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By Matt Pacocha
The droning thud of an incessant techno beat, bounced throughout the halls of the Eurobike exhibition in Friedrichschafen, Germany, on Friday, the second full day of the show. The electronic sounds so loved by many Germans, added a challenge to the task of gathering manufacturer information. It would be the anthem of the day, one that turned out to be filled with German engineering.
German culture is known for its advanced design and precise production. German bicycle manufacturers are no exception, many of them compete directly with manufacturers like Mercedes-Benz and BMW for national awards – surprisingly they are quite competitive. Quality brands are abound, from tire manufacturers like Schwalbe and Continental to major bicycle manufacturers like Merida. Then of course there are smaller niche brands like Nicolai, which packs an engineering punch yet has plenty of soul.
Yesterday, I reported on Focus’s new ‘cross bike for Hanka Kupfernagel. The 2007 Focus Cross Team was equipped with a new tubular ‘cross tire from the famous German tire manufacturer, Continental. The same tire is also listed in the official specifications list in the 2007 Focus catalogue. The new tire looked intriguingly similar to a famous French tubular manufacturer, but yesterday I held my tongue until a bit more research could be done.
Well Continental does, in fact, have a new ‘cross tire for 2007, and it’s modeled after the Speed King mountain bike tire. It does not, however, look anything like the tire on the Focus Cross Team, nor will it be available in a tubular version for 2007. Leaving one only to wonder what the Focus Cross Team will be shipped with in the coming months, if it’s what’s pictured here consumers are in for a treat.
Mystery branding aside, Continental’s new Speed King clincher is designed to excel on cold and mucky cyclo-cross courses. The 700×35 tire weighs 450 grams, and has the same tread design as the mountain tire. The center of the tread is spaced to shed mud and the lugs extend down the shoulder for sure cornering at low pressures. The casing 84tpi and the bead is foldable.
On the road Conti has two new tubulars. The flagship of the duo, the Grand Prix 4000 tubular, is set to eclipse the famed pro-level Continental competition. The new GP4000 has a seamless 240tpi casing and dynamic siped tread pattern and features a vectran puncture protection layer between the tube and the tread. It is available in 700x22mm and 25mm sizes.
The second tire, which is not new for 2007 but relatively unknown, is the Sprinter GatorSkin. This tire is used by Continental sponsored teams in events like Paris-Roubaix and other treacherous classics. The tire’s casing features DuraSkin anti-cut fabric and super durable carbon infused black tread. It’s the Continental tire of choice for poor roads and bad conditions.
Continental isn’t the only high-end tire manufacturer out of Deutschland. Sales from tire maker Schwalbe have been rising steadily, especially in the North American market. It has a new top-level road tire, the Ultremo. Schwalbe also has a new cyclo-cross tire, Racing Ralph, which is modeled after one of its most popular mountain bike tread patterns.
The new Ultremo is a single design that is front and rear compatible. It unseats the front and rear specific Stelvio set from the brand’s top tier. The secret to the Ultremo is it’s triple compound tread. By utilizing three rubber compounds, Schwalbe gave the new tire more grip and better durability. The tire only comes in a 700x22c size, and weighs 195 grams, roughly 40 grams less than the Stelvio it replaces.
The Racing Ralph cyclo-cross tire also utilizes a triple compound tread. The design has been popular for two years as a mountain bike tire. Schwalbe’s triple compound design layers a durable carcass over a highly elastic base rubber; of course the shoulder knobs are made of a soft grippy rubber.
Gore bike wear
Gore has been available in the U.S. market for three years. The German brand has a certain ability to set lofty goals and quickly realize them. In the last two years it has won awards and garnered nominations from both Eurobike and the German Design Award committee. Gore has also won two IF product design awards. For perspective, the German Design Awards pit Gore against the likes of BMW, Audi and Bang Olufsen.
One of the products making waves is the Xenon Jacket. It drew both the German Design Award nomination in 2006 as well as a 2005 IF product design award. The shell is made from Gore Wind Stopper Light. Its cut can best be described as similar to a tailed tuxedo. Matthias Zaggle, Gore’s brand manager, explained that the fit of the garment is designed to work specifically on the bike. The front is short, the back is long and the shoulders look like they are sewn to the front of the jacket. The reason Gore won awards with this piece is purely because of its details. The jacket is extremely light and packs into a small bag that would easily fit in a jersey pocket. The sleeves have a mesh lining for comfort, yet the torso is unlined to save weight.
Production for Merida is done in Asia, yet the company touts its European pedigree. Gunn-Rita Dahle-Flesjå and José Hermida have helped put the brand at the forefront of the world cup mountain bike circuit. The 2007 line shows plenty of influence from the style of these two riders. Their influence is pushing the brand to make products ever lighter.
Merida’s Carbon FLX frame comes in at 1300 grams and flies Dahle-Flesjå’s world championship stripes. The model was on display with the optional X-Mission carbon fiber ridged fork, which weighs 900grams.
While Merida is huge and manufactured abroad, Nicolai small and its frames are built domestically. Yet it is another well-known and easily recognized German manufacture that fills a specific niche. Its reputation allows it to produce frames like the new Nucleon AMX; not many manufacturers can successfully market such a radical design to consumers. Like more than half of Nicolai’s line, the Nucleon AMX uses the G-Boxx universal transmission as its basis. Its suspension system offers 121mm or 149mm of travel via a two-position mount. The main pivot is centered on the G-Boxx, keeping chain tension constant throughout the suspension stroke.
Ten years ago Markus Storck owned the top producing Klein distributor in the world. His company contributed 25 percent of the brand’s total worldwide sales. Strorck also claims to have had a hand in many of the innovations made during this time. Since splitting from the Klein, shortly after it was bought by Trek, he has built Storck bicycle into a small, but very high-end, empire. For 2007, the brand will enter an exclusive seven-year partnership with a U.S. distributor, ensuring its success in the United States.
Like many German brands Storck puts a premium on testing its bikes for stiffness and safety. The company owns one of roughly seven new EFBe testing machines available worldwide. Storck made an investment of over 100,000 euros for the new machine, which has the ability to test for stiffness and fatigue of the frame vertically.
Storck prides itself on testing and engineering, but it does things it’s own way. Storck noted that many manufacturers are designing bikes around tests like Tour Magazine’s stiffness protocol.
“Frames don’t need to be the top in stiffness,” he said. “Riders cannot tell a difference [in stiffness] over 90NM [a lateral measurement Storck tests], also everything below 60NM is not okay.”
Storck said that any frame within these parameters is okay, and it is up to a rider to decide what fits best within the realm. Building upon this concept, Storck manufacturers multiple frames in the same molds, but with different materials and characteristics. That way, the consumer can choose a model that best fits their needs within a design and aesthetic. An example, the CD1.0 is stiffer, yet heavier than the CD0.9, which is stiffer than the brand new super light CD0.8. All three frames are manufactured using the same mold.