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Tech Report: Taking on Goliath; Sampson jumps into the road group fray

Consumers have more choice than ever when buying road components. Campagnolo, Shimano, SRAM all have viable options for those looking to equip a performance road bike. And those options may broaden even further in the near future with Eric Sampson’s plans to deliver a road group by January 2008. Will Sampson’s soon to be introduced Stratics road group be able to compete with the big three? It’s hard to tell by comparing his preproduction prototypes, but Sampson has the right attitude to compete. He says that he’s not trying to shave every possible gram. He wants to build it light but, first

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By Matt Pacocha

Sampson’s new Diablo S outfitted with a prototype Stratics group.

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Consumers have more choice than ever when buying road components. Campagnolo, Shimano, SRAM all have viable options for those looking to equip a performance road bike. And those options may broaden even further in the near future with Eric Sampson’s plans to deliver a road group by January 2008. Will Sampson’s soon to be introduced Stratics road group be able to compete with the big three? It’s hard to tell by comparing his preproduction prototypes, but Sampson has the right attitude to compete. He says that he’s not trying to shave every possible gram. He wants to build it light but, first and foremost, he wants to build it right.

The new Stratics 10-speed shifter.

The new Stratics 10-speed shifter.

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“If it’s not awesome, it’s not going to sell,” he says.

The development of Sampson’s first group has taken three years and is born from his ability to forge relationships with overseas vendors. The key to the group is to pick, choose and develop components from multiple manufacturers that work well and complement each other. His aluminum spined carbon ISIS splined Stratics crank and titanium spindled ISIS bottom bracket came first. Then came the cold forged dual-pivot brakes. The transmission pieces are the last to the plate. The derailleurs and the 10-speed shifters are going through a final round of refinements before the Stratics branded group is ready for public consumption this coming January.

The aluminum and carbon rear derailleur.

The aluminum and carbon rear derailleur.

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The rear derailleur works via a 2:1 cable pull ratio and is compatible with Shimano’s 10-speed shifters. It weights a claimed 195-grams. The derailleur’s main components are forged from aluminum, including the pulley cage, but it does utilize carbon fiber for its outer linkage plate. Instead of resin pulley wheels, Sampson uses CNC machined alloy wheels fitted with sealed low-friction cartridge bearings for the Stratics group. The frame-fixing bolt is made from aluminum and the cable set screw and limit screws are steel. The derailleur’s price is tentatively set at $119.

The 10-speed shifters are similar to those shown by Sturmey-Archer at Eurobike this year. They have a fixed carbon fiber brake lever and two separate shift levers. A large Shimano-esque lever pulls cable to downshift into a lower gear and a very small cable release lever is tucked above the larger lever for one gear at a time shifts to higher. The shift lever set is claimed at 400 grams. While even Sampson describes its shifter’s internal mechanism as a “birds nest” of parts that aren’t user serviceable, the mechanism as a whole can be replaced. If and when the geared cable winder wears out or breaks, it is simply removed, by removing the cable and two bolts, and replaced. Sampson estimates its replacement cost at around $70. The shifters themselves will retail for $389.

Stratics parts are in the foreground (black derailleur, brake, bottom bracket and shifter) and the more econom ...

Stratics parts are in the foreground (black derailleur, brake, bottom bracket and shifter) and the more econom …

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The Stratics dual-pivot brakeset is currently the most refined component of the group. The cold black anodized cold-forged arms appear stiff and the barrel adjusters are large and easy to operate. The forged arms look a lot like FSA’s forged model from 2007. In the name of durability all of the hardware on the brakeset is made from steel. The brakes come with two sets of pads, one rubber set for alloy wheels and one carbon specific set. A bike’s worth of Stratics brakes weights 260-grams and costs $199.

A steel Stratics cassette isn’t yet in the works, but the company does make a pricy, race-day only cassette machined out of a solid piece of aluminum. A chain for the new group is currently in development and will be produced by KMC.

The Stratics rear derailleur uses alloy pulley wheels with low-friction sealed cartridge bearings.

The Stratics rear derailleur uses alloy pulley wheels with low-friction sealed cartridge bearings.

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While the majority of the components are still in a preproduction form I was able to take them for a little parking lot spin and, guess what, they do work. The shifting is quiet and my first impression using the brakes was similar to that of holding them in my hand; they are, at first glance, the highlight of the group. Realizing that all of these items are still a step or two from production I’ll hold my tongue until I’m able to put some miles on true production parts.

When Eric Sampson comes to visit, he brings plenty to talk about. In addition to his new group, he brought new aero bars, a seat, and a new seatpost to show off.

The alloy aero brake levers weigh 65-grams and cost . They have been designed to be comfortable as well as  ...

The alloy aero brake levers weigh 65-grams and cost . They have been designed to be comfortable as well as …

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Sampson’s Stratics TT bar costs $699 and has a claimed weight of 740-grams. It is aimed squarely at would be Zipp and Vision bar buyers. The clamping area of base bar is aluminum with a carbon wrap, while the bull horns and extensions are carbon. The aero extensions come in two varieties, chicane and ski-tip, and rely on a compression fitting and a locking clamp to offer 50mm of fore-aft adjustability and angular adjustment. Cables are routed internally and the outer coat on both the carbon extensions and bullhorns is textured for those who prefer to go without bar tape.

Sampson’s Stratics TT saddle weighs 110 grams and costs $299; one look will tell you if it’s right for you.

The last piece he brought is the new Stratics seatpost. It’s made almost entirely for carbon; only the bolt and its barrel-style nut are metal. The bolt is titanium and the nut is aluminum. Even the upper and lower clamping surfaces are carbon. In a 27.2 by 250mm size the post weighs a mere 136-grams. It also comes in 27.2 by 300mm and 31.6 by 350mm. Regardless of size the Stratics post costs $164.

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