Does 1x work for the pros?

Testing 1x - 2x - 3x

Nowadays, every bike brand claims they use their pro teams for product testing. But if you already know it will work, is it really testing?

When we announced the Strada, some people said 1x wouldn’t work for them on the road.

When we announced that Aqua Blue Sport would race the Strada, more people said 1x wouldn’t work in the pro peloton.

Of course we thought about this ourselves as well. We always knew it would work for one group of people, and not for another, but we didn’t know exactly how large each group would be and what characteristics each group would have. We had our ideas, our hopes and our fears, but the only way to really find out was to start (and I knew it would work for at least one rider – me – so our first size was Large – mine).

Now we know it works for a lot of our “regular customers”, in fact the reception has been much more positive than we could have hoped for. While the blogosphere’s comment sections are filled with people who know it won’t work without even trying it, many of our customers have found out it works great for them on the road.

For the pros, we’ll have a whole race season to try, learn, improve and try again. The win of the Sprint competition in their first race and the Mountain competition in their second is obviously a great start, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves. I think there are three ways to look at this:

One: Before we agreed to supply Aqua Blue Sport, four of their riders went on a training camp together with 3T staff to try out the new bikes. This was before the Strada was even launched, so outside of 3T nobody had seen or ridden it. There were comments on the wider tires (all positive), comments on the aerodynamics (all positive), the handling (all positive), the stiffness (all positive), the comfort (all positive).

Oh, and there were comments on the 1x. I have to say, I was pleasantly surprised. We didn’t have our own cassettes yet so they rode the 11-36, and for sure they felt they would like have some smaller steps between some of the gears, but overall the riders were amazingly open to the concept. And I say that with in the back of my head how some other riders that I have dealt with in the past would have responded.

Two: People often forget that no pro bike is optimal 365 days a year. In most races, what the pros ride is a compromise and rarely is their bike the ideal bike for that day. The only difference with the STRADA is, it’s much more visible.

After riding all day in the big ring at Paris-Roubaix, nobody says “hey, that front derailleur and inner ring were sub-optimal.” It’s just how it is, we’re used to it. And if they have a day where they are in the inner ring for 5 minutes, nobody thinks about the Watts they lost to aero drag the remaining 7 hours on the bike with that front derailleur and inner ring.

The bottom line is, there will be days the Strada is better than the other bikes, there will be days where it really doesn’t matter, and there will be days where other bikes may be a bit better. No different from any other bike, just more visible.

But there is a bit more to that. The Strada will be optimal when all other pro bikes will not be, and that is a competitive advantage. It’s much better to have superior equipment on a day when ALL other teams don’t, then to have it on a day where a few other teams do too. Whether the team will be able to exploit that remains to be seen of course; the biggest factor will always be the rider and a perfect course for the Strada is not necessarily the same as a perfect course for each Aqua Blue rider.

Three: The final point is, the commenters are looking at the Aqua Blue team bikes as a static product. But of course everybody including 3T is continuing to work on new products, in our case for example more cassettes. And we’re not alone. So the Strada will continue to evolve, and a lot of the problems people fear simply won’t be there when the time comes.

In addition, there is a more philosophical point. All brands nowadays claim they use their sponsored team for testing. But what is testing? Testing is figuring out if something works. If you already know with 100% certainty that something works, then it’s not testing. That’s just faking it.

When a brand has a new model that is pretty much like the old model except 7% stiffer in the BB (don’t get me started on that claim BTW), you don’t need to spend 3M Euro on a pro tour team to “test” it. A machine will tell you the same thing for a lot less. By its very nature, if you want to use a team for testing, you have to give them something that sometimes may not work. That’s what the word means. If you’re not doing that, then the “testing with the team” is just a bogus marketing line (is that a pleonasm?)

That’s not to say the riders are guinea pigs, far from it. As I mentioned in point two, we already know they will have a real advantage in some situations and some days where other bikes may have an advantage. What we don’t know is exactly how big those advantages are, how we can mitigate any disadvantages, and how future products from 3T, SRAM and others change the balance of these pros and cons. We can’t wait to get started!