Thursday, August 29, 2013

Show Them The Money: Part II

In case you missed it, here's Show Them The Money! Part 1

My wife crushed her third half Ironman last Saturday at a race called the Utah Half. Although the race has been around for a while, this was the first year in which there was prize money to be had. I thought that was cool for a local race, as well as a timely follow up to my last post on the subject of prize money in triathlon. The total prize purse was $4500, with $750, $500, and $200 to the men’s and women’s podium, as well as $150 and $100 to broader age group categories (< 24, 25-39, etc.). No one got Zuckerberg rich, but it wasn’t peanuts either… perennial Kona qualifier B.J. Christenson and Arizona’s Sarah Jarvis took home as much for the win as 6th place at Sunday’s Ironman Louisville! In addition, 2nd place (Oregon’s Rick Floyd and Utah’s Jeanette Schellenberg) took home as much as 5th place at many Ironman 70.3s. I think that’s more of an indictment on how little Ironman pays its pros, but still… not too shabby.

It’s a bit of a gamble for your local race to “give away” prize money, but I would argue that over time most would benefit from such a move. Offering even a small amount of cash generates more race entries, as well as increasing the prestige and brand of the event for future years. I know several people who signed up solely because of the prize money… it wasn’t just the cash alone, but also the prospect of local bragging rights. With multiple ways to win even $100, (age group, fastest clydesdale, athena, etc.) many people felt they were in the running. Building the prestige and buzz around an event could potentially attract more local sponsorship revenue as well.

something to celebrate

Unless they’re completely irrational, RDs have zero incentive to offer prize money if they don't feel it will increase their bottom line. It’s not out of the goodness of their heart. That said, prize money can definitely be a win/win situation, and it will be interesting to see if more local races follow suit.

On the subject of incentives and the bottom line, what would happen if Ironman eliminated prize money altogether? No prize money would essentially wipe out the professional field, but would that cause a drop in the number of age groupers signing up? I doubt it… few people sign up for a race because of the professionals that are racing. That said, without a professional field Ironman would certainly lose some buzz, prestige, and over time, lucrative sponsorship & Kona TV revenues.

Another important note is that other race series have emerged besides Ironman (Rev3, Challenge, Lifetime, etc.) that attract pros with prize money as well. If Ironman were to suddenly eliminate or decrease prize money, other race series would be happy to swoop in and welcome pros to their events in order to build their brand. This isn’t unprecedented… there was a time when top pros such as Mark Allen and Dave Scott boycotted Ironman Hawaii because of the lack of prize money, instead racing the Nice Triathlon in France. Ironman responded to the pressure by ponying up increased funds to re-establish themselves as the premier race. In addition to greater media coverage, increased choice and competition among races should continue to drive prize money up over time.

Anyways, what I saw on Saturday was pretty cool. Whether a local event or Kona, prize money is great for the sport.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Show Them The Money!

I’m not a huge golf fan, but earlier this month I found myself tuning in periodically to the PGA Championships at Oak Hill. A guy named Jason Dufner won the tournament, along with $1.44M of a total $8M prize purse. Rounding out the “podium,” Jim Furyk took home $865K for 2nd, and Henrik Stenson $545K for 3rd. The top 7 all cleared a cool quarter of a million, and ~20 were over six figures. The last player to make the cut (75th place and 26 strokes back) took home $15K for his trouble.

well played, JD... well played

For comparison, here are the prize purses for Ironman and Ironman 70.3 events in 2013:

Ironman World Championships (Hawaii)
$650K total prize purse: $120K, $60K, $40K… down to $10K for 10th

Ironman 70.3 World Championships (Vegas, with rotating international venues in future)
$200K total prize purse: $35K, $17.5K, $11.5K… down to $3K for 10th

Ironman Regional Championships (Melbourne, Frankfurt, Mont-Tremblant)
$125K total prize purse: $25K, $12.5K, $7.5K… down to $2K for 8th

Ironman 70.3 Regional Championships (Auckland, Panama, St. George, Wiesbaden)
$75K total prize purse: $15K, $7.5K, $5K… down to $1K for 8th

Ironman (non-championship races)
$25-75K depending on race – for $25K: $5K, $2.75K, $1.75K… down to $750 for 6th

Ironman 70.3 (non-championship races)
$15-50K depending on race – for $15K: $3K, $2K, $1.25K… down to $500 for 5th

To summarize, the last player to make the cut at the PGAs, in 75th place, took home the same prize money as Brent McMahon and Meredith Kessler after winning the US 70.3 Pro Championships!

in some ways you picked the wrong sport... sorry bro

It’s no secret why this disparity exists, and I’m not here to say that it’s “wrong.” It’s simple economics… people are entertained by watching experts swing a stick at a ball on the ground, to the point where such tournaments are regularly televised. Advertisers are attracted to the people watching at home, and are willing to pay a lot to reach those potential customers. This results in lots of money to go around, a chunk of which goes towards big prize money. This serves the purpose of further building the prestige (and ratings) for the event and said sponsors, and around and around it goes. If someone’s putting with $1M on the line, you stop and watch. If it’s for a hot dog, you change the channel!

The bad news is, demand for triathlon pales in comparison to sports such as golf… triathlon is still more of a niche market than mainstream, so fewer events are covered, and advertisers are able to pay less due to fewer potential customers to reach. The end result is less money to go around.

coulda used some Triple Threat race kits!
The good news is, triathlon is steadily growing in popularity. Although relatively meager, prize money has actually been creeping up over time. I would argue that the potential spectator/television market is largely untapped, even among non-triathletes. The Olympic race in London last year attracted masses of people to Hyde Park, showing that triathlon is actually a decent spectator sport in the right format. As far as televised events go, the Ironman World Championships has been a staple on network TV for decades. Strong ratings have attracted sponsors and helped to build up the event and triathlon in general over time. As a kid it seemed like I stumbled on Kona coverage every year... I remember watching Mark Allen dominate, and fighting back “allergies” as they showcased various everyday people who had overcome something amazing just to be there.

In other promising news, additional races are now televised from time to time, and many others are available to stream on-line. Last week I watched some live coverage of Ironman Mont-Tremblant (North American Champs), which I really enjoyed. Obviously there were sponsors and advertisements associated with that event. That format will be the more immediate future of triathlon coverage, and I think has some promise. If you think pro triathletes should be paid more, tune in to the events that are currently available! Besides Kona, will triathlon coverage ever become more mainstream, similar to regular golf tournaments? Hopefully… I for one would watch, contributing a few pennies to the prize purse. Heck, I'll even buy hot dogs for the winners.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Late Season Sale!

With September fast approaching, unfortunately we're closer to the end of the triathlon season than the beginning... personally I only have one tri left on my schedule. :(.....  That said there are still several weeks to show off some new gear, and if you live in the southern hemisphere you're raring to go!

We're offering a "late season" sale for Triple Threat blog readers in the form of a limited time coupon code. Enter TTT Special at checkout for 25% off our top quality race kits and shirts!

We'll be re-ordering from our Italian manufacturer soon, and the deal will end once our remaining inventory goes bye bye. Act fast to snatch a great, late season deal.

As always, thanks for supporting the blog and the Triple Threat Triathlon brand!

Monday, August 19, 2013

Hurt in the Dirt: Jordanelle Race Report

After kicking the season off with IMSG 70.3 in May, the Jordanelle triathlon Saturday marked my fourth and final olympic distance race of the year. I only have one tri left on the schedule, a sprint next month, and I'm kind of glad to have the olympics out of the way! For 70.3s and Ironman, there's obviously an element of pacing... they hurt in their own way, of course, but there’s at least a portion of the race in which you feel somewhat comfortable. At the other end of the spectrum, sprint distance races are all-out, but they're also over much quicker. Olympics are that middle ground, where to be successful in terms of placing you have to go virtually all out. Try to "pace" yourself and you're pretty much out of the game. Don’t get me wrong, it’s totally fine to do a race for the experience and with a more comfortable pace. People have different goals and objectives. Personally I like to test myself, so it’s basically self-inflicted pain for 2+ hours :)

Jordanelle was no different… in fact, if anything heat and hills made it worse than the rest. This race had an unusually late 9am start, which got pushed back to 9:30 due to construction on one of the main travel routes to the race. Jordanelle is held not far from Park City, in and around a beautiful state park called Rockcliff. As usual, the morning mountain air was cool, but it was already getting toasty as I got ready in transition. I could tell that unlike my last race at Spudman, we were in for a scorcher.

The water level at Jordanelle Reservoir was lower than past years, and similar to Echo last month, there was a long walk from transition to the water's edge. A good section of the path was dirt and gravel, so I grabbed my socks and running shoes to save my feet.

The water was a perfect temperature, just a tad chilly at first, but not cold. This was a typical olympic distance swim course of two 750 meter loops. I was hoping to draft as well as I did at Spudman, but when the gun went off for my wave I found myself in an unfamiliar and scary place… out in front! I started to wonder if I was going the right way... where is everyone? Eventually several people passed me, making me feel more in my element. Besides, I hear lurking sea creatures only attack the guys in the lead, right?

that hurt
After a while my right shoulder started to tighten up, which happens to me from time to time and is never incredibly fun. I probably just need to stretch and warm it up more. At some races the swim feels relatively effortless, whereas others are more of the “grind it out” variety. By the second buoy it was clear that this was going to be the latter. That said, I battled the best I could and was relatively happy with my time. All in all I’m guessing the shoulder thing only cost me 30-40 seconds or so.

27:14   61st / 182   

I worked my wetsuit down, found my stuff in the designated "shoe zone," and ran to transition. It took over 4 minutes, so it was a bit of a haul… uphill at that.

The bike course was an out and back through some beautiful countryside. My legs didn't feel very snappy in the beginning, but I put my head down and went to work. I'm usually "in the zone" most of the time, but every now and then I try to take a peek around and recognize when I'm in a beautiful place. It was easier to appreciate on the way back, as the first half was a gradual climb, or "false flat" as they call it, the whole way. The way back was more enjoyable with the slight descent, but still painful in its own right. I stayed on the gas, and similar to the swim it was a bit of a grind. It was heating up, and I made sure to drink my entire bottle of Hammer Perpetuem and take in a PowerGel. I also had this song intermittently running through my head. I don’t care who you are, if that first minute or so doesn’t get you pumped, then you do not have a pulse. Go see a doctor immediately.

1:12:26   39th / 182
21.4 mph
avg hr 160

I narrowly avoided wiping out on my dismount, then jogged into T2. I never bike with socks, but always run with them. Without an extra pair, I slipped on the damp and dirty ones used in the post-swim run to T1. I figured blisters would eventually become an issue, but hoped they wouldn't get too bad with only ~6 miles to run.

The heat immediately made its presence felt as I started out on the run, and hydrating/trying to stay cool became much more of a priority than previous races. I grabbed water at every aid station, drinking about half and dumping the rest on my head and down my shirt. The course was two loops, with roughly half on roads and half on rugged dirt trails throughout the park. The first section was a long gradual climb, and I tried to think positive thoughts despite my legs not feeling terrific off the bike in addition to the heat and hills. Some downhill finally came shortly before mile 2 in the form of a steep rocky descent. As I learned back in my cross country days, I tried to let gravity do the work and just "fall" down the descents, all while trying not to sprain an ankle on the rocks. As my Garmin beeped to indicate 2 miles, the following segment randomly popped into my head. Weird, but strangely effective in keeping my spirits up.

My feet started hurting as I could feel blisters beginning to form, but it wasn't bad enough to affect my stride. The second time up the long climb was slower than the first, and it was a bit demoralizing to know that my pace was fading. There wasn’t anyone around me that I knew to gauge off of, making it hard to tell if I was struggling more than others or on par with the field. With that wonderful “cottonmouth” feeling rising, I closed out the last 800 meters as hard as I could, passing a guy who had gapped me earlier in the race in the homestretch.

45:39  20th / 182
8:00 pace
avg hr 170

It felt like a very sub-par performance, and I wondered if for literally the first time, my bike split vs. the field would be better than my run. However, looking at the results later in the day, I was surprised with how my run held up.

this bridge signified the end was near

Overall 2:31:58 (including the 4+ min run to T1)
26th / 182

4th / 17 in age group

Not my best result ever, but all in all a good, painful day at the office.

“the question is not when they gonna stop, but who is gonna stop'em"

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Rookie of the Year: Paul Eicher

Before moving out of state, from 2007-2010 I competed in the Fleet Feet “Aquathon” series held in Madison, WI. These races were held Thursday evenings from May-Aug (5 total), and consisted of a 1k swim followed by a 5k run. At many of these events, I remember seeing a kid who appeared to be barely old enough to drive. He was often accompanied by his parents, and in hindsight they may have served as both support crew and means of transportation. He also stood out due to the fact that he always kicked my butt, along with virtually everyone else’s. I briefly met him at a few races and would congratulate him on a job well done.

Paul shaved 6 min off this time at Steelhead
Anyways, a couple months ago I was on slowtwitch, and happened to click on an article recapping the inaugural Ironman 70.3 Raleigh. Tri legend Greg Bennett won the race, and a 21-year old named Paul Eicher placed 2nd. “Wait a minute, I know that guy!” Indeed, it was the kid from the Aquathons, who I discovered was mid-way through his first year as a professional triathlete.

To say Paul’s first year as a pro has been impressive would be a major understatement. As mentioned he took 2nd at Ironman 70.3 Raleigh in what was only his second race as a professional. He followed that up with a solid result at Ironman 70.3 Racine (Wisconsin) in July and a 4th at Ironman 70.3 Steelhead (Michigan) two weeks ago. Impressive stuff, which led me to reach out to the kid himself to learn about his experiences as a pro.

What’s your background, and how did you get into triathlon?

Ever since I was a little kid I remember going out to cheer and volunteer at Ironman Wisconsin (the IMWI bike course passes through my home town of Cross Plains two times). I always looked up to those athletes, especially my then summer swim coach Justin Pernitz, who is an Ironman triathlete and now co-owner of Endurance House Middleton. I always wanted to do an Ironman someday, and I made it my goal to compete in Ironman Wisconsin my senior year of high school at the age of 18. Luckily I didn’t start with nothing; in high school I competed in cross country, swimming, and track, so the next logical thing was to throw in a bike and do the Ironman, right?

Paul became an Ironman while still in high school... 10:54!

At what moment did you decide to step up to the next level, and what was the process of becoming pro? What was your family’s reaction to the news?

I don’t know if there was a single moment that I decided to make the jump… it was mostly just a continuous thought in the back of my mind. In college I changed my career path many times, and every time the root of the reason seemed to be that I just wanted to train and compete in triathlons. I qualified a few different times for my pro card but didn’t decide to take it until this year. It just seemed like the right time… I was ready for the change and excited to give it a fight. My family’s reaction was just like I would ever expect, supportive as ever! Yes they had a few reservations, but they would support me in anything I decided to do, even if it was under water basket weaving (editor’s note: I hear that’s a very lucrative field).

What motivates you as an athlete?

I don't think I can answer that question in one interview. Motivation for me comes from so many avenues in life: my own self drive, my family, friends, and the "big man upstairs" to name a few (Paul closes each blog post with his stamp of "GTGTG," short for Give the Glory to God).

How were the nerves before your first race as a professional? In general, do you feel more pressure now that you’re racing for a pay check?

I rarely ever get too nervous before a race, but that first race (Ironman 70.3 Texas in March) was something else. I was ridiculously nervous. I have no clue why, other than it was a giant step that meant a lot to me. Since that first race my nerves, or lack thereof, have gone back to normal. I don't feel any pressure to race for a pay check because that is way in back of my mind, if there at all. I still have money coming in from other job avenues so that helps a lot also.

With a 2nd and 4th place already in the books, have you exceeded your expectations or is this how you envisioned your first year would go?

I was for sure hoping and working hard for the results I’ve gotten thus far, but definitely was not expecting any of it. Top 5 finishes in 2 of my 4 Ironman 70.3 starts sure does exceed my expectations. This year’s focus was not on racing but simply learning how to train like a pro/ be a pro… racing was the cherry on top. Personally I was simply hoping to be "in the race" at a few races and not be a back of the pack pro for too long.

How important are sponsors to making it in this sport, and what has your experience been like thus far on the “business side” of triathlon?

Sponsors are extremely important for a professional’s success in this sport. I have been blessed with support from a group of sponsors that I would do anything for. For the 2013 year I have been racing with Team RACC which stands for Racers Against Childhood Cancer. The team’s goal is to raise awareness and money for the fight against childhood cancer. Leading into my 70.3 Racine race I put on a fundraiser which raised $1500 for RACC, which was stupendous. Endurance House Middleton helps me with all my training and race product needs, which is SO important, as well as giving me a platform for private and group coaching which is a big passion of mine. CycleOps takes my bike training to the next level with their PowerTap and trainer products which are by far the best in the business. PowerBar supplies me with my training and racing nutrition needs in the form of gels, bars, and drinks. Peak Performance Massage in Madison keeps my body tuned up and ready to endure the torture I put it through, haha. Last but not least, Newton running shoes are simply the best! My biggest sponsors of all, however, are my parents, who supply the roof over my head and brought me up to be the person I am today. 

all smiles at Raleigh 70.3
What impact has your coach had on you thus far?

My coach, Will Smith, (not the Fresh Prince) has taken my training to a new level this year. The experience that he brings to the table is like no other. He keeps my training hard, fun and smart, and I am looking forward to what the future holds.

Have you been “star struck” by anyone you’ve raced thus far? Which pros will you eventually be most intimidated to see on the start line with you?

As a pro myself I can’t be star struck like I used to be when I was an age grouper. Yes, I look up to a few pros but there is no drooling over any of them, haha. I do have to say that it was pretty cool meeting Greg Bennett after placing 2nd to him in Raleigh… he was a cool guy. There are plenty of guys I am intimidated to race against at the moment, but that won’t be for too long.

I know (US Olympian) Gwen Jorgensen also hails from Wisconsin, so it can be done, but do you ever feel you’re at a disadvantage living in a colder climate? Will you train in WI year-round?

I think living in the colder climate can actually be an advantage at times. It allows me to have a forced "down time," as well as change up the same routine year in and year out. Last year I started doing some snow shoe running which is a very fun and challenging workout and I’m excited to do that again this winter. Also, thanks to my CycleOps trainer, a few friends, and the pain cave, I can sometimes come out of winter in better biking shape then I am all summer. I do plan on continuing to train in Wisconsin year round, but I also hope to do at least one long training camp in a warmer climate over the winter.

Thanks for your time, Paul, and best of luck through the rest of the season and beyond!

Follow Paul as he continues his stellar rookie campaign:

Paul's grandpa at the 70.3 World Champs last year in Vegas...  love this pic

Monday, August 12, 2013

Triathlon Burn Out

Last week my wife commented that she was feeling "a little burned out" as she's ramped up her training for a half Ironman now only two weeks away. I've felt that before myself, as do many other triathletes. If and when you ever feel that yourself, here are my Top 10 remedies for getting your mojo and motivation back on track:

10) Look back at successes earlier in the season or previous years. Find strength in the hard work you've put in and progress made.

9) Track results of local races not on your schedule. This can help to get the competitive juices flowing.

8) Indulge in a small upgrade... could be something for your bike, new race gear, etc. Even simply cleaning the dirt and grime off my bike strangely makes me want to go ride.

7) Read a triathlon blog such as this one! For example, reading race reports gets me stoked to go train and race myself.

6) On that note I've found it's also effective to go watch and/or volunteer at a race.

don't burn all your matches!

5) Train with other people. Join a Masters swim workout, organized group ride/run, or simply call up a friend.

4) Set or re-set goals for late season races.

3) Take a day off. Last week I set out for a ride, but just wasn't feeling it. I could have powered through, but decided to turn in after 30 min. The next day I was much more refreshed and had a great run workout.

2) Lose the gadgets... no watch, heart rate monitor, etc. Set out for a bike or run just for the fun of it.

1) Get a change of scenery with some new routes. Especially with running, often times I'll drive to a starting point and explore new roads. 

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Reynolds Review

As a follow up to the Reynolds interview, here's a review of their 58mm Aero wheel by UK-based PROCYCLING magazine. The article itself is below, but I thought I'd save your eyes with larger text.

"The new Aero range of carbon clinchers from Reynolds is gunning straight for Zipp and Enve’s top wheels as fast, light clinchers that are stable in windy conditions. The 58 is the shallowest of the set, which also includes 72 and 90 models. Instead of using a ‘fat’ profile like their rivals, now widely copied, Reynolds has developed this sharp-edged shape called DET – Dispersive Effect Termination – which is claimed to offer even better stability in blustery conditions. The DET shape is very wide at the brake track but narrows to a sharp edge at the spoke bed. Its workings are complex; designer Paul Lew told us it would take two hours to explain. In a nutshell, he used his experience of designing airfoils with stable flight characteristics for military drone aircraft and applied the theories to a bicycle wheel. A 12-page summary is available online, plus a huge white paper if you’re a boffin. The 58s are instantly impressive. These are the stiffest conventionally-spoked wheels we’ve tested so they’re great for sprinting, feel much lighter than their measured 1,605g when climbing and they rail around corners. Back to back with Mavic R-Sys SLRs, paragons of rigidity with a big advantage due to their tubular carbon spokes, there was nothing in it. Reynolds focuses on their DET tech in the 58s but when we asked Lew he told us that a hybrid carbon laminate is used for the rim, with each section – spoke face, sidewall, brake track, tyre bed – made in a specific material. The Aero range uses the familiar Reynolds Cryo Blue brake pads and CTg brake track tech, claimed to run cooler while still offering plenty of power. We found the braking to be great in the dry but there’s a long pause before anything happens in the wet, after which they do brake firmly. They feel as fast as they claim to be, needing less power to cruise at 35kph. The real magic, though, is the stability. We went out on a gale force day to find the most exposed road and even in 70kph crosswinds (with a 71kg rider) the 58s stay calm and barely move off line an inch. You never get a heart-in-mouth moment. Are they better than the Zipp 404 Firecrest and Enve 6.7? Yes, we’ve no doubt. The 58 aero is more stable, a lot stiffer, at least as fast and usefully cheaper too. We have a new mid-depth champion."

Verdict: Super do-it-all wheels, the new aero carbon clincher leaders.

Jamie Wilkins - PROCYCLING Magazine, May 2013

Tech Explained (insert)
Paul Lew, Director of Technology

"The primary aerodynamic components that influence handling in crosswinds are pitch and roll. in bicycle terms, pitch is when the wind creates steering input. Less obvious is roll, which is the force that makes a bike lean over in a gust. Due to the advancing and retreating nature of a wheel (the top of the wheel advances and the bottom of the wheel retreats with respect to the wind as the wheel rotates) the top and the bottom of a bicycle wheel behaves differently with respect to roll. The Magnus effect helps describe this phenomenon. When combined, pitch and roll are the significant forces that affect bike stability. As a designer of unmanned aircraft for the US government I know the benefits of designing a stable airfoil. A bicycle wheel is an inefficient airfoil in terms of lift and drag but it is highly susceptible to the influences of pitch and roll. The Reynolds Aero line was created from scratch using proprietary CFD software, and validated in the wind tunnel. In the design phase I considered all of the aerodynamic aspects that contribute to good airfoil design, not focusing only on low drag. The result was an aerodynamic contour we named Dispersive Effect Termination—or DET."

ps. In case you missed the link above... I learned a new word today! 

boffin is British slang for a scientist, engineer, or other person engaged in technical or scientific work. The original World War II conception of war-winning researchers means that the character tends to have more positive connotations than related characterisations like egghead, nerd, or geek.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Aero Assault: Interview with Reynolds Cycling

Last week I had the opportunity to visit Reynolds' gleaming new headquarters building in the suburbs of Salt Lake City. Reynolds' Director of Sales & Marketing, Rob Aguero, was gracious enough to answer some questions for the blog, as well as giving me a tour of the facilities. In addition, I was able to spend some time with aerodynamics guru Paul Lew, Reynolds' Director of Technology and Innovation. If you've ever ridden a carbon fiber wheel (of any brand), you can thank Paul... he literally invented and patented the carbon clincher 17 years ago!

Tell me about Reynolds’ history… when was the company founded and how has it evolved over time?

Rob – The Reynolds brand has been around for over 100 years, but it has undergone major changes over time. In 1996, Paul’s company Lew Composites created the first carbon fiber clincher wheel. He literally holds the patent for the carbon clincher. At first people thought he was a little nuts, but really he was just ahead of his time. Eventually elite cycling teams caught the vision, and demand began to grow. The first carbon fiber rims ridden by Lance and the US Postal Service teams (under the Rolf Carbon brand name) were all made by Paul. Two other well-known early adopters of Paul’s carbon wheels were Marco Pantani and Jeannie Longo.

In 2002, parent company MacLean-Fogg saw the potential of carbon fiber, acquiring both Reynolds and Lew Composites. In the early days we made all kinds of carbon fiber products, such as the tubing for Trek bike frames, seatposts, handlebars and forks, as well as products for motorsports such as the HANDS device, windsurfing, and the hoods for Chevy Corvettes to name a few. Wheels were just another product. We were a manufacturing company, not a cycling company. Our engineers and employees didn’t necessarily ride… it was just business. During that era, from 2002-08, there wasn’t much innovation with Reynolds wheels. Around six years ago due to the commoditization of carbon fiber, we sold off product lines, deciding to focus solely on wheels. In 2008, Paul, who had been focusing on his unmanned aircraft business (he designs unmanned aircraft for the US Government) united with Reynolds board to push innovation, new technologies, and products. Today cycling isn’t just business… it’s personal. Our employees are passionate about cycling, triathlon, mountain biking, etc, and it makes a big difference.

Your industry seems to be quite fragmented, with well-known brands such as Reynolds, but many smaller players as well as new entrants. What differentiates Reynolds from your competitors?

Rob - Lots of competitors go to China and say ‘we need a wheel with these specifications, this weight’, etc. They take shortcuts and outsource their production process. We control our production process from start to finish, from the resins selected for our carbon fiber to our wholly owned and operated manufacturing facilities. We have the most experience working with carbon fiber and were the first carbon clincher brand. There are a lot of cheap knockoffs in the market… for example we know about newspaper and other fillers in some of them. Our wheels begin with innovative ideas that are brought to market after years of testing and development.

In addition to the quality of our wheels, our “Ride to Decide” program is one of the best promotions in the industry. You go to your Reynolds dealer and say you want to test some wheels. You then have 30 days to test them… train, race, whatever. Once you return them, you have 45 days to decide to purchase the wheels. If you do so within that window, we send you a kickback of $100 cash, in addition to providing RAP coverage (Reynolds Assurance Program, a $250 value) which protects your wheels against any damage for two years.

What is your role within the company and what does it entail?

Rob - I’m the Director of Sales and Marketing, and have been with the company just over two years. I’ve been in the bike industry since 1998. I steer the marketing boat, with a focus on Reynolds’ brand development. We’ve been re-building the brand here over the past two years, which has been an exciting process.

Can you give me a high-level summary of the manufacturing process? How long does it take to produce a Reynolds wheel?

Paul - What you see on the market from Reynolds today was in development for 2-3 years prior. All of our extensive development and testing is done here in the US. Mass production takes place at our factory in China, which we own and control. Production time for each individual wheel varies from ~10 man hours all the way up to ~40 hours for our RZR series. Think about that, roughly an entire work week devoted to a single wheel set!

Rob - Production is entirely controlled by us, whereas others outsource much of their process. For example, we source our raw carbon fiber from Mitsubishi, and we also control the resin chemistry in the carbon prepreg (raw material). Not all carbon is equal… there’s a lot of junk out there on the market.

this oven ain't for bakin' brownies

Reynolds is an official sponsor of the Rev3 triathlon series, while also teaming with well-known athletes such as Kelly Williamson, Richie Cunningham, and Chris McDonald… what do you look for when selecting athletes and events to partner with?

Rob - Results are great, but results alone don’t “touch” the consumer. Taking results away, all of our sponsored athletes are great people. Being approachable is very important to us. For example, think what you want about Lance Armstrong, but most people would say he never was extremely approachable. We want athletes who have an interesting story to tell, someone that the consumer can connect to. Having a social media platform is also important, and self-promotion is huge. We want athletes who will support us as their sponsor and be brand advocates.

We’re thrilled to partner with the Rev3 series as well. The atmosphere at Rev3 races is very welcoming and family oriented… there are fun things for kids to do, your kid can cross the finish line with you, etc. They really connect with the consumer. Don’t get me wrong, we love Ironman too. They both just have their own unique vibe.

The Magnificent Kelly Williamson

What wheels would you recommend for a triathlete living in an area with more climbing vs. flat? On that note can you talk a bit about the tradeoff between weight and aerodynamics?

Rob - Deep wheels make a bike look hot, but may not be the best for the rider. With all the climbing here in the mountains, I prefer a shallower wheel. It’s a personal choice, and we try to provide something for everyone. We do a lot of business in Florida, selling a lot of deep wheels and discs well-suited for flatter terrain. If you live right on the coast, you may want a shallower wheel as well to deal with ocean breezes. For triathletes it can make a lot of sense to mix, such as 90mm on the rear and 72mm on the front. With all your weight over your front wheel, mixing provides a balance of more aero on the back with greater control on the front. We sell a lot of deep wheels, but our 46mm wheel is actually our best seller and our 29mm Attack wheel is a great seller as well.

Paul – If you typically ride roads with an incline of 5% or less, then aerodynamics is the most important component. When riding at greater than 5%, weight becomes more important. The thing is, most triathlons don’t have that kind of sustained climbing, so aerodynamics should be the focus. I would say go with as deep of a wheel as you can personally handle. The Reynolds RZR has no compromise… it’s a deep wheel, but also super light.

Paul Lew, the man who started it all, with the Reynolds RZR

Let’s cut to the chase – how much faster will Reynolds make me compared to my stock aluminum wheels?

Paul – There are a lot of factors, but what I can tell you is you’ll average ~2 mph faster on a flat course. At least 1 mph, guaranteed, but lots of people will be even faster. People come back to us all the time and say things like ‘I was 5, 8, 10+ min faster at my 70.3’.

my back of the envelope estimate of min. saved under various scenarios

Rob - Wheels are absolutely the best upgrade you can make for your bike... you start seeing the return on investment immediately. My girlfriend bought a really nice bike, a Pinarello, and I later got her some wheels for Christmas. She made comments such as “it feels like I can go up hills faster” and “I feel like the bike is pedaling itself.” I’m used to riding with guys who talk about watts and stuff, so as a marketing guy it was cool to hear her communicate her experience in simple terms like that.

What are the key differences in Reynolds new wheels vs. previous models? For example I noticed the shift to wider rims, which seems to be an industry trend. Is this driven by wind tunnel testing?

Rob – Really everything… in many ways we started from scratch, while leveraging our history and experience. We have a new wheel to be introduced for 2014, as well as completely redesigned versions of the Attack, Assault, and Strike (all of these available late Fall 2013). Models from a few years ago were 21 mm wide, with a basic aero shape. They were good wheels, but our new ones absolutely kick the tar out of them and have gotten unbelievable reviews. We have a proprietary shape with superior aerodynamics to all major brands. Our new for 2013 Aero lineup comes in 46, 58, 72, and 90mm, with new shapes, wider 26mm rims, and improved braking technology that dissipates heat more effectively thanks to our proprietary braking surface. The trend towards wider rims in the industry has something to do with aerodynamics, but also stability. Wider rims simply handle better, giving the rider greater safety and control. You can still ride a standard 23mm tire on a 26mm rim… what you don’t want is the other way around, creating a “vacuum” that traps air. That said, many tire companies are coming out 24, 25, and even 28mm tires.

Paul – Our new 90mm wheel is now faster than a disc. It has lower drag and, as an example, requires 20 less watts to push 30 mph. A disc wheel doesn’t have the lift that our 90mm provides, which cancels drag. Plus the disc is heavier. For a long time there wasn’t anything faster than a disc, but our technology has caught up.

How important is wind tunnel testing to Reynolds? It seems like many bike, wheel, and other companies make claims regarding wind tunnel tests… is there sometimes smoke as well as wind coming from the tunnel?

Paul - Wind tunnel testing is very important, but only after we’ve amassed tons of our own data in the development phase. We go to the A2 tunnel in North Carolina on an annual basis to validate our data.

There are really two aerodynamic theories: “low drag, low lift,” and “high drag, high lift.” For illustration purposes, for “low/low,” let’s assign a drag value of 1, as well as a lift value generated by the wheel of 1, therefore offsetting the drag. The power required to move the wheel in this example is therefore zero. For “high/high,” let’s assign a drag value of 2 and a lift value also of 2, netting to zero once again. Since the drag is offset in both scenarios, what’s the difference?

Well, the generation of lift on a wheel is caused by wind. However, in addition to this lift theoretically helping the rider, the rider feels a side force from the wind as well (think crosswind). A low drag, low lift system generates less lift, but therefore also less side force. The result is that the cyclist rides with much greater stability in crosswinds.

Reynolds triathlete Chris "Big Sexy" McDonald in the wind tunnel

Bikes such as Cervelo, Giant, Canyon, and Felt to name a few use low drag, low lift principles in their design, whereas Reynolds is the first and only low drag, low lift wheel on the market. Bikes such as Trek and Specialized implement high drag, high lift principles, as do other wheel manufacturers besides Reynolds.

Wind tunnel testing can at times be a bit misleading because, well, it’s always windy in the wind tunnel! On a day without much wind, a high drag, high lift system can’t generate as much lift as on a windy day.

The 'Kona count' (a simple count of brands represented at the IM World Championships each year) clearly isn’t everything, but it seems to be a decent proxy for the market. Does Reynolds look at that metric? 

Rob - The Kona count is a huge metric… it’s a big deal. We were 5th out of 30 wheel brands last year, but only a few bikes away from moving up further. We’re hoping to crack the top 3 this year.

In conclusion, I was blown away by Reynolds... I couldn't believe how light yet strong their wheels are. Toss in the fact that they have the guy who invented the carbon wheel pushing the limits of product development, and to me it becomes a no brainer.

I'm looking forward to testing out some wheels, and would encourage you to do the same!

Check out previous Triple Threat interviews with two Reynolds sponsored triathletes:

The Magnificent Kelly Williamson
1st year pro Moka Best