Tuesday, March 11, 2008

BrainBike '08: Eight Lucky Consumers See Cervelo's Skunkworks

Two weeks ago just after the Tour of Cali, I was invited by Cervelo to the San Diego Low Speed Wind Tunnel. It wasn't the first time they've had me there, but it was with one of the most unique reasons. Yes, there was one pro there: Christiane Soeder, the Austrian from the Team Cervelo-Lifeforce women cycling team and bronze medalist in the time trial at the UCI world champs last year, doing some aero testing.

No, this focus was time on the consumer— a lucky handful that got to check out the behind-the-scenes of not only how and why Cervelo makes the bikes it does, but also aerodynamics testing in general. And with chainstay namesakes Gerard Vroomen and Phil White, Cervelo's founding engineers delivering the education.

As you'll see in the video chat Phil and Gerard to the right, they explain the purpose of this particular two-week stint in San Diego (And they also reveal that yes, the P4C is the next tri-TT bike in development, with a release date of.... TBA.)

So, back to the consumers. The two weeks were spent largely catering to Cervelo dealers, helping educate them on what goes into the bikes—Cervelo calls the conference Brainbike 2008. But at its website a month before BrainBike was to take place, Cervelo sent out a call to its buyers: a limited invite to eight lucky Cervelo owners. The offer: if you can fly yourself to San Diego for a few days, Cervelo will put you up, feed you and take you to the wind tunnel to not only see the testing, see the prototyping process (absent key pieces of a true prototype) of the P4C, and learn not only about Cervelo, but learn in general about aerodynamic testing of bikes, tires, wheels and bottle placement. Learn about carbon manufacturing in terms of layup schedules that create a ride characteristic. Learn about geometry and fit. Learn about bikes, from the ground-up.

And the P4C, supposedly on display? Perhaps those other journalists and bloggers in attendance were misled, but there was certainly no P4C on show. Attendees were not permitted to take photos of the prototyping bits on their frame skeleton but that said, what they had on show was certainly not a final product. The jigsaw puzzle capabilities of the steel skeleton for the P4C meant Cervelo could assemble any iteration of a bike from their testing for show to the dealers. And the bike on show was not anything they'd call a close iteration... they're smarter than that. So any inference to "a BB doing this" or "a downtube or seattube doing that" is erroneous at best. When Cervelo is ready to show us something, it won't be some shady look. We'll know.

It was an opportunity that people would pay a few thousand dollars to experience, with Gerard and Phil doing the instruction. Eight were selected, eight made the trip.

Much of what was learned is contained within a glossy, black book passed to dealers and the lucky eight that, even to myself as a journalist that has "seen it all," has incredible value. Again, within it is nothing about the Cervelo model line. It's all about educating the dealer, or in this case, the lucky consumer. If you have a Cervelo dealer nearby, ask to leave a credit card or a car or a child for collateral, take it home and have a read. It's truly enlightening, a unique collection of relevant bike education.

So, these eight—including Kylie Evans, a computer programmer from Monrovia, Calif. and Maj. Richard Lawson, a military test pilot from Maryland, got the opportunity of a lifetime. "You see 800 opinions online, but it's nice to see a company that shows that their bikes are developed and tested in the wind tunnel. It was great to see things tested," she said. "Of course, they talked highly of their bikes, but they weren't afraid to say where things might be close, or if an aero bottle was any good—the fact that they told us things that had nothing to do with their bikes was cool."

Said Lawson, a roadie and triathlete: "It was such a good deal, I thought they were kidding when they advertised it. The reason I ended up buying a Cervelo was all the blood, sweat and tears they've put into it.

"I'm active military and an engineer dork by trade. This is the stuff I do for a living on the military side, so it's really fascinating," he added. "I was shocked they had this opportunity. Gerard and Phil are amazing folks."

It was just another example of how Cervelo continues to push the envelope—not just in their product development, but in the education of the consumer. Because it's those that best understand what goes into the bike that have a deeper appreciation in the bike they choose—the very definition of an educated decision. In a market of smart buyers (that's us), deep tubes and sexy paintjobs only go so far.

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