Monday, January 11, 2016

A Fool and His Money...

This just in from Bike Rumor! Yes, more gushing about over-priced boutique components. In this case Paul Components. Like any dutiful bike nerd I read a lot of bike blog stuff and reviews come up, a LOT. Occasionally I'm looking to buy something new and so I do my research and that means reading reviews. It becomes apparent pretty quickly that a handful of the biggest review and content outfits out there on the interwebz simply spew "reviews" out with very little in the way of critical consideration. One regular offender I've found is Bike Rumor. Maybe they're just reporting the "bike news" and not actually reviewing the product. If it's not a review, then apparently it's at least "news" when a company makes something that a bunch of other companies already make cheaper, but for some reason make it the same but more expensive. So you can buy, for example a Paul I.S. disc adapter for $20.

Paul Components I.S. disc brake adapter

Or, you could get the same thing from Shimano for $8.99, Avid for $10.00, or Magura for $11.00. So, yeah. Maybe "Made in America" is worth $11.01 extra?

SRAM Avid I.S. disc brake adapter

My objection I guess isn't so much against Paul Components, because honestly, I have no idea if it really costs $11 more to make a US-made part versus something made in China. I actually have Paul Thumbies on two bikes, and in the past I made use of their short-travel/long-travel drop bar brake interrupter levers. So, I've spent money on their stuff. At least what I bought was functional and innovative rather than just copying an existing design and charging more money for it. Also, judging by a lot of comments of folks following these "reviews" of Paul Component parts, many feel the same way. A lot of this stuff just isn't especially innovative. So, if it's not innovative, all you're paying for is the name and cachet of what is essentially a boutique part. It's like all of that purple anodized mountain bike crap from the early to mid 90s. Purple anodizing didn't make your bike any faster or lighter, but lots of folks were willing to pay more for it.

And finally, don't get me started on their "Klamper" disc brake which Bike Rumor also gushed over back in July. Again, they were just "reporting" on it's introduction and not really offering up any kind of critical review. However, the e-zine Cyclocross Magazine did in fact review the Klamper, and apparently liked it, even though it's neither innovative nor a weight-saving piece of kit. The Paul Klamper uses the same antiquated and tired design of the Avid BB7. Specifically, the Klamper has one moving pad and one stationary pad, effectively bending the rotor inwards to contact the non-moving pad. The only advantage it purports to have is larger ball bearings and some needle bearings. So what does a marginal engineering improvement over an already less-than-stellar design cost you? You can have a single Klamper caliper for $179!!! 

The Paul Components Klamper

If you didn't just spit coffee out all over your computer screen, it's probably because you don't know that you could buy a complete set of Avid BB7 disc brakes - that's caliper AND rotor for $79! That's $100 cheaper than the Paul version. Or, you could buy the even lighter BB7 S which now features stainless steel components and is marginally lighter than a standard BB7, and is still lighter than a Klamper. The BB7 S will set you back $120. That's still $59 cheaper per wheel, or to round up and consider a full set, that's $120 cheaper.

Avid BB7 (the cheaper version - the "S" looks the same, only black instead of grey)

Of course, the elephant in the room we're not talking about, is the TRP Spyre/Spyke family of mechanical disc brakes. The Spyre (road), and Spyke (mountain), are dual piston disc brakes that work in the same manner as their bigger cousins that stop our car and motorcycle wheels from moving. Reviews (if you care to search them out), consistently place TRP mechanical discs at the top of the pyramid in terms of best design, and modulation second only to hydraulic discs. You can buy a caliper and disc TRP Spyke set for $84.99. That's $94.01 cheaper than a Klamper for what is widely considered to be the most advanced, best-performing mechanical disc brake on the market.

TRP Spyke. Far more technically advanced than the Klamper. Lighter and $94 cheaper per wheel!

If you wanted to buy Paul Components so you could proudly proclaim "Made in America" I'm betting you'd have a lot of difficulty managing that for your entire bicycle build. I've always been of the mindset of building my bikes with a mix of affordability and durability in terms of components and frames. The country of origin of my parts has never been much of a concern. Pretty much most of the components you'll buy today come out of factories in China with lots of frames coming from Taiwan. Good quality stuff comes out of Chinese factories just like poor quality stuff. I've have bike frames made in China that were really nice with decent quality welds and good paint, and I've had atrocious frames that looked like they were welded by a child using a Fisher-Price "My First Welder" toy, and painted using spray cans. Those oh-so-affordable Avid BB7s are all "Made in China," and while they're often derided as being little better than rim brakes they're still the standard spec on most bikes using disc brakes.

My take-away on all of this? Paul Components make some good stuff - Thumbies for example are an excellent product well worth the coin. Paul disc adapters or their own expensive take on Avid BB7s, the Klamper? In my opinion, there's nothing especially innovative there at all. Well, a fool and their money...