Monday, September 14, 2015

Bigger Wheels For Marginal Gains

Remember these guys?
The same people who brought us $1000 derailleur pulleys are back with another hyper-expensive marginal gain. The latest oversized pulleys from Ceramicspeed are supposed to save performance-addicts a claimed 2.4 watts, and at $500 - $600 are likely to be declared a "bargain" by the cheerleaders (at least compared to Ceramicspeed's hollow titanium versions). The Over Sized Pulley Wheel System, or OSPW, uses bigger derailleur pulleys to make big claims of performance gains.

The Over Sized Pulley Wheel System,
or OSPW (c'mon, why not O'SPEW?)
comes complete with a new
pulley cage to be retrofitted to the
user's Shimano or SRAM derailleur.
With 17 teeth per wheel, the O'SPEW System is supposed to reduce the bends in the bike's chain as it wraps through the derailleur, thereby reducing friction -- to the tune of a claimed 60 percent! Understand that, while this sounds like a tremendous reduction, it's important to remember that the real-world efficiency of a chain-drive transmission is typically between 96-98% (I've read it can be even higher in lab conditions) so the friction losses in a properly maintained bike chain are already so low that you're actually talking about 60% of virtually nothing. And a healthy, vigorous cyclist might put out 200 watts or more in an hour-long ride, making a few watts pretty hard to notice. But the company is convinced racers and triathletes will feel the difference of those 2.4 watts. Or better yet, upgrade all the bearings in your drivetrain to Ceramicspeed, and save a claimed 10 to 16 watts! That will practically guarantee cutting 9 minutes off a 180 km triathlon "with no additional efforts" according to the website.

As always, I have doubts about such promises or claims of "minutes saved" in a time-trial, or a triathlon, or what-have-you. They make great marketing, but the reality is probably not nearly as impressive as the promises.

The way I look at it, even at the top levels of the sport, in the pro racing ranks, average speeds aren't really climbing significantly since the 1990s. Look at average speeds of Tour de France winners going back to the beginning, and you'll see speeds gradually, incrementally climbing through the years and decades as bikes and technology (and don't forget, roads, too) improved. The fastest races, with average finishing speeds in the 39-41 km/h range start happening routinely in the 1990s, with the introduction of EPO and serious, systematic doping, and peak in 2005. They've pretty much plateaued since then. Since 2006 (right after the nullified Armstrong streak), the finishing speeds have averaged 40 km/h. At this point, wringing the last bit of performance gains keeps getting harder and more expensive, and yielding smaller and smaller results.

Such realities won't stop the performance addicts, suffering from protracted cases of upgrade fever, from pulling their derailleurs apart to install O'SPEW wheels, though. Meanwhile, we retrogrouches can think of all the things we could buy for $500 - $600. Vintage frames. A bike's-worth of classic components. A trip to L'Eroica . . .


  1. I always thought my physio or lack of skills were holding me back...

  2. Here's a better idea if you want larger derailer pulleys. Well, at least one is larger. It's the Shimano Altus, a favourite of Grant Peterson. It's cheap too!

    1. That's right - and they don't even push the performance-enhancing quality of that larger pulley. How very unlike Shimano to miss a marketing opportunity.

    2. Haha, I was reading through the post and the Altus popped into my head, too. $25 for the whole dang thing!

  3. But what about the weight of the extra length of chain?

  4. I have the same question as johnb.

    1. I suppose if people are that concerned about marginal gains, they should be just as concerned about marginal weight gains, too -- right? Never gets mentioned in the hype, though.