronics, materials, etc.

Whether you should buy one of these groupsets or not depends on a) whether you need or want a new groupset, b) what kind of riding you do, and c) what you are willing to spend.

Do I really need it? Will it help me ride better where I ride? Can I afford it?

From what I can tell at this point, if you do 90% or more of your riding on the road and you current road bike groupset works well, you don’t need either of these groupsets. You can accomplish some or much of what SRAM offers for those 10%-15% grade alpine climbs by changing out the 11-25 or 11-28 cassette and small cage derailleur you have now for those big rides with an 11-32 or 11-34 and medium cage derailleur.

If you are buying or modifying your bike to do more cross and gravel riding, the new SRAM might be one you want to consider.

If you are a Campy aficionado and never invested in 11-speed or their electronic groupset, going straight to their 12-speed might be some you would want to do.

Whether you can or want to pay for one of these two new gruppos is another question altogether. Neither are cheap. Each is more expensive than most any other groupsets out there sold by either company or Shimano.

Both groupsets are now being delivered. After riding them this spring, I’ll add reviews into my comparative review of top groupsets.

DEAL OF THE WEEK

CLEARANCE SALES – Online and local bike shop retailers promote the heck out of their clearance sales the first few months of the year. I often look to see whether there are some good deals in these sales and whether I should buy any of it.

What you see when you open Wiggle’s and CRC’s sites now

While the answer may be different depending on what’s on sale and what I feel I need or want to buy, there are a few things that guide my shopping going in. I offer this in the hope that it might help you figure out how to look at these deals.

Bottom line, I try to figure out why a bike, piece of cycling gear or kit is being sold at 30% – 50% off, a discount level that for me screams CLEARANCE and gets my attention.

It could be several things:

1. The store previously over-bought the items that it has now put into the clearance sale – That could mean these products were dogs that never caught on with us cyclists or were actually decent items that the buyers had higher expectations for than was realized. The later doesn’t happen too often, or at least not to the level of the 50 or more products you often see in these clearance sales.

2. New models are coming in to replace the ones on clearance – While a lot of clothing lines change year to year, stores often don’t know how long a certain bike model or other gear like wheels, components, power meters, accessories, etc. will stay in a company’s line.

Often the company will let the big online stores and the distributors to smaller shops know several months in advance that they will be coming out with something to replace what they have been stocking and selling. In those cases, stores in the US that are typically bound by pricing agreements will be given the latitude to sell the company’s expiring products below the agreed price.

Where those agreements don’t exist or are unlawful, like in the UK and EU, the stores will lower the prices themselves so they won’t be stuck with older models in their inventory.

Most of the time this works well for the stores and you get modest discounts. Sometimes it doesn’t work well for them and you get clearance-level discounts.

The questions to ask yourself when you see a pricey item all of sudden get discounted is whether it is on sale because it is likely to be replaced and whether you’d still be happy owning it at the discount months later after the new model has come out.

Most stores will give you an answer to the first question. You’ve got to answer the second one yourself.

3. The store operates on a discount model – Toward the end of my review of the Best Online Bike Store Rankings, I describe a half-dozen different business models that bike stores use to separate themselves and make money.

Superstores and Discounters sell 20-40% below the full retail prices. Others try to gain and hold loyal customers at higher prices through Premium Service, Chain, and LBS Online-Extension models or by using a Marketplace approach.

The big price discounts you see from those operating using Superstore and Discounter models may be just where they set the prices normally. Calling what they are selling this week a “clearance sale” may just be a way they try to get your attention for products they’ve been selling at the same prices throughout the year.

In addition to trying to figure out why something is being sold at a big discount, the emails I get (and hopefully you get fewer of) from stores announcing their clearance and regular sales can be a time-consuming hassle to sort through.

I just finished adding Know’s Shop to this site to help you cut through this. There, you can compare the prices of products you are interested in from most of my top ranked stores that use the Superstore and Discounter models. This will help you see if the “clearance” price is actually the best price.

Recognize that the full retail price, also known as the MSRP or RRP, is typically twice what a store pays for it. If the store is selling something at 50% off this price, they probably aren’t going to make anything on it. If they sell it at 25% off, it may just be that they operate on a superstore or discount model. If they are selling it for more than 50% off, they are likely willing to sell it at a loss, realizing that if they don’t, they may never sell it.

COMMENT OF THE WEEK

ET TU SHIMANO? – While I’m on the subject of prices and stores, I wanted to share with you a comment that came in this week from Brad and expand on my response to him.

For years Shimano has been a bete noire in the eyes of local bike shop retailers for selling directly to the large UK online stores instead of using a distributor which marks-up the factory’s product cost in exchange for the value they add in the sales channel.

Without the distributor in the loop, these online stores that already operate on a Superstore or Discount model, can make a profit selling gear to cyclists like you and me at a price less than what the smaller retailers who do use distributors pay for it.

This practice has especially irked US bike shops which through their agreements with distributors are legally required to advertise the full asking price or MSRP of Shimano products.

While I have no inside information about this, it looks like Shimano has joined other companies in restricting the stores Brad refers to and perhaps others in the UK and EU from selling Shimano products into the US.

Shimano is actually years behind other brands that have followed this so-called “geo-restricted” sales approach. This is where brands limit a store to selling their products to cyclists who live within certain geographies, typically those on the continent or region where the store is located. Under this practice, sales from UK and EU online stores have been stopped from selling certain brands to US consumers.

Some of us who live in the US may remember when we could buy Zipp wheels from the large UK online stores at 30% below what the full retail price that our local stores advertised. Getting $600 or so off a wheelset was quite a deal. No more.

Indeed, the list of brands that follow this geo-restricted sales practice is growing. I hate that this is the case because it costs me and you more to buy cycling products but as I explained to Brad, these brands are apparently trying to keep their local bike shops in business.

Just so you know and won’t start swearing a blue streak when your favorite online store won’t sell you something you had your heart set on at a price that loosened your wallet, here’s the list of major brands I’m aware of that follow this practice: Assos, Garmin, Kask, Mavic, Quarq, Shimano, Sidi, Speedplay, SRAM, Wahoo, Zipp

I will add that, either because of exemptions or by skirting the geographic restrictions, not all stores follow this practice for the brands I’ve listed. If you live in the US, you can buy products from some of these brands through online UK and EU stores.

Some stores are geo-restricted while others aren’t

If you think you are getting a deal for one of these brands from one of these stores, it’s probably a good idea to make sure the store can do this with the brand’s blessing and that you don’t get extra charges in shipping or duties that close the gap between what they price it at and what you end up paying for it. Again, this is an easy question to ask and suss out whether what they are doing is above board or not.

*****

That’s it for now. Thanks for reading and supporting the site. Hope you can shop smarter after reading what I’ve written about above.

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